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Footnoted readings 04 – CVE, jihad & liminality

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a term from cultural anthropology as a marker for jihadist intensity ]
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Ahmed S. Younis, Deputy Special Envoy and Coordinator, Global Engagement Center, U.S. Department of State, during the George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security event, Toward a Global Partnership to Counter Online Radicalization and Extremism, the Understanding Online Counter-Messaging panel, March 28,2017, a little after the 2 hr 03’50” mark in the video above:

I would posit that terrorism and extremism by their definition are liminal states. They are defined by their inbetweenness. And often when we see someone who is radicalizing towards terrorism, they are shifting in a crevice between a series of pieces of life that bring them to a place where this type of activity appears as a solution or an option for their frustration with lived experience. And we lose, as people who want to fight this effort, when we try to pretend this is all about shariah and fiqh and issues of Islam. .. If radicalizing is sexy, then that sexiness is by definition interdisciplinary, and we have to meet people in the liminality of their moment. .. Reality is complex, and it is interdisciplinary.

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My eyes prick up — I know, “pricking up” is really a phrase that’s apt for the ears, but I think it should apply to the eyes as well — my eyes do a double-take when I see the word “liminal”. It signals importance.

I’ve talked about liminality before, lightheartedly [Liminality I: the kitsch part] and more seriously [Liminality II: the serious part] — but by way of a reminder, I’ll just quote two stories from the latter, along with this definition:

liminality is between-ness — it’s what happens on thresholds

Here are the two stories:

Something pretty remarkable happened as 1999 turned into 2000 — something liminal. And it happened aboard the USS Topeka, SSN-754 (below):

USS Topeka, credit: United States Navy, released ID 090623-N-1126G-005

The Associated Press reported:

Its bow in one year, its stern in another, the USS Topeka marked the new millennium 400 feet beneath the International Dateline in the Pacific ocean. The Pearl Harbor-based navy submarine straddled the line, meaning that at midnight, one end was in 2000 while the other was still in 1999… The 360-foot-long sub, which was 2,100 miles from Honolulu, Hawaii, straddled the Equator at the same time, meaning it was in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Some of the 130 crewmembers were in Winter in the North, while others were in Summer in the South…

Sitting pretty on the threshold between two millennia, two centuries, two decades, years, seasons, months, days and hemispheres was an extraordinarily liminal idea — as the two-faced January is a liminal month — and I think illustrates effectively the terrific power of the liminal to sway human thinking

Navy commanders in charge of billion dollar ships seldom get up to such “fanciful” behaviors!

And if we might turn from the contemporary US Navy and its submarine to ancient Indian mythology and Hindu religion for a moment:

Narsingh avatar depicted in Nepali dance, credit: Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters / Landov

The story of Narsingh (above), the fourth avatar of Vishnu in Vaisnavism, also captures the idea of what’s meant by thresholds very nicely:

A tyrannous and oppressive king obtained a boon from the gods that he should die “neither by day nor night, neither within the palace nor outside it, neither at the hand of man nor beast” and thought his boon conveyed immortality — but when he persecuted his son, a devotee of God, a half-man half-lion figure — the Narsingh avatar of Vishnu — met him on his own doorstep at dusk and slew him, so that he died neither by day nor by night, neither within the palace nor outside it, and neither at the hand of beast nor of man.

Dusk, doorsteps and metamorphs are all liminal — with respect to day and night, home and abroad, man and beast respectively.

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Two other references at the intersection of terrorism and liminality:

Arthur Saniotis writes in Re-Enchanting Terrorism: Jihadists as “Liminal Beings”:

Religious terrorists have been the subject of much scholarly scrutiny. While such analyses have endeavored to elucidate the ideological logic and implications of religious terrorism, the transnational character of jihadists necessitates new ways of understanding this phenomenon. My article attempts to explain how jihadists can be defined as liminal beings who seek to re-enchant the world via their symbolic and performative features. Jihadists’ strategically position themselves as ambiguous not only as a distinguishing device, but also to enhance their belief of a cosmic war on earth. Jihadists’ use of symbolic imagery on the internet works within the ambit of a magical kind of panoptic power which seeks to both impress and terrify viewers.

And Marisa Urgo Shaalan, in the course of a post on Liminality at her Making Sense of Jihad blog powerfully comments:

perhaps the most important factor drawing many young men into jihad is the sense that it is authentic and sacramental life. [And I mean sacramental. Jihad is a sacred act that they are told guarantees them paradise.]

Recommended.

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I’d be very interested to learn more about Dr Younis’ insights into liminality in jihadist recruitment, and it’s implications for CVE.

Sunday surprise — naval biology, the sad fact of the matter

Monday, March 20th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — hilarious, with a hat-tip to Dr Farls — thundering herds of battleships, eh? ]
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Next up — the anti-eagle drone

Friday, February 10th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a variant on my cherished “eagle/weasel, carp/osprey” pairs — this time a mechanical vs organic pair ]
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Air superiority on this occasion belongs to the eagle:

A golden eagle carries a flying drone away during a military training exercise at Mont-de-Marsan French Air Force base. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

What’s next?

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Humans train and launch eagles; humans train and launch drones:

What must follow, to my way of thinking, is reciprocal escalation.

After the anti-drone eagle as depicted above, we will have the anti-eagle drone, then the anti-drone eagle modified to take down anti-eagle drones in an ascending spiral of anti-anti-anti drones and eagles.

Thus also: eagles : air force :: dolphins : navy

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Sources:

  • Reuters, France watches skies for Russian wargames, domestic drone threat
  • MakerFaire:Lisbon, FPV Drone Racing at the Maker Faire!
  • Business Insider, The US Navy’s combat dolphins are serious military assets
  • Firefights, breath, & meditation

    Monday, June 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — remembering my father, Capt Orford Gordon Cameron, DSC, RN ]
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    I came across two pieces with overlapping descriptions of what happens to the body, perceptions, and thought, in a firefight. As is my habit, I’ve picked some of the essential text and accompanying illustration in each case, and offer them to you in my DoubleQuote format:

    DQ Breath and time dilation

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    The first quote, with the Boyd OODA Loop diagram heading it, comes from Tim Lynch‘s Fourth Generation War Comes To America: What Are You Going To Do About It?, which Michael Yon linked to.

    Lynch’s piece is his response to the Orlando shooting, its thrust being that the event went on way too long, and that we need more people to identify (and prepare) themselves as sheepdogs:

    Human Sheepdogs are, by nature, not a threat to their fellow citizens but are death dealing fighting machines when they, their loved ones or the sheep (other citizens) are in peril.

    In particular, Lynch delivers a mini-seminar on the essential contents of two books:

  • LTC Dave Grossman, On Killing
  • Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear
  • The second comes from Adam Linehan‘s This Is Your Brain On War at Task & Purpose. Again, the topic centers around Grossman’s work, but in this case the framing has to do with the tranfer of psychological insight from sports medicine to the military profession.

    There’s more in Linehan’s piece that’s relevant to my posting here than I’ve been able to quote in my “tablet” DQ format, so here’s some additional detail:

    The moment an engagement kicks off, the body initiates a dramatic response, beginning with the circulatory system, which immediately shunts blood away from the body surface. This, Grossman explains, is the body preparing to suck up damage.

    Preparing to absorb damage, the circulatory system moves blood away from the body’s surface to its core.

    “It’s called vasoconstriction. Just before the capillaries, there’s a mechanical shutdown of the blood flow, and now the arteries and the body core are holding up to twice as much blood. That’s why the face goes white.”

    There are two primary reasons for this. One, it helps prevent bruising, which is what happens when the capillaries and veins burst from blunt force trauma. If there’s no blood, they remain intact. But more importantly, the redirected blood flow helps keep the person alive long enough to finish the fight. [ .. ]

    Blood drains from the brain’s rational control center (the forebrain), leaving the midbrain in full control, at which point, you will do what you’ve been trained to do.

    That’s because, at its most extreme, vasoconstriction affects the brain, too. “As the blood drains from the face, blood drains from the forebrain, and there’s no rational thought,” Grossman explains. “I call that ‘condition black.’ And at condition black, the midbrain is in charge, and you’ll do what you’ve been trained to do — no more, no less. You will do what you’ve been programmed to do — no more, no less.”

    Thus, if a soldier reaches condition black and lacks adequate training, there’s a good chance he or she will freeze up. A well-trained soldier, on the other hand, will likely take action to neutralize the threat. “Given a clear and present danger, with today’s training almost everyone will shoot,” Grossman says.

    There are specific impacts on perception, too:

    Many soldiers report barely being able to hear the blast of their own rifles during combat.

    “The lion’s roar is a deafening, stunning event,” says Grossman. “But the lion doesn’t hear his roar, just like the dog doesn’t hear his bark. Their ears shut down, and so do ours. Gunpowder is our roar.”

    Under high stress, the nerve connecting the inner ear and the brain shuts down, resulting in temporary hearing loss, or “auditory exclusion.”

    This phenomenon is called “auditory exclusion,” and it’s a result of the nerve that connects the inner ear and the brain shutting down in the heat of battle. According to Grossman, 90% of combat soldiers report having experienced auditory exclusion. “You get caught by surprise in an ambush. Boom. Boom. Boom. The shots are loud and overwhelming. You return fire, boom. The shots get quiet, but you’re still getting hearing damage.”

    A soldier’s vision can also be affected by combat, and Grossman uses two different so-called predator models — the “charging lion” and the “wolf-pack dynamic” — to explain this.

    This is where the quote I selected about two types of vision — one in tight focus, one diffusely aware of everything going on around you — kicks in.

    And one more thing: there’s time-dilation.

    A number of soldiers and law enforcement officers whom Grossman has interviewed reported being able track incoming rounds with their eyes.

    There is another phenomenon involving vision that is widely disputed, but which Grossman insists is real, and that’s the experience of what he calls “slow-motion time.”

    “I have had hundreds of people tell me they can see the bullet in combat,” he says. “Many have been able to later point to where the bullet hit, and they could not have done that without tracking the bullet with their eyes. Not like the matrix. It’s like a paintball, where the bullet is slow enough you can track it with your eyes.”

    **

    I’m not much of a gun person — though this is Father’s Day, and I do recall going on exercises aboard my father‘s command (Royal Navy) when I was nine, and firing the Oerlikon and Bofors guns. Why, then, am I interested enough in these two articles to recap them together here?

    It’s because I’m a meditator, and concerned with breath and matters of cognition — so “high end firearms instruction includes breathing exercises that are designed to bleed off adrenaline and keep the pulse below 150” speaks to my daily practice — not because I’m in firefights, but because I want to enter a state of peace, and remain peaceable even when not meditating.

    And that, my friends, means there’s some common ground between warfare and peacefare right here, in the breath. Which is something I think should be of keen interest to all of us.

    Linehan’s article goes into more detail regarding cognition under fire, but two points particularly strike me. The first is that he mentions two states, often in rapid alternation, one involving tightly focused awareness, and the other a wide-angled awareness of 360 degrees around you, not to mention above and below..

    That interests me because there are two major strands of meditative practice, one using a tight focus (eg on the breath, a mantra, etc), and the other picking up on whatever crosses the threshold of consciousness, not only from all around your external environment, but also from the various streams of bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Mantra meditation is of one kind, zen sitting an example of the other.

    Don’t take my word for it, though, I’m probably missing some important subtleties, and practice under the watchful eye of a teacher will give you a far better sense of the distinction and its niceties than I can.

    The last thing? Time dilation.

    It’s my experience — sometimes in meditation, but perhaps most noticeably when I was in a car rolling over and over in the Nevada desert — that time as perceived can both slow down and speed up. There can be all the time in the world to notice every last detail of what’s happening — and it can all be over in a flash, a split-second.

    Words really don’t do such experiences justice, so I’ll leave it at that. But the similarities and commonalities between military experience under fire and meditative experience in the cool of the day are striking enough to warrant in-depth study — or as the meditation community might out it, further contemplation.

    The Battle of the Thames, 2016

    Thursday, June 16th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — in homage to Admiral Lord Nelson turning a blind eye ]
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    Foolish persons, having no understanding of Britain’s long and cherished history of naval warfare, nor of the contemporary relevance of the Monty Python mode of doing battle, have had the temerity to mock today’s splendid outings or innings on the Thames:

    Brexit Battle on Thames

    Foolish persons may be satisfied with the visual splendor depicted in the upper panel, but Zenpundit‘s core strategic following will also appreciate the order of battle below.

    Sources:

  • Evening Standard, Thames flotilla ‘battle’
  • Pádraig Belton, #Flotilla order of battle…
  • **

    In game theoretic terms, as between Nigel Farrage of UKIP and Brussels bureaucracy, I perceive my British fellows to be facing a lose-lose choice.

    Here by way of a suitable corrective is the first suite of Handel’s Water Music:


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