Sunday, May 21, 2017

Joe Navarro on the Worst Espionage Breach in US History

Joe Navarro talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor and the Worst Espionage Breach in US History.



“You don’t have a responsibility to be victimized at any time.” ~Joe Navarro

Joe and his parents were refugees from Cuba, and he grew up in Miami. He spent twenty-five years in the FBI working for counterintelligence and is presently sharing his insights in human behavior, and notes that, as an immigrant kid growing up, he needed to hone his skills at reading nonverbal cues because he initially didn’t know any English, which he further honed as he entered the FBI. Joe has written other books, but when he realized what was going on with Russia and current events he decided to write Three Minutes to Doomsday, as he pointed out that the present crop of leaders in Russia today were grown in the KGB during the Cold War and apparently still maintain their attitude of the West being “the enemy.”

Joe remarks that “war by other means” is a tactic which is familiar with those in counterintelligence, which deals with identifying and countering the efforts of enemies to gather information that has a benefit of tactical or strategic purpose - the definition of “intelligence” - to the United States. He notes that those who would release sensitive information aren’t necessarily spies, and that whether or not people like Julian Assange are spies should be determined by the courts. Joe notes that FBI agents are essentially paid by the public to become paid observers for criminal activity and decipher the information which could lead to prosecutions.

Joe remarked that it took him, on the average, two or three days to prepare for his interviews with Ramsay, and the interviews lasted anywhere between two to twelve hours. Joe had to play this very carefully, as he couldn’t afford to make a single mistake and Ramsay had genius-level IQ with photographic memory and could talk on a lot of topics and, even more importantly, was not under custody and could thus bolt at any time. Joe points out that Ramsay was just one of many different personality types that he encountered over the course of his career, and he points out that the information that Ramsay passed to the Soviet Union not only included a large quantity of documents but which, if war broke out between the Soviets and the West, would have caused hundreds of thousands of Western casualties and would have enabled the Soviets to gain a swift victory. Joe also remarked that, after the damage assessment was done, the breach was so significant that this was the only time in American history that such potential damage could have been inflicted.

Joe notes that the question of whom to trust, where sensitive information is concerned, has been around since ancient times. Joe notes that people who would do great harm, in the form of leaking sensitive information to the enemy is concerned, won’t be easily spotted, pointing out that mass murderers have functioned in the societies they lived in and that, when their identities were revealed, the people around them were caught by surprise. Joe also points out that the Internet has made handling sensitive information more challenging as, prior to the Internet, it was relatively easy to keep people away with locked doors and patrols, whereas, at the moment, someone with know-how can hack into a computer to stalk a person or to down a nation’s entire system, such as traffic or emergency services.

Where individual security is concerned, Joe remarks that one should take whatever security measures are necessary to protect oneself, or pretend that there are no threats out in the world.

Purchase from Amazon: Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor and the Worst Espionage Breach in US History by Joe Navarro

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mark Zupan on The Inside Job: How Government Insiders Subvert the Public Interest

Mark Zupan talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Inside Job: How Government Insiders Subvert the Public Interest.



“Government by the people doesn’t necessarily mean government for the people.” ~Mark Zupan

Mark is the son of immigrants who grew up in Rochester, New York and has embarked on a career in the academe, specializing in economics, and is presently the president of Alfred University in Alfred, New York. He began looking into politics from the point of view of an economist - supply and demand, in other words - in the 1980s, with another professor. Mark points out that the demand side of government interactions has been the focus of a lot of literature and blame, but looking at the supply side - the insiders in the government, such as a monarch or those in government - hasn’t been done, for the most part, and this is what Inside Job brings out.

Mark notes that autocracy was the norm throughout the world two centuries ago, and that democratic governments are now more commonplace, and the book shows that democracies are superior to autocracies when it comes to integrity in the public sector, pointing out the work of Transparency International, which shows that democracies, on the average, outperform autocracies where integrity in the public sector is concerned. Mark, also notes that there are around a dozen autocratic governments which rate high in this kind of integrity, as well as that, in some democratic governments, some people still have to pay bribes to get things done.

Mark points out that democracies have checks and balances within their systems that help maintain such integrity, and that there is a symbiosis between the supply side and the demand side. Mark gave an example of sugar lobbying, where the cost to the average American family is $50 a year due to import restrictions on sugar from other countries. The United States and its consumers thus lose anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion a year, and the reason this goes on is that the average family isn’t much concerned about losing $50 a year, and the sugar interests in the United States thus have more pull with the government.

Mark notes that, on the average, autocratic governments last nine times longer than democratic governments, yet produce poor results where prosperity and government cleanliness is concerned. Mark contrasts this with private enterprise, where good sales result from good products, and that power is the currency of governments. Some of the checks and balances that enable democratic governments to do better than autocracies are term limits and electoral competition, as well as a lower likelihood of “golden parachutes” and a greater confidence that anything that was created during the term of one government will be supported by the courts in being carried on into the term of another government.

Mark remarked, as an example of misuse of power on the supply side of politics, on the situation of the Janissaries in the Ottoman Empire, which started out as an attempt at a meritocracy, and which was egalitarian for one generation, which ended up seizing the power of the Empire to the point of being able to murder two sultans who were attempting to reform the Empire. Mark also gave the example of the sultans and the scribes losing power due to the printing press, which resulted in only 2% of the Ottoman Empire’s population being able to read at a time when literacy in Europe was 50%.

Mark notes that supply side power misuse is present in both China (the world’s largest autocracy) and in the United States (the world’s most economically developed democracy). Mark remarks that one in seven of the wealthiest men in China are political figures, which means that the party in power is unlikely to want to foster competition, as this would reduce the money they would get. Where the United States is concerned, Mark points out to the growth of public sector unionization, which has grown from 6% in the 1970s to 37% at present. This creates a large voting block which can exert electoral influence but also an imposition of power that can affect public trust and integrity. He points out the impact of such in the educational system, where the number of college-ready graduates have not improved despite increased spending, as well as unfunded pensions, which total close to $5 trillion, which makes this the second largest fiscal challenge of the United States.

Mark notes that the average person, in a democracy, has the power to affect the interplay between supply and demand sides of government, and that people have to be involved with the checks and balances to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.

Purchase from Amazon: Inside Job: How Government Insiders Subvert the Public Interest by Mark Zupan.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ian Roberts: How to Make Noises & Influence People - The Wonders of Language

Ian Roberts talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, The Wonders of Language or How to Make Noises and Influence People.



“We are mostly very unaware of the complexity and the potential of language.” ~Ian Roberts

Ian is presently a professor of linguistics in Cambridge University in England since 2000, and prior to that he taught in Geneva, Germany and Wales. The inspiration for his book actually came from his then-seventeen-year-old son, who had taken a course in English language that he really liked and thought about continuing on studying that after his graduation from high school. His son suggested that he write a book on linguistics “for people like me,” and while Ian initially just laughed it off the seed was nevertheless planted, and he then wrote The Wonders of Language, which focuses on verbal communication.

The Wonders of Language is intended for a general audience and gives an understandable introduction to all the ideas that linguists have speculated about or worked on, where language is concerned, to date. Ian admitted that writing in such a way that the concepts were accessible without “dumbing down” the ideas was challenging, giving the example of the chapter on semantics - meaning - being one of the more challenging ones.

Ian remarks that language has most likely been around since humans walked the Earth, but because language leaves no fossils, it is difficult to date exactly when language started, although the figure of language starting around 100,000 years ago is a generally accepted estimate. Ian also notes that other human species, such as the Neanderthals, might have had a language of their own, but due to lack of records such will remain speculation.

Ian remarks that languages are being created all the time, and by human babies and toddlers, as they always invent their own languages all the time. For adults to learn a language, Ian recommends immersing oneself totally in the language after getting the basics, and avoiding using one’s own native language during that immersion.

Ian remarks that there is a debate about how language creates the reality of a people, but opines that language channels, but not constrains, one’s thinking, as it is so open-ended that it enables people to create new ideas. He also notes that the main purpose of language might be to influence others, but also serves other purposes, such as to help people organize things for themselves.

Ian has two favorite concepts in the book, one which is how to find lost languages and the other is about how to learn and lose a language, with the latter being how babies learn languages. Where dead languages - languages which are no longer spoken - are concerned, Ian notes that there are two kinds: one for which written records exist, and the second being where no written records exist. Figuring out how the words are pronounced is a challenge, and Ian remarks that there is a technique where dead languages can be iterated based on the languages that were descended from that dead language, as the forms of the dead language can be inferred from its existing descendants.

Ian remarks that the present form of English sprang from the Anglo-Saxons, and the first texts were noted in around 700 A.D. Because a part of English was brought to England from northern Europe, it is related to German, which is descended from a language called “proto-Germanic,” which is also the ancestor of other languages such as Dutch and Scandinavian. Proto-Germanic, in turn, is related to Latin, ancient Greek and Sanskrit and other Indian languages, as all of these languages sprang from a language called “Indo-European,” which existed around five to eight thousand years ago; and as no written records exist of either proto-Germanic and Indo-European, it has to be noted that such time estimates of when these were spoken aren’t accurate.

While Ian notes that getting a map of the relationships amongst the languages of the world is a task too huge for one person, he does note that a study is ongoing which can be accessed at the World Atlas of Language Structures, which can be searched using “WALS.” Ian also remarks that, at present, the study covers 2,000 languages, which is around a third of all the languages presently being spoken in the world today.

Ian remarks that general readers will be attracted to The Wonders of Language because it is short and gives a quick and easy way to get a handle on some topics. He also noted that he is presently thinking of writing, with some colleagues, a book describing the sixty most important languages in world history.

Purchase from Amazon: The Wonders of Language or How to Make Noises and Influence People by Ian Roberts.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Julia Sloan on Learning to Think Strategically

Julia Sloan talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about her book, Learning to Think Strategically (3rd Edition).




“You begin to see the problem so differently the minute you take pen to paper and start to draw your problem.” ~Julia Sloan


Julia’s area of expertise is on the learning aspect of strategic thinking, and in addition to being on the faculties of Columbia University and the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, she has worked with senior managers of companies, international agencies and nonprofit organizations throughout the world, primarily in Asia, the Middle East and Africa on how to strengthen their strategic thinking. She has been working on the research for twelve years and has worked in the field of strategic thinking for eighteen years. She decided to write Learning to Think Strategically after realizing that people were making no distinction between strategic thinking, strategic planning and other, similar concepts that had become merely buzzwords, rather than concepts to be assimilated.

Julia notes that there is a difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning. Strategic thinking focuses on the problem at hand, and the purpose here is not to think of solutions to the problem but to go deep and get to the real problem concerned. She also notes that strategic thinking is informal, intuitive and emotional, highly reliant on what she calls “arational” thinking, which makes it rather messy. Strategic planning, on the other hand, is more linear and the topic of what most strategy literature deals with. Strategic planning is also formalized, rational and structured, and Julia notes that, once people differentiate between strategic thinking and strategic planning they do well.

Where strategic thinking is concerned, the underlying structure consists of divergent thinking, creative thinking, conceptual thinking, polarity thinking and critical reflective processes, which include critical dialogue, critical reflection and critical inquiry which questions underlying assumptions and beliefs to get at an issue’s premise, which is usually invisible. Julia also points out that these are not taught in business environments, and she mentioned the case of a medical technology company which was able to use strategic thinking to change course from the strategic plan they had created to close a plant in one area and open another in another country as well as purchase a company, which enabled them to be the top three companies in their particular industry.

Julia notes that strategic thinking is needed in corporations because of globalization, and that those organizations who aren’t aware of strategic thinking tend to force others to think the way the people where the company came from think, and when things go bad fingers get pointed about who is to blame for a failure in innovation and strategy. She points out that strategic thinking is a learnable human activity, rather than a cultural concern, and that anyone can thus learn how to think strategically. That said, Julia admits that culture teaches people what to pay attention to, how to identify patterns and how to make decisions, and that, once these cultural traits are gotten past, the learning process is the same anywhere.

Julia notes that “strategic thinking” has become a confusing, blanket term, and gives an example of what is really desired from someone who is essentially told, “I’d like to promote you but you need to show more strategic thinking.”

Julia envisions the teaching of strategic thinking all the way from elementary to graduate school by paying attention to the domain of arational thinking, which includes polarity thinking and metaphors. She points out that these are not easily measurable the way rational thinking methodologies are, and are thus not convenient to teach. Drawing is an activity that she highly recommends as a way to access strategic thinking, as Julia points out that she has used this method for senior managers and that children can use these as well, and the methods can be taught at all levels.

Julia points out that Learning to Think Strategically focuses on the learning aspect of strategic thinking, and how the latter is differentiated from other types of strategic tools, and that those who imbibe its lessons enhance their mental agility. The third edition includes some new concepts and matter that weren’t included in the previous editions, such as the triangle model as well as the two cognitive clusters that support both strategic thinking and strategic planning.

Purchase from Amazon: Learning to Think Strategically (3rd Edition) by Julia Sloan.