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The Art of Future War?

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — coloring outside the lines of the challenge ]
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http://www.desura.com/mods/dune-wars/images/new-soldier-and-infantry-units
Civ4 Dune mod, “Worm attack”, from Desura

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I’m all in favor of the Atlantic Council‘s Art of Future War Project:

It is a moment to seek out new voices and ideas from artists who can range much farther out into the future. Artists are adept at making sense of disorder while also having the ability to introduce a compelling chaos into the status quo. In other words, they are ideally suited to exploring the future of warfare. Writers, directors and producers and other artists bring to bear observations derived from wholly different experiences in the creative world. They can ask different kinds of questions that will challenge assumptions and conventional ways of tackling some of today’s toughest national security problems. Importantly, they can also help forge connections with some of most creative people in the public and private sectors who otherwise struggle to find avenues for their best ideas.

That’s excellent, and as a poet and game designer with a keen interest in war and peace, I hope to contribute.

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Funny, though, their first challenge looks, to my eyes, just a little bit back to the future:

The Art of Future Warfare project’s first challenge seeks journalistic written accounts akin to a front-page news story describing the outbreak of a future great-power conflict.

Why would we want to produce something “akin to a front-page news story” at a time when news stories are already more web-page than front-page, and perhaps even tweet before they’re breaking news?

In any case, the good people at Art of Future War offered some clues to those who might want to take up their challenge, and I took their encouragement seriously —

The historical creative cues included below are intended to inspire, not bound, creativity.

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Their first clue did indeed inspire me, though not to write anything akin to a front-page news story, “between 1,500 and 2,500 words long”. The clue they gave was the Washington Times lede I’ve reproduced in the ipper panel below —

SPEC DQ slomo death

while the lower panel contains the quote their clue led me to, by an associative leap of the kind artists are prone to — drawing on the vivid imagery of Peter Brook‘s play, The Mahabharata, which I had the good fortune to see in Los Angeles, a decade or three ago.
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My own leap backwards — to an ancient and indeed originally oral epic, the Mahabharata, rather than to century-old newsprint — won’t win me the challenge, since it doesn’t answer to the rules, nor will it provide useful hints as to what war will look like a decade from now.

The sage Vyasa, who wrote the Mahabharata at the dictation of the god Ganesh, might have been able to predict the future of war — I certainly cannot.

What I can do, and hope to have done, is to suggest that the whole of human culture has a bearing on war and how we understand it.

James Aho‘s Religious Mythology and the Art of War should be on every strategist’s reading list, as should Frank Herbert‘s Dune (see gamer’s mod image at the top of this page), JAB van Buitenen‘s Bhagavadigita in the Mahabharata and Brigadier SK Malik‘s The Qur’anic Concept of War — and Akira Kurasawa‘s Kagemusha on the DVD shelf, too:

There, I have managed to contribute something useful after all.

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DoubleQuote: Genocide Memorial Church before and after

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick note on the DQ format used to illustrate church “before and after” attack, montage in Pudovkin / Eisenstein, and cognition ]
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Pondering these images, I see that while they do clearly represent “before and after” when juxtaposed, they do not represent “cause and effect” as such. The cause of the visible changes is not itself present, although implied. Even so, the viewer is liable to jump from a non-causal double image via the implied causal connection to an emotional response — “the bastards!” or something of that sort.

I’ve been interested in the intellectual and emotional responses generated by juxtapositions at least since I first read about montage, Pudovkin and Eisenstein in a class on film directing at UCLA some decades back. It is one of the great issues in film — Eisenstein wrote:

to determine the nature of montage is to solve the specific problem of cinema

It’s more than that, though — it’s one of the great issues in cognition and metacognition.

We’d do well to put some bright minds on the task of understanding it.

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Sunday surprise 14: G&S Effect

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — like father, like son — Gilbert & Sullivan, Shakespeare and the video game Mass Effect ]
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Some of our readers will no doubt recognize the “model of a modern Major-General” from Gilbert & Sullivan‘s “Savoy Opera” The Pirates of Penzance. He’s definitively British, and it’s a sign of the strength of the “special relationship” between the US and UK that the G&S operas have now won a place in many American hearts.

For those of you who don’t know your G&S, or do and would like to be reminded, here’s a Joseph Papp presentation of Pirates, with George Rose playing the Major-General, Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, and Linda Ronstadt as Mabel, from NYC’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park [available on DVD]:

And here for your convenience, since the words fly past at quite a lick, are the lyrics —

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;a
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news, (bothered for a rhyme)
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I’m very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur’s and Sir Caradoc’s;
I answer hard acrostics, I’ve a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I’ve heard the music’s din afore, (bothered for a rhyme)
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev’ry detail of Caractacus’s uniform:c
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

In fact, when I know what is meant by “mamelon” and “ravelin”,
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a Javelin,d
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I’m more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by “commissariat”,
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery –
In short, when I’ve a smattering of elemental strategy – (bothered for a rhyme)
You’ll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.e

For my military knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

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Now for the fun part.

My son David, who had never heard of the “modern Major-General”, was visiting me yesterday, and very proudly played me the ring-tone on his cell-phone.

It turns out he’d taken it from a video game called Mass Effact 2, which is his current favorite — and when I asked, he showed me a video of the game character called Mordin singing it:

Zing! His favorite game has a character who sings a variant on the G&S song! Like father, like son!

Here are the (revised) lyrics:

I am the very model of a scientist Salarian!
I’ve studied species, Turian, Asari, and Batarian.
I’m quite good at genetics (as a subset of biology),
because I am an expert (which I know is a tautology).

My xenoscience studies range from urban to agrarian –
I am the very model of a scientist Salarian!

Too cool!

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So we got to talking about games, and Shakespeare — David has been studying Romeo and Juliet — and it turns out that although David feels Shakespeare is very skillful with words, and brings the human emotions out very directly in his plays, he’s more deeply gripped by Mass Effect 2 than by Romeo and Juliet, because it felt more “natural” to him, at least partly because he could navigate it at his own pace.

So this issue wasn’t that Shakespeare was boring or old, but that some games have developed new ways in which narrative can be enjoyed that can take one deeper into the story.

As an admirer of my friend Bryan Alexander‘s work on new narrative forms in his book, The New Digital Storytelling, this gave me a refreshing new perspective on games: that the pacing and interactivity themselves potentially take the narrative experience to a new level.

David made another observation: that he can learn from the little details of a game as much as he learns from the same game’s major plot points — and he used the Scientist Salarian song as his example. When it’s sung, standing alone in Mass effect 2, it’s a minor incident in the game. And whereas in Romeo and Juliet, each speech is intended, word for Shakespearean word, to create a powerful impact, Mordin’s song in Mass Effect 2 is like many other aspects of the game, there only to build a slow familiarity with a character.

It is not until Mass Effect 3, in fact, that the full impact of Mordin’s song hits home.

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In Mass Effect 3, the character Mordin decides to sacrifice his own life to end the genophage sterility plague which has been aflicting the Krogan, one of the other races in the game. We know he is sad to relinquish his life in this way, because he had earlier expressed a desire to retire to a beach somewhere and “perform tests on sea shells.”

Explaining why he is going to sacrifice his life — and his dreams of retirement — in this way, he says:

My project. My work. My cure. My responsibility.

Sadly — terrified yet proud, then — having made his decision, he sings again the “Scientist Salarian” song:

That, says David, is why I have invested so much time in playing this series of games.

Mordin singing this song in each of two separate scenes doesn’t mean much until we have seen both in sequence. And although the lyrics of the song he’s singing doen’t directly tell us what he’s feeling, experiencing the entire story with him across two games reveals that he is in fact terrified — and reveals it in a disturbingly more intimate way than if he had simply stated it as a fact: it’s his intonation as he sings the song that second time that shows us his terror and his determination.

The second time around, because players have grown to know Mordin through dozens of hours of gameplay, his decision and death scene are truly heart-wrenching.

As I watch that second song for the third time, I see what David means.

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On Squaring the Circle

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron ]

This post, the first of several at our temporary Zenpunditry.Wordpress backup site — make a note of the URL — while ZP itself was down for a week, also contained an announcement of that problem, now no longer required.
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I don’t have anything earth-shattering to report by way of an immanent apocalypse, but my interest in form got nicely tweaked yesterday when I finished watching the movie of Faulkner‘s As I lay Dying — which uses a lot of split screen work that reminded me of my collection of DoubleQuotes in the Wild…

Image

But anyway, I was saying…

I finished the film, stunned and impressed, and went to look see if I could find a copy of the book (I thought it was a short story) online, and came across what to me is the most exquisite short paragraph devoted to form — the second para in As I Lay Dying

The path runs straight as a plumb-line, worn smooth by feet and baked brick-hard by July, between the green rows of laidby cotton, to the cottonhouse in the center of the field, where it turns and circles the cottonhouse at four soft right angles and goes on across the field again, worn so by feet in fading precision.

Such awesome beauty there, squaring the circle, circling the square — and for me, the recollection too of John Donne doing a similar rounded squaring:

At the round earth’s imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scatter’d bodies go…

Such exquisite geometries both great writers offer us.

I suggest it’s because they have an eye for form — they look or the shapes, the patterns in things — they’re constantly scanning, constantly practicing pattern-recognition.

Which as you know, is an desirable cognitive skill in analytic work — one of the way to connect the dots.

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Peter Jackson’s Cinematic Defecation on the Tolkien Estate

Monday, December 30th, 2013

[Mark safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Bilbo cowering at the approach of Smaug’s henchmen,  Darth Vader and Magneto

My review of the first Hobbit movie was blistering.

The second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, is such a travesty, I lack sufficient words to describe it. It makes the first movie look like a faithful adaptation. Most of the plot consists of Jackson’s own inventions to stretch out a filler of a movie [ SPOILER ALERT]

In a nod to trendy issues dear to the heart of American liberal feminist ideologues, he has added the she-elf superhero Tauriel, Captain of King Thranduil’s guards. She is the GI Jane of the Wood-elven kingdom with a soft spot for the forbidden love of Dwarven suitors

Legolas (or rather Prince Legolas) is injected into the film. He has an unrequited crush on Tauriel that wastes some screen time, but his combat power far exceeds what he demonstrated in Lord of the Rings at Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith. He is a combination of Hawkeye and Wolverine, except more dangerous. Really, the implication of this film is that an elf army should have no trouble marching from here to Mordor, storm the Dark Tower and kick Sauron in the keister. The Terminator was less lethal than an angry Legolas..

The Orcs have their own operationally impressive SEAL Team Bolg, able to invade enchanted Elven fortresses or Lake Town – though once in combat they all have the same life expectancy as Stormtroopers with similarly inexhaustible numbers.

While the hapless dwarves need to be repeatedly saved by she-elves and Bilbo, once in Erebor they can swing from huge chains, outmaneuver dragons and operate massive machinery despite leaving a bunch of dwarves back in Lake Town

Bard the Bowman, political activist – because supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses

Bilbo inexplicably takes off his Ring and becomes visible to Smaug even though Smaug has indicated he will kill him and then, of course, he does not.

Gandalf battles Sauron (!)

And so on…..

The film is visually impressive and probably works for everyone who has never read the book or who likes fan fiction mash-ups but it left me with the impression of Jackson as a petulant, spoiled child taking pleasure in each ridiculous change to J.R.R. Tolkien’s story he could shoehorn in across three movies

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