A Journal on Resilience, Independence, and the Self-Assertive Personalities That Define Humanity.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"What Are You Doing?"

I wonder if those who've been following from the beginning, or read the earlier entries, aren't beginning to question: Why all this noise about resilience, resilient communities and the future? I thought this was a blog about war stuffs and armed conflict?

Well... Yes. It is. But, it's also rather rapidly become something more. Or has taught me that it is something more. This hasn't changed, so much as my understanding of what this is has become more complete. My understanding has become more whole, and less stuck in the “armed” half of the title.
My interests in being the Armed Bohemian, particularly the armed part, my interests in military service, private security/military work, are very much about long-term resiliency on a independent level (and for my family/tribe). But that is only a small part of that complete resilience. The bohemian is a resilient animal, by nature, in large part due to the autodidact and polymath qualities necessary to be successfully “bohemian”.
The idea of the Armed Bohemian presents an individual perfectly suited for the massive shifts and changes in the global environment. This is a blog about the truly personal (individual) resilience, and the contribution of the individual to the select whole.

So yes, I'll be getting back to armament and all that business in time. I still find the warrior, the armed individual, etc. indispensable, and am still coming at all this from the perspective of that resilient personality and their contribution to the whole.

Punishing the Tribes

Random surfing today found me this news item out of Seattle:

$10 an Hour with Two Kids? The IRS Pounces

Rachel Porcaro knows she's hardly rich. When you're a single mom making 10 bucks an hour, you don't need government experts to tell you how broke you are.
But that's what happened. The government not only told Porcaro she was poor. They said she was too poor to make it in Seattle.
It all started a year ago, when Porcaro, a 32-year-old mom with two boys, was summoned to the Seattle office of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). She had been flagged for an audit.
She couldn't believe it. She made $18,992 the previous year cutting hair at Supercuts. A few hundred of that she spent to have her taxes prepared by H&R Block.
"I asked the IRS lady straight upfront — 'I don't have anything, why are you auditing me?' " Porcaro recalled. "I said, 'Why me, when I don't own a home, a business, a car?' "
The answer stunned both Porcaro and the private tax specialist her dad had gotten to help her.
"They showed us a spreadsheet of incomes in the Seattle area," says Dante Driver, an accountant at Seattle's G.A. Michael and Co. "The auditor said, 'You made eighteen thousand, and our data show a family of three needs at least thirty-six thousand to get by in Seattle."
"They thought she must have unreported income. That she was hiding something. Basically they were auditing her for not making enough money."
She had a yearlong odyssey into the maw of the IRS. After being told she couldn't survive in Seattle on so little, she was notified her returns for both 2006 and 2007 had been found "deficient." She owed the government more than $16,000 — almost an entire year's pay.
She couldn't pay it. Her dad, Rob, has run a local painting business, Porcaro Power Painting, for 30 years. He asked his accountant, Driver, for help.
Rachel's returns weren't all that complicated. At issue, though, was that she and her two sons, ages 10 and 8, were all living at her parents' house in Rainier Beach (she pays $400 a month rent). So the IRS concluded she wasn't providing for her children and therefore couldn't claim them as dependents.
She stood to lose what is called earned income tax credit, a refund targeted to help low-income workers. You qualify only if you're working, as Rachel has been.
Driver quickly determined the IRS was wrong in how it was interpreting the tax laws. He sent in the necessary code citations and hoped that would be the end of it.
Instead, the IRS responded by launching an audit of Rachel's parents."

Thats the meat of it, although the full article has all the numbers (which are ridiculous). Why I'm posting this is a single quote from the end of the article however.
The money quote:
“We're an Italian family," [Rachel] said. "We're surviving as a tribe. It seems like we got punished for that"

Punished for being a tribe. Of course they are – The machine doesn't want tribes, anymore than it wants individuals. The mechanisms of the state are inherently suspicious of such resilient organization. Another hurdle that more of us will probably have to be prepared to deal with, as we continue to adapt, and lead our tribes into resilient behaviors.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Grey Skills

Everyone should be familiar with the idea of Grey Markets; Those markets which, while not entirely legitimate are not illegal (as opposed to black markets, which deal in the illegal or deal illegally). Such markets often deal in providing products outside the channels established by the primary producers. In independent communities, grey markets are strong due to a lack of corporate/establishment dependence.
Most should also be able to grok Grey Hat “hackers”; Those who, uninvited, attack systems without malicious intent, to bring awareness to vulnerabilities and encourage stronger protections.
However you slice it, independence and resiliency tend to thrive in greyness (and/or vice versa).
I mention all this to highlight a definition that struck me the other night – That of Grey Skills.
Skills, and the application of them, which ride the interstice between legal/legitimate and illegal/illegitimate, or which knowledge of is allowed but practice would cross legal boundaries.
These could be different types of skill:
- Skills that can be used legitimately, or illegally, depending on what you're doing or where.
- Some of these skills are generic – Gardening, farming, hunting, etc.
- Some less generic skills, while not typically restricted by law, are not commonly available outside of specific professions. Your community college likely does not have a class on lockpicking, or combat handgunnery, though they may offer both locksmithing certification and live fire courses related to law enforcement certifications.
- Similarly, skills in sciences and medicine where work in the field is often regulated and tightly controlled through specific institutions.
The knowledge that drives these skills is legal to obtain, though often considered secure due to assumed state monopolies on teaching it (war-fighting, for example), and available to anyone willing to invest the time and the money. Those demands, with global communications and networks, have dropped significantly and a functional education in a subject needn't require great outlays of money, or extensive time/incursions into regular schedules. (Note I say functional education – Good enough to perform the skill, without requiring achieving a degree or certification).
Any skill that is commonly monopolized by the state/industry, or regulated by such, but can be learned and used legally (or, without it being expressly illegal) is a Grey Skill. As an example - Computer hacking is a grey skill, until used to commit crime. Hacking in general, actually – There is great value in hackers of all stripes, as John Robb notes here: Hackers Essential to Resilience
Three of the easiest to grab ahold of grey skills would be three of my favorite: Skill at arms, medical skill and locksport (aka lock picking).
Skill at arms is a grey skill – There is a robust private training industry dedicated to it, providing some legitimacy in the US, but its one of those things many NGO's and government groups would like to see monopolized by the state.
Medicine in another grey skill, when taught outside the conventional medical community. In the developing world teaching simple medicine, or even some not so simple, to individuals in communities to create healthcare workers capable of functioning without access to a doctor is a common aid activity. In the US, medicine is almost exclusively run and taught within the medical community, and what most private people know about it comes from extenze ads and maybe a CPR class. Basic levels of medical skill are easy to obtain through the system, up to Wilderness EMT can be obtained by anyone with several weeks time, the funds and an ability to learn traditionally and perform tasks, skill recall and simple math under simulated stress. There are also private concerns that teach medical skills to anyone with the money. I teach a class specifically for concealed carry permit holders and other armed citizens on initial field treatment of gunshot/penetrating trauma injuries. Other trainers teach similar course work, some also teach more extensive field medicine courses that more resemble what a good expedition medic or military medic can do. There are also plentiful books on this topic that represent serious scholarship not anti-science/medical new age quackdom. Most of this training is being distilled from the professional world, but it is being provided to whoever can pay for it (or shows up, in the case of some free clinics), or purchase the books/videos (or download them).
Physical security, particularly locks and lock systems, is another grey skill. It is commonly encountered only via professionals, and some private training entities only provide it to select clientele, but in recent years “lock sport” (lock picking and the academic study of locks) has become an extremely popular hobby. As with skill at arms and medical skills, there is an extensive amount of knowledge in this field available to anyone with the time, interest and money. Again, much of it is often free or extremely inexpensive.

Skills acquired in the white realm can convert into grey skills when taken outside of there for reasons of resiliency (vice reasons of crime) – The soldier who teaches his family to move, fight and communicate like a small infantry unit. The doctor/RN/paramedic who teaches her domestic partner to run IV's, dress wounds and drop endotracheal tubes. The pharmacist who teaches his apartment gardening co-op how to compound medicines.
Some grey skills are far more common, such as on the job skills that are learned out of necessity and never certified. Most of the people I know who can weld, hold no certification in it having learned it on the job. Same for many construction and building related skills.
At various points in the past, other grey skills have been an ordinary part of everyday life for some people. In the rural western US, until the late-middle 20th Century poaching as a component of subsistence living remained common. My father (born 1945) grew up knowing an old man who had all his life bought one box of cartridges a year for his rifle and considered that his “meat budget”. Poaching, successfully, is different from reasonable sport hunting, and is a “skill” which employs means and methods not commonly taught or used in legal hunting, but those skills are often taught and passed on in a community, or provided in that grey area of non-illegality for studying them. Paladin Press, a long contributor to studying various “grey skills” even publishes a book on poaching.

The value of these skills, to the resilient person and within resilient communities, is in filling the gaps left by failed/hollow states and infrastructure breakdowns. Security, medicine/health, fabrication and production – All these things (and more) are increasingly needed to be handled on a local level. Where providers of those skills already exist, they will begin to fill those gaps and new orders of training and replacement will come to bear. However, as many skilled individuals are leaving one area in favor of another, the absence of critical skills could be strongly felt. Particularly in rural areas where people already have to drive hours to access doctors, police officers and medical care.
Traditionally, those rural environments were rife with skilled individuals. Now as more people have retired or moved for other reasons out of the urban environment, less of these skills exist in communities that remain rural. Lots of aerospace engineers and sewage treatment chemists, very few home-spun “doctorinarians”, blacksmiths, farmers, etc. Of those who've moved in, most are accustomed to having immediate access to services such as security/policing and have little or no skills to contribute there either. Those who are long time rural, having grown up or made their life in such places, will be the ones to put it all together in a collapse, or in growing a resilient community ahead of it. The newcomers will have to re-skill or find themselves unable to cooperate and forced to rely on altruism of their neighbors.

Today's Grey Skill may be tomorrows Black (or White), as political/moral climate change, and communities experience the inevitable shake-ups. What the State (or its remains) calls Black, your local community/tribe/family may call White, and vice versa.
Building those Grey Skills and availing yourself of their easy availability now, is probably a wise move. Both to counter restrictions in their availability as a floundering system makes last grasps for control, and to sustain in a world where access to professional services is going to be difficult, but skills will be highly valuable locally.
These skills are only a small part of the skills package that someone needs these days, I think – Looking to Robb's Global Guerrillas again, there's this excellent piece of advice: I'm Young and Need Advice

As a note: These skills are often found in the survivalist movement, but that area lacks the long term vision of more reasoned approaches, and reasoned behaviors (including succeeding and gaining wealth, not merely surviving). I don't think the Russians are going to nuke us into a subsistence living nightmare, nor am I planning for it. I am planning for, and suggesting planning for, rough periods as the economy and governments of the world settle themselves out in the coming years and difficulties - And thriving in those environments. Being able to do, make, provide and trade locally within a resilient community (and secure those activities from those unskilled and forced to resort to strict predation) is the way of the future – It is already the way many are riding out the “recession”, and will continue to be proven out as the model for success as time goes on, I believe. Re-skilling, and returning to a common multi-faceted skill level is an important piece of the puzzle each individual (or each family) should be putting together at this point.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Entrepreneurial Resiliency

Again with the posting of links and brief commentary in lieu of anything substantial. It's coming, but I've been busy with literary efforts elsewhere. Bear with me, and feel free to comment and throw ideas into the mix via the comments. Open discussion is encouraged.

One of the hallmarks of the Armed Bohemian is that s/he is a resilient creature, both by nature and by effort.
John Robb at Global Guerrillas has just posted an excellent journal entry, part of an ongoing series on resilient communities: Entrepreneurship as Resilience

He's given the beginnings of a check list for developing entrepreneurial skill, with the promise of more to come. Take note, this is where and how many have survived in the interstices in the past, and will be how many of us survive in the future as things change.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Armed Bohemianism Happens at Home

One of the things I hope no one misses here is that, while I use striking figures from current affairs and history to give form to many ideas, the idea of the armed bohemian is not one of elitism. I'm interested in these ideas because of the importance of having these qualities in daily life, in personal and family life and affairs. I think in this changing world, and with the potential troubles on the horizon, this lifestyle offers a great deal to the everyman/woman. Armed, here, means more than arms or force – It means capability.

A few different news items have caught my attention recently that show these personalities in action, or behaviors that I think support our end goal.

The Dacha: Where the Living is Easy
If things get truly difficult in the United States and other first-world nations, a lot of people are going to be in for a rough ride. A forced return to self sufficient living, even on the small community/neighborhood level, will leave a lot of people spinning. While this kind of thing is getting trendy, the skillset doesn't exist naturally any longer, except in certain areas and communities. We could all benefit from putting some of the dacha mentality to work in our own back yards. If you're fortunate enough to have a dacha, put it to good use.
While self sufficiency is an admirable goal, prior to any possible collapse, simply having some skills at working the land, preserving and canning, and living comfortably in a place without the basic amenities will do wonders for an individuals resiliency. The resiliency of their family will benefit as well. And not just in TEOTWAWKI situations – Things as simple, and common, as job loss, power outages, and disasters go from being life changing, ruining, events to mild bumps in the road with just a little capability.

The Ash Street Shootout – Twenty Years Later
A group of Army Rangers may not seem like the everyman to some readers, but I think that's probably how they think of themselves. Strong, independent men with families, and a social group they cared for and weren't going to allow harm to befall – They simply had certain skills which put them at the advantage for the task they undertook. That's what this is all about.
(As a note: Do not mistake the lack of bodies for failure on the part of the Rangers. Men who know those men have confirmed that it wasn't failure, but an act of will. They made an agreement to do no killing, unless absolutely necessary. Phenomenal restraint.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Armed Bohemian - Origins and Definitions of the Term

Armed Bohemian as a term is the evolution of something I've used for awhile, and you can still find as a label on my mainstream blog Rum & Donuts – “NeoBohemian”.
I'd been trying for a couple of years to collect the foundations of an idea of neobohemianism as a sort of armed renaissance man for today. Bookstore and coffee shop court holding, art opening attending, gun bearing, etc. It just wasn't working. NeoBohemian was too easily misinterpreted (including by me) and lacked the robustness of the self-contained definition Armed Bohemian.
My first encounter with the term “Armed Bohemian” was via ZenPundit, referencing Konrad Heiden. Heiden, a German journalist and authority on of the rise of Hitler, used the term to describe Hitler, and many of his fellows. The idea being that they were (self-assumed at least) intellectuals and artists, educated or semi-educated men, hardened by war and applying that combined experience into a new movement of force.
ZenPundit quoted the term to cover a general range of tyrants and warlords:
“Men who are ill-suited to achieving success in an orderly society but are acutely sensitive to minute shifts that they can exploit during times of uncertainty, coupled with an amoral sociopathology to do so ruthlessly. Paranoid and vindictive, they also frequently possess a recklessness akin to bravery and a dramatic sentimentality that charms followers and naive observers alike. Some warlords can manifest a manic energy or regularly display great administrative talents while a minority are little better than half-mad gangsters getting by, for a time, on easy violence, low cunning and lady luck.”
Despite the negative connotations of the term, I liked it when I first read it and wanted to know more. Perhaps my sympathy towards some warlord ideals and romantic stereotypes eased the punch of the associated negatives.
In researching the term, I came across another usage of it – This from libertarian-socialist, conservationist Murray Bookchin's
Ecology of Freedom.
For context, I feel it worthwhile to quote a few pages where Bookchin enters a discussion of individualist assertive personalities giving definition to humanity. His case-study is Archilochus, the Greek mercenary-poet:

The word humanity is a barren abstraction if it is not given existential reality by self-assertive personalities who enjoy a visible degree of autonomy. Such beings could hardly be created by imperial edict. To the extent that organic society declined, so too did the intense sense of collectivity it had fostered. A new contect had to be created for the individual that would render it function in an increasingly atomized world. [...] the waning of primordial society placed a high premium on a new type of individual: a resourceful, comparatively self-sufficient, and self-reliant ego that could readily adapt itself to – if not “command” - a society that was losing its human scale and developing more complex political institutions and commercial ties than any human community had known in the past.
Such individuals had always existed on the margins of the early collective. They were ordinarily given a certain degree of institutional expression if only to provide a safety valve for marked personal idiosyncrasies. Tribal society has always made allowances for aberrant sexual behavior, exotic psychological traits and personal ambition (the “big man” syndrome) – allowances that find expression in a high degree of sexual freedom, shamanistic roles, and an exaltation of courage and skill. From this marginal area, society recruited its priests and warrior-chieftains for commanding positions in later, more hierarchical institutions.
But this development is not simply one of breakdown and recomposition. It occurs on a personal level and a social level – egocentric and sociocentric. Viewed on the personal level, the individual accompanies the emergence of “civilization” like a brash, unruly child whose cries literally pierce the air of history and panic the more composed, tradition-bound collectivity that continues to exist after the decline of organic society. The ego's presence is stridently announced by the warrior, whose own “ego boundaries” are established by transgressing the boundaries of all traditional societies. The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh, for example, befriends the stranger, Enkidu, who shares his various fears as a companion, not a kinsman. Valor, rather than lineage, marks their myth-beclouded personal traits.
But misty, almost stereotyped figures like Gilgamesh seem like metaphors for individuality rather than the real thing. More clearly etched personalities like Achilles, Agamemnon, and the Homeric warriors are often cited as the best candidates for western conceptions of the newly born ego. “
The model of the emerging individual is the Greek hero,” observes Max Horkheimer in his fascinating discussion of the rise and decline of individuality. “Daring and self-reliant, he triumphs in the struggle for survival and emancipates himself from tradition as well as from the tribe.” That these qualities of daring and self-reliance were the be prized in the Greco-Roman world is accurate enough, but it is doubtful if the model is properly placed. In fact, the most striking egos of the archaic world were not the bronze-age heroes celebrated by Homer but the iron-age antiheroes so cynically described by Archilochus. Indeed, Archilochus himself was the embodiment of this highly unique personality. He links a hidden tradition of the ego's self-assertion in organic society with the calculating individual of emerging “civilization”.

Unlike a quasi-mythical despot like Gilgamesh or a newly-arrived aristocrat like Achilles, Archilochus speaks for a remarkable breed: the displaced, wandering band of mercenaries who must live by their wits and cunning. He is no Homeric hero but rather something of an armed bohemian of the seventh century B.C. His self-possession and libertarian spirit stand in marked contrast to the disciplined lifeways that are congealing around the manorial society of his day. His very existence almost seems improbable, even an affront to the heroic posture of his era. His occupation as itinerant soldier reflects the sweeping decomposition of society; his arrogant disdain for tradition exudes the negativity of the menacing rebel. What cares he for the shield has had abandoned in battle? “Myself I saved from death; why should I worry about my shield? Let it be gone: I shall buy another equally good.” Such sentiments could never have been expressed by a Homeric hero with his aristocratic code of arms and honor. Nor does Archilochus judge his commanders by their mien and status. He dislikes a “tall general, striding forth on his long legs; who prides himself on his locks and shaves his chin like a fop. Let him be a small man,” he declares, “perhaps even bow-legged, as long as he stands firm on his feet, full of heart.
Archilochus and his wandering band of companions are the earliest record we have of that long line of “masterless men” who surface repeatedly during periods of social decomposition and unrest – men, and later women, who have no roots in any community or tradition, who colonize the world's future rather than its past. Their characters are literally structured to defy custom, to satirize and shatter established mores, to play the game of life by their own rules. Marginal as they may be, they are the harbingers of the intensely individuated rebel who is destined to “turn the world upside down.” They have broad shoulders, not puny neuroses, and express themselves in a wild, expletive-riddled poetry or oratory. Society must henceforth always warily step aside when they appear on the horizon and silently pray that they will pass by unnoticed by its restive commoners – or else it must simply destroy them.
But these are the few sharply etched personalities of history, the handful of marginal rebels whose significance varies with the stability of social life. Their fortunes depend upon the reception they receive by much larger, often inert, masses of people.”

This passage, on whole, is incredibly important for defining armed bohemianism as I see it and seek to practice it. Bookchin's armed bohemian, “
He is no Homeric hero but rather something of an armed bohemian”, is not a man of society, or of tribe, but a force which shapes and defines his own society and tribe, his own freedom and attachments.
How is this different from the armed bohemian of ZenPundit and Heiden? The tyrant bohemian they portray is seemingly limited in his/her scope merely to villainy. A perhaps locally celebrated, but overall negative, force in the world at large. But outstanding characteristics remain - The tyrant bohemian is of the type of “
Men who are ill-suited to achieving success in an orderly society but are acutely sensitive to minute shifts that they can exploit during times of uncertainty”. This is not a characteristic solely of tyrants, but of all those “self-assertive personalities who enjoy a visible degree of autonomy” that we call armed bohemians.
We define the armed bohemian as a character of multiple possibilities, dark and light, but retaining many of the same qualities on both sides of the coin. Perhaps foremost among these is that they are creatures of limited value (other than to themselves) except at certain times – Their individuality, a certain confrontational independence, puts them at odds with a stable society. They seek the interstices, places of lawlessness and freedom rather than those of stability and control.
Here their desires and skillsets may never be of great value, but they are free to practice them and share them with the select few allowed to participate (not just fellow inhabitants of the fringe, but the select attachments chosen by the individual). However, at times of great unrest, destabilization, these personalities rise as the quality they sought in the interstices are now extant in the whole. The armed bohemian, being “acutely sensitive to these shifts”, finds his greatest potential successes here – Where much of general society would fail, or flee, being inhibited by their establishment in past modes.
To quote ZenPundit again,
“Every society, no matter how civilized or polite on the surface, harbors many such men within it. They are like ancient seeds waiting for the drought-breaking rains.“

Warlords to warrior-poets, rogue farmers and black-swan economists – Armed Bohemians are fundamental to humanity, and societal evolution. Useless and castigated, until they are absolutely necessary.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What the Armed Bohemian is Not

The Armed Bohemian is not a sheepdog.
His interests may support the survivability of the population, or of his people/tribe, but he is not a scruffy, domesticated (dumbed down) wolf overlooking a flock of sheep.
Better should be demanded of a populace than sheepdom. Sheep are not worth protecting, they are worth shearing, and eating.
And a populace, when calling for protectors, should equally demand better than domesticity, and the soft belly of handouts.

The entire concept of protectors - Police, Military, Armed Citizens - being sheepdogs is flawed. It requires the essential assumption that most of the populace are gentle, dim witted, grass eaters who “could only hurt one another by accident”.
The other required assumption is that the best, the strongest, the bravest a society can offer is a domesticated, hand-fed, in-bred beast that's been removed from proper evolutionary functioning. A domesticated “dog”, against the “wolves”.
This being a sheepdog business is an attitude much loved by many in law enforcement, the military and the armed citizen community. What does it say about these people that they think so little of humanity? It's a horribly elitist attitude. And what more does it say that their elitism deifies itself as another weaker animal? Nothing good.

Sheep. Sheepdogs. Feh.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blackwater Bashing - A Media Sport

Blackwater bashing has been popular for quite some time now. Almost as long as the US has been involved in Iraq, negative press about contractors has been coming out. Primarily, negative about Private Military Contractors (PMC's) and Private Security Contractors (PSC's). PMC/PSC's are the evolution of mercenaries and that makes them an easy target for criticism, right or wrong. The word mercenary conjures up all manner of negative associations, and the imagination doesn't have to be stretched much at all for war-crimes to be laid at the feet of these men.
The company formerly known as Blackwater has caught, in the past couple of years, more than its fair share of this. Blackwater has come to represent all the ills and evils of the privatized military industry, and is synonymous with “mercenary evil army” in the eyes of the media and many Americans. With each new article written, this becomes more and more true. A dozen journalists, independently decide BW would make the great topic for a negative exposition of the private military industry. When that dozen articles come out, they provide a referential frame-work for one another, and for other articles to build upon. It was only made more perfect because Blackwater created distinctive branding. They had a threatening name (never mind that it had all the grave meaning of “swampwater”, which is what it alluded to), and an easily recognizable corporate logo, a big bad all-black bear paw silhouette with sharp claws. American's like a name, a face, they can hold onto, and once Blackwater soaked into the American consciousness, who in their right mind would try to replace it? No one. Why do the leg work, why invest the time and energy into tackling another company, with a mundane name like Meyer & Associates, when there is a giant brand-name demon immediately available? The media is in the business of selling something, and any good editor or producer will know that no one is buying “Some company that sounds like they do your taxes killed some people in Iraq”. Accordingly, any decent journalist wouldn't dream of pitching that story. So, Blackwater it is. Which is why you haven't seen many headlines decrying “Xe” as the evil empire – The name Blackwater is still being widely used, as it's the recognized brand.

Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater, is not, in reality, the evil empire. They are not the most respected, even in the community, of private military/security firms, but they are not the evil empire. For the outside observer, trying to get a handle on them, gain a legitimate idea of what the company is and does, the media frenzy for “Blackwater's” jugular proves to be more of a hindrance than a help.
It's reasonable to begin with questions. Does authority exists on the subject, particularly within the mainstream media? If so, are there any truly unbiased authorities or does everyone have a dog in the hunt? What about the man on the street, the witness to supposed atrocity? Essentially: Who are the sources and what are their motivations?
The man street is easy. The reports from Iraqi family members, friends and neighbors of supposed Blackwater “victims” should be obviously treated as biased, and misleading. Why? For the same reason that, in America, reports from family members, neighbors and friends of slain gang-members should be taken with a grain of salt. When the mother/sister/best-friend/old teacher of a 17 year old shot to death while robbing a liquor store is quoted as saying “He wasn't a bad boy. He wasn't robbin' that place, he was just there. He didn't deserve to die”, most intelligent people roll their eyes, scoff and move on. When the same is said by friends and family of an Iraqi who is shot by a rolling security convoy, plenty of otherwise intelligent people gasp and cry out for justice against these roving bands of murdering contractors. What greater legitimacy does a random Iraqi have, than a random American? How is an armed contractor somehow more a villain than a Harlem store owner who kills armed robbers?
Unreasoned, and more importantly, unsupported claims from individuals should be, under the best of circumstances highly suspect. Collections of accounts of un-checked Blackwater violence don't necessarily equate with reality simply because they're the spoken testimony of a sympathetic people. Particularly when those accounts are, by the time you hear them, second hand. The media (or at least a number of the personalities behind articles, photos, etc.) have a dog in this hunt – They want to paint a picture of something they dislike, so that everyone dislikes it. This doesn't, by itself, invalidate their position, but the possibility exists that they might take things too far. It has happened.
The short point I'm trying to make is, people on the ground and the press (or both) reporting them shouldn't be trusted without question. Their biases are showing, mmmkay?
Even when no bias exists, or it is commendably suppressed by the authors, do they still speak the truth? Harder to answer, not the least for the subjectivity of truth. But, most of the popular media lack the perspective necessary to actually understand what they're talking about when they write about Blackwater/Xe and other PSC/PMC's. Why? Because none of them have ever worked in that field or anything close to it. Many of them were never even in the military, or a foreign service post which put them in positions to interact with private security personnel. There are many jobs in the world which are, at best, difficult to understand from the outside – Few are so greatly different from the observers post and the actors than those “under the gun”. Soldiers, police officers, private security are jobs that must be done before they can be actually understood. An inexperienced observer does not necessarily understand what they see – They can merely report it as they've seen it. Eyes on a gun-fight, or a tactical situation, or an overall strategy see different things depending on the experience and education of those eyes. The work of armed professionals appears chaotic, fractured, particularly when arms come into play. What the outside see's as a frantic unpurposed seizure of violence, the professional see's as a driven, purposeful, even methodical series of tasks and reactions. The outsiders blindness goes far deeper than even that.
Patterns are extremely important in human behavior, and analysis of that behavior. Every professional field, from medicine to accounting to war, involve a developed pattern recognition skill on the part of the professional. War, terrorism and violence are no different. When the armed professional see's someone he or she deems a shooting problem, they are making a decision based on years of experience and training. The Iraqi standing on a roof, shot by an overhead PSC element in a helicopter, was probably exhibiting behavior consistent with that of an insurgent actor of some form, such as a spotter for anti-aircraft fire or a trigger-man for a roadside IED placed for an approaching convoy. What the professional see's as a logical response to a recognized pattern, appears to the inexperienced observer an act random maliciousness, or murderous blood-thirst. Perspective is incredibly important. Observers – journalists – covering this field who don't have the experience of working in the field, are apt to be wrong because they cannot understand the details, they cannot relate to the personalities, and are trying to fill in the blank with something from their world. And that's at their most innocent, not when they are trying to actually push an agenda.
The reporting of recent allegations against Blackwater and founder Erik Prince, made by two former employees, provide a great example of this. Two relatively random guys made sworn statements that a whole series of crimes had occurred in Iraq, perpetrated by Blackwater employees and tolerated, or even encouraged, by the company. And, because we know that people never lie under oath for their own agenda, the media has eaten it up without a lot of question.
The allegations include: Murder, or conspiracy to murder, arms smuggling, child prostitution and sexual exploitation, and religiously based anti-Muslim crusading. From an outsiders perspective, particularly one who believes private military forces are a bad thing, the allegations may sound perfectly reasonable. They support the narrative that already exists about mercenaries, and their offspring, private military/security firms – Particularly Blackwater. Such things have, after all, been true in the past– Why shouldn't they be true of one of the allegedly greatest villains of the Iraqi conflict?
The best reason to doubt the allegations, initially published and quoted by The Nation, are the allegations themselves. I want to focus on one particular area of the allegations, which cast some serious doubt on the overall truthfulness of the testimony. From the sworn declaration of “John Doe #2”: "Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution."
Doe #2 also alleged, “Mr. Prince obtained illegal ammunition from an American company called LeMas. This company sold ammunition designed to explode after penetrating within the human body. Mr. Prince's employees repeatedly used this illegal ammunition in Iraq to inflict maximum damage on Iraqis.
“Mr. Prince made available to his employees in Iraq various weapons not authorized by the United States contracting authorities, such as hand grenades and hand grenade launchers. Mr. Prince's employees repeatedly used this illegal weaponry in Iraq, unnecessarily killing scores of innocent Iraqis."
John Doe #2 claimed to have been in the employ of Blackwater Worldwide for four years. We can only assume that Doe #2 was in that employ, or wants it to be believed he was, in some capacity related to armed operations. Yet, his terminology and focus in these claims has more in common with bad television, than with an experienced security or military man talking.
Sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers” is wrong on multiple levels. First, semi-automatic is antithetical to machine gun. A machine gun is a fully automatic weapon, vs. a semi-automatic which fires one round for each pull of the trigger and no more. Such weapons, whether semi or full automatic may be short barreled, but they cannot be sawed off as they primarily rely on gas generated from the chemical propellant to operate, and cutting into the barrel would disrupt the gas system badly causing the weapons to malfunction. Lastly, silencer is another misnomer, as the correct term is suppressor – Firearms cannot be truly silenced, merely muffled, or suppressed. Armed professionals speak and write in a professional manner, using the professional lexicon of their industry – The quoted statements are not written in a professional manner. Similarly, “hand grenade launchers” is an out of place term. It has been decades since launchers designed to propel hand-grenades further than the human arm can throw were in common manufacture, much less use. Modern grenade launchers use their own munitions, which are not hand operable and thus not “hand grenades”.
Further, Doe #2's description of the LeMas ammunition, “ammunition designed to explode after penetrating within the human body”, is wildly inaccurate. LeMas ammunition, specifically the bullets loaded on the complete ammunition, branded as “Blended Metal Technology” (BMT) by the manufacturer, RBCD Performance Plus, contain no explosive and therefore do not, and can not, explode at all. They are a light weight bullet, designed to rapidly expand and fragment inside a soft target to increase cavitation and prevent over-penetration resulting in a bullet striking an unintended target. LeMas claims that their bullets expand and fragment in a much more effective manner than other products, and that the same bullet against a hard target offers increased penetration, but they make no claim of explosive capability. Not only does LeMas and the manufacturer RBCD make no claim of explosive content, but what claims they do make have been invalidated. Independent analysis has proven that LeMas/RBCD “blended metal” ammunition is not constructed as advertised, and fails to perform to the claims of the company. According to the research, conducted by Dr. Gary K. Roberts, the ammunition was in fact loaded with nothing other than common (commercial-off-the-shelf) varmint-hunting bullets, designed for taking light skinned animals such a coyotes.
And this isn't the first time LeMas has appeared in the anti-military/anti-war press, with references to “exploding” - The statement of Doe #2 has a great narrative similarity to previous pieces stemming from a 2003 Army Times article on use of a LeMas round by a private contractor in Iraq.
From a supposed armed professional, the claims made in Doe #2's sworn statement seem incredibly unprofessional – Weapons which couldn't even exist, incorrect terminology for the modern battlefield, and repeating manufacturers and media claims which have been proven as inaccurate are not the marks of a professional. That alone should be enough to cast extreme doubts on the validity of Doe #2's claims (and by association, the claims of Doe #1).
There are other inconsistencies as well, including the labeling of Eric Prince and his favored employees at Blackwater as “Christian crusaders”, while alleging they supported child prostitution. Say what you will about the Christian right, but their particular morality is not one frequently in favor of child molestation. This is even more true of those with a military background, as most private contractors are - They have an exceptionally low tolerance for the abuse of children.
Of course, when the media get's hold of these juicy little tidbits, they go wild. Few have the experience or knowledge to actually see the problems with these claims, and those who do lack the integrity to speak out as doing so wouldn't favor their bias. Either way, ignorant or agenda driven, the major media remains a source not to be trusted on these matters.

As a reader, particularly as a student of these matters, we have to be aware of the narratives that are cherished in the mass media, and what filters are necessary to maintain those narratives. Only then can we read between the lines and begin to suss out what truth may actually exist.

Blackwater/Xe is a double edged sword. They leave some black marks on the industry, but they are also a large and capable service provider, currently filling several important contracts (including for the State Department).
If Blackwater/Xe employees commit crimes, they should (and are, I'll remind you) be held accountable and tried fairly. If (if) Erik Prince is a murderer, conspirator in murder, or sanctioned any of the ridiculous things attributed to him, then he should be tried and jailed if found guilty. If he is a madman, his company will probably suffer for it in the long-run, and it (and he) will fade away to join Executive Outcomes, Sandline and a whole host of other failed PMC/PCS companies.
The whole thing makes for interesting viewing though, doesn't it sports fans?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What is the Armed Bohemian?

"The word humanity is a barren abstraction if it is not given existential reality by self-assertive personalities who enjoy a visible degree of autonomy." Murray Bookchin

(There is a more fundamental piece coming on the nature of the armed bohemian – This is both introductory, and a teaser for what is to come.)

In terms of this blog, Armed Bohemian, is a place for me to explore some ideas on society, culture, war, violence, and some of my more “unseemly” interests that I've occasionally explored on Rum & Donuts. R&D is about much more than these things, and I don't want to pigeonhole it as a “war blog” or a “gun blog” or any other single idea-blog. Armed Bohemian is a single idea blog (just a rather vast single idea).
I aim to explore issues of Warriors, War, Violence, and the relationships of these matters with Culture and Civilization. In these explorations, I'm hoping to both reach the final formation of an idea, and promote that idea – A philosophy, a lifestyle, of Armed Bohemianism. From Warlord Personalities, to Professional Soldiers, to Armed Citizens. As suggested in the words of Murray Bookchin above, from Ecology of Freedom, these rough men (and women) give a deeper dimension to the human existence, and are often the drivers of culture, and even civilization. Armed Bohemian, the blog, seeks to explore this in a fuller sense.

What exactly, or who are Armed Bohemians? Is it a good thing to be? What defines this? How do these people shape the world? We're going to find out.

Some rough, initial, thoughts – Primarily on the lifestyle angle:
The Armed Bohemian is a bohemian – He (or she) is most certainly a practitioner of an alternative lifestyle. They tend towards wandering, adventuring, rather than establishing large numbers of conventional ties. They partake in a breadth of culture, arts, literature, music, as a function of their existence, not just their entertainment. The armed bohemian has seceded from conventionality in life, culture, and action.
The armed bohemian is also armed. In a culture where armament, violence and war have become the antithesis of acceptability, normality, and civility, the very act of owning a firearm, is a bohemian act. The Armed Bohemian is also characterized by the differences between an armed man, and one unarmed – an armed citizen, vs. a disarmed subject to use rough analogy – but embodies more than simply being armed, being a citizen. Being armed is not merely in reference to weapons either, as armament takes many forms, including knowledge and skill-sets.

The armed bohemian is dedicated, every day, to becoming more dangerous than he was the day before. This is not solely a measure of skill at arms, or anything necessarily combative, but also of knowledge of any field. Particularly applied learning for his fields of professional/personal interest (finance, science, etc). The armed bohemian seeks to be, in some way, faster every morning than he was the morning before – This requires a daily devotion to improving something about himself, or his position in his world.
The Red Queen theory in full effect, though the armed bohemian may seek to be more at the driving end – His existence forcing the lesser beings (both prey and less skilled or enemy predators) to run faster merely to keep up.
The armed bohemian is a man of the world, in the classical sense – A polymath.

The armed bohemian is a student, but not a disciple – He uses what he learns to pave his own path.

Right now is an excellent time to ponder this personality, lifestyle, whatever you want to call it. At this point in the world, in human history, we're in, or fast approaching, a period in which these personalities not only thrive, but drive.

And more. Much more. This idea is, or will become, far less self-help for the would-be warlord, than this may make it sound. Just, stick around.