After a long pause, and a false start in December, MountainRunner is back. To get a logistical detail out of the way: if you subscribed to email updates from mountainrunner last month, last year, or last decade, you will need to re-subscribe as those subscribers will not (in fact, cannot) be migrated over to the new e-letter system. Subscribe here.
It has been over four years since I ended my then-inveterate posting. There was some sporadic activity in early 2012, including some fine guest posts. Since 2010, the world of public diplomacy — however you define that ambiguous term — has changed. In that time, my relationship with public diplomacy and international broadcasting has evolved. And since 2013, my understanding of U.S. International Media (neé ‘broadcasting’) changed completely. (The public narrative of the BBG is far removed from the realities of purpose & impact, but that’s for another time.)
The original purpose of this blog was to be an anonymous place for me to practice writing. I had returned to university to complete my undergraduate degree in international relations. As a technology geek who enjoyed programming, systems design (including SAN architecture, server balancing, global operations), and knowledge management system design and deployment, I needed to write. (You could say I’m still practicing: even today, if a post doesn’t have a typo or grammatical error then it probably isn’t mine!)
Early posts ranged far and wide, but generally focused on the privatization of force, or more specifically, private military companies. The first post was entitled ‘Robot Grunts’. A professor had tasked me with reviewing PMCs for class. As it was a class on human rights, she expected me to write about how bad they were in concept and execution. Instead, I found that they were more potentially accountable than UN peacekeepers. And so I wrote in several magazines, a scholarly article or two, a book chapter, and nearly my own book on private military companies (the book outline was accepted by a university press in the midwest, but my interests shifted elsewhere… to public diplomacy). I later wrote several articles, an academic paper or two, a few presentations, and a conference paper on lethal robots (unmanned ground vehicles).
As the blog focused more on public diplomacy, it was increasingly cited as a source in class (I was now in a public diplomacy master’s program). I still posted anonymously — the bio picture was of my dog, the inspiration for the name Mountainrunner — though I readily shared my identity when asked over email. Eventually, perhaps 2006 (2 years into the project), I ‘came out’ and put my name on the blog.
The blog grew. There were followers, then commenters. Offline conversations followed (for every online comment there were generally 3-5 offline conversations), as did invitations to meet when I was in DC (which was rare, but increasingly frequent), and were conference invites. Advisory roles followed, both formal (i.e. paid) and informal (not paid).
The site was, and continues to be, about having a conversation. A personal conversation that reflects my personal views. When there is a guest writer, the post will reflects that individual’s views, not mine. (There are boundaries and I’ve rejected guest posts that are clearly promotional.) The blog is apolitical and has never and will never be used to further political positions, or official agency views for that matter.
Naturally, my present role in Government — a part-time job — will influence my views. It bears repeating that the posts here reflect my personal views and do not represent the agency’s position or that of any of my colleagues.
As always, don’t hesitate to let me know if you have a suggestion, comment, or criticism about an item on the blog or related to a blog topic. I enjoy an informed debate, which is a key reason for restarting this blog.
I’ll close with a quip from John Maynard Keynes: ‘When facts change, I change my mind. What do you, sir?’