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New Book: The Lion’s Gate by Steven Pressfield

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War by Steven Pressfield 

This just arrived hot off the presses on my doorstep yesterday, courtesy of Steve and in terms of writing, The Lion’s Gate appears to be a significant departure for him.

While Pressfield has done novels that were historical fiction (Gates of Fire, Killing Rommel),  military futurism ( The Profession ) or non-fiction essays on harnessing creativity ( The War of Art), achieving professionalism ( Turning Pro) and writing (The Authentic Swing), The Lion’s Gate is a serious work on history.

I say “on” rather than “of” because Pressfield described his book as “hybrid history”, having approached the Six Day War partly in Studs Terkel fashion, with interviews of participants in the war recounting their experiences heavily driving the story, but this is combined with traditional historical research and Pressfield’s own shaping of the narrative. As a technique, it also reminds me somewhat of what Solzhenitsyn termed a “literary investigation” in describing his monumental Gulag Archipelago.

Israeli history or the specific battles of the Arab-Israeli wars have not been my areas of research, so I am looking forward to reading things that are new to me. The Six Day War burnished Israel’s military reputation and that of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to the point that frustrated supporters of America’s war effort in Vietnam sent the beleaguered head of MACV, General William Westmoreland, black eyepatches.

A full review to come in the future.

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On trial in Egypt: then and now, etc.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there shall be no caging of free speech, right? ]
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I was struck by the resemblance between these two photos of defendants in Egyptian courtrooms –

— one of Ayman al-Zawahiri on trial shortly after the Sadat assassination [upper panel, above] the other of al-Jazeera journalists on trial today. While there’s a great deal of difference between the defendants in the two trials, and while we’re familiar with prisoners at the bar behind bullet-proof glass from the cases of Adolf Eichmann [below, upper panel] –

— and the Pussy Riot grrls [lower panel], conditions for the defendants in Egyptian trials seem to have deteriorated from cages to chicken-coops over the years.

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Source:

  • Al-Jazeera photo MT @marcellehopkins: Surreal photo of @AlJazeera journalists in #Egypt courtroom cage today. #FreeAJStaff
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    Serpent logics: the marathon

    Sunday, November 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- oh, the sheer delightful drudgery of finding patterns everywhere ]
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    I’ll start this post, as I did the previous one to which this is a sort of appendix, with a (deeply strange, tell me about it) example of the…

    Matrioshka pattern:


    That’s a piece of jewelry made out of disembodied pieces of Barbies from the extraordinary designer’s mind of Margaux Lange, FWIW.

    **

    This post is the hard core follow up to my earlier piece today, Serpent logics: a ramble, and offers you the chance to laugh and groan your way through all the other “patterns” I’ve been collecting over the last few months. My hope is that repeated (over)exposure to these patterns will make the same patterns leap out at you when you encounter them in “real life”.

    Most of the examples you run across may prove humorous — but if you’re monitoring news feeds for serious matters, my hunch is that you’ll find some of them helpful in grasping “big pictures” or gestalts, noting analomalies and seeing parallels you might otherwise have missed.

    Have at it!

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    Here’s another Matrioshka, from the structural end of lit crit that my friend Wm. Benzon attacks with gusto over at New Savannah:

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    Enantiodromia:

    You’ll recall this is the pattern where something turns into its opposite… as described in this quote from the movie Prozac Nation:

    I dream about all the things I wish I’d said.
    The opposite of what came out of my mouth.
    I wish I’d said
    “Please forgive me. Please help me.
    I know I have no right to behave this way?”

    Here are a few examples…

    Ahmed Akkari Repents Violent Opposition to Danish Cartoons Lampooning Islam:

    After a Danish newspaper published cartoons satirizing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed Akkari spearheaded protests that ultimately cost the lives of 200 people. Now he says he’s sorry. Michael Moynihan on what changed Akkari’s mind.

    That’s impressive!

    That one’s run of the media mill…

    And this one’s from my delightful, delicious boss, Danielle LaPorte:

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    A friend sent me this:

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    Let’s just plough ahead…

    Nominalism:

    Nominalism is the category where the distinction between a word and what it represents gets blurry — a very significant distinction in some cases —

    How’s this for naming your donkey after your President?

    Consider this one, another instance of nominalism in action, from the French justice system:

    A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words “I am a bomb” on the front, along with his name and ‘Born on September 11th’ on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for “glorifying a crime”. A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

    The classic nominalist image — with which I’d compare and contrast the French three-year-old with the unfortunate name and tsee-shirt — is Magritte’s cdelebrated “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”:

    And here’s one final nominalist example:

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    The spiral:

    Here’s a potential downwards spiral, for those watching India:

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    Straight parallelism:

    This one’s from Jonathan Franzen:

    And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.

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    Simple Opposition:

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    Some of these categories seem pretty fluid — or to put that another way, some of these examples might fit with equal ease into several doifferent categories. Here’s another oppositional class:

    Arms crossed:

    From Ezra Klein and Evan Solta blogging at WaPo’s Wonkbook: The Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences:

    It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

    A great “values” juxtaposition:

    And hey, nice phrasing:

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    Here’s an example of one of the central patterns of violence and justice:

    Tit for Tat:

    [ the account this tweet came from, which was a media outlet for Shabaab, has since been closed -- hence the less than euqal graphical appearance of this particular tweet... ]

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    And here, without too much further ado, is a whole concatenation of…

    Serpents biting their tails:

    [ ... and that last one of Nein's appears to have been withdrawn from circulation ]

    This one I love for its lesson on biblical pick-and-choose:

    This one is also a DoubleQuote:

    when closely followed by:

    And this one really bites:

    **

    To close the series out with more of a bang than a whimper, here’s Serpent bites Tail with apocalypse & gameplay for additional spice:

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    And a little child shall lead them…

    Monday, October 14th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- on two viral videos of children ]
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    Malala Yousafzai has been in many hearts and minds recently, and deservedly so. Her speech before the United Nations Youth Assembly, like her John Stewart interview, went viral on YouTube– here’s a version that has the grace to include her opening invocation of the Name of God:

    Thinking idly about her the other day I was reminded of anither video of a schoolchild that went viral just a few months ago — this one the more off-the-cuff speech of a boy, Ali Ahmed, interviewed on the street. He’s twelve, Malala spoke at the UN on her sixteenth birthday, but he testifies eloquently to Malala’s point by his own obvious clarity and intelligence:

    I think it’s worth holding these two video clips in mind together, the young woman and the young man, she almost fatally wounded and now recovered, he happening to be at the right spot on the right moment to be interviewed, her words reaching us directly in her fluent English, his coming to us only via sub-titles, as in an art-house “foreign” movie… If she has eclipsed him, let us remember him again.

    The intelligence, the clarity. the education. And how many thousands more must there be, unviral and unsung, but no less intelligent?

    **

    Unless ye become as little children, saith the Gospel, and a little child shall lead them, saith the Prophet.

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    With God on both our sides…

    Sunday, September 15th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron aka hipbonegamer -- shall we file this under religion, or politics? ]
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    Let’s see, now: religiously speaking, you can support a murderous dictator on a rampage against his own people, or the rebels who oppose him who take video selfies of themselves eating their deceased enemies’ hearts — or abstain from taking sides and let the two parties shoot and rape it out among themselves…

    Sheikh Youself al-Qaradawi is an Egyptian cleric with a following in the tens of millions, while Roman Silantyev is a “religious expert and head of the Human Rights Center of the World Russian People’s Council” and staff member of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations.

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    Sources:

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