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John Schindler 1: Putin, Gorenberg, Jerusalem

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Putin: the other fellow’s Ukraine is this fellow’s Temple Mount ]
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It is hard to keep up with John Schindler [@20committee]: his writings flow fast and sure enough that I feel a bit like Alice, running fast to keep still, as I try to think through enough of what he writes to make meaningful comments. In this series of posts, I’ll try to come close to catching up.

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St Putin icon & gas

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First, as backdrop and just for the record, here are Vladimir Putin‘s comments on the spiritual relationship between Russia and the Ukraine, in which he compared the Ukraine to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, from a transcript of his December 2014 Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly:

Of course, we will talk about this year’s landmark events. You know that a referendum was held in Crimea in March, at which its residents clearly expressed their desire to join Russia. After that, the Crimean parliament – it should be stressed that it was a legitimate parliament that was elected back in 2010 – adopted a resolution on sovereignty. And then we saw the historical reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia.

It was an event of special significance for the country and the people, because Crimea is where our people live, and the peninsula is of strategic importance for Russia as the spiritual source of the development of a multifaceted but solid Russian nation and a centralised Russian state. It was in Crimea, in the ancient city of Chersonesus or Korsun, as ancient Russian chroniclers called it, that Grand Prince Vladimir was baptised before bringing Christianity to Rus.

In addition to ethnic similarity, a common language, common elements of their material culture, a common territory, even though its borders were not marked then, and a nascent common economy and government, Christianity was a powerful spiritual unifying force that helped involve various tribes and tribal unions of the vast Eastern Slavic world in the creation of a Russian nation and Russian state. It was thanks to this spiritual unity that our forefathers for the first time and forevermore saw themselves as a united nation. All of this allows us to say that Crimea, the ancient Korsun or Chersonesus, and Sevastopol have invaluable civilisational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Islam and Judaism.

And this is how we will always consider it.

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How serious is this?

End times, apocalypse-serious in three religions, driest kindling for a global wildfire in our drought-ridden world. All it would take is a single spark, and there are those who play with matches:

Israel indicts Livvix Aqsa

To me, that’s nightmare scenario number 1, number two having to do with Pakistani nukes..

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Gershom Gorenberg, whose book The End of Days is still the best guide to the clashing of rival apocalypses on the Temple Mount aka the Noble Sanctuary — writes of that “thirty-five-acre not-quite-rectangular enclosure on the souther-east corner of the Old City of Jerusalem” that it is “the most contested piece of real estate on earth”.

Everyone, from the Lord on down, surely knows that the center of the earth is Jerusalem — even the maps tell us so:

462_medieval-mapJerusalemCenterC1250

As Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav says:

Wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem.

— and we can zoom further in:

As the navel is set in the centre of the human body,
so is the land of Israel the navel of the world…
situated in the centre of the world,
and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel,
and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem,
and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary,
and the ark in the centre of the holy place,
and the foundation stone before the holy place,
because from it the world was founded…

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Given the centrality of the Temple Mount, then, what are the prospects should someone, not unlike Adam Everett Livvix perhaps, motivated by desire to see the Temple rebuilt and Moshiach or Christ make his presence felt, attempt to destroy the mosques atop the Mount — as has already been attempted more than once?

Jeffrey Goldberg‘s interview with Gershon Salomon, leader of the Temple Mount Faithful movement, published in the New York Times just before the turn of the millennium, included this fascinating and to my mind alarming exchange:

I ask him how he would feel if someone blew up the Dome of the Rock.
“The question is, Why did they build their mosque on our holy mountain, anyway? Who gave them permission? God didn’t.”
Would you be saddened if the destruction of the Dome of the Rock led to war?
“I don’t think it will come to that. The Muslims know in their heart that this belongs to us.”
“But what if it did lead to war?”
Salomon smiled. “The Temple will be a reality. God has promised it.”
But what about war?
“O.K.,” he said impatiently, “so we’ll have a war.”

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Quite how far into the parallelism between the Temple Mount and Ukraine Putin wants to go is an unknown — but my sense is that John Schindler would come closer to the answer than most.

This was the first of three posts.

Unequal equations

Friday, January 18th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — math, modeling and mapping, in that strange zone where beauty meets understanding ]
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The upper equation — Euler‘s — gets as tight and definitional as one can get, yet is profound in the way the greatest haiku are… while the metaphorical “equation” mentioned in the lower panel is a very rough model indeed of the intricate and constantly shifting forces at work in and on Pakistan.

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I’m interested in mapping these sorts of influences at a level of detail that the human mind can assimilate and comprehend — and the graphical news-map in the video below will give you an idea of what one approach to such a mapping would look like.

This particular example is drawn from a mapping of web-based news items related to President Obama over the course of 2009, but it should give you some idea of the constant flux of tensions and motion of “nodes” involved in tracking political issues, at home or abroad — the beginning is a bit slow, but from about the 23 second mark on is just amazing:

Now is that art, or technology — or a beginning of something fascinating that by its very nature melds both?

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Sources:

  • FB Ali, Interesting times in Pakistan on Sic Semper Tyrannis
  • Recorded Future Index video

  • Bouleversé by forgiveness

    Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — not just “thinking outside the box” — how about upending the whole thing and seeing what shakes out? ]
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    FWIW, this isn't the world, nor is it upside down -- it's just a rather different map, eh?

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    A celebrated stanza by the Indian poet-saint Kabir — beloved of both Hindus and Muslims — asks:

    Is there any guru in the world wise enough
    to understand the upside-down Veda?

    There’s a style of poetry used by Kabir and others to describe experience of the divine called “ulatbamsi” or the “upside down language” — and Linda Hess, Kabir’s great translator, writes of it as a language “of paradoxes and enigmas” — not too dissimilar, perhaps, to the koans or meditation paradoxes often encountered in zen training.

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    Boom! The French have the word “bouleversé” to cover the way we feel when suddenly our whole world seems turned upside down.

    Maybe it’s a modern idea? Bob Dylan, I’m delighted to say, no longer belongs to Robert Zimmerman except for purposes of copyright — his songs have entered the cultural bloodstream. Here’s his version:

    The battle outside ragin’
    Will soon shake your windows
    And rattle your walls
    For the times they are a-changin’

    The world often seems upside down, our values are often quite the reverse of what they might be if we had the kind of clarity that is implied in Samuel Johnson‘s celebrated quote:

    Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

    And then there are those great ones for whom our world is manifestly unjust, manifestly topsy-turvy — or “through the looking-glass”, if you prefer.

    I mean, what else can being “in the world, but not of it” be all about, if it’s not about a major shift in perspective?

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    I’m writing about this at such length because I just read one of those paragraphs that turns my own world upside down. It came in the middle of a long piece on “restorative justice” and it focuses on the power of forgiveness.

    This particular paragraph describes how an Indian-American woman, Sujatha Baliga, came to see the unexpected power of forgiveness, and for her it occurred in a Buddhist context — but the power itself is beyond the boundaries of specific religions:

    Baliga had been in therapy in New York, but while in India she had what she calls “a total breakdown.” She remembers thinking, Oh, my God, I’ve got to fix myself before I start law school. She decided to take a train to Dharamsala, the Himalayan city that is home to a large Tibetan exile community. There she heard Tibetans recount “horrific stories of losing their loved ones as they were trying to escape the invading Chinese Army,” she told me. “Women getting raped, children made to kill their parents — unbelievably awful stuff. And I would ask them, ‘How are you even standing, let alone smiling?’ And everybody would say, ‘Forgiveness.’ And they’re like, ‘What are you so angry about?’ And I told them, and they’d say, ‘That’s actually pretty crazy.’ ”

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    I like the dark blue “sky” and the “clouds” at the top of the map I began this post with — but then, I’m a mostly vertical human who seldom stands on his head, so it looks “natural” to me. But that’s simply a matter of my point of view.

    I imagine maps like that one must please our friends “down under”.

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    A hat-tip to Hadar Aviram, whose California Corrections blog first pointed me to the article about Sujatha Baliga.

    Cross-grain thinking, 2: mapping the jihadist mind & AQ’s #3 spot

    Sunday, November 11th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — the different types of “leaders” should give us an idea of the different mental operations in play in the individual minds of the led, as well as the “mind” of the organization — plus fun ]
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    credit for mind map aspect of composite image to valdis krebs

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    Okay, I made my basic point here quite nicely in that little tag-line that gives you the brief overview of each of my posts right next to my name, so I’ll just repeat it here, very slightly amplified for focus:

    The different types of “leaders” we identify in AQ should give us an idea of the different mental operations usually in play in the individual minds of jihadists, as well as within the “mind” of the organization itself.

    I tried to show how cross-grain thinking in general, and thinking that includes both “subjective” and “objective” realities specifically, might play a considerable role in understanding some pressing contemporary issues in my recent post on Mozart — a figure so removed from those problems that some of you may have skipped it. Here’s my ending, with the Mozart details safely removed:

    I think we should track that pattern, know as much as we can of that pattern, write the biography of the way in which some piece of music weaves between inspiration and thought, composer and instrument, mind and matter, performer and audience, studio and home digital music center…

    Then, perhaps, we could begin to map other patterns – in some ways simpler and more urgent ones.

    The sorts of “simpler and more urgent” patterns I was thinking of there include:

  • how discussions become deliberations and deliberations decisions
  • how scenarios are built and understood and sometimes poorly configured to our later detriment
  • how foreign policy plus feedback loops can create blowback and how to minimize it..

  • and specifically,

  • how the “jihadist” radicalization process moves from floating frustration and shame, via identification of a plausible “other” to rage against, to commitment, then via theology (!!) (for divine sanction of otherwise unpalatable acts) to the recognition of a binding moral obligation (fard ‘ayn in AQ terms) — and thence to camps for training in weaponry and the requirements and subtle limitations on Quranically sanctioned war…

  • **

    That last one has been an interest of mine, sitting in the back of my mind as an unanswered problem, quietly gathering data and forming insights for a while now, under a rubric along the lines of the question:

    Can we figure out a rough map of the workings of the “typical” mind of a potential jihadist as it radicalizes?

    It occurs to me that the leadership of an organization likely maps well to the organization’s functions, and those functions to the thought processes in which members are involved so a map of the aspects of leadership may well give us a rough draft of a mind-map for the individual member, including the passage from uninvolved observer to active participant: the process of radicalization.

    This may seem pretty obvious to some of you, but it’s a fresh idea for me, and to me it’s important because we already map communications networks and organizational flows, but the mind — the individual mind is one place we don’t seem to go.

    So I’m thinking in terms of sketching the mind of a “person” who is in some ways AQ as a whole, considered as if it were one sensate human-like being, filled with the usual variety of thoughts and emotions, ideals and pragmatisms, hopes and fears, hunches and hard data, clarities and confusions.. And I’m thinking of doing this by treating “leaders” as though they were distinct but coordinated processes in a single mind.

    We track and map people and their connections, we track and map groups and their connections, we track and map communications and their connections — are we tracking and mapping memes as such? ideas and their connections? minds?

    If we are already tracking ideas and minds — or if we aren’t doing that yet, but could — I’d be on the lookout for possible positive and negative feedback loops within the system, some that enhance the overall operation and could be disrupted, and some that fragment and damage it and could be amplified.

    So that, among other things, God willing, we could learn better ways to dampen some of the oscillations of hate…

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    I was looking at a comment in the recent ICSR report, Al-Qaeda at the Crossroads [h/t @azelin], and ran across this quote which struck me from an oblique angle:

    About ten core leaders have been subsequently killed, including Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, Abu Hafs al-Shahri, Samir Khan, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Abu Yahya al-Libi.

    Let’s take a look at these folk: Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was reported via Bill Roggio at Long War Journal as al Qaeda’s “operations chief” and a major planning a major attack on the US for the tenth anniverary of 9/11, as AQ’s “general manager” and bin Laden‘s “chief of staff”. Abu Hafs al-Shahri was another “operations chief”. Samir Khan was a publicist, the editor of the English-language magazine Inspire. Anwar al-Awlaki was a minor theologian with a talent for publicity and a decent understanding of his American audience…

    And as for Abu Yahya al-Libi, here’s an excerpt from an NYT piece about him:”I call him a man for all seasons for A.Q.,” said Jarret Brachman, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who is now research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. “He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander. And he’s a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within A.Q., and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.”

    On that telling, al-Libi alone would be almost enough for my purposes — but let’s go with the whole list. The AQ mindset involves courage, poetry, scholarship, punditry and command and control. Specify that the scholarship needs to include theology (AQ at one point sent al-Libi to Mauretania for advanced Islamic studies) as well as strategy and guerrilla warfare (think Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, who was well-read in Taber’s The War of the Flea, Chairman Mao, Che Guevara, and Vo Nguyen Giap), and the significant influences on the jihadist mind begin to swim into focus.

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    See, I’m nudging my way to something fairly close to the Lincoln mention in Fred Kaplan‘s Slate piece about Petraeus the other day:

    Toward the end of the war, as the senior planning aide to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, Lincoln realized that the Army needed to breed a new type of officer to help the nation meet its new global responsibilities in the postwar era. This new officer, he wrote to a colleague, should have “at least three heads—one political, one economic, and one military.” He took a demotion, from brigadier general to colonel, so he could return to West Point and create a curriculum “to improve the so-called Army mind” in just this way: a social science department, encouraging critical thinking, even occasionally dissent.

    How would we map these mental processes? How would we map the jihadist’s equivalent?

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    While I was fishing around for AQ leadership lists in search of an education, I ran across Robert Mackey‘s amusing piece on his NYT blog back in 2010, titled Eliminating Al Qaeda’s No. 3, Again, in which he mentioned as killed or captured claimants to the #3 spot Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, described as “a top financial chief for Al Qaeda” and quotes a colleague as saying “many of Mr. Yazid’s predecessors in Al Qaeda’s No. 3 slot” – from the Bush years alone, he lists Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Hamza Rabia and Saif al-Adel.

    Okay, we should definitely add “financial chief” to my list above.

    The humorist and the artist in me often lead the more serious analyst in me to insights I’d not otherwise have access to, and since I’m worrying away at the notion that analysis needs to feature both “interior” (mind, heart) and “external” (world) realities, I keep the artistry and humor in my analyses, and hope that makes them more rather than less accessible — so let’s run with the AQ#3 nonsense for a bit.

    Mackey’s is a slightly tongue in cheek treatment of a reasonably serious topic. On Twitter the humor gets more incisive, with Andy Borowitz claiming 9,000 AQ#3s have been killed, and AQ#3 in person setting up a twitter account and tweeting merrily away for a while, see the two sample tweets in this SPECS graphic:

    My sources for those two tweets were Bupbin and AlQaedaNumber3.

    To be honest, I find the AQ#3 business both irritating — since it shows how little depth our popular understanding of who we’re dealing with really has — and amusing — because it’s so very ripe for satire…

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    I’ve been working at this post so long I’m mentally cross-eyed, so feel free to fill me in or chew me out…

    Cross-grain thinking, 1: Mozart and how music reaches us

    Thursday, November 1st, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — tracking a single pattern back and forth across the Cartesian divide between “inner” (subjective) and “outer” (objective) realities, and why ]
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    From God’s lips, figuratively speaking — via Mozart‘s mind and hand onto paper and out to musicians’ eyes and into their minds, then back out through their lips and hands and instruments and air — to your ears, and beyond? One pattern across a variety media.

    We study Mozart’s biography. We study the “chunking” techniques a pianist typically uses to become proficient. My friend Wm. Benzon writes about how the brain’s oscillatory circuits can be internally synchronized through sonic activity and much more. We study how musical tastes correlate with education, or wealth, or class. What we don’t study nearly so intently, it seems to me, is the entire sequence by which a musical pattern makes its way from a composer’s initial thought to a listener’s delighted experience.

    And what makes me want to talk about that is my sense that it requires thinking across the grain — across disciplines, across silos, across assumptions and languages and expectations.

    It helps that I love Mozart. And I’m interested in the way patterns work. And perhaps most significantly, I believe that analytic mapping that doesn’t concern itself with both “inward” subjective experience, thought and emotions as well as “outer” realities, people, processes, and so forth will have us firing on only 50% of our cylinders at best. As I said in an earlier post on Anders Breivik:

    A lot of our maps and models move between one quantity and another, and a lot of our thinking, correspondingly, has to do with materiel rather than morale — but nowhere is there a map or model of how quantity and quality affect each other, or how morale “force multiplies” materiel — even though “real life” moves seamlessly between (subjective, qualitative) mind and (objective, quantifiable) brain.

    We have no map to walk us through the hard problem in consciousness — except our own insight.

    And x-rays do not an insight make.

    Let’s simply call this an early attempt to think about a stretch of the border between subjective and objective worlds, taking Mozart — a reasonably innocuous subject compared with Breivik — to start with.

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    There’s a phrase of music in Mozart’s head: it is a pattern – we shall see it later as a pattern in ink on paper, a pattern in keys depressed on a keyboard, on strings struck and vibrating, as a pattern in acoustic waves in air and a pattern of impacts on the ear drum, then of electrochemical activity in the brain, of “Mozart” in the mind – and perhaps in a tapping of the feet on the floor, and from thence, onwards…

    Perhaps Mozart got it, this pattern, consciously or unconsciously, from the starling he wrote a poem to, and gave a burial to when it died [1, 2] … No doubt something of that pattern would have been in the starling’s brain as its throat muscles moved, and in the air that moved and he sang…

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    Something goes on with this pattern “inside” Mozart, and he composes, which is itself a hugely complex business involving various parts of his brain — and mind? Just brain, or brain and mind, or mind-brain? That’s the “hard question in consciousness” right there, and it applies as much to the starling, and the eventual listener, as it does to Mozart…

    That “something” going on inside him has been variously described, in any case, and the historian William Stafford has written an enlightening piece comparing the myth of Mozart’s genius (Mozart himself used the term a couple of times in the classic sense of an intuitive guide, much as Socrates too would use the term) with the practicalities of musical skill and concentration.

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    Thus there is undoubtedly a romantic “Mozart the genius” slant to the account given by Mozart’s earliest biographer who, working with Mozart’s widow, described his process of composition in these terms:

    Mozart wrote everything with a facility and rapidity, which perhaps at first sight could appear as carelessness or haste; and while writing he never came to the klavier. His imagination presented the whole work, when it came to him, clearly and vividly.

    This idea is even more vividly expressed in the letter, purported to be Mozart’s own words but now widely considered a later effort by the publicist Friedrich Rochlitz and “attributed” to Mozart himself in the spirit of the times:

    When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer — say, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me I retain in memory, and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account, so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeably to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments, etc.

    All this fires my soul, and, provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodised and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once (gleich alles zusammen). What a delight this is I cannot tell! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream. Still the actual hearing of the tout ensemble is after all the best. What has been thus produced I do not easily forget, and this is perhaps the best gift I have my Divine Maker to thank for.

    When I proceed to write down my ideas, I take out of the bag of my memory, if I may use that phrase, what has been previously collected into it in the way I have mentioned. For this reason the committing to paper is done quickly enough, for everything is, as I said before, already finished; and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination…

    **

    In start contrast to this romantic picture, Stafford himself writes in his paper Mozart and Genius, and more briefly in his essay in the Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia:

    We must suspect a large element of myth-making in all of this, a construction of Mozart and his life in accordance with preconceived ideas.

    and:

    The real Mozart expressed pride in his craft, in the compositional skills he had learned from other musicians and taken to a high level. Much recent scholarship has emphasized the relationship of his creativity to his social milieu. In place of an unreflective genius who composed in a dream, it has given us, as in Konrad Kuster’s recent biography, a musician of the highest technical competence for whom composition presented a series of intellectual and aesthetic challenges that could only be surmounted with considerable effort.

    **

    I suspect that Stafford, too, is giving us his “construction of Mozart and his life in accordance with preconceived ideas”.

    To my mind, it’s just that our own contemporary preconceptions have shifted the emphasis from the “inspiration” to the “perspiration” factor in understanding great works and the exceptional minds and mind-sets that produce them. In my view, both accounts have something to offer us – that what we retrospectively term “genius” happens when a prepared mind (meaning Stafford’s “compositional skills” and so forth) lets go of its controlling urgency, and a deeper, richer mind emerges — an emergence which takes places classically in reverie (Gaston Bachelard) or after some similar disengagement of the active will, from whence we get the phrase “let me sleep on it” in response to the posing of a tricky problem or dilemma

    **

    But the pattern.

    No doubt there are a thousand ways in which Mozart differs from Beethoven, Beethoven from El Greco, El Greco from Einstein, Wittengenstein from Heraclitus, and Heraclitus from the Heraclitus who stepped into “the same river” a while ago…

    What seems to be more stable is the pattern that Mozart wove, as it traveled from the throat of his starling through the intricacies of his own knowledge and practices, his friendships and tastes, his needs and longings and out onto paper, to a pianist or orchestra, and through instruments and voices into concert halls and magnetic wave forms and curious spirals engraved on discs, into sub-woofers and tweeters and full-range drivers..

    And into our minds and hearts, our memories – our quiet hummings to ourselves on long autumn drives between motels.

    **

    I think we should track that pattern, know as much as we can of that pattern, write the biography of the way in which some piece of music weaves between inspiration and thought, composer and instrument, mind and matter, performer and audience, studio and home digital music center…

    Then, perhaps, we could begin to map other patterns – in some ways simpler and more urgent ones.

    Coming up shortly: Cross-grain thinking, 2: AQ’s #3 spot and mapping the jihadist mind. One thing you can be sure of: it will be different.


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