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Of game, the little brother of war

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Maori Haka vs Aboriginal War Dance, Rugby Football, the Huron origins of Lacrosse. the UK's Adventurous Training manual, and a testosteronic Christ with whip by El Greco ]
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Let’s start with war dances on the twenty-first century Rugby football field. Here’s the Maori Haka vs the Aboriginal War Cry — in a video that’s all the more remarkable in that it pits two forms of Australasian war dance against one another:

One wonders whether the game can be won or lost before the game begins…

One commentator on the above clip said, “I’m guessing we’ll see something very similar when Tonga take on Samoa on Friday night”.

Here’s Tonga vs Samoa — not quite so ediying, perhaps, but a little closer to war?

– and, for what it’s worth, here’s New Zealand Maori Vs Tonga absent the feathers and war-paint:

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What’s going on here is another of the intersections of wars and games — and that should be of interest to anyone who would like to see less conflict and more resolution.

Back in 2005, I wrote our my “vision” of games, and included the following:

In the back of my mind there’s a sense that games of high risk are somehow of great importance -– that gambling is not the province solely of addicts (players) and mafiosi (“the house”) but of some archaic and primordial importance that was sensed by the native peoples of America when they made gambling and the playing of games and sports a feature of their spiritual life.

By way of example, I quoted this excerpt from The Creator’s Game:

The Game of lacrosse was given to our people by the Creator to play for his amusement. Just as a parent will gain much amusement at the sight of watching his child playing joyfully with a new gift, so it was intended that the Creator be similarly amused by viewing his “children” playing lacrosse in a manner which was so defiant of fatigue.

And concluded:

Iry to bear in mind the tale of early ganes of chess in which the player was his own King on the board, subject to death if the game was lost — and of the ball games of the Mayans, where a whole team would be sacrificed to the gods if they played so superbly as to win…

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And so to Lacrosse…

vennum cover

In The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries
in New France 1610—1791
, we read:

Of three kinds of games especially in use among these Peoples, — namely, the games of crosse, dish, and straw, — the first two are, they say, most healing. Is not this worthy of compassion? There is a poor sick man, fevered of body and almost dying, and a miserable Sorcerer will order for him, as a cooling remedy, a game of crosse. Or the sick man himself, sometimes, will have dreamed that he must die unless the whole country shall play crosse for his health; and, no matter how little may be his credit, you will see then in a beautiful field, Village contending against Village, as to who will play crosse the better, and betting against one another Beaver robes and Porcelain collars, so as to excite greater interest.

Sometimes, also, one of these jugglers will say that the whole Country is sick, and he asks a game of crosse to heal it; no more needs to be said, it is published immediately everywhere; and all the Captains of each Village give orders that all the young men do their duty in this respect, otherwise some great misfortune would befall the whole Country.

One account of the early game indicates that it had no boundaries, and only a single rule:

The Native American games were seen as major events, which took place over several days.They were played over huge open areas between villages and the goals, which might be trees or other natural features, were anything from 500 yards to several miles apart. Any number of players were involved. Some estimates have mentioned between 100 and 100,000 players participating in a game at any one time. The rules were very simple, the ball was not to be touched by a player’s hand and there were no boundaries. The ball was tossed into the air to indicate the start of the game and players raced to be the first to catch it.

Here’s Prof. Anthony Aveni‘s description of the game, in The Indian Origins of Lacrosse:

Originally, the lacrosse field lay on rough ground with opposing goal trees, or posts if vegetation was not convenient, as much as a mile apart. One game witnessed by a colonist tells of two villages engaging each other, hundreds of men on the field at once. The swiftest players usually would engage at the center of the field and the slower arranged themselves around the goal posts. The heavier players held the ground in between.

Once the sphere was tossed up, the player who caught it “immediately set out at full speed towards the opposite goal. If too closely pursued, he throws the ball in the direction of his own side, who takes up the race”—this from a description by a mid-nineteenth century witness. This account fits the present version of lacrosse, except that the old game was more violent. Often in striking the opponent’s stick to dislodge the ball, a player inflicted severe injury to an arm or leg. One chronicler tells us: “Legs and arms are broken, and it has even happened that a player has been killed. It is quite common to see someone crippled for the rest of his life who would not have had this misfortune but for his own obstinacy.” In this instance the player refused to give up the ball, which he had trapped on the ground between his feet.

Regarding the question of injury, Vennum (who wrote the book, see above) xplains:

Europeans were less impressed by the violence that they witnessed than by the lack of anger over injuries or losses. Almost all writers mention this “stoic” Indian characteristic.

Parkman‘s account of the “Pontiac Conspiracy” describes one such game in which the little brother of war deftly became its elder brother:

Bushing and striking, tripping their adversaries, or hurling them to the ground, they pursued the animating contest amid the laughter and applause of the spectators. Suddenly, from the midst of the multitude, the ball soared into the air and, descending in a wide curve, fell near the pickets of the fort. This was no chance stroke. It was part of a preconcerted scheme to insure the surprise and destruction of the garrison. As if in pursuit of the ball, the players turned and came rushing, a maddened and tumultuous throng, towards the gate. In a moment they had reached it. The amazed English had no time to think or act. The shrill cries of the ball-players were changed to the ferocious war-whoop. The warriors snatched from the squaws the hatchets which the latter, with this design, had concealed beneath their blankets. Some of the Indians assailed the spectators without, while others rushed into the fort, and all was carnage and confusion.

And little brother is still recognized as family into modern times. James Vennum writes:

During the Cherokee Fall Festival in North Carolina, I once watched the Wolftown Wolves beat the Wolftown Bears. Although the field was surrounded by carnival rides and food concession stands, little had changed in the Cherokee game since 1888, when it was described and photographed by James Mooney, who must have come by wagon on a dirt road to get there. Each team still marched abreast in line by degrees to midfield, letting out ritual war whoops and yells as they faced their opponents and laid down their sticks to be counted.

At the conclusion of the Cherokee game, in keeping with tradition, the teams were “taken to water,” an ancient ritual meant to cleanse and restore them from their warlike condition during the game.

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I’m writing this post, as always, for my own instruction and delight — but also to give context to the recent Kings of War post, Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure:

Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,” AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” There are currently nine core AT activities and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities.

The Joint Services Pamphlet 419: Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme can be downloaded here:

adventurous training

As you’ll see therein, the nine activities are..

Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.

Mark you, I still don’t entirely understand why they include, say, kayaking, but not parkour — surely a high risk game as close to what might afford helpsul skills in urban warfare as we’re likely to see:

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And quite incidentally, because I also ran across it today, because I’m interested in religion, because testosterone is the reductionist’s broad-strokes explanation for Rugby, Lacrosse, haka and war alike — and because I love El Greco above all other painters:

The blogger who has taken the pseudonym Archbishop Cranmer was writing about feminist theology today, and inter alia described Christ as..

a macho realist who deployed His divine testosterone on numerous occasions.

As in John 2.15:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

From the National Gallery in London, one of the later versions:

Greco

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Of butterflies, snowboarders, tornados and avalanches

Monday, April 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- deeply uncertain as to how often he should be grateful for narrow escapes from troubles he was utterly unaware of ]
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See, the first thing I want to know it: is an oblivious butterfly’s wing-flap roughly equivalent to an oblivious snowboader’s short slide across snow? And the second: is a tornado roughly comparable to an avalanche? I mean, a second’s worth of a living creature’s movement in the one case, and a “natural disaster” of somewhat larger proportions in the other?

Of course, the avalanche was closer to the snowboarder, who wound up “riding” it to safety, than Brazil is to Texas. Is that a difference that makes a difference?

The first quote above is from Laura Zuckerman‘s Reuters report, No charges for snowboarder who triggered killer Montana avalanche, posted yesterday, and the second is the title of a celebrated talk given to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Edward Lorenz on December 29, 1972.

Although if it had been given just 3 days later (a very mild change in initial conditions) it would have been given not merely on a different day and to a different audience, but in a different month and a different year… and maybe even mentioned first in different editions of Encyclopedia Britannica and the OED!

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Well, see, I am also interested because in the paper with that intriguing title, Lorenz also said:

You can fill the lower panel with your own conclusion as to the question of the snowboarder: is there one of them helping us avoid an avalanche for very one that sets one going? Does it all cancel out in the long run?

From Zuckerman’s article again, broadening our scope from one incident in Montana to see the wider picture:

Almost all U.S. avalanches that affect people strike in the backcountry of the mountainous West and are caused by snowmobilers, skiers and snowboarders who inadvertently trigger them. Avalanches have killed 26 people so far this season, records show.

How many avalanches have we already missed this year thanks to other snowmobilers, skiers and snowboarders? And have we expressed our gratitude?

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On a somewhat similar tack, I wrote back in 2009:

A deer crossed perhaps twelve feet ahead of my car on the road from Sedona, Arizona to Cottonwood a year or two back. 60 mph is 88 feet per second. A tenth of a second later and the deer and or I would likely have been dead — one full second later, he or she would have crossed sixty feet behind me and I would have seen nothing, known nothing.

There are deer constantly crossing our paths sixty feet behind us — and it’s a normal day at the office, it’s one more day like any other: sunny, then partly cloudy, with a ten percent chance of rain.

Another time, and this was in Southern California, my car skidded out of control on a slick road as I was driving home with son Emlyn (then age 10). We hit the 3′ concrete center divider, jumped it, and flipped over, landing upside down. Emlyn and I climbed out with minor scratches — making sure we could climb out through the squished windows was the main issue. We were unscathed, but the car itself was totalled.

Had I taken that turn three seconds earlier or later, hitting a slicker or drier patch of road, and angling more or less steeply at the center divider — would we have been, in words made famous by wanted posters long before Schrodinger’s cat pondered them: Dead or Alive

Who knows?

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I suspect we have no idea how many close shaves and narrow escapes we have over the course of a lifetime — but the Recording Angel might know, and be in a state of perpetual hysterics over our ability to ignore a dozen near-disasters while getting totally discombobulated over a very minor incident that we happen to notice…

Unless the Recording Angel, too, is subject to Heisenberg‘s uncertainty and Schrodinger’s collapse…

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Regarding the Lesser and Greater Sludges

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the warnings, the lack of response, the tragedy, and a diagnosis of the underlying, near-universal human condition ]
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Devastation wrought by the Lesser Sludge, Snohomish County, WA, March 2014

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Hear ye! Hear ye!

The most stunning account I’ve yet seen of the Oso mudslide isn’t really about the slide itself, it’s about how much we already knew and how little we listened. Here’s an interview with geomorph­ologist Daniel Miller, who wrote up the danger of a slide in a 1997 report for the Washington Department of Ecology and the Tulalip Tribes, and followed it up with a report for the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1999, in which he warned of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure”:

Compare and contrast that with the quote from a piece yesterday on Vice Motherboard titled Lidar Mapping Could Save Lives Before the Next Mudslide:

Nevertheless the county believed that it was safe to build homes down by the Stillaguamish River. “It was considered very safe,” John Pennington, head of Snohomish County’s Department of Emergency Management, said at a news conference Monday. “This was a completely unforeseen slide. This came out of nowhere.”

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The Lesser Sludge:

According to Chapter 14, Landslides and other mass movements, in Snohomish County’s 2010 Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan Update:

Mudslides or mudflows (or debris flows) are rivers of rock, earth, organic matter and other soil materials saturated with water. They develop in the soil overlying bedrock on sloping surfaces when water rapidly accumulates in the ground, such as during river of rock, earth, organic matter and other heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt. Water pressure in the pore spaces of the material increases to the point that the internal strength of the soil is drastically weakened. The soil’s reduced resistance can then easily be overcome by gravity, changing the earth into a flowing river of mud or “slurry.” A debris flow or mudflow can move rapidly down slopes or through channels, and can strike with little or no warning at avalanche speeds. The slurry can travel miles from its source, growing as it descends, picking up trees, boulders, cars and anything else in its path. Although these slides behave as fluids, they pack many times the hydraulic force of water due to the mass of material included in them. Locally, they can be some of the most destructive events in nature.

— and their Hazard Profile comments:

Landslides are caused by one or a combination of the following factors: change in slope of the terrain, increased load on the land, shocks and vibrations, change in water content, groundwater movement, frost action, weathering of rocks, and removing or changing the type of vegetation covering slopes.

Note that no human intervention is required — this is what an insurance writer might call an “act of God” while a scientist might prefer to call it the result of “natural causes”.

As for myself, I would like to refer to the actual mudflow consisting of “rock, earth, organic matter and other soil materials saturated with water” that recently buried much of the small, humanly-populated town of Osa in Snohomish County, WA, as the Lesser Sludge.

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Hear ye!

Listen! Warnings have been issued for millennia — and still the kings, the potentates, the real estate moguls refuse to listen:

Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle.

— Jeremiah 19:3

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Managua:

I was in Managua, Nicaragua, shortly after the 1972 earthquake there. I had spent the day before with a 35mm Pentax, photographing square block after square block of demolished housing, with the occasional yellow flag indicating that a body — hence a possible source of infection — had been located there, too deep to be retrieved at that point. And I recall all too vividly what the physician sitting next to me on the plane home said to me:

They will rebuild on this same spot.

Managua had been the site of previous quakes, including one in 1885, and another in 1931 — it was at risk for serious quakes roughly twice a century. But real estate is real estate, Managua as Nicaragua’s capital city was valuable real estate, and the owners of valuable real estate would want to rebuild on their own real estate, no? It only makes logical sense…

And they did.

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What, then, is the Greater Sludge?

What I am calling the Greater Sludge is the mental sludge that somehow lodges itself, not just in this instance but in ten thousand others, between appropriate warnings on the one hand, and acting on the need for change on the other.

The Greater Sludge, in other words, is between our ears and behind our eyes: we cannot see it, and we cannot hear it.

I spent the better part of a decade working and talking with the fine group of social entrepreneurs that Jeff Skoll‘s foundation gathered for discussions at the late, lamented SocialEdge site, and I noticed something that struck me forcibly at the time, and has only become more deeply rooted in my thinking since then: we have Foundations, think tanks, journals, RFPs, and funding reources for all manner of top-down approaches to single-issue problems — depleted or polluted water supplies, lack of housing, education, medicine, you name it. We even have a few people like Anthony Judge and his Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, trying to see the complex interweavings of multiple problems — and a few more like Victor d’Allant and his team at Urb.Im working on bottom-up solutions.

But there isn’t really even a category for approaches to the problem of the Greater Sludge: our need to make across-the-board improvements in mental clarity isn’t even on the map.

And yet mental sludge is the greatest obstacle facing all those who see problems and have the clarity to know how to go about fixing them: from distraction and disinterest to outright denial, the many shades of sludge constitute our one totally interdisciplinary, wholly integral and universal problem.

Conversely, clarity in that invisible space behind the eyes, the ability to hear the quiet voice of sanity above the babel-babble between the ears — that would be the universal solvent.

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Further readings:

  • Critical thinking — cf. The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking
  • Bias avoidance — cf. The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis and The Mind’s Lie
  • Systemic thinking — cf. Places to Intervene in a System and Dancing with Systems
  • Associzative leaps — cf. On the HipBone and Sembl games: update and Recap: on HipBone / Sembl Thinking
  • Then read the whole sad mudslide and warnings story at the Seattle Times again, and weep:

    I think we did the best that we could under the constraints that nobody wanted to sell their property and move…

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    Rasputin’s Apocalypse

    Friday, August 23rd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- most likely a "foolish virgin" (Matthew 25) -- I had no idea today was the day until today ]
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    According to Pravda, which I believe means Truth:

    August 23, 2013 is the day, for which the infamous Grigory Rasputin predicted the end of the world in the beginning of the last century. Rasputin predicted a “terrible storm” in which fire would swallow all life on land, and then life would die on the whole planet. He also said that Jesus Christ would come down to Earth to comfort people in distress.

    I would be remiss if I did not attempt to warn you…

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    The easy way or the hard way?

    Saturday, June 1st, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- thinking more in terms of challenge than of threat, and skipping via Chicago Law, Everest, and Handel's Messiah to a Venn diagram of the workings of conscience ]
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    Well, I don’t always read the Chicago Law Review cover to cover, or even at all to be honest — but I confess I did like this opening paragraph from George Loewenstein† & Ted O’Donoghue†† (love those daggers after your names, guys):

    If you ever have the misfortune to be interrogated, and the experience resembles its depiction in movies, it is likely that your interrogator will inform you that “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The interrogator is telling you, with an economy of words, that you are going to spill the beans; the only question is whether you will also get tortured — which is the hard way. In this Essay, we argue that much consumption follows a similar pattern, except that the torturer is oneself.

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    Here’s the easy vs hard contrast I was thinking about as I googled my way to the Law Review — as you’ll see, it has nothing to do with interrogation:

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    So, a little background. Jason Burke has been covering Everest for The Guardian lately, since it has been almost exactly sixty years since Hillary and Tenzing were the first to “conquer” the highest peak on earth — and one of his reports caught my eye — Everest may have ladder installed to ease congestion on Hillary Step:

    It was the final obstacle, the 40 feet of technical climbing up a near vertical rock face that pushed Sir Edmund Hillary to the limit. Once climbed, the way to the summit of Mount Everest lay open.

    Now, almost exactly 60 years after the New Zealander and his rope-mate, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, stood on the highest point in the planet, a new plan has been mooted to install a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, as the crucial pitch at nearly 29,000ft has been known since it was first ascended. The aim is to ease congestion.

    That’s what the upper panel, above, is all about — and I think it contrasts nicely with the bottom panel, which shows a rurp. Should you need one, you can obtain your own Black Diamond rurp here.

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    Rurps are awesome. Here are two descriptions of them, both taken from the mountaineering literature, and neither one of them focusing in too closely on the poetry of the name…

    Steve Rope, Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber, p. 107:

    Chouinard’s “rurp” was obviously something special. An acronym for “realized ultimate reality piton,” this ludicrously small fragment of heat-treated steel opened our eyes to untold possibilities.

    and Chris Jones, Climbing in North America, p. 273:

    It was about the size of a postage stamp. The business end was the thickness of a knife blade and penetrated only a quarter-inch into the rock. With several of these Realized Ultimate Reality Pitons, or rurps, Chouinard and Frost made the crux pitch on Kat Pinnacle (A4). It was the most difficult aid climb in North America.

    Chouinard named this postage-stamp-sized thing the realized ultimate reality piton (RURP) because if you willingly and literally hang your life on that quarter-inch of steel, you’re liable to realize, well, ultimate reality.

    Zen — yours for $15 and exemplary courage.

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    Here’s my question: should we make the hard way easier?

    When is that a kindness, and when is it foolish?

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    In its own way, of course, a rurp is an assist — it makes the hard way a tad easier for the serious climber.

    As indeed would the proposed “ladder” on Everest: here’s why it might be not-such-a-bad idea:

    This year, 520 climbers have reached the summit of Everest. On 19 May, around 150 climbed the last 3,000ft of the peak from Camp IV within hours of each other, causing lengthy delays as mountaineers queued to descend or ascend harder sections.

    “Most of the traffic jams are at the Hillary Step because only one person can go up or down. If you have people waiting two, three or even four hours that means lots of exposure [to risk]. To make the climbing easier, that would be wrong. But this is a safety feature,” said Sherpa…

    Besides, the idea is to set it up as a one-way street…

    Frits Vrijlandt, the president of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), said the ladder could be a solution to the increasing numbers of climbers on the mountain.

    “It’s for the way down, so it won’t change the climb,” Vrijlandt told the Guardian.

    Ah, but then there’s human nature to consider:

    It is unlikely, however, that tired ascending climbers close to their ultimate goal will spurn such an obvious aid at such an altitude.

    Bah!

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    Shouldn’t we just level the top off, as Handel and Isaiah 4.4 suggest, and as we’re doing in the Appalachians?

    A little mountaintop removal mining, a helipad, and voilà — even I could make it to the summit!

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    But to return to Loewenstein† & O’Donoghue†† — their paper’s full title was “We Can Do This the Easy Way or the Hard Way”: Negative Emotions, Self-Regulation, and the Law — how can a theologian such as myself resist a diagram such as this?

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