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Monday, October 31, 2005

NEW WORLD MAPMAKER: THE SECOND LIFE OF THOMAS P.M. BARNETT, PART IV

Continued from Friday. Background here and here. Part IV: Globalization for good, waging peace with India and China, playing a map game, fighting pistol-packing peacekeepers, gaming the new map, briefing Kerry, and handicapping the 2008 elections.

Hamlet Linden: When you say "globalization", a lot of people, especially in the EU-- probably a lot of folks in the audience here-- don't think about peace and prosperity. They think exploitation, sweatshops, economic imperialism, etc. How do you speak to their concerns?

Thomas Barnett: First, please read Martin Wolf's Why Globalization Works book, as it's the best. Globalization does many things when it comes into a country that's was previously poorly connected, and I talk about this at length in the book. First, multinational corporations tend to pay, on average, 50% higher wages than similar industries in the [local] economy can pay. That's why there was 1.5 billion in the world living on less than a dollar a day back in 1980 and only 1.1 billion today. That's a reduction of 400 million as the population in the world increased dramatically, so 40% of the world lives on less than a dollar a day in 1980 and only 20% in 2001 (adjusted for inflation, of course). That flow of outside investment is crucial, because no countries in the history of the world have grown their economies without access to outside capital.

Now with development comes higher local pollution, without a doubt, but that tapers off dramatically with development and actually improves as you get advanced. Of course, global pollution, like CO2, continues to go up even with advanced development. But that's another discussion.

But the key thing that happens is with outside capital triggering industrialization is that the private sector becomes more demanding of the public sector. Good markets make good governments, not the other way around. So if you want democracies, then extend the economic connectivity of globalization and then let the locals decide how to govern themselves over time. Eventually they will move to pluralism, but frankly, almost all will make the development journey as single-party states, like Singapore did, or Japan, or South Korea, and China today.

William Hauptmann [calling out from the audience]: You've said China has an internal Gap-Core divide. You also said China and India might provide the bulk of an international SysAdmin force. This seems a contradiction. Please discuss it. Did this come in the New Map Game [a wargame based on Barnett's ideas]?

TPMB: Both China and India do have large internal "gaps," and thus their pace of progress will be determined by the rural poor's ability to keep up with all the change demanded by opening up the economy to globalization. I call this the Theory That the Train's Engine Can Travel No Faster than the Caboose.

So if that's the case, how can they help on the SysAdmin force?

Easy. The SysAdmin force is mostly about bodies, not capital. Both have huge standing armies, full of cheap labor. Both countries are very interested in peace and stability in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Why? They need the raw materials and energy. China is already all over Africa, making deals, sending in people, building roads and infrastructure.

Yes, in the New Map Game, a special wargame we played in Newport, Rhode Island last June using futurists and defense experts, we did see the China team get awfully explicit about being okay with America being the Leviathan (taking down the bad guys) and China playing the SysAdmin role big-time. In effect, the Chinese said in the game, "You set the table and we eat the meal. We have cheap labor and are willing to do the grunt work of development in these tough locales. Don't worry, we'll sell many of the resulting products to you-- the West--in Wal-Mart."

This is a fundamental economic dynamic that is logically repeated in the military realm: the Old Core of the West will make most of its money in coming years off the New Core, selling them all sorts of manufactured, high-end goods. Meanwhile, the New Core will make much of its money off the Gap, taking those raw materials and manufacturing low-end, but increasingly higher-end goods. The trick in all this is to make sure the Gap economies get off their current dependence on low-end commodities. For this to work, everyone needs to move up the ladder of production.

SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: Tom, in the book you use the term "pistol-packing Peace Corps." What's that refer to? Is this part of the SysAdmin group, or who does this describe? Who runs it and how do you join?

TPMB: It's a fun term, and I like to use fun terms. Pisses off the academics and for that alone it's worthwhile. "Pistol-packin' Peace Corps" just means my SysAdmin force won't be some wussy UN deal, like the African Union peacekeepers who can merely take photos in Sudan after the Janjaweed rape and kill all the women and children in a village they've attacked. As I like to say, "They shoot photos, don't they?"

No, my SysAdmin will have a mini-Leviathan within known as the Marines. Kill their aid worker, and these guys will come over and lay a Falluja on your ass. If you shy from the violence, then your enemies will simply trump you. Working the Gap is like what Sean Connery's character in The Untouchables talked about: If he brings a knife, you bring a gun, and you ask yourself whether or not you're willing to do what it takes to stop the criminal behavior. Remember the 13 million estimated dead from violent conflicts around the world since 1990.

SZ: Many of us here listened to the podcast of your talk at Pop!Tech 2004. There you spoke of the United States as being in some senses "older" than Europe, in that it's gone through similar developments but on an accelerated time-scale, with similar rule-set clashes, civil wars, a single currency, etc. Thinking about the Gap countries you'd like to see ushered into the Core, they've sure got a lot of historical accelerating to do! We've heard of technological leapfrogging, but how many formative historical phases can people really leapfrog in a small amount of time?

TPMB: True enough and good point, but my Theory of the Train Engine Traveling no Faster than the Caboose says this: the models for movement into the Core are not the US or Europe or Japan (Old Core) but New Core players like India, China, Russia and Brazil. Don't assume 100% solutions when the Chinese and Indians could typically give you 25% solutions that do the trick far more cheaply.

HL: You briefed John Kerry about your ideas, in the run-up to the last election. Tell us about the experience.

TMPB: I was asked in by the Pentagon team of the Kerry campaign, and I briefed them on my ideas. That was last July [2004]. I was told the ideas were passed along, like my "Don't plan to win the war unless you plan to win the peace." I did not meet Senator Kerry at that time. That F2F happened this spring in his Senate office. I briefed his entire senior staff and him for about two hours. He asked very sharp questions throughout, making a lot of good arguments for what he called, during the campaign, "the global test" for using US military power around the world. He liked the A-to-Z a lot.

He also said something I used in Blueprint for Action: (in effect) Why create a new Department of Everything Else (my cute name) to house this SysAdmin force? Why not consider adapting and growing the Department of Homeland Security in this direction over time?

I thought that was brilliant, because there's so much talent trapped in DHS. I've since heard that idea from a lot of people, but first from Kerry. He was very impressive that way.

But make no mistake, despite being a lifelong Democrat, I am open to working with both sides all the time. As I say, my guys are never out of power. They are always on duty, and I will always do what I can to help them wage both war and peace better. I'm 43. I can't wait out anybody's term and I never will. Too much life on the line.

HL: Related to your meeting with Senator Kerry, Tom, I wonder what American politician could move your ideas forward, to convince the American people and the world that this is the path (the hard path) forward?

TPMB: I like Rep. Mac Thornberry (R) of Texas, a lot. I like new first-term congressman (another Republican) from Kentucky called Geoff Davis. I like Harold Ford of Tennessee (Dem) who is running for the Senate there. I like my new Senator here in Indiana, where I just moved to, named Evan Bayh. Many Dems see him answering the only question that matters in 2008: "Name a state you can carry that Kerry could not (namely, Indiana and Ohio)." Not being able to answer that question is what makes Hillary seem weaker, IMHO.

But things can change rapidly, so I keep my mind open.

Continued Wednesday...

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Friday, October 28, 2005

NEW WORLD MAPMAKER: THE SECOND LIFE OF THOMAS P.M. BARNETT, PART III

Continued from yesterday. Background here and here. Part III: Laying out the rule-set for global change.

Thomas Barnett: On it you will see my proposed six-part, A-to-Z rule-set for the Core to come together and shrink the Gap by exporting security to its worst situations. First half, let's call that the war. Second half, let's call that the peace. Remember: War in Iraq went well, it's the peace that sucks. If you keep calling what we have in Iraq now the "war," then all your answers will be war-answers, and none of them are really applicable here. We have to get better at the peace.

Tough? Yes. More expensive? Yes.

But there is a fundamental rule-set change that we must adapt to nowadays: Wars have gotten cheaper, faster, easier, and less manpower-intensive.

But that means that the peace has gotten costlier, longer, harder and more manpower-intensive.

Either adjust to that rule set change or continue to field the force we have today: a first-half team that plays in a league that insists on keeping score until the end of the game.

Our enemies have cracked this code: they sit out the first half and then go on the offensive in the second half. This is the essence of what the Marines like to call Fourth Generation Warfare: attack your enemies' morale through a strategy of "bloody-ing their nose" again and again.

So, turning to the six-part rule-set, what do we have in place in the world today that we can put to use?

First, we have the UN Security Council and their "special investigator" agencies, like the IAEA that just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Their role, collectively, is to look for bad behavior, cite it, debate it, and issue grand jury-like "Indictments". But the UN can do nothing beyond that, which is what gets you 13 million dead from conflicts around the world since the end of the Cold War, even though interstate war goes the way of the dinosaur.

The UN is set up to respect state sovereignty. That worked to prevent WWIII in Europe, but not all this violence that continues in the Gap unabated by the Cold War's end.

Another element we have in place is the awesome military power of the U.S. as de facto Leviathan in the system. That force is more than happy to take down the "indicted" leaders. They say: "You want me to take him down? Fine. It will cost you $20 billion and I'll do it on Tuesday. But I'll want to leave by the weekend, because I don't do nation-building."

The third element we have in place right now is the International Criminal Court in the Hague. That court was set up ostensibly to try war criminals from Gap countries, where there are not robust enough legal systems to prevent that sort of thing. The U.S. fear the ICC will put our troops or leaders on trial when we try to do things militarily in the Gap. So we've cut bilateral treaties with almost all Gap nations that gives us blanket immunity.

If these are the three pieces we have today, then what are we missing?

Between the UN Security Council's expression of will and the U.S.'s ability to wield that awesome Leviathan, there needs to be some "Functioning Executive" body that translates the will of the global community into action, or someone with real bucks.

In my mind, that somebody is the G-8, or group of eight major economies, a council that inevitably enlargens into the G-20, which will end up being basically my entire Core because it takes in China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, etc. The G-20 is the logical Functioning Executive to decide when and under what conditions the Leviathan is authorized to take down bad actors or regimes in the Gap.

So the first half is, the UN Security Council indicts the bad guys, the G-20 issues the warrants for arrest, and then the U.S. Leviathan does the takedown, like U.S. Marshals.

The second half is also made of three segments. We're missing the first two: a SysAdmin force of peacekeepers and nation-builders that's populated mostly by such "new Core" pillars as China and India (two huge armies). And what Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post has called an International Reconstruction Fund that's modeled on the IMF but specializes in rehabbing politically-bankrupt regimes post-conflict. The G-20 would fund the proposed IRF, just like the IMF.

The last of the six pieces and the third of the second half would be that Inte3rnational Criminal Court that I mentioned earlier.

So to sum up: UN indicts, G-20 issues warrant, U.S. Leviathan takes down, SysAdmin maintains peace, IRF rebuilds and ICC puts on trial.

You will say: you are a dreamer and this is way too much to ask for! I will tell you this: we've already used this A-to-Z system successfully twice: Bosnia and Kosovo. In both instances, we had NATO be the Executive and collections of UN agencies work the rebuild and peacekeeping. Not very well, mind you, but OK. What I'm talking about is this.

This need does not go away any time soon. It is not a "neocon fantasy" or a GOP or Dem-only problem.

The Gap cannot be voted out of office.

You either get good at this process of moving states from conflict to peace, or from the Gap to the Core, or we watch another 13 million or so die in the next decade and a half. Your kids will definitely ask you what you did to prevent the roughly two Holocausts-worth of death on your watch during these years, and if your only answer is to say, "Well, I wanted to do better but I was so busy with my go-go-, high-tech life that I couldn't manage anything better!"

Well, I consider that a pretty poor and indefensible response.

I see major powers moving beyond war and conflict among themselves, but I still see one-third of humanity, noses pressed to the glass, wanting in on this big party we call the global economy, and yes, we'll need to wage some war to make that happen. That's pretty much what I wanted to highlight from the second book, Blueprint for Action, here today.

Why don't we move onto questions at this point.

Continued Monday...

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NEW WORLD MAPMAKER: THE SECOND LIFE OF THOMAS P.M. BARNETT, PART II

Continued from yesterday. Background here and here. Part II: Laying Out the Map, and shrinking the Gap.

Thomas Barnett: In this second slide you see the map that Bill McNulty, the mapmaker for the New York Times, made for Esquire for the original article we published in March 2003. The map shows the roughly 150 times we've sent our forces around the world since 1990. Most Americans are poorly aware of how often this has occurred. As I like to say, the "first great neo-con Bill Clinton" used military forces around the planet like no president had before. Bush and company just continued this amazing trend and elevated it and concentrated it after 9/11 with the Global War on Terrorism. When the map comes up, you'll see that line that I drew around the vast bulk of the cases, yielding the shape across the map that I call the "non-Integrating Gap."

In a nutshell, the Gap includes the Caribbean Rim, the Andea portion of South America, Africa, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. Now, to call that the Gap doesn't mean all states within are poorly connected to the global economy, because some are very connected, like Costa Rica, Israel, Singapore. It's more a critical mass argument: you put a mansion in the ghetto and it doesn't make it the suburbs. So the question becomes: What is the natural grand strategy to emerge from this view of the world?

I make three arguments.

First, we need to improve our immune-system response to 9/11-like shocks to the system that I like to call System Perturbations. The same skills you bring to NYC after 9/11 are the same ones you bring to Baghdad after Saddam is toppled or New Orleans after Katrina.

Second, we need to firewall the Core off from the Gap's worst exports, like drugs, pandemics, terror.

Good example, I walk through Hong Kong International Airport last year and have my body temp scanned passively. If I had had a temp, then no travel, a new rule set after SARS.

Third and most important tenet: the Core's big powers must come together to shrink the Gap progressively by tackling bad actors and security "sinkholes" that ruin investment climates and keep foreign money from accessing--you guessed it--cheap labor. I know some call that "globalization at the barrel of the gun", but I call it the military-market nexus that's been with us throughout history.

The most controversial concept in PNM, which I flesh out in Blueprint, was that we need two military forces to shrink the Gap.

The first force we already have: the warfighting Leviathan. That force worked wonders in Iraq, toppling Saddam with ease in three weeks with 137 combat casualties. Their victory marked the end of the war, or what Bush called, quite controversially..."mission accomplished."

The second force we do not have, but we're building quite rapidly thanks to the debacle that's been the Iraq "peace." That second force I call the System Administrators force, or the SysAdmin force for short. That's the force that will do peacekeeping, nation-building, crisis response, and counter-insurgency--and like we've seen in Pakistan or Asia after the tsunamis-- also the disaster relief. That force will have military capabilities at its core, but it will be highly "interagency-ized," meaning it will feature lotsa labor from around the US government. It will also be highly civilian, or mostly civilian, because it will have a lot of developmental expertise. And it will be highly internationalized, meaning the bulk of the bodies will be non-American.

How do we get the world to agree to all this?

This is the thrust of the second book: Blueprint for Action.

The key concept contained within is this: we need an A-to-Z rule set for the Core powers (old West and new East) that allows them to find agreement on how to process politically-bankrupt states in the Gap. The analogy here is to the A-to-Z embryonic rule set we already have for economically-bankrupt states. You saw it in action with the IMF guiding Russia through its sovereign bankruptcy in 1997 and then Argentina very recently. Russia paid 50 cents on the dollar when it reached "Z," and Argentina only paid 30 cents. Both countries were allowed to do this (basically skip paying a lot of sovereign debt) because both performed a lot of changes that the IMF asked for.

Not pretty, and a pretty loose rule set, but it gets better each time: more transparent, more obviously zero-sum. Countries fear it less, so it works.

The big question I ask in BFA is thus: what would such a rule set look like for politically-bankrupt states? What is "politically bankrupt?"

Shorthand: too much government (dictators) or too little (failed states).

The former tend to support terrorists (dictators like to make mischief beyond their borders) and the latter tend to attract them like parasites. If you want to win the Global War on Terrorism, you can't just kill bad guys. They replace them too fast. No, you have to shrink the operating domain of the enemy by replacing bad states with good, and in that process helping the one-third of humanity still trapped in the Gap to join the global economy in a fair and just manner.

Let's pull up the third slide now please...

Continued tomorrow...

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

NEW WORLD MAPMAKER: THE SECOND LIFE OF THOMAS P.M. BARNETT, PART I

Three hours in-world with a leading global analyst-- background here and here. Part I: an Introduction, and a cocktail chat pitch to Bill Clinton.

So one day, you're briefing General Abizaid and Central Command; another day, you're briefing the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I spent much of this month worrying how great a leap it would be for someone like Barnett, going right from the halls of the powerful to something so apparently trivial as an online world. At the same time, I had an inkling the divide wasn't so vast. A thinker who calls the tradition of American governance the "source code" for the future and his army of nation builders a "SysAdmin force", Barnett is a digital age Wilsonian, merging a strong-jaw internationalism with the metrics of a culture already ablaze with broadband. (That's not even to mention his prediction of a near future when an online world will overthrow a real world dictatorship-- but more on that later.)

So maybe it wasn't so surprising, after all, that when we teleported to the Second Life island made for him, he easily found and donned the custom avatar by lilith Pendragon, chuckling while he watched his alter ego morph into something resembling him, then when we had trouble teleporting into the United Nation's Grand Assembly Hall, he just began the journey there on foot, where an engaged and fairly rambunctious audience already waited for him.

And it was rambunctious. Since the talk started around Noon (PST), much of the audience there was from the EU, where it was early evening-- Britain, Germany, and France being the country names I caught, when my co-host SNOOPYBrown Zamboni gave an impromptu "Where you from?" shout-out to the audience at event's end. Generalizing broadly, most of the deepest skepticism to Barnett's ideas seemed to emanate from the European Residents gathered there. (Via Instant Message, one French Resident described themselves as so scandalized that they were tempted to create tomatoes for the purpose of pelting Barnett's avatar.) Barnett's own blog cites a review in a British publication which begins with qualified praise, but ends in a declarative, "[I]f you imagine modern Europe trying to follow his advice, you will laugh." It was fascinating to see that dynamic apparently play out in avatar form. And Barnett taking on all comers with a blogger's agile wit, when we moved to audience Q&A, generously staying with it for twice the 90 minutes alloted.

Anyway, just my first, exhaustion-wracked recollection. Barnett's equally exhausted post-event wrap-up is at his blog here, and Zamboni's is here, featuring nearly the entire transcript. My somewhat edited transcript will run in bite-sized portions over the next 5 days.

AN INTRODUCTION

Hamlet Linden: Not too long ago, Thomas P.M. Barnett helped run meetings between top Wall Street analysts and top Pentagon brass that pondered the future of the world. The financial folks were mostly excited by the potential of China. The military folks were mostly worried by the potential of China.

The year was 2000. The meetings took place atop World Trade Center One.

Very shortly after that, China would be about the last thing the Pentagon officials were worrying about. And many of the Wall Street analysts sitting around the table would be dead.

In the months after 9/11, Thomas Barnett left his post as senior strategic researcher at the Naval War College. He became the Assistant for Strategic Futures in the Department of Defense's newly-created Office of Force Transformation. His task was nothing less than creating a grand vision of US strategy in a profoundly changed world.

"Don't we have one? Isn't it written down and kept in a locked drawer somewhere deep in the Pentagon?" Barnett wondered out loud.

Nope, his boss told him. That was his gig.

What eventually came out of that assignment was "The Pentagon's New Map", a much-read Esquire article published in 2003, just as Coalition forces were poised to cross into Iraq. It became a 2004 bestselling book of the same name, spelling out a unique and powerful way of looking at the world...

Blueprint for Action, the book he's here to talk about today, is the political/humanitarian/
military course chart for the map he's already laid out... For finding, as the book's subtitle suggests, a future worth creating.

And because global connectivity is so essential to his vision, it's a future worth discussing here, with an audience from all over the world, in this international culture and economic community we call Second Life. So ladies and gentlemen, we are very proud to introduce Thomas Barnett.

[Applause]

A BRIEF OF THE BRIEF

HL: Tom, since most of our audience hasn't read Blueprint for Action yet, can you give us the cocktail pitch, to start us off? Say you meet Bill Clinton at a party, and he says, "Tom, I hear your new book has a lot of great ideas that I want to mention on my next international friendship tour. Give me a summary." What do you tell him in the 3 minutes you have before he wanders off to talk with Bono on the balcony?

Thomas Barnett: Sure. The whole map concept began quite simply by mapping where we sent U.S. military forces around the world in the 1990s, or since the end of the Cold War. Once we plotted all those crisis responses, I simply drew a line around 95% of them, leaving outside only the most distant outliers. Then we asked a simple question: what was it about all these regions that brought U.S. military interventions time and time again?

The operating theory? These are the regions least connected to the global economy. So PNM the book basically laid out that map and proposed that the grand strategic goal for the U.S. after 9/11 was to "shrink" those regions by integrating them. Some of this would require military interventions (i.e., rogue regimes that kept their populations involuntarily disconnected from the outside world, failed states that simply couldn't provide adequate connections to the global economy).

But most of the integration would be peaceful, and performed by the private sector through foreign direct investment. In many ways, then, PNM proposed that the military come back to society, eschewing the distance that had emerged between them and civilians during the Cold War. I call this the military-market nexus: admitting that the warrior class exists to protect the merchant class and that merchants pay for that protection. This is what keeps the global economy safe to prosper and expand. To accomplish this, I made a series of arguments in PNM for a new type of military organization.

In Blueprint for Action, I extend those arguments even further. Next slide please...

Continued tomorrow...

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

READING BARNETT

"Whether you agree with them or not," Ichiro Tokugawa announces, turning a page in Blueprint For Action, "these are markedly bold words." To coincide with Thomas P.M. Barnett's appearance in Second Life-- now some 11 hours away-- we commissioned SL book publisher Falk Bergman to create a virtual edition of Barnett's latest book. Tom was kind enough to authorize, with his publisher's willing assistance, publication in SL of a substantial excerpt from Blueprint-- specifically, the Preface, Glossary, and the extended Afterword "Blogging the Future", where Barnett offers striking predictions about the world through the framework of his ideas. (Then again, that a major publisher like Putnam was more than happy to expedite the process of creating a Second Life edition of a book with their imprint on it-- that says something striking about our present.)

Falk has been improving his book technology since converting Cory Doctorow's latest novel into an 8 foot book over the Summer. The new version of his book is now entirely handheld, with a built-in animation for turning the pages (activated by clicking on the left or right page while in first-person mode.) Happily, the autograph function is still there; Tom sent us a digitized image of his signature for the in-world signing. Copies of the SL edition are available via a dispensor outside the UN entrance of Barnett Island (see below), and at the Welcome Area. Getting your book signed means showing up to the event and bringing out your copy for him to click on.

FINAL PREPARATION AND LOGISTICS

Thomas P.M. Barnett will appear in Second Life today at approximately 11:30am Second Life Time (i.e., Pacific Standard), at the United Nations building located on Barnett Island, a 64 acre land mass comprised of four regions: Barnett Old Core, Barnett New Core, Barnett Seam, Barnett Gap.

For those who can't attend in-world, the event will also be simulcast on the Second Life homepage. Of course, I'll be running a cleaned-up transcript of the event on this blog starting (hopefully) tomorrow.

Attending live: Provided your computer has the techical specs listed here, a free SL account can be created and downloaded here.

Seating is limited; reserve a place at the event by joining the Barnett Readers group: from the Second Life interface, click "Find", then the "Groups" tab, then in Find enter "Barnett Readers", then "Join Now".

Co-hosted by Jerry Paffendorf (in-world name, "SNOOPYbrown Zamboni") of the Second Life Future Salon sponsored by the Acceleration Studies Foundation. Thomas Barnett's avatar is by lilith Pendragon, who also brought us the in-world incarnation of Cory Doctorow; the United Nations General Assembly Hall is by Ichiro Tokugawa.

UPDATE, 6:42pm: Event went marvelously well. Snoopybrown has already posted the full transcript. My own version starts running tomorrow-- same event, but in bite-sized pieces, a bit of added context, and, well, more pictures.

11/2: FINAL UPDATE, 11/2: TRANSCRIPT OF BARNETT'S APPEARANCE BEGINS HERE

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Monday, October 24, 2005

DOCTOROW BACK WITH ALWAYS BLACK

Novel-writing and novel-writing workshop in an online world...

The multi-talented Jeffrey Gomez (co-winner of the 2005 Second Life Game Developers contest) has concocted a scheme to bring an unofficial chapter of National Novel Writing Month-- a marathon contest to write 50,000 words of a novel in November-- into Second Life. To add some firepower to that wildly ambitious project, he's bringing NWN pal Cory Doctorow back in-world to host a virtual workshop and pep-talk, and partnering up with the esteemed folks at Always Black, perhaps best known for spearheading the New Games Journalism movement.

Full details at Gomez's Second Life Writing Wiki here.

Always Black, by the way, has an in-world library that houses their writing and artwork, which is worth a visit if only for the striking design of the building itself. Resident architecture critic Chip Poutine has a write-up of the space on his blog, Virtual Surbubia, right here.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

PROTESTING THE VIRTUAL UNITED NATIONS

It figures that when we built a replica of the United Nations' General Assembly Hall for Thomas P. M. Barnett to speak in, it would attract some controversy. And being Second Life, it would also figure that the controversy would take the form of robot kangaroos.

"The Barnett/UN construction site has drawn the attention of its first virtual protester," Ichiro Tokugawa, the building's creator, cheerily informed me by IM a couple days ago. "I approached him and greeted as he was wrapping up his last object, at which point he fled."

"Yes, I did put them there as protest against the support for the UN," Wolph Thorn admits grandly, after I track down the creator of the See No Evil/Hear NoEvil/Speak No Evil triptych of cyborg marsupials.

"My biggest objection to the UN," he tells me, walking toward me through the Grand Hall chamber-- himself a kangaroo in a black matte robe similar to what Neo wore in The Matrix Reloaded-- "is that it's a corrupt organization that is trying to disguise itself as peacekeeps whose only concern is the well-being of all people everywere. A good example of this is the 'Oil For Food' scandal."

But why not leave the fabled Hear No Evil/See No Evil/Speak No Evil monkey statues, instead of, well, robot kangaroos?

"[T]o represent the potential for great power, danger, and corruption, wrapped in a warm and fuzzy package," Thorn tells me.

Oh.

And though Wolph Thorn is from the Netherlands, I assume he's familiar with Thomas Barnett, and ask him that.

"The British sculpting artist?" Wolph says.

Which is probably a good place to mention that SNOOPYBrown Zamboni and I have scheduled two brief multimedia introductions to Barnett's theories-- not on sculpting, but the state of the world, post 9/11, and how to make a future worth creating from it-- in the days before he appears here live, next Wednesday.

First one's tomorrow at Noon (SLT), at a time geared primarily for International Residents.

Second one's Tuesday at 6:00PM, at a time designed primarily for US/Canada Residents.

Being Second Life, it also figures that a tiny white fuzzball with a red deely bopper and purple batwings shows up, to tell me the rest of the story.

"Its funny though," Lallander Parvenu tells me sagely. "Most people only ever reference the three monkeys-- hear, see, and speak no evil, completely missing the actual point. A long time back... there was a fourth monkey sitting in lotus-- be no evil. The monkey that actually got it."

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THE FESTIVAL INSIDE

Like a miniature Sundance, except on your computer screen, and no large bald man with a clipboard barring your avatar at the front door, the Avalon Film Festival is a screening of live action and animated shorts streamed directly onto screens on the private island of Avalon. Opening party was today, with films running throughout the week. Acrobat-enabled brochure with the full details here at space think dream, Avalon's official web presence. (Insert obligatory full disclosure: Avalon owner and film festival empresario Fizik Baskerville happens to be a real life pal. Add voluntary partial rationale: Pal or not, an in-world festival conducted with the full participation of the featured filmmakers is a genuine first for Second Life, or for that matter any online world-- hence its mention here.)

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Friday, October 21, 2005

TWO WORLDS FRAPPED TOGETHER

Frapper (i.e. "friend mapper") is a cool little web app in Beta using Google Maps to create a global topography of a given social group or affiliation. (Pittsburgh Steeler fans, Battlestar Galactica watchers, and so on.) Inspired by the success of SLCC 2005, and a desire to have more physical get-togethers of Residents, Satchmo Prototype recently created a Second Life Frapper group.

And so the real world map of Second Life begins to emerge.

Still in its infancy, the Frapper's SL geography is dominated by North Americans for now, but that's been slowly changing over the week. I hope my Resident readers consider putting themselves on the map-- if they're OK with roughly revealing their real world location, that is-- to help create a broader and truer representation of the in-world polity. (Of course, my secret desire here is to compare the Second Life map with Thomas P.M. Barnett's map of the world, next Wednesday.)

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

POP!TECH IN-WORLD

At this rate, the feature is going to go from novelty to necessity in a few months. Just a couple weeks after the Second Life Community Convention simulcast a video recording of the event into SL, so Residents who couldn't make it to New York City could still watch Philip Linden and others speak, another convention is doing the same thing-- only tomorrow, the Pop!Tech conference in Camden, Maine, and with luminaries like Ted Castronova and Steven Everything Bad is Good for You Johnson.

Event is 2pm EST, so if you're interested, reserve a virtual seat ASAP. Details and contact info after the break.

(By total happenstance, Thomas P.M. Barnett spoke at least year's Pop!Tech, and SNOOPYBrown Zamboni and I are making arrangements to stream the podcast of that talk into Second Life, as a kind of pre-apperance briefer for Residents to the ideas of Barnett-- announcements on those in-world events imminent.)

This Friday, at the sold-out Pop!Tech conference, we will be conducting a fascinating experiment in co-mingling the virtual and the 'real'. In a session Friday afternoon at 2pm EST, the leading thinker on the economics of virtual worlds, Ed Castronova, and student-protester-turned-
videogame-designer Ivan Marovic, and Steven Berlin Johnson, author of the delightful Everything Bad is Good for You, will be conducting a discussion on the serious impact of gaming -- how it may be used in everything from democratic participation to social change.

As if that weren't interesting enough Pop!Tech will be streaming video of the entire session into Second Life in a (eerily, architecturally near-perfect) version of the Camden Opera House where the RL conference is taking place. In the real world Opera House, there will be a large flat-screen monitor on the stage where PopTech attendees can watch the SL Residents watching the speakers, completing the circle (and possibly leading to the collapse of the Matrix.) In-world, a group of SecondLife residents will watch the session and participate as virtual audience members.

If you'd like to attend the session in Second Life, please contact catherine@lindenlab.com to request an invitation -- and do so right away, since seating is very limited.

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