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Their own private Farnboroughs

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — one vivid memory, two breathtaking photos, one for war-watchers, one for poets ]
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There are very few days in my life where I know where I was, but on 6 September 1952, I was at the Farnborough Air Show, when John Derry‘s De Havilland 110 fell apart at Mach 1, the body of the aircraft falling safely away from the crowd, but one jet ploughing into the hillside I was perched on — literally, on my dad’s shoulders — a few dozen yards behind us.

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I was reminded of John Derry and his memorable death by this photo, captioned:

Military aircraft enthusiasts watch as a United States Air Force F-15 fighter jet travels at low altitude through the “Mach Loop” series of valleys near Dolgellau, Wales, on June 26, 2018. The Mach Loop valleys are regularly used by the military for operational low-flying training, which can take place as low as 250 feet (76 meters) from the nearest terrain. Oli Scarff / AFP / Getty

The aircraft, as shown above, is certainly striking — but no lesss striking at the tiny observers on the crest of the hillock, who no doubtt had an exhausting hike to get there, to see that remarkable aerial display. “Ooh, look!” These guys have their own private Farnboroughs — and thank God, nobody dies on this occasion.

I’m posting this here because I think the urge to see, I suppose one might call it the voyeuristic urge, is close cousin ttom the urge to game play. And game play, in military affairs, is a significant matter , from kriegspiel to the rcecently aborted exercises in S Korea.

Thoughts?

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OMG —

and I just can’t resist adding one more image from the same page where I found the one above — for its sheer drama:

https://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/photo/2018/06/photos-of-the-week-3/w02_984690316/main_900.jpg?1530296833

The full moon rises behind burning moorland as a large wildfire sweeps across the moors between Dovestones and Buckton Vale in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, on June 26, 2018, in Stalybridge, England. Anthony Devlin / Getty

Er, Wow!

Eyes everywhere and the World Cup

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — just keeping a paranoid eye on an old and subtle game.. ]
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You know I’m always looking out for examples of the Matryoshka doll effect, where a large doll holds smaller, nested “child” dolls, one within the other in a diminishing series — theoretically ad infinitum — and more generally of macro-micro, as a pattern always worth pondering?

Well, it’s World Cup time, and The Atlantic just posted a fine run of photos of soccer pitches from around the world — one of which caught my eye:

That’s just a detail, showing you the larger radomes of the Bundesnachrichtendienst / German Intel Service, and smaller versions of the same used to play soccer and — who knows? — pick up signals of my and your interactions around the world and off into near space too perhaps.. Japanese reports of moon tastings, my own poems, your moon-bounced messages..

Here, for your enjoyment, is the whole picture:


Sean Gallup / Getty

People play football at a field next to radomes of the digital communications listening station of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, the German intelligence agency, on June 2, 2015, in Bad Aibling, Germany.

Photographer Sean Gallup certainly has a strong eye for macro-micro, too.

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When I was first introduced to NSA by somone who knew it better at least than I did after dipping into James Bamford, he explained:

NSA > National Security Agency > No Such Agency > “Nonesuch to you, Mister”

I’m grateful Nonesuch wasn’t named the Bundesnachrichtendienst!

See the rest of The Atlantic‘s soccer fields around the world, including this image:


RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

The caption here reads:

Ex-FARC rebels play football in the unarmed zone known as Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (ETCR in Spanish) “Antonio Narino”, where former guerrilla fighters receive training to facilitate their development, reconciliation and reincorporation to civilian life, in Icononzo, Tolima Department, Colombia, on June 12, 2018

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Next up in an expanding line of intelligent footballs, way out past our friendly moon: the Dyson sphere and matroshka brain architecture ..

Year’s End Musings

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — wry thoughts at the year’s turning ]
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The best of prophetic moments of the past twelve months according to Propheccy News Watch, and a glimpse of the Atlantic’s this and that..

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Prophecy News Watch:

Obvs. the right place to go for a go-to report on the year in prophetic signage, Prophecy News Watch gives us a detailed breakdown of the past year, noting:

Pieces of the eschatological puzzle continue to manifest daily. Even signs that are primarily Tribulation events are casting a shadow today. As I perused news stories of the year, I selected 15 items that tell us time is short. The King is coming soon. Don’t ever doubt that.

Zechariah 12.3 isn’t the most commonly quoted of end times verses, and it’s a bit obscure at first sight:

And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.

Still, that’s PNW’s first and foremost of 15 notable signs of the times for the past year, and PNW signals it in context:

Jerusalem became a greater “burdensome stone” with Donald Trump’s acknowledgement that this is truly Israel’s capital and holy city. See Zechariah 12:3. Greater controversy will surround her in the year ahead.

It looks like Zechariah (who?) had a point. And whether Zechariah (yes!) was thinking of Trump’s declaration “it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” on December 6th as the “that day” which PMW’s Zechariah quotation implies, or maybe December 21st when, as the Guardian put it, the UN “delivered a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, voting by a huge majority to reject his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” — well, that’s an open question — perhaps both..

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Here’s a Christian point of view. According to al-Jazeera in a piece entitled Palestinian Christian leaders denounce Trump’s decision:

The US move is offensive to “Christians and Muslims around the world who consider Jerusalem as an incubator of their most sacred, spiritual and national heritage”, Atallah Hanna, the archbishop of Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox church, said in a statement on Saturday.

“We, Palestinians, Christians and Muslims reject the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he added.

“The US gave the occupation what it does not deserve.”

Pastor Hagee sees it differently, attributing “biblical timing of absolute precision” not just to the President’s December 6th proclamation, but to the actual movement of the embassy, which should occur in the next couple of days, or miss the once-in-fifty-years nark:

He [Hagee] also talked with the president about the significance of moving the embassy in this “Jubilee Year.”

“…I told him that God measures everything in modules of 50 years,” Hagee explained to CBN News. “And I said this is a principle that’s carried out in Leviticus, the 25th chapter.”

“I said, ‘If you look at 1917, it was a Jubilee Year, and the Balfour Amendment came, and then in 50 years, it was 1967, and Jerusalem was reconnected to Israel,'” he continued.

“‘And you add 50 to 1967, and you’re in 2017.’ I said, ‘This is the year to move the embassy and make that declaration because it is a biblical timing of absolute precision,'” Hagee said. “Thank God, he’s going to do exactly that.”

If 2017 is tthe Jubilee Year, we have two Jubilee Days remaining to us for moving the embassy, today included!

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Ah, yes — the Atlantic!

The Atlantic has also been recapping past events and articles at year’s end. It struck me as wryly amusing that they made The Case for Humility in 1918, just before the end of WW I — with some surprisingly prescient commentary:

Before our educational system can furnish us the help that it should, the Humanist must learn … to abandon his faith in the mechanical and quantitative methods which belong to science, and to set about the task of reinstating the past in the present.

And again:

Examine the record of the nineteenth century, of the epoch which closed three years ago, and you will find that it is a record of increasing absent-mindedness on the part of men and nations who imagined that they were doing one thing but who were actually engaged in doing something else. They imagined that they were making the future secure by their feverish activity; they imagined that they had only to devote themselves to science and to industry in order to be happy. But, as a matter of fact, the whole tendency of their activity was to make the future insecure; and their blind faith in science and industry is being repaid by the unspeakable misery of war.

The Atlantic then brought us up to speed in 2014 with The Case for Corruption: Why Washington needs more honest graft:

Once upon a time, the budget process was reasonably regular. In fact, it was conducted under what was called regular order. The budget-committee chairmen would do some horse trading to build a consensus within each chamber, the House and Senate would then pass those budgets without too much ado, and the two chambers would work out their differences in a conference committee. Then the appropriations committees would do more or less the same thing, making sure to spread around enough pork-barrel goodies to get their friends paid off and the budget passed. The president and the congressional leaders would be involved throughout the process, every now and then calling a budget summit, but most of the real work would go on behind the scenes.

In the past few years, by contrast, regular order has been replaced by regular chaos. Public ultimatums supplanted private negotiations, games of chicken replaced mutual back-scratching, and bumptious Republican House members took to dictating terms to their putative leadership. Last fall, after one tantrum too many, Congress seemed exhausted. As part of a deal to reopen the government, it returned the task of setting the next fiscal year’s budget to the budget and appropriations committees, sending them off to a smoke-free smoke-filled room to cut a deal.

Sigh — one can’t help smiling at that phrase, “a smoke-free smoke-filled room” — beautifully, concisely, evocatively boustrophedonic!

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Boustrophedon — to and fro, as the ox ploughs — oh joy!

Happy New Year to all!

Wei Wu Wei, or the inactionable option

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — the excellence of today’s piece by Joshua Foust and the importance of intelligence that is not actionable, with illustrations from Zenpundit, Dickens and Shakespeare ]
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Kate Bosworth peers out from under a blindfold in the 2010 movie, Warrior's Way

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Josh Foust just posted an important piece in his Atlantic column and on his American Security Project blog titled Myopia: How Counter-Terrorism Has Blinded Our Intelligence Community, with the subtitle:

The United States’ overriding interest in “actionable” information on terrorists has produced a dangerous form of tunnel vision.

Bingo.

This is important, and I’ll circle back to it. But first, please follow the full arc of the circle…

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I post little headers at the top of all my Zenpundit posts these days, to let people know where on the irrelevance scale my latest offering should be placed — I guess the idea came from the 19th century practice of offering “synoptic chapter headings” to titillate the reader of novels, as when Mr Dickens titles one chapter of The Pickwick Papers:

Chapter XVIII. Briefly illustrative of two points; first, the power of hysterics, and, secondly, the force of circumstances

I digress.

Some while back, I posted a piece called The Haqqani come to high Dunsinane here on Zenpundit, and gave it the header:

why is non-actionable (useless) intelligence sometimes the most intelligent (useful)? – importance of multiple frames for complex vision

The piece was about the Haqqani network, but obliquely so — I was leaping from an image in a video where a cluster of Haqqani-guys in training were running around dressed as trees, to a similar image in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth:

Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.

Well, that was the prophecy, and Macbeth took it to mean he’d never be defeated in battle:

That will never be.
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earthbound root? Sweet bodements! Good!

Prophecies and portents are notorious for their double meanings, however, and this one’s fulfillment comes when Malcolm gives the order to his men:

Let every soldier hew him down a bough
And bear’t before him. Thereby shall we shadow
The numbers of our host and make discovery
Err in report of us.

Heh — “discovery” here means what today we’d call “intelligence” — and notice the importance here of reading multiple meanings out of a single sign.

A while later, a messenger arrives, and declaims:

As I did stand my watch upon the hill,
I look’d toward Birnam, and anon, methought,
The wood began to move.

This turns out to be true enough, for in the next scene Malcolm, now before Dunsinane, gives the order:

Now near enough: your leafy screens throw down.
And show like those you are.

and:

Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,
Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.

And so it goes.

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Let me emphasize, this is not, definitively not, actionable intelligence that I am in any way attempting to offer as such to anyone engaging in close-quarters combat with the Haqqanis.

Our arc is almost complete at this point, so let’s take a closer look at Josh Foust’s piece:

Large areas of the IC have move away from their traditional role of analyzing a broad range of current events for policymakers and toward supporting the global counterterrorism mission. News stories about this shift suggest the counterterrorism mission has become the overarching concern of the national security staff.

This shift in focus can create blind spots that pose unique challenges for the president. If branch chiefs and the policymakers they support value “exploitable” information over deep understanding, they might be ignoring potentially vital information that doesn’t seem immediately of interest.

Imagine an analyst finding reports of a growing discontent in a Middle Eastern country’s politics; if that does not provide immediate benefit for a decision-making process for targeting suspected terrorists, it can easily be ignored in the avalanche of targeting information.

Blind spots, eh?

Those would be “the dots” in the “larger picture” that you can’t “connect” until it’s too late. And where are they found? In “information that doesn’t seem immediately of interest” — intelligence that’s not “actionable” in other words.

Or to put that another way, what Josh calls “tunnel vision” comes from staring at what’s “actionable” — whereas vision that’s “out of the tunnel” comes from noticing what’s in peripheral vision.

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Wei wu wei? It’s a Taoist motto: literally, it means “action without action” though it can also be translated “effortless action”.

I know, I know, this is a useless post. But you know what Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu?

I have a big tree of the kind men call shu. Its trunk is too gnarled and bumpy to apply a measuring line to, its branches too bent and twisty to match up to a compass or square. You could stand it by the road and no carpenter would look at it twice. Your words, too, are big and useless, and so everyone alike spurns them!

And you know what Chuang Tzu said in response?

Quick update / pointer: GR & AZ on prisoner release

Friday, October 12th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — prisoner releases in Arab springtime, abu Musab and Dr Fadl; Daveed G-R and Aaron Z; two major rules of expertise: detail and humility ]
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video edit-bay photo credit http://www.cdmastercopy.com

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When you watch a well edited movie, the experience is seamless — despite the fact that the film itself was made with hundreds of cuts and splices. Film critics, mavens and the director’s fellow auteurs who make close readings and detailed studies of the film will see and appreciate the juxtapositions and graphic matches, the fine-tuned timing of the edits and the rhythm they give the film — but for the regular viewer, one continuous fabric of story unspools from opening to final credits. The editor’s skill lies in getting the splices right to a degree beyond the perceptual acuity of the audience.

Similarly, a fine carpenter will often want to make joints that are imperceptible to the client, seeking a sensitivity to changes in height that is an order of magnitude greater than that required for the quick, cheap performance of the same task.

True expertise is at least one order of magnitude deeper and more self-critical than it needs to be to satisfy a cursory examination.

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Thus when Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Aaron Zelin tackle the important — and easily overlooked — question of How the Arab Spring’s Prisoner Releases Have Helped the Jihadi Cause in the Atlantic, they offer us both far more than we knew we needed to know, and yet less than they themselves know about the topic, let alone the broader current of jihadist movements of which this particular topic is a single strand.

It’s a significant topic, though, as their opening paragraphs neatly show:

The investigation of the devastating Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed American ambassador Christopher Stevens — limited as it is by security concerns that hampered the FBI’s access to the site –has begun to focus on a Libya-based Egyptian, Muhammad Jamal (a.k.a. Abu Ahmad al Masri). As a detailed Wall Street Journal report explains, Jamal is notable not only for having fighters under his command and operating militant training camps in the Libyan desert, but also for having recently gotten out of Egyptian prison.

This latter fact makes Jamal part of a trend that has gone largely unremarked upon in the public sphere since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” uprisings: prisons in affected countries have been emptied, inmates scattering after being released or breaking free. In many cases, it is a good thing that prisoners have gone free: the Arab dictatorships were notorious for unjustly incarcerating political prisoners, and abusing them in captivity. But jihadists have also been part of this wave of releases, and we are now beginning to see the fruits of the talent pool that is back on the streets.

I recommend it highly, as does at least one other more knowledgeable than I.

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A short piece in the Atlantic is just right for an overview, but not the place to lay out the next level of detail, though — and there are three people in particular whose names I am always on the lookout for, names of people who vanished from public view into some form of imprisonment, and who are of considerable interest to me personally — primarily for their theological significance.

The first of these is the Imam Musa al-Sadr, whose “disappearance” in Gaddafi’s Libya at the age of 50 in 1978 deprived the Lebanon of an inspiring leader — in a manner that eerily paralleled the ghayba or “occultation” of the Twelfth Imam of the Ithna ‘ashariyah.

The second would be Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, aka Dr. Fadl, whose book The Essentials was one of the major works of AQ ideology and the #2 jihadist manual downloaded from the net according to the CTC Atlas (p.10), and who recanted it from Egyptian prison, writing his Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World which so severely critiqued AQ-style jihad that al-Zawahiri felt obliged to pen a 200-page counter-argument. In Dr Fadl’s case, the interest would be to see what he would say if liberated now.

And my third “person of interest”? That would be Mustafa Setmariam Nasar aka Abu Musab al-Suri, whose massive Call to Global Islamic Resistance is a key document that chides bin Laden for “leading them to the abyss”, says “Al Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be. It is a call, a reference, a methodology”, and calls for “terrorism created by individuals or small autonomous groups (see Lawrence Wright, The Master Plan). Abu Musab, who may have been released from prison in Syria recently, is of interest to others as potentially the jihadi’s foremost strategist — and to me chiefly because of his use of apocalyptic forecasting in his Call.

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Since their Atlantic piece was a short context-setter rather than a longer analytic paper, I asked Gartenstein-Ross and Zelin — Daveed and Aaron — net acquaintance and friendship is a funny thing, we haven’t worked out the etiquette as yet — about Dr Fadl and Abu Musab, not mentioned in the piece itself but surely not far from their thoughts.

Twitter, of course, is even more drastically reduced than a piece in the Atlantic, so you can think of their tweeted responses as something along the lines of snapshots of footnotes. Nevertheless, they give me, as an inquiring mind, a quick glimpse of what a couple of those at least an order of magnitude deeper into these things know or conjecture about two people whose names and potential activities we should all keep stashed quietly away on some easily accessible mental shelf.

Three things emerge from these tweets — how little we actually know, how important what we don’t know may be, and how honest the best analysts are about the limits of their knowledge. I’d tweeted, congratulating them on their piece and saying:

hipbonegamer: i note no mention of Musab a-S – any idea what’s up with Dr Fadl? Dead? Released? Still held?

And they responded:

Aaron Y. Zelin: Details still too murky on Abu Mus’ab and no info on Dr. Fadl.

D. Gartenstein-Ross: However, I think the question “where is Dr. Fadl, and why haven’t we heard from him?” is important for many reasons.

D. Gartenstein-Ross: But Aaron is right: I haven’t seen any open source info that speaks to his fate.

That’s two things at once: not very much, and a great deal.

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So if lesson #1 of this post is that True expertise is at least one order of magnitude deeper and more self-critical than it needs to be to satisfy a cursory examination, lesson #2 must be…

True expertise never claims knowledge that is one order of magnitude deeper or more exact than is actually known.

Putting that in other terms: having an accurate mapping of one’s archipelago of knowledges within one’s oceanic ignorance is a highly significant form of meta-knowledge, lacking which one’s knowledges have blurred edges and little definitional value.

And that in turns means — especially in terms of human intelligence — humility.

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It’s Follow Friday (#FF) on Twitter: @DaveedGR and @azelin are two folks you can follow and trust.


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