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Borders, limina and unity

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — bulldozers and trains, more ]
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Watersheds are natural divisions of landmasses, long predating human presence upon the earth. Borders by contrast are a human invention — a fact that is nowhere more evident than in the borders known as the Durand Line, separating Afghanistan from Pakistan, and the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided up the Ottoman Empire into British, French and Russian spheres of influence. Durand, Sykes and Picot were respectively British, British and French gentlemen. In fact, make that a DoubleQuote (mini):

And while Pakistan recognizes the Durand line as an international border, Afghanistan does not. ISIS, disliked the Sykes-Picot line dividing Iraq and Syria enough to bulldoze it (upper panel, below)..

And then there’s the Haskell Free Library and Opera House (lower panel, above)..

**

The Haskell Library straddles the US-Canadian border, and has served as a meeting place for Iranians in the US and their relatives, hoping to visit them from the Canadian side..

The library is a relic of a time when Americans and Canadians, residents say, could cross the border with simply a nod and a wave at border agents. It was the gift of a local family in the early 1900s to serve the nearby Canadian and American communities.

“What we are so proud of is that we do have a library that is accessed by one single door,” said Susan Granfors, a former library board member. “You don’t need your passport. You park on your side, I’ll park on my side, but we’re all going to walk in the same door.”

But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the northern border hardened, and the law enforcement presence in the area is immediately visible. And in September, a Canadian man was sentenced to 51 months in prison for smuggling more than 100 guns into Canada, some of them through the Haskell library.

Still, inside the building itself — decorated with wood paneling, stained-glass windows and, on the Canadian side, a moose head — the old ways mostly prevail. Patrons and staff freely cross the international boundary, marked with a thin, flaking black line extending across the brightly decorated children’s reading room and the main hallway.

The Library — and Opera House!! — then, erases a border more or less, in a friendly manner, while ISIS erasesd another with force. In bith cases, we can sense a distrust of or distaste for artificial separations.

**

Those who are willing to make creative leaps from political geography to the wisdom of the far Orient will recognize the imagery of Pu, the Uncarved Block in Lao Tze‘s Tao Te Ching — representing wood in its natural, uncarved state, end thus the whole, of which all entities are seeming parts, separated only by naming.

G Spencer Brown addresses the same distinction in his book, The Laws of Form — described appropriately enough by Wikipedia as “straddles the boundary between mathematics and philosophy” — between what Brown terms the Unmarked state, “which is simply nothing, the void, or the un-expressable infinite represented by a blank space.. No distinction has been made”, and the Marked State, in which one or more distinctions (Marks) have been made:

In Spencer-Brown’s inimitable and enigmatic fashion, the Mark symbolizes the root of cognition, i.e., the dualistic Mark indicates the capability of differentiating a “this” from “everything else but this.”

Spencer Brown notes that a Mark denotes the drawing of a “distinction”, and can be thought of as signifying the following, all at once:

  • The act of drawing a boundary around something, thus separating it from everything else;
  • That which becomes distinct from everything by drawing the boundary;
  • Crossing from one side of the boundary to the other.
  • .
    All three ways imply an action on the part of the cognitive entity (e.g., person) making the distinction.

    Brown notes, wryly perhaps

    As LoF puts it:

    “The first command:

  • Draw a distinction
  • can well be expressed in such ways as:

  • Let there be a distinction,
  • Find a distinction,See a distinction,
  • Describe a distinction,
  • Define a distinction,<
  • Or:

  • Let a distinction be drawn.”
  • **

    My own DoubleQuotes format both draws distinctions (being binary) and erases them by asserting parallelisms between them (unifying or uncarving, unmarking them).

    All Spencer Brown quotes above are via Wikipedia.

    **

    Okay, now there’s news of another diplomatically significant border crossing:

    That’s good — and it gives us yet another DQ:

    Connecting a prosperous free South with a totalitarian North across a border is a liminal matter, and thus inherently sacred — see my post, Liminality II: the serious part

    As we saw with the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, it is possible and maybe Trump and Pompeo — with a little help from Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in? — can pull it off.

    Or maybe, Dennis Rodman?

    **

    Sources, some of ’em:

  • The Guardian, Railway diplomacy
  • PRI, For some Iranian families separated by the travel ban
  • NYRB, The Map ISIS Hates — hey, this by Malise Ruthven
  • Asia Times, Afghanistan takes center stage
  • **

    Oh, ah, another couple of parallelisms, btw:

    **

    What’s the cyber border between the US and Russia?
    .

    Guest Post: Hays on From Matamoros to Managua

    Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

    [mark safranski / “zen“]

    See the source image

    “Jack Hays“. Mr. Hays has considerable experience in a number of political and policy positions inside government and out and shares with the ZP readership our appreciation for history, strategy and other things further afield. Mr. Hays also has extensive time south of the border. He wrote this brief essay elsewhere and gave permission to share it.

    From Matamoros to Managua live just under 170 million people. Their societies are coming apart. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily poor — especially in Mexico — though they frequently are. It does mean that for various reasons, be it the stresses of global trends, misgovernance, societal pathologies, historical causes, or beyond, their institutions are failing. It is likely no accident that this comes to pass in the generation after the era of autocratic parties and strong men. The succeeding era of democracy and pluralism is both liberating and rapacious: for many it has exchanged the danger of being killed by the state for the danger of being killed by nearly anyone. What arises in the aftermath is therefore exceptionally violent. It is not unfamiliar in human history: even at the most glorious moment of the Siglo de Oro, everyday Spanish life was also exceptionally violent. But that isn’t the right comparison: what you see in, say, northern Mexico or urban Honduras is less 16th-century Spain than 17th-century Germany — or 21st-century Damascus. It is a terrifying and brutal existence, and people quite rationally flee.

    They especially flee when they are trying to protect children they love.

    There is nothing — nothing short of murder — that deters flight and migration in those conditions. Therefore, there being still some things we won’t try, the questions arises: what will we try? If we aren’t going to take them in, what do we do?
    What are you willing to have America do to stabilize these societies? The probable answer probably includes things like open or preferential trade. It probably includes aggressive engagement with local politics. It probably includes forcible imposition of our own law-enforcement institutions upon theirs. It may even include the use, in some form, of the United States military. None of this is speculative. All of it has happened before. All of it also ended in mostly the same way: there was a desultory clash of arms, the United States demanded certain things of local sovereigns, and events resolved when someone assumed autocratic control of the southern reaches.

    None of this is consonant with our postwar models of American behavior. Yes, we are the country that conquered Panama in 1989; we are also the country that was turned away by a mob from Haitian shores in 1994. We are also the country that doggedly tries to inculcate democratic civic norms in places like Afghanistan when a monarch or a warlord would quite suffice. We have an aversion to nation-building and then we do a great deal of it badly.

    But nation-building is precisely what is needed from Matamoros to Mexico. It is for their sake, and ours. The task is gigantic, and before the real crisis is upon us — which will involve millions on the move, not mere thousands — we still have time to undertake it. But we think it is about ourselves, we think they can govern themselves, we imagine we have anything more compelling to pressure them with than the things they fled in San Pedro Sula, in Ciudad Mier, in San Salvador, in a thousand over violent corners of an ancient and bloody land. We are wrong on all counts.

    We act, or action is forced upon us. So what are you willing to do?

    Violence at three borders, naturally it’s a pattern

    Monday, April 30th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a quick dip into the news, the Koreas, Gaza and Israel, Tijuana and San Diego ]
    .

    At the Korean border, axes as weapons:

    In 1976, American soldiers guarding the border between North and South Korea were given what seemed like a simple task: trim a poplar tree blocking the view of a United Nations command post within the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, that had separated the two countries since the end of the Korean War.

    [ .. ]

    But after 10 or 15 minutes, a North Korean officer ordered the tree-trimming to stop. When the Americans refused, the North Koreans sent for reinforcements.

    “When they arrived … the North Koreans suddenly attacked, killing the two U.S. officers and injuring four Americans and four South Koreans,” Don Oberdorfer reported for The Washington Post. “Witnesses said the North Koreans used the axes intended for tree-trimming as their weapons.”

    The poplar incident nearly started a second war between North Korea and the United States, which launched a massive military operation that involved hundreds of troops, B-52 bombers, fighter jets and an aircraft carrier. It was dubbed Operation Paul Bunyan, after the giant lumberjack of American folklore./>

    **

    At the Israeli border, death is equal to life?

    Say what you will about root causes and immediate ones — about incitement and militancy, about siege and control, about who did what first to whom — one thing is clear. More than a decade of deprivation and desperation, with little hope of relief, has led thousands of young Gazans to throw themselves into a protest that few, if any, think can actually achieve its stated goal: a return to the homes in what is now Israel that their forebears left behind in 1948.

    In five weeks of protests, 46 people have been killed, and hundreds more have been badly wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry.

    [ .. ]

    “It doesn’t matter to me if they shoot me or not,” he said in a quiet moment inside his family’s tent. “Death or life — it’s the same thing.”

    **

    After 3,000 miles, the American border:

    A long, grueling journey gave way to what could be a long, uncertain asylum process Sunday as a caravan of immigrants finally reached the border between the United States and Mexico, setting up a dramatic moment and a test of President Trump’s anti-immigrant politics.

    More than 150 migrants, part of a caravan that once numbered about 1,200 and headed north in March from Mexico’s border with Guatemala, were prepared to seek asylum from United States immigration officials.

    But in what was likely to be one of many curves on the road, the migrants were told Sunday afternoon that the immigration officials could not process their claims, and they would have to spend the night on the Mexican side of the border.

    **

    When I was yet a boy, I was sent out with a companion, both of us armed with .303 rifles dating back to World War Zero, to guard the grounds of our school, Wellington College, named for the Iron Duke, from Frank Mitchell aka “The Mad Axeman”, named for his murder rampage, who had escaped a couple of hours earlier from Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane, named for its location and inmates, whose grounds were near our own in the scrublands near Sandhurst, the British West Point, with some sort of common geist haunting the three establishments.

    My mild afright patrolling for the Axeman — if I confronted him, should I cry out “Stand and deliver” or “Who goes there”?? — can hardly compare with the terror inspired by North Korean troops equipped with axes..

    Nor can my six year term as a boarder at Wellington, where I was once beaten — four, I think, with a bamboo cane — for doing the Times crossword puzzle in preference to my maths homework, possibly compare with the sense of confinement experienced by the Gaza Palestinians..

    San Diego beaches, however, I have some little experience of — that’s San Diego beach, US of A to the right of the border wall in the photo above; to the left of the wall, however, it’s Tijuana beach, Mexico — and as Rudyard Kipling might have said, “seldom, if ever, the twain shall meet”.

    **

    Sources:

  • WaPo, At Korean summit in DMZ, ‘deranged’ ax murders still cast a shadow
  • NYT, For Gaza Protester, Living or Dying Is the ‘Same Thing’
  • NYT, Migrant Caravan, After Grueling Trip, Reaches U.S. Border. Now the Really Hard Part
  • See also:

  • Zenpundit, The Korean border / no border dance
  • Zenpundit, Sunday surprise: thinking of the Koreas, more
  • Sunday surprise: thinking of the Koreas, more

    Sunday, April 29th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — mind drifting, which is how writing so often happens ]
    .

    See how one man becomes two at .40 seconds into this Lumineers video, it’s truly remarkable. In Korea, we need the situation reversed. Maybe the skipping will od it.

    **

    Think also of what is happening to the two persons on this Floyd album:

    South may be to the left, North to the right, Korea-wise.

    How can we avoid this sort of thing?

    Warning: the math says, two into one won’t go

    **

    Wishing you all a peaceable Sunday!

    On the Floyd album: Shine On You Crazy Diamond

    The Korean border / no border dance

    Sunday, April 29th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — an end to war & truce might bring peace ]
    .

    The leaders of the two Koreas did a little ritual dance whereby each invited the other to cross the border into his own territory.

    You can look at Kim Jung-un and Moon Jae-in doing their border-skipping dance at minute 43 on this video:

    If the camera people had been sharper, they’d have been following the leaders in full view, not cutting them off at the knees or waist, so we could see the whole event, of huge symbolic significance.

    **

    One MSNBC commentator aptly described the border as:

    dividing a nation — or two nations — depending how you look at it.

    That’s not only succinct, it’s profound, if you think about it.

    **

    I’ve discussed the issue of liminality — the symbolic importance of borders — in a major post, Liminality II: the serious part, which I recommend as a follow-up to this one.

    It will fill you in with examples — from boot camp to monastic induction, and from the worship of Vishnu to the USS Topeka — of the importance of humility at border crossings.. recommended!

    But let me give you a a souvenir, a reminder — just a taste —

    Limen is the Latin for border, line drawn in the sand, threshold — and the liminal is therefore what happens at thresholds.

    Something pretty remarkable happened as 1999 turned into 2000 — something liminal. And it happened aboard the USS Topeka, SSN-754 (below):

    SAN DIEGO, Calif. (June 23, 2009) The attack submarine USS Topeka (SSN 754) departs San Diego harbor for a scheduled deployment to the western Pacific Ocean. Topeka, commanded by Cmdr. Marc Stern, was commissioned on Oct. 21, 1989 and is one of seven Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarines assigned to Submarine Squadron 11. Topeka was showcased in the recently released movie, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” (U.S. Navy photo by Command Master Chief Charles Grandin/Released)

    Its bow in one year, its stern in another, the USS Topeka marked the new millennium 400 feet beneath the International Dateline in the Pacific ocean. The Pearl Harbor-based navy submarine straddled the line, meaning that at midnight, one end was in 2000 while the other was still in 1999… The 360-foot-long sub, which was 2,100 miles from Honolulu, Hawaii, straddled the Equator at the same time, meaning it was in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Some of the 130 crewmembers were in Winter in the North, while others were in Summer in the South…

    Sitting pretty on the threshold between two millennia, two centuries, two decades, years, seasons, months, days and hemispheres in the recent life of the one earth was an extraordinarily liminal idea — as the two-faced January is a liminal month — and I think illustrates effectively the terrific power of the liminal to sway human thinking

    Navy commanders in charge of billion dollar ships seldom get up to such “fanciful” behaviors!

    But here’s the whole thing: Liminality II: the serious part: go for it.

    **

    Further:

  • NY Times, North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms
  • NY Times, North and South Korean Leaders’ Own Words in Meeting at the DMZ

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