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Meet the Ferals! Plus, More Definitions of Tanks

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We gotta put city pride aside and own up, early on in this blog's run: Los Angeles ain't home to nearly as many think tanks as, say, Washington, D.C.

Fear not, though. This blog will be checking in with tanks in the nation's capitol, abroad, and elsewhere nationally. We'll do this particularly regarding matters that directly affect L.A.; and other times, just because, really.

For example, who in a Presidential election state of mind wouldn't want to know: "How Much Would You Pay in Taxes?," which ran as an infographic in venerable Parade magazine Sunday October 12, 2008 and is culled from the work of the Tax Policy Center, a collaborative tank located in D.C.

Back now to the Southland. When considering our local tanks, here's this blog's early attempt to classify the origins of the various institutions and organizations that we'll be hearing from in TTLA.

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  1. Defense Legacy

  2. University Centers

  3. Ferals


What does the above mean? The "defense legacy" designation means that the think tank grew out of military research and development. The great Southland example of this is the Rand Corporation, which was reared from the 1940s needs of the Army Air Corps / U.S. Air Force. Much more on Rand to come throughout the life of this blog.

Other nearby defense legacy examples could be defined to include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Aerospace Corp. Neither of those two fit this blog's preconception of what is a think tank - more skunk works, we would have thought - but both have been suggested as fine think tank examples by one tank staffer, and both certainly excel at R&D, and JPL at advancing public knowledge.

In that case, a national example that could be labeled as defense legacy would be the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, which famously gave us ARPANET, which led to the advent of the Internet, and infamously gave us a Terrorism futures market, which led to much worse press than the Mbenga, Powell, and Gasol. This blog's jumbled spreadsheet of joints at UCLA alone is starting to resemble - well, it's a mess. Edward Tufte would not be pleased. And we've still got Occidental, LMU, Pepperdine, and other academic institutions to consider. Like Stanford, up north, home to the Hoover Institution one of Calif's best-known tanks.

Moving on to "ferals." That's a descriptor that this blog owes to Margaret Wertheim. She's a writer, curator, and co-founder of the Institute For Figuring. Last year, this blogger saluted Wertheim and her arts and culture-related conception of L.A. Ferals for the Boston Globe's website. Wertheim herself wrote this for the Los Angeles Times opinion page.

In think tank context, then, feral means the same that it does for arts and culture institutions. Which, in short is to say that as a newer and non-Atlantic U.S. city, Los Angeles wasn't saddled with some of the old country's more traditional structures and strictures - nor did anyone back east pay all that much mind to happenings out here, 2,700 or so miles from the Capitol Building. So, our tanks were able to emerge and grow more esoterically, exotically, independently.

We'll visit one such feral, the Ayn Rand Institute, located in Irvine, in an upcoming post. And likewise, a couple posts from now, we'll take a quick visit to the Center for Inquiry Los Angeles. Its executive director, James Underwood, wants to talk about Bill Maher and Larry Charles' new film, Religulous.

So, is the above trio of defense legacy / university centers / ferals designations sufficient? Will those groupings hold up as this blog moves forward? Doesn't limited to just three categories leave gaping holes in how to best classify all sorts of orgs located in and around the region? We're guessing those answers will turn out to be: No, no, and yes.

Please send your own ideas for classifications, as well as any and all suggestions, critiques, ideas, tips, images, etc. to:

Lathinktank [at] gmail [dot] com

Or, of course, please leave any public comments at the end of this post.

Coming Next: Taxonomy Part II - More from Someone Much Smarter Than This Blog

[*Disclosure: Jeremy Rosenberg has written for USC's alumni magazine and for USC Marshall and is a regular contributor to LMU's alumni magazine and has written for the LMU.edu website and other departments.]

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