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To what End?

Friday, November 11th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — prophecy, millennial date-setting, when prophecy fails, scenario planning, hubris ]



To what End, prophecy and prediction?

Stephen O’Leary was right in his guess that Harold Camping would “recalculate” if and when (emphasis on the “when”) his May 22 prediction for the end of the world earlier this year failed. Camping did indeed recalculate, and his new prediction, for October 21, similarly passed without trumpets of the sort to be expected. This time, Camping apologized, admitting:

when it comes to trying to recognize the truth of prophecy, we’re finding that it is very very difficult.

He also said, with respect to his own failed prophecies:

God has done to us similarly to what he did to a couple of other great men of faith, one being Abraham…

First, the point I want to make. Then, more from Harold Camping, for those who are interested in the great question that’s raised When Prophecy Fails


Here’s what I want to explore. Stephen O’Leary writes:

One thing that apocalyptic predictions throughout history have in common is that, without exception, they have all been proven wrong.

Stephen is an old friend of mine, and the author of the classic work Arguing the Apocalypse: a theory of Millennial Rhetoric (Oxford, 1994), and in the quote above he’s writing on May 19th in the Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog.

What Stephen is saying here is something of a commonplace among millennial scholars, and his colleague Richard Landes, with whom he founded the Center for Millennial Studies, also a friend, picks up on it at the very end of his magisterial (I’ve used that term for this book before, and will again) Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (Oxford, 2011), when he writes:

Whereas the rule, “apocalyptic prophecies are always wrong” holds, it does not hold about the future, especially a future in which humankind has the ability to self-destruct or, short of that, inflict cataclysmic damage on itself and the miraculous and crowded planet on which we live.

Religious predictions of the Coming One have (thus far) all failed, in other words, but scenarios of an End based on human behavior in aggregate may yet prove out.

Which then raises another question:

What is the relation of prophecy to scientifically informed prediction? Are religious predictors of apocalypse perhaps intuiting what some scenario planners are also anticipating – and thought to be foolish only because they express it in religious language, their native tongue?

Are they merely noting that Pride comes before (as well, perhaps, as after) a Fall?


For those who may be interested, here’s more from the tail end of Camping’s statement [Family Radio: “Messages from Mr. Camping” 11/8/2011]:

We were ready to say, “Good bye to them. It’s all over. It’s all over. It’s time for the end.”

And now at the last moment, God has come and said, “No, no, it’s not the end. I still have some other plans.”

So what do we do? What do we do? Do we argue with God: “Wait a minute God. You said it so plainly. We were so convinced. There were so many proofs of the Bible, that it cannot have been that we were incorrect — maybe in a tiny detail here or there, but no God, we’re sure that it had to happen.”

But it didn’t happen. And we know that God brought it right to the very edge, right to the very day and past the day that the, there should have been judgment seen all over the world.

So, the first question I have to ask all of us — I have to ask myself this very, very carefully — Are we ready see that we did not understand God’s plan altogether? Are we ready to stand back and wait and do some more studying and recognize that maybe God is not finished with bringing salvation to the world.

As a matter of fact, we know that only about a third of the world had ever heard of the Bible before five months ago. Now by God’s mercy through the actions of Family Radio, as stupid as some may think they may have been, as incorrect as some may think they may have been, yet they all fit into a part of a plan where now the whole world has heard about the Bible. They’ve heard about the God of the Bible. God now is ready for the next action based on that kind of information, what will that be?

And that is where we have to start our thinking. We have to begin to think it out, “How does all of that impact our future teaching of the Bible?” And so, in our next study, we’re going to begin to examine that. Thank you very much.


And so the wheel turns, the road goes ever on.

Does it?

[Reposting] Talking the audible talk

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

[ previous version deleted for tech reasons, now reposted — pls comment if you were unable to do so before ]

[ by Charles Cameron — importance of suiting language to intended audience, importance of graphics, Tajikistan, Yemen, importance of poetry in conflict and conflict resolution ]



Et voila! Two publications issued this month by the Centers for Disease Control.

I’ve already stated the two lessons that I think we can draw from these, in the parenthetical header where I try to warn ZP readers of the approximate through-line and likely detours of each of my posts:

  • graphics, graphics, graphics!
  • talk the talk your intended audience can hear!

But why?

Of course I’m mildly amused at the CDC using zombies — just like Daniel Drezner — to get a serious point across. And I like the play between the seriousness of the Morbidity Report and the morbid fascination of the undead…

But I am going somewhere with all this, and on this occasion the CDC’s sense of presentation is the detour, and my through-line leads to the importance of poetry in conflict resolution.


I want to borrow a story from the keynote speech delivered by John Paul Lederach at the Association for Conflict Resolution’s 2004 Conference, as told to him by a Tajik professor named Abdul:

“I was tasked by the government to approach and convince one of warlords, a key Mullah-Commander located in the mountains to enter negotiations,” Abdul begins. “This was difficult if not impossible, because this Commander was considered a notorious criminal, and worse, he had killed one of my close friends.” Abdul stops while the translation conveys the personal side of his challenge.

When I first got to his camp the Commander said I had arrived late and it was time for prayers. So we went together and prayed. When we had finished, he said to me, How can a communist pray?

I am not a communist, my father was, I responded.

Then he asked what I taught in the University. We soon discovered we were both interested in Philosophy and Sufism. We started talking Sufi poetry. Our meeting went from twenty minutes to two and half hours. In this part of the world you have to circle into Truth through stories.” In the hallway Abdul’s gold capped teeth sparkle with a smile as he relays his message: “You see in Sufism there is an idea that discussion has no end.”

His point well conveyed, the Professor picks up the story again.

“I kept going to visit him. We mostly talked poetry and philosophy. Little by little I asked him about ending the war. I wanted to persuade him to take the chance on putting down his weapons. After months of visits we finally had enough trust to speak truths and it all boiled down to one concern.”

“The Commander said to me, ‘If I put down my weapons and go to Dushanbe with you, can you guarantee my safety and life?'” The Tajik storyteller pauses with the full sense of the moment. “My difficulty was that I could not guarantee his safety.”

He waits for the translator to finish making sure I have understood the weight of his peacemaking dilemma and then concludes.

“So I told my philosopher warlord friend the truth, ‘I cannot guarantee your safety.'” In the hallway Professor Abdul swings his arm under mine and comes to stand fully by my side to emphasize the answer he then gave the Commander.

“But I can guarantee this. I will go with you, side by side. And if you die I will die.’ The hallway is totally quiet.

“That day the Commander agreed to meet the Government. Some weeks later we came down together from the mountains. When he first met with the Commission he told them, ‘I have not come because of your Government. I have come for honor and respect of this Professor.’ “You see, my young American friend,” Abdul taps my arm lightly, “this is Tajik mediation.”

Think about it. Think about the Yemen.

Consider that Steven C. Caton of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard suggests:

Every day in the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, battles are being waged that don’t involve bombs, guns or even a raised fist. Rather in Yemen, where physical violence is considered an inferior form of honor-conflict, poetry is one of the preferred weapons of choice.

If Yemen is important to you — or conflict resolution — I have a question for you:

Are you fluent in poetry?


Your copy of the Zombie Pandemic awaits you here. For those more interested in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, here’s the report.

Hat-tip to Tony Judge for his paper, Poetic Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity?

More on Boyd & Beyond II and Boydian Theory

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Two posts of note:

USNI Blog (Lucien Gauthier) – Training Sailors to be Autodidactic

….The conference spent a lot of time on the first half of the OODA-Loop, Observing and Orienting.  At some point I became convinced that the type of Sailor we need is one that is a “situational autodidact”.  Major Marcus Mainz, USMC, during his presentation made the brilliant comment that “training is for the known, education is for the unknown” in this sense, the spirit in which we must educate our Sailors must be towards making them capable of educating their self as needed when the unknown presents itself to them.

….For Sailors to take greater advantage of their experiences, they need to actively question their actions.  By this, I mean that a person analyses a question more than they do a statement.  But, it has been my experience that when someone recants an experience they had, it is a rare thing to hear someone say anything in terms of ‘why’ they did something.  Much more often someone only tells the ‘what’ of their actions.  Think of the Socratic Method, where Socrates would answer his students questions with another question.  A Sailor who has internalized such a ‘Socratic process’ would be in a position to provide more cogent feedback as well as learn from their mistakes more often than we do today.

What I am saying is not that the training we offer Sailors falls short of its objectives as they stand today.  But, that the spirit of the training is not where it needs to be-we focus our objectives too much on acting rather than orienting.  The training our Sailors receive are based on concrete and testable objectives that can be measured, quantified and turned into metrics, that fit well into powerpoint.  We do no help Sailors to become autodidactic-we are not training them to become students of their environment, but rather students of their school house.

We start to approach training Sailors to be autodidacts of their environment in the Operational Risk Management training we receive (One thing about ORM:  It is Boyd’s OODA-Loop operationalized.  The Navy has totally ripped off Boyd, and yet we never mention his name outside of the Warfare Universities-shame on us).  We need more and deeper training on ORM and how this method applies to everything we do, whether we consciously realize it or not.  In giving this deeper level or ORM, we should also find Sailors able to be more articulate of the process they’ve gone through.  Thereby becoming able to better train others of their experiences….

Naval affairs is not my bailwick, but my understanding of following online discussions by experts in the field like General Robert Scales, is that Professional Military Education across all the services is a) in need of significant reform and b) is facing a future of restricted budgets and possible deep cuts. My only firsthand knowledge of PME comes from a brief stint in June at The Army War College, courtesy of Dr. Steve Metz. The AWC curriculum was explained to me in detail by Col. Bill Lord, and while they were hitting the right notes in terms of trying to inculcate a strategic epistemology, the time frame allowed for doing so is extremely compressed.

Fast TransientsBoyd’s Conceptual Spiral – New Edition

This is from Dr. Chet Richards as well as Chuck Spinney….

Download Conceptual Spiral (152 KB PDF), Boyd’s take on the origin and importance of novelty:

Novelty is not only produced by the practice of science/engineering and the pursuit of technology, it is also produced by the forces of nature, by our own thinking and doing as well as by others. Furthermore, novelty is produced continuously, if somewhat erratically or haphazardly. Now, in order to thrive and grow in such a world, we must match our thinking and doing, hence our orientation, with that emerging novelty. (28)

Adds the original page numbers, which may seem a little odd because for readability this edition spreads several of Boyd’s originals over two or even three pages.  All of these will have the same number.

We are wired to crave and be attracted to novelty, it sets us thinking and generates insights and stimulates our creativity.

Scenario planning and prophecy

Friday, October 14th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — futurism, prediction, Christian and Islamic apocalyptic traditions, fiction ]

Two new thrillers.  And what caught my eye — fascinated as I am by the whole business of prophecy and prediction, scenario planning and science fiction — was Wolf Blitzer‘s pronouncement about Tom Clancy on his CNN blog today:

Sometimes nonfiction seems to follow fiction, especially, it seems, in the case of Tom Clancy and his spy novels.

Here’s Blitzer’s supporting evidence:

In 1994, he wrote a thriller called “Debt of Honor.” Long before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Clancy had a character fly a Boeing 747 into the U.S. Capitol. Clancy’s “The Teeth of the Tiger,” published in 2003, features a man named Mohammed who has a network of Colombian drug cartel thugs who plot evil deeds against the U.S. His newest book is entitled “Against All Enemies.” A major plot line has Taliban terrorists joining hands with Mexican drug cartel killers to launch attacks in the United States. A friend who’s read all the Clancy books alerted me to this when he heard of the Obama administration’s accusations that Iran plotted to have members of a Mexican drug cartel kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. “Seems like terrorists are big Clancy fans,” my friend suggested…

Not so fast, Wolf and Wolf’s friend. They might equally well have been reading Joel Rosenberg (also, or instead).

Clancy does this sort of stuff because he’s a scenario planner turned novelist — Rosenberg does it because he’s a student of prophecy turned novelist.  Come to that, I rather like the idea that prophecy and scenario planning might be related.

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s current article about Rosenberg:

Nine months before the September 11th attacks, Rosenberg wrote a novel with a kamikaze plane attack on an American city. Five months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he wrote a novel about war with Saddam Hussein, the death of Yasser Arafat eight months before it occurred, a story with Russia, Iran, and Libya forming a military alliance against Israel occurring the date of publishing, the rebuilding of the city of Babylon, Iran vowing to have Israel “wiped off the face of the map forever” five months before Iranian President Ahmadinejad used similar language, and the discovery of huge amounts of oil and natural gas in Israel (a major gas discovery occurred in January 2009).

Neat, hunh?

Or of course, they could just all be playing Steve Jackson‘s 1995 Illuminati card game


I suppose we should add role-playing and card-reading to our list of prognostic activities…


In any case…

I enjoy Joel Rosenberg’s books.  His thrillers are full of Christian and Islamic apocalyptic elements, of course, which are of continuing interest to me — especially when they cross over into each others’ territories.  I’ve been meaning to write up my review of the first book in his current series for months now — my copy must have a hundred or so little colored flags in it, marking passage of interest, plot points and so on.

And there are things Rosenberg gets seriously wrong that are important. It’s dangerous when someone who influences thousands through his Epicenter conferences and his appearances with Glenn Beck is unable to distinguish the Hojjatiyeh Society (a small group that may not even exist at this point) from Twelver (ie orthodox Shi’ite) Islam.

But it’s because I think:

  • that Islamic apocalyptic is important and all too often overlooked,
  • that he thinks so, too,
  • that his tying it in with policy proposals carries some weight,
  • that the brisk pace of his novels reaches readers who have not much other access to ideas about the Mullahs, the Twelfth Imam or Mahdi, and the issue of the Iranian nuclear program, and
  • that there are scholars in a position to clarify and correct some of his mistakes and misconceptions,

that I still hope to review the first book in the current series, The Twelfth Imam, and his new book, The Tehran Initiative, right alongside it.

Heck, I’d be more than happy to review the new Clancy, too.

Tea Party and / or Occupy?

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — parallels, opppositions, analysis, games, coincidentia oppositorum ]



My friend Cath Styles, who has been developing an iPad playable version of my HipBone Games under the name Sembl for the National Museum of Australia, made a point I’ve been trying to make for a while now, with sweet lucidity, in a recent blog post:

A general principle can be distilled from this. Perhaps: In the very moment we identify a similarity between two objects, we recognise their difference. In other words, the process of drawing two things together creates an equal opposite force that draws attention to their natural distance. So the act of seeking resemblance – consistency, or patterns – simultaneously renders visible the inconsistencies, the structures and textures of our social world. And the greater the conceptual distance between the two likened objects, the more interesting the likening – and the greater the understanding to be found.

That’s absolutely right, and it gets to the heart of my games and analytic practice — to see and acknowledge both parallelisms and differences, oppositions…

Oxford is the polar opposite of Cambridge as anyone at the annual boat race between them will tell you — yet they’re so similar that the term Oxbridge exists to distinguish them as a dyad from all else the wide world round…

Similarly, in the example illustrated above, Cath shows two items from the Museum collection that were juxtaposed by players of an early version of her game, and writes:

the Sembl players who linked the above branding iron to the breastplate – because both are tools for labeling bodies – cast new light on the colonial practice of giving metal breastplates to Aboriginal people.

* *

Since the essence of my own analytic style (and that of HipBone and Sembl games) is the recognition of parallelisms and oppositions, I was particularly interested to see one group of early Tea Party folk reaching out to the emerging Occupy movement. Here, then, are two posts in which we can see the beginnings of recognition that there may be a kinship between the two…

Occupy Wall Street: Another View:

You know what the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is?
It is all the things that were in the original Tea Party, but were steadily ignored as the TP became a Republican booster club.

That comes from a post on FedUpUSA, a site with the Gadsden flag as its web-logo that was [as “Market
Ticker”], one of the founding orgs behind the TP. It’s from someone who identified as a Libertarian Party activist.

Here’s another post from FedUpUSA, not so identified:

An Open Letter From FedUpUSA To Occupy Wall Street Protestors All Over The Country:

This is a letter to OWS from FedUpUSA, one of the original Tea Parties:
We support you in exercising your First Amendment Right. We are outraged that any peaceful demonstrator would be assaulted or abused by any authorities.
If you are protesting because there are no jobs— We stand with you.
We are for a free economy and recognize that what we have now is NOT a free economy; it is not capitalism what we have is a fascist state or crony-capitalism. There is nothing free about doing business with Countries that manipulate their currencies to attract cheap labor. We agree that these jobs need to come back to America.
If you are protesting because no one has gone to jail— We stand with you.
Regardless of what is being said from the white house and media, we know that there are many in the financial district and the banks that have committed fraud and outright theft and we too want to see them prosecuted. We support the stop looting and start prosecuting.
If you are protesting because everything costs more— We stand with you.
We see prices rise in our food, gas, clothes yet our wages have stayed the same or have decreased. The Federal Reserve has bailed everyone out but us and not only are we going to have to pay for that, those bailouts make the price of everything else go up because it devalues our currency. We support monetary reform.
If you are protesting because you are tired of our bought and paid for government on both sides— We stand with you.
We are also against the banks and big corporations buying our politicians and writing laws that favor their special interests. We understand that our economy is broken BECAUSE of this and that all of our other issues will never be addressed as long as the financial elite control OUR government.
We understand that these issues cross party lines and ideologies and effect each and every one of us. We also understand that these issues will never get fixed as long as we continue to let the media, the elite, and members of the government separate us by our differing ideologies.
Only Together, can we Implement Change
It is time, We Americans, put our ideologies in our back pocket and not let them separate us so that we can work together for this ONE COMMON GOAL: to get the special interest money and elite out of OUR Government and return it to US — the people.
As long as the banks, largest corporations, and wealthy elite control our government, we will never have a representative republic and laws will continue to be passed that only benefit the few 1% at the expense of us 99
Demand that NOT ONE MORE LAW gets passed until they pass:
Lobby reform:
It is a Federal Offense punishable by a minimum 5 years in prison to:

Lobby any member of the US Congress outside of the district you live, work, or own a business.
Lobby a member of congress while they are physically outside the district they represent.
Campaign Reform:
It is a Federal Offense punishable by a minimum 5 years in prison to:
For any one person, corporation, enterprise, group, union or the like, to donate more than $2,000 to any one candidate during one campaign period.
For any member of the media to deny equal access to competing candidates.
These two laws will cut the control the Financial elite have on our government by leveling the playing field. You will have just as big as a voice with your representative as the big box retailer that resides in your town. Simply, it will end the Crony-Capitalism that is strangling our economy.
I encourage all my fellow Tea Partiers to join Occupy Wall Street protesters in their non-violent, peaceful protests and together demand that the Government be returned to the people. After all, this is precisely what the Tea Party was intended to be before it was taken over and marginalized by the establishment politicians.


* *

And we’re deep into John Robb territory…

What do you think? Do the parallelisms strike you, or the oppositions — or, perhaps, both?

FWIW, Cath’s Sembl version of my game looks like it is going to be a beautiful steampunk affair…

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