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Michael Kenney on al-Muhajiroun

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

{ by Charles Cameron — including the curious case of the Covenant of Security ]
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Michael Kenney, on the recommendation of John Horgan:

Lots of reports in the media about London Bridge attacker Khuram Butt’s “membership” in al-Muhajiroun, but this is not how network activists understand membership in al-Muhajrioun. For them it is about “intellectual affiliation,” gaining the ideological and practical knowledge they need to be competent activists. ALM is full of rotating recruits. These people come in, get exposed to the network’s ideas, radicalize to different degrees, and then often leave after a certain period of involvement, typically lasting months or years. Some leave b/c they don’t accept ALM’s interpretation of the Covenant of Security, which forbids attacks in UK, as long as their lives and livelihoods are protected. Butt may have believed that the Covenant no longer applied to him in the UK, allowing him to engage in violence in his home country. This is not ALM’s position on the Covenant, though activists emphasize this is each individual’s decision.

Here’s a description of the Covenant of Security, from a long-ago Daniel Pipes piece about the Covenant and al-Muhajiroun, titled Does a “Covenant of Security” Protect the United Kingdom?:

According to Sifaoui, it has long been recognised by the British Islamists, by the British government and by UK intelligence agencies, that as long as Britain guarantees a degree of freedom to the likes of Hassan Butt [a loudmouth pro-terrorist Islamist], the terrorist strikes will continue to be planned within the borders of the UK but will not occur here. Ironically, then, the presence of vocal and active Islamist terrorist sympathisers in the UK actually makes British people safer, while the full brunt of British-based terrorist plotting is suffered by people in other countries.

Michael Kenney, more:

To learn more about al-Muhajiroun, please see my JCR article with @steve_coulthart and Dom Wright, Structure and Performance in a Violent Extremist Network:

This study combines network science and ethnography to explore how al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist network, continued its high-risk activism despite being targeted for disruption by British authorities. We analyze news reports, interviews, and field notes using social network analysis and qualitative content analysis to test hypotheses pertaining to network structure and performance. Our analysis suggests that the activist network’s structural properties had important implications for its performance during three separate time periods. What began as a centralized, scale-free-like, small-world network centered on a charismatic leader evolved into a more decentralized “small-world-like” network featuring clusters of local activists connected through multiple bridges. This structure allowed the activist network to engage in contentious politics even as its environment became increasingly hostile. We conclude by discussing the implications of al-Muhajiroun’s small-world solution for scholars and policy makers.

Question time — eye contact?

Friday, March 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — i’d like to know more around a fly-by comment re Rex Tillerson — autism, Japanese tantrism, Medusa — any takers? ]
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The allegation is that State Department employees, some of them, were instructed not to make eye contact with new State boss Rex Tillerson. That’s from WaPo:

Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

**

Gaze is a fascinating business.

When I came back to the UK after living in the US for a couple of decades, my mother was appalled by my tendency to look her in the eye when speaking to her. She told me that you should look away from the person you are addressing, to avoid shaming them by closely observing their reactions to what you’re saying, but should then watch them while they (with eyes averted from you) responded, so as to catch the nuances of their response. Your interlocutor thus gains precious moments in which to modify the immediacy of their response to the suitable response of their choosing. This, I imagine, incoudes but may not be limited to the very rapid, easily missed facial responses knoan as microexpressions.

I by contrast like the direct gaze, and think of it as a sign of authenticity or perhaps earnestness.

**

Investgations of those on the autism spectrum (somewhere, at some time, likely recently and in a specific population) reveals ASD subjects “shifted their gaze away from a speaker earlier than the control groups.”

Eye contact, or lack of it, can have enormously strong affective implications, as we see in this example taken from Sophocles‘ Antigone:

The stage ‘etiquette’ of Attic tragedy calls for actors/characters visually to acknowledge one another or the Chorus before establishing verbal contact. The title character of Sophocles’ Antigone flouts this custom to interesting effect by keeping her gaze lowered to the ground after the guard, having caught her in the forbidden act of burying her brother, leads her back into the playing space. The Chorus of Theban elders obliquely acknowledge Antigone’s presence at 376, expres sin their consternation at the sight of ‘this supernatural portent’. They address her directly as child of Oedipus at 379–80. But Antigone remains unresponsive, reacting neither to the Chorus nor to the guard’s announcement a few lines later that ‘this is the one who did the deed’ (384). Instead she keeps her gaze fixed on the ground and stands silently by for over 65 lines, while the guard explains to Creon and the Chorus how she was captured. Readers of Sophocles’ play become aware of Antigone’s earthbound gaze only retrospectively at 441, where Creon addresses her with a brusque ‘Hey you, the one bowing your head to the ground …’

The three sacred treasurs of Japan are presented to the Emperor during the Japanese equivalent of coronation — during a tantric ceremonial in which the Emperor is united with his Sun Goddess and originating ancestor, Amaterasu Omikami — see:

  • Robert S. Ellwood, The Feast of Kingship: Accession Ceremonies in Ancient Japan
  • D. C. Holtom, Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies: With an Account of the Imperial Regalia
  • And famously, Medusa must not be looked upon directly, lest one be turned into stone. It transpires that Medusa was once a beauty indeed to be gazed upon. In the words of Dryden‘s Ovid:

    Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
    A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
    They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace
    More moving features in a sweeter face.
    Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
    In golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone.
    Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir’d,
    Resolv’d to compass, what his soul desir’d.
    In chaste Minerva’s fane, he, lustful, stay’d,
    And seiz’d, and rifled the young, blushing maid.

    Athena’s gaze at this scene, and turning away of that gaze, is the topic of Ovid’s next lines:

    The bashful Goddess turn’d her eyes away,
    Nor durst such bold impurity survey;
    But on the ravish’d virgin vengeance takes,
    Her shining hair is chang’d to hissing snakes.
    These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear,
    The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare,
    Than they did lovers once, when shining hair.

    And thus Medusa becomes the famous face which cannot be directly gazed upon in peril of being turned to stone:

    That horrid head, which stiffens into stone
    Those impious men who, daring death, look on.

    so that:

    Two hundred, by Medusa’s head were ston’d.

    Medusa is killed only when Perseus observes her reflected in his polished shield:

    But as he journey’d, pensive he survey’d,
    What wasteful havock dire Medusa made.
    Here, stood still breathing statues, men before;
    There, rampant lions seem’d in stone to roar.
    Nor did he, yet affrighted, quit the field,
    But in the mirror of his polish’d shield
    Reflected saw Medusa slumbers take,
    And not one serpent by good chance awake.
    Then backward an unerring blow he sped,
    And from her body lop’d at once her head.
    The gore prolifick prov’d; with sudden force
    Sprung Pegasus, and wing’d his airy course.

    One wonders how much irony there is in that phrase, “not one serpent by good chance awake” — chance, or fate?

    **

    I don’t have direct access to the World Encyclopedia of Lowered Eyes and Direct Gazes, but there’s clearly plenty to read in social anthropology, depth psychology on the topic —

  • Scientific American, Eye Contact Can Be Overwhelming
  • Psychology Today, The Secrets of Eye Contact, Revealed
  • Jane Lydon, Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians
  • — and so forth

    So I’ve titled this post Question time, hoping Zp readers will chime in with significant readeings that explore the reasons Tillerson may have requested no eye-contact — if in fact he did.

    Because this whole post, and a flurry of activity on the web, hinges on a very short phrase in that WaPo piece:

    some [diplomats] have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact

    which presumably falls within the category RUMINT unoess otherwise corroborated by named and trustworthy sources.

    Eye contact — any suggestions?

    On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eleven

    Friday, October 21st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — graphical thinking really has pretty much permeated the tech end of our culture at this point ]
    .

    Two more examples of graphics — in the double sense of the word, or graphics squared if you like, where graphs, in the node and edge mathematical & network sense are used within graphics, in the visual or illustrative sense:

    The first comes from a page on Carnegie Europe’s Strategic Europe blogpost titled Cyberspace and the World Order:

    2016-01-14_cyber_605

    The second is from the Eventbrite invite to The Future of Cybersecurity: A Conversation with Admiral Mike Rogers at Georgia State University on Moday 24th at 10am, courtesy of John Horgan.

    cdn-evbuc-com

    **

    From a graphic (visual) perspective, the symbolic content is in each case interesting, and I’d be glad to read any comments on why, for instance, there’s a honeycomb hex grid in the upper image, and why the information flow is so much more curvaceous after the lock than before it (assuming a left-to-right reading in temporal sequence) — and in the lower image, why some of the nodes and edges are slowly getting stained red (and here I’m guessing an epidemiological image for the spread of a virus).

    From a graphic (graph as potential HipBone game board) perspective, the upper graph doesn’t offer a game board as I envisage them, but the lower one certainly does, albeit this would be a complex game, with the sizes of nodes and lengths of edges to be taken somehow into account.

    **

    Earlier in this series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: three
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: four
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: seven
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eight
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: ten
  • Trolleys come to Terror

    Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a western koan makes it onto German TV? ]
    .

    What Hala Jaber calls a supermarket trolley in this tweet is not what this post is about — but it sure does connect trolley and terror!

    **

    Here’s the terror side of things, in a tweet from John Horgan:

    The BBC halls it an “interactive courtroom drama interactive courtroom drama centred on a fictional act of terror” and notes:

    The public was asked to judge whether a military pilot who downs a hijacked passenger jet due to be crashed into a football stadium is guilty of murder.

    Viewers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria gave their verdict online or by phone. The programme was also aired in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

    The vast majority called for the pilot, Lars Koch, to be acquitted.

    Here’s the setup:

    In the fictional plot, militants from an al-Qaeda offshoot hijack a Lufthansa Airbus A320 with 164 people on board and aim to crash it into a stadium packed with 70,000 people during a football match between Germany and England.

    “If I don’t shoot, tens of thousands will die,” German air force Major Lars Koch says as he flouts the orders of his superiors and takes aim at an engine of the plane.

    The jet crashes into a field, killing everyone on board.

    So, is the pilot guilty, or not guilty?

    **

    At the very least, he has our sympathy — but how does that play out in legal proceedings?

    What’s so fascinating here is the pilot’s dilemma, which resembles nothing so much as a zen koan.

    Except for the Trolley Problem:

    trolley_problem
    Image from Wikimedia by McGeddon under license CC-BY-SA-4.0

    **

    Substitute an Airbus for the trolley, 164 people for the lone individual on the trolley line, and 70,000 people for the cluster of five — and the pilot for the guy who can make a decision and switch the tracks.

    There you have it: terror plot and trolley problem running in parallel.

    To be honest, I think the full hour-plus movie is far more immersive, to use a term from game design, than the Trolley Problem stated verbally as a problem in logic — meaning that the viewer is in some sense projected, catapulted into the fighter-pilot’s hot seat — in his cockpit, facing a high speed, high risk emergency, and in court, on trial for murder.

    It’s my guess that more people would vote for the deaths of 164 under this scenario than for the death of one in the case of the trolley — but that’s a guess.

    **

    The German film scenario — adapted from a play by Ferdinand von Schirach — is indeed a courtroom drama, a “case” in the sense of “case law”. And it’s suggestive that koans, too, are considered “cases” in a similar vein. Here, for instance, is a classic definition of koans :

    Kung-an may be compared to the case records of the public law court. Kung, or “public”, is the single track followed by all sages and worthy men alike, the highest principle which serves as a road for the whole world. An, or “records”, are the orthodox writings which record what the sages and worthy men regard as principles [..]

    This principle accords with the spiritual source, tallies with the mysterious meaning, destroys birth-and-death, and transcends the passions. It cannot be understood by logic; it cannot be transmitted in words; it cannot be explained in writing; it cannot be measured by reason. It is like a poisoned drum that kills all who hear it, or like a great fire that consumes all who come near it. [..]

    The so-called venerable masters of Zen are the chief officials of the public law courts of the monastic community, as it were, and their collections of sayings are the case records of points that have been vigorously advocated.

    **

    Relevant texts:

  • John Daido Loori, Sitting with Koans
  • John Daido Loori, The True Dharma Eye
  • Do unto yourselves more of what you would do unto others?

    Thursday, April 28th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — IRA kills more Catholics, IS kills more Muslims ]
    .

    Tablet DQ victims catholic muslim

    **

    Is there anything we can learn from either one of these situations that would shed light on the other? Are there other instances of this pattern? How quickly can we take note of this effect in future, to benefit from that recognition?

    Sources:

  • The Guardian, Catholics main victims of Northern Ireland republican terror groups
  • The Independent, Paris attacks: Isis responsible for more Muslim deaths than western victims
  • Hat-tip: John Horgan


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