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Announcing: The Thucydides Roundtable

August 23rd, 2016

[by T. Greer]

There was once a time when the first thing I would do in the morning was rush to the computer so that I might check the comment threads of the five to ten blogs I followed on national security and strategic theory. It was the golden era of the old Strategy Sphere: a time when the debates swirling around the internet had real intellectual heft and all arguments were conducted with a fierce sense of urgency. I have written about era—what it was like to be a participant in its debates, and what caused that old community to slowly fall apart—before. That retrospective ended on a sad note, questioning whether or not the spirit of those days could ever be recaptured.

I think it might just be possible.

One of the most compelling forums for discussion in those days were the statecraft roundtables. The idea behind all the roundtables was to gather together a diverse group of strategy and history focused bloggers to read and discuss a classic in the field. We would read the book chapter by chapter, each participant chronicling their reaction to the author’s—and each other’s—arguments as we read. Part long distance book club, part public forum, every roundtable was a cocktail of different ideas and perspectives that anyone would learn from, be they newcomers to the strategy scene, practitioners in the field, or well credentialed experts dwelling in think tanks and ivory towers.

Last week the editors of the Clausewitz Roundtable—held eight years ago on Chicago Boyz—published an edited version of the roundtable tour through Carl von Clausewitz’s On War. It can be purchased for $3 on Amazon. For its price it’s a fine little read, both for the insights each author brings to On War and its theories, but also because it gives you a peek into what the blogosphere once was—and what it once again might be. The wide ranging discussions of politics, history, war, and power had in the comment threads of that roundtable are exactly the kind of thing that deserve to return to blogosphere.

And so it will be.

I am proud to announce the upcoming Thucydides Roundtable, to be hosted at the group blog Zenpundit in October 2016.

Thucydides is a man of firsts. He has been called the father of realism, the first “theorist of war” in the Western tradition, the inventor of political science and international relations, the first man to ever attempt an objective and evidence based history of the world he lived in, and many other things besides. In the two thousand years since they were first written, his words have been used and abused by historians, poets, social scientists, and statesmen from one side of the Earth to the other. His chronicle of the thirty year war waged between his native Athens and her rival Sparta has just about everything in it. I really do mean everything. No great or enduring theme of the human experience is left untouched—war and international order of course make their appearance, but so do meditations on statesmanship, bargaining, courage, partisanship, justice, ethics, ambition, greed, honor, religion, culture, history, and so much more. His History of the Peloponnesian War is not just the story of a quarrel between Athenians and Lacedaemonians in the 5th century BC. It is a story about all of mankind.

Or at least this is what Thucydides hoped it would be.

I invite you to discover for yourself if Thucydides’ ambition was realized by reading his work with us. We will officially kick off the roundtable discussion at Zenpundit in mid-October. In the weeks to come we will publish the full list of official participants as well as the Roundtable’s official rules of engagement. Until then, I encourage you to go out and purchase the Landmark Thucydides to get a head start on the reading. It’s a big book, but one well worth reading.

In the meantime, add Zenpundit to your feeds or like our Thucydides Roundtable Facebook page to stay updated on the roundtable’s schedule and progress.

[Cross-posted from The Scholar’s Stage]

The positively Abrahamic game of Chess

August 23rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — interfaith rivalry on the checkered board ]
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Many of you will be familiar with the Christian and Muslim playing chess in this illustration from El Libro de los Juegos or Book of Games of Alfonso X of Castile:

— but let’s not forget that Andalusia was also home to learned Jews, including the great Maimonides. In this illustration to the same work, we see a match-up between Muslim and Jew:

Into the storm winds

August 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Peter Thiel, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the importance of unheard voices ]
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Noting Peter Thiel‘s comment below, I was reminded of the opening of Rilke‘s Duino Elegies — Himalayas of the human spirit.

SPEC DQ Thiel Rilke

**

Stephen Mitchell‘s version of the Elegies is the one I like best, and lends itself well to the speaking voice. Mitchell’s opening lines read thus:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.

**

My own version, which I’ve placed in the lower panel of the DoubleQuote above, alludes to Rilke’s storm-driven physical environment at the time the beginning of the poem came to him at Schloss Buino. In the words of Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis:

Rilke climbed down to the bastions which, jutting to the east and west, were connected to the foot of the castle by a narrow path along the cliffs. These cliffs fall steeply, for about two hundred feet, into the sea. Rilke paced back and forth, deep in thought, since the reply to the letter so concerned him. Then, all at once, in the midst of his brooding, he halted suddenly, for it seemed to him that in the raging of the storm a voice bad called to him: “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?” (Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?)… He took out his notebook, which he always carried with him, and wrote down these words, together with a few lines that formed themselves without his intervention … Very calmly he climbed back up to his room, set his notebook aside, and replied to the difficult letter. By that evening the entire elegy had been written down.

In that instant, as I understand the matter, Rilke shouts into the wind, into the heedless world, into the angelic immensity..

**

Whether it’s a still small voice that goes unheard, a voice hurled into the tumultuous storm, heedless void, or transcomprehensible angelic choirs, or a voice crying from desert or wilderness, it is always the unattended, the unlistened voice which carries the note unnoticed — the truth we’d find in the blindspot if we took it for a mirror, the seed and germination of those so-often catastrophic unanticipated consequences that trend-based analysis and front-view vision so regularly miss.

Sunday surprise — the toss of a coin

August 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — choice, chance and maybe destiny at the movies, on the road, in life ]
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A while back, I lived in Cottonwood, Arizona, and drove the few miles back and forth between Cottonwood and Sedona most days each week for months. There’s a beautiful stretch of desert in between, I delighted in the journey, and no doubt my foot on the gas pedal quickened or eased off to some mild extent depending on what music I was listening to, how much coffee I’d had recently, how my most recent conversation or burst of writing had gone. And then one night a deer ran across the road, perhaps twelve feet ahead of my car.

Let’s say I was traveling at 60 for ease of calculation. 60 mph is a mile a minute, 88 feet per second. About a tenth of a second later and the deer and / or I would likely have been dead — one full second later, he or she would have crossed sixty feet behind me and I would have seen nothing, known nothing.

There are deer constantly crossing our paths sixty feet behind us and it’s a normal day at the office, it’s one more day like any other: sunny, then partly cloudy, with a ten percent chance of rain.

**

The average human life expectancy, or pretty close, in the United States these days is 690,235 hours. Here are two film clips, which will occupy just over a quarter of one of those hours if you watch them both.

The Magus:

No Country For Old Men:

**

The Magus — the entire film — runs an hour and 57 minutes, while No Country for Old Men runs two hours and three minutes, so those clips, 10 and 5 minutes long each, represent in each case a small fraction of the whole film — yet those two fractions have been selected out to be posted as YouTube clips — and they have something in common: life and death in a roll of the dice, the flip of a coin.

I’m guessing it’s that life or death in an instant play of chance that marks those two particular clips as worth noting and posting to YouTube — and that made that deer running across the road in my headlights so memorable.

The realization here: my life hangs, moment by moment across hundreds of thousands of hours, on such slight and unintended (“chance”) variations of physical fact & effect as how much my foot on the gas pedal imperceptibly quickens or eases off as a slight turn, rise or fall in the road..

Random DoubleQuotes for later reference

August 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a resource, mostly for myself ]
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I’ll use this post to drop in random DoubleQuotes I run across, for storage — so I won’t need to trouble you with every example I find, but they’ll all still here for your consideration should you choose — and for any future writing I may do on the topic.

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From the Rio Olympics, the celebrated women’s basketball match with hijab vs bukini:

egypt sports

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Two options for a child in Syria, enshrined in two “iconic” photos, and presented as a lose-lose choice by Khalid Albaih.

khalidalbaih dq syrian children stay or go

Albaih has a terrific eye for symmetries, as you can see from these two other examples:

  • Khalid Albaih, Tree of Life
  • Khalid Albaih, Egypt sentences more than 680 people to death
  • **

    Quite different — but also Syria — is this tweet with its paired images of Aleppo —

    If I had my druthers I’d move from photo-reality into illuminated-manuscript-world, and from now into back then. Or would I? And are we really in photo-reality anyway, or is that an optical illusion?

    **

    There will be more — I’ll just drop them quietly in, here or in the comments section.


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