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Monday, August 3rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — also genetics, genetic algorithms and John Holland on the glass bead game ]
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An abstract DoubleQuote:

Thi9s is like one of my DoubleQuotes boards, empty — the reader is incited to fill in the blanks. And —

A Skew DoubleQuote:

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Parallelism is a pretty obvious form of linkage, opposition is almnost the same, yet also sharply distinct — and there’s the style of linage where two ideas could be be described as in oblique relation, intersecting, but not in direcxt opposition or parallelism. And then, then there’s the situation where wo ideas, two lines of thought, may pass quite close by one another, without intersecting- – ideas that pass in the night — in a manner that would be oblique if they were in the same plane, but they’re not – skew ideas?

I’m using the definition of skew that says “Skew lines lie on separate planes, they are not parallel, they do not intersect” — as illustrated here:

skew lines

Poets love skew links between thoughts, for the leaps they embody:

Li Po drowning, drunk, into the moon reflected in the Yellow River. Crazy? Crazed. Amusing? Mused.

**

Bryan Alexander alerted me to the bead game matter. You may need to read the whole article, The Codes of Modern Life by Alex Riley to understand how Reed-Solomon codes allow for the nifty correction of errors in complex messages:

rs-mona-lisa

but what led Bryan to cc me in on the discussion was the passing mention that DNA-stored data could best be protected bu encasing the DNA encapsulated in “microscopic beads of glass” — cue the Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse:

DNA in glass beads

**

While on the subject of genetics, it’s worth recalling once again that John Holland, the “father” of genetic algorithms, once told interviewer Janet Stites:

I’ve been working toward it all my life, this Das Glasperlenspiel. It was a very scholarly game, starting with an abacus, where people set up musical themes, then do variations on it, like a fugue. Then they’d expand it to where it could include other artistic forms, and eventually cultural symbols. It became a very sophisticated game for setting up themes, almost as a poet would, and building variations as a composer. It was a way of symbolizing music and of building broad insights into the world.

If I could get at all close to producing something like the glass bead game I can’t think of anything that would delight me more.

On sneers, smears, and mutual sniping

Friday, July 31st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not exactly an enthusiast of negative campaigning ]
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I’ve been having a series of conversations with my friend Tom Merino recently, and a couple of days ago he suggested two quotes to me for comparison:

SPEC DQ Tom's DoubleSpeak

I’ve formatted them in my usual DoubleQuotes style, but my friend calls the pairing DoubleSpeak and sees them as the starting point for an investigation of the vexed question — who uses the most frequent and vicious slurs against “the other side” — liberals or conservatives?

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How would we even begin to measure that? Who would decide whether, for instance, smearing a Republican presidential candidate with a remark that clearly evokes slavery is a lesser or greater lapse than smirching a Democratic president with a remark that clearly evokes the Holocaust?

And who would host a venue where both liberals and conservatives could and would report abuses and insults of this sort, so that some measures of frequency, severity and authority could be employed in something resembling a fair ranking?

Note: on the difficulties of such ranking, see Malcolm Gladwell‘s The Order of Things.

**

And then there’s Sarah Palin, who used the phrase “blood libel” to describe attacks on her the wake of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords — because she, Palin, had used a map with crosshairs on Democrats she hoped would be defeated.. Giffords included.

SPEC DQ Palin map blood libel

— the problem here being that “blood libel” refers pretty specifically to the accusation against the Jews that they bake matzoh for Passover using the blood of young Christian children they have slaughtered.

Again, the rhetoric she used trivialized the blood libel, just as Biden trivialized slavery and Huckabee trivializes the Shoah.

**

But then, hey — if putting cross-hairs on Democrats you’d like to see removed from office is itself an example of heated and dangerous rhetoric, wouldn’t the same be true of putting targets on Republicans you’d like to see removed?

Here’s a helpful DoubleQuote in the Wild:

acceptable or not

Neither “targetting” political adversaries nor “having them in your crosshairs” equates to killing or there would have been a whole lot more attempted assassinations — just the one was bad enough.

Have some proportion, people.

**

How about that claim that Ahmadinejad said he wanted to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”?

Over the top rhetoric can be rabble rousing, it can also be a warning or a threat, and threats on occasion get carried into practice. So, serious as divisive language and a divided nation is (Luke 11.17), some rhetoric is charged with meaning that transcends mere words and implies — or impels or incites to — action.

Some details. Ahmadinejad didn’t say anything about “wiping Israel off the face of the map” — specifically, he didn’t use the word “map”, and he was quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini in any case. What he said is better translated “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” That’s Juan Cole’s translation, admittedly — but Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of intelligence and atomic energy, told an Al Jazeera interviewer “They didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe it out,’ you’re right, but, ‘It will not survive.’”

Is that the end of it? Ahmadinejad didn’t say “wipe off the face of the map” but “vanish from the page of time”?

By no meanms. The faulty English translation was picked up by the Iranians and used, in English, on billboards:

wiped banner from teitelbaum

That banner was on the outside of a Basij HQ.

There’s room enough for some nuance here, but also plenty of room for concern. I’ll include a selection of readings under “Sources & Readings” below..

**

Oh. Getting back to simple slurs..

Now I learn there’s a new word of scorn, applied by “alt.conservatives” to “conservatives.” Frankly, I find it a distasteful reminder of how low our public speech has fallen — but then I’m a Brit, and rank politeness pretty high — we’re more prone to understatement than plain speaking.

The Washington Post calls it “the the conservative insult of the month” and I won’t go there.

**

Sources & Readings:

  • Deena Zaru, Anti-Defamation League: Huckabee ‘completely out of line’
  • Mackenzie Weinger, GOP slams Joe Biden ‘chains’ remark
  • SarahPAC, Palin target map
  • Michael Shear, Palin Calls Criticism ‘Blood Libel’
  • RedState, Missouri GOP Senate Candidate Brunner Slams Sarah Palin For Rhetoric And “Cross-hairs” Map
  • Jonathan Steele, Lost in translation
  • Glenn Kessler, Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?
  • Robert Mackey, Israeli Minister Agrees Ahmadinejad Never Said Israel ‘Must Be Wiped Off the Map’
  • Joshua Teitelbaunm, What Iranian Leaders Really Say about Doing Away with Israel: A Refutation of the Campaign to Excuse Ahmadinejad’s Incitement to Genocide
  • Multiculturalism in play?

    Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — multiculturalism in play — or, what’s the name of the game? ]
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    It is getting to be quite a theme: When games collide.

    SPEC DQ MacIntyre xkcd

    I’ve used the MacIntyre quote before [1, 2, 3], but the wonderful xkcd visual presentation is new to me — many thanks to Tanner Greer for turning me onto it.

    **

    What’s the name of the game?

    Nomic?

    When one life sprouts inside another

    Thursday, July 16th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — some ugly comparisons, you have been warned — but it is only the exaggerated ugliness that drives my point home ]
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    The first DoubleQuote of three I’m posting here shows two views of sacred sites taken over by conquering religions.

    SPEC DQ cordoba istanbul

    You may have seen this DoubleQuote before — the upper panel shows the Mezqita or Grand Mosque of Cordoba, an extraordinarily beautiful building in the middle of which Spanish Catholics grafted a baroque cathedral, an act of which King Carlos V of Spain said:

    You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world

    The lower panel shows the Hagia Sophia or Basilica of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul, which was turned into a mosque by Muslim conquerors, and subsequently made into a museum

    **

    The question this sort of transformation of sacred places — from one faith to another, often by conquest but also on occasion by commercial transfer or simple generosity — leaves me wondering what it must feel like for those who lose their place of worship, especially in case of conquest. And I should make it clear that my question applies as much to Jews unable to pray on Temple Mount as it does to Christians in Istanbul or Muslims in Cordoba.

    By its visual nature, the Cordoban example sticks in my mind, however — the relatively new cathedral sprouting quiute visibly from the ancient mosque.

    And so it is that my mind, habituated to seeking visual analogues, stumbled on the disgusting — if brilliant — birth of the alien in Ridley Scott‘s The Alien:

    SPEC DQ alien chestbuster birth

    I know: Giger‘s aliens in the movie — and even more so, in the now canonical “chestburster” scene — are hideous, as Ridley Scott himself said, “in the unique manner in which they convey both horror and beauty.”

    **

    Granted, these comparisons from “fiction” (above) and “nature” (below) to what is now one of the world’s more interesting architectural oddities seem obscene — we are used to the church-in-a-mosque as a tourist attraction, and in its own way a minjor miracle —

    SPEC Mezquita and Ant

    — my interest here, hiowever, is in looking at it, not through Muslim eyes, but through the eyes of those Muslims for whom building a church inside what was not only a mosque but one of the most beautiful mosques in the world feels like a grievous insult.

    For them, the cathedral in the Mezquita is a blasphemy — the insertion of a polluted form of worship in a place once dedicated to God’s own preferential service. And this is important not so that we can understand the ideation of those who wish to return the cathedal to a mosque and more generally Spain to al-Andalus, but so that we can comprehend the depth and intensity of the associated emotion.

    The passion.

    Which some Christians must surely also feel whewn they enter the museum of Hagia Sophia, once so proud a place of Christian worship and history — or some Jews with respect to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the movement to permit Jewish worship, at present forbidden, is gaining momentum.

    The passion behind (sacred) revanchism.

    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.


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