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When the visuals don’t agree with the soundtrack

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — and Bach’s motto was Soli Deo Gloria, To God alone be Praise ]
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I have commented before on the curious blend of Bach and bin Laden to be found on one YouTube channel. It now seems the same kind of cognitive dissonance is being used to parody IS nasheed videos: my own favorite example being this one:

Whether such parodies actually dissuade anyone who would otherwise have done so from joining IS I don’t know; that they are entertaining for those of us who are wary and perhaps weary of the videos they parody may be as much as we can hope.

They do, however, raise the question, again, of what exactly the intention of someone posting silent videos of OBL speaking from his cave along with the entire Bach B Minor Mass might be?

Support for OBL? Delight in Bach? Allahu Akbar? Soli Deo Gloria?

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Getting away from jihad for a moment, the same YouTube account now features my nephew Daniel Harding‘s Don Giovanni from the Aix festival, with Disney‘s Frozen for visuals:

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Hat tip: Hayes Brown, Buzzfeed.

Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
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Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:

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There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

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    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    Making Historical Analogies about 1914

    Friday, January 10th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    The Independent has a short, quasi-sensationalist, article featuring historian Margaret MacMillan discussing what is likely to become the first pop academic cottage industry of 2014….making historical analogies about 1914 and World War I! MacMillan is a senior scholar of international relations and administrator at Oxford ( where she is Warden of St Antony’s College)  with a wide range of research interests, including the First World War on which she has published two books.  I am just going to excerpt and comment on the historical analogies MacMillan made – or at least the ones filtered by the reporter and editor – she’s more eloquent in her own writing where each of these points are treated at greater length:

    Is it 1914 all over again? We are in danger of repeating the mistakes that started WWI, says a leading historian 

    Professor Margaret MacMillan, of the University of Cambridge, argues that the Middle East could be viewed as the modern-day equivalent of this turbulent region. A nuclear arms race that would be likely to start if Iran developed a bomb “would make for a very dangerous world indeed, which could lead to a recreation of the kind of tinderbox that exploded in the Balkans 100 years ago – only this time with mushroom clouds,”

    …..While history does not repeat itself precisely, the Middle East today bears a worrying resemblance to the Balkans then,” she says. “A similar mix of toxic nationalisms threatens to draw in outside powers as the US, Turkey, Russia, and Iran look to protect their interests and clients. 

    Several comments here. There is a similarity in that like the unstable Balkan states of the early 20th century, many of the Mideastern countries are young, autocratic, states with ancient cultures that are relatively weak  and measure their full independence from imperial rule only in decades.  The Mideast is also like the Balkans, divided internally along ethnic, tribal, religious, sectarian and linguistic lines.

    The differences though, are substantial. The world may be more polycentric now than in 1954 or 1994 but the relative and absolute preponderance of American power versus all possible rivals, even while war-weary and economically dolorous, is not comparable to Great Britain’s position in 1914.  The outside great powers MacMillan points to are far from co-equal and there is no alliance system today that would guarantee escalation of a local conflict to a general war. Unlike Russia facing Austria-Hungary over Serbia there is no chance that Iran or Russia would court a full-scale war with the United States over Syria.

    On the negative side of the ledger, the real problem  is not possible imperial conquest but the danger of regional collapse. “Toxic nationalism” is less the problem than the fact that the scale of a Mideastern Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict is so enormous, as are the implications . Nothing in the Balkans after the turn of the century compares to Syria, then Iraq and then other states sliding into a Muslim version of the Thirty Year’s War. An arc of failed states from Beirut to Islamabad is likelier than, say, a new Persian empire run by Tehran’s mullahs.

    Modern-day Islamist terrorists mirror the revolutionary communists and anarchists who carried out a string of assassinations in the name of a philosophy that sanctioned murder to achieve their vision of a better world

    Agree here. The analogy between 21st revolutionary Islamists and the 19th century revolutionary anarchists is sound.

    And in 1914, Germany was a rising force that sought to challenge the pre-eminent power of the time, the UK. Today, the growing power of China is perceived as a threat by some in the US.

    Transitions from one world power to another are always seen as dangerous times. In the late 1920s, the US drew up plans for a war with the British Empire that would have seen the invasion of Canada, partly because it was assumed conflict would break out as America took over as the world’s main superpower.

    Imperial Germany’s growing power was less troublesome to Edwardian British statesmen than the strategic error of the Kaiser and von Tirpitz to pursue a naval arms race with Great Britain that did not give Germany’even the ability to break a naval blockade but needlessly antagonized the British with an existential threat that pushed London into the French camp.

    As to military plans for invading Canada (or anywhere else), the job of military planning staffs are to create war plans to cover hypothetical contingencies so that if a crisis breaks out, there is at least a feasible starting point on the drawing board from which to begin organizing a campaign. This is what staff officers do be they American, French, Russian, German, Chinese and even British. This is not to be taken as serious evidence that the Coolidge or Hoover administrations were hatching schemes to occupy Quebec.

    More importantly, nuclear weapons create an impediment to Sino-American rivalry ending in an “August 1914″ moment ( though not, arguably, an accidental or peripheral clash at sea or a nasty proxy conflict). Even bullying Japan ultimately carries a risk that at a certain point, the Japanese will get fed-up with Beijing, decide they need parity with China, and become a nuclear weapons state.

    Professor MacMillan, whose book The War That Ended Peace was published last year, said right-wing and nationalist sentiments were rising across the world and had also been a factor before the First World War

    In China and Japan, patriotic passions have been inflamed by the dispute over a string of islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China. “Increased Chinese military spending and the build-up of its naval capacity suggest to many American strategists that China intends to challenge the US as a Pacific power, and we are now seeing an arms race between the two countries in that region,” she writes in her essay. “The Wall Street Journal has authoritative reports that the Pentagon is preparing war plans against China – just in case.” 

    “It is tempting – and sobering –to compare today’s relationship between China and the US with that between Germany and England a century ago,” Professor MacMillan writes. She points to the growing disquiet in the US over Chinese investment in America while “the Chinese complain that the US treats them as a second-rate power”.

    The “dispute” of the Senkakus has been intentionally and wholly created by Beijing in much the same way Chinese leaders had PLA troops provocatively infringe on Indian territory, claim the South China Sea as sovereign territory and bully ships of all nearby nations other than Russia in international or foreign national waters. This is, as Edward Luttwak recently pointed out, not an especially smart execution of strategy. China’s recent burst of nationalistic bluffing, intimidation and paranoia about encirclement are working along the path of self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Another similarity highlighted by the historian is the belief that a full-scale war between the major powers is unthinkable after such a prolonged period of peace. “Now, as then, the march of globalisation has lulled us into a false sense of safety,” she says. “The 100th anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident.

    Agree that globalization is no guarantee against human folly, ambition or the caprice of chance.

    What are your thoughts?

    Various body parts for various body parts

    Friday, May 31st, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — mostly about a fascinating quote from Martin Luther King ]
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    Let’s start with the Code of Hammurabi, 196-97:

    If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.

    A few days ago, I found I was feeling mildly exercised by one Dan Hodges writing in the Telegraph:

    Indeed, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” quoted by one of Lee Rigby’s suspected killers, comes from the Bible, not the Koran.

    Hodges was quoting Michael Adebolajo, who had said on camera:

    The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one. It is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.

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    It is true that Deuteronomy 19.21 reads:

    And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

    and Exodus 21.23-25:

    And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

    — but its is clear that Adebolajo — who was brought up devoutly Christian in Nigeria, converted (“reverted”) to Islam, and now references suras of the Qur’an using their Arabic names — would also be aware of Sura Al-Ma’ida (5) 45:

    And therein We prescribed for them: ‘A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation'; but whosoever forgoes it as a freewill offering, that shall be for him an expiation.

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    The quote “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” is often attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, but I checked with Quote Investigator and found it was originally used by one Louis Fischer to paraphrase Gandhi’s teaching, although the Gandhi family apparently think it sounds authentic. But what interested me most was that a form of the same phrase can safely be attributed to Martin Luther King, who is quote in Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, p 208, as saying:

    Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction of all. The law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. It is immoral because it seeks to annihilate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

    That’s quite a paragraph.

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    Of note, besides the parallel structure with which King addresses violence as both impractical and immoral, are two matters I have often pointed to here on Zenpundit:

    Self-reference:

    Violence ends by defeating itself.

    and polyphony:

    It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.

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    Gandhi’s position seems to come close to that presented in Matthew 5. 38-48 — in which Christ clearly countermands the lex talionis as promulgated in Exodus and Deuteronomy:

    Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

    Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

    And. for that matter, to The Richmond Declaration of Faith of 1887, as quoted today by my friend, Friend Marshall Massey:

    We feel bound explicitly to avow our unshaken persuasion that all war is utterly incompatible with the plain precepts of our divine Lord and Law-giver, and the whole spirit of His Gospel, and that no plea of necessity or policy, however urgent or peculiar, can avail to release either individuals or nations from the paramount allegiance which they owe to Him who hath said, ‘Love your enemies.’ (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:27)

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    How — without denigrating those who are of either the Deuteronomic or the Gandhian persuasion — does one nudge the world-system gently away from justice and towards mercy, away from revenge and towards reconciliation, away from war and towards peace? Towards a new and more viable homeostasis?

    We have grieved for our own

    Monday, April 22nd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — another side of the human coin ]
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    We have grieved for our own: now let us take thought for those in Damascus. Here, from Al-Jazeera, is a report from April 15th, 2013, the day on which two young men bombed the Boston Marathon:

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    And that, at least for now, concludes my series of meditations and analyses on the late tragic events in Boston.


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