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McCants explains the Saudis, Quantico rebukes them

Friday, August 26th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Saudi-sourced jihadism, the FBI, Baader-Meinhof — hey, it’s all about terrosism ]
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Will McCants explains [upper panel, below] how the Saudis are and are not promoting terrorism —

Tablet DQ 600 arsonist

— while a screen-cap from episode 9 in the first season of Quantico explains just why such an approach is logically bound to be defective.

**

Oh well, not to worry. It’s just another example of the illusion colloquially known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. I wouldn’t want to go all irrational on you, so I’ll let RationalWiki explain:

The frequency illusion (also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon) is the phenomenon in which people who just learn or notice something start seeing it everywhere.

Except that — well, there it is again — Baader-Meinhof — it’s all terrorism!

Sunday surprise: Damages and House of Cards

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two opening credit sequeces that rhyme, also sheep & starlings ]
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As you know, I’m interested in twinnings of various sorts — the sound twinnings we call rhyme, visual twinnings in films we call graphic match, the contrapuntal twinnings of melody in canons and fugues, the twinnings when history “rhymes” — oh, and the ever popular plagiarism. Recently I’ve been watching the TV show Damages — an old friend is in it — and having the eerie feeling every time the opening credits rolled that they were just like the opening credits from House of Cards. So I thought I’d look them up, and see if they’d been put together by the same team.

**

Damages:

House of Cards:

I didn’t get as far as finding out who put them together, but I did run across a blog post by Alicatte from 2013 titled House of Cards Opening: Deja Damages which more than amply vindicated my far less detailed intuition.

**

And while it’s still Sunday, let’s take a look at another couple of videos that have some twinning to them. A friend of mine, Bob Crosby — ecological engineer par excellence — of Biorealis, posted them on a private group with the fake names I’ll give you above each one:

An aerial view of the American electorate being herded by corporate media pundits…

and:

An EEG video of neurons forming a thought...

Have fun..

On the topology of dreams

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a poem that’s far too philosophical to work as poetry, Laramée’s Apparatus, and Alyce Santoro’s philosoprops ]
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The logic of poetry is, más o menos, dream logic, and so I’ve been pondering the logic of dreams and recently wrote this not terribly poetic poem:

The egg at the conjuror’s table

There is a topology of dreams.
Out beyond Riemann and names I have yet to learn,
there are configurations of space:
past Boole, dreams have their logics.

*

Take an egg.
With a tap of the wand, crack it open,
let it fall apart so precisely
the two half-shells could again fit together,
ovoid, seamlessly,
almost an egg.
Catch white and yolk in a glass.
Toss up and catch the half shell in your left hand
holding the right steady,
bring them together, there’s a fit,
a logic to it, a topology, one
to one, across many thousands of facets
of fragile, broken shell.
Break another egg so preciely
the left half of ts shell would match exactly
the right half of the first,
bring them together,
the fit is exact by definition,
brown shell with speckled,
but there is loss of logic, the thing is surreal,
an egg not an egg at all.
Holding the half-shell in your right hand
face upwards, pour into it
yolk and white of the same egg,
the heart of the egg filling its own shell,
the fit ovoid, but better:
the original yolk united with its familiar shell.
Cover shell and all with a handkerchief,
red, green, blue,
whisk it away, and the egg vanishes —
or appears, whole.

**

There are logics, topologies,
affinities beyond the exact match
of shell and shell,
and so between times, places,
people in dreams –
the half hovel, half cathedral
with its walkways among lily ponds, the koi,
dusk in one century dawn in another,
her youth your old age your youth again, time
cracked open so precisely,
its yolk, meaning,
its moments an exact match across centuries,
its half-shell a perch for Venus,
its wholeness Fabergé,
its yolk, tempera mixed by Giotto,
meaning, tempera, Assisi,
gesso, the chalk cliffs of Dover, the sea..
There is a harmony of the whole,
of the broken unbroken,
named yet unnameable, unspeakable,
there is a logic.
there is a topology of the sundries of dreams,
a mathematics to this matching
of thou with i,
of words, asleep, awake, of dusk to dawn, with all.

Recognising that it belongs in a category she might call philosopoetry, I sent it to my friend, the artist Alyce Santoro, author of the remarkable Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide>

**

I’m a lucky fellow.

Today, via 3 Quarks Daily, I ran across this quote from Walter Bejamin:

I had suffered very much from the din in my room. Last night the dream retained this. I found myself in front of a map and, at the same time, in the landscape which was depicted on it. The landscape was incredibly gloomy and bleak, and it wasn’t possible to say whether its desolation was merely a craggy wasteland or empty grey ground populated only by capital letters. These letters drifted curvily on their base, just as if they were following the mountain range; the words formed from these letters were more or less remote from each other. I knew, or came to know, that I was in the labyrinth of the ear canal. The map was at the same time a map of hell.

There’s something darkly Borgesian about that quote, eh? But it certainly illuminates dream topology, and even moreso, the topology of the relationship of dream to waking, itself worth comparing with the relationship of map to territory, word to referent, and indeed moon to finger with which Count Korzybski, Lao Tzu, and the Zen poets are each so notably concerned.

**

Tunneling on through, I find myself contemplating one of Alyce’s inspirations — Eve Andrée Laramée’s Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions, shown in Mass MoCA‘s 2000-2001 exhibition Unnatural Science, from 2000 – 2001:

laramee

A detail from that work illustrates the etching of certain phrases into the glass — in this case, the words polysemy and misconception:

7. Eve Andree Laramee_polysemy-misconception

The display is characterized in this piece from Art & Science Jounral:

Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions by American artist Eve Andrée Laramée consists of an array of tall metal stands, clamps, PVC tubings, glass beakers, flasks and vials. Although much of the equipment looks standard from afar, the installation is a dysfunctional and mythological sort of laboratory that highlights the inherent but often unnoticed subjectivity in scientific inquiry. [ .. ]

In this fantastical and visually dazzling Apparatus, many of the glassware are hand-blown with various cloudy or luminous turquoise solutions and copper wires attached to large exotic flowers contributing to the spectacle of a giant chemistry experiment gone amok.

Upon close inspection, a second level of complexity is revealed by the seemingly unscientific words and phrases such as “HANDFULS”, “LEAP IN THE DARK” and “UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES” delicately etched into the glass, exposing a sense of insecurity and imprecision behind the process of science.

**

My Egg at the conjuror’s table is really more a philosoprop, to use Alyce’s coinage, than what many expect a poem to be, and likewise Laramée’s Apparatus more a philosoprop than what many expect an artwork to be.

Philosoprops:

The word philosoprop is a portmanteau of philosophy (love of wisdom) and either prop (theatrical property) or propaganda (influential communication), depending. A philosoprop is a device, implement, or illustration – crafted or discovered ready-made – that can be used for the purpose of demonstrating a concept or sparking a dialog.

Let’s talk..

Happiness in the proximity of faith and death

Monday, August 1st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the emotional impact of faith, from a nun present at the Normandy attack to a failed suicide bomber in Syria ]
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According to this IB Times article, Tragic last words of Catholic priest killed by Isis terrorists revealed, Sister Helene Decaux, one of the nuns who was present at the killing of Fr Jacques Hamel, reported his last words thus:

Jacques shouted at them, ‘Stop! What are you doing?’ It was then that one of them struck the first blow to his throat.

What caught my attention more forcefully, however, was the following:

Fearing for her life, she added: “Thinking I was going to die, I offered my life to God.” The nun then described how Petitjean and Kermiche had at first been aggressive, but quietened down after they had cut Jacques’ throat. Showing remarkable calm, Helene asked the two terrorists if she could sit down. “I asked for my cane, he gave it to me,” she said. One of the attackers asked: “Are you afraid to die?” To which the nun replied no. “I believe in God, and I know I will be happy,” Helene said. Sister Huguette Peron, who was also in the church, told Catholic newspaper La Vie: “I got a smile from the second (man). Not a smile of triumph, but a soft smile, that of someone who is happy.”

Not only is Sister Helene happy in the face of death because she believes in death, but Sister Huguette reports that one of the attackers gave her a smile, “Not a smile of triumph, but a soft smile, that of someone who is happy.”

**

Compare those two descriptions of people who are happy with this, from Murtaza Hussain‘s Intercept piece, New Documentary Pierces the Psychology of Modern Suicide Bombers:

In a scene from Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal’s new documentary Dugma: The Button, Abu Qaswara, a would-be suicide bomber, describes the sense of exhilaration he felt during an aborted suicide attack against a Syrian army checkpoint. “These were the happiest [moments] I’ve had in 32 years. If anyone had felt exactly what I felt at that moment, Muslims would want to go through the same feeling and non-Muslims would convert just to experience it,” he enthuses to the camera, visibly elated by his attempted self-immolation.

Abu Qaswara’s attack failed after his vehicle was blocked by obstacles on the road placed by the Syrian military. But speaking shortly after he returned from his mission, it was clear that his brush with death had filled him with euphoria. “It was a feeling more than you can imagine,” he says. “Something I cannot describe, it cannot be described.”

My primary purpose in recording these instances of happiness is to emphasize how strongly religious faith exerts what to the modern secular mind must be an unexpected and perhaps even unimaginable emotional impact on those who possess it. And even if the Normandy attacker’s ‘soft smile” had more to do with a blood lust slaked, the same cannot be said either for Sister Helene or for Abu Qaswara.

If we are to understand the motivations of suicide bombers and other jihadists, comprehending not just intellectually but viscerally the emotions involved will be a task of some importance — and one for which many of our analysts will not be prepared.

**

There’s a second point to be made, however. Hussain goes on to write:

Only the few Syrians who appear in the film speak at length about their grievances over the crimes of the Syrian government. In contrast, the foreign volunteers appear largely driven by personal motivations. Liberating the local people from oppression appears at best a secondary concern. Perishing in the conflict and reaping the existential rewards of such an end takes precedence. Both Abu Qaswara and Abu Basir gave up comfortable lives to come to Syria, knowing that certain death would be the outcome of that decision. But rather than deterring them, the prospect of a rewarding death was a primary factor motivating their decision to fight.

That para sets the scene for the following one, in which Mustafa Hamid, as reported in his book with Leah Farrall, notes how contrary this motivation is to the practical pursuit of victory:

This impulse toward self-destruction is actually seen as selfish by some fellow insurgents. In his co-authored 2014 memoir The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, Mustafa Hamid, a former high-ranking Egyptian volunteer with the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, described his own frustration with many of the later waves of volunteers arriving to that conflict. “One of the negatives that emerged from the jihad, and which continues to have severe consequences today, was the tendency for the youth to focus not on success and achieving victory and liberating Afghanistan, but on their desire for martyrdom and to enter paradise,” Hamid wrote. This overriding preoccupation with becoming a martyr meant that participation in the conflict, “became individual instead of for the benefit of the group or the country where the fight for liberation is taking place.”

That’s one of the more striking of Hamid’s observations in The Arabs at War in Afghanistan — itself an astonishing book, product of the collaboration between Hamid (aka Abu Walid al-Masri) the man who brought bin Laden‘s oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar, and Farrall, a respected scholar-analyst who was the Australian Federal Police al-Qaida subject matter specialist at the time of the Bali bombings.

It is an extraordinary book, and one I cannot recommend too highly.

Four angles plus one on reading Trump

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on the need for an analytic open mind — or hedging one’s bets? ]
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I suppose we have to start with Trumpian Fundamentalism — by wbich I mean, taking the literal meaning from whatever he says. This view is simple, even simplistic.

One down, three to go.

**

There’s Lt. Gen. Flynn‘s view:

In the linked Politico article, Flynn is quoted thus:

Former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn says he’s trying to get Donald Trump to be more precise in how he talks about foreign policy, but he defended some of his hardline proposals as simply opening offers in negotiations on world affairs.

“First of all, I don’t agree with everything that he said. But he’s an individual who’s willing to take on a challenge,” the retired lieutenant general, a former President Barack Obama appointee who advises Trump on foreign policy, told Al Jazeera English’s “UpFront.” “The other aspect is there must be more precision in the use of the language that he uses as the potential leader of the free world. There has to be more precision, and those are the types of pieces of advice that I’m trying to get into him to say [to] be more precise, be more conscious about what you say about foreign policy issues because they are complicated.” [ .. ]

In Trump’s defense, Flynn said the real estate mogul sees the world from the perspective of a global businessman and suggested the billionaire’s bombastic rhetoric is just a starting point for negotiations.

Trump’s strategy is to “start really, really high and really, really hard, OK?” Flynn explained. “And then, be prepared to get down to where you think you can actually negotiate.”

This view has the advantage of following a business model, and Trump may or may not be anything else, but he’s surely a businessman. It also leaves a lot of room for “play” between his stated intentions on the one hand, and what he’s liable to settle for when talk comes to signature on the other.

**

Third, there’s Trump’s ghostwriter’s view:

Schwartz‘ tweet was quickly paired — for instance — with:

This angle has the advantage of psychological plausibility.

How can I put this kindly? The poet Rumi is quoted as saying “Many of the faults you see in others, dear reader, are your own nature reflected in them.”

**

Fourth..

I gather there is or was until fairly recently a US submarine defensive system called a MOSS (mobile submarine simulator) MK70 — a decoy launched from a torpedo tube which Wikipedia tells us [1, 2] lacked an explosive warhead but was “able to generate both an active sonar echo and a passive sound signature recorded to be extremely similar to that of the launching submarine” — thus effectively simulating a full size submarine.

I learned this today after looking up “chaff” in the belief that Trump may simply be scattering all manner of provocative yet contradictory statements in his wake, with a view to confusing the hell out of his enemies — whether his fellow Republicans, his presumptive Democratic opponent, or potentially hostile state and nonstate actors abroad.

Call that the Kim Jong Il factor — and consider by way of analogy Why it’s sane for Kim Jong-il to be crazy.

**

And quintessentially?

Those were my four original angles — but thought of Trump and Kim Jong Il reminded me of talk of Trump and Vladimir Putin — and I can’t really leave this topic without noting blog-friend Cheryl Rofer‘s recent writings on the subject:

  • Cheryl Rofer, Trump and Russia
  • Cheryl Rofer, Trump’s Russian Deals
  • Cheryl Rofer, What Trump Has Said About Russia
  • Cheryl Rofer, Donald Trump: Fellow Traveler Or Useful Idiot?
  • **

    In my view, reading Trump comes close to qualifying as a wicked problem:

    A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented. The term was originally coined by Horst Rittel.

    Wicked problems always occur in a social context — the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity among the stakeholders in the problem.

    Perhaps this explains in part why there’s such considerable polarization in our various responses to Donald J Trump and his many tweets and speeches.

    For more on wicked problems:

  • Jeff Conklin, Wicked Problems and Social Complexity
  • The epigraph to Conklin’s chapter is from Laurence J. Peter, and reads:

    Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

    I have to say, I feel that way a lot these days.


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