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Limina, thresholds, more on spaces-between & their importance

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from one thing to another — and it’s the gaps — the in-betweens — the leaps — the links — the bonds between them that truly matter ]
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Blog-friend Bryan Alexander concludes his blog post Casualties of the future: college closures and queen sacrifices with a clip from Babylon 5. What exactly does that have to do with Admiral McRaven?

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A difference between bricks and bricks

That’s from near the top of Bryan‘s post.

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Bryan, lately of Vermont and now at Georgetown, is our keenest observer of the higher educational future. He coined the term peak higher education in 2013 — like peak oil, but for education, right? — and has been tracking it since then. At some point, he added the notion of queen sacrifice — “A queen sacrifice is when a college or university cuts faculty, especially full-time professors, usually as part of shrinking or ending certain academic programs” — and has made at least sixty posts in which queens are sacrificed, and one on a knight or rook sacrifice? (sports). Bryan‘s latest post is Casualties of the future. In it, he writes:

That academic phase hasn’t been clearly replaced yet. The new phase’s nature isn’t fully evident. Perhaps its outlines will become apparent after several years of change. I’ve speculated on what that next higher education phase might look like here and elsewhere. But for now, let’s consider the present as a moment in between those two phases. That’s our time, right in the midst of a switching period, a liminal space, marked by uncertainty and instability. We’re in a boundary zone.

Okay: a gentleman scholar as wise as he is bearded — and that’s a considerable double-barreled compliment — sees fit to emphasize the liminal in his latest broadside on higher education and its current obsession with cutting arts and humanities programs and various faculty members — ahem, bringing new and far broader meaning, in fact, to the concept of cutting classes. And why?

Why provide a graphic of brick wall(s) unless, somehow, the idea of breaks, gaps, thresholds, borders, leaps, in short the liminal, is of intrinsic importance?

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Picking up on What does it mean to be a Canadian citizen? where we left off in Walls. Christianity & poetry. And nations, identities & borders, with the questions:

Is citizenship a kind of subscription service, to be suspended and resumed as our needs change? Are countries competing service providers, their terms and conditions subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer preference? Edmund Burke long ago articulated an ambitious vision of society as a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Does any of that still resonate? Or is it a bygone idea of a vanished age, dissolved in a globalized world?

We can consider the cases of women from the US, UK and elsewhere who volunteered for ISIS and now wish to return home.

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Here’s a paragraph to transition us smoothly:

How easy should it be to give up your citizenship? In the era of Oswald, it could be difficult—like joining an especially selective monastic order that turns away aspirants until they kneel in the snow for a few days outside the monastery or consulate’s doors. Now a U.S. citizen can stop being American with a single visit to a consulate. (Most renounce not for ideological reasons but to avoid the complications of living as an American expatriate, subject to dual taxation and bureaucratic requirements far more onerous than for expatriates of almost any other country.)

That’s from Graeme Wood, Don’t Strip ISIS Fighters of Citizenship

See also:

  • Amarnath Amarasingam, Revoking Citizenship of ISIS Members is Not the Answer
  • Dan Byman, The wrong decision on Hoda Muthana
  • That’s a liminal issue, questions of citizenship and borders are liminal. And Bryan is talking liminality when he talks education.

    **

    Here’s a quick liminal zing from Abigail Tracy, in the title and subtitle of here Atlantic piece:

    I’d have been happy to include this in my chyrons and headers collection, but between the lines is too nicely liminal to miss.

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    A limen is a <threshold: it ‘s neither one thing nor the other, it’s in-between. And in-between is a time or state of transition, often tricky — think of the interregnum between the election of a President and his or her Inauguration — and often deeply human — we’re stuck with human nature, every one of us, which as Solzhenitsyn noted has a fault line in it more significant perhaps than even the fissure that separates our left and right cerebral hemispheres. Stunning us, he wrote:

    If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

    There’s liminality for you.

    **

    Here’s how Bryan ends his post:

    Babylon-5:

    Listen:

    There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

    The war we fight is not against powers and principalities — see my earlier post today on spiritual warfare. And The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation — the horror, the blessing of liminality.

    And Admiral McRaven:

    He too deals with the fight against chaos:

    SEAL training is the great equalizer: If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart — and that deep sense of being equalized by sand. tide, and fatigue, brings with it fine-grained humility and profound bonding with ones’ fellows.

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    Victor Turner was the anthropologist who made liminality the corner-stone of his great work, The Ritual Process — see how closely his ideas correspond with McRaven‘s SEAL training. Back in my early post on the topic here on ZP, I wrote:

    Basing his own work on van Gennep‘s account of rites of passage, Turner sees such rites as involving three phases: before, liminal, and after.

  • Before, you’re a civilian, after, you’re a Marine — but during, there’s an extraordinary moment when you’ve lost your civilian privileges, not yet earned your Marine status, and are less than nothing — as the drill sergeant constantly reminds you — and yet feel an intense solidarity with your fellows.
  • Before, you’re a novice, not yet “professed”, after, you’re a monk — but during, you lie prostrate on the paving stones of the abbey nave as you transition into lifelong vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
  • There are two things to note here. One is that liminality is a *humility* device, the other is that is creates a strong sense of bonding which Turner calls *communitas*: in one case, the Marine’s esprit de corps, in the other quite literally a monastic community. Part of what is so fascinating here is the (otherwise not necessarily obvious) insight that humility and community are closely related.

    **

    earlier Zenpundit posts on liminality and borders, among them:

  • Liminality II: the serious part
  • Of border crossings, and the pilgrimage to Arbaeen in Karbala
  • Violence at three borders, naturally it’s a pattern
  • Borders, limina and unity
  • Borders as metaphors and membranes
  • McCabe and Melber, bright lines and fuzzy borders
  • Walls. Christianity & poetry. And nations, identities & borders
  • But go back to that first post, Liminality II: the serious part, and read the whole thing. The story of the USS Topeka, SSN-754 alone is worth the effort..

    Of Note: Tim Furnish, & Trump’s National CT Strategy

    Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — and a few ppl whose views on trump’s strategy document I’d also like to read ]
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  • Tim Furnish, Trump’s New Counter-terrorism Strategy: The One-Eyed Man is Still King
  • Trump, 2018, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Obama, 2011, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Tim Furnish, Sectsploitation: How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Islamic World
  • **

    I wanted to draw your attention to our blog-friend and sometime contributor Tim Furnish‘s post, which offers a lucid introduction to the Trump administration’s National CT Strategy paper, situating it in contrast to the Obama admin’s version, and linking it to a very helpful breakdown of what we might call (remembering William James, but in mostly lower case) the varieties of Islamic experience.

    Let me just say that from my POV:

    1) Tim Furnish has a way superior understanding of the said varieties than John Bolton ever will have — plus he has a taste for pop culture asides!

    2) that the key issue to be further explored could be expressed in terms of the overlaps, Venn diagram-wise, between “literalist”, “mainstream” and “authentic” Islams.

    That’s a project I’ve been circling for more than a decade, and the closer I get, the more subtleties arise to be considered. Still circling in..

    Thomas Hegghammer, JM Berger, Leah Farrall, Adam Elkus, Will McCants and John Horgan are others whose varied voices and opinions regaarding the new CT Strategy text I’ll be watching for.

    **

    Tim’s essay and associated matters: Warmly recommended.

    Zen — pray chime in.

    My scope, first draft

    Monday, July 2nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — footprints on earth and moon — introducing callum flack — mapping the mississippi ]
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    Here’s a neat illustration of the extent of my interests, at least along one of my continua —

    The upper footprint above is that of Buddha. I have tweaked the image a bit, rotating, flipping it and resizing it to fit my DoubleQuotes format, and you can take thgat as analogous to the way we tweak the Buddha’s teachings to fit our expectations — and the lower footprint, a bootprint actually, is man’s mark on the moon, courtesy of NASA, whose comment is:

    These footprints on the moon will last forever, but the nature of who can be an astronaut is changing

    So, the oppositions:

  • ancient and modern
  • spiritual and technical
  • earth and moon
  • barefoot and booted
  • eternal and eternal
  • What have I missed?

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    So: why do I title this post My scope, first draft?

    Scope, to honor Callum Flack, friend of Cath Styles and Sembl, whose blog-post today, THE BRIEF, THE SCOPE AND THE DANCE I read, as I now read anytbing Callum writes.

    Callum and I have strongly overlapping interests, and The Brief, the Scope and the Dance is, amongst other things, a paean to flexibility in the context of planning a business website — flexibility and mutuality in planning. And in pursuit of that flexibility in both brief and scope, Callum uses one of my own favorite illustrations

    :

    — along with these comments:

    Objectives defined in the brief are quantifiable. But constraints, which are defined in the scope, are not. Constraints change, and opportunities are created when that happens.

    and:

    We logically understand that the least surprising thing about scope is that what is documented as The Scope is not what will actually happen. Like a map, scope is a proxy for reality. The scope is like a river, and as the map of the Mississippi above shows, rivers change.. Anytime a project doesn’t expect the scope to change, it is unrealistic.

    And first draft, to honor that flexibikity in the riverine nature of things.

    **

    My idea and use of scope naturally differs from Callum’s, if for no other reason then because he’s thinking of the scope of a projected commercially effective web-page, while I’m taking the same word (Witty Wittgenstein, I’m saving this space for your chuckle here) to refer to the height, depth, breadth and other parameters of my life as it is currently taking its shape..

    No matter, Callum’s post prodded me, and I wanted to give Zenpundit readers a brief into to Callum’s work anyway — and his blog-post today as both an excellent introduction to and example of that work.

    And when Callum writes,”Objectives defined in the brief are quantifiable. But constraints, which are defined in the scope, are not” he’s showing his own scope (in my sense of the term) to reach across that (to me) all-important divide between quantity and quality, a divide that has at its heart a koan — the imponderable way in which a world can contain both qualit and quant, leaving us to ponder (!!) how to “value” one (quality) in terms of the other, and how to maximize that more elusive of the pair in a world seemingly dedicated to the more obvious and blatant (quantity) of the two.

    **

    Sources

  • Wikipedia, Buddha footprint
  • Washington Post, The unsung astronauts
  • **

    That Mississippi map, also, is a footprint.

    Sunday surprise, from dogs & muffins to Stop! & 45mph limit

    Sunday, August 6th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — better eat a muffin than a dog, stop at a stop sign than blow through it at 45, oh well ]
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    It’s cute, sorta, that AIs can’t easily distinguish dogs from muffins:

    But STOP!

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    What’s not so funny is that the AI in many autonomous vehicles misreads a treated STOP sign —

    — as a sign for a 45 mph speed limit. As Ivan Evtimov and colleagues indicate in Robust Physical-World Attacks on Machine Learning Models, “Physically realizing such an attack for road signs can raise concern in human observers.”

    I’ll say.

    Grab the wheel, conscious entity!

    **

    Readings:

  • Becoming Human: AI, Why are Marketers All Talking about AI Now?
  • Wired, Simple Pictures that State-of-the-Art AI Still Can’t Recognize
  • Car & Driver, Researchers Find a Malicious Way to Meddle with Autonomous Cars
  • Arxiv, Robust Physical-World Attacks on Machine Learning Models
  • Heart Line — a response to Bill Benzon

    Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — design fascination — including a Mimbres rabbit with a supernova at its feet ]
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    Bill Benzon has been blogging a remarkable series of posts on Jamie Bérubé‘s drawings as recorded in the online illustrations to Michael Bérubé‘s book, Life As Jamie Knows It: An Exceptional Child Grows Up.

    **

    I wanted to respond to Bill’s latest, Jamie’s Investigations, Part 5: Biomorphs, Geometry and Topology, which included this illustration:

    berube-benzon-5-biomorphs

    and these comments, which I’ve edited lightly for clarity and simplicity:

    I emailed Mark Changizi, a theoretical neuroscientist who has done work on letterforms. He has been making a general argument that culture re-purposes, harnesses (his term), perceptual capacities our ancestors developed for living in the natural world. One of his arguments is that the forms used in writing systems, whether Latinate or Chinese (for example), are those that happened to be useful in perceiving creatures in the natural world, such as plant and animal forms. I told him that Jamie’s forms looked like “tree branches and such.” He replied that they looked like people. His wife, an artist, thought so as well, and also: “This is like early human art.”

    You’ll see why that-all interests me — letters and life forms — below.

    And then:

    Yes, each is a convex polygon; each has several ‘limbs’. And each has a single interior line that goes from one side, through the interior space, to another side. The line never goes outside the polygon .. Why those lines? I don’t know what’s on Jamie’s mind as he draws those lines, but I’m guessing that he’s interested in the fact that, given the relative complexity of these figures and the variety among them, in every case he can draw such a line.

    **

    Two thoughts cross my mind.

    The first is that one of these forms, Benzon’s Biomorphic Objects 6a, bears a striking resemblance to the letter aleph, with which the Hebrew alphabet — or better, alephbeth — begins:

    berube-benzon-5-biomorph-6a-aleph

    There may be some connection there, I’m not sure — though Jamie also has a keen interest in alphabetic forms, as illustrated here:

    berube-benzon-5-letterforms

    **

    But it’s my second point that interests me more.

    These “biomorphic objects” with “single interior line that goes from one side, through the interior space, to another side” remind me of nothing so much as the Native American style of representing animals with a “heart line” — best illustrated, perhaps, by this Acoma Pueblo Polychrome Olla with Heartline Deer:

    The image comment notes:

    One generally associates the use of heartline deer with pottery from Zuni Pueblo and that is most likely the origin. The fact that it appears on Acoma Pueblo pottery has been explained in a number of fashions by a number of contemporary Acoma potters. Deer designs have been documented on Acoma pottery as early as 1880, but those deer do not feature heartline elements. Some potters at Acoma have indicated that Lucy Lewis was the first Acoma potter to produce heartline deer on Acoma pottery. She did this around 1950 at the encouragement of Gallup, New Mexico Indian art dealer Katie Noe. Lewis did not use it until gaining permission from Zuni to do so. Other potters at Acoma have stated that the heartline deer is a traditional Acoma design; however, there is no documented example to prove this. Even if the heartline deer motif is not of Acoma origin, potters at Acoma have expressed that it does have meaning for them. It is said to represent life and it has a spiritual connection to deer and going hunting for deer.

    Here’s a “heartline bear” from David and Jean Villasenor‘s book, Indian Designs:

    bear-heartline

    And here’s an equivalent Mimbres design for a rabbit with heartline, in which the line passes completely through the body from one side to the other, as in Jamie’s biomorphs:

    mimbres-rabbit

    Again, the comment is interesting — it cites a 1990 New York Times article, Star Explosion of 1054 Is Seen in Indian Bowl:

    When the prehistoric Mimbres Indians of New Mexico looked at the moon, they saw in its surface shading not the “man in the moon” but a “rabbit in the moon.” For them, as for other early Meso-American people, the rabbit came to symbolize the moon in their religion and art.

    On the morning of July 5, 1054, the Mimbres Indians arose to find a bright new object shining in the Eastern sky, close to the crescent moon. The object remained visible in daylight for many days. One observer recorded the strange apparition with a black and white painting of a rabbit curled into a crescent shape with a small sunburst at the tip of one foot.

    And so the Indians of the Southwestern United States left what archeologists and astronomers call the most unambiguous evidence ever found that people in the Western Hemisphere observed with awe and some sophistication the exploding star, or supernova, that created the Crab nebula.

    That would be the sunburst right at the rabbit’s feet!

    **

    Posts in Bill’s series thus far:

  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 1: Emergence
  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 2: On Discovering Jamie’s Principle
  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 3: Towers of Color
  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 4: Concentrics, Letters, and the Problem of Composition
  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 5: Biomorphs, Geometry and Topology
  • My previous comment on #1 in the series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine

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