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Two eminently watchable TV series by Hugo Blick

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — I suspect Mike Sellers & Ali Minai might find them of interest as subtle narrative avenues into complexity ]
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I’ve been watching Black Earth Rising , British writer-director Hugo Blick‘s latest series, starring Michaela Coel:

As with his earlier series, The Honourable Woman featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal, I’m transfixed. Here is complexity delivered — in both cases, brilliantly — on TV:

Once Blick puts down his first card, as a viewer you think, “Oh, that’s good. That will be interesting.” Then he essentially flips the other 51 into the air and lets them fall all over the script. That’s the ambitious beauty of The Honorable Woman, which explodes across each episode with elaborate twists involving the Israelis, the Palestinians, the British and the Americans.

**

Sources:

  • Hollywood Reporter, The Complicated, Ambitious Brilliance of ‘The Honorable Woman’
  • Hollywood Reporter, ‘Black Earth Rising’: TV Review
  • IndieWire, Netflix Thriller Shows the Danger of Treating Global Politics Like a Game
  • **

    I have been discussing systems dynamics and complexity with my game designer friend Mike Sellers recently — see his brilliant book, Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach — and complexity, glass bead games and AI with a new friend, Ali Minai — hear our podcast at BrownPundits. Let’s make it clear: I’m the student here.

    In the course of our discussion, I’d written:

    I think of novels and plays as offering approaches to an intuitive grasp of complex situations

    and

    I think polyphony and counterpoint are what we meet with in the social world, and indeed in our conflicted minds and hearts, and that Bach will prove to be the great master of our age, once we’ve matured enough to learn from him. But listening must come first, and that seems a skill that’s wildly at variance with our times..

    Mike responded:

    Novels and plays give us, I think, something of an implicit systemic view, in that we understand how a greater whole (a love story, a tragedy, etc.) emerges from the mutual interactions between actors. Same with counterpoint and polyphony — the notes mutually interact at the same time, and set up call-and-response interaction within our minds across time, to create a larger experienced whole from the entire musical piece.

    I’m trying to make those relationships more explicit and more generalized, seeing the commonalities in books, music, biology, and games

    so — for both Mike and Ali — I’d recommend these two Hugo Blick series as contemporary works of Shakespearean subtlety, to consider as avenues into coomplexity. And although I lack the linguistic skills to appreciate him I’m sure Ali would like to add the Urdu poet Ghalib to the list..

    So that’s my interest.

    Complexity, what is it? Which avenue takes us deepest into the heart of the matter?

    **

    Hugo Blick?

    Hugo Blick, who likes to teach the ambiguities to which a probing sense of morality will necessarily find itself subject, might like to examine “Combat charities” in the West and their jihadi twin:

    A NEW PHENOMENON OF THE 21ST CENTURY BATTLEFIELD

    “Combat charities”—entities that seek to provide non-profit military and political assistance to weaker armed groups or minorities resisting the military onslaught of others (like ISIS)—are one mechanism for foreign anti-ISIS volunteers to join the fight. “Combat charities” are a new rising phenomenon of the 21st century battlefield and political dispensation. They can significantly affect both local orders and international politics. [ … ]

    Thousands of Western foreign fighters have traveled to the Middle East in recent years to join the fighting that has engulfed the region. They have overwhelmingly participated on the side of jihadi organizations like the Islamic State (ISIS) or the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front).

    However, a smaller and often unnoticed segment of these volunteers has embedded with groups that resist the jihadis, such as Kurdish, Assyrian, and Yazidi militias. These fighters vary in their motivations for joining the fight: Some are driven by moral outrage and seek to prevent the atrocities minority groups have suffered at the hands of the jihadis, while others are motivated by co-religionist solidarity. Some seek a sense of adventure and the adrenaline highs of military tourism, while others wish to escape problems at home, finding in the fight a form of self-medicating for post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems. [ … ]

    THE WESTERN PATHBREAKERS

    SOLI is the oldest and most established combat charity in the world. Founded and led by American citizen Matthew VanDyke, it operates in Iraq, and is building abilities to operate in Syria and North Africa. Since its creation in 2014, SOLI has helped form, train, and to certain extent equip the two largest Assyrian militias in northern Iraq fighting against ISIS. [ … ]

    …AND THEIR JIHADI TWIN

    Founded in May 2016, Malhama Tactical is the first sunni jihadi private military company. As Rao Komar, Christian Borys, and Eric Woods reported in Foreign Policy magazine in February, during its short existence Malhama Tactical has provided training and battlefield consulting for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front, affiliated with al-Qaida) and the Turkistan Islamic Party, an Uighur extremist group from China’s restive Xinjiang province.

    Get that? Rival combat charities to throw a heavy dose of ambiguity into the already three-cornered Syrian situation..

    IMO, these combat charities on both sides of an already fraught situation might make excellent fodder for Hugo Blick‘s subtle story-telling mind..

    **

    Viewing:

  • Netflix, Black Earth Rising
  • Amazon, The Honorable Woman
  • Further reading — the full combat charities report:

  • Brookings, Combat charities or when humanitarians go to war:
  • GOV Employees Can Now Attend Suits and Spooks DC During Gov Shut Down

    Friday, January 11th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — i’ve always thought Suits and Spooks would be a great conference to attend, but finances & health have never quite permitted me.. ]
    .

    Over to you:

    Jeffrey Carr has opened Suits and Spooks DC to government employees for a nominal $5 donation to some mutual support group. So I raise my cup to toast him for an excellent response to the shutdown, and am passing his message along to any Zenpundit readers who may be interested:

    Read Jeffrey’s pitch on his blog here:

    GOV Employees Can Now Attend Suits and Spooks DC During Gov Shut Down

    GBG: another form of associative linkage

    Friday, January 11th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — a meander to ponder, wonder, wander, a maze to amaze, or as CS Peirce might say, a muse to amuse, an amuse-bouche ]
    .

    Here’s a quick, long run-down of my HipBone games, where they came from, and where they’ll be going if book and online game plans come together.

    My various HipBone and related games are intended as playable variants on Hermann Hesse‘s great Glass Bead Game (GBG for short).

    You remember this?

    As I said before:

    I don’t know how Theodor von Kármán came by his Vortex Street, and I’ve spent a decade in Pasadena wandering its streets and even picked up his four volume works — signed — at a CalTech book sale — but if he had the Van Gogh painting in the back of his mind, there’s the beginning, the seed of an awesome leap.

    And you might say van Gogh made a mighty leap, pre-intuiting the von Kármán pattern in the night sky..

    This DoubleQuote is my favorite move in the game that has obsessed me for the last thirty or so years, the Glass Bead Game as described in Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel of the same name.

    Linking arts and sciences as it does, I see it as a move at the nave roof-apex of what Hesse describes as the “hundred-gated cathedral of mind”.

    The essence of a move in Hesse‘s game is associative linkage.

    **

    I’m using this post as something of a primer on my game thinking, before proposing a recent instance of a type of associative leap / example of a game move.

    **

    There are many fairly basic types of associative linkage that provide the connextive tissue between the items in an ontology:

  • this is the same as that
  • this causes that
  • this is the opposite of that
  • this symbolices that
  • this is above that
  • this is inside that
  • this is the parent of that
  • this follows that
  • this governs that
  • this proves that
  • **

    Getting more complex and multi-layered, John Robb once posted:

    Some philosophical thinking:

  • Human knowledge, at an elemental level, can be described as a “transformation” of data.
  • Complex ideas are built using layers of “transformations” with each layer feeding into the next (think pyramid)
  • We teach these transformations at home and at school to our children.
  • We communicate by sharing transformations.
  • Questions We Need to Answer in the Age of Cognitive Machines:

  • How many transformations would it take to model all human knowledge?
  • How deep (how many layers of transformation is human knowledge) is human knowledge? Both on average or at its deepest point?
  • How broad is human knowledge (non-dependent transformations)?
  • How fast is the number of transformations increasing and how fast is it propagating across the human network?
  • **

    From a process orientation, it’s pretty clear that the fundamental way in which most associative leaps occur to human minds takes the form:

  • this reminds me of that
  • — and that holds true even of conspicuous creative leaps not just out of the box but into the unknown — as when Yutaka Taniyama proposed his hypothesis that there exists a correspondence between elliptic curves and modular forms in 1955. Andrew Wiles eventually proved the linkage in what is now known as the Modularity theorem, as the key part of his proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem in 1993 [don’t ask me to explain, I’m not a mathematician]

    **

    Creative leaps are in general the basis of much “opening of fields” both in the arts and sciences, as described by Arthur Koestler in his Act of Creation:

    and elaborated by Douglas Hofstadter in eg his Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies and Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, and at a depth of penetration equivalent to Robb’s questions above, by Fauconnier and Turner in The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending And The Mind’s Hidden Complexities..

    **

    Level on level, the structure of a gothic cathedral is arch building on arch (forgive my Spanish):

    Erwin Panofky‘s masterwork, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, argues for a common mental structure explaining the simultaneous occurrence of Gothic cathedral architecture and the scholastic argumentation characteristic of Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas..

    **

    The music of Hesse’s cathedral?

    All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number.

    And the game’s ultimate destination – besides the creation of an overarching synthesis uniting sciences and arts, great leaps of discovery and profound flights of imagination?

    Every transition from major to minor in a sonata, every transformation of a myth or a religious cult, every classical or artistic formulation was, I realized in that flashing moment, if seen with a truly meditative mind, nothing but a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created.

    In the coincidence of opposites — the buttressed left side of the cathedral’s gothic arch leaning into, against and with the buttressed right side, culminating in the high vaulting that characterizes the nave — transcendence of the physical in the spiritual..

    **

    An aside:

    Okay, very quickly, one associative link that jumped out at one poster recently after the Democratic response to Trump’s resolute desk address was the similarity between Schumer and Pelosi‘s stilted appearance, standing shoulder to shoulder at a single podium [left], and — returning to our theme of gothic as in a fugue — the celebrated painting titled American Gothic [composite, right] —

    That’s a “haha!” (comedic, laughter) rather than an “aha!” (creative, excitement) or “aah!” (tragedic, tears) explosion, to return to Arthur Koestler’s notion of bisociation and its various types and expressions.

    But that’s just fun, and will quickly become dated.. that’s an aside.

    **

    A new category of linkage:

    More seriously, I’d like to suggest that one faascinating type of linkage, close kin to “this is similar to that” is the category of mistake:

  • this is, has been, or can be mistaken for that
  • My example here is the weird sonic effect that seems to have physically hurt American diplomats and other embassy employees in Cuba, and confused national security analysts —

    That headline was taken from an article dated December 12, 2018, less than a month ago at time of writing. Doctors called in to examine embassy workers were flummoxed:

    The patients complained of intense ear pain, hearing loss, headaches, dizziness and difficulty with balance, as well as increased anxiety and irritability, doctors found, but who or what caused the damage is still unknown.

    From The Atlantic:

    Various parties argued that the strange noise was the result of a sonic weapon, a microwave attack, or malfunctioning eavesdropping equipment.

    And back to ABC:

    “The possible sources and the medical findings we have here do not have a quick or easy solution,” said Dr. Carey Balaban, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who contributed to the study. “I wish someone could tell us that right now. I wish we’d have that.”

    Damn commie Cubans!

    The thing is, otolaryngologists and high-tech security experts were the wrong people to solve the problem. Whenentomologists listened to a recording of the sound, they recognizedd it —

    as the mating call of Anurogryllus celerinictus, the Indies short-tailed cricket.

  • the cricket’s call has been mistaken for a devious commie attack on American diplomats
  • **

    Very briefly, then, to wrap up, since the idea is to link one concept to another, I use graphs as my game boards, assigning the concepts (images, quotes, clips &c) to numbered positions (nodes) on the boards, with the lines between them (edges) representing their associative links, which can be spelled out in however much detail a given game requires:.

    top left, the standard WaterBird board; top right, a board from the Sembl game as played on iPads in the National Museum of Australia; lower left, the Doublequote board, for direct comparison of two concepts / images; lower right, the Said Symphony board, for us in “aymphonic” games.

    The idea of conceptual graphs precedes Margaret Masterman by centuries:

    Left, the Sephirotic Tree of classical Kabbalah; middle: Oronce Fine’s diagram of the elements and humors; right: a medieval Trinitarian diagram

    And as a grace note — my two now ancient pages on Masterman, Boole and that Trinitarian diagram are still a quiet delight for scholars of conceptual graphs and the like. Masterman really was an unsung genius, and her curious and vastlky erudite paper Theism as a Scientific Hypothesis proves it..

    I wonder when AlphaZero will be playing a game like this:

  • HipBone, What sacred games shall we have to invent
  • A chess tactic and its Trump/Putin similar

    Saturday, July 14th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — companion to A soccer tactic and its parliamentary analog ]
    .

    Trump and Putin are on their respective ways to a meet in Helsinki. This post offers a chess angle on the importance of symmetry as a technique Putin happily uses on Trump and others. Symmetry is already a keen interest of mine in the arts, where it is a prime key to beauty. In chess, too, and it would seem in diplomacy and strategy, symmetry matters.

    **

    Here’s the game in which Bobby Fischer kills Robert Byrne in an astounding 21 moves:

    **

    What’s of interest to us here is the symmetry at move 11, shown here in two diagrams:

    where the blue lines annotate the symmetries in files a, b, c, d, g, and h

    and here:

    where the red center-line serves as a mirror for those symmetrical files, their positions highlighted in green.

    And here’s the site’s comment on symmetry:

    It’s quite often the case that in very symmetrical positions such as this one, things go about very slowly, it’s often a bit of a maneuvering game, not a lot of, let’s say, great tactics, or fireworks, things of course can change, but there’s a great amount of symmetry here..

    **

    Well, chess is the game of strategy par eminence, isn’t it? Here’s a quote I just used in my metaphors collection:

    Brian Williams: Putin does the most rudimentary things, like mirroring, which communications experts will tell you is a way to kind of endearing yourself to your guest.
    .
    Clint Watts: [agreeing] Ingratiate and mirror.

    President Trump openly says If you say to me that you like me, then I like you. He’s just opening the door for this. Putin has done this with other world leaders. .. You want to build rapport with President Bush, talk about religion and the Christian Orthodox church. you do these things to build and ingratiate and build a mirror relationship with the target.

    I’m not saying there’s a direct parallel between the chess comment and the Brian Williams / Clint Watts conversation, which just scratches the surface of the communications stragegy of mirroring and similar techniques, and their relevance to the immadiate situation with Trump on his way to Helsinki to meet Putin

    with only two translators in the room

    — just that the emphasis on symmetry in the celebrated Fischer chess match gives us a clue to the possible importance of symmetry in crucial strategic situations in general — and thus to the coming week’s Trump / Putin situation.

    A Modest Proposal

    Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

    by J. Scott Shipman

    Our Navy has not experienced war against a peer competitor since 1945. War at sea differs significantly from what our Marine Corps and Army brothers have learned over the last 17 years. Naval warfare is attrition warfare, for at sea there is no place to hide. To quote the late strategist Herbert Rosinski: “At sea there is no halfway house between victory and defeat, because there is no difference between what is needed for defense and what for attack. One side only can gain security at the cost of the other—or neither.”

    The United States Navy doesn’t have enough submarines (or surface ships, for that matter). Our highly capable fleet of SSNs is the best in the world, but we’re retiring the old LOS ANGELES Class boats faster than we’re replacing them with the VIRGINIA Class. These new submarines are expensive (~$2.5B USD) and the high costs are translating into fewer platforms with the number of attack boats shrinking from 50 today to as low as 42 by 2030—with only about 25 projected to operate in the Pacific—while China is building both SSKs and SSNs at a pretty aggressive rate with up to 70 attack boats on the horizon.

    Under current forces structure plans and budgets the USN cannot afford the number of platforms needed to meet existing security threat requirements. Given our top-heavy force of large multipurpose warships, most are too expensive to send in harm’s way—but that does not change the need for presence. As William Beasley wisely suggested in the November 2015 issue of Proceedings, the US Navy needs to “close the presence gap.” Beasley “steals” a line from former Naval War College Dean CAPT Barney Rubel and defines “presence” — “it means being there.” Costs are limiting our numbers, thus our presence. As marvelous as the VA Class is (and it is a true marvel), it can’t be in two places at once.

    The USN attack submarine force is all nuclear. These ships are complex and take years to construct—and only two shipyards are currently certified to build them. If many predictions are correct, in a future great power war we cannot assume the sanctuary of CONUS and these shipyards would make irresistible targets.

    Our ally Japan may hold a potential subsurface solution which could be an almost “turn-key” solution to the USN’s presence crisis and the growing threat of China. The Japanese Soryu class submarine (pictured above) is the most advanced conventional submarine in the world and the first to transition to ultra-quiet lithium batteries for submerged operations. Further, these boat could be built for at least half the price of a VA Class.

    Japan faces a common adversary in China, though without a Pacific Ocean buffer. What if we made a deal with the Japanese government to license the Soryu class design? Further, as part of the deal, construct boats for their navy in our shipyards. We would gain needed numbers and our ally would gain an “extra” production yard. This seems a great way to reassure our allies, increase our subsurface numbers, and send a message to the world that our bonds as allies are deep and resolute. This line of thought is not unprecedented, as we are building the next generation of SSBN (the COLUMBIA Class) in collaboration with the UK.

    Whatever the USN decides (and doing nothing is a decision), time is growing short for alternatives and more of the same isn’t affordable.


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