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A certain symmetry in malls

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — Gezi Park and Westgate Mall through the lens of the Garden of Good and Evil ]
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Sheer madness, I know — but there’s a method to it.

I was watching Clint Eastwood‘s brilliantly funny film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil last night, and noted with delight the symmtery between two of his Savannah characters — one a gentleman who walks an invisible dog through a park on a leash [upper panel, above], and the other a fellow who attaches house-flies on threads to his lapels, so that he can walk his pets to the nearby diner for breakfast [lower panel]…

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Here’s where the sheer madness comes in, and the method it encourages.

With symmetry still on a back burner in my mind, I was reading Michael Klare‘s post Planet Tahrir: The Coming Mass Demonstrations against Climate Change (Klare) on Juan Cole‘s blog this morning, and ran across this sentence:

on May 27th, a handful of environmental activists blocked bulldozers sent by the government to level Gezi Park, a tiny oasis of greenery in the heart of Istanbul, and prepare the way for the construction of an upscale mall.

An upscale mall.

Beth Gill‘s essay, Temples of Consumption: Shopping Malls as Secular Cathedrals details a central analogy of our time, and it’s only fitting that the desire to replace an “oasis of greenery” by building an “upscale mall” was what triggered the Gezi Park uprising, just as the destruction of an “upscale mall” in Nairobi, Kenya, was the recent target and mise-en-scene of al-Shabaab’s recent “martyrdom brigade” and their murderous rampage.

The symmetries and ratios of garden and mall, cathedral and mall, construction and destruction, paradise and consumption are thrown up for our consideration by this juxtaposition of Gezi and Westgate.

What can we learn from them?

Most intriguing game-theoretic comment of the year thus far

Friday, September 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — at the intersection of zero-sum and non-zero sum games ]
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And the hands-down winner is — opening today’s Washington Post to the op-ed page — President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who says:

The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.

I think he’s right, though I’ll leave the question of whether he means it TBD — but if he does, that’s a.. that’s a.. that’s a Major Game Changer — and verra interesting in any case:

  • What’s the non-zero-sum strategy when there may be one or more zero-sum players in the game?
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    For your further edification, here’s what a genuine game-changer, in both literal and metaphoric sense of the phrase, looks like:
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    The court is a tennis court, the game in play is revolutionary politics, the event is the Tennis Court Oath, where the members of the National Assembly gathered to swear “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established” — the drawing is by Jacques-Louis David.

    Syria is Not Rwanda

    Monday, April 29th, 2013

    Anne-Marie Slaughter had a short but bombastic WaPo op-ed on Syria and chemical weapons use that requires comment:

    Obama should remember Rwanda as he weighs action in Syria 

    ….The Clinton administration did not want to acknowledge that genocide was taking place in Rwanda because the United States would have been legally bound by the Genocide Convention of 1948 to intervene to stop the killing. The reason the Obama administration does not want to recognize that chemical weapons are being used in Syria is because Obama warned the Syrian regime clearly and sharply in August against using such weapons. “There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical-weapons front or the use of chemical weapons,” he said. “That would change my calculations significantly.”

    ….But the White House must recognize that the game has already changed. U.S. credibility is on the line. For all the temptation to hide behind the decision to invade Iraq based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, Obama must realize the tremendous damage he will do to the United States and to his legacy if he fails to act. He should understand the deep and lasting damage done when the gap between words and deeds becomes too great to ignore, when those who wield power are exposed as not saying what they mean or meaning what they say.

    This is remarkably poorly reasoned advice from Dr. Slaughter that hopefully, President Obama will continue to ignore.
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    The President, on the basis of advice very much in the spirit of this op-ed, drew a public “red-line” about chemical weapons use for Bashar Assad, or some variation of that, on six occasions, personally and through intermediaries. On the narrow point, Slaughter is correct that this action was ill-considered, in that the President wisely does not seem to have much of an appetite for jumping into the Syrian conflict. Bluffing needlessly is not a good practice in foreign policy simply to pacify domestic critics, but it is something presidents do from time to time. Maybe the POTUS arguably needs better foreign policy advisers, but doubling down by following through with some kind (Slaughter fails to specify) military intervention in Syria is not supported in this op-ed by anything beyond mere rhetoric.
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    First, as bad as the Syrian civil war is in terms of casualties it does not remotely approximate the Rwandan Genocide in scale, moral clarity, military dynamics or characteristics of the major actors. This is a terrible analogy designed primarily to appeal to emotion in the uninformed. Syria is engaged in civil war, not genocide.
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    Secondly, the “credibility” argument has been lifted by Slaughter from it’s Cold War historical context where the United States capacity to provide a nuclear umbrella and effective deterrent for allied states was tied to the perception of our political will to assume the appropriate risks, which in turn would help avoid escalation of any given conflict to WWIII. This psychological-political variable of “credibility” soon migrated from the realm of direct US-Soviet nuclear confrontation in Europe to all manner of minor disputes (ex. -Quemoy and Matsu, civil unrest in the Dominican Republic) and proxy wars. It was often misapplied in these circumstances and “credibility” assumed a much greater exigency in the minds of American statesmen than it it did in our Soviet adversaries or even our allies, to the point where American statecraft at the highest level was paralyzed by groupthink in dealing with the war in Vietnam. By 1968, even the French thought we were mad.
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    Absent the superpower rivalry that kept the world near the brink of global thermonuclear war, “credibility” as understood by Johnson, Rusk, Nixon and Kissinger loses much of it’s impetus. If “credibility” is the only reason for significant US intervention in Syria it is being offered because there are no good, hardheaded, reasons based on interest that can pass a laugh test.
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    The historical examples President Obama should heed in contemplating American intervention in Syria is not Rwanda, but Lebanon and Iraq.

    Arresting Citizens, part I: the Law

    Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — on various instances of citizens “taking the law into their own hands” in attempts to arrest the Queen, two Popes, Harper of Canada and Tony Blair ]
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    I am not really up on the sovereign citizen movement here in the US, perhaps because it is not overly religious — we’ll talk about that in part II. What interests me in this first part is the sense that the sovereignty of nations is being questioned by citizens.

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    It sees to me that what we’re witnessing in these two “leading indicators” is an unraveling of trust in the state itself.

    My first instance comes from the Arrest Blair movement, which is basically a blog site with a bank account…

    This site offers a reward to people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, for crimes against peace. Anyone attempting an arrest which meets the rules laid down here will be entitled to one quarter of the money collected at the time of his or her application.

    Money donated to this site will be used for no other purpose than to pay bounties for attempts to arrest Tony Blair. All the costs of administering this site will be paid by the site’s founder.

    The site is not without supporters, and there are at least a few people willing to attempt the arrest. The site’s Attempts made so far page records four payments thus far totaling £10,971.56, or roughly $16,700 US. Notably, it appears that at least three out of the four claimants have paid all or a major part of the funds they received to charities.

    I would note as an aside that the suggestion that Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes has a number of supporters who are not AFAIK connected in any way with the “citizen arrest” attempts described here.

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    My second instance is that of the International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State, which appears to be largely the brainchild of one Rev Kevin D Annett MA, MDiv, a one-time minister of the United Church of Canada.

    I’d suggest that anyone who takes Kevin Annett at all seriously should consider that he purports to be involved with an international legal entity with competence to try the Pope — and yet gives his signature to paragraphs like these:

    When the Bloody Emperor stands naked, only our illusions keeps him protected and immune from the final accounting that is coming.

    The tornado that followed my first exorcism outside the Vatican in 2009, and the lightning that struck it on the day of Benedict’s resignation, were not accidental. Joe Ratzinger should know from the history of his own former SS buddies that criminal institutions can run, but they can’t hide – even behind all the wealth and pomp in the world.

    Prepare for Easter! Flush the Rat from the Vat!

    With such strident rhetoric and with exorcism a feature of his own activities, it’s hard to take him altogether seriously.

    The court’s view of its own status, independent of other jurisdictions, is expressed thus:

    It is understood by our Court that its decisions, based as they are on Natural and Common Law, supersede and invalidate all statutes and statutory laws which conflict with the decisions of the Court, particularly when those statues uphold crimes or their concealment, or the protection of the guilty. Similarly, our Court does not recognize the jurisdiction or authority of any contending legal systems, such as the so-called “Canon Law”, or any form of personal, diplomatic or legal immunity governing any person or institution, including heads of states, churches and corporations.

    Here, FWIW, is the opening of a recent posting on their site of a Public Banning Order to be issued by the Common Law Court of Justice against Pope, Cardinals, and Archbishop Wilfrid Napier for aiding and encouraging child rape in the case of some First Nations children:

    After evading arrest by lawful Common Law Court officers, over thirty officials of church and state now face permanent banishment from their communities during Easter Week for being wanted criminals who are a danger to children everywhere.

    These officers include Pope Francis I and former Pope Joseph Ratzinger, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Queen Elizabeth Windsor of England, all of whom were ordered detained by Citizen Arrest Warrants issued by the International Common Law Court of Justice on March 5 and 15, 2013.

    “They have defied the law and lawful arrest, so therefore they are declared to be public enemies who are no longer welcome or allowed in our communities” explained Rev. Kevin Annett, who presented the evidence to the Court that convicted the guilty.

    Here I would note for the record that I am entirely uninformed and take no sides in those issues which form the basis of Annett’s acute disgust with various churches, churchmen and politicians.

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    By way of context, but without suggesting any direct connection between the two instances above and the widely-documented Sovereign Citizens, here’s a brief overview of that movement.

    From a WECT special report:

    Hundreds of thousands of sovereign citizens currently live throughout the United States.

    The FBI calls them “domestic terrorists.” They’re also known as extremists, radicals and defenders of freedom.

    According to experts, sovereign citizens are Americans who think the laws don’t apply to them.

    Most of them have their own constitution, bill of rights and government officials.

    Sovereign citizens can be dangerous and violent. There have been a number of cases where sovereigns took matters into their own hands by killing members of law enforcement.

    From the Montgomery Advertiser, today:

    Self-proclaimed president of sovereign citizen nation convicted

    After a five-day trail, a federal jury in Montgomery has convicted Tim Turner, the self-proclaimed president of the Sovereign Citizen Nation, on a variety of charges relating to defrauding the government.

    The jury convicted the 57-year-old Skipperville resident on conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, attempting to pay taxes with fictitious financial instruments, attempting to obstruct and impede the Internal Revenue Service, failing to file a 2009 federal income tax return and falsely testifying under oath in a bankruptcy proceeding, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

    The FBI began an investigation after Turner and three other individuals sent demands to all 50 governors in the United States ordering each governor to resign within three days or be “removed,” according to a news release from Sandra J. Stewart, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

    The investigation found that Turner was the self-proclaimed president of the so-called sovereign citizen group “Republic for the united States of America (RuSA).” As president, Turner traveled the country in 2008 and 2009 teaching others how to defraud the IRS by preparing and submitting fictitious “bonds” to the U.S. government in payment of federal taxes.

    An estimate of the group’s size was posted in the SPLC’s Intelligence Report a few years back:

    Not all tax protesters are sovereign citizens, and many newer recruits to the sovereign life did not start out as tax protesters. But based on the available evidence, a reasonable estimate of hard-core sovereign believers today would be 100,000, with another 200,000 just starting out by testing sovereign techniques for resisting everything from speeding tickets to drug charges, for a total of 300,000. As sovereign theories go viral throughout the nation’s prison systems and among people who are unemployed and desperate in a punishing recession, this number is likely to grow.

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    Finally, it’s worth comparing the attempts to make citizen’s arrests of sundry heads of state, present and former, monarchic, papal and democratic, with the methods employed by the International Criminal Court at the Hague — which has a question in its FAQ:

    Who has to execute the warrants of arrest?

    The responsibility to enforce warrants of arrest in all cases remains with States. In establishing the ICC, the States set up a system based on two pillars. The Court itself is the judicial pillar. The operational pillar belongs to States, including the enforcement of Court’s orders.

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    As I say, I’m not “up” on the theory or history of loss of faith in government and it’s corollary, taking the law into one’s own hands” — but it presumably ties into such notions as hollow states, prerevolutionary states, and vigilantism.

    I’d appreciate a little history, a little context… not just in terms of the US sovereign citizen movement, but in broad enough scope to include vigilantism, non-violence, and the current attempts to arrest the Queen, the Popes (Francis regnant and Benedict emeritus) and Tony Blair.

    Your comments and insights?

    Book Mini-Review: Makers: the New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson

    Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

    Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson 

    This is a fun book  by the former editor-in-chief of WIRED , author of The Long Tail and the co-founder of 3D Robotics, Chris Anderson. Part pop culture, part tech-optimist futurism and all DIY business book, Anderson is preaching a revolution, one brought about by the intersection of 3D printing and open source “Maker movement” culture, that he believes will be bigger and more transformative to society than was the Web. One with the potential to change the “race to the bottom” economic logic of globalization by allowing manufacturing entrepreneurs to be smart, small, nimble and global by sharing bits and selling atoms.

    Anderson writes:

    Here’s the history of two decades of innovation in two sentences: The past ten years have been about discovering new ways to create, invent, and work together on the Web. The next ten years will be about applying those lessons to the real world.

    This book is about the next ten years.

    ….Why? Because making things has gone digital: physical objects now begin as designs on screens, and those designs can be shared online as files…..once an industry goes digital in changes in profound ways, as we’ve seen in everything from retail to publishing. The biggest transformation, but in who’s doing it. Once things can be done on regular computers, they can be done by anyone. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing happening in manufacturing.

    …..In short, the Maker Movement shares three characteristics,  all of which I’d argue are transformative:

    1. People using digital desktop tools to create designs for new products and prototype them (“digital DIY”)

    2. A cultural norm to share those designs and collaborate with others in online communities.

    3. The use of common design file standards that allow anyone, if they desire, to send their designs to commercial manufacturing services to be produced in any number, just as easily as they can fabricate them on their desktop. This radically foreshortens the path from idea to entrepreneurship, just as the Web did in software, information, and content.

    Nations whose entire strategy rests upon being the provider of cheapest labor per unit cost on all scales are going to be in jeopardy if local can innovate, customize and manufacture in near-real time response to customer demand. Creativity of designers and stigmergic /stochastic collaboration of communities rise in economic value relative to top-down, hierarchical production systems with long development lags and capital tied up betting on having large production runs.

    Interesting, with potentially profound implications.


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