Sunday, May 30, 2004

For an intersection of world/global/empire resistance politics, new technology, networks, internet-mediated theory collaboration, see the makeworlds web site. "border = 0 location = YES". You can find copies of makeworlds papers 1-4 ("a product of collaborative text filtering") there.

"By constructing a language for talking about networks that is precise enough to describe not only what a network is but also what kinds of different networks there are in the world, the science of networks is lending the concept real analytical power."

from Duncan Watts excellent book, Six Degrees (WW Norton, 2003), now available in paperback (p. 28)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

This may seem tangential at best, but...

Speculation as an economic activity and gambling have similarities but are qualitatively different; but still, they interpenetrate in some cases.

For more on the similarities and differences, see the write-up I did in "Speculative Capital"; for another distinction, here is something from Edward Chancellor's extensive but generally disappointing Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation (despite the title, and the author's various protestations, it is mostly a catalog of manias and general capitalist excess and greed and other departures from the day-to-day dullness of the bulk of speculative activity):

"Economists differentiate gambling and speculation on the grounds that gambling involves the deliberate creation of new risks for the sake of diversion while speculation involves the assumption of the inevitable risks of the capitalist process. In other words, the gambler places a bet on a horse he is creating a risk, while the speculator who buys a share is simply inovlved in the transfer of an existing risk." (pp xii - xiii)

Okay as to the interpenetration, since gambling does involve money and the accumulation or the pooling of money, in many cases the "house" (whether a state or casino or host of the game) has come to function as a bank, that is, an accumulation of capital that can then be used invested in more routine economic activity.

Lotteries have historically (often) been used as a way of accumulating capital for extensive projects where the financial system (e.g., raising money through bonds) is primitive or non-existent; e.g. U.S. colonial-era projects for Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other colleges.

A historically interesting spin on this is described in Kings: The True Story of Chicago's Policy Kings and Numbers Racketeers by Nathan Thompson (2003, The Bronzeville Press, Chicago). In Chicago's black community, the mainstream banking system was for the most part inaccessible to the community. Thompson describes how the "policy kings" -- the people who ran the numbers (or "policy")games, basically illegal or quasi-legal daily lotteries, became the holders of pools of money that could then be lent out to the community -- i.e., they became the de facto bankers for the community.

"Policy became the biggest Black-owned business in the world with combined annual sales sometimes reachng the $100 million mark and employing tens of thousands of people nationwide. In Bronzeville [the heart of Chicago's black community - jd] Policy was a major catalyst by which the black economy was driven ... Policy Kings underwrote the establishment of several private dental and medical practices for professionals facing lack of placement options due to racial discrimination." (pp 13-14) As Thompson told the Chicago Sun-Times, "They were the bank that aspiring African-American businessmen and women could go to when they couldn't go downtown... They were a ready source of venture capital."

Later in his book Thompson describes legitimate businesses created by "policy kings", funded by the policy game; also the "kings" provided a social insurance function.

I should say that simply re-investing money into productive enterprises is not "speculation". But the financial function of investment eventually ties into the bigger world of speculation, the trading of financial instruments for gain; or, the buying and selling of risk. This needs to be worked out more...

How does all of this tie into networks? (a) Economies are networks (b) speculation comes into its own as a dominant aspect of the economy because of the globalized economy made possible by electronics and (c) the electronic-based communication networks that allow "network effects" to come to the fore. For a start.


Monday, May 24, 2004

MeshForum has some interesting posts and links related to network form discussions. The subtitle for the previous site home page was "Network Science - From Theory to Practice or Filling the structural holes between society, science, business and politics". Looks to be an interesting collection of links and posts, mostly related to the social sciences and business/economy.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The PBS science series Nova had a very interesting show last night (5/4/04) "Battle Plan Under Fire" on the U.S. military, new technology, "transformation" and "network-centric" warfare. The home page for the show is at The transcript isn't available yet -- the site says one to three weeks after the broadcast.

For opposing views of "transformation" ("moving from an Industrial-Age massing of troops with most intelligence held by commanders to an Information-Age era of special operations, precision weapons, and a level of interconnectivity that goes right down to the individual soldier") see an interview with Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, Director of Force Transformation at the Department of Defense promoting "transformation", and an interview with Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, former president of the Marine Corps University. Van Riper led the "enemy" force in the embarassing military wargame "Millennium Challenge 2002". Van Riper's troops successfully employed low-tech and unconventional tactics to defeat the high tech "transformed" military.


Saturday, May 01, 2004

On connections, here is an excerpt from A. H. Hatto's notes on Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, written circa 1200 CE, describing the literary-Arthurian romantic-chivalric-feudal world of Wolfram : "According to Wolfram, the fundamental two-way bond of rights and obligations between God and Man, lord and vassal, man and wife, parents and children, kinsman and kinsman, Knight-servitor and Lady, was triuwe -- 'steadfast love'... Another aspect of the two-way bond, this time nearer to economic activity, was the recipricocity of service and reward: service here on earth, reward in Heaven; service out on campaigns, bounty back at court; service for a lady out on the tourneying field, her favour if possible in bed..." (Penguin Classics, p 437).

Networks as a diagnostic tool, viewing in this case literature, a tale, as bundles connections in motion through space and time, developing and changing. The tale is a network that can be understood by understanding the quality of the connections within the tale.

Marc Edelman of CUNY has written on network forms and social organizations in Central America. See When Networks Don’t Work: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Civil Society Initiatives in Central America

Not having read this very carefully -- okay, I just skimmed it -- I'm thinking that considerations of the "network form" need to be revisited in light of the network science/network theory. As Arquilla and Ronfeldt themselves touched on in their later writings, "networks" as social or organizational structures or forms has its own social science literature and history; but "network form" as a category should not be confused or conflated with the contributions from the physicists and others working throught the concepts of networks as a universal architecture characterized by superconnectors, links distributed among nodes according to power laws, with features like network cost, speed, dimension, etc.; laws that describe their growth and change; etc. etc. etc.

For example, Edelman writes "Networks are typically represented by social scientists and by their participants as two-dimensional linkages between nodes or focal points of equal weight or significance. This portrayal– whether of “chain,” “star and hub,” or “all channel” network forms (Arquilla & Ronfeldt 2001a:8)– often fails to capture how networks are experienced by those who participate in them (Riles 2001)."

The network science conception of networks however is more dynamic and "dimensional" (see the maps of the Internet for example). Using network science concepts to analyze social networks I suspect take us beyond the limits that Edelman notes.

Or, "network-form" organizations will be more effective by understanding the laws of networks.