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Recommended Reading

Monday, May 19th, 2014

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

Top BillingThe War Nerd: Nigeria’s inevitable Mess 

….Most people don’t remember Biafra now, except as the second name of that spoken-word asshole Jello Biafra. It’s a shame; the Igbo deserve to have their heroic war remembered and honored. But like I said, nobody much cares about African casualties, and when they do, it’s always Africans as helpless victims—never, ever Africans as brave and well-organized armies. I’ve noticed that, over years of doing this column. When Africans are threatening to form a strong, united country, like the Igbo, the Tutsi or the Eritreans, they come in for some weirdly intense hate, and a lot of times it comes from the bloodiest bleeding hearts around. Creeps me out, actually, and I’m not easily crept.

MarketWatch -Too-big-to-fail battle between Larry Summers, Nassim Taleb 

….Summers, who served as Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton and more recently as an adviser to Barack Obama, took exception and charged that Taleb was being unrealistic about the difficulties identifying the institutions that pose systemic risk.

Summers told Taleb that he was for more capital, more liquidity, living wills for banks and procedures to wind them down. “What are you for?” he challenged.

“I’m for punishment,” Taleb replied.

 Dean Cheng – The Odd Couple: China and North Korea 

….By contrast, one of the worst case scenarios for Beijing would be a reunified Korean peninsula that was allied with both the United States and Japan. In that situation, the PRC would see itself being contained by three of the largest economies in Asia, adjacent to its territory and capable of wielding enormous military power. Certainly, the prospect of American forces being based in close proximity to Chinese territory, even if not in the former DPRK, would be concerning, if only due to the potential for intelligence collection. Moreover, the Chinese would likely see the steady expansion of NATO as presenting a malignant model for East Asia, with an American-led coalition steadily encroaching upon Chinese territory and jeopardizing the PRC’s ability to access the seas.

Cheng is my go-to guy on Chinese policy.

Christopher Ford -Confucian Rationalizations for One-Party Dictatorship 

….Today, the development of the new quasi-Confucian political discourse of a technocratically-guided but civilizationally-grounded national unity and strength receives support and encouragement from the very highest levels of the Party-State.  The regime and its propaganda apparatus have increasingly been using Confucian key words or notions, and stressing themes of “Chineseness” in political and international relations theory by picking up on elements that began to emerge after Confucius studies received the Party-State’s ideological imprimatur and encouragement in the mid-1980s.

 David Stockman-Why China Will Implode: Its A Monumental Building Aberration, Not An Economy

 

 …Occasionally a picture is worth a thousand words, and here’s one buried in a Financial Times story on China’s rapidly deteriorating housing market. It seems that during the two-year period 2011-2012, which was the peak of China’s much praised “aggressive” stimulus response to the Great Recession in the DM world, China consumed more cement than did the United States during the entire 20th century!

Agree with Stockman that this figure is astounding. Suspect that it is also fake and also suspect, on a more ominous note, that the Chinese government may not know what the real figure is either.

FORBES -Eyes Wide Shut to North Korea’s Terror Ties

War on the Rocks - “SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL”: EL SALVADOR’S LESSONS AND NON-LESSONS FOR THE INDIRECT APPROACH 

Small Wars Journal Still Shortchanged 

WarCouncil.org -Not By Force Alone: Russian Strategic Surprise in Ukraine

Sensable Learning-Why Standards Cannot Measure Student Achievement: The Binary Bar of Proficiency 

WSJThe Closing of the Collegiate Mind 

Christianity TodayUnconventional Warfare 

SEEDEarly Warning Signs

Ultraculture -A Mexican Scientist Just Invented a ‘Telekinesis’ Helmet 

RECOMMENDED VIEWING – KORENGAL TRAILER

From Sebastian Junger, author of WAR and featured in RESTREPO

Korengal the Movie

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Guest Post: Stephanie Chenault Reviews Saving South Sudan

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Zen here – we would like to give a warm welcome to Stephanie Chenault, with her first guest post at ZP! :

[ by Stephanie Chenault]

“Violence and bloodshed can never have morally good results” – The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Saving South Sudan is an ambitious, multimedia event from “World’s Most Dangerous Places,” author Robert Young Pelton and master photographer/filmmaker Tim Freccia. VICE went big on Pelton’s quixotic journey with Nuer Lost Boy Machot Lap Thiep to “fix” South Sudan. The three enter the world’s newest nation, at a time of extreme crisis and bloodshed, creating a grand yarn with bold characters and high adventure set against sweeping, brutal savagery.

The story of South Sudan as viewed through a Western lens is unbelievably complex, but Pelton gives us an African perspective where the current crisis is demystified by those closest to it. South Sudan has plunged into another round of playground rivalry where the contested sandbox is the world’s newest country and the opponent’s bloody noses, busted lips and black eyes are dwarfed by the physical and emotional damage inflicted on its spectators.

Saving South Sudan gives us an intelligent summary of the history, religion, cultural anthropological aspects, militarism, oil economy and “baksheesh-ocracy” that makes South Sudan tick. Serious students of the subject are encouraged to consider all of these facets while reading / viewing this oeuvre: No actions are promoted, no outcomes are predicted- and this is how it should be. This is Africa.

Pelton’s 130 page print piece and 40 min documentary grants the viewer unparalleled access into an Africa where there are no orange sunsets framed by acacia trees. A place where war is irregular, ferocious and unpredictable. In THIS Africa even the “rebel leader” bristles at being identified as such. In an earnest conversation, ousted Vice President Dr Riek Machar relays his desire isn’t to incite violence but to have a seat at the table in order to discuss options and opportunities to end the conflict. Pelton takes the filter off: behind the rhetoric, the violence continues in real time and we know that securing a seat at the table and successful negotiations (see recent media reports) bear little impact on the battle for oil on the ground. If fighting has indeed ceased, most roving bands have yet to receive the memo.

I can’t exit this review without mentioning the main reason to take the time to get briefed on the region through Pelton’s Saving South Sudan. The human touch interviews with the rulers, rebels and raconteurs would be reason enough. So would Freccia’s breathtaking portraits of the people, landscape and conflict. But taking you along this expedition is Machot- an affable, handsome (still) young man and former lost boy. His story is one of sorrow, success, and optimism. His is perhaps the best lens of them all.

Finding the print issue of the magazine can be a challenge but distribution sites are posted at the Vice website. The entire article can be found here.

The “Saving South Sudan” world premiere documentary can be found on-demand here:

http://www.vice.com/en_us

Stephanie Chenault is the COO of Venio Inc, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business which focus on plans, policy, architectures and problem-solving across the Department of Defense for multiple clients.

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Shoma Choudhury talks to the CIA & Taliban, more or less

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two talks from India's THiNK2013 conference, one about the Taliban and US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the other a tale of India / Pakistan Partition ]
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Here, Indian journalist Shoma Choudhury interviews Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, one time Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and author of the book, My Life with the Taliban, and Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in Islamabad in 2001 and later Director of the Agency’s Counterterrorist Center, during the THiNK2013 conference held at the Grand Hyatt in Goa, in a session titled An Afghan Date: The CIA Talks To The Taliban on November 9th, 2013:

I haven’t found a reference to this event in the New York Times or Washington Post, and the video of the event has been viewed less than 1,250 times — so I hope that if any Zenpundit readers have in fact already viewed it, they will forgive me for posting it here. It seems to me to be a remarkable conversation, not least because of Choudhury’s skillful moderation.

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I only know about this conversation because blog-friend Omar Ali pointed me to the video of a reading of Saadat Hasan Manto‘s account of Partition in his satirical short story, Toba Tek Singh at the same conference. The reader is the actor Naseeruddin Shah whom I admire enormously for his stunning performance as “the common man” in Neeraj Pandey‘s A Wednesday — the story is told as written in Manto’s Urdu, with a principal character who “mutters or shouts a mix of Punjabi, Urdu and English” — and most of an English language translation is provided for those like myself who need it, by means of projected background slides.

But that voice, Naseeruddin Shah’s voice!

You can read Toba Tek Singh in Frances Pritchett‘s translation here.

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If these two presentations are anything to go by, the THiNK conference series may be what TED talks could and should have been…

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Raza Rumi: lines drawn & boundaries transcended

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an assassination attempt, a book review -- and a counterpoint of musicians ]
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I have mentioned Raza Rumi only once before on Zenpundit, in Darfur question… and wider Sufi ripples two years ago. This week, however, there was an attempt on his life, and on the 29th, Rumi posted about it on his Jahane Rumi blog:

Finally, I countenanced what I had been dreading for quite some time. Journalists and media houses being under threat is a well-known story in conflict-ridden Pakistan. I had also heard about my name being on a few hit-lists but I thought these were tactics to scare dissenters and independent voices. But this was obviously an incorrect assessment of the situation.

On Friday night, when I had planned to visit Data Darbar after my television show, my car was attacked by “unknown” (a euphemism for lethal terror outfits) assailants. The minute I heard the first bullet, the Darwinian instinct made me duck under and I chose to lie on the back of the car.

This near death experience with bullets flying over me and shattered window glass falling over me reminded me of the way my own country was turning into a laboratory of violence. Worse, that when I saved myself, it was not without a price. A young man, who had been working as my driver for sometime, was almost dead. I stood on a busy road asking for help and not a single car stopped…

As I tweeted when I heard about the attempt, I was distressed to hear of the attack, and wish him well — and Pakistan, too.

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I’ve been a quiet admirer and occasional reader of Rumi’s blog for quite a while now, and am looking forward to reading his book, Delhi By Heart.

The first and final paragraphs from Venki Vembu‘s review of the book confirm me in my wish to do so. They also — and here’s what this post is really all about — show us both the deeply etched lines of division –

In his novel The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh writes of the imagined cartographic lines that divide people in the Indian subcontinent and cleave their souls. Many of these “shadow lines” are etched in bitter, hand-me-down memories and imaginations, and for that reason are rather more indelible than lines on a map, which can perhaps be redrawn over time.

— and the possibility that such lines and boundaries can be overcome, erased, transcended —

Rumi offers this fascinating narrative as a “faint voice that wants to transcend boundaries and borders and reject the ills of jingoism spun by nation-state narratives.” In form and spirit, this unusual travelogue is like a jugal bandhi: songs of bhakti tradition fuse seamlessly with qawwali strains from the Nizamuddin dargah. It is an enchanting illustration of how the divisive shadow lines of history can be erased when hearts and minds are opened to new experiences.

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Finally, for your listening pleasure: an intricate jugalbandhi or musical dialogue between Zakir Hussain on tabla and Hariprasad Chaurasia on bansuri flute…

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Sunday surprise #20: when mirrors breathe

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- my sunday surprise series is where i offer my own variant on cute cat pictures and quotes by einstein attributed to gandhi ]
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Look!

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Here for your consideration is a video of a box of mirrors that lives and breathes, believe it or not, on an iron lung:

There are so many things going on in this video to delight me, I hardly know where to begin:

  • mirrors, hence symmetry…
  • mirrors mirroring mirrors, hence recursion…
  • distorting mirrors, hence carnival…
  • diffraction, hence moire effects, or the universe as silk…
  • prismatics, hence the many in the one in the many…
  • diastole / systole, hence the universal tide
  • the inanimate animate, hence the hard question in consciousness — aka “does spirit matter?” and “is matter spirit?”
  • breath, hence life itself
  • We could talk about any or all of these…

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    Source:

  • N-Light Membrane
  • Artists:

  • The Numen Group
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