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Gaming the Islamic State three ways from Sunday

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — what hipbone thinking / gaming could and should bring to the natsec table ]
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I have just been browsing the Institute for the Study of War‘s report on its ISIS wargame, and thought I’d wargame ISIS a bit myself, using my DoubleQuotes game.

**

The ISW report, in its 32 pages, barely mentions religious drivers, features one use of the word “apocalyptic” in a pretty non-specific sentence that implies nothing about what that word implies in terms of religious instensity — “ISIS intends to expand its Caliphate and eventually incite a global apocalyptic war” — and generally focuses on everything but “knowing” the enemy..

If they’d invited me and added a round or three of DoubleQuotes during a coffee break, I’d have been grateful for the coffee and the visit to DC, and very quickly played these two double-moves:

For wide context:

SPEC DQ Taiping IS

Upper panel: the Taiping Rebellion, an apocalyptic (in the true sense) movement in China, 1850 to 1864, with between 20 million and 30 million dead — as a reminder that apocalyptic movements can have, ahem, far-reaching consequences.

Lower panel: Refugees fleeing the Islamic State, a movement whose apocalyptic (in the true sense) strategy includes a focus on great end-times battle to be fought at Dabiq in Syria, Dabiq being the name of their English lnaguage magazine.

Read into the record in support of these two visuals:

  • Jonathan Spence, God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
  • William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
  • And with narrower focus:

    here, on the brutality levels permitted in two rival jihadist groups in Syria:

    SPEC DQ IS vs Jabhat

    Upper panel: the Islamic State brutally executes British aid worker Alan Hemming

    Lower panel: AQ affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra points out that he was under an offer of protection binding on all Muslims.

    There would be background reading to explore and expand that DoubleQuote too. But the main point is: the contest of ideas, not simply that of troop movements and materiel, would have been part of the picture.

    **

    The Atlantic Council has also held two wargaming sessions on IS [1, 2], but again the insights to be gained into the Islamic State’s end-times motivations and their implications are almost nonexistent:

    ISIS carries the seeds of its own destruction primarily because it has an extremely small constituency within Islamist populations around the world, an apocalyptic vision, an unsustainable strategy of us-against-theworld, and a failed governance project.

    And that’s about it.

    **

    McCants’ presentation at the Boston conference, and his forthcoming book (above), both make it clear that the apocalyptic stress of today’s “caliphate” has morphed significantly from the more immediate apocaypticism in IS’ Zarqawi-era predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    And for a nuanced understanding of time-urgency in apocalyptic rhetoric, Stephen O’Leary‘s Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric is the definitive work.

    So when do we start introducing ideational war (and/or peace) games alongside our games of brute force?

    And how do you factor esprit, morale, and “angels, rank on rank” (Quran 8.9, 89.22) into troop movements and so forth?

    Hint: they’re force-multipliers.

    Zen in the Art of Future Warfare

    Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a highly interesting discussion, discussed ]
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    How to Write and Fight World War III:

    This is the video of a terrific discussion of the future of warfare — peacemaking, too, if you see them as two sides of a coin — from the Art of Future Warfare project, to which I have contributed [two stories, 1, 2, a video appearance, 3, and even a DoubleQuotes reference 4]

    **

    I want to select certain phrases from the discussion above, and comment on them.

    It’s a work of fiction, not prediction.

    The thing is, a work isn’t just what its creators intend it to be, it can also be whatever its readers make of it. It’s my impression that the Hebrew prophets were not predicting so much as warning — that’s a distinction Wallace Black Elk made a point of mentioning when he was waxing prophetic — but todays “prophecy teachers” all too often read prophecy as a statement of future fact rather than as a warning of a dangerous path to be avoided.

    So we’re dealing with this incredibly complex world – how do we grapple with it? How do we think about these problems?

    There’s a class of answers to this question, ranging from complex mathematical models, sims and games to stocks and flows diagrams to Dialogue Mapping and my own HipBone Games. Most if not all of the items in this class are graph-based (node and link) networks.

    My own vector is away from high tech and “big” data, towards “rich” data and human-sized graphs — ie graphs with few enough nodes that the human mind can fairly easily envision them, and nodes and links rich enough in anecdotal, visual, statistical, aphoristic, quotatiuonal and other forms of data to elicit full-spectrum human responses, emotional, cultural, mental, heart and mind in conjunction.

    we hunger for creativity and intellectual agility in our national security leaders, and our military leaders

    The usual routes to leadership significantly fail to provide such agility, although occasional good apples to manage to survive among the rotten throng.. That’s why it takes so long to go from John Boyd being a voice in the wilderness to his being lauded by SecDef.

    how do we actually cultivate that kind of thinking, that creative, lateral thinking?

    Again, my own practice draws explicitly on Arthur Koestler‘s insight that it is at the intersection of “planes of thought” — silos, anyone? — that creative insights arise.

    My games accordingly, simply and elegantly make all moves consist, at some level, of such intersections. The HipBone move is a conceptual leap, regular practice of HipBone Games is the most focused way to train the mind in creative leaping, on or off the gameboard, in play or in life.

    fiction, literature and the arts are a critical and often overlooked vehicle for exactly that

    I fully agree, and indeed it turns out that the style of “creative leaping” I am talking about is richly found within the complex weavings of the arts — and indeed, my games were directly inspired by a Nobel-winning novel by Hermann Hesse.

    I lack the competence to build a web-playable version myself, but a museum-oriented adaptation of my game ideas by Cath Styles can be played on iPads in the Australian National Museum, and its web implementation, also focused on visual artefacts rather than concepts, can serve as a proof of concept for the wider uses I envision — intelligence analysis included.

    Paul Callaghan, a writer, game developer, and university lecturer who has played Cath’s Sembl game commented:

    Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

    That’s very precisely what any HipBone derived game aims to do, and if we want creative leadership, getting the HipBone Games up and running online and using them in analytic and decision-making training would be a pretty useful step to take.

    it was basically this Army / Marine Corps answer to a zen koan, right

    and

    a theological and religious scholar

    It may seem strange to find zen buddhism, theology, and religious scholarship mentioned in a discussion on the future of warfare, but they’re areas of the human conceptual spectrum with a great deal to teach us about insight. And fwiw, I read Theology at Oxford, and have recently been “sitting zen” with koans after a brief but brilliant afternoon with the zen roshi John Tarrant.

    Playing a HipBone move and “solving” (resolving, dissolving?) a zen koan have a great deal in common. Haiku, likkewise.

    But that’s enough for one post.

    **

    Here are the selections I’ve been responding too, at greater length:

    Peter W Singer

    We have been very clear. It’s a work of fiction, not prediction. That’s the opening line of it. It is based on real world trends and technologies, but it is not a prediction – but hopefully it can be something that maybe ends up being preventative, by identifying certain issues, trends, even mistakes we are making right now, it helps us to avoid those from happening so that the scenario actually doesn’t come to pass. ..

    Kathleen McInnis:

    We’re grappling with an increasingly complex and interdependent world: globalization, climate change, urbanization, population migration, resource scarcity, all of these are trends that are intersecting with the re-emergence of geopolitics on the one hand, and the erosion of what we’ve known as the sovereign state on the other. So we’re dealing with this incredibly complex world – how do we grapple with it? How do we think about these problems? How do we advance US and global security in a world plagued by wicked problems and unintended consequences?

    As Dan mentioned earlier, we hunger for creativity and intellectual agility in our national security leaders, and our military leaders—but how do we actually cultivate that kind of thinking, that creative, lateral thinking? And crucially, how do we communicate how we are thinking about these problems and what we think we should be doing about them – how do we communicate that to our public in a way that resonates.

    And I submit to you that fiction, literature and the arts are a critical and often overlooked vehicle for exactly that, the creative contemplation of matters of statecraft and national security.

    One of the interesting things about that manual [Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency] was that it actually proposed these intellectual puzzles, these constructs, like, “the more you secure your environment, the less safe you can be” – when you’re operating in a local tactical environment. Instead of having a tactical check-list of, you know, this is what we need to do in these particular operations and this is the logic flow for how you do x, y or z in these environments, it was basically this Army / Marine Corps answer to a zen koan, right – like how does this non-logical, really intuitive way to creatively grapple …

    This is no accident. The point of a zen koan is to inspire a deeper, non-logical level of contemplation. But we haven’t always used koans to access that part of our psyches, and that way of thinking about things.

    Karen Armstrong, who is a theological and religious scholar, who wrote a book that I just love, it’s called A Short History of Myth – she argues that ever since we were cavemen, sitting round camp fires, we have been using stories and myths as ways to communicate truths to each other, ways to communicate meaning. Myths were not an expression of religious beliefs per se, rather they were an imaginative, non-logical way to understand who we are and how we fit in the world. ..

    And then you get to the ancient Greeks, who had two very different, equally important ways of looking at the world, Mythos and Logos.

    WTG, Kathleen!

    **

    Possible koans from the COIN Manual, p 1.27:

  • Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be
  • Sometimes, the More Force Is Used, the Less Effective It Is
  • Hipbone update & request for your vote!

    Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — 3 Quarks Daily, Boston Apocalyptic conference, LapidoMedia, World Religions and Spirituality Project, Bellingcat, Loopcast, Pragati, Sembl ]
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    First, please vote!

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    [ Note added: voting is now closed: my story received the fifth highest tally of votes out of 45 entries, and is now up for consideration by the 3QD editors in the next round — many, many thanks! ]

    My story, War in Heaven, is in the running for the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize. 3 Quarks Daily is a great aggregator site, I’m honored to have made the cut so far, and would love to make it to the next level. My entry is #33 in the alphabetical list here, and votes can be cast at the bottom of the page. Networking for votes is all part of the game, so I’m hoping you’ll vote — & encourage your friends to go to that page & vote my entry up.

    If you haven’t read it, here’s my story. It was a finalist in the Atlantic Council‘s Scowcroft Center Art of Future Warfare Project‘s space war challenge, in association with War on the Rocks.

    There’s even a Google Hangout video in which Atlantic Council Non-Resident Senior Fellow August Cole, who directs the Art of Future Warfare project, interviews the contest’s winner and finalists, myself included. August’s book, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, is in the running for next great Tom Clancy like techno-thriller.

    You’ll find plenty of other good entries at the 3QD contest page, and daily at 3QD as well — as I say, it’s excellent in its own right, and one of the richest contributors of varied and interesting posts on my RSS feed.

    **

    Then, in no particular order — check ’em all out —

    The Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad:

    To my way of thinking, the critical thing to know about the Islamic State is its “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” as Martin Dempsey put it — and the implications of that statement, both in terms of strategy and of recruitment & morale. That’s what the Boston conference focused on, and that’s why I think it was no less significant for being sparsely attended. In a series of future blogs I hope to go over the videos of the various presentations and spell some of their implications out — Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse, is due out in September, and I’d like to have filled in some background by then.

    Here, though, as I’m giving an update on my own doings, is my presentation — an attempt both to tie together some of the strands of the panel I was commenting on (but could barely hear, but that’s a tale or another day), and to express my sense of the importance of apoclyptic thinking, not merely as an intellectual exercise but as an emotional and indeed visceral relaity for those swept up in it:

    The other speakers were Richard Landes, WIlliam McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey Bale, David Cook, J.M. Berger, Itamar Marcus, Charles Jacobs, David Redles, Mia Bloom, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher and Paul Berman — quite a stellar crew.

    **

    My two latest pieces for LapidoMedia, where I’m currently editor:

    ANALYSIS: Understanding the jihadists through their poetry and piety
    12th June 2015

    YOU might not think that ‘what jihadis do in their spare time’ would be a topic of much interest, but it’s one that has been under-reported and is just now breaking into public awareness.

    Much of the credit for this goes to Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel for their current New Yorker piece, Battle lines: Want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry.

    But behind Creswell and Haykel’s piece lurks a striking presentation given by the Norwegian terrorism analyst Thomas Hegghammer at St Andrews in April.

    Hegghammer’s Wilkinson Memorial lecture was titled Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants…

    Read the rest

    I’m still intending to do a longer and more detailed write-up for Zenpundit on Hegghammer’s highly significant lecture.

    Today:

    The Bamiyan Buddha lives again

    A CHINESE couple, dismayed by the Taliban’s destruction of Bamiyan’s two Buddha statues, has brought the larger of the statues back to life.

    Locals and visitors can once again see the Bamiyan Buddha through the use of laser technology – this time not in stone but in light.

    Carved into the great cliff face towering over the fertile valley of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, two Buddha statues stood for centuries.

    In 2001 the Taliban dynamited the statues, built in the Sixth century in the Gandhara style, the larger of them standing 55 metres tall.

    It was not the first attack against them.Lapido aims to provide (mostly secular) journalists with insight into the religious & spiritual values behind current events.

    Read the rest

    I stood there, atop the Bamiyan Buddha: it’s personal.

    **

    At the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, I’m one of two Project Directors for the JIHADISM Project. We’re very much a work in progress, aiming to provide a resource for scholarship of religion as it relates to jihadism.

    **

    Justin Seitz made a post titled Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf on Bellingcat, to which I responded, and we had a back-and-forth of emails &c.

    Justin then gave our discussion a shoutout at The Loopcast

    — the immediate context starts around the 30 min mark, and runs to around 35 — and followed up with a second Bellingcat post, Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf Part 2 — in which he quoted me again. Key here is his remark:

    a human with domain expertise is always going to be in a better position to make judgement calls than any algorithm

    Agreed — & many thanks, Justin!

    Bellingcat — definitely an honor to get a shoutout there,

    **

    Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review

    My latest on Pragati was my review of JM berger & Jessica Stern’s ISIS: the State of Terror, which I’ve already noted & linked to here on ZP.

    Up next, my review of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s The Arabs at War in Afghanistan

    **

    And last but not by any means least…

    Cath Styles’ new Sembl slideshow:

    It’s a terrific feeling to see the next runner in a relay race take off from the handover… Cath is getting some high praise for her work on Sembl for the museum world, including the following:

    Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

    Paul Callaghan
    Writer, Game Developer, Lecturer at Unversity of East London

    Meanwhile, I’m still quietly plugging away at some other aspects of the HipBone / Sembl project.

    Class distinction: these games got played

    Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — who just realized the Lotto would be as hard for a machine to beat as his own HipBone Games ]
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    SPEC lotto chess cheats

    **

    A friend pointed me to the Washington Post’s story of a chess grandmaster caught cheating with help from an iPhone today, and the phrase “a simple cellphone can transform anybody into a grandmaster” struck home immediately. Not possible, I tweeted, with games of analogy, HipBone, Sembl &c, the human being, not the computer, is key — in games, intel analysis, etc. Big data crunches well, I continued, but the human mind digests!

    Y’see, I’m somewhat proud of the fact that my HipBone Games would be more difficult than Chess — more difficult even than Go — for a computer like IBM’s Watson to play at grandmaster level.

    And then my eye was caught by the parallel story of an IT specialist who goes up for trial on Monday on charges of “fixing” himself a winning Lotto ticket.

    Lotto is way downmarket compared to Chess. no? And the prize for the winner of the 17th annual Dubai Open Chess Tournament was $12,000, whereas the lucky Lotto winner’s grab netted him $14.3 million. Go figure, and use your smartphone if you wish.

    Could Watson beat the Lotto? I don’t believe it could. Does that make Lotto more upscale — more demanding, more difficult or an AI to fudge — than my HipBone Games? Maybe it does : (

    Ah well.

    In any case, human beats random number generator — score yet another win for the human mind!

    **

    Sources:

  • Washington Post, Chess
  • International Business Times, Lotto
  • The Israeli election: in the balance

    Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — the election itself a one day affair, and may even be settled by the time you read this — but the impact lingers, and the complex balancing of forces in the region remains ]
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    Calder

    **

    Nothing is ever black-and-white, it seems to me — but there are moment of exceptional clarity, and with the Israeli election (as best I can tell from afar) still in the balance as I write this, two quotes from Herzog (upper panel, below) and Netanyahu (lower panel) strike me as encapsulating the koan facing the Israeli people:

    SPEC DQ Israeli elex koan

    **

    Still in the balance.

    I was discussing the Middle East earlier in the day, an the issue of balance came up. Cheryl Rofer had said, “The big issue with KSA and Israel is balance of power” and I commented that if you throw Iran into the mix, the issue becomes one of a “balance of balances of power” — which could then be extended on out to include other interested parties.

    This brought me to the idea of Alexander Calder mobiles, and the sense that they offer a kinetic equivalent to the static formalism of my own HipBone Games — their precarious balances and homeostases representing by analogy the tensions and resolutions between stakeholders and / or ideas, ideologies, approaches, in a way that features both “equilibrium and its discontents”. Fascinating.

    To which Cheryl responded with gnomic accuracy:

    Multibody problems are hard.

    Ain’t that the truth!

    **

    Sources:

  • NYT, Netanyahu Says Never to a State for Palestinians
  • Fathom, We must divide the land: an interview with Isaac Herzog

  • Mobile, Alexander Calder in Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

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