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Ebola: life appears to be imitating art again

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- first as farce and then as tragedy? ]

From 2001:

I imagine this ad is going viral about now…


Ebola: two curious questions of language

Friday, October 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- when misunderstandings beget panics, we're not too conceptually far from rumors of wars becoming wars ]

Hilton Garden Inn, Liberia, Costa Rica

Hilton Garden Inn, Liberia, Costa Rica


Language matters.

I know I keep saying this, but it is true, and in the past few days I have run across two cases where false assumptions about the meaning of language have led to erroneous “hearing” of a message, with consequent unfortunate results.

I’ll post the press reports first in each case, then my own comments.


Red Cross and Rose Cross:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies recently posted Fighting superstition in Congo’s Ebola zone:

In mid-February, at the peak of the epidemic, the situation took a dramatic turn for the worse. A local sorcerer accused four teachers of killing people to acquire supernatural powers.

According to him, the four belonged to the Rose-Croix, a Gabonese sect. The teachers – all from the same political party – were lynched by a mob wielding iron clubs and machetes.

Most of the terrified population of Kellé fled in the forest. From this time, a dangerous confusion has developed in people’s minds: Pink-Cross and Red Cross were seen as indistinguishable, all the more so because in the local Lingala language, the word for red and pink is the same.

My suspicion is that the Rose-Croix in question is not “a Gabonese sect” but Rosicrucians in the AMORC tradition familiar to those who chase divine secrets through ads in the back pages of esoteric journals — in this case, under the supervision of Serge Toussaint, Grand Master of the French court of AMORC, who visited Libreville, Gabon in July 2010 to address the Rosicrucian Central African Convention “On the Trail of Light”.

The original Rosicrucians were a key group of intellectuals in the early enlightenment period, best described in:

  • Frances Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, and
  • Christopher McIntosh, The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason
  • The Red Cross, or more precisely The International Committee of the Red Cross, is a global humanitarian organization whose founder, Henry Dunant, was one of two recipients of the first Nobel Prize for Peace in 1901, and the Red Cross has subsequently been awarded the Peace Prize three times, in 1917, 1944 and 1963.

    Red is not pink, though a rose may be a rose be a rose.


    Liberia and Liberia:

    Rebecca Gordon, in Ebola & Immigrants and Muslims, Oh My! Operating the Fear Machine, writes of Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of SOUTHCOM:

    The general has proof that they’re already coming – all the way from Africa. In fact, he says, a U.S. embassy employee in Costa Rica told him about a group of migrants he’d met on the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. And where were these migrants coming from, Kelly asked? The embassy worker told him, “Liberia.” Liberians traveling to the United States through Central America. Who knew?

    As it turns out, these folks may well have been from “Liberia,” but they probably weren’t Africans. Chances are they came from Liberia, Costa Rica, the state capital of Guanacaste province there. This from the man in charge of all U.S. military operations in Latin America.

    Gen Kelly’s remarks were reported by DoD News in Kelly: Southcom Keeps Watch on Ebola Situation, October 8, and more widely in Time‘s General: Expect ‘Mass Migration’ to U.S. if Ebola Comes to Central America, October 9. Neither story picked up on the “two Liberias, one in Africa and one in Costa Rica” aspect of the story.

    The two reporters, and likewise the General, were presumably unaware of the Costa Rican Liberia. Rebecca Gordon has worked in and published on Nicaragua, holds an M.Div. and a Ph.D. from Graduate Theological, and has a sharp eye for telling detail.


    And we all have our blindspots. The question is, what can we do about them?


    Recommended Reading & Viewing

    Friday, October 17th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Top Billing! The Bridge Series on #Operating  - #Operating, The Army #Operating Concept, The Army #Operating Concept ‘s Global Landpower Network, The Army #Operating Concept and Allies,  Operationalizing the Army #Operating Concept  and Undue Emphasis on the Army #Operating Concept 

    The new Army Operating Concept (AOC) posted earlier this week received a lot of feedback on social media and in the halls of military installations – which ultimately led to this series, titled “#Operating: A Personal Reflection on the Army Operating Concept,” on The Bridge. This post will kick things off by taking a holistic look at the document; later posts will focus on personal reactions to the document – what it says, what it fails to say, or even particular elements from it that resonate.

    To begin, the framing of this future-oriented document is solidly rooted in the past…something we should all expect given that the overseer of its publication is the noted Warrior-Historian, LTG H.R. McMaster. A military document that not only references in the endnotes historical analysis and theory found in texts like those by Thucydides, Clausewitz, and even past military doctrine, but also conceptually intertwines their wisdom throughout, is likely to be more valuable than a document typified by “buzzword bingo.” While professional vernacular is a tool to accurately and quickly convey terms among members of the profession, it can also be used to gloss over or even replace deep thought and vital understanding, even among the “initiated.” So, while the AOC certainly reduces its use of typical military language from previous versions, it does still contain its fair share of jargon.

    For the uninitiated, the AOC is supposed to “describe how the Army…employs forces and capabilities…to accomplish campaign objectives and protect U.S. national interests” (Page 8). It takes a little digging to find that in this document. To make things a little easier (at least for me), I’m going to break out some key elements and translate its contents into my language, hopefully increasing the accessibility of the concepts.

    War on the Rocks – Sir Lawrence Freedman - THE MASTER STRATEGIST IS STILL A MYTH 

    This problem of functional separation, a feature of the specialization of contemporary life, is relevant to the problem of strategy-making. It might be much easier to propose a bold and imaginative strategy when you are not going to be held accountable if it all goes wrong. There are other forms of functional separation. Steed takes seriously the problem of the regular disconnect between the political from the military, which I highlight. I was citing this as a problem with the classical tradition, associated with Jomini and Clausewitz, which focuses on decisive battle as the source of political victory. I dealt with this in a recent War on the Rocks article. This divide between generals and politicians has become a matter for concern among a number of contemporary writers, including Hew Strachan. But the problem goes wider, as can be seen in laments about the separation of planners from doers in large businesses. Steed and I can agree that there is a real challenge when it comes to translating the language and concerns of the military into terms that the politician will grasp. Conversely, it is equally difficult to give the military an appreciation for the real, and often contradictory, pressures that a politician faces. But even if structures are improved, there will always be distinctive interests and perspectives. A succession of rounded strategic people is unlikely to develop.

    ….We may do better, therefore, looking for good strategy rather than worrying about great strategists. What fascinates me about good strategy is not that it comes from people who are uniquely qualified, but that it can be generated by fallible human beings working through imperfect organizations operating in conditions of great uncertainty. People can be propelled into challenging roles (Harry Truman and Clement Attlee in 1945) and then do surprisingly well. Neither of them would have been identified as putative Alexanders. In general I would encourage those preparing for some major strategic decisions to think about how to diagnose situations and focus on the problem at hand, and manage a degree of empathy with their opponents as well as with their partners. The will need to think ahead, forge coalitions and hold on to long-term objectives. As they appreciate the importance of chance and unintended consequences, they should stay pragmatic, changing course when one does not work and shifting goals as new opportunities arise and others are closed off. But in practice it may turn out that an actual situation will really suit somebody who is stubborn and bloody-minded, autocratic rather than consultative, narrowly focused and ruthless, and so able to act as a force of nature and push aside all obstacles.

    Scholar’s Stage – Bargaining with the Dragon 

    Lets start with the protestors.

    What are the protestor’s demands?

      1. When the protests began the protestors rallied around two demands:
        Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying (hereafter CY Leung) will step down.


    1. Hong Kong will institute a democratic system where candidates for popular election are  chosen by voters, not a committee selected by the Communist Party of China.

    The original body of protestors who demanded these things were organized by two groups, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (????????, abbrv. ????, or just ??), composed of Hong Kong university students, and Scholarism (????), headed by 17 year old Joshua Wong and mostly composed of youth about his age. The famous photos of umbrella clad youth being pepper sprayed as they charged government lines were of these folks. 

    They were joined by a third group, known as Occupy Central with Peace and Love, or Occupy Central for short (?????????, abr.??), on the second day of the protest. Occupy is a different sort of beast than the other two organizations; it is run by seasoned political activists and university professors who have been planning a civil disobedience campaign to protest the 2017 election reforms since early 2013. They had planned to start the protest on October 1st (the PRC’s National Day, the closest equivalent China has to the 4th of July), but when the clashes between students and police escalated on Friday (Sept 26th) they decided to abandon their original plan and join the protestors. Had they been in charge of the show from the beginning I am not sure they would have made the same demands—at least in the beginning—that the students did. But they came late to the party and have to deal with what the students’ demands hath wrought. 

    There are two important things about these groups we must remember when assessing the protestors’ strategy and the government’s response to it….


    Haft of the Spear -We’re Not Breaking Up Anything

    Dart Throwing Chimp – Thoughts on the Power of Civil Resistance

    Global Guerrillas -Blockchain Companies and The Internet of Chains

    Sam Harris -Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself? 

    War Council -Clear Strategic Thinking About Drones 

    Michigan War Studies Review -Exposing the Third Reich: Colonel Truman Smith in Hitler’s Germany

    Technology ReviewThe Contrarian’s Guide to Changing the World and Revolution in Progress: The Networked Economy

    InformationWeek - Internet Of Things Intrigues Intelligence Community

    The Chicago Progressive Issue #4

    The GuardianAre the Robots about to Rise?

    Politico – The Congressman who Spied for Russia

    The AtlanticThe Lies of Adolf Eichmann  and How Gangs took over Prisons

    The National InterestMachiavelli: Still Shocking after Five Centuries 

    The New York Times –  The ancestors of ISIS



    A Quick 1: ISIS and Karbala

    Thursday, October 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- another quick one, this one concerned with "key religious and transportation hubs"-- ie pilgrimage routes ]

    BBC Karbala
    Millions of Shiite pilgrims in the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala for the Ashura mourning rituals, 2012.


    Everyone should calm down.

    That’s the message from Michael Knights in his Politico piece yesterday, Why the Islamic State Is Losing, subtitled The pundits have it wrong — the terrorists’ move toward Baghdad is a sign of desperation. Read the full article for his reasoning.


    Given my abiding interest in religion, and in the ritual commemoration of Husayn at Karbala, these two paras in particular caught my attention:

    But most likely, ISIL is simply readying for its annual killing spree against Shia pilgrims during the Ashura and Arbaeen religious festivals. In the week before Ashura begins on Nov. 3, Baghdad will swell with millions of pilgrims making their way to Karbala, just southwest of the capital. Many of these pilgrims make the 50-mile walk from Baghdad to Karbala, which passes within seven miles of Jurf as-Sakr, a heavily-contested ISIL stronghold to the south of Baghdad. We can expect mortar attacks, car bombings and suicide-vest detonations inside the crowds.

    This is the real meaning of ISIL being at the gates of Baghdad – that the movement is poised perilously close to key religious and transportation hubs, and may be intent on mounting sectarian outrages at the most sensitive moment of the year for the Shia.

    Martyrdom is already one the minds of Shia pilgrims as they make their way to Karbala to memorialize the death of Husayn ibn Ali and his infant son, Abdullah ibn Husayn. If they risk their lives in this way, their dedication to the memory of the martyred Husayn may have much to do with it.

    As an eyewitness quoted in Elias Canetti‘s Crowds and Power puts it:

    No destiny is accounted more beautiful than to die on the feast-day of Ashura, when the gates of all eight paradises stand wide open for the saints, and everyone seeks to enter there.


    A Quick 1: DoubleTweet

    Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a quick one while I'm toiling away at something longer on Ebola & cultures, and I don't mean the kind in Petrie dishes ]

    This, today wrt Holland:

    more or less echoes this, wrt LA in March:


    I suspect these two tweets, taken as indicators, support the idea that some at least of those who travel to foreign lands for purposes of fighting do so because adventure is a potent lure. I further suspect that biker and gang codes of honor / shame fit well with the codes of honor / shame prominent in the ME — but I’d need anthropological backup for such a claim, and currently lack the resources to pursue it.

    And I suspect there’s a lateral tie in here with the work of Dr Bunker and others on Mexican narcocultura.


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