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A glass darkly for princes…

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

[pre-acknowledged by Lynn C. Rees]

Meet Edward Mandell House:

Edward House
 

Mr. House has a reputation for being wise and inscrutable.

He was also nicknamed “Colonel” House.

We need not refer to him by that nickname here. While Mr. House did have a name, he never had a serial number. So he doesn’t deserve the rank: his nickname cheapens the rank of the real Wise and Inscrutable Colonels of history:

The Wise and Inscrutable Colonel
Mr. House does have one distinction: my Dad lives in mortal terror of Mr. House. Many are the times when my father has paused mid-sentence, looked to one side and then the other for treacherous eavesdroppers, and whispered the nickname and name of He Who Cannot Be Nicknamed or Named. And why does Dad fear the unnicknamed shadow of Mr. House when he should fear the Curse of the [actual] Colonel?

You see, Mr. House was…

an anonymous novelist.

Like the tragic geopolitical nerd of yore, fierce ambition to be not only a playa but to be THE PLAYA raced through Mr. House’s bloodless veins. Deep in his black, barely beating heart, Mr. House knew he was a Colonel in Nickname Only, not what future adversary Cousin Theodore (that’s Colonel Roosevelt to you) called “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood”. So, to fill that non-Colonel abyss in his soul, Mr. House wrote a novel. Being a rich banker, he was able to “persuade”” avant-garde publisher B.W. Huebsh to publish it anonymously in 1912.

It begins with an ominous title:

Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!

No word strikes more fear into the hearts of those who still have hearts than ADMINISTRATOR!!!. Its like impartial technocratic professionalism…MADE FLESH!!!

Mr. House reminds us of THE TERROR THAT IS THE POLITICAL CENTER!!! by quoting zombie radical centrist [now, at least] Giuseppi Mazzini:

“No war of classes, no hostility to existing wealth, no wanton or unjust violation of the rights of property, but a constant disposition to ameliorate the condition of the classes least favored by fortune.”

Fear the DREAD VOICE OF MODERATION!!!

The book’s actual action opens with a door to the MILQUETOAST OF HORROR:

In the year 1920, the student and the statesman saw many indications that the social, financial and industrial troubles that had vexed the United States of America for so long a time were about to culminate in civil war.

Wealth had grown so strong, that the few were about to strangle the many, and among the great masses of the people, there was sullen and rebellious discontent.

The laborer in the cities, the producer on the farm, the merchant, the professional man and all save organized capital and its satellites, saw a gloomy and hopeless future.

With these conditions prevailing, the graduation exercises of the class of 1920 of the National Military Academy at West Point, held for many a foreboding promise of momentous changes, but the 12th of June found the usual gay scene at the great institution overlooking the Hudson. The President of the Republic, his Secretary of War and many other distinguished guests were there to do honor to the occasion, together with friends, relatives and admirers of the young men who were being sent out to the ultimate leadership of the Nation’s Army. The scene had all the usual charm of West Point graduations, and the usual intoxicating atmosphere of military display.

The vortex of terror only spirals downward from there. With great bravery, Wikipedia stiff-lipped summarizes the dread plot of Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!:

His book’s hero leads the democratic western United States in a civil war against the plutocratic East, and becomes the acclaimed leader of the country until he steps down, having restored justice and democracy.

Faint hearts, stay away. FAR AWAY!!! MuahahaHaHaHa!!!

While Mr. House had romantic Playa envy he (anonymously) shared with the tragic geopolitical nerd, unlike the that poor creature, doomed to die comic pratfall by comic pratfall, Mr. House had an actual superpower: he could become someone else. House lacked the self-destructive instinct of the self-appointed strategist for Playaing the prima donna. He was willing to venture where few ventured, to go where few dared go. He went inside.

If the most primal species of strategist is the Little Father, the Great Captain at War, a Thutmoses III, an Ashurbanipal, a Heraclius, where politics, strategy, and tactics form are joined to form one sharp cutting blade in the arsenal of the Genius Mind, Mr. House stolidly belongs to the next oldest class of strategist: the favorite.

It is a mistake to mistake the favorite, as my Dad does, for Philip Dru….ADMINISTRATOR!!! The gift of ADMINISTRATION!!! is bestowed on few, and then only on the Little Father. The role of the favorite is, in Mr. House’s own words, “to serve wherever and whenever possible”. And the favorite’s greatest service, wherever and whenever possible? To be disposable at pleasure, the pleasure of his keeper. Next to the graves of the indispensable men are the mass graves heaped with their very dispensable favorites. While the Little Father quickly absorbs all credit for any favorite successes, his favorites are there to accept blame for any ill-favored failures. When the public mood shifts from “This evil comes from the Little Father’s favorites. If only the Little Father knew!” to “This evil comes from the Little Father. Down with the Little Father!”, the Bastille is at the door.

If the Little Father wins his role and its power by his intrinsic Little Fatherliness, the favorite gains his role and its power by his ability to cater to the whims of Little Fatherliness. The favorite’s talent is heroic submission, signing his will with all its mind, might, and strength over to his master without limit. Any ambitions he has manifests itself only in how he ever so carefully he contorts himself to ever so carefully refract his masters reflection back onto the Little Father. It is by such subtle bending of white light into brown light, tinged with the Little Father’s favorite colors, that the best of favorites stays the most favored of favorites. If the favorite flashes any light of his own, light that may outshine, however briefly, his master’s rays, the favorite risks becoming less favorite and even not favorite. And a favorite without favor is -ite. And who needs more -ite?

The man who would draw near to Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!, even if one step removed from real ADMINISTRATION!!!, must be one with his masters peripheral vision. He should be seen but unseen, felt but unfelt, brown-nosed without visible brown stains. His inner geopolitical nerd must remain leashed, unseen, and unsuspected.

Such leash. Such unseen. Much unsuspect.

The greatest threat to favor remains intoxication by proximity, so close to power, the ultimate intoxicant. If the favorite forgets his power is that of another, drawn from that of another, he’s doomed. In the Hall of Fame of Great Obsequious Americans, Mr. House holds no candle to the sinister Dr. Kissinger, Epic Suck Up to ten presidents, but he did well, for a time, with his one president.

Unfortunately for Mr. House, he was no Cousin Tom. And that doomed him. He too was no mirror for princes.

[Dad, you can come out from underneath the bed now.]

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Half Price Books

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

An old Border’s location near where I live was taken over by Half Price Books, the growing used book chain. So I took a drive with the kids to check it out, though my expectations were not high.  My Eldest also decided to sell a box of books dating back to her more childish years.

The atmosphere of the store was pleasant and the employees friendly and helpful, much of the space is (quite properly) devoted to maximizing the display of the stock of books instead of various kinds of retail nonsense. We browsed while the buyers evaluated my daughter’s books for resale. The store was very well stocked for a used book store catering to the general public and the prices were excellent. While the decor was “no frills” there were comfortable, well-used, chairs in which to sit toward the back of the store accompanied by end tables for the piling of books.  My son enjoyed going through the bins of of old comics, of which he bought a fistful for .50 cents each.

The most expensive book I bought was $9 (for two volumes) vice a new retail price of $40; most ran $4 – $6. One brand new copy was purchased for all of $2.

Here’s what I picked up:

    

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa byJason Stearns 

This one was the subject of a book review by Scott Shipman which you can read in full here.

Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography by Sir Hew Strachan

I have been wanting to read this one ever since we had The Clausewitz Roundtable at Chicago Boyz. Strachan is one of the leading military historians and strategic thinkers and can be viewed lecturing on strategy and war here.

The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain by Terrence Deacon

This was in mint condition – literally had never been opened (must have been a student’s copy LOL) – and was only $2 as a Half Price Books “SuperBuy”. Deacon is a biological anthropologist and was/is a professor at Harvard Medical School and Berkeley. On the one hand, some of the neuroscience might be dated, given the 1997 copyright, but as he is investigating 2 million years of human evolution, so how off could it be in just 16 years?

The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian 

Arrian was cited frequently, but with significant reservations and commentary, by Paul Cartledge in his biography Alexander the Great, which I reviewed here.

    

War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History (vol. I & II) by Robert Asprey 

I am not very familiar with Asprey but I have deep sympathy for anyone who attempts this kind of epochal survey, they are very hard to pull off well ( and harder to get people to read all the way through  once they are written and published, see Arnold Toynbee and Will and Ariel Durant). Any comments here are welcome.

Mussolini by R. J. B. Bosworth 

A biography of il Duce by a leading expert on the period of Italian Fascism.

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly 

I’ve read this before, when it was first published, but did not have a copy. Bought it to have on hand as a reference.

My only complaint about the Half Price Books experience was the store was a trifle warm. My Eldest pocketed a cool $15 from selling her old books and decided to treat herself to a detective novel and a used Xbox game.

A good time was had by all.

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Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

On behalf of Charles and Scott, I would like to wish all the readers a happy and safe holiday!

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On the HipBone and Sembl games: update

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

[ brief intro by Charles Cameron, then shorter version of Dr. Cath Styles' presentation of Sembl at the National Digital Forum in New Zealand, 20 November 2012 ]
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Charles writes:

I’ve been working for almost twenty years on the development of a playable variant on Hermann Hesse‘s concept of the Glass Bead Game.

It’s an astonishing idea, the GBG — that one could build an architecture of the greatest human ideas across all disciplinary boundaries and media — music, religion, mathematics, the sciences, anthropology, art, psychology, film, theater, literature, history all included — and it has engaged thinkers as subtle as Christopher Alexander, the author of A Pattern Language [See here, p. 74]. Manfred Eigen, Nobel laureate in Chemistry and author of Laws of the Game [see here], and John Holland, the father of genetic algorithms [see here].

Here’s Hesse’s own description of the game as a virtual music of ideas:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number.

My own HipBone Games were an attempt to make a variant of the game that would be simple enough that you could play it on a napkin in a cafe, and has in fact been played online — and more recently, my friend Cath Styles has adapted it for museum play, and introduced the basic concept and our future hopes in a presentation at the National Digital Forum 2012, New Zealand — which you can see very nicely recorded in Mediasite format.

Do take a look — Cath makes a first-rate presentation, and I love the Mediasite tech used to capture it.

Since the slides are shown in a small window concurrently with Cath’s presentation, I’ve edited her presentation for Zenpundit readers, and reproduced many of her slides full-size with some of her commentary below.

**

Sembl, the game of resemblance

Cath speaking:

In its first form, Sembl is an iPad game, called The Museum Game, at the National Museum of Australia. We’ve just released it in beta as a program for visiting groups.

Cath then talks about feedback from children and adults about their experience of playing the game. Some kids homed in on the principle of resemblance, others emphasised the social side of the game. She talks, too, about their teacher, and her observations about the ways the game engaged her kids.

She then shows us various Sembl gameboards for iPad:

Sembl Museum gameboard for four teams of younger players

Four different Sembl Museum gameboards

Cath speaks:

But The Museum Game is just one form of Sembl. The Museum Game is played in real time, on site, and players take photos of physical objects to create nodes on the board.

The next step is to make a web-based form, that you could play at your own pace, and from your own place. Then, Sembl becomes a game-based social learning network, which amplifies the personal value of the game – it becomes social networking with cognitive benefits.

But it’s the bigger picture – of humans as a community – that I most want to explore: Sembl as an engine of networked ideas, or linked data.

Charles notes: I’m skipping the educational part — and the bit about my own role in the game’s development, to get to the core of her presentation as I see it: the cognitive facilitation it provides

Cath again:

Another way of saying this is that the Game provides a structure and impetus for dialogue, between the museum and visitors, between visitors and things, among visitors and between things. And this is not dialogue in the sense of an everyday conversation. It’s deeper than that. It’s a mutual experience of looking both ways, simultaneously.

Cath next quotes David Bohm, the eminent quantum physicist:

to hold several points of view in active suspension – quotation of David Bohm

Cath speaks:

For Bohm, dialogue means holding several points of view in active suspension. He regarded this kind of dialogue as critical in order to investigate the crises facing society. He saw it as a way to liberate creativity to find solutions.

Cath then drops in an important topic header:

Toward a game-based social learning network

Cath:

The concept of Sembl, in its deepest sense, is social learning – game-based social learning. In its first instantiation, it is game-based social learning in a museum and – if things turn out as I hope they will – from next year it will be playable at any other exhibiting venue that has the infrastructure and the will to host games – galleries, libraries, botanic gardens, zoos and so on.

network thinking – how Sembl network links differ from traditional linked data links

A web-based form of Sembl can generate linked data with a difference. It’s linked link data, and quite different to normal linked data.

  • Instead of connections based on what a thing is – sculpture, or wooden, or red – Sembl generates connections based on a mutual resemblance between two things. Which, amazingly enough, is a great way of gaining a sense of what each thing is. And if your interest is to enable joyful journeying through cultural ideas, or serendipitous discovery, this approach just wins…
  • Instead of compiling logical links, Sembl cultivates the analogical.
  • Instead of building and deploying a structured, consistent set of relationships, Sembl revels in personal, imprecise, one-of-a-kind, free association, however crazy.
  • Instead of attempting to create a comprehensive and stable map of language and culture, Sembl links are perpetually generative, celebrating the organic, dynamic quirks of cognitive and natural processes.

But the most important way that Sembl is distinct from other systems of network links is that those who generate the links learn network thinking. Which is a critical faculty in this complex time between times, as many smart people will tell you.

Poets have always known the virtues of analogy as a path to the truth.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant – poem by Emily Dickinson

Sembl promotes dialogic, non-linear thinking, and new forms of coherence.

deliberative thinkers – quotation of Charles Cameron

It’s distinct from deliberative thinking, which is rational and causal and logical and linear.

eccentric thinkers – quotation of Charles Cameron

It’s another kind of thinking, which might be informed by rational thought, but its purpose is not singular.

bridge-builders – quotation of Charles Cameron

You might say its purpose is to create – and cohabit – a state of grace, from which ideas simply emerge.

every move you make is a creative leap

If playing Sembl gives us practice in polyphonic thinking, if it helps cultivate connectivity and our capacity to find solutions to local and global problems, it is good value. As Charles says, every move is a creative leap.

Cath concludes:

If you’re interested in working with us to supply content, develop strategy or raise capital, we’re keen to talk.

And I can’t tell you how much I’m anticipating being able to invite everyone to play.

thanks

**

Cath can be reached via Twitter at @cathstyles, and I’m at @hipbonegamer. The Sembl site is at Sembl.net.

Next up: what Sembl has to offer the IC.

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Of ID cards and innermost mysteries

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron -- just another angle on personal identity and ID, nudged on by two news pieces I saw today, and written to set the thought juices flowing ]
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Life’s four deep questions are often listed thus: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? and Where will I go? We humans can spend a lifetime in search of the answers, and Paul Gauguin made three of them them the title of what some consider his greatest painting:

Paul Gauguin: D'où je viens, qui je suis, où je vais?

**

These are deeply personal questions — and now governments and bureaucracies everywhere would like to know the answers to them, too:

**

The poet Hopkins, in his tightly compressed way, teaches us that we are not our driving licenses, we are not files in a desk drawer or on a computer, we are not our photos, we are not numbers, we are not even our names, we are… that which is most natural to us, that which is most essential about us, what you might call our “true natures”:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

We selve, we go ourselves — most precisely, we deal out that being which dwells within us.

And to learn what that being is, that mystery which most richly propels us, is our life task.

**

In our desire to identify, classify, count and track everybody and everything, our governments and bureaucracies keep losing track (!) of the simple fact that a person’s person is that person’s innermost mystery.

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