Indian Ocean, 26 December 2004

Latest Death Toll: 110,000 and rising...

Photo via Heterotopias

The Indian Ocean Earthquake is proving to be the event that finally turned the World Wide Web into THE mainstream media.

All those books that we've been reading finally begin to make sense: The Tipping Point, The Wisdom of the Crowds and Small Pieces, Loosely Joined.

WebLogs, Wikis, Flickr (imagery), Event Alerts, e-mail, have all been deployed to best effect.

It seems the only way to handle a catastrophic event of this scale is by managing the problem from the bottom up - indeed the most noticeable thing about the whole tragedy has been the extraordinary absence of "top down" leadership.

Wikipedia is cited on page 2 of the Times this morning.

"The tsunami has its own exhaustive and updated entry in the online encyclopedia at"

and, from the same article, "for the best overall picture on the disaster and the International relief effort, try"

and, "the Sri Lankan tourist board has set up to help people track down missing relatives there."

Grim stuff.

And puts our own quiet lives into perspective.

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

"Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick" -- Theodore Roosevelt

Beacon: Paul D. Kretkowski

This struck me as a pretty useful analysis of International Politics - but one that also has implications at a much broader level; I suspect that we have all played with Hard and Soft Power - if only with our children...

Hard power is easy: Do what we want. If you don't, we will inflict unacceptable damage on your person, citizenry, economy, security forces, crops, well water, et cetera.

Soft power is much trickier, so defining it and delineating how it differs from hard power can occupy hours of conversation. Joseph Nye's definition in Soft Power is:

The ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies.

When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced. … When you can get others to admire your ideals and to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction. Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.

But this definition raises other questions:

—How do you get others to admire your ideals when they likely view their own as normal and admirable?

—How do you deal with the parts of your culture that aren't admirable, or even offend cultures you'd like to influence (the MTV-in-Mecca problem)?

—How does attraction translate to influence; in other words, how do you measure soft power, and if you can't, how do you know it exists?

—What part does soft power play in a balanced foreign-policy portfolio that includes diplomacy, trade and armed force?

—Should soft power be used actively (propaganda) or passively (people who drink Coke and read about our elections are more likely to like us)?

—How do corporations, non-governmental organizations and other non-state actors promote their own soft power?

—What happens when a country you're trying to influence experiences a crisis? Does soft power have any applicability during a civil war, famine or other emergency?

I'll be addressing how hard and soft power are defined, and how they interact along the continuum of foreign policy, in the weeks ahead—thus the Roman numeral in the title of this post.

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

Blog This: New voices running the election

Times Online, Andrew Sullivan

The two sides remain entrenched, their rhetorical sallies increasing in ferocity, their claims and counterclaims ricocheting through the political landscape.

Democrats and Republicans? Nope: that’s so 2000.

This time the war is between the new and the old media, between established pillars of journalism and a bunch of new, ornery and sometimes reckless upstarts. It’s the subtext of the 2004 campaign and it has already begun to shape the American presidential race in ways that would have been difficult to accomplish two years ago, let alone four.

There are, I think, three genuinely new power brokers in American politics in this election season. They are cable news, the blogosphere — where online pundits provide a real-time “weblog” commentary on events — and new advertising/political groups called “527s”, named after the legislative subsection that helped create them.

Between them these forces have helped dilute and even, in a few cases, supplant the network news, mainstream newspapers and political parties as the critical arbiters of the course of this election.


American television is now much less like the BBC and more like the British press — its biases more open, its competition more fierce, its ideological diversity more acknowledged. The political polarisation of the country has also found expression in even the television channels that viewers watch.

Added to this are the weblogs. In the last election cycle, blogs were a tiny part of the media universe. I should know, I was one of the relatively few who were blogging. But now the blogosphere has exploded — the traffic higher, the influence far greater, the leverage over news coverage more powerful.

In 2000 I was thrilled to have 4,000 readers. This year my review of one night during the Republican convention won 100,000 readers in 24 hours.

In the old days network news producers would read The New York Times, decide on a couple of stories, spin them with liberal bias and put out a predictably stale broadcast every night. These days the New York Times remains important. But it still hasn’t recovered from the chaotically biased editorship of Howell Raines who left when one of his top reporters, Jayson Blair, was found to have made up most of his stories.

Producers for cable news shows now consult the blogs as much as the Times for tips about upcoming stories, often pilfering the upstart websites for gaffes or scandals. Throughout the day, news managers consult the blogosphere for updates, while the mainstream media tread water. In this, the Drudge Report was the proud pioneer. But Drudge is now a big fish in an infinitely bigger and splashier pond.

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

Live and Learn

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

Douglas Adams

"The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations."

David Friedman

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

Israel lays claim to Palestine's water

New Scientist

Countries have a nasty habit of going to war over food, oil and water... let's hope Science can provide solutions faster than the politicians...

Israel has drawn up a secret plan for a giant desalination plant to supply drinking water to the Palestinian territory on the West Bank. It hopes the project will diminish pressure for it to grant any future Palestinian state greater access to the region's scarce supplies of fresh water.

Under an agreement signed a decade ago as part of the Oslo accord, four-fifths of the West Bank's water is allocated to Israel, though the aquifers that supply it are largely replenished by water falling onto Palestinian territory.

The new plans call for seawater to be desalinated at Caesaria on the Mediterranean coast, and then pumped into the West Bank, where a network of pipes will deliver it to large towns and many of the 250 villages that currently rely on local springs and small wells for their water.

Israel, which wants the US to fund the project, would guarantee safe passage of the water across its territory in return for an agreement that Israel can continue to take the lion's share of the waters of the West Bank. These mainly comprise underground reserves such as the western aquifer, the region's largest, cleanest and most reliable water source.

For Israelis, agreement on the future joint management of this aquifer is a prerequisite for granting Palestine statehood.

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston