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Graeme Wood and a symmetry in Dallas

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on writers and analysts, via Dallas, Syria, Wagner, Bayreuth, Hitler and Israel ]
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The symmetry is between two men that Graeme Wood has profiled in The AtlanticRichard Spencer and John Georgelas aka Yahya Abu Hassan, leader of the alt-right and early American proponent of ISIS, respectively:

Both men are the only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians. They both bloomed late, intellectually and politically, and overcompensated by immersing themselves in books and ideas with gusto uncommon among their bourgeois demographic. Both admired Ron Paul, and both saw their home country as a broken land — and themselves as its savior.

They are also both young.

You can read about them both in greater detail in Wood’s twin accounts here:

  • Wood profiles Richard Spencer, His Kampf
  • Wood profiles John Georgelas, The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS
  • **

    When I worked at John L Petersen‘s think tank The Arlington Institute, the boss often used to ask me for a “leading indicator” — and I’d reply that one data point seldom meant anything to me, whereas two in parallel or opposition might indicate a trend. My motto became “two is the first number” — a mantram I’ve repeated here from time to time [1, 2, 3], finding notable backup in Aristotle, Carl Jung, and the Ismaili Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, as reported in my post It is always good to find oneself in good company.

    Graeme Wood must feel some satisfaction in having written profiles of two such opposite yet well-matched men as Georgelas and Spencer — I certainly take delight in the pairing — and the parallelism is truly quite striking. Yet to deduce a trend from the observation that both are “only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians” isn’t grounds for alerting the FBI to profile — let alone surveil — all other such only sons.

    Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

    And yet, and yet.

    Graeme Wood is a writer, not an analyst, and while the specifics here — “only son”, “north-Dallas physician” — do not in themselves provide “actionable intelligence” for intel purposes, the two stories as Wood spells them out enrich our analytic understanding of the drivers that may be in play in the recruitment of extremists and terrorists.

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    I have a small and tattered pamphlet in my desk, 1876 – 1896, Die ersten zwanzig Jahre der Bayreuther Bühnenfestspiele by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who later married Richard Wagner‘s daughter Eva von Bülow.

    Chamberlain’s pamphlet about Wagner’s operas and the theater he built for them in Bayreuth, published there in Bayreuth in 1896, is not his best-known work, however. That would be his two-volume work, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, or The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century — published in the same year, 1899, as Freud‘s Die Traumdeutung — which was to provide Nazism with some of its anti-Semitic ideology. Of similar interest, his 1905 Aryan Worldview.

    Chamberlain’s letter to Hitler in 1923 has to my ear some resonance with discussions of Donald Trump today:

    Now I believe I understand that it is precisely this that characterizes and defines your being: the true awakener is at the same time the bestower of peace.

    You are not at all, as you have been described to me, a fanatic. In fact, I would call you the complete opposite of a fanatic. The fanatic inflames the mind, you warm the heart. The fanatic wants to overwhelm people with words, you wish to convince, only to convince them-and that is why you are successful. Indeed, I would also describe you as the opposite of a politician, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, for the essence of all politics is membership of a party, whereas with you all parties disappear, consumed by the heat of your love for the fatherland. It was, I think, the misfortune of our great Bismarck that he became, as fate would have it (by no means through innate predisposition), a little too involved in politics. May you be spared this fate.

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    I am chasing down byways of history and culture here to be sure — and it is not my intention to make a facile comparison between Trump and Hitler. But Wagner — surely it is interesting to note that not only were Hitler and Chamberlain obsessed with Wagner’s operas, but Graeme Wood’s account of Spencer notes that at one point Richard Spencer worked as “a gofer at the Bavarian State Opera”.

    Echo? Parallelism? Kinship?

    Wagner is a cultural influence of connsiderable strength — as an Alex Ross article in the New Yorker, The Case for Wagner in Israel, notred in 2012:

    In recent decades, musicians have periodically attempted to play Wagner in Israel, setting off impassioned protests; Na’ama Sheffi’s book “The Ring of Myths: The Israelis, Wagner, and the Nazis” gives an account of them. At an Israel Philharmonic concert in 1981, Zubin Mehta, after giving audience members an opportunity to leave the hall, conducted the “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore; in response, Ben-Zion Leitner, a Holocaust survivor and a hero of the First Arab-Israeli War, walked in front of the podium, bared his scarred stomach, and shouted, “Play Wagner over my body.” Similarly charged scenes unfolded when Daniel Barenboim led the “Tristan” Prelude in Jerusalem in 2001. This past summer, an effort by the Israel Wagner Society to present a concert at Tel Aviv University created yet another media frenzy; in the end, the university withdrew its permission, and plans to move the event to a Hilton subsequently fell through. The Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, who was to have led the concert, has personal reasons for campaigning against the unwritten ban: his mother, who was forced to leave Vienna in 1939, felt that if her son could conduct Wagner in Israel it would amount to a final victory over Hitler, and he still hopes to realize her dream.

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    An author’s skilled meanderings in cultural associations may not make for actionable intelligence, but they do provide invaluable context for the overt tides and little known undertows of human history.

    Which in turn affect us all, and which we in turn may wish to affect or deflect..

    HipBone implications of the second shoe dropping for intel analysis

    Sunday, August 6th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — also, the role of the True Name in intel analysis & Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea ]
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    You may know that I value the documentary film Manhunt for its lucid presentation of the process by which the finest intelligence analysts “leap” to their quarry — in which Cindy Storer notes, “not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic”.

    In my post The process of associative memory I decribe this process, which I consider the root process of true creativity:

    There’s the present moment .. And there’s the memory it elicits.

    Compare Michael Hayden in Manhunt, at 1.19.18:

    The way it works is, information come in, you catalog it, your organize it – that little nugget there could sit fallow on your shelves for four or five years until something else comes in that’s suddenly very illuminating about something that you may have had for a very long period of time. That actually happened in the work we did to hunt for Osama bin Laden by trying to track his courier.

    By way of confirmation, here is Robert Frost:

    The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic.

    And here’s Jeff Jones on piecing together puzzles —

    Some pieces produce remarkable epiphanies. You grab the next piece, which appears to be just some chunk of grass – obviously no big deal. But wait … you discover this innocuous piece connects the windmill scene to the alligator scene! This innocent little new piece turned out to be the glue.

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    My point here is that the board in my “game” of DoubleQuotes provides a matrix for eliciting and annotating such leaps between fact and memory — that’s its purpose, and that’s why I believe the practice and “playing” of DoubleQuotes is, in itself, an ideal training for the analytic mind in that otherwise elusive aptitude which Ms Storer says seenms like magic to those who do not possess it..

    I believe my DoubleQuotes would be an invaluable tool for analysts in training.

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    Note, however, that Jose Rodriguez, speaking immediately after Michael Hayden at 1.19.55, adds a reference to the “True Name” — accompanying screencaps included — something to which as a theologian I am naturally drawn:

    It took years for the agency to recruit the human source that eventually gave us the true name. That’s why we were in the business the of condensing human intelligence because, in many cases, all these fancy gadgets and everything else won’t give you the information that you really need. A true name.

    And we finally got his true name, which is whatever it is. Whatever. Arabic name, you know. But the true name – we were able to find out a lot about him. From then on, you know, the agency was able to do what it does so well. Track the guy and find him.

    That too elicits memories, though in this case providing cultural context rather than actionable intelligence. It’s interesting to compare Rodriguez’ quote with the passages in which Ursula Le Guin describes the nature of magic in her book, Wizard of Earthsea:

    He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea.

    and:

    He saw that in this dusty and fathomless matter of learning the true name of every place, thing, and being, the power he wanted lay like a jewel at the bottom of a dry well. For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.

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    See also:

  • Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B
  • Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles
  • FWIW, there’s an appendix on the central spiritual significance of remembrance of the True Name in Judaism (HaShem), Christianity (Jesus Prayer), Islam (dhikr), Hinduism (nama-rupa), Buddhism (nembutsu) etc at the back of Frithjof Schuon‘s little book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions.

    On which frankly mystical note, here’s a third para from Le Guin to carry you towards Lao Tzu‘s observation that “The name that can be named is not the eternal Name” —

    It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

    Lao Tzu in the Comey hearing

    Thursday, June 8th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — not the most politically relevant quote from Comey, but perhaps the most curious ]
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    It’s not every day you get to see Lao Tzu playing out in the natsc arena:

    Sources:

  • Stephen Mitchell, tr., Tao Te Ching, chapter 56
  • Politico, James Comey testimony transcript on Trump and Russia
  • JM Berger’s latest, 2

    Friday, April 21st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — rushing to keep up with the prolific JM ]
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    JM Berger sets his latest work in context:

    Extraordinary!

    Footnoted readings 03 – Violence, theirs and ours

    Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — on analysis by symmetry, asymmetry, comparison, form ]
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    Vijay Prashad

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    Vijay Prashad writes in Jadaliyya under the title Violence: Theirs and Ours and sub-head Binaries:

    I have spent decades thinking about the asymmetry of reactions to these sorts of incidents in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I have written about them, indignation as the mood of these essays. But this is spitting into the wind. It is futile on Facebook, for instance, to make the suggestion that the 2016 Karrada bombings in Baghdad (Iraq), which killed over 300 people, should have driven people to turn their profile pictures into Iraqi flags (as the world had done after the 2015 Paris attacks, when 137 people were killed). “Je Suis Charlie” is easy to write, but not #AmiAvijit. Eyes roll when these gestures are urged, whether through bewilderment at their meaning or exhaustion at their sanctimoniousness. After all, the eye-roll suggests, how could one compare a satirical French magazine with obscure Bangladeshi bloggers who have been hacked to death? It takes an immense act of will to push editors to run stories on tragedies that seem distant even from the places where they occur. All eyes focus on the latest attack in Molenbeek, but few turn with the same intensity to look at the tragedies in Beirut or in Cairo.

    Okay, what interests me here is his mode of analysis by form: Prashad pays specific and repeated attention to binaries — symmetries and asymmetries. I think that’s a key move in analytic terms, and you can see it in play, again, in the way he phrases his concluding paragraph:

    From Lord Baring’s Violent Shock to George W. Bush’s Shock and Awe: this cannot be terrorism. It is the business of rational states. Terrorism is what the others do. Always.

    Violent Shock :: Shock and Awe.

    **

    Agree or disagree with Prashad’s analyses as you will, his method is one that I too have been focusing on here at ZP for a while now — that of emphasis on form as a clue to analytic significance.


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