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Chain-links: silence

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — sometimes a DoubleQuote — or even a triple or quad — is not enough ]

Link Chain vertical

So here is the first in a new occasional series I’ll call Chain-links. I haven’t figured out a format for presenting these things yet, but something of that kind will probably emerge along the way. In the meanwhile, my first entry in the series is about silence.

You are invited to consider the series of quotes here as the flow of a single idea down a sequence of steps, fluid, shifting in emphasis..


A Roman courtroom appearance:

And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.

                        Matthew 27. 11-14

A British courtroom, many centuries later:

Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is “Qui tacet consentire”: the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”. If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.

                        A Man for All Seasons

                        Thomas More, in A Man for All Seasons

Contemporary diplomatic protocol:

A proposal with strong support is deemed to have been agreed unless any member raises an objection to it before a precise deadline: silence signifies assent – or, at least, acquiescence.

                        GR Berridge, Diplomacy: Theory and Practice

Before a Congressional committee, under interrogation or in court:

On counsel’s advice, I invoke my right under the Fifth Amendment not to answer, on the grounds I may incriminate myself.

                        “Taking the Fifth”

When journos ask truth of power:

No comment.

                        Press secretaries and their bureaucrats everywhere.

And for good measure:

Loose lips triptych


How does Thomas More before Cromwell — or Christ before Pilate — compare with the American who takes the Fifth, the harried executive who won’t comment?

What kind of speech is silence?


Water flowing down the steps in the Fort Worth Water Gardens:

True believers never hide

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

[ a guest post by Melissa Roddy ]

Tim Furnish recently taught a course on Jihad, Apocalypse and Terrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and suggested to Melissa Roddy, one of his students, that she should submit this piece for our consideration. I’m happy to welcome Melissa as a guest poster here at Zenpundit. She has an intriguing suggestion to make regarding the frequent use of face coverings by IS members when they’re basically showing off their capacity for butchering those with whom they disagree. Your comments are welcome. — Charles Cameron


melissa pic

While viewing photos of Islamic State (IS) jihadists recently, an irony suddenly came into sharp focus. If these exterminators are in fact true believers, why do they always hide their faces?

Of course the practical reason is to avoid identification by governments and military forces intent on vanquishing IS. But what does it say about their commitment to a mission that has included the slaughter and enslavement of anybody and everybody they please? In every gruesome image projected in Western media of “Jihadi John” and/or his cohorts slicing through the neck of some poor soul or mass murdering innocent men, women and children, the perpetrator portrays fierce pride beneath the safety of a ski mask.

Their masks may hide their faces, but they expose the doubt in their hearts. A true believer would have no fear. A true believer would show his face to the world to prove devout confidence that his mission is in service of and blessed by Allah. A true believer would have no fear of exposure. A true believer would be confident that Allah would clear any obstacle from his path. A true believer would want to strip anonymity from such acts, because to show his face would be a declaration of faith.

It is bloody clear, IS butchers hide behind their ski masks, because, despite their boasts of religious fervor, in their heart of hearts they know they are nothing more than power hungry, murderers, rapists and thieves, with no respect for Allah’s creation. They are exactly the opposite of righteous. Their masks demonstrate the fear that in death these monsters will face an eternity in Hell for being instruments of Shaitan wearing false masks of piety simply to satisfy their bloodlust.

The quantity of mercy is not strain’d?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

[by Charles Cameron — some remedial philosophy at age 71 ]

I seem to be doing remedial political philosophy this week. As it happens, I read a Chinese comedian in my youth and was admonished against “sitting down while running round in circles” and have been aerating my brain with too much conscious breathing ever since — neither leaving me much time or interest for what in Oxford in my day was known, somewhat dismissively, PPE — Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

Which brings me today, and to grabbing lectures in just that sort of thing from Harvard’s Michael Sandel, courtesy of YouTube:

The video shows Sandel’s lectures, “Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life”, and “How to Measure Pleasure” — salted with some dark humor:

Back in ancient Rome, they threw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum for sport. If you think how the utilitarian calculus would go, yes, the Christian thrown to the lion suffers enormous, excruciating pain, but look at the collective ecstasy of the Romans. .. you have to admit that if there were enough Romans delirious with happiness, it would outweigh even the most excruciating pain of a handful of Christians thrown to the lion.

I enjoyed the two lectures immensely — maybe I should rewind fifty years, and try PPE at Harcard?.


All of which caused me to wonder:

SPEC pinto and lincoln continental


  • Mark Dowie, Pinto Madness
  • W Michael Hoffman, Case Study: The Ford Pinto
  • See also:

  • ES Grush and CS Saunby, Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires
  • **

    I mean, all of which made me wonder about Jeremy Bentham, I suppose.

    We had Locke at Christ Church, staring disdainfully from his portrait during dinners in the Great Hall — but Bentham? I don’t think I saw any utility in utilitarianism.


    But then I also wondered:

    SPEC trolley problem torture

    I wondered: how close is the analogy between the trolly problem and the ticking bomb torture questionn? Do we start from numbers of likely victims in each case and decide from there, or should we instead start by contemplating torture — and recognize the abyss staring back at us?


  • Wikipedia, Trolly problem
  • Michael Sandel, Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life & How to Measure Pleasure
  • See also:

  • Kyle York, Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations
  • **

    What Shakespeare said, though — getting back to my title — was “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” — not the quantity, the quality — unquantifiable.

    Is Strategy Dead?

    Friday, May 1st, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

    [Photo credit: Peter Velter]

    Is strategy dead?

    Strategy seems to be widely admired in Western governmental circles, but no longer practiced in matters of state.

    I am not saying strategy has been forgotten. Far from it. Strategy is still debated,  honored nostalgically (“ah, Containment!”), passed on ritualistically in war colleges, frequently demanded by opposition politicians and its value is regularly extolled in white papers. We admire, ruefully, the use of strategy by others (Beijing, Moscow, ISIS) and regret the sting of its lack in our own efforts. We have universities that grant degrees in strategic studies, scholars who write learned tomes on the art of strategy. Americans love business strategies, sports strategies, investment strategies, learning strategies, strategies for your career, strategies for self-improvement or to find the perfect mate.  We call a very wide variety of non-strategy things “strategy” because we love the word so much. The only thing we don’t seem to be able to do with strategy is practice it.

    All of this other “strategy” noise is merely the sound of mourning for an art which has been lost.

    Why can Westerners no longer “do strategy”? The reasons I suspect are twofold but are interrelated: The Europeans as a whole now lack a military capacity that would render a strategy meaningful. America, by contrast, still has great military capacity but chronically lack a strategy that would make American use of force meaningful in any given conflict.

    In both cases, the root problem is political, albeit expressed differently.

    Europeans are largely in agreement as to the nature and purpose of their social contract and choosing to dismantle their Cold War defense establishments was a decision financially consistent with the strong European preference for extremely generous welfare statism and free-riding on American military power. Let’s not mince words, the nations of Europe are in retirement and are unwilling to fund even their basic national security needs, much less their NATO obligations. It is a calculated choice to hollow out NATO and the Europeans made it a decade ago.

    Americans by contrast, are deeply polarized as to what kind of nation they wish to be at home. These divisions over fundamental cultural values and social mores have created a kind of schizophrenic, Frankenstein monster, “meritocratic” ruling class that shares a bottom-feeder, careerist, anti-democratic, ethos of oligarchy while fighting vicious kabuki partisan battles to keep each side’s exploited grass-roots political tribe energized, angry and divided.

    Because American wars are now fought and opposed primarily for domestic partisan advantages that lead to later financial career advancement for politicians, strategy has largely been displaced by politics and by law, an honorable discipline likewise under siege and partially mastered by our political class to warp for their own benefit. Politicians are far more comfortable with politics and law (most are lawyers, after all) than strategy.

    Politics, of course, has always played a role in formulating strategy. It is politics which envisions ends and crafts policies that frames and sustains the use of strategy to claim rewards on the battlefield and the conference table. There should be, when things are going well, harmony in the relationship of politics, policy and strategy. The problem arises when politics attempts to substitute for strategy or leaders are willing to pay high strategic costs abroad for transient and trivial political benefits at home.

    In my view, that is where we are today, but I realize opinions vary. So I will ask again:

    Is strategy dead?

    Meanwhile, in a galaxy..

    Thursday, February 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — because mention of the Riyadh meeting caught me by surprise ]

    I have seen far more media attention, mass and social, paid to the White House Countering Violent Extremism confab than I have to the coalition meeting in Riyadh:

    In fact, I had to tweet that myself to get a suitable DoubleTweet to go with this one:


    Is that because one is about Countering Violent Extremism and the other about Violently Countering Extremism?

    Or is Riyadh just so very far away?

    Which will history view as the more significant of the two?

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