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Burqa Burqa Jihad

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — how ISIS imitates the French state ]

Laïcité! Jahiliyyah!


Once again, the jihadists are borrowing our western ideas, only to turn them against us — this time, after a lapse of fours years.


My title? How could you forget..

Quick notes on intelligent intelligence, 2

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a quote from my fellow whacky Brit, Geoffrey Pyke ]


Whacky? From a short description of the man by his biographer, Henry Hemming:

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.


And for good measure, here’s Jami Miscik on oddballs:

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 Reuel Marc Gerecht:

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:


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:

Two is the first number

and quoting along the way Aristotle, Jung, and the tenth-century Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’..


For these reasons, and with a hat-tip to Bryan Alexander, I cherish the contrarian intelligence of Mr Pyke.

Whole lot of DoubleQuoting going on..

Friday, July 29th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameroncompare & contrast is a very basic mental practice, and one I’d like to sharpen into the cognitive tool or mental app I term DoubleQuotes ]

This may well be the most significant DoubleTweet of the day — the very fact of its doubleness placing the issue into the category of Who Knows?

— both tweets, as you see, come to us courtesy of Mike Walker, former acting SecArmy & deputy FEMA director — and since this is Friday, let me say #FF him at @New_Narrative.


A French-language DQ worthy of note and our support:


A Trump trumps Trump DQ:

— hat-tip to @pourmecoffee.


Another Trump on Trump, this one caught by Adam Serwer:

FWIW, I’m sure there are Clinton on Clinton DoubleTweets too..


An entire, detailed NYT comparison between the two election campaigns demonstrates the power of extended compare and contrast thinking, aided and abetted by the graphical ease of digital capture and analysis —

NYT e;lection DQ article

— but you’ll need to click through and read it to get the full effect.


And while we’re on the subject of patterns, here’s a great quote which I got via Jessie Daniels:

A fine use of the ouroboric form to hammer home the significance of an observation — and also a powerful contemporary creation myth!

Nesting Buddhas and insubstantiality

Monday, July 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — from the Buddha’s Diamond Sutra via matrioshka dolls and koans to Sun Tzu and Wittgenstein ]

From Karl Brunnhölzl, The Heart Sutra Will Change You Forever, in today’s Lion’s Roar:

Besides being a meditation manual, we could also say that the Heart Sutra is like a big koan. But it is not just one koan, it is like those Russian dolls: there is one big doll on the outside and then there is a smaller one inside that first one, and there are many more smaller ones in each following one.

After reading that, I wasn’t exactly expecting to find illustrations of Buddhas in the form of Matryoshka dolls on Google, but in fact there are quite a few variants on the theme. Here’s one, original source unknown:


Buddhism actually has a doctrine of the Trikaya or three bodies of Buddha, as described in the dictionarily dry words of the Britannica:

Trikaya, (Sanskrit: “three bodies”), in Mah?y?na Buddhism, the concept of the three bodies, or modes of being, of the Buddha: the dharmakaya (body of essence), the unmanifested mode, and the supreme state of absolute knowledge; the sambhogakaya (body of enjoyment), the heavenly mode; and the nirmanakaya (body of transformation), the earthly mode, the Buddha as he appeared on earth or manifested himself in an earthly bodhisattva, an earthly king, a painting, or a natural object, such as a lotus.

— and point you to a deeper reading as set forth by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, whose understanding far surpasses anything I could muster.

I don’t. however, believe these three bodies are “nested” quite the way the Russian dolls are..


Now let’s get down to business. In the same article, Brunnhölzl writes:

Many people have complained about the Prajnaparamita Sutras because they also trash all the hallmarks of Buddhism itself, such as the four noble truths, the Buddhist path, and nirvana. These sutras not only say that our ordinary thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are invalid and that they do not really exist as they seem to, but that the same goes for all the concepts and frameworks of philosophical schools—non- Buddhist schools, Buddhist schools, and even the Mahayana, the tradition to which the Prajnaparamita Sutras belong.

That’s by normal western standards, is pretty strong philosophical meat. But Brunnhölzl continues, asking:

Is there any other spiritual tradition that says, “Everything that we teach, just forget about it”?


I sense a slight “my path is edgier than yours” tinge to that question, so I didn’t treat it as rhetorical, I pondered it — and in my googling ran across this rather neat pair of DoubleQuotes, which had been put together by Noah Greenstein in a blog-post titled Wittgenstein and Sun Tzu (on throwing the ladder away):

DQ Sun Tzu Wittgenstein ladders

and which I’ve presented here using one of my own DoubleQuotes formats.


It should be noted, however, that the Sun Tzu translation quoted here is the 1910 Leonard Giles version, that the text with a little more context reads:

At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots..

and that Giles‘ own comment on “the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him” reads:

literally, “releases the spring” (see V. § 15), that is, takes some decisive step which makes it impossible for the army to return—like # Hsiang Yü, who sunk his ships after crossing a river.

Sun Tzu as quoted here, then, is not in fact a great match for Wittgenstein — but Wittgenstein, who can indeed be said to have “thrown away” his own early philosophy as outlined in the Tractatus before acquiring the new one outlined in his Philosophical Investigations, comes far closer in spirit to the Diamond Sutra as discussed above.


Did I say the Heartv Sutra was “pretty strong meat”? I did. Perhaps this excerpt from Brunnhölzl’ piece will bring the point home:

There are accounts in several of the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras about people being present in the audience who had already attained certain advanced levels of spiritual development or insight that liberated them from samsaric existence and suffering. These people, who are called “arhats” in Buddhism, were listening to the Buddha speaking about emptiness and then had different reactions. Some thought, “This is crazy, let’s go” and left. Others stayed, but some of them had heart attacks, vomited blood, and died. It seems they didn’t leave in time. These arhats were so shocked by what they were hearing that they died on the spot. That’s why somebody suggested to me that we could call the Heart Sutra the Heart Attack Sutra.

Now that’s serious philosophy.


Okay, this has been an early morning meander, sufficient to drive away both fatigue and insomnia. On with the insubstantial day..

Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

Monday, July 11th, 2016

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Storm of Creativity2017



white horsewashington


The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?

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