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Concerning the Future — black swans & white

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — in concern, yes — and hope ]


I know which I’d choose — but I can’t speak for the powers that be (Ephesians 6.12 included).


Here’s a paragraph from David Barno and Nora Bensahel, The Future of the Army: Today, Tomorrow, and the Day After Tomorrow:

Some future developments can be predicted, but others will be unexpected and unforeseen. “Black swans” —- unpredictable events with very serious consequences — will be as inevitable then as they have been in the past.105 In 2000, for example, no analyst could have possibly foreseen all of today’s disparate security challenges—the 9/11 attacks, the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, a resurgent Russia annexing Crimea and threatening neighbors with force, and China building artificial islands in the South China Sea from which to project power, among others. Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.


I’m somewhat sceptical of the polling methodology used by the Lincoln Leadership Initiative to generate these conclusions reported by The Hill:

Among those who say they will vote for Trump, 48 percent say he’ll create a database to track Muslims? 36 percent say there will be race riots? 33 percent say the government would default on its debt? and 32 percent say Trump would punish his political opponents and authorize internment camps for illegal immigrants.

Only 22 percent of Trump supporters believe he will start a nuclear war.

Whatever the reliability of the poll — and I’ve asked — it seems clear that at least some potential voters believe Donald Trump, if elected president, might use nuclear weapons, perhaps in the fight against ISIS.

I’d call the database, the race riots and the debt default that Barno and Bensahel mentiom black cygnets at best, but the prospect of nuclear war almost qualifies IMO as a full-on black swan — and I’d refer you back to the final sentence of the Barno-Bensahel quote above:

Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.


Barno-Bensahel sat they would consider a nuclear exchange a black swan in their chapter on 2020-2035, whereas Trump’s first term, if he were to be elected president, would barely touch the beginning o0f that range — so that particular black swan, if it is one, might conceivably occur quite soon.

But note that word “conceivable” — a true black swan, to my way of thinking, would be something that hadn’t even occurred as a possibility to forward thinking folks like David Barno — indeed not even, with all due respect, to John Robb.

And Barno-Bensahel predict out to 2040.


My own predictive vision as a student of wisdom literature and propecies of various kinds shows me the following timeline:


It goes without saying that I could be wrong — a whiter shade of swan might make all the difference.

Heat and Hajj 2076

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — one black swan that’s almost predictable — where two timelines meet ]

God in His wisdom has decreed that all right thinking humans should circumambulate the Kaaba in Mecca if at all possible during their human lifetimes, so proclaims Islamic orthodoxy.

A Guardian piece titled Extreme heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows gives an approximate date by which Mecca may be impossibly hot for humans, even clothed in the brilliant white ihram of the pilgrimage:

The extreme heatwaves will affect Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and coastal cities in Iran as well as posing a deadly threat to millions of Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, when the religious festival falls in the summer. The study shows the extreme heatwaves, more intense than anything ever experienced on Earth, would kick in after 2070 and that the hottest days of today would by then be a near-daily occurrence.

After 2070.


Tim Furnish, describing the Boston conference at which we both participated last year, expresses his regret that the Center for Millennial Studies is no longer with us in these words:

It’s a pity that Landes’ CMS has run its course, for as the Islamic year 1500 AH (after hijrah)/2076 AD approaches, Muslim eschatological fervor — almost certainly to include jihadist leaders thinking themselves the Mahdi — will only increase

Graeme Wood in his article What ISIS’s Leader Really Wants perhaps simplifies reality a little when he writes:

David Cook, a historian at Rice University who studies Muslim apocalypticism, points out that the battles preceding the Day of Judgment will take place in modern Syria, with a final showdown in the year 1500 of the Islamic Hijra calendar, or A.D. 2076.

2076, or 1500 AH, is indeed a plausible date, but not the only possibility.


If there’s a second part to this post, it will express the extreme fierceness and driving passion of what Richard Landes calls “Active Cataclysmic Millennialism” — a category that includes both secular variants (Nazi, Marxist) and religious (Taiping Rebellion) — and how it ties in with the converging ecological and Mahdist timelines discussed above.

Okay, at the point of convergence:

Mecca uninhabitable, Hajj obligatory, and the arrival of the Mahdi imminent — it’s a potent brew to consider as we head towards the 2070s.

My latest fiction, aptly titled “No Clue”

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the lack of advance scheduling for black swans is a recurring theme for my futurizing self ]

August Cole — co-author with PW Singer of Ghost Fleet — just posted my most recent fiction at the Art of the Future site:

Charles Cameron’s “No Clue” is a finalist entry in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security Global Trends 2035 creative contest that called for writers to explore the technologies, trends and themes that will shape the world two decades from now. He is a multiple finalist in past contests for his stories “News Enhancement In An Info Overloaded Age” and “War In Heaven.” Progenitor of the game Sembl, he can be found on Twitter @hipbonegamer and writing at Zenpundit.com.

My piece begins:

I shall lie quietly under the greensward by 2035, either oblivious, deep into my next incarnation, or something close to omniscient. Oblivion offers the near certainty of being right about the future, but lacks communications skills, so I won’t linger there. From the point of view of my next incarnation, finding myself once again a yak herder in Nepal — yaks haven’t changed much since my grandfather’s day, and his grandfather’s day before him – may I offer you a bowl of tsampa and butter tea? So that leaves us with semi- or quasi-omniscience.

Time — previously a Torah-like scroll with the far past rolled up and vanishing on the left just as the future unspools and becomes present, legible, then recent, on the right – is now laid out in all its simultaneity and glory in the Museum of Timeless Reality. Walking up and down it, noting the Art of Future Warfare challenge of 2016 and inquisitively visiting 2035 to see what unfolded over the timespan between them, I’m grateful for the tweaknology that permits me to select 2016 as my point of origin and observe in broad outline the probability tree across a 19 year spread from there.


August has very nicely presented my entry in the magazine-style issuu format, meaning that if you click below and bring it up to your appropriate viewing size, you can then flip through my 8 pages as though you were reading a magazine.

Kudos and thanks, August!


The great northern thaw

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — okay, methane, yes, for starters — now add some radioactive waste and anthrax to the brew ]

Two recent items that caught my eye:

Tablet DQ Thaw raindeer and radioactivity


  • USA Today, Global warming could ‘unfreeze’ waste buried in old Greenland military base
  • The Atlantic, Siberia’s Deadly Anthrax Outbreak
  • **

    More generally, we non-expert interested folk have known for a while — assuming, say, we read the New York Times piece, As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks, back in 2011 — that loss of permafrost was hazardous to planetary health:

    Experts have long known that northern lands were a storehouse of frozen carbon, locked up in the form of leaves, roots and other organic matter trapped in icy soil — a mix that, when thawed, can produce methane and carbon dioxide, gases that trap heat and warm the planet. But they have been stunned in recent years to realize just how much organic debris is there.

    A recent estimate suggests that the perennially frozen ground known as permafrost, which underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.

    Temperatures are warming across much of that region, primarily, scientists believe, because of the rapid human release of greenhouse gases. Permafrost is warming, too. Some has already thawed, and other signs are emerging that the frozen carbon may be becoming unstable. [ .. ]

    If a substantial amount of the carbon should enter the atmosphere, it would intensify the planetary warming. An especially worrisome possibility is that a significant proportion will emerge not as carbon dioxide, the gas that usually forms when organic material breaks down, but as methane, produced when the breakdown occurs in lakes or wetlands. Methane is especially potent at trapping the sun’s heat, and the potential for large new methane emissions in the Arctic is one of the biggest wild cards in climate science.


    Okay, now we can also think about rotting reindeer carcases and radioactive waste.

    I can’t see Russia from my house, but it looks as though the Russians have the reindeer anthrax issue well in hand, and the “once top-secret subterranean U.S. nuclear base in northern Greenland” with its “radioactive coolant, PCBs, and raw sewage that the military originally believed would stay entombed for millennia” seems to pale in comparison with the possibilities of methane discharge — Cheryl Rofer could no doubt estimate the comparative risks far better than I — so this post is not intended as a scare-alert, but as yet another example of a category that interests me way more than most — which is why I’d like to direct it:

    Attn: Department of Blindspots and Unintended Consequences


    Single birds

    Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — crow, racing pigeon — swan? ]

    Tablet DQ 600 single birds 75

    See the swan, yeah? Okay!


    When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.. Shakespeare, right? Not so with insights.


  • Robert De Niro et al., Red Lights
  • Robert Krulwich, After Tens of Thousands of Pigeons Vanish, One Comes Back
  • After Tens of Thousands of Pigeons Vanish is an extraordinary tale of what (presumably) happens when a Concorde overflies a mass of racing pigeons — compare the video accompanying How Our Consumer Culture Is Killing Whales.


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