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A Tale of Two Physicians

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Aleppo, Médecins Sans Frontières, Bashar al-Assad, Mohammad Wassim Mo’az ]

SPEC DQ Tale of Two Physicians


It may be that one less (dictatorial) physician in Syria would help — retire him to a yacht, perhaps. While not forgetting that the situation in Syria is multi-factorial.


  • The Guardian, Aleppo mourns Syrian paediatrician killed in hospital airstrike
  • The Atlantic, The Last Pediatrician in Aleppo
  • From the Atlantic piece, honoring pediatrician Mohammad Wassim Mo’az:

    One colleague described the 36-year-old Mo’az as a devoted doctor who by day worked at Aleppo’s Children’s Hospital and by night attended to emergencies at al-Quds Hospital, where he was killed. Several recalled the jokes Mo’az would tell patients and staff. He was “waiting for this bloody war to stop to be married,” one surgeon in Aleppo told the BBC. “He had to stay close to those babies. Who would treat those babies if everybody left?” Footage from security cameras in the hospital last Wednesday shows Mo’az leaving an intensive-care unit and heading toward the emergency room. He could have been in Turkey with his family. He could have taken the night off. Instead, he was walking briskly through the hospital’s dingy hallways in bright green scrubs. At one point in the video, he turns a corner and disappears from view. Moments later, the explosion comes.

    Palmyra, the grief and the joy

    Monday, March 28th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — “the landscape, in general, is in good shape” says Syrian antiquities chief Abdulkarim ]

    First, let me DoubleQuote the joy and the grief of Palmyra, in the form of the Temple of Bel before —

    Temple of Bel whole

    — and after IS wrought its iconoclastic destruction on that site sacred to its original devotees, and sacred also (seculo-sacred?) to contemporary humanists and historians —

    Temple of Bel after

    In that pairing of grief and joy, the grief predominates.


    Palmyra, though, has now been retaken from IS, and we can accordingly make a further DoubleQuote in images, this time moving from grief to joy, with the joy predominant, Alhamdulillah! — pairing the “after” image from the previous pair —

    Temple of Bel after

    — with this image of the theater at Palmyra — recently used by IS for executions, though thankfully not by them demolished —

    Palmyra after IS

    — thus returning a measure of joy after so tragic an episode.



  • Daily Mail, ISIS show off their destruction of 2,000-year-old temple at Palmyra
  • BBC News, Syria civil war: Palmyra damage in pictures
  • War and Peace, DoubleQuoted

    Saturday, March 26th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — another reason to value Twitter ]

    These images were brought to my attention on Twitter via Ali Soufan:

    The Guardian has larger versions 0f these images — and several more pairs of them — in a piece titled Syria’s heritage in ruins: before-and-after pictures posted in January 2014.

    Point counter point: Aaron Zelin & Phillip Smyth

    Sunday, February 21st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a simple jeu d’esprit ]

    It’s actually rather sweet, and possibly a matter of GMTA, but Aaron Zelin and Dan Byman both favor a word I’m fond of myself: archipelago.

    SPEC DQ Zelin Byman


    Aaron noted the commonalities of topic and phrasing, and tweeted:

    to which Phillip Smyth responded:


    Phillip’s example of imitation / flattery involves a pun on the name of the Prophet’s first battle, that of Badr:

    SPEC DQ Smyth George


    Please note that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from these juxtapositions but sheer delight — there’s no “actionable intelligence” therein — yet two extremely sharp analysts nevertheless find them of sufficient interest to exchange tweets about them.

    An eye for symmetries, similarities, parallelisms and oppositions will not always come up with useful correlations, but it’s nonetheless an aspect of mind that’s close to both creativity (see Arthur Koestler) and what bin Laden analyst Cindy Storer (in Manhunt) called “magic” —

    not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic.



  • Aaron Zelin, The Islamic State’s Archipelago of Provinces
  • Daniel Byman, The Islamic State Archipelago

  • Phillip Smyth, Hizballah Cavalcade: Breaking Badr
  • Suzannah George, Breaking Badr
  • The useful analysis is in the sources, and the useful description of analytic magic is currently easily accessible at the 9’14” point in HBO’s Manhunt on YouTube.

    Dragging my tail in the mud

    Thursday, February 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — i’m afraid this will be a very Thoreau-Taoist post for this electoral season ]

    Two browsings recently set me thinking about politics in general — and dragging my tail in the mud in particular:

    Shadi Hamid in What is Policy Research For? Reflections on theUnited States’ Failures in Syria

    When the basic thrust of policy seems immovable irrespective of events on the ground, how should researchers respond? Should influencing policy be the animating objective of policy research?

    and at the pointy end, Matt Cavanaugh at War on the Rocks, The Way Home from ‘a War’:

    What is it like to make uncertain judgments with severe moral consequences? For military professionals, being the state’s lethal instrument necessarily entails ethically perilous, life-or-death choices.


    Here’s the cntext, as I see it..

    Wallace Black Elk:

    The whole earth is an altar. In church, they have a little slab of marble which they call an altar. But our altar is Grandpa’s altar… Our carpet is the grass, the sacred altar; our ceiling is the stars; our night lamp is the moon; Grandpa the sun is our mystery power.

    Thomas Traherne:

    You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.

    Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never
    enjoy the world.”

    Chuang Tzu:

    I will have Heaven and Earth for my sarcophagus, the Sun and Moon shall be my burial insignia, the stars my coffin-jewels, and all Creation shall be mourners at my obsequies. Are not my funeral paraphernalia all in readiness?

    Thoreau-Taoism, which she would spell Thurrodowism, is Ursula Le Guin‘s superlative confection.


    Chuang Tzu:

    From Chuang Tzu: Mystic, Moralist, and Social Reformer, tr. Herbert Giles, p. viii:

    Prince Wei (B.C. 338-327) of the Ch’u State, hearing of Chuang Tzu’s good report, sent messengers to him, bearing gifts, and inviting him to become Prime Minister. At this Chuang Tzu smiled and said to the messengers, “You offer me great wealth and a proud position indeed; but have you never seen a sacrificial ox:-When after being fattened up for several years, it is decked with embroidered trappings and led to the altar, would it not willingly then change places with some uncared for pigling?

    Or from Chuang Tzu, Basic Writings, tr. Burton Watson, p.108:

    Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u river, the king of Ch’u sent two officials to go and announce to him: “I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.”

    Chuang Tzu held onto the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch’u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?”

    “It would rather be alive dragging its tail in the mud,” said the two officials.

    Chuang Tzu said, “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!”

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