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Second American Revolution II: the symbolic side of things

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- always on the watch for the symbolic ]
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First, let’s admit that the cattle-rancher archetype has immense popular appeal. Here’s the header from the Bundy Ranch website:

That’s pretty hard to beat, no?

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As ever, I’m concerned to keep track of the symbolic side of things, the emotional tugs, the flags, rituals, and stratagems which gather morale to a cause — in this case, the standoff at the Bundy Ranch.

Again in this photo we see cowboys, and this time one of them is carrying the American flag held high…

What other flags were in evidence?

I’m pretty sure I can see the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps flags here, along with the US flag —

**

There’s another flag, just above the Corps flag in the photo above, that I couldn’t identify — a flag which was also captured in this Guardian shot –

I didn’t recognize it, but our blog-friend and frequent commentator Grurray did… And here’s where things get really interesting, and I learn what I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t decided to look into this matter of the flags at the Bundy Ranch showdown.

It’s a Latter-day Saints banner known as the Title of Liberty, and it dervives from a passage in the Book of Mormon, Alma 46 verses 12-13 and 36-37, wherein Captain Moroni

rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it — In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children — and he fastened it upon the end of a pole … and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren …

and…

it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites. And they began to have peace again in the land…

Here it is, raised for an event in Washington DC:

And here it is, catalogued for sale as a 3′ x 5′ flag:

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Finally, there’s the Gadsden flag:

— flown here at the Bundy Ranch protest alonside the US flag:

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That’s it for flags, for me, at least for now… It has been an interesting ride.

I mentioned stratagems, though. Here’s one that strikes me as less than chivalrous — but which, if push had come to shoot, would have made quite a media splash. The stratagem? Simple — put women in the front line…

Sheriff Richard Mack explains his idea:

Mack goes into further detail in an interview with Ben Swann. You can read excerpts here, or view the entire interview on YouTube here — the relevant passage begibs around the 4.39 mark.

I am not by any stretch a lawyer — but isn’t that veering pretty close to the old “human shield” idea we so despised in Iraq and Afghanistan?

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Thanks again to Grurray — with sharp eyes & knowledge to match!

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Second American Revolution I: the (immediate) unlikelihood

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with an eye for catching graphics ]
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Freedom Outpost wasn’t the only outlet raising the question: Militias Are On Route Help Cliven Bundy – Face Off With Feds: Will this be the Start of the 2nd American Revolution? As I’ve noted before, though, quoting Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, the answer to questions asked by excited headlines is generally a quiet “no”.

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I do think, however, that there’s a tectonic rift growing in the US… Here are two diagrams which each illustrate that thesis:

The upper panel shows the overlap — hugely diminished over the last 30 or so years, and now almost non-existent — between House Democrat and Republican votes, and is taken from Chris Cillizza‘s post in WaPo’s The Fix blog.

The lower panel shows network maven Valdis Krebsmost recent (2008) mapping of conservative and liberal reading habits, as tabulated using Amazon data on who purhases which books along with what other books: for the first time in Krebs’ analyses, there were no books read in common by conservative and liberal readers alike.

**

Here for good measure is my own analysis of the congressional situation — juxtaposing politics with religion because it’s my modus operandi to view one through the lens of the other — in DoubleQuote format:

So simple.

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The religions: which is it to be – sibling rivalry or family feeling?

Monday, April 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two images from recent Religion Dispatches posts neatly pose the question ]
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Sources:

  • Jeremy Stolow, Will Quebec Ban Religious Symbols in Public?
  • M Sophia Newman, Are Attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh Religiously Motivated?
  • **

    Québec officially doesn’t seem to like what it terms “conspicuous religious symbols” — including the pictured “large” crucifix, hijab, and dastar (upper panel above, top row, left to right) and niqab and kippa (bottom row, left to right).

    I suppose that’s one way to achieve uniformity — maybe peacocks should be asked to tone down their feathers until they’re more in line with pigeons, too — but it’s instructive to note that most of the folk in the Bangladeshi march for religious harmony (lower panel, above) would be banned from wearing their identifying symbols if they tried to hold a similar parade in Montréal, Québec.

    Lac Zut, alors!

    **

    In the tiny middle panel of my DoubleQuotes graphic, where you’ll usually find a pair of spectacles or binoculars, the Swayambunath Buddha, just outside Kathmandu, Nepal, looks on, bemused — having seen so much, so very much, of human nature.

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    Hipbone’s Games, Emlyn’s critique

    Sunday, March 30th, 2014

    [ by Charles and Emlyn Cameron -- my thousandth ZP post, and his first -- in which my son schools me in making my games more responsive to the requirements of decision-support ]
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    Alexander Calder, "Yellow Sail", 1950, Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC

    **

    I’d been wondering what to do with my thousandth post here on Zenpundit, and a conversation with my son Emlyn, who turned nineteen a few days ago, gave me an idea.

    Emlyn was telling me how he saw my HipBone Games, and also the more extended and informal version of the games I’ve been posting here — using “HipBone thinking” to analyse and comment on all manner of things happening in the world around us, with a particular eye on a novel, mental-netted mode of intelligence analysis. He spoke, I was impressed, and asked him to write his observations up, to form the basis of this, my 1,000th ZP post.

    Here he goes:

    I consider all my father’s thoughts to be rather like a mobile, which in turn I consider to be the three-dimensional equivalent of a HipBone board: many swirling clusters of information, spinning, for the most part, independently of one another, balanced, but lacking a focus. They are connected, but some are so only by virtue of their association with a shared cluster between them. These clusters are creative and constructive, but typically inconclusive in their determination of any particular fact to which they all play a part. Father has made some comments to this effect, claiming that the games might widen the perception of intelligence analysts, making them more fully aware of political situations in which they involve themselves, but admitting that it might not be a mechanism for reaching conclusions about the next step to take in said situations…

    That’s fierce enough, and very much to the point. I’m generally more interested in open questions than closed answers — and in my post, Wei Wu Wei, or the inactionable option, I wrote of “the importance of intelligence that is not actionable, with illustrations from Zenpundit, Dickens and Shakespeare” — and closed with a gobbet of my favorite Chinese philosopher, Chuang Tzu.

    But then Emlyn, having understood me all too well, opens an alternative pathway…

    it is my conviction that such a use [ie in "reaching conclusions about the next step to take"] is only missed by the barest margins in the construction of the games, that, in fact, a figure has been presenting the use of such a thought process towards such ends since the eighteen-eighties: Mycroft Holmes.

    I’m delighted, too, that Emlyn finds something about my work that resonates with his own keen interest in the Holmes brothers, favorites of his both in their canonical Conan Doyle and more recent Benedict Cumberbatch forms.

    As for the Calder mobile effect — ideas hanging in some kind of perpetually shifting balance in three-space — I’m reminded of the pebbled path which leads through shrubs and bushes and cactus plants around Pierre Sogol‘s attic studio in René Daumal‘s great novel, Mount Analogue:

    Along the path, glued to the windowpanes or hung on the bushes or dangling from the ceiling, so that all free space was put to maximum use, hundreds of little placards were displayed. Each one carried a drawing, a photograph, or an inscription, and the whole constituted a veritable encyclopedia of what we call ‘human knowledge.’ A diagram of a plant cell, Mendeleieff’s periodic table of the elements, a key to Chinese writing, a cross-section of the human heart, Lorentz’s transformation formulae, each planet and its characteristics, fossil remains of the horse species in series, Mayan hieroglyphics, economic and demographic statistics, musical phrases, samples of the principal plant and animal families, crystal specimens, the ground plan of the Great Pyramid, brain diagrams, logistic equations, phonetic charts of the sounds employed in all languages, maps, genealogies — everything in short which would fill the brain of a twentieth-century Pico della Mirandola…

    **

    Emlyn again, when I requested he go into a little more detail:

    In regards to the difference between my father’s manner of thinking and that of, say, a Holmesian detective, the largest separation presents itself, not in the construction of a conceptual geometry for the facts, but in the selection of a focal point. That is to say the Holmesian analyst has one.

    Where my father’s constructions are clusters of concepts hanging in their own orbits, connected with fibers between one element of one cluster and one element of another, the Holmesian mindset is clusters of facts arrayed around a single unknown, like the spheres of a model of the Copernican solar system (ironic, considering Sherlock’s reluctance to retain such a universal model in his memory palace), each piece of data added to the strata of information bringing the silhouette of the solution into greater clarity, until finally, only one plausible answer can be found to match the shape.

    Mycroft makes himself the “most indispensable man in the country” simply by centering a single point for all of his data, connecting each strand of thought to an innermost axis, the unknown he wishes to conquer, invariably finding an effective solution even to difficulties involving “the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question… Only Mycroft can focus them all, and say offhand how each factor would affect the other”.

    Father, on the other hand, foresees largely important cultural trends months to years in advance and wields staggering creativity in the collection of concepts, but struggles to choose menu items at a fast food restaurant. He has a plethora of clusters about the pros and cons of various dishes but makes no attempt to align all his awareness towards selecting the best one for his immediate needs.

    Emlyn suggests that retrofitting my games to serve a “Mycroft” function would involve “clusters of facts arrayed around a single unknown, like the spheres of a model of the Copernican solar system” — the Copernican system in which the “single unknown” around which the planets are arrayed is in fact the sun, bright enough, my poetic education in symbolism tells me, that we cannot directly look at and see it… a great mystery, around or within which all things find their harmonious orbits…

    A Copernican board, then, more to Mycroft’s liking, might look something like this:

    The Planisphaerium Copernicanum, from Cellarius' 1661 Harmonia Macrocosmica

    For myself, it’s the motion of the moon around the earth that captures my interest.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein, it transpires, had a game he played with friends. They would walk in the park, wittgenstein himself if I recall correctly, playing the sun, while one friend circled him as the earth and another circled the circling earth as its moon… I am told Wittgenstein particularly enjoyed this game because “nobody wins”…

    **

    Memory palace diagrams: L. Robert Fludd, 1619, R. Victoria & Albert, Museum, 2013

    Next, Emlyn turns from the mobile and the solar system to the idea of memory palaces, which I discussed before in Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lector and Simonides — note again the Holmesian connection:

    Where Mycroft’s memory palace is the resource of his conclusions, a place from which “The conclusions of every department” are culled and sorted, that he might be the governments “clearinghouse, which makes out the balance”, my Father’s is a resource unto its self, lending its exhibits from one massive wing to another in an ever evolving collection of antiquities, religious dictums, poetic verses and verdant projects, a spectacle to be appreciated, certainly, but not one intended to be the mechanism of an answer, rather there to be experienced and considered and revisited once a new article is catalogued or created for display.

    Mycroft’s tidy and orderly “Central exchange”, an intellectual ministry, and my Father’s mental gallery are not parallel in architecture, but are laid with the same mortar and buttressed using the same alloys.

    **

    At last we turn to Sherlock himself — and to the issue of intelligence which is not only actionable but acted upon — and I think here of the shift by which an analyst (I’m thinking of Nada Bakos, as she describes herself in Manhunt) becomes a targeter…

    It is at this point that we come to a final individual, Mycroft’s better known sibling, Sherlock. I have discussed my Father’s system of arranging connections, and outlined the underlying similarity of the mental mechanism Mycroft uses to synthesize an answer from his collected data to it, but, as my Father’s assembly does not reach conclusions, Mycroft does not solidify his suppositions through action, he defers his assessment to a minister who will choose whether or not to act upon it, or alternatively to his younger brother who will pursue the inquiry.

    Sherlock said of his brother that “If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, [Mycroft] would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy.” It is not sufficient to reach a conclusion, one must be willing to “go out of [one's] way to verify [one's] own solution”.

    In fact, of course — or should I say, in fiction? — Sherlock himself indeed arrives at conclusions, but he tends to have Lestrade around to execute them — to apprehend those Holmes has elicited confessions from or otherwise shown to be guilty. But Emlyn’s concern — to move from games of a non-actionable sort towards actionable games and thus, eventually, action — is well placed.

    Indeed, it follows from the differing tempi of “pure” analysts and “practical” decision makers — or between strategists and tacticians.

    **

    Emlyn concludes:

    Such a mental model as the one heretofore described can be of all the use in the world in reaping a creative crop or finding the hypothetical solution to any number of intractable problems, but without working out “the practical points” with the determination of the younger Holmes brother, all of it is for naught, and if the thought process is overlooked or limited by the consideration of the user, it is as inert as if its products were ignored entirely, its rewards as indispensable as Mycroft himself and equally as inactive.

    It seems I have my marching orders: to devise a game whose tempo accelerates from a slower analytic periphery towards a high-tempo central insight, solution or target. An actionable game.

    It’s a choice problem, and one that lies beyond my usual reach: I’ll set my mind to it.

    **

    Memory Palace diagrams:

  • Robert Fludd, from Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris
  • Memory Palace exhibition at the Victoria and Albert
  • Related posts:

  • The Haqqani come to high Dunsinane
  • Wei Wu Wei, or the inactionable option
  • Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lector and Simonides
  • Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles
  • Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B
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    On Magic: Jane’s and the Jesuits

    Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a brief note on my own bi-focal vision, with appreciation to Marina Warner ]
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    **

    I was just reading Marina Warner‘s recent essay On Magic — and protective magic in particular — and was struck by the phrase:

    Calligraphic blazons act as icons, gems are incised with prayers to release their talismanic powers, phylacteries hold tightly wound documents written all over with blessings and invocations…

    Calligraphic blazons?

    My oh my! Only a click away, IHS, the “global information company” that brings us IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, was tweeting me something or other and naturally, their avatar showed up (above, upper panel) on my screen, then in my eyes (etc), and finally (after a couple milliseconds?) in what Coleridge called the “hooks and eyes” of memory… where they hooked up very nicely indeed with the logo of the Society of Jesus (above, lower panel).

    Jane’s and the Jesuits. I mean, they’re both in the security business, right? The Jesuits want to protect us from sin, heresy, and other matters which will make life hot for us in the next world, while Jane’s wants to protect us from VBIEDs, CBRN weapons and other such things — widely considered more pressing — which might make life hot for us in this one.

    **

    Let’s skip the Jesuits and the seculars for a moment, and turn to Judaism and Islam. Marina writes:

    Kabbalistic beliefs share common ground in this love of letters as potent, active powers in themselves: “Every word an angel, every letter an angel, and the spaces between them” was a tenet of the mystical Isaac Luria in Prague. According to analogous Muslim practices involving inscription, the right words work even when they’re hidden, indecipherable, or have disappeared altogether: they need only to have made contact, for their presence lingers in the substances where they were once inscribed, transferred by means of the magic operation of writing.

    That last is, as cultural anthropologists know, a homeopathic concept — compare this, from the US (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine backgrounder:

    The alternative medical system of homeopathy was developed in Germany at the end of the 18th century. Supporters of homeopathy point to two unconventional theories: “like cures like”—the notion that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people; and “law of minimum dose”—the notion that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. Many homeopathic remedies are so diluted that no molecules of the original substance remain.

    The thing is, there are two worldviews at work here, and Marina very nicely finesses the pair of them when, discussing the “talismanically protective clothes” in a Paris exhibit of “Ottoman princes’ wardrobes from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries”, she says:

    Looked at from one angle, the Turkish practice was rankly superstitious, a fabulous, extreme, and crazy example of human fantasy in the doomed quest for mastery of natural forces. But looked at from another angle, the attempt to activate blessing and security through acts of writing rather than simple speech acts, and then by wearing the texts on one’s body, shows us a new dimension of word power and communicates an extraordinary degree of trust in the active literate imagination.

    Superstitious, fabulous and crazy in enlightened scientific terms, yes — and yet seen from another angle, an extraordinary degree of trust in the active literate imagination…

    John Donne opts for both, compressing two worlds into a mere four words:

    At the round earths imagin’d corners, blow
    Your trumpets, Angells…

    **

    Okay and Amen.

    I’d now like to broaden the subject from word to world, and to deepen it from magic to sacrament.

    In my next, I’ll draw on Tara Isabella Burton‘s suggestion: Study Theology, Even If You Don’t Believe in God — and Dana Gioia‘s piece, The Catholic Writer Today. Onwards.

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