zenpundit.com » book

Archive for the ‘book’ Category

Borders, limina and unity

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — bulldozers and trains, more ]
.

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?
    .

    Punch counter punch

    Sunday, November 25th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a perfect two-snake pattern from the WaPo headline writers ]
    .

    As patterns go, this one is hard to beat:

    Source:

  • Washington Post, John Roberts counterpunches the counterpunching president
  • **

    As you may have gathered, the human propensity for patterning is an enduring interest of mine, and my collecting of such things as ouroboroi, parallelisms, paradoxes, moebius formats and mirrorings is effectively a small pattern language study after the example of Christopher Alexander‘s Pattern Language. Mine, drawing its materials from verbal and visual exemplars rather than architectural ones, perhaps reveals more about the workings of the human mind, aka consciousness.

    The “outer world” has yet to catch up with the significance of these studies..

    **

    At a time when my worldly goods in book form consisted of fifty or so over-thumbed, used science fiction paperbacks and one hardback — I no longer recall what it was — I won a minor poetry prize of $50 and decided it was better to splurge it on one thing I’d really treasure than to dribble it away, a coffee here, a sandwich there.. much though I like my coffees.

    Henbce, for about $45, I aacquired my copy of Alexander’s book — hardback #2!

    An I Ching for the West! Nobel-worthy! A Master’s Masterpiece!

    Decapitation — Variations on a theme by Vollmann

    Monday, September 24th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — preliminary to a rave review, i suspect, with Helena Bonham Carter as Red Queen thrown in ]
    .

    **

    There’s an old English saying, presumably about the martyred King Charles I:

    The King walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off..

    Young boys, getting acquainted with rules and grammar, and somewhat literal minded as a result, find this statement a paradox, which, however, can easily be resolved by the addition of a comma or perhaps better, a semicolon:

    The King walked and talked; half an hour after his head was cut off..

    Older boys quickly learn the (semicolon) reason of the riddle, and eagerly apply the first version to younger boys, the better to perplex and torment them. And thus both versions, the beauty of the paradox, the ease of its resolution, and the cruelty thus made available are transmitted across the generations..

    **

    I have written this because the beheading of a king clearly marked my young soul, as I was yesterday reminded by three passages from an Atlantic review of Vollmann‘s latest Opus — Magnum III at least [I, II, and let us not forget, gods I would love to read this, Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater]..

    Summits chopped off:

  • In West Virginia, mountains do not have their summits chopped off but are granted “removal of overburden.”
  • Decapitation:

  • His insatiable appetite for detail yields both irrelevant trivia (“Embarking on the Super Limited Hitachi Express, which was also known as the Super Hitachi 23 Limited Express”) and magisterial portraits of landscapes befouled by poking and prodding and, in the case of West Virginia’s mountains, decapitating.
  • Headless:

  • Vollmann breathes a cool wind “whose degree of particulate contamination was of course unknown,” hears on a silent street at night the grunting of a radioactive wild boar, and walks on broken glass through an abandoned clothing store advertising a 50 percent–off sale and peopled by headless mannequins.
  • Headless mannequins and radioactive wild boars — vivid metaphors, no? — we the humans have been brain-dead, and in all likelihood will continue so.

    **

    We’re all too familiar with images of ISIS executioners with their orange jump-suited prisoners, just prior to and after solo and group beheadings — as a corrective to the “it’s all Islam” narrative, here’s a para from an article titled Inside the Minds of Cartel Hitmen: Hannibal Lecters for Hire (which includes an interview with Robert Bunker that I will be taking a more extended look at now my review of JM Berger‘s new book. Extremism, is in):

    And the tactics employed in all that killing have become more and more gruesome over time. Maybe the rush felt by some murderers is like a drug itself, and they are junkies needing ever greater doses to get the same high. But how is it that ordinary people get hooked on activities like beheading, acid baths, and cannibalism?

    **

    Quoth the Red Queen: Off with their heads!

    JM Berger’s Extremism, from MIT Press. Brilliant.

    Monday, September 24th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — my third JM Berger review, following reviews of Jihad Joe and ISIS: State of Terror ]
    .

    **

    I ordered a copy of JM Berger‘s Extremism months early from Amazon, having followed many of the posts in which he was formulating the insights that led to the book, and expecting a volume full of the very detailed diagrams and network analyses they contained:

    Image sources:

  • ICCT, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis
  • Intelwire, EXTREMIST CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITY
  • **

    These diagrams, and the research that underlies them — the work of JM and his colleague, Haroro J Ingram — attest to JM’s skill at the detailed drill-down level, the equivalent of rock-face drilling in a mine. The book couldn’t be further from my expectations: it attests to an entirely different set of skills, those of simplicity, grace, and a superb command of language.

    JM has the ability to communicate directly with a lay audience at their (our) level. He neither shies away from nuance nor adds needless complications — either of which would be a form of condescension to the reader.

    JM’s writing is direct and clean:

  • Terrorism is a tactic, whereas extremism is a belief system.
  • Extremism is a spectrum of beliefs, not necessarily a simple destination.
  • Group radicalization precedes individual radicalization
  • **

    Above are three of the pull-quotes, extracted from the book’s text, that state some of JM’s basic propositions on lucid, large-print, white on black pages, scattered as needed across the book’s 167 short pages (plus glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index)..

  • What extremism is, how extremist ideologies are constructed, and why extremism can escalate into violence
  • That’s the core proposition of the whole work, buttressed as it is with a wealth of detailed research and analysis. And radical…

    JM’s approach is already radical in its (his) refusal to treat only one ideological or religious frame for extremism. Studying both ISIS and home grown Identity groups, those who promote violence and those who arguably foreshadow it, led JM to see extremism itself as the most fruitful category to study — not terrorism, nor Islam, not the Citizen Sovereignty movement nor alt-right, but extremism tout court.

    That broadening of the frame allows Berger a set of analytic insights that were obscured by detail in earlier, more limited studies, and his book is the elegant formulation of those insights, simply, and with a forest of scholarship in support.

    **

    JM lists Impurity, Conspiracy, Dystopia, Existential threat, and Apocalypse as central “crisis narratives” utilized by in-groups as they view out-groups — but it is the in-group-out-group distinction which is central to his thinking, its wrongness characterized by the in-group’s paranoid conspiracist suspicions of the out-group’s impurity, dystopic being the nature of the world now ruled by the out-group, and to be abhorred or saved by the in-, with existential threat and apocalypse providing the sense of time-crunch, urgency.

    All this, I say, with a simplicity and elegance which belies the originality and scholarship that undergirds it.

    Above highly recommended.

    John McCain for whom the bell now tolls, RIP

    Sunday, August 26th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a small but necessary personal tribute, along with corroborating witnesses for the details and more ]
    .

    McCain limps home, from Hanoi to freedom:

    **

    I want to say a quick word about John McCain, may his echoes remain long among us, before culling some significant images and quotes from other sources. I came late to my knowledge of the man, but when I arrived there, the two matters that most impressed me were:

    First, that when after a couple of years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese he was offered release, he refused it and opted consciously for years more of the same unless his fellow POWs were also released, in accord with Article III of the Military Code of Conduct to “accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.” That was an act of almost unbelievable courage ..

    **

    In more detail, from elsewhere:

    The protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is Robert Jordan, a young American who left his job to fight with the Republican side, against the Nazi-supported Nationalists, in the Spanish Civil War. He never loses sight of his objective — the demolition of a bridge — despite doubts about whether the mission is necessary or even possible. He hates fascism and feels a profound sense of duty to oppose it.

    John McCain, who died Saturday in Arizona after a 14-month fight against brain cancer, always said this 1940 novel about guerrilla warfare was his favorite and that its hero was a source of inspiration throughout his life — even as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

  • Yahoo, The bell tolls for John McCain: How Hemingway’s antifascist hero shaped the man
  • The crew on the carrier Forrestal put out a fire that killed 134 men in the worst noncombat incident in American naval history. Mr. McCain was seriously injured. Credit: U.S. Navy, via Associated Press

    *

    Promoted to lieutenant commander in early 1967, Mr. McCain requested combat duty and was assigned to the carrier Forrestal, operating in the Gulf of Tonkin. Its A-4E Skyhawk warplanes were bombing North Vietnam in the campaign known as Operation Rolling Thunder. He flew five missions.

    Then, on July 29, 1967, he had just strapped himself into his cockpit on a deck crowded with planes when a missile fired accidentally from another jet struck his 200-gallon exterior fuel tank, and it exploded in flames. He scrambled out, crawled onto the plane’s nose, dived onto a deck seething with burning fuel and rolled away until he cleared the flames.

    As he stood up, other aircraft and bomb loads exploded on deck. He was hit in the legs and chest by burning shrapnel. At one point, the Forrestal skipper considered abandoning ship. When the fire was finally brought under control, 134 men had been killed in the worst noncombat incident in American naval history.

  • New York Times, John McCain, War Hero, Senator, Presidential Contender, Dies at 81
  • Those who escape unscathed from such close calls are marked for life.

    And then there’s so much more..

    Mr. McCain, center, after he ejected from his fighter plane in 1967 and fell into a lake. The Vietnamese imprisoned and tortured him for more than five years. Credit: Library of Congress

    *

    Mr. McCain was stripped to his skivvies, kicked and spat upon, then bayoneted in the left ankle and groin. A North Vietnamese soldier struck him with his rifle butt, breaking a shoulder. A woman tried to give him a cup of tea as a photographer snapped pictures. Carried to a truck, Mr. McCain was driven to Hoa Lo, the prison compound its American inmates had labeled the Hanoi Hilton.

  • New York Times, John McCain, War Hero, Senator, Presidential Contender, Dies at 81
  • McCain’s conduct during nearly six years in a North Vietnamese prison, the infamous Hanoi Hilton, had become the stuff of legend. In 1968, less than a year after his Navy bomber was shot down, the imprisoned McCain was abruptly offered unconditional release by the North Vietnamese, perhaps because his father had just been named the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific. McCain was still badly crippled from his crash and the poor medical treatment that followed, yet he adhered to the P.O.W. code of honor and refused to be repatriated ahead of American prisoners who had been in captivity longer than he. His refusal was adamant. His guard told him, “Now, McCain, it will be very bad for you.” He was tortured for his defiance, and ultimately spent more than two years in solitary confinement.

  • New Yorker, The True Nature of John McCain’s Heroism
  • Years later, as McCain reflected on this period, he said he held no ill will toward his captors. “I don’t blame them. We’re in a war,” McCain said in a separate interview with C-SPAN in 2017. “I didn’t like it, but at the same time when you are in a war and you are captured by the enemy, you can’t expect to have tea,” McCain said.

  • NPR, From A POW Prison, John McCain Emerged A ‘Maverick’
  • Honestly, the fact that he’s spent so much time in Trump’s crosshairs should arguably serve as a clue that the guy’s integrity might be above average on Capitol Hill whether you happen to agree with his positions or not.

  • Paste, HBO’s Valedictory John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls Is Not a Puff Piece
  • **

    Second, that he continued his opposition to the torture of others throughout his life ..

    Others may speak of McCain from close personal acquaintance, or with a deeper historical awareness of his life and service, but what little I can say, I can say with deep sincerity and respect:

    The man had guts — courage — nobility. Here was a man of whom the Senate and all America can and should be justifiably proud.


    Switch to our mobile site