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Second American Revolution II: the symbolic side of things

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- always on the watch for the symbolic ]
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First, let’s admit that the cattle-rancher archetype has immense popular appeal. Here’s the header from the Bundy Ranch website:

That’s pretty hard to beat, no?

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As ever, I’m concerned to keep track of the symbolic side of things, the emotional tugs, the flags, rituals, and stratagems which gather morale to a cause — in this case, the standoff at the Bundy Ranch.

Again in this photo we see cowboys, and this time one of them is carrying the American flag held high…

What other flags were in evidence?

I’m pretty sure I can see the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps flags here, along with the US flag —

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There’s another flag, just above the Corps flag in the photo above, that I couldn’t identify — a flag which was also captured in this Guardian shot –

I didn’t recognize it, but our blog-friend and frequent commentator Grurray did… And here’s where things get really interesting, and I learn what I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t decided to look into this matter of the flags at the Bundy Ranch showdown.

It’s a Latter-day Saints banner known as the Title of Liberty, and it dervives from a passage in the Book of Mormon, Alma 46 verses 12-13 and 36-37, wherein Captain Moroni

rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it — In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children — and he fastened it upon the end of a pole … and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren …

and…

it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites. And they began to have peace again in the land…

Here it is, raised for an event in Washington DC:

And here it is, catalogued for sale as a 3′ x 5′ flag:

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Finally, there’s the Gadsden flag:

— flown here at the Bundy Ranch protest alonside the US flag:

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That’s it for flags, for me, at least for now… It has been an interesting ride.

I mentioned stratagems, though. Here’s one that strikes me as less than chivalrous — but which, if push had come to shoot, would have made quite a media splash. The stratagem? Simple — put women in the front line…

Sheriff Richard Mack explains his idea:

Mack goes into further detail in an interview with Ben Swann. You can read excerpts here, or view the entire interview on YouTube here — the relevant passage begibs around the 4.39 mark.

I am not by any stretch a lawyer — but isn’t that veering pretty close to the old “human shield” idea we so despised in Iraq and Afghanistan?

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Thanks again to Grurray — with sharp eyes & knowledge to match!

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Second American Revolution I: the (immediate) unlikelihood

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with an eye for catching graphics ]
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Freedom Outpost wasn’t the only outlet raising the question: Militias Are On Route Help Cliven Bundy – Face Off With Feds: Will this be the Start of the 2nd American Revolution? As I’ve noted before, though, quoting Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, the answer to questions asked by excited headlines is generally a quiet “no”.

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I do think, however, that there’s a tectonic rift growing in the US… Here are two diagrams which each illustrate that thesis:

The upper panel shows the overlap — hugely diminished over the last 30 or so years, and now almost non-existent — between House Democrat and Republican votes, and is taken from Chris Cillizza‘s post in WaPo’s The Fix blog.

The lower panel shows network maven Valdis Krebsmost recent (2008) mapping of conservative and liberal reading habits, as tabulated using Amazon data on who purhases which books along with what other books: for the first time in Krebs’ analyses, there were no books read in common by conservative and liberal readers alike.

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Here for good measure is my own analysis of the congressional situation — juxtaposing politics with religion because it’s my modus operandi to view one through the lens of the other — in DoubleQuote format:

So simple.

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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?

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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.

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    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.
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