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US and Israel, a double ouroboros

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Netanyahu, Trump, and their interchangeable ambassadorships? — also fake news and truth ]
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Two versions of two serpents biting each others’ tails to form a loop

On the left, we have a western, alchemical version of the two-serpent ourobouros, and on the right an “Infinite Wealth Sacred Buang Nak Bat Amulet” from Thailand. The accompanying text on the Billionmore Rare Thai Buddhist amulets and Talismans site reads:

Naga is the great snake of wealth in Buddhist belief when two Naga connect into a circle, it means wealth will never end..

That’s right, infinite wealth is yours for only $26.90.

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In today’s New Yorker, we see the same secondary form of the ouroboros: two serpents, biting each others’ tails, to form a loop:

In recent years, ascendant political currents in America and Israel had already begun to merge. We have now reached the point where envoys from one country to the other could almost switch places: the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who grew up in Florida, could just as easily be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, while Donald Trump’s Ambassador-designate to Israel, David Friedman, who has intimate ties to the Israeli settler movement, would make a fine Ambassador in Washington for the pro-settler government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

As you may know, I’m generally disinclined to support one side in a conflict when it appears to me that conflict itself is the basic conundrum we should be examining. Accordingly, it’s the form here — the two serpents, the two ambassadorships working together as an integrated system, that I’d call your attention to.

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While we’re on the subject of twin serpents…

Sometime back in the last century I suggested the utility of a Tarot-like pack of cards showing the great archetypal images that have populated the imaginations of so many cuotures across the globe and centuries.

Thus both the caduceus of western medicine and the kundalini of eastern yoga show twinned serpents spiraling up a central pole – and if Linus Pauling had seen that double serpent image when he was chasing the structure of DNA, he might have spent less time on the triple and more time on the double helix, and beaten Crick and Watson to the punch.


Left, an image of the kundalini; right, the caduceus or rod of Aesculapius — see also the two linked wikipedia pages for a flaw in this portion of my argument

A similar case can be made for Kekule’s realization that the form of the benzene molecule was a ring, supposedly triggered by a reverie of the ouroboros or serpent biting it’s tail.


diagram of ouroboros and benzene molecule from ChemDoodle

It’s worth noting, however, that this appears to be an old wives’ tale, perhaps fashioned by Kekule himself, as detailed by JH Wotiz and S Rudofsky in Kekulé’s dream: Fact or fiction?” Chemistry in Britain, 20, 720–723 (1954).

Now, are the debunking stories better stories than their respective archetypal insight stories? And what’s the truth in story, in any case? In the psyche, story and fact are both story, tiny molecular weavings of the imagination.

And how does this tie in with “news” — fake and true?

Trying these shoes on for size — nah!

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a little semi-private laughing at myself via Madam Secretary ]
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I’ve been having some private chuckles watching season 1 of Madam Secretary, and I’m betting Dr Henry McCord, the religion professor / NSA guy, doesn’t have to beg his friends for copies of their journal papers the way I do, lol.

Here are some screengrabs:

argue with religion prof

I’m afraid you may sometimes feel much the same when I forcefeed my own equivalent on you all.

And then there’s this:

not an expert on apocalyptic lit Madame Secretary s 1 e 18 ~25'

He’s good on Aquinas and reads Arabic to boot. That’s impressive.

But it’s true you know, religion professors don’t necessarily know apocalyptic, and apocalyptic specialists don’t necessarily know the full range of apocalyptic expressions across continents and centuries. At which point, may I recommend:

  • Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth: the Varieties of the Millennial Experience
  • **

    I was impressed that the show, in covering a “cult” situation in season 1 episode 18, showed knowledge not only for Jonestown and Waco, but more specifically of scholars of religion Phillip Arnold and James Tabor‘s contact with David Koresh, which had the potential to resolve the Waco situation in ways the FBI’s dismissal of theology as “Bible-babble” sadly ruled out:

    Henry McCord: You know, in Waco, Koresh was at an absolute standoff with the FBI until a couple of religious scholars got him talking about his beliefs, the Bible, and then that’s when he was ready to come out peacefully.

    Elizabeth McCord: So scholars almost saved the day at Waco, huh?

    Henry McCord: Okay. There’s no way of telling how that might have turned out.

    Spot on.

    And while we’re on this topic, may I recommend:

  • Nancy T. Ammerman, Waco, Federal Law Enforcement, and Scholars of Religion
  • James Tabor & Eugene Gallagher, Why Waco?
  • Jayne Docherty, Learning Lessons from Waco: When Parties Bring Their Gods to the Negotiation Table
  • **

    Okay, I can’t walk in Dr McCord’s shoes, but I’d happily follow his footsteps a little farther — once Season 2 arrives on Netflix.

    Envoi:

    For a little unintended current political input:

    ethics cant be trumped

    Anne Smedinghoff Didn’t Have to Die Part 2

    Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

    [ Last week, Zen hosted Pete Turner’s guest post, PRT and State Department Ignorance Fails Us All. Here is part 2 of that article — posted by Charles Cameron for Zen ]
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    pete turner header

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    Last week I wrote about the tragedy of Anne Smedinghoff, who died on a patrol in Qalat Afghanistan.  This is part 2 of the story–

    My intention here is to illustrate HOW? rather than “what” we (Dr. Rich Ledet and I) did regarding the proper means to improve education in rural Afghanistan.  I submit that our method is more reliable, predictable, measurable and can be replicated; yay scientific method.  

    Dr. Ledet and I leveraged an unusually strong partnership with a key Afghan political-religious leader.  More than simply believing that we had a great relationship, we’d taken steps to build and validate the strength of our partnership, leveraging tools I had personally developed over years of immersion in conflict environments.  

    To begin with, we avoided the common US “crutch” of dominance, never assuming that we were “in charge.”  Not only did we share many meals and tea with him, but we socialized with him and his family apart from any other American military elements. We also invited this leader to our dining facility to eat with us on numerous occasions.  We shared our relevant reports (normally made for US elements only, these reports dealt with our evaluation of his region) with him (unclassified or FOUO) so that he could better understand our role and how the US was attempting to support him–This post is long enough already. I’ll have to come back to this particular topic later.

    As a side note, I thought I had a great relationship with this leader after working with him almost daily for months.  One day, he sat back, put his hand above his head and said, “I get what you are doing now.  I understand that you are truly helping me with the Americans.”  This breakthrough was surprising, as I thought we already had a good partnership.  But I had misjudged what was previously accomplished, and the lesson I learned was that not only is trust VERY hard to earn, but also that there are different forms of trust to be accounted for when attempting to partner with leaders in conflict environments.  Only after this point did I realize that I had earned an additional level of trust, and that he allowed me more latitude and access than he afforded any other American.  In fact, I could come to him for advice, as he knew that I was genuinely working to support the Afghans in a way that was within the bounds of their customs.

    We brought our research problem regarding education to our partner, and asked him how to best work toward a solution.  He immediately identified the other elders with whom we needed to discuss and work, while providing us with the new Provincial Minister of Education’s (MoE) personal phone number (which we did not previously have on record) and advised us to mention his name when we talked.  He noted that he was also attempting to work with the MoE on education in his district, and although they hadn’t always agreed, he felt the MoE was an honest man.

    This process of partnering, and acquiring information about other leaders and the MoE, demonstrated a measure of trust indicating that our partner indeed valued us and our efforts.  Further his validation through providing us with an introduction to other key decision-makers in the province which gave us unique access to a set of leaders that didn’t typically interact with US elements.  We had truly entered through a more culturally appropriate door, as our partner trusted that we would not expose him in a negative light to the other leaders.  

    Once we were able to make contact with the recommended leaders, we were careful to explain the agenda, set up appointments, and accommodate their schedules as best as possible.  We never showed up unannounced, or uninvited.  With the safety of all involved in mind, we took time to determine their preferred place of meeting, which was critical considering that we lived on an American forward operating base, and could move in heavily protected convoys.  We were remarkably “safer” than those leaders, as they lived in constant threat.  We displayed a respect for their safety when we considered their venue preference.  While these logistical steps seem obvious, we found this level of respect nonexistent in DoS, PRT and US forces attempting to work with local leaders, again relying on domination to achieve goals; US forces prefer to show up unannounced, unscheduled and take over the Afghan leader’s schedule as we set fit.  

    When we met, the recommended leaders were also accompanied by multiple religious elders.  We didn’t ask them to do this, by the way, but it was something that was required in their culture.  This was also an indicator to us that we approached the problem from the most culturally appropriate angle known to us (and recommended by our Afghan partner who originally set us up for success).  Afghan leaders, when not influenced by Americans, will have a religious leader (mullah) present as they make decisions.  

    Over the course of several meetings, and after deliberation between the MoE and other family and religious leaders, we were able to ascertain what was expected in terms of US assistance.  Keep in mind that what we were also doing was helping to link family, religious, and political leaders with a valid MoE backed plan to improve education throughout all of Zabul province; a critical element of creating stability wins.  

    These leaders never asked for money. They never asked us to build another school.  They recognized that we could help, and they also wanted us to help them determine if these programs were working.  They knew we had the capacity, which they knew they did not, to help them measure the success of the program.  

    What is most telling is that these leaders noted a lack of security, which is a common theme throughout my time in conflicted areas.  Security concerns are superior, and every other effort is subordinate.  This is where you need to pay attention DoS–The MoE asked that he never be seen engaging with the US at his office, as US patrols could only expose him to harm, he and other leaders wanted to reduce the amount of contact between US forces and their children for the same reason.  Moreover, leaders in the district wanted us in the background, as they wanted to see the Afghan government and the MoE doing their job.  They wanted the people living in Zabul Province to see the same–This is setting the stage for believable, culturally based stability win…and there is no photo op.

    Our work established the beginnings of a clear plan that meets the requirements for creating stability. It satisfies a test we developed that indicates potential success when conducting non-lethal missions or operations…Is the operation Afghan inspired, Afghan led, Afghan provisioned, and sanctioned by a Mullah?  

    Is it possible that if DoS had bothered to teach Anne this test or heed our report, that she would still be alive?

    Guest Post: PRT and State Department Ignorance Fails Us All

    Monday, March 21st, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    AnnSmed

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Anne Smedinghoff

    ZP is pleased to bring you a guest post by Pete Turner, co-host of The Break it Down Show and is an advocate of better, smarter, transition operations. Turner has extensive overseas experience in hazardous conditions in a variety of positions including operations: Joint Endeavor (Bosnia), Iraqi Freedom (2004-6, 2008-10), New Dawn (Iraq 2010-11) and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan 2011-12).

    PRT and State  Department Ignorance Fails Us All

    by Pete Turner

    Anne Smedinghoff and 5 others died when a Taliban car bomb, a.k.a. VBIED, attacked her patrol almost 3 years ago on April 6, 2013 in Qalat city Afghanistan, Zabul province.  The mission’s purpose was to get a photo opportunity while the US patrol handed out books to Afghan kids.  Their deaths were completely preventable.

    Ignorance, arrogance and incompetence by the local Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), Anne and her Department of State (DoS) peers surely contributed to her death, and the death of multiple soldiers.  I know that statement is pretty inflammatory…and it’s part of the reason why I waited 3 years to tell the tale.  Please read the attached article for the required context.  Also, read Peter Van Buren’s (former DoS boss) HuffPo blog in which he also criticizes DoS competence in this tragedy.

    I worked in the same area as Anne, but I’d left about a year prior to her arrival.  It’s unfortunate that my research partner and I didn’t get a chance to meet her.  If we had, she would have been armed with some information that could have saved her life.  It is also unfortunate that the knowledge we gained while working in Qalat left apparently left with us.

    Before going any further, my partner, Dr. Ledet and I conducted research into improving education in the province.  Specifically, we were tasked with learning how the US should distribute learning materials to Afghans, and we did so by working with tribal, religious, and political leaders in the area.  Our report was distributed to the PRT, US military and the DoS working in the areas, and briefed to higher authorities. The senior Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) representative for the province, and multiple leaders we consulted, provided us with the solution regarding how the US could help improve education.

    Our Afghan partners clearly and forcefully stated, US elements were not, under any circumstances, to provide books directly to Afghan children.

    Yet, Anne and the others died on a book delivery operation. WTF?

    It’s critical to understand how bad this is, as not only did the DoS and PRT undermine the MoE directive, which was given with the consent of religious leaders and family elders; effectively the patrol’s objective undermined their authority as well, and created violence and more instability.

    How does this happen?  Simply, our foreign policy theory doesn’t match our tactics.  We hire highly intelligent people to do complex work, but their personal intelligence and accomplishments often mean little in this environment.  Often, the people I encounter with fantastic resumes are not trained to listen and learn.  Our failings aren’t about individual brain power and desire.  Where we fail is in our overriding compulsion to help, coupled with our inability to make sure that “ground truth” knowledge is accurately passed on to our replacements when we redeploy.

    When we as a nation, bring “help” it often harms locals but sounds great in our briefings or in a eulogy...These are John Kerry’s words the day following Anne’s death, “…Yesterday in Afghanistan, we had a different stealing of a young life. And I think there are no words for anybody to describe the extraordinary harsh contradiction of a young 25-year-old woman with all of the future ahead of her, believing in the possibilities of diplomacy, of changing people’s lives, of making a difference, having an impact, who was taking knowledge in books to deliver them to a school. “  

    I have words to describe this, Mr. Kerry….and they are harsh.  THAT PATROL SHOULD HAVE NEVER HAPPENED!  Anne was not properly prepared, and it’s a failure of the existing DoS and PRT staff that should have known better.  It’s the failure of whoever disregarded that day’s threat assessment to send out a patrol on a photo safari.  Those photos only validate our ignorance, and do nothing to repair the damage of that day.

    Mr. Kerry and Anne simply wanted to help the Afghans become educated, but in reality that patrol was indicative of the continued separation between the Afghans and US partners. That patrol also created another opportunity for the Taliban to show locals where their future interests lie.  Because we don’t learn, and continue to act as though our culture is superior to the Afghans, we fail to make the kind of progress necessary to create stability.

    It’s one thing for me to criticize John Kerry and Anne…hang in there, when I post part 2, I’ll illustrate how Dr. Ledet and I were able to use culture to our advantage, and gain uncommon access to the Afghans while we learned the appropriate way to support the MoE.

    A misappropriated image?

    Thursday, February 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — minor correction to a USG CVE tweet ]
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    I don’t think there’s any room for doubt about the Islamic State enslaving captured women and selling them. The IS magazine Dabiq, issue 4, under the heading The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour, recounts:

    After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Shar?’ah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations, after one fifth of the slaves were transferred to the Islamic State’s authority to be divided as khums.

    This large-scale enslavement of mushrik families is probably the first since the abandonment of this Shar?’ah law. The only other known case – albeit much smaller – is that of the enslavement of Christian women and children in the Philippines and Nigeria by the mujahidin there. The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers as the mushrik?n were sold by the Companions (radiyallahu ‘anhum) before them. Many well-known rulings are observed, including the prohibition of separating a mother from her young children.

    There’s even a theological justification offered – the avoidance of sin. Discussing the long period in which slavery was no longer practiced in Islam, the writer says:

    Finally, a number of contemporary scholars have mentioned that the desertion of slavery had led to an increase in fahishah (adultery, fornication, etc.), because the shar’i alternative to marriage is not available, so a man who cannot afford marriage to a free woman finds himself surrounded by temptation towards sin.

    Furthermore, Dabiq issue 9 contains an article titled Slave Girls or Prostitutes by one Umm Sumayyah al-Muhajirah in which the writer, poresumably a woman, writes:

    I and those with me at home prostrated to Allah in gratitude on the day the first slave-girl entered our home. Yes, we thanked our Lord for having let us live to the day we saw kufr humiliated and its banner destroyed. Here we are today, and after centuries, reviving a prophetic Sunnah, which both the Arab and non-Arab enemies of Allah had buried. By Allah, we brought it back by the edge of the sword, and we did not do so through pacifism, negotiations, democracy, or elections. We established it according to the prophetic way, with blood-red swords, not with fingers for voting or tweeting.

    **

    However, the image used by USG in the tweet above appears to be a photo taken for Reuters by photographer Ali Hashisho, with the legend:

    Shiite Muslim women chained to one another march During a reenactment of the Battle of Karbala During a mourning process, two days before the day of Ashura, in Saksakieh village, southern Lebanon. December 4, 2011

    As I say, this doesn’t in any way disprove the Islamic State’s use of slavery as a religiously sanctioned practice.

    **

    I’m not the first to notice this misattribution — but I do think it’s worth getting these things right, and this is not the first time an Ashura photograph has been misattributed in this way. For an earlier mistaken use of an image from an Ashura procession to illustrate IS treatment of captured women, see this piece.


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