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Two eminently watchable TV series by Hugo Blick

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — I suspect Mike Sellers & Ali Minai might find them of interest as subtle narrative avenues into complexity ]
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I’ve been watching Black Earth Rising , British writer-director Hugo Blick‘s latest series, starring Michaela Coel:

As with his earlier series, The Honourable Woman featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal, I’m transfixed. Here is complexity delivered — in both cases, brilliantly — on TV:

Once Blick puts down his first card, as a viewer you think, “Oh, that’s good. That will be interesting.” Then he essentially flips the other 51 into the air and lets them fall all over the script. That’s the ambitious beauty of The Honorable Woman, which explodes across each episode with elaborate twists involving the Israelis, the Palestinians, the British and the Americans.

**

Sources:

  • Hollywood Reporter, The Complicated, Ambitious Brilliance of ‘The Honorable Woman’
  • Hollywood Reporter, ‘Black Earth Rising’: TV Review
  • IndieWire, Netflix Thriller Shows the Danger of Treating Global Politics Like a Game
  • **

    I have been discussing systems dynamics and complexity with my game designer friend Mike Sellers recently — see his brilliant book, Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach — and complexity, glass bead games and AI with a new friend, Ali Minai — hear our podcast at BrownPundits. Let’s make it clear: I’m the student here.

    In the course of our discussion, I’d written:

    I think of novels and plays as offering approaches to an intuitive grasp of complex situations

    and

    I think polyphony and counterpoint are what we meet with in the social world, and indeed in our conflicted minds and hearts, and that Bach will prove to be the great master of our age, once we’ve matured enough to learn from him. But listening must come first, and that seems a skill that’s wildly at variance with our times..

    Mike responded:

    Novels and plays give us, I think, something of an implicit systemic view, in that we understand how a greater whole (a love story, a tragedy, etc.) emerges from the mutual interactions between actors. Same with counterpoint and polyphony — the notes mutually interact at the same time, and set up call-and-response interaction within our minds across time, to create a larger experienced whole from the entire musical piece.

    I’m trying to make those relationships more explicit and more generalized, seeing the commonalities in books, music, biology, and games

    so — for both Mike and Ali — I’d recommend these two Hugo Blick series as contemporary works of Shakespearean subtlety, to consider as avenues into coomplexity. And although I lack the linguistic skills to appreciate him I’m sure Ali would like to add the Urdu poet Ghalib to the list..

    So that’s my interest.

    Complexity, what is it? Which avenue takes us deepest into the heart of the matter?

    **

    Hugo Blick?

    Hugo Blick, who likes to teach the ambiguities to which a probing sense of morality will necessarily find itself subject, might like to examine “Combat charities” in the West and their jihadi twin:

    A NEW PHENOMENON OF THE 21ST CENTURY BATTLEFIELD

    “Combat charities”—entities that seek to provide non-profit military and political assistance to weaker armed groups or minorities resisting the military onslaught of others (like ISIS)—are one mechanism for foreign anti-ISIS volunteers to join the fight. “Combat charities” are a new rising phenomenon of the 21st century battlefield and political dispensation. They can significantly affect both local orders and international politics. [ … ]

    Thousands of Western foreign fighters have traveled to the Middle East in recent years to join the fighting that has engulfed the region. They have overwhelmingly participated on the side of jihadi organizations like the Islamic State (ISIS) or the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front).

    However, a smaller and often unnoticed segment of these volunteers has embedded with groups that resist the jihadis, such as Kurdish, Assyrian, and Yazidi militias. These fighters vary in their motivations for joining the fight: Some are driven by moral outrage and seek to prevent the atrocities minority groups have suffered at the hands of the jihadis, while others are motivated by co-religionist solidarity. Some seek a sense of adventure and the adrenaline highs of military tourism, while others wish to escape problems at home, finding in the fight a form of self-medicating for post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems. [ … ]

    THE WESTERN PATHBREAKERS

    SOLI is the oldest and most established combat charity in the world. Founded and led by American citizen Matthew VanDyke, it operates in Iraq, and is building abilities to operate in Syria and North Africa. Since its creation in 2014, SOLI has helped form, train, and to certain extent equip the two largest Assyrian militias in northern Iraq fighting against ISIS. [ … ]

    …AND THEIR JIHADI TWIN

    Founded in May 2016, Malhama Tactical is the first sunni jihadi private military company. As Rao Komar, Christian Borys, and Eric Woods reported in Foreign Policy magazine in February, during its short existence Malhama Tactical has provided training and battlefield consulting for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front, affiliated with al-Qaida) and the Turkistan Islamic Party, an Uighur extremist group from China’s restive Xinjiang province.

    Get that? Rival combat charities to throw a heavy dose of ambiguity into the already three-cornered Syrian situation..

    IMO, these combat charities on both sides of an already fraught situation might make excellent fodder for Hugo Blick‘s subtle story-telling mind..

    **

    Viewing:

  • Netflix, Black Earth Rising
  • Amazon, The Honorable Woman
  • Further reading — the full combat charities report:

  • Brookings, Combat charities or when humanitarians go to war:
  • King Canute, Imperial Beach, CA, and rising tides

    Monday, October 22nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a coastal California town has learned the lesson King Canute either taught his nobles or learned the hard way himself — but what can anyone do about it? ]
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    **

    Okay, here’s the first para of Can a California town move back from the sea? Imperial Beach considers the unthinkable: a retreat from nature:

    At the start of each year, Southern California gets a glimpse into a future of rising seas, through an annual event called the king tide. On that day, the sun, moon and Earth align to create a heavy gravitational pull, leading to the highest tides of the year. If “king tide” sounds ominous, that’s because it is, particularly for a city like Imperial Beach, a small coastal town near the Mexican border surrounded by water on three sides: San Diego Bay to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Tijuana River Delta to the south.

    It doesn’t hurt that there’s a king reference there either, from my POV — because?

    **

    Because King Canute.

    As a Brit, I was introduced to King Canute at an early age, along with every last one of the other Kings and Queens of England — and their dates — memorize them! Americans, however, have shaken off the dust of kings and queens, and may not know the tale of King Canute and the waves. Was he, as my gold-embossed, colour-plated richly patriotic children’s book had it, an imperious royal who set his chair in the sand before the incoming tide, and not about to lose one inch of English sovereign soil to the waves, dared the Atlantic to encroach on his royal prerogative?

    Or was he, as Henry of Huntingdon, the original chronicler of the tale has it, a humble and wise, one might say ecologically sound king, who set his chair in the sand to demonstrate to his fawning and flattering courtiers that look, not even my royal command can overrule the laws of God — or Nature?

    **

    So, back to the humbling question — rising tides?

    Currently an anomaly, the king tide is a portent of things to come. Researchers warn that, due to myriad factors including the Earth’s rotation, California will deal with even higher sea-level rise than other locations, as the atmosphere and oceans warm. The oceans are now rising at a faster rate than any time since the last Ice Age, about half an inch or more per decade. While much of this is understood by researchers and informed readers, very little has been done by coastal cities to confront this slow-moving catastrophe.

    And Imperial Beach in particular?

    That is what makes Imperial Beach so interesting. Here, at the southernmost beach town in California, in an obscure corner of the United States, one small city is asking: What if we just got out of nature’s way?

    **

    Sources and readings:

  • High Country News, Can a California town move back from the sea?
  • The Sun, You Canute be Serious

  • Wikipedia, King Canute and the tide
  • New York Times, Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040
  • ipcc, Global Warming of 1.5°C
  • For the lore, lure, and love of language

    Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — this is / was all written on 29th (“today”), but has been tidied up before posting late today, really a rich day! ]
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    Today has been a rich day for me for language, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve found. I’ll use a series of my own tweets for this purpose, since the tweets include both the particular phrases or sentences that caught my eye, and links and images I’d otherwise have to fish for, giving you an idea of the articles themselves in which I found the items of interest..

    This one’s pretty fabulous, with plants living inside animals — I suppose we are fauna with flora inside us too, though, but the coral instance really hit home:

    That was the first one that really delighted me, this one cinched (clenched?) the deal:

    The bird snaking (its neck), which caught my eye as a companion to the coral (animal) planting (inside its cells), I noted in the tweet, making these two taken together a DoubleTweet. What I didn’t mention was the positively Homeric echo in “reshuffles her storm-cloud-gray wings”..

    **

    which leads me inevitably to my other Homeric finds today, with both the Odyssey:

    and Zeus..

    And that’s enough for now!

    Sunday surprise, the selfsame song

    Sunday, July 8th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — whether willed by the brain or torn from the heart, the one, same cry for mercy — in chant, by Bach, and by Ray Charles & BB king ]
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    A stranger in my Twitter-stream just tweeted a link to a current Australian report on an opening window for rescue operations for the boys trapped in that cave in norther Thailand, two and a half miles under ground:

    [ the video in this tweet is from a continually updated news feed — at time of writing, the rescue op was just beginning ]

    Fate may be fate, prayer may or may not influence events — perhaps prayer may only help us, the watching world ouiside that cave, those circumstances, that peril — the urge to pray is no respecter of particular religions, Christians, Buddhists, Atheists, we all may feel the instinct to pray.

    The prayer is the most basic cry, as we shall see in three versions: the timeless Gregorian chant, the beauty of the Erbarme Dich from Bach‘s Matthew Passion, and that selfsame song as Ray Charles sings it with BB King.

    **

    Gregorian chant:

    Kyrie XI [ Lord, Have mercy ] from the choir of St Pierre de Solesmes, my favorite haunt when I was seventeen, with the greatest chant scholars and choir in the world:

    That floating, swooping melody is characteristic of the chant.

    **

    Erbarme dich, mein Gott [ “Have mercy Lord, My God, for the sake of my tears” ] by JS Bach

    If we lose have mercy, Lord from our conceptual vocabulary, we lose a higher octave of hope, of the necessity of surrender.

    Erbarme Dich may be the single sweetest moment in Bach‘s The Matthew Passion, itself arguably the greatest piece of church music ever written — a monumental, gloriously beautiful, grief-stricken work.

    **

    Pure blues: Sinner’s prayer, Ray Charles and BB King:

    If neither Bach nor the chant speak to you, perhaps the blues will — and if all three touch you, how wonderful the variety of expressions of the one prayer:

    Lord please have mercy .. have mercy if you please..

    **

    Footnote: Other unforgettable versions:

  • JS Bach, Kyrie from the B Minor Mass
  • WA Mozart, Kyrie from the Requiem Mass
  • **

    Lord have mercy on the boys in the cave — knowing that the rescue task will be arduous, we ask mercy with hope and a readiness to surrender, to greet whatever outcome with our hearts flung open to grief or joy as the case may be.

    “They” are taking over, are they?

    Sunday, March 11th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — might be of interest to John Robb & Adam Elkus ]
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    Whoever “they” may be, they’re taking over all over:

    **

    Sources:

  • Washington Post, MS-13 is ‘taking over the school,’
  • South China Morning Post, Wild boars are taking over Japan’s small towns
  • **

    Two things:

    One. In each case, we have a well-studied context — education, Japanese urban living — invaded by an unexpected “alien” force — a virulent gang, wild boars — which will easily blindise students of the context, resulting in unanticipated consequences..

    And two. there seems to be enough parallelism between the two instances on “taking over” that we should be able to abstract a rule from the pair of examples — though I’m terrified to think what the implications of such a rule might be..

    **

    Also:

  • Global warming may be a factor in the exploding Japanese wild boar population
  • Some of the wild boar in Japan are radioactive thanks to Fukushima
  • **

    Pamplona, the Running of the Bulls; Tokyo, the Running of the Boars:

    Voluntary (above); involuntary (below).


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