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Sunday surprise — Li Bai and the Song of Songs

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — it’s all about a scarlet thread and some corks in a current ]

I have plenty of idle time between naps, and was binge watching The Churchmen on Netflix. Plus it’s a Sunday..


As you know, I track “twins” in events and quotations, mainly for sheer aesthetic pleasure, but also partly as an analytic tool — believing as I do that “two is the first number” and often a leading-edge clue to pattern, meaning, significance.

I’m used to finding others who have noted these twins or “DoubleQuotes” as I call them — “DoubleQuotes in the Wild” — but I’m not sure I’ve ever run across a clear description of someone else noting them, let alone in a scholarly manner that bridges the secular west and spiritual east — but lookee here!


Amazing indeed! And what a line! Your lips are like a thread of scarlet! worthy of Li Po, worthy indeed of the Song of Songs!

I’d have been very chuffed if I’d run across the same doublet between Li Bai – better known to me as Li Po — and the Song of Songs — which, by the way, is Solomon’s.


Li Po, who, drunk and out in a shallow boat, saw the moon reflected in the Yellow River, leaned over to kiss it, and drowned..

Solomon — but you know the story — seated in judgement, ordered a child be cut in two when two women claimed to be its mother — then commanded it be given to the one whose shocked pure love begged him to deliver it to the other.. wisdom as the test of love!


The discoverer of the binary “Your lips are like a thread of scarlet!” is a brilliant, generous-hearted, flawed founder and leader of a seminary in France who displeases ambitious Vaticanisti, is offered a choice of disgrace (on account off his flaws) or (as an “out”) a posting to an obscure but copacetic position in Shanghai..

A conversation ensues, in which he discusses his options with the nun who serves as his assistant:

The nun ancourages him to consider the Shanghai option..

That option has a certain seductive charm — following that scarlet thread.. but it represents being “bought off” rather than sticking by one’s guns come what may, and somehow weathering the consequences.


Our nun reflects:

And that’s an interesting idea.

At first glace it seems fatalistic — but that current moving the corks — the seminarians, the nun herself, the priest she serves, an ambitious president of the Franch bishops, various monsignori and a pope – maybe Christ, too? — has its own flows and undertows — a priest’s flaws included. It’s a complex system.

The corks are afloat in a complex system. A scarlet thread traces its curve in the complex system, from contemporary France to eighth- century China.


And when you’re afloat in a complex system — as we all are — “go with the flow” may be sound advice. That’s why the “corks in a current” idea seems so interesting to me. Sunday surprise!

Kayfabe is an analog for war and love maybe, not a model

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — hat-tip to Ferdinando Buscema, magician and therefore cognitive science specialist extraordinaire ]


Occasionally one reads a truly stunning article — stunning, I mean stunnng.

Eric R. Weinstein‘s 2011 Edge answer, WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY’S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT? is one such article, and as such I have retained the full caps in its title.

The theoretical background is :

Evolutionary biologists Richard Alexander and Robert Trivers have recently emphasized that it is deception rather than information that often plays the decisive role in systems of selective pressures. Yet most of our thinking continues to treat deception as something of a perturbation on the exchange of pure information, leaving us unprepared to contemplate a world in which fakery may reliably crowd out the genuine. In particular, humanity’s future selective pressures appear likely to remain tied to economic theory which currently uses as its central construct a market model based on assumptions of perfect information.

If we are to take selection more seriously within humans, we may fairly ask what rigorous system would be capable of tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears. Such a system, in continuous development for more than a century, is known to exist and now supports an intricate multi-billion dollar business empire of pure hokum. It is known to wrestling’s insiders as “Kayfabe”.

Evolutionary biology, okay — I have other preferences for go-to model theory, but this one seems popular among non-magical realists on the cutting edge.. and the analog proposed in this article is kayfabe.


Which is?

What can be seen as “tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears”? What, in other words, can model all these altered realities? And kayfabe cannot be the answer, since it is one of those altered realities itself. No — for sure, it may provide a superb analog for professional wrestling and those others — “war, finance, love, politics and science” — mentioned later in the piece:

Kayfabrication (the process of transition from reality towards Kayfabe) arises out of attempts to deliver a dependably engaging product for a mass audience while removing the unpredictable upheavals that imperil participants. As such Kayfabrication is a dependable feature of many of our most important systems which share the above two characteristics such as war, finance, love, politics and science.

— but it cannot model them.


Let’s take a closer look at the analogy, though:

What makes Kayfabe remarkable is that it gives us potentially the most complete example of the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery.

That’s skirting the “model” concept again, but:

While most modern sports enthusiasts are aware of wrestling’s status as a pseudo sport, what few alive today remember is that it evolved out of a failed real sport (known as “catch” wrestling) which held its last honest title match early in the 20th century. Typical matches could last hours with no satisfying action, or end suddenly with crippling injuries to a promising athlete in whom much had been invested.


The idea was to avoid two “paradoxical risks”:

  • Occasional but Extreme Peril for the participants
  • General: Monotony for both audience and participants
  • Think about that in the context of war — extensive boredom punctuated by episodes of extreme risk? Try these descriptions from WWI:

    Since then we have been doing infantry work in the trenches. We have been out of work on our trenches; only shrapnel and snipers. Some one described this war as “Months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.” It is sad that it is such a bad country for cavalry.


    “Months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror” : such is a description of life in the Navy which a naval lieutenant quotes as exactly fitting the facts.

    That covers army and navy, both from Where does the phrase of “boredom punctuated by moments of terror” come from? — but what about the air? It’s not from WWI, but anyway:

    In Barry Lopez’s essay “Flight” (published in About This Life and originally in Harper’s October 1995) he quotes pilots describing flying as “hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of terror.

    And what of love — after, as they say, the honeymoon is over?


    For that matter, and at an entirely different scale, what about the heartbeat?

    That’s “boredome punctuated by excitement” in a nutshell, iterated, and becoming a (mostly) relable rhythm..

    Iterated. Rhythm.


    I’m unconvinced that the heartbeat is an example of “the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery”.. And that’s a crucial element of the general process, eh? It has to do with the way in which “important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery.”

    I’d read that as potentially covering the transition from failed Mueller to successful Fox, if things go that way. YMMV:

    But “general process” — again, what’s the mnodel? And more preciseluy, what would the model look like in “stocks and flows” system dynamic form, say in STELLA? See Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System?


    Or HipBone?

    I’m not convinced Mueller / Fox is a “boredom then excitement” example, much less that Mueller and Fox are allied in producing their result, whatever this may turn out to be — but Democrat and Republican, perhaps..

    And my search for the abstraction, the underlying model of the general process proposed continues..


    KAYFABE in Professional Wrestling tells us more:

    To lift the veil on the world of professional wrestling, we need to take a look at the term ‘kayfabe‘. Kayfabe is a wrestling word coming from the early carnival days of wrestling for the word “keep”, originally used as “keep quiet”, or “keep secret”. Kayfabe is often seen as the suspension of disbelief that is used to create the non-wrestling aspects of the business, such as feuds, angles and wrestling gimmicks (or in layman terms, a wrestler’s on-screen persona from their personality down to their attire). In relative terms, a wrestler breaking kayfabe during a show would be likened to an actor breaking character on camera.

    In the past, it was common for wrestlers to adhere to maintaining kayfabe in public, even when outside the ring and off-camera, in order to preserve the illusion that the competition in pro wrestling was not staged.

    Kayfabe breaking as analogous to “an actor breaking character on camera”? And kayfabe transitioning from “virtual” to “real” — another of our favorite themes? Here we are again, from our first source:

    Importantly, Kayfabe also seems to have discovered the limits of how much disbelief the human mind is capable of successfully suspending before fantasy and reality become fully conflated. Wrestling’s system of lies has recently become so intricate that wrestlers have occasionally found themselves engaging in real life adultery following exactly behind the introduction of a fictitious adulterous plot twist in a Kayfabe back-story.

    So “wrestlers have occasionally found themselves” — wrestlers, plural, found themselves engaging, plural — in adultery? Our model needs to accomodatee this plurality along with all the rest.


Systems, loops, forms, diagrams, games

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — among other things, a great lecture on complexity / complicity in a complex world ]


I am always on about form, practicing ways of seeing form, of recognizing pattern in the very structure and logic of events — as though that practice were practical, had some eventual fruitfulness in practice, in the world of worldly affairs. And it may seem strange, erratic, off-course to many of my readers here, especially those who arrive in mid-stream, or with expectations of specifically strategic insight.

The other day I watched a lecture a friend of mine gave a couple of years back, and I wanted to bring it here because — tangentially — with its loops and diagrams it shows underlying form as it in-forms the games we play, the worlds they conjure, the ways we understand and navigate them, and the world around us — in which we find ourselves, and on which they are, however remotely and ingeniously, based.

My friend Mike has been lead designer on Sims 2 and Ultima Online among other games, and is currently a Professor of Practice in game design at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Mike Sellers..

More from Sellers’ bio:

He has a Bacon Number of 2 and hopes someday to have an Erdos Number.

Oh — and he was an extra — lucky dog, sorta — in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now.


My own analytic approach, my insistence on monitoring form as well as content, and my own HipBone Games all work at the underlying / subconscious level at which Mike pitches his talk. I hope this helps you understand what I’m about — but even if it doesn’t, it’s a fine introduction to game design and the understanding of a complex world by the man who famously reminded his fellow game designers:

An idea isn’t a design. A design is not a program. A program is not a product. A product is not a business. A business is not profit. Profit is not happiness.

Good thinking, from a good friend.

“KarlreMarks” Sharro moves on

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — from Abu A and Abu B to Steve and Donnie ]

Karl Sharro is a Middle Eastern architect and satirist based in London, whose two modes of “simply” explaining the Middle East I presented a while back. His third view envisions ISIS as a board game, and asks Who can devise the most convoluted way to wipe out the Islamic State?


Anyway, KarlreMarx has two jihadist ezxtremists he’s been tracking for some while — Abu A and Abu B:

Outside Sharro’s fevered imagination, ISIS does indeed have an air force — of weaponized drones.

Suicide? No, martydom — and individual ISIS members are as expendable as their goals are lofty:

Sometimes, to be honest, those goals make little sense..

— and besides, eclipses are signs of impending apocalypse..


Time rolls on, however — and Sharro has shifted his target. As he put it in a tweet today, “I decided to retire Abu A and Abu B and replace them with another radicalised pair”:

Steve and Donnie — two’s company.

We shall see what we shall see..

Mental health and terrorism

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — turbulence (ie complexity) at the confluence of motives ]

Shaping strategy — Constant turbulence and disruption


Mental health and terrorism — a major article in today’s CTC Sentinel describes the nuances. From the conclusion:

What we see from the existing research is that lone-actor terrorism is usually the culmination of a complex mix of personal, political, and social drivers that crystalize at the same time to drive the
individual down the path of violent action. This should be no different for those inspired by the Islamic State. Whether the violence comes to fruition is usually a combination of the availability and vulnerability of suitable targets and the individual’s capability to engage in an attack from both a psychological and technical capability standpoint. Many individual cases share a mixture of personal life circumstances coupled with an intensification of beliefs that later developed into the idea to engage in violence. What difers is how these influences were sequenced. Sometimes personal problems led to a susceptibility to ideological influences. Sometimes long-held ideological influences became intensified after the experience of personal problems. This is why we should be wary of mono-causal ‘master narratives’ about how this process unfolds. Mental health problems are undoubtedly important in some cases. Intuitively, we might see how in some cases it can make carrying out violence easier. In other cases, it may make the adoption of the ideology easier because of delusional thinking or fixated behaviors. However, it will only ever be one of many drivers in an individual’s pathway to violence. In many cases, it may be present but completely unrelated. The development of radicalization and attack planning behaviors is usually far more labyrinthine and dynamic than one single factor can explain, be it mental disorders (today’s go-to silver-bullet explanation), online radicalization (another popular silver-bullet explanation), or root causes that encompass socio-demographic characteristics.

We must also bear in mind that the relationship between mental health problems and terrorist engagement is just one part of the story. Given the scale and types of violence being conducted by the Islamic State, many perpetrators will develop mental health problems as a byproduct of involvement as opposed to it being a driver of involvement.

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