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Concerning the Future — black swans & white

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — in concern, yes — and hope ]
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timeline-with-swans-sm

I know which I’d choose — but I can’t speak for the powers that be (Ephesians 6.12 included).

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Here’s a paragraph from David Barno and Nora Bensahel, The Future of the Army: Today, Tomorrow, and the Day After Tomorrow:

Some future developments can be predicted, but others will be unexpected and unforeseen. “Black swans” —- unpredictable events with very serious consequences — will be as inevitable then as they have been in the past.105 In 2000, for example, no analyst could have possibly foreseen all of today’s disparate security challenges—the 9/11 attacks, the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, a resurgent Russia annexing Crimea and threatening neighbors with force, and China building artificial islands in the South China Sea from which to project power, among others. Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.

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I’m somewhat sceptical of the polling methodology used by the Lincoln Leadership Initiative to generate these conclusions reported by The Hill:

Among those who say they will vote for Trump, 48 percent say he’ll create a database to track Muslims? 36 percent say there will be race riots? 33 percent say the government would default on its debt? and 32 percent say Trump would punish his political opponents and authorize internment camps for illegal immigrants.

Only 22 percent of Trump supporters believe he will start a nuclear war.

Whatever the reliability of the poll — and I’ve asked — it seems clear that at least some potential voters believe Donald Trump, if elected president, might use nuclear weapons, perhaps in the fight against ISIS.

I’d call the database, the race riots and the debt default that Barno and Bensahel mentiom black cygnets at best, but the prospect of nuclear war almost qualifies IMO as a full-on black swan — and I’d refer you back to the final sentence of the Barno-Bensahel quote above:

Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.

**

Barno-Bensahel sat they would consider a nuclear exchange a black swan in their chapter on 2020-2035, whereas Trump’s first term, if he were to be elected president, would barely touch the beginning o0f that range — so that particular black swan, if it is one, might conceivably occur quite soon.

But note that word “conceivable” — a true black swan, to my way of thinking, would be something that hadn’t even occurred as a possibility to forward thinking folks like David Barno — indeed not even, with all due respect, to John Robb.

And Barno-Bensahel predict out to 2040.

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My own predictive vision as a student of wisdom literature and propecies of various kinds shows me the following timeline:

timeline-with-swans

It goes without saying that I could be wrong — a whiter shade of swan might make all the difference.

On going shopping

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — this one’s for the Thomas Hegghammer’s “Bored Jihadi” archives ]
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For that special occasion when formal “penguin” attire is required, all black and white — yet with a casual artistic / rebellious flair:

isis-fashion-poster2239940377

A good place to shop for such things if you happen to be in Istanbul — Islami Giyim, or Islamic Clothing:

jihadi-gift-shop

Of course, you may not feel like dressing in support of terror — but you can still have swag:

tote

This tote-bag carries an Arabic inscription that reads:

The only goal of this text is to spread panic among those who fear the Arabic language.

And there are in fact people for whom a small amount of Arabic script is enough to call in the bomb squad, as occurred a few days back in Marshall’s Creek, Pennsylvania:

cookies

Mmm, date-filled cookies!

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Sources:

  • Vocativ, The Perfect Gift for the Jihadi on Your Shopping List
  • Roads & Kingdoms, The Jihadi Gift Shop in Istanbul
  • Special Broadcasting Service, The Arabic on this tote bag is hilariously edgy
  • WNEP The News Station, Bomb Unit Investigates Box Left at Gas Station
  • On play as wildness

    Saturday, September 24th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — what’s true of hex maps is true of all mental models ]
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    There’s a certain let-your-hair-down quality to play.

    It appears that one Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser said or perhaps wrote, muttered, whispered, shouted, or simply thought out loud, “the straight line is a godless line” — at any rate, someone noticed and recorded the phrase, and now it’s scattered across the net and difficult to track to its source.

    **

    But we do love order, don’t we?

    hex-grid

    And so the rivers on our hexagonal maps all too easily follow the hexagons..

    rivers-and-tree-clusters-hexagonal-map

    when they’d more realistically cross over them, following their own courses:

    free-rivers

    and note how easily even our efforts to bring natural variety to our hexagonal mappings conform more to hexagons than to variety.

    hexmaptopo

    **

    Zennist Thich Nhat Hanh in Listening Deeply for Peace writes:

    A traditional Vietnamese Zen garden is very different from a Japanese Zen garden. Our Zen gardens, called hon non bo, are wild and exuberant, more playful than the formal Japanese gardens with their restrained patterns. Vietnamese Zen gardens are seriously unserious. For us, the whole world is contained in this peaceful place. All activities of life unfold in true peace in the garden: in one part, children will be playing, and in another part, some elderly men will be having a chess game; couples are walking; families are having picnics; animals are free to wander around. Beautiful trees are growing next to abundant grasses and flowers. There is water, and there are rock formations. All ecologies are represented in this one microecology without discrimination. It is a miniature, peaceful world. It is a beautiful living metaphor for what a new global ethic could bring.

    **

    Here is the wrestling of a tree with such angels as gravity, sun, wind and rain:

    methuselah-bristlecone-pine-tree

    Here is the wild calligraphy of the Rio Mamoré across the forests of the Amazon basin:

    meanders_oli_2014194

    Added notes: Shakespeare as Ozymandias

    Friday, September 16th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — how Bill Benzon and Will Shakespeare lead me to Angus Wilson and Ruth Ozeki ]
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    Comments are now closed on my fairly recent post, Triangulation: Hoboken, Ramesses II, Ozymandias, so I can’t add there to the strand of the discussion that dealt with Shakespeare‘s language becoming barnacle-encrusted with time and our lack of knowledge, but today was something of a red-letter day for me, so I’ll start from there

    I’d suggested:

    Shakespeare has reached the point where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a Shakespeare translation project:

    OSF is commissioning 36 playwrights and pairing them with dramaturgs to translate 39 plays attributed to Shakespeare into contemporary modern English between now and December 31, 2018. By seeking out a diverse set of playwrights (more than half writers of color and more than half women), we hope to bring fresh voices and perspectives to the rigorous work of translation. Each playwright is being asked to put the same pressure and rigor of language as Shakespeare did on his, keeping in mind meter, rhythm, metaphor, image, rhyme, rhetoric and emotional content. Our hope is to have 39 unique side-by-side companion translations of Shakespeare’s plays that are both performable and extremely useful reference texts for both classrooms and productions.

    I’m not sure, but as we decolonialize and globalize culture (world music, eg), I suspect that English adds national streams from Barbados, Mumbai, Brooklyn, Adelaide, Louisiana and hiphop to its already rich mix, and that a Shakespeare using the spectrum of the language available in London today as keenly as Wm S used the spectrum available in London in his own day would appear no less neologistic and extraordinary than his older namesake. And then throw in an oligarch’ daughter speaking Russian, as Katherine speaks French in Henry V III.2, explaining as Katherine does, “I cannot speak your England”…

    **

    That’s “past is prologue”. Today, blog-friend Bill Benzon posted a brief squib that ties in with this — and here my advanture begins:

    McWhorter on Shakespeare: Should he be rewritten in modern English?

    McWhorter has argued that Shakespeare’s language is so difficult that it should be “adjusted” into modern English for modern readers and theatre-goers. I’m sympathetic. Yesterday I started watching the Zeferelli movie version of Hamlet, with Mel Gibson in the title role and Glenn Close as Gertrude, and at times the language just lost me. Here’s a podcast where he discusses the subject with John Lynch.

    Here’s a post at The New Republic where McWhorter makes his case. I quoted passages from that post in an old post at The Valve and it generated a bit of discussion, including a comment from Kent Richmond, who has rendered five plays into modern English.

    **

    McWhorter‘s piece — Will Shakespeare’s Come And Gone: Does The Bard’s Poetry Reach Us Like August Wilson’s? Come On–really? — gives us a sense of what we’re missing when he describes present day audiences in terms borrowed from Alfred Harbage as “reverently unreceptive” — seen in the theater lobby afterwards, “gratified that they have come, and gratified that they now may go.”

    And he explains something of what we are missing, in Hamlet for instance:

    “Give thy thoughts no tongue, / Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.” First of all, thought to Shakespeare meant “plan,” not just mental activity. Thus “Give thy thoughts no tongue” meant “Don’t show your hand,” not just “button up.” “Nor any unproportion’d thought his act” – whose act? Who does the his refer to? To a modern listener this is the sort of opaque little splotch we must just let by, which in combination with the thousands of others over three hours leaves us yearning for a drink or a pillow. Actually, his could refer to things as well as men in earlier English. And act meant “execution”: the phrase meant “Do not act on your intentions until they are well proportioned, i.e. completely thought out,” not just “Don’t be a silly-billy.”

    At the end, the famous “Neither a borrower or a lender be, / “For loan oft loses both itself and friend, / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” Did Shakespeare suppose that the reason one shouldn’t borrow is because it interferes with the raising of livestock? Actually, husbandry meant “thrift” at the time. It will say that in the footnotes of a Hamlet book; but at the theatre, you don’t have that with you.

    **

    All that led me to Kent Richmond, and I wanted to hear his voice, which gives Miranda in The Tempest these lines:

    If through your magic, dearest father, you’ve
    Made the wild waters roar, now let them rest.
    The sky looks set to pour down stinking tar,
    But then the sea, climbing the cheeks of heaven,
    Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered
    With those that I saw suffer! A splendid vessel,
    Which no doubt had some noble creature in her,
    Dashed all to pieces! O, their cries knocked hard
    Against my heart itself! Poor souls, they perished.
    Had I the power of a god, I would
    Have sunk the sea beneath the earth before
    It could have swallowed up the good ship and
    The souls that were her cargo.

    Intelligible, yes, in a way that Shakepeare’s version may no longer be, and way better than a crude “version” for students of study notes — but not something that encourages me to see Richmond’s version of the play.

    **

    But wait — McWhorter’s title doesn’t mention Richmond, it merntions August Wilson, and his piece opens:

    Reading the deserved critical huzzahs for the current production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone has me thinking about a bee always in my bonnet.

    I don’t know Wilson, and I hold much of modern “poetry” in disrespect, but I go searching with little hope in my back pocket, and lo —

    It is August in Pittsburgh, 1911. The sun falls out of heaven like a stone. The fires of the steel mill rage with a combined sense of industry and progress. Barges loaded with coal and iron ore trudge up the river to the mill towns that dot the Monongahela and return with fresh, hard, gleaming steel. The city flexes its muscles. Men throw countless bridges across the rivers, lay roads, and carve tunnels through the hills sprouting with houses.

    From the deep and the near South, the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrive dazed and stunned, their hearts kicking in their chest with a song worth singing. They arrive carrying Bibles and guitars, their pockets lined with dust and fresh hope, marked men and women seeking to scrape from the narrow, crooked cobbles and the fiery blasts of the coke furnace a way of bludgeoning and shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of definite and sincere worth.

    Foreigners in a strange land, they carry as part and parcel of their baggage a long line of separation and dispersement which informs their sensibilities and marks their conduct as they search for ways to reconnect, to reassemble, to give clear and luminous meaning to the song which is both a wail and a whelp of joy.

    My God, the language! The warmth and depth of voice!

    **

    And somehow, from there, after hearing Phylicia Rashad reading some of those words from “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”, I find myself listening for the first time to another voice, that of the novelist Ruth Ozeki, reading from her book, A Tale for the Time Being. I’d learned a week or two back that the novel had resonance with the great Zen master Dogen, whose Mountains and Rivers sutra I greatly admire and enjoy:

    Since the virtues of the mountain are high and broad, the spiritual power to ride the clouds is always mastered from the mountains, and the marvelous ability to follow the wind is inevitably liberated from the mountains.

    Here’s Ozeki, herself a zen priest — skip the beginning intros, start at around the 9’35” point, or at 11’17” where her actual reading from the book begins:

    **

    Again, such a voice! Two such voices in one day, new to me! Today I consider the world with fresh and thankful eyes.

    Quick airport security ouroboros, sad

    Thursday, September 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — here’s an example of recursion as farce, closing in on tragedy ]
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    This:

    The last kid who searched me, a young Muslim boy with an immaculate line-beard and goatee, was particularly apologetic.

    “Sorry bro. If it makes you feel any better, they search me before I fly too.”

    From a Guardian “long read” with a great deal of airport frisking — and worth yout time:

  • Riz Ahmed, Typecast as a terrorist
  • **

    So the frisker gets frisked by the friskers. I suppose that’s one answer to Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


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