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Ah, yes: my morning reading

Friday, March 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- featuring John Daido Loori and David Cook ]
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Loori: The True Dharma Eye; Cook: Understanding Jihad

L: Dogen & Loori, The True Dharma Eye; R: David Cook, Understanding Jihad

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Okay, they were side-by-side on the table — that’s pretty much what happens when you have a smallish table with two books — and then my eye catches the similarity between the two covers, the curious symmetry of the two figures, of the two books taken together.

So no, it wasn’t breakfast, just two very good books — and not even a croissant and grand crème could have improved the shining hour.

**

Resources:

  • John Daido Loori, The True Dharma Eye: Zen master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans
  • David Cook, Understanding Jihad
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    R2P: Asserting Theory is not = Law

    Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    At The Bridge, Victor Allen pontificates on R2P (“Responsibility to Protect“) as if it were an established, cardinal point of international  law and not a pet theory of a few years vintage pushed by a small but politically connected clique of Western elite activists.

    Strong State, Weak State:The New Sovereignty and Responsibility to Protect 

    The Responsibility to Protect doctrine represents a leap forward in accountability for states and does not infringe upon their sovereignty, as states are no longer held to be completely self-contained entities with absolute power over their populations. 

    As far as premises go, the first point is highly debatable; the second is formally disputed by *many* states, including Russia and China, great powers which are permanent members of the UN Security Council; and the third bears no relation to whether a military intervention is a violation of sovereignty or not. I am not a self-contained entity either, that does not mean you get to forcibly enter my house.

    That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders.

    Academic theorists do not have the authority to override sovereign powers (!) constituted as legitimized, recognized, states and write their theories into international law – as if an international covenant like the Geneva Convention had just been contracted. Even persuading red haired activist cronies of the American president and State Department bureaucrats to recite your arguments at White House press conferences does not make them “international law” either – it makes them “policy” – and that only of a particular administration.

    Nor did the legal principle of non-interference in another sovereign state’s internal affairs ever mean carte blanche in diplomatic practice. States always could and did take military action in self-defense when disorders in neighboring states threatened their security or spilled over their border outright. They could also choose to recognize insurgents in a neighboring state as lawful belligerents or even grant them diplomatic recognition as the legitimate government.

    The rest of the piece continues on in this fashion.

    This kind of breezy overselling of R2P, given the exceptionally slender diplomatic reeds on which it is based, is a cornerstone of R2P advocacy, usually for ill-considered or astrategic interventions motivated by “do something!”

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    Recommended Reading

    Monday, January 20th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, by "zen"]

    Top Billing! Pete Turner  Afghan Polling and what it Really Means 

    One last thing about the DoS and it’s polling. My personal experience working near the DoS folks is they lack the ability to know what the “people” think. They usually make decisions in a vacuum and tend to disregard the people they are seeking to serve.

    This is a critical statement, but I’ve seen on any number of occasions large scale decisions, assessments and plans being worked without the presence of an Afghan. The “Accountability Ladder” of DoS is culturally ignorant and often times offensive, even dangerous, to the people the DoS seeks to help.

    Second, Glevum Associates. How do I say this succinctly? I don’t trust anything they produce. My direct experience with Glevum has shown a serious lack of credible information being collected by this organization. One example should suffice…We requested a survey for the district I was researching. Keep in mind, I had previous experiences with Glevum in Iraq that made me reluctant to use their data. This time, when we received our data, I laughed. Glevum Associates had managed to survey more people than the reported population of the district. Again, they found more people than actually exist in this district. 

    The Orthosphere –  Post-Literacy and the Refusal to Read 

    ….Increasingly students tell me that they “can’t understand” the reading.  If they referred to Plato’s Symposium, the confession would be easy to interpret.  Abstract argument, syllogisms, and the refutation of syllogisms pose difficulties for inexperienced readers.  However, the texts that students tell me they “can’t understand” are The Odyssey or a novel by Hawthorne or Melville or a short story by Ray Bradbury.  In the case of The Odyssey, I assign Palmer’s WWI-era prose translation, so as not to traumatize the readership by confronting it with narrative in verse.  Students are telling me that they can’t understand stories, where one thing happens which leads to another and so forth.  Students give voice to a different, a radical species of incomprehension that bodes ill for the culture, the society, and the polity that they will constitute.  Their bafflement harbingers the age of post-literacy.

    ….The post-literate subject somewhat resembles the oral subject: His world is a purely personal world; he is ego-centered and yet his ego is a strictly limited one in correspondence with his limited intellectual horizon; he does not precisely lack objective standards, but he tends to resent and therefore to reject them as infringements on his libido.  Like the oral subject, the post-literate subject communicates through what Ong calls the verbo-motor activity of gestures, body-language, and face-making.  He is demonstrative and body-centered.  Like the oral subject, the post-literate subject thinks not for himself butwith the group. Like any tribesman or clansman, the post-literate subject is quick to be “offended.” His is not E. R. Dodd’s “guilt culture,” that product of the higher, scriptural religions; his is, rather, Dodd’s “shame culture,” the default ethos of pre-literate societies.

    On the other hand, post-literacy is not a relapse into orality, which, in its intact form, has institutions of its own such as folklore and social custom that codify the knowledge essential to living.  Post-literacy can draw on no such resources, for these have only been preserved in modern society in literature, and post-literacy has not only lost contact with literature, but also it simply no longer knows how to read in any meaningful sense.  It cannot refer to the archive to replenish itself by a study of its own past.  Post-literacy is therefore also, to borrow a phrase from Oswald Spengler, history-less.

    Hat tip to James Bennett 

    Oil Review Middle-East  (Christopher Gunson) - US shale revolution poses no threat to Middle East market 

    Many commentators have speculated that this will create a new geopolitical balance, one that will weaken the traditional oil and gas producers of the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. But the impact of the shale revolution on the global oil and gas supply chain is misunderstood.

    The role of Middle East oil exporters in the global economy remains secure and the direct impact of US shale on the global market is commonly overestimated.

    Crude oil comes in different density grades (heavy or light) and with different levels of sulfur. Shale oil is light with little sulfur, yet many US refineries are designed to accommodate heavy sulfur-rich crudes, typically imported from Canada, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. These refineries cannot be easily recalibrated to refine light sweet shale crude oil, which means that heavy high-sulfur crude oil will continue to be imported into the US oil refining and petrochemical supply chain.

    Arabian crude oil share predominately exported eastward to Japan, China, and Korea. This supply chain will remain unchanged. Simply put, US shale oil cannot easily offset traditional Arabian oil supplies to Asia — the oil requires different refining capabilities and there is geographic logic in the existing supply chain. The immediate impact of US shale oil production is to reduce imports of light oil from producers such as Nigeria.

     War on the Rocks (Adam Elkus) – The Odd Sheikh Out: A Complex Problem 

    Small Wars JournalCalifornia-Raised Kids vs. Mexico’s Violent Cartel and Recent Santa Muerte Spiritual Conflict Trends 

     Global Guerrillas- Bossnapping 

    Daveed Gartenstein-Ross – Interpreting al Qaida 

    Science News – Thinking hard weighs heavy on the Brain 

    The Volokh Conspiracy – Ninth Circuit to Hear Challenge to Obamacare’s “Platonic Guardians” January 28 

    Venkatesh Rao -Consent of the Surveiled 

    Slightly East of New – Can America Win Wars? and Boyd Conference in San Diego 

    That’s it!

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    Recommended Reading and Viewing, First of 2014

    Sunday, January 5th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Top Billing! Tom NicholsThe Death of Expertise 

    ….More seriously, I wonder if we are witnessing the “death of expertise:” a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between students and teachers, knowers and wonderers, or even between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

    By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields.

    Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live. A fair number of Americans now seem to reject the notion that one person is more likely to be right about something, due to education, experience, or other attributes of achievement, than any other.

    Indeed, to a certain segment of the American public, the idea that one person knows more than another person is an appalling thought, and perhaps even a not-too-subtle attempt to put down one’s fellow citizen. It’s certainly thought to be rude: to judge from social media and op-eds, the claim of expertise — and especially any claim that expertise should guide the outcome of a disagreement — is now considered by many people to be worse than a direct personal insult.

    I meant to comment on Tom’s post at the time which created a large stir, as I agree with some parts wholeheartedly while perhaps being more cognizant where and when expertise – a marvelously effective tool of western civilization also known as “specialization” - has its limits.  There are also different kinds of expertise which we should think of as cognitive tools or lenses that can provide better answers if used synergistically  than you can sometimes get from one form of expertise alone.

    There are also problems that because they may be fundamentally new or previously unrecognized – as happens when hard science fields push against current limits of knowledge in physics, chemistry or biology  - or massively interrelated and complex “intractable” or “wicked problems” of social systems, that we lack any expertise that fits the problem well in terms of arriving at accurate analysis or economical solutions. This goes even more to the latent but difficult to perceive opportunities that seem obvious only in hindsight after someone has made a breakthrough and exploited it effectively. These kinds of pathbreaking solutions tend to be profound in their impact, to paraphrase Freeman Dyson, because they are often remarkably simple.

    The Bridge  (Brett Friedman) Strategy as Narrative 

    Strategy is a form of communication; a message that you have the intentions and capabilities to impose your will, and the enemy cannot impose theirs. Aswar can be likened to two combatants trying to impose their will on the other, they must communicate their will and their intention not to abide by the will of the opponent. Since war is a human endeavor, this communication occurs in the same manner as other forms of communications. For example, the Six Phases of Joint Operations, found in JP 5-0 Planning, mirror the plot structure of theatrical drama as identified by Gustav Freytag. JP 5-0 lays out five phases for joint operations: Shaping, Deter, Seize Initiative, Dominate, Stabilize, and Enable Civil Authority. “Deter” is a throwaway; if it works, then no conflict occurs. It rightfully belongs as a subset of shaping, in my opinion, so I omit it below. The five remaining phases match up with Freytag’s plot structure: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement. Humans have been communicating using this structure for centuries and it’s no accident that a cohesive strategy would match it. 

    War on the Rocks (Thomas Lynch) -Confronting Reality: The Saudi-Pakistani Nuclear Nexus 

    ….Western nonproliferation pundits have generally dismissed the possibility of such nuclear proliferation collaboration, viewing the risks to Riyadh and Islamabad to be too high and the whispering campaign to be a Saudi effort to put pressure on the United States to be more firm with Iran.  Analysts of the Saudi monarchy also have argued that its conservative nature wouldmitigate against it going to Pakistan for a nuclear weapons “chit.”

    But a more careful assessment of trans-regional history and Saudi-Pakistani interrelations over time makes analysts like me – who both have lived in Middle Eastern countries and who analyze Pakistan and Saudi Arabia security matters from a South Asian security perspective – far less certain that the Saudis are bluffing.  Saudi Arabia’s unique relationship with Pakistan during the period of Islamabad’s civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons development programs makes this an especially important connection in the event of an ever-widening chain of nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East and South Asia. Although officially denied by Riyadh and Islamabad, many South Asia experts, includingBruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution, believe that a secret and long-standing agreement exists that Pakistan would provide the Kingdom with nuclear technology and weapons should the Saudis feel threatened by a third party nuclear program.  Furthermore, Pakistan has a recent history of responding positively to Saudi security requests, most notably in the spring of 2011 Saudi royals feared spill-over of a Shi’ite uprising in Bahrain and requested Islamabad ready an expeditionary military force to deploy upon request.  Pakistan did so without hesitation. 

    Seydlitz89 -A Clausewitzian View of the Current Conscription Debate in the US – Part I

    Conscription is defined as “compulsory enlistment of citizens or residents of a political body for national service”. It dates back to the Babylonian Empire but the modern variant traces back to revolutionary France of the 1790s, and thus has a significant political element regardless of the political system employing it. Most modern wars have required some sort of conscription by one side or both in order to procure the necessary manpower to wage the war in question.In this essay I would like to first present the state of conscription in Europe prior 1793, followed by French mobilization to form the Grand Armee. Clausewitz’s view on conscription as well as Prussian reforms will follow. Finally I will present some recent examples in the current debate in the US regarding the reimplementation of conscription. I think this will show that Clausewitz’s views are pertinent to the discussion and even explain the motives/thinking of some of the current proponents. This is due to the fact in my view that regarding conscription we are dealing with basic political questions, that in the US context are long overdue in airing.

    Dart Throwing Chimp -Relative Risks of State-Led Mass Killing Onset in 2014: Results from a Wiki Survey and Why More Mass Killings in 2013, and What It Portends for This Year 

    To fully understand why a spate of mass killings is happening now, I think it helps to recognize that this cluster is occurring alongside—or, in some cases, in concert with—aspate of state collapses and during a period of unusually high social unrest. Systemic thinking leads me to believe that these processes are interrelated in explicable ways.

    Just as there are boom and bust cycles within economies, there seem to be cycles of political (dis)order in the global political economy, too. Economic crunches help spur popular unrest. Economic crunches are often regional or global in nature, and unrest can inspire imitation. These reverberating challenges can shove open doors to institutional change, but they also tend to inspire harsh responses from incumbents intent on preserving the status quo ante. The ensuing clashes present exactly the conditions that are ripest for mass killing. Foreign governments react to these clashes in various ways, sometimes to try to quell the conflict and sometimes to back a favored side. These reactions often beget further reactions, however, and efforts to manufacture a resolution can end up catalyzing wider disorder instead. 

    Cyclical behavior in social macrosystems is a favorite theme of pop science thinker Howard Bloom 

    Kings of War (Jill Sargent Russell) -The Art of Victory 

    Delphi Brief - DOD Releases Roadmap for Hunter and Killer Robots: Looks 25 Years Ahead in Unmanned Vehicle Vision 

    SWJ Blog -Warfare Is Changing In 3 Ways 

    Feral Jundi -Podcasts: Boyd Briefing On Organic Design For Command And Control 

    LESC Blog -Don’t Fear Failure; Instead Make Failure Your Classroom 

    AFJ  (BJ Armstrong)-Unmanned naval warfare: Retrospect & prospect 

    The Bridge (Jeremy Renken) -Renken on Strategy as Fiction 

    Global Guerrillas-Another Massive Cyber-attack on US Citizens and Nobody Cares 

    tdaxp – Value Added Testing 

    Steven Pressfield Online “He’s a Winner!” 

    Michigan War Studies ReviewShanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze and Eisenhower in War and Peace 

    Scientific American -The Most Fascinating Human Evolution Discoveries of 2013 

    The National InterestAsia’s Worst Nightmare: A China-Japan War 

    RECOMMENDED VIEWING:

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    Recommended Reading

    Saturday, December 21st, 2013

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Top billing! Adam Elkus - Is Failure an Option? (I),  Is Failure an Option? (II),  Is Failure an Option? (III) 

    ….The idea of implementing a massive and complex venture rapidly and decisively (with little room for error) is essentially just a rephrasing of the familiar the pre-World War I fear of losing a mobilization race. Under some circumstances, a nuclear balance could also degenerate into a “use them or lose them” dilemma in which a state risks the entire annihilation of its strategic forces and decision nodes in one murderous enemy salvo. There also seems to be — from Niccolo Machiavelli to Nathan Bedford Forrest – a general competitive heuristic that if you are to crush your enemies, you must strike as powerfully as you can and as quickly as you can. The heuristic is even repeated in the animal kingdom: queen bees famously kill their rivals upon emergence. But as the Germans discovered after the Schlieffen Plan and The Wire‘s Omar taunted, rapid execution and massive risk only pays off when it pays off. Fail and you run the risk of embroiling yourself in a quagmire that might have been avoided with more gradual and less rigidly planned execution

    SWJ El Centro – Sullivan, Bunker & Bunker Film Review: Narco Cultura – A Tale of Three Cities 

    Narcocultura is on the ascendency. Narcocorridos are not new.  This genre of music has its roots in folk music and norteño ballads.  Like Pancho Villa, who was venerated in song during the revolution, these ballads extol the virtues of those who rebel against the corrupt state.  The poor and powerless look for symbols of power and rebellion.  Yet the narcocorrido is more than Hip Hop or gangster rap south of the border.  It is not only a form of cross-border musical social commentary; it is a means of cartel information operations and a vehicle of social-environmental modification. In this film, we see bands and singers in the orbit of Sinaloa (El Komander and the BuKnas de Culicán). Their songs are a form of information operations for the Sinaloa Federation. The Movimiento Alterado (altered movement) is the business name of the narcocorrido or corridos alterados movement in Los Angeles.  The movement and songs are sanctioned by the Sinaloa Cartel.  The narcocorridos are banned in parts of Mexico so they are produced in Los Angeles, home to a large immigrant community and numerous gangs.

    John Hagel – The Dark side of Technology 

    ….But here’s the kicker.  This digital technology infrastructure is not stabilizing.  We’ve had plenty of technology disruptions throughout history – the steam engine, electricity, the telephone, just to name some.  But, asCarlotta Perez has shown, all of these disruptions followed a common pattern.  They began with a burst of innovation at the technology level, but then quickly stabilized with only incremental performance improvements afterwards.  That in turn led to a burst of innovation at the infrastructure level, figuring out how to most effectively organize and deliver the value of this technology to business and society. But then that too rapidly stabilized so we could then figure out how to most effectively harness this technology.

    Our digital technology infrastructure is unprecedented in human history.  It’s not stabilizing.  The core technology components – computing, storage and bandwidth – are continuing to improve in price/performance at accelerating rates and the best scientists and technologists suggest that this exponential pace will not slow down in the foreseeable future.

    RUSIAfghanistan after 2014: What Roles for China and India? 

    The Scholar’s Stage - Things those Chinese Think ( + What we think Back)

    War on the Rocks – Japan’s New Defense Strategy

    Dan Drezner has left the building

    Slightly East of New -Vandergriff: Selfless vs. Selfish Service 

    CORRECTION Fred Leland’s LESC blog  ( by Louis Hayes The Doctor in SWAT School (and What His Performance Says About Police Culture)

    AeonEndless Fun and Creepypasta 

    DemocracyJournalPaine and Burke Now 

    That’s it

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