[ by Charles Cameron — long a chain smoker, painful on the ear when he attempted the violin, never tried the cello ]
No, I don’t smoke any more, haven’t for more than a decade. But I still think of cigarettes as potential sacraments, as when a soldier in the trenches at the Somme passes one to his dying mate.. sacramentals, to be precise. So I can take pleasure in this conjunction of violin and cigarette in defiance of the Islamic State:
The potential for grace is more easily seen in music than in smoking, to be sure — Ameen Mokdad with his violin in Mosul surely found it, as did Karim Wasfi with his cello in Baghdad. In these times in which the President scatters bombs around the place with one hand while planning to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts with the other, you might like to visit the Facebook page of Karim Wasfi Center For Creativity – Peace Through Arts, or listen to one or more of these videos..
Karim Wasfi — Interviewed by NPR’s Renne Montagne:
Iraqi cellist Karim Wasfi plays music on bomb explosion site:
Karim Wasfi, cello sonata and lecture at Geneva Centre for Security Policy during Geneva Peace Week 2016:
Iraqi Violinist Ameen Mokdad Plays Concert In Defiance Of ISIS | NBC News:
Ameen Mokdad, Viaggio:
Music as sacrament is nicely illustrated by John Eliot Gardiner‘s quoting Bach immediately after Sara Mingardo sings O selger Tag! in the DVD of Bach Cantata BWV 63, “Christen, ätzet diesen Tag”:
Wherever there’s devotional music, God with his grace is present.
Recitatives — O selger Tag! is an example — are by definition “musical declamation of the kind usual in the narrative and dialogue parts of opera and oratorio, sung in the rhythm of ordinary speech with many words on the same note”. Arias are the stellar “diva” vocal parts for solo, duet etc, and recitatives the mere handmaidens that carry us from one aria or chorus via narrative to another. How extraordinary, then, the devotion Sara Mingardo‘s musicianship manages to pour into this recitative as performed in rehearsal above!
Geoffrey Pyke, an inventor, war reporter, escaped prisoner, campaigner, father, educator–and all-around misunderstood genius. In his day, he was described as one of the world’s great minds, to rank alongside Einstein, yet he remains virtually unknown today. Pyke was an unlikely hero of both world wars and, among many other things, is seen today as the father of the U.S. Special Forces. He changed the landscape of British pre-school education, earned a fortune on the stock market, wrote a bestseller and in 1942 convinced Winston Churchill to build an aircraft carrier out of reinforced ice. He escaped from a German WWI prison camp, devised an ingenious plan to help the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and launched a private attempt to avert the outbreak of the Second World War by sending into Nazi Germany a group of pollsters disguised as golfers.
To truly nurture creativity, you have to cherish your contrarians and give them opportunities to run free. Leaders in the analytic community must avoid trying to make everyone meet a preconceived notion of the intelligence community’s equivalent of the “man in the gray flannel suit.”
And the service can ill-afford to lose creative personnel with a high tolerance for risk.
It’s a sad fact that the folks who are in government, especially in the “elite” services of the CIA and the State Department, aren’t what they used to be. They are, to be blunt, less interesting. There are vastly fewer “characters” -— the unconventional, often infuriating, types who give institutions color and competence.
Okay, here’s Geoffrey Pyke in his own capital letters:
EVERYTHING IS IRRELEVANT TILL CORRELATED WITH SOMETHING ELSE
And why does that interest me?
Well first, today it corroborates my comment just now on David Barno and Nora Bensahel and the importance of their suggestion that “The Army should also reinstate the requirement for every career officer to develop skills in two specialties.”
And then second, because I have been saying for a while that:
On the Maryland side of the Potomac, in the rural community of Nanjemoy, you’ll find a sheltered cove called Mallows Bay. The sandy bluffs and dense stands of ash and pine resemble many other quiet spots along the river. But there’s something in the water: the largest ship graveyard in North America.
How’d it get there? Well, in the final years of World War I, the Allies found themselves short on sea-power: German submarines had taken a heavy toll. With ample timber reserves, Americans hit on a plan to make up the losses by building hundreds of wooden steamships. The U.S. government doled out contracts, and a building frenzy ensued.
But the war ended sooner than expected, leaving officials with the peculiar problem of what to do with its unused (and now unwanted) armada. Riding at anchor in Widewater, Virginia, the hastily assembled fleet posed a hazard to shipping traffic and a nuisance to fishermen, so the decision was made to move most of the ships across the river to the secluded Mallows Bay.
The fleet—and the Mallows Bay property itself—changed hands through a succession of salvage companies that tried everything to get rid of the ships: sinking them, beaching them, burning them, burying them, and taking them apart nail by nail. No one managed to turn much profit or to finish the job—and in the process of trying, they made a junkyard of the once pristine river cove.
But in the decades that followed, writes historian Donald G. Shomette, nature took its course.”The years rolled by and the battlefield contours of Mallows Bay softened, as wind-borne seeds took root in the rich, soil-filled holds of burnt-out ships, as creatures large and small began to return, as the green chain of life was slowly reforged.”
As I suggested in my comment at the top of this post — rising from the dead: sacred & secular, natural & military, past & future. I wish you a blessed Easter if such may be found in your calender, and a happy future to the extent possible in any case.
[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”
I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:
None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.
And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.
Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..
If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.
In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.
Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.
The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us
a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities
— down to our own times.
What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.
The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:
Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.
Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.
Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.
The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.
And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.
The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.
Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.
Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..
Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?
He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:
Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.
— and had the final, pointed word:
We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.
Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:
The summer of 2015 for me is becoming memorable for the diversity of the books making it into my queue through unexpected circumstances. Larson’s Dead Wake was an surprise gift from a neighbor familiar with my professional pursuits. I read “Wake” in two sittings and it is superb. Larson puts faces on the victims, and highlights the politics from both sides of the Atlantic, to include the German U-boat commander responsible for the sinking. This tragedy reads like a novel and is wicked good.
Last year my son turned me on to the feed of @GSElevator on Twitter. I would have never read this book had I not become a fan of Mr. Lefevre’s decidedly politically incorrect sense of humor. With over 700k followers on Twitter he created an instant potential market and I bit. Straight to Hell is an entertaining irreverent look at the top of the banking profession, and is not for the faint of heart—and very funny.
Ghost Fleet is one of the most anticipated techno-thrillers in recent memory. Singer and Cole have spun a good yarn of how a future world war between the USA and China/Russia. While the book is a page turner, the authors thankfully sourced their technology assertions in 22 pages of notes! A great resource for a very good book. One could quibble over lack of character development, but this book is driven more by technological wizardry and is a fun and instructive read.
Fate of Man was recommended either at a blog or in blog comments—I don’t remember. This tiny but poignant book (it is more a bound short story) provides the reader with a glimpse of the hardships and sacrifices in Russia post WWII. Torture and suffering on a scale foreign to 99.9% of those living in the modern Western world.
BACH was a birthday gift, and I would like to report I have finished Gardiner’s masterpiece, but that may take some time (I’m at page 330). Gardiner shares insights on JS Bach’s life and music, and while I have over forty Bach recordings in my iTunes account, this lovely book is introducing a massive body of Bach’s cantata work—over 200 and I’m unfamiliar with most. My method has been to read Gardiner’s description of the piece, then find a recording on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gardiner does not discuss one of my all-time favorite Bach Cantatas Ascension Oratorio BWV-11 (the last five minutes are simply divine).
Finally, the Calvin Coolidge book came to me via CDR Salamander in a Facebook thread. As a fan of Coolidge and Derbyshire, I grabbed a copy and I’m glad I did. Derbyshire has written a sweet and insightful story of love, betrayal, and redemption, all the while providing the reader a frightening description of China’s cultural revolution.
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.