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Sunday surprise — Li Bai and the Song of Songs

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — it’s all about a scarlet thread and some corks in a current ]

I have plenty of idle time between naps, and was binge watching The Churchmen on Netflix. Plus it’s a Sunday..


As you know, I track “twins” in events and quotations, mainly for sheer aesthetic pleasure, but also partly as an analytic tool — believing as I do that “two is the first number” and often a leading-edge clue to pattern, meaning, significance.

I’m used to finding others who have noted these twins or “DoubleQuotes” as I call them — “DoubleQuotes in the Wild” — but I’m not sure I’ve ever run across a clear description of someone else noting them, let alone in a scholarly manner that bridges the secular west and spiritual east — but lookee here!


Amazing indeed! And what a line! Your lips are like a thread of scarlet! worthy of Li Po, worthy indeed of the Song of Songs!

I’d have been very chuffed if I’d run across the same doublet between Li Bai – better known to me as Li Po — and the Song of Songs — which, by the way, is Solomon’s.


Li Po, who, drunk and out in a shallow boat, saw the moon reflected in the Yellow River, leaned over to kiss it, and drowned..

Solomon — but you know the story — seated in judgement, ordered a child be cut in two when two women claimed to be its mother — then commanded it be given to the one whose shocked pure love begged him to deliver it to the other.. wisdom as the test of love!


The discoverer of the binary “Your lips are like a thread of scarlet!” is a brilliant, generous-hearted, flawed founder and leader of a seminary in France who displeases ambitious Vaticanisti, is offered a choice of disgrace (on account off his flaws) or (as an “out”) a posting to an obscure but copacetic position in Shanghai..

A conversation ensues, in which he discusses his options with the nun who serves as his assistant:

The nun ancourages him to consider the Shanghai option..

That option has a certain seductive charm — following that scarlet thread.. but it represents being “bought off” rather than sticking by one’s guns come what may, and somehow weathering the consequences.


Our nun reflects:

And that’s an interesting idea.

At first glace it seems fatalistic — but that current moving the corks — the seminarians, the nun herself, the priest she serves, an ambitious president of the Franch bishops, various monsignori and a pope – maybe Christ, too? — has its own flows and undertows — a priest’s flaws included. It’s a complex system.

The corks are afloat in a complex system. A scarlet thread traces its curve in the complex system, from contemporary France to eighth- century China.


And when you’re afloat in a complex system — as we all are — “go with the flow” may be sound advice. That’s why the “corks in a current” idea seems so interesting to me. Sunday surprise!

Okay this re North Korea this morning from WotR

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — from Korea hands vs nuclear wonks ]

Okay, the title of this piece intrigued me: Korea hands vs nuclear wonksVan Jackson at War on the Rocks today.

Okay, I mostly like wonks, but hands have on-the-ground awareness that beats the hell out of book-footnoted research and chat with like-mindedd others, so to my mind, Korea hands would naturally beat nuclear wonks (Cheryl Rofer and friends explicitly excepted), no contest. Anyway, neat, interest-grabbing title. I therefore clicked to see the piece, and while my own opinion was not affirmed, I found this:

I ranted about this a bit on twitter over the weekend, but what we’re witnessing is an open split between the United States and South Korea over North Korea policy. It’s not the first time; this happened in the early years of the George W. Bush administration too. Both sides have an interest in papering over differences in public, but the rift is there. The question is why.

Nuclear scholars see the emerging differences in the alliance as strategic “decoupling”—North Korea’s growing nuke threat is leading South Korea to search for security by other means because U.S. reliability shrinks as U.S. territory falls within range of North Korean missiles. South Korea would be hard-pressed to have faith that Trump would be willing to let Seattle eat a nuke in exchange for Seoul not eating one.

But Korea scholars see a more familiar pattern in the current divergences between South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and President Trump. The breakdown of the U.S.-Korea alliance in 2002 and 2003 was about as bad as it’s ever been, it was due entirely to the politics (on both sides) of North Korea policy, and it was years before North Korea had a functional nuke.

So we all see a fissure opening up between allies, but what’s the best explanation for it? If the nuclear scholars are right, and the fissure is a function of North Korea’s growing nukes, then the alliance is in big trouble, because the nuke problem is on-trend to get worse not better.

If the Korea scholars are right, then the alliance is in a bad place but the situation is recoverable. South Korea’s president is just being a political opportunist, in this interpretation, and once the domestic mood in the South shifts against him (or North Korea), then the alliance will be in a better place.

Either way, we’re effectively out of the nuclear crisis from last year. It would take a major miscalculation or act of violence by someone to bring the crisis roaring back. Unfortunately, that’s entirely plausible.


Two points-of-view — the view from two points, two perspectives — distinct but not necessarily opposed, ie capable of binocular vision, if the balance between the two lenses is adjusted to the perceiver’s taste.

Binocular vision, adjusted to balance the inputs from the two lenses, is — if nothing else — an opportunity for dialectic, or for the HipBone approach (stereophany — see Meditations for Game Players, vii).

Binocular — stereoscopic — dialectic vision is a central aspect of my interest in polyphony, the capacity to hear twwo or more points of view at once. F Scott Fitzgerald once said, much to my delight:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Then there’s Sir Lawrence Freedman, in The Meaning of Strategy, Part II: The Objectives:

For Beaufre, strategy was the “the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute.”

Strategy! Dialectic! Stereophany!


And now, back to N Korea and Van Jackson with all that in mind..

I’ve taken into account two viewpoints in my “binocular” discussion here — but Jackson offers a third possibility at the very end of his piece:

Either way, we’re effectively out of the nuclear crisis from last year. It would take a major miscalculation or act of violence by someone to bring the crisis roaring back. Unfortunately, that’s entirely plausible.


WHat do you think, Zen, Scott, Tanner, Cheryl, Michael??

Fire and Fury — a fair or unfair borrowing?

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — how can anyone accurately judge the rage of another — and what happens if we simply can’t, but need to take precautions against it? ]

President Trump certainly spoke of visiting “fire and fury” on the DPNK as quoted by the Economist in its DeafCon page (upper panel):

The question is whether the use of the phrase to headline a piece on the Alt-Right torchlight protest at UVa (lower panel) is appropriate or not?

  • Does it trivialize the serious matter of potential nuclear war by applying Trump’s phrase to a mere few hundred protesters,
  • or does it rightly intuit that the fury and fire of the Trump-Bannon platform — as applied to the DPNK nuclear program — is of the same cloth as the fury and fire of the protesters, and thus entirely applicable and appropriate?
  • **

    For the second time today:

    Metaphors, analogies, parallelisms, paradoxes — my stock in trade — are delicate matters, and should be treated with care.

    HipBone implications of the second shoe dropping for intel analysis

    Sunday, August 6th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — also, the role of the True Name in intel analysis & Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea ]

    You may know that I value the documentary film Manhunt for its lucid presentation of the process by which the finest intelligence analysts “leap” to their quarry — in which Cindy Storer notes, “not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic”.

    In my post The process of associative memory I decribe this process, which I consider the root process of true creativity:

    There’s the present moment .. And there’s the memory it elicits.

    Compare Michael Hayden in Manhunt, at 1.19.18:

    The way it works is, information come in, you catalog it, your organize it – that little nugget there could sit fallow on your shelves for four or five years until something else comes in that’s suddenly very illuminating about something that you may have had for a very long period of time. That actually happened in the work we did to hunt for Osama bin Laden by trying to track his courier.

    By way of confirmation, here is Robert Frost:

    The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic.

    And here’s Jeff Jones on piecing together puzzles —

    Some pieces produce remarkable epiphanies. You grab the next piece, which appears to be just some chunk of grass – obviously no big deal. But wait … you discover this innocuous piece connects the windmill scene to the alligator scene! This innocent little new piece turned out to be the glue.


    My point here is that the board in my “game” of DoubleQuotes provides a matrix for eliciting and annotating such leaps between fact and memory — that’s its purpose, and that’s why I believe the practice and “playing” of DoubleQuotes is, in itself, an ideal training for the analytic mind in that otherwise elusive aptitude which Ms Storer says seenms like magic to those who do not possess it..

    I believe my DoubleQuotes would be an invaluable tool for analysts in training.


    Note, however, that Jose Rodriguez, speaking immediately after Michael Hayden at 1.19.55, adds a reference to the “True Name” — accompanying screencaps included — something to which as a theologian I am naturally drawn:

    It took years for the agency to recruit the human source that eventually gave us the true name. That’s why we were in the business the of condensing human intelligence because, in many cases, all these fancy gadgets and everything else won’t give you the information that you really need. A true name.

    And we finally got his true name, which is whatever it is. Whatever. Arabic name, you know. But the true name – we were able to find out a lot about him. From then on, you know, the agency was able to do what it does so well. Track the guy and find him.

    That too elicits memories, though in this case providing cultural context rather than actionable intelligence. It’s interesting to compare Rodriguez’ quote with the passages in which Ursula Le Guin describes the nature of magic in her book, Wizard of Earthsea:

    He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea.


    He saw that in this dusty and fathomless matter of learning the true name of every place, thing, and being, the power he wanted lay like a jewel at the bottom of a dry well. For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.


    See also:

  • Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B
  • Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles
  • FWIW, there’s an appendix on the central spiritual significance of remembrance of the True Name in Judaism (HaShem), Christianity (Jesus Prayer), Islam (dhikr), Hinduism (nama-rupa), Buddhism (nembutsu) etc at the back of Frithjof Schuon‘s little book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions.

    On which frankly mystical note, here’s a third para from Le Guin to carry you towards Lao Tzu‘s observation that “The name that can be named is not the eternal Name” —

    It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

    Systems, loops, forms, diagrams, games

    Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — among other things, a great lecture on complexity / complicity in a complex world ]


    I am always on about form, practicing ways of seeing form, of recognizing pattern in the very structure and logic of events — as though that practice were practical, had some eventual fruitfulness in practice, in the world of worldly affairs. And it may seem strange, erratic, off-course to many of my readers here, especially those who arrive in mid-stream, or with expectations of specifically strategic insight.

    The other day I watched a lecture a friend of mine gave a couple of years back, and I wanted to bring it here because — tangentially — with its loops and diagrams it shows underlying form as it in-forms the games we play, the worlds they conjure, the ways we understand and navigate them, and the world around us — in which we find ourselves, and on which they are, however remotely and ingeniously, based.

    My friend Mike has been lead designer on Sims 2 and Ultima Online among other games, and is currently a Professor of Practice in game design at Indiana University, Bloomington.

    Mike Sellers..

    More from Sellers’ bio:

    He has a Bacon Number of 2 and hopes someday to have an Erdos Number.

    Oh — and he was an extra — lucky dog, sorta — in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now.


    My own analytic approach, my insistence on monitoring form as well as content, and my own HipBone Games all work at the underlying / subconscious level at which Mike pitches his talk. I hope this helps you understand what I’m about — but even if it doesn’t, it’s a fine introduction to game design and the understanding of a complex world by the man who famously reminded his fellow game designers:

    An idea isn’t a design. A design is not a program. A program is not a product. A product is not a business. A business is not profit. Profit is not happiness.

    Good thinking, from a good friend.

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