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Syria and drawing the web of tensions

Friday, September 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with a Magnus Ranstorp squib in its tail ]
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The issue is complexity, and how you represent it. The case in point is Syria.

Here’s a diagram that suggests complexity as a sort of crazy weaving, all straight lines and colors:

Daveed’s diagram has a network feel to it, with actord as nodes and the tensions between them as edges:

Karl Sharro’s tackling the wider context, but his illustration at least gives the sense of a ball of twine after a cat has carefully re-arranged it:

Juan Cole simply provides a screenshot from Google Maps —

jarabulus

— the headline America’s Syria SNAFU: Pentagon’s Militias fight Turkey & CIA’s Militias — which is effectively friendly fire framed as paradox — and some paras beneath it using words to describe the tangle:

The Turkish incursion into Syria at Jarabulus was advertised as an attack on a Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) stronghold and smuggling station in conjunction with (fundamentalist) remnants of the Free Syrian Army.

But the southern outskirts of Jarabulus had already fallen to the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which are majority Kurdish but have a significant Arab component. The Arab, non-Kurdish SDF brigades such as the Seljuk brigade, the Army of Revolutionaries, and Northern Sun Brigade had fought to liberate the northern Syrian city of Manbij, due south of Jarabulus from Daesh. They have an outpost in the village of Amarna just a few miles south of Jarabulus, where they call themselves the Jarabulus Military Council.

The Turkish army, having secured Jarabulus itself with the help of fundamentalist militias, moved down to Amarna, where they met fierce resistance from the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are allied with the Kurds. The Turkish air force bombarded the SDF positions in Amarna and the militias responded by destroying two tanks and killing one Turkish soldier. Fighting continues there.

To be honest, I’m not sure which of those means of modeling a complex system leaves us best able to understand the situation on the ground.

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Maybe this one’s the best:

Sunday surprise — Ok it always bugged me

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — is the universe geocentric? — a movie question ]
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Okay, last Sunday I talked about the opening credits for Damages and House of Cards: in this post I turn to studio logos.

It has long bugged me that the universe is portrayed by Universal as consisting of one planet, with the occasional space-y feel behind it —

— so I thought I’d mention how much I prefer the Orion logo —

— which doesn’t even claim to be universal, but is certainly nebular, nebulous.

Okay, I feel better already.

**

If you want to dig more deeply into the Universal logo, there are eighty or so screenshot versions here, of which one at least suggests awareness of other worlds —

et

— although it’s a bit strange to see the Amblin bicycle with ET in the basket traversing the earth, when we’re more accustomed to it crossing the moon.

And okay, I have to admit this one is more cosmic than most. I warn you though — it will play itself full-blast if you click on the link.

Meltdown, No Mouth Must Scream

Friday, August 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two powerful graphic images, one simple truth ]
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Tablet DQ Meltdown Scream

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From a purely graphic angle, the two images mirror one another quite nicely, and arguably the meltdown is the cause for the need to scream.

I generally try to avoid politics, but when it leaks over into the same religious issues I’ve been studying and writing about here for a few years now, I’m liable to voice my opinions.

I’m a loser in Trunp‘s terms by vocation, whether I follow the dictum “go and sit down in the lowest room” (Luke 14.19) or am “content with the low places that people disdain” (Lao Tzu 8), so it won’t bother him when I point out that contrary to his recent statement that President Obama was the founder of ISIS, which he’s doubled down on —

I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.

— he’s just plain wrong, as John Schindler — far from an admirer of Hillary Clinton — reminds us in today’s detailed and thorough Observer piece mildly titled No, Obama Is Not the Founder of ISIS. Some choice paras:

It’s not every day the presidential nominee of the Republican Party calls our commander-in-chief a “founder”—that is a terrorist, a traitor, and “MVP”—of the global Salafist caliphate, an organization that commits mass murder and even genocide. Not to mention that ISIS seeks to kill Americans with gusto at home and abroad.

Trump’s claim is so absurd as to render terror experts speechless. In the first place, ISIS was born in a practical sense in 2006, when elements of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq fused with bitter-enders from the Saddam Hussein regime that the United States overthrew in its invasion of Iraq three years before. Back then George W. Bush was president and Barack Obama was a junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.

None of this is to defend Obama’s track record against ISIS, which in column after column here I’ve lambasted as incompetent and lackadaisical. His pseudo-war on that murder gang and its imaginary caliphate has been a train-wreck of quarter-measures, muddled strategy, and outright lies. Obama ought to never live down his dismissal of ISIS as the “JV team,” but that’s a far cry from “founding” the Islamic State.

There’s no doubt that Obama’s withdrawal of American forces from Iraq in 2011, hailed as a great victory at the time, was strategically harmful and enabled ISIS’s meteoric growth in the Middle East. However, the president had little choice there, since the democratically elected Iraqi government in Baghdad demanded that the U.S. military leave their country. Not to mention that withdrawing our troops from Iraq was supported by Donald Trump.

Saying Obama and Hillary “founded” ISIS therefore is a ridiculous claim that deserves to be taken no more seriously than related tinfoilisms like “Jews did 9/11” or “My cat is the Illuminati.” It’s therefore deeply alarming to see the GOP nominee say it—repeatedly.

It’s not difficult to see where Trump gets such wacky ideas. Mike Flynn, his national security guru, has repeatedly come close to saying the same, hinting that Obama wanted ISIS to succeed. Flynn is a retired Army three-star general whom Obama fired as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency with ample cause.

Since then, Flynn’s gotten cuddly with the Russians, regularly appearing on their propaganda network RT, even admitting he’s taken Kremlin money for a photo op with Vladimir Putin. This is where things get really interesting. “Obama created ISIS” has been a Kremlin trope for a couple years now and it’s frequently trotted out by Putin’s mouthpieces and online trolls. When your campaign is riddled with people on the Kremlin payroll, with deep ties to Moscow, it’s not surprising that the candidate starts mouthing their disinformation.

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Or, to make it very simple, in the words and images of ABC News:

these guys

Wikileaks weak on graphics

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — interested in close, not far-fetched, analogies ]
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A while back in 2011, Aaron Zelin picked up on a tweet by Aaron Weisburd and retweeted:

the cover of Inspire 5 is remarkably similar to a wikileaks logo, e.g. http://goo.gl/2wibr coincidence I’m sure…

I posted about it here on Zenpundit, and to me eye the match does have something to be said for it:

wikileaks inspire

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But c’mon, baby.

I was reading through today’s pretty harsh Intercept piece, What Julian Assange’s War on Hillary Clinton Says About WikiLeaks — amazing, considering the origins of the Intercept in the work of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras — and came across another purported similarity, this one claimed by Assange himself.

Only this one really just doesn’t work at all:

wikileaks clinton

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Did Assange invent arrows?

I’m sorry, but that’s just ridiculous.

In any case, Hilary got it from Netflix, where they’re airing the Glenn Close series Damages, with John Goodman playing Howard T Erickson, the boss of High Star, a private security firm..

clinton damages

Case closed.

Zengi can be Zangi and Zinki, among others

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — besides horror at the beheading, there’s an analytic note that needs to be heard ]
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abdullah issa 600
Abdullah Issa fighting, and wounded — soon to be savagely beheaded

The ferocity of the beheading has been blurred out in most versions of the video, though ZeroCensorship is still showing it, and YouTube has a version that stops short of the beheading but appears to record Abdullah’s final wish — to be shot, not slaughtered.

That devastating final wish goes way beyond Shakespeare‘s “to be or not to be, that is the question” — it may well be the most terrfying depiction of a choice made at death-point that I have ever heard.

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I commented recently to a post by Ehsani2 titled The Boy Beheaded by Zinki Fighters, Abdullah Tayseer, Who Was He? on Dr. Joshus LandisSyria Comment blog, noting that the piece used the names Zanki and Zinki without commenting on the difference between them, and asking for clarification. I’d like to thank Dr Landis for a graciously email in response, and am happy to note today that my concern regarding the discrepant names used in the article is not without cause — as Kyle Orton just made clear in his own post on his Syrian Intifada blog, A Rebel Crime and Western Lessons in Syria:

One of the first complications with al-Zengi is the sheer variety of ways to transliterate the group’s name. Nooradeen can be Nooridin, Noorideen, and Noor/Nur al-Din/Deen; Zengi can be Zangi and Zinki, among others. Harakat means “movement,” though sometimes the organization is referred to as kataib (brigade) instead. Nooradeen refers to the twelfth-century Seljuk atabeg of the Zengid dynasty, whose life’s project was the reunification of the Islamic community.

No wonder I was confused.

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My point, as so often, cuts against the grain of the conversation on Ehsani2’s post, which is largely about the horrible event itself and the group that performed it, one time support from the US included, and not the ways in which lack of languahger skills can cause confusion where clarity would be preferable — and that’s fair enough. My point, hiwever, is the linguistic one, and I think it’s important in a way that’s perhaps better suited to discussion here than on Dr Landis’ blog.

My plea is for analysts with special knowledge of places, groups or languages to bear in mind when writing, that there will be some in their interested audiences who may not share those specialities but are still worth reaching — and in particular that non-specialists, while inherently weak in local detail, may nevertheless contribute significant insights from outside linguistic or area-specialist silos, precisely by virtue of not being in the echo-chambers that such forms of specialism themselves tend to erect.

Zen has from the beginning of this blog stressed the mutual virtues of what he terms “horizontal” and “vertical” modes of knowledge — see his series:

  • Understanding Cognition: part I: Benefits of horizontal thinking
  • Understanding Cognition: part II: Benefits of vertical thinking to horizontal thinkers
  • Understanding Cognition: part III: Horizontal and vertical thinking and the origin of insight
  • I came to my own interest in that topic by being a primarily analogical and only secondarily linear thinker, by hearing Murray Gell-Mann at CalTech speak on the importance of generalist “bridge-makers” who perceive analogical links between otherwise unrelated disciplines, and by my twenty- to thirty-year effort to devised a playable form of the great analogical game loosely described in Hermann Hesse’s brillian (nobel-winning) novel, The Glass Bead Game.

    In prepping a proposal — as yet unfinished — for DARPA or IARPA last year, I formulate my basic message as a sort of motto, thus:

    Out of the box, out of the silo, out of the discipline, out of the agency, out of the explicit known into the “unknowing” — where the future takes shape…

    I could — and in the finished proposal will, God-willing — go far further on this topic, describing the ways in which complexity is far better modeled for us humans by analogical than by linear thinking, by cross-disciplinary than by silo’d thinking, by visual rather than verbal thinking, by human scale (7, plus or minus 2 datapoints) visualization than by big-data viz, and so forth. But let’s make it simple:

    Quirky thinking has a better chance at creative insight than routine thinking, individual contrarian passion than in-group agreement.

    Okay?

    **

    Thanks again to Dr Landis, and back to business..


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