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With gratitude for today’s twitter feast..

Monday, October 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- high risk furniture -- a single tweet with linked explanation, plus two sets of tweets I'd like to see further explained, explored and examined ]
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First, a single tweet from Max Fisher with a catchy title and link, where the URL provides free access to the article in question..

Single tweets like this with URLs are at the heart of intelligent twitter-use, and twitter #FFs are the curatorial device for honing in on them. But there have also been occasions when a string of tweets sets forth a noteworthy argument or tale, as in:

  • Jenan Moussa twitterstreams ISIS rules
  • Teju Cole on Nairobi: death and birdsong, death and poetry
  • Second, here are four tweets from Phil Arena via Adam Elkus:

    Fascinating ideation here, that I’d love to see developed.

    **

    And much the same goes for these five diagrammatic tweets from Darin Self via Phil Arena:

    These are really on the edge of my comprehension, but then again I quite deliberately read above my pay-grade, believing that old saw of Browning‘s:

    A man’s reach should exceed his grasp — or what’s a heaven for?

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    A Quick 1: DoubleTweet

    Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a quick one while I'm toiling away at something longer on Ebola & cultures, and I don't mean the kind in Petrie dishes ]
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    This, today wrt Holland:

    more or less echoes this, wrt LA in March:

    **

    I suspect these two tweets, taken as indicators, support the idea that some at least of those who travel to foreign lands for purposes of fighting do so because adventure is a potent lure. I further suspect that biker and gang codes of honor / shame fit well with the codes of honor / shame prominent in the ME — but I’d need anthropological backup for such a claim, and currently lack the resources to pursue it.

    And I suspect there’s a lateral tie in here with the work of Dr Bunker and others on Mexican narcocultura.

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    Ebola: the Islamic State / Daesh — and before them, Aum Shinrikyo

    Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- once again, the message is "keep calm and carry on" ]
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    The-Ebola-virus

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    First off, a tweet I made this morning, quoting a stunning fact from Scientific American‘s piece today, Where Does Ebola Hide?

    I would like to honor the memory, compassion and courage of those who died, and the compassion and courage of those who worked beside them.

    **

    That said ..

    In a post titled What Would It Take to Bring Ebola Into the U.S. and the NATO Crusaders’ (see image below), a poster on what we’re told is an official IS forum suggested three approaches:

    • infect ISIS fighters in Africa send them to the US to spread the disease
    • bring a bottle of Pepsi filled with the virus from Africa to the US and pour it into the water supply
    • send the virus “in the mail like anthrax”.

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    IS Ebola Threat
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    There thus appear to be be two major ways in which the “terrorists might use Ebola against us” idea can be presented: the first involves getting one or more live IS suicide volunteers into the United States before their symptoms make them easily identifiable; the other involves using a “weaponized” form of the virus in some form of bomb, as in the “Pepsi” and “mail” sugestions above.

    Let’s take a look at each of the two in turn. While we’re at it, we may want to consider the backgrounds of the authorities quoted.

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    Amanda Teckman, author of the paper “The Bioterrorist Threat of Ebola in East Africa and Implications for Global Health and Securityconcludes that “the threat of an Ebola bioterrorist attack in East Africa is a global health and security concern, and should not be ignored.” The Washington Post has quoted Teckman, whose master’s degree is in diplomacy and international relations — so she must surely know, eh?

    Professor Anthony Glees agrees that the strategy might be considered. He says, “In some ways it’s a plausible theory – IS fighters believe in suicide and this is a potential job for a suicide mission. They are sufficiently murderous and well-informed to consider it, and they know that we’ve been remiss in the UK.” Prof. Glees appears to be an expert on the Stasi and intelligence, and is Director at Buckingham University’s Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies

    They would know, too, right? They’re national security experts, they have what I might characterize as “adjacent authority”.

    And Capt. Al Shimkus (Ret) says the strategy is entirely plausible. He told Forbes, “The individual exposed to the Ebola Virus would be the carrier. In the context of terrorist activity, it doesn’t take much sophistication to go to that next step to use a human being as a carrier.” Capt. Shimkus is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, where he teaches a course in chemical and biological warfare. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Bachelor of Science in Nurse Anesthesia.

    Capt. Shimkus would appear to be better credentialled to discuss the matter than Prof. Glees or Ms. Teckman — but he’s no research scientist working in the field of biological agents.

    **

    William Schaffner, on the other hand, is an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt. He spoke with Vocativ, who reported:

    Schaffner .. believes it’s doubtful that an ISIS soldier could start an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. The most likely way to spread Ebola would be for an infected fighter to head to an emergency room without telling anyone he’s carrying the disease. That could potentially spread the virus to health care workers, Schaffner says, but even that scenario is far-fetched. Ebola symptoms can surface after just a couple days. By the time a would-be martyr reached the U.S., he’d probably be too ill to make it past customs. “Once the serious symptoms begin, the patient typically becomes too incapacitated and cannot go further,” Chow points out.

    Jack Chow is Distinguished Service Professor of Global Health at Carnegie Mellon.

    Dr Schaffner’s medical credentials, largely oriented to epoidemiology, are available on the Vanderbilt site.

    Dr Chow’s bio is on the Carnegie Mellon site, and includes an MD from UCSF and an MPA in International Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Further:

    Dr. Chow held the rank of ambassador as the Special Representative on Global HIV/AIDS for Secretary of State Colin Powell and as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Health and Science, the first U.S. diplomat of ambassador rank appointed to a public health mission. He led American diplomatic efforts in the establishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and in countering global infectious diseases and bioterrorism threats.

    **

    So much for the human delivery system. The weaponized virus method is even less plausible:

    Here in a nutshell is the conclusion drawn in an article titled Ebola Bomb: Possible, But Not So Easy to Make, published in Live Science:

    If some worst-case scenarios are to be believed, then terrorist groups could use the recent outbreak of Ebola in Africa to their advantage. By using the Ebola virus as a biological weapon, the story goes, these groups could wreak havoc around the globe.

    But the idea that Ebola could be used as a biological weapon should be viewed with heavy skepticism, according to bioterrorism experts. Although deadly, Ebola is notoriously unstable when removed from a human or animal host, making weaponization of the virus unlikely, two experts told Live Science.

    The article goes on to quote Dr. Peter Walsh of Cambridge, who believes “A bigger and more serious risk is that a group manages to harness the virus as a powder, then explodes it in a bomb in a highly populated area .. It could cause a large number of horrific deaths”. Dr. Walsh is a biological anthropologist, and thus far the best-credentialled of those arguing or the possibility of an Ebola attack on American or European soil, but the Live Science piece then follows up with some comments from (in my view, in my view) even more persuasive authorities:

    [T]he idea of Ebola being harvested for use in a “dirty bomb” sounds more like science fiction than a real possibility to bioterrorism experts.

    Dr. Robert Leggiadro, a physician in New York with a background in infectious disease and bioterrorism, told Live Science that although Ebola is listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a possible bioterrorism agent, that doesn’t necessarily mean the virus could be used in a bomb.

    “The thing about Ebola is that it’s not easy to work with,” Leggiadro said. “It would be difficult to weaponize.”

    And Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, COO of SecureBio, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security firm in the United Kingdom, said that claims like Walsh’s are an example of fear-mongering.

    “The chance of the Zaire strai of Ebola being made into a biological weapon is less than nil,” de Bretton-Gordon said, referring to the strain of Ebola that is causing the current outbreak in West Africa. “It’s just not going to happen.”

    And to quote from the Vocativ piece, Here’s one terror threat you can ignore, again, since it’s actually the only article I’ve seen that directly addresses the suggestions made by the IS poster:

    A virus like Ebola survives only through bodily fluids passed on from one person to another. “You can’t just take the virus and pour it in a reservoir, and expect everybody in the city to get sick,” says William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University

    **

    One other point to consider — and this is where my interest in new religious movements once again proves its revelance to present day situations.

    Aum Shinrikyo.

    Aum’s interest in Ebola virus as a potential weapon was sincere enough that its leader, Shoko Asahara, had gone to Zaire with 40 of his followers in an attempt to obtain samples of the pathogen. Scientific American, in an article last month titled Weaponized Ebola: Is It Really a Bioterror Threat? wrote:

    The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo — infamous for setting off sarin gas in a Tokyo subway in 1995 — also looked into Ebola as a potential biological weapon. In 1992, they sent a medical group of 40 people ostensibly to help provide aid during an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their real purpose, however, was to collect some Ebola virus, as Amy Smithson, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, noted in her 2000 report Ataxia. The effort was a “flagrant failure,” she says. “They did not get their hands on a culture.”

    According to DW Brackett‘s Holy Terror: Armageddon in Tokyo however, Aum Shinrikyo “Minister of Health and Welfare“, biologist Seiichi Endo, nevertheless delivered a speech in Moscow two years later “in which he discussed the use of Ebola as a potential biological warfare weapon”.

    The Scientific American piece concludes:

    Even if Aum Shinrikyo had managed to gather samples of the Ebola virus, it would have been extremely difficult to kill large numbers of people in countries with a strong health infrastructure such as Japan. Once the virus had been identified and patients isolated, the pathogen would have been unlikely to spread widely. Still, any terrorist attempting to stoke fears rather than accrue a high body count could have some modicum of success with Ebola. “When talking about bioterror, it’s more about the terror than it is the bio,” Fauci says.

    So there you have it.

    See also:

    As far as I can tell from the Index, Dr Ian Reader‘s book, Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo, does not mention Ebola. It is, however, the definitive study of this religious movement with a penchant for biochemical weaponry.

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    Language as tripwire: the Khorasan Group and the active and passive voices

    Thursday, October 9th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- first in a series in which the language makes a difference ]
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    There is this business of the so-called “Khorasan Group”.

    Two paragraphs of CENTCOM’s news release, Sept. 23: U.S. Military, Partner Nations Conduct Airstrikes Against ISIL in Syria, mention the phrase “Khorasan group”. The first of these reads:

    Separately, the United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qa’ida veterans – sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group – who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations. These strikes were undertaken only by U.S. assets.

    Notice the use of the passive voice: the group is “sometimes referred to as” the Khorasan Group. This is either skillful linguistic obfuscation or bureaucratic linguistic ineptitude, and I tend to vote for the latter, because so few people know how to write decent Ebglish any more, while those that do can easily be paid to forget.

    The passive voice doesn’t tell us who does the referring — who refers to the group as the Khorasan Group. It might be Americans in intelligence circles, in the Department, in the media — it might be other Syrians, intercepts from Jabhat Nusra communications or AQC — or the “group” themselves.

    As recipients of the CENTCOM news release, however, and by means of that passive voice construction, we just don’t know.

    **

    And perhaps it matters.

    Perhaps it matters because the place named “Khorasan” has a distinctive meaning in Islamic eschatology. It is the place of origin of the army with black banners that will sweep victoriously down to Jerusalem, either led by the Mahdi or coming to his aid. While there is a province in Iran still called Khorasan, a far greater area including parts of Iran (Masshad, eg), Afghanistan (Herat, Balkh), Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan was designated Khorasan in earlier times, and both AQ and Iran have used the hadith about the army from Khorasan in support of their own activities.

    Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since that CENTCOM press release two weeks ago, and I’m not going to link to all the wise and foolish articles that have explored the nature of the group — but journalist Jenan Moussa has seen internal memos of the group that was attacked under the name “Khorasan Group”, and the name is not one they have viven themselves:

    So why is the Administration using a loaded apocalyptic term to describe what seems in effect to be a group of AQC fighters sent to fight under the aegis of Jabhat al-Nusra?

    Language matters, place-names matter, and the use of the passive voice only confuses what should be clearly understood.

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    Are DoubleQuotes supposed to be new? 1 – Musashi & Zimmeman

    Thursday, October 9th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a belated response to Fred Zimmeman's question ]
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    While Zenpundit was down the other day, Leonidas Musashi tweeted a DoubleQuote:

    In response, Fred Zimmeman fired off his own tweet:

    I think that’s a fine and appropriate question, and I’d like first to answer it in brief, and then in a second post to use it as a jumping off point for some further reflections.

    **

    My answer to blog-friend Fred Zimmeman is simple. Agreed, DoubleQuotes are not something new, nor are they claimed to be. What is claimed for them is that they present a way of thinking which has been with us from time immemorial and is used almost reflexively to this day to raise questions and make points both strong and weak — and that they identify and sharpen that pre-existing cognitive disposition into a conscious tool, and explore it.

    Examples of this manner of making points or raising question that I run across in the course of my daily readings and web-monitorings I call DoubleQUotes in the Wild, and they bear the same relation to DoubleQuotes consciously noted and presented using my DoubleQuotes format as “found sculptures” do to sculptures created in the artist’s studio.

    The trick here is that a very basic cognitive skill — akin in this regard to arguments of the sort “if this, then that” — is consciously investigated and rigorously analyzed and tested, so that we can learn what the strengths and pitfalls of the method are, look more frequently and more consciously for such doublets in our own reading and analysis, and present the results in a uniform manner.

    The DoubleQuote is thus akin to the Syllogism, except that ikt occurs in analogical rather than logical space.

    Finally, I have settled on the DoubleQuotes form and format because it is the simplest single move possible in the style of analogical gaming I have been working at for twenty or thirty years, under the inspiration of Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game — described in the novel of that name for which he won his Nobel Prize.

    DoubleQuotes are as old as time and space, as old as Sun and Moon, as old as the constellation and star sign Gemini, as old as Cain and Abel, as old as Castor and Pollux — and as new as Will McCants of Brookings reporting on the apocalyptic strain in the Daesh / IS “caliphate”.

    **

    Musashi’s DoubleQuote in question was this one:

    Musashi-DQ1

    In my view, that’s an elegant juxtaposition of Shakespeare and Vonnegut..

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