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American Caesar — a reread after 30 years

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 188-1964, by William Manchester

Often on weekends my wife allows me to tag along as she takes in area estate sales. She’s interested in vintage furniture, and I hope for a decent collection of books. A sale we visited a couple months ago had very few books, but of those few was a hardback copy of American Caesar. I purchased the copy for $1 and mentioned to my wife, “I’ll get to this again someday…” as I’d first read Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur in the early 1980’s while stationed on my first submarine. “Someday” started on the car ride home (she was driving), and I must admit: American Caesar was even better thirty years later. Manchester is a masterful biographer, and equal to the task of such a larger-than-life subject.

MacArthur still evokes passion among admirers and detractors. One take-away from the second reading was just how well-read MacArthur and his father were. When MacArthur the elder died, he left over 4,000 books in his library—both seemed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of history and warfare. Highly recommended.

PS: I visited the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, recently while in town for business and would recommend as well.

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Bouleversé by forgiveness

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — not just “thinking outside the box” — how about upending the whole thing and seeing what shakes out? ]
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FWIW, this isn't the world, nor is it upside down -- it's just a rather different map, eh?

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A celebrated stanza by the Indian poet-saint Kabir — beloved of both Hindus and Muslims — asks:

Is there any guru in the world wise enough
to understand the upside-down Veda?

There’s a style of poetry used by Kabir and others to describe experience of the divine called “ulatbamsi” or the “upside down language” — and Linda Hess, Kabir’s great translator, writes of it as a language “of paradoxes and enigmas” — not too dissimilar, perhaps, to the koans or meditation paradoxes often encountered in zen training.

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Boom! The French have the word “bouleversé” to cover the way we feel when suddenly our whole world seems turned upside down.

Maybe it’s a modern idea? Bob Dylan, I’m delighted to say, no longer belongs to Robert Zimmerman except for purposes of copyright — his songs have entered the cultural bloodstream. Here’s his version:

The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

The world often seems upside down, our values are often quite the reverse of what they might be if we had the kind of clarity that is implied in Samuel Johnson‘s celebrated quote:

Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

And then there are those great ones for whom our world is manifestly unjust, manifestly topsy-turvy — or “through the looking-glass”, if you prefer.

I mean, what else can being “in the world, but not of it” be all about, if it’s not about a major shift in perspective?

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I’m writing about this at such length because I just read one of those paragraphs that turns my own world upside down. It came in the middle of a long piece on “restorative justice” and it focuses on the power of forgiveness.

This particular paragraph describes how an Indian-American woman, Sujatha Baliga, came to see the unexpected power of forgiveness, and for her it occurred in a Buddhist context — but the power itself is beyond the boundaries of specific religions:

Baliga had been in therapy in New York, but while in India she had what she calls “a total breakdown.” She remembers thinking, Oh, my God, I’ve got to fix myself before I start law school. She decided to take a train to Dharamsala, the Himalayan city that is home to a large Tibetan exile community. There she heard Tibetans recount “horrific stories of losing their loved ones as they were trying to escape the invading Chinese Army,” she told me. “Women getting raped, children made to kill their parents — unbelievably awful stuff. And I would ask them, ‘How are you even standing, let alone smiling?’ And everybody would say, ‘Forgiveness.’ And they’re like, ‘What are you so angry about?’ And I told them, and they’d say, ‘That’s actually pretty crazy.’ ”

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I like the dark blue “sky” and the “clouds” at the top of the map I began this post with — but then, I’m a mostly vertical human who seldom stands on his head, so it looks “natural” to me. But that’s simply a matter of my point of view.

I imagine maps like that one must please our friends “down under”.

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A hat-tip to Hadar Aviram, whose California Corrections blog first pointed me to the article about Sujatha Baliga.

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Luttwak on the Australian Strategic Pivot

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Iconoclastic strategist Edward Luttwak has characteristically caustic words on an Australian -American strategic entente to contain an “autistic” rising China:

Australia counters Chinese threat 

AUSTRALIA has been quietly building a regional defence coalition to restrain China’s increasingly ”aggressive” and ”autistic” international behaviour, an influential adviser to the Pentagon says.

Edward Luttwak bluntly contradicts Australian and US denials that they see China as a threat or want to contain its rise. ”Australians view themselves as facing a strategic threat,” he writes in his coming book, The Rise of China v The Logic of Strategy.

The emerging latticework of regional defence arrangements augments ”the overall capacity of the US-Australian alliance to contain China”.

The book praises Australia’s strategic initiative in forging ties with countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and India that lie beyond America’s natural security orbit, as well as broadening the defence networks of close US allies such as Japan.

”Each of these Australian initiatives derives from a prior and broader decision to take the initiative in building a structure of collective security piece by piece, and not just leave it all to the Americans,” it says.

….The Australian National University’s Hugh White has argued that the US needs to ”share power” with what is going to be ”the most formidable power the US has ever faced”. But for Mr Luttwak, the ”logic of strategy” dictates that neighbours will naturally coalesce against the new rising threat, thus preventing China from realising anything like the relative military power that has been projected.

”The rapid accession to prosperity has been a very common way for countries to lose their sanity,” Mr Luttwak told the Herald. He said China suffered from ancient and new foreign policy weaknesses.

”The Chinese are autistic in dealing with foreigners, they have no sense of the ‘other’,” he said. ”They think they are incredibly brilliant strategists as if they had been conquering other nations, when in fact it’s been the other way around for 1500 years.”

Ouch.

China’s political system is in the midst of a particularly edgy and uncertain generational transition of power, following the succession machinery designed by China’s last “paramount leader”, Deng Xiaoping, to retain harmony among the ruling Communist Party elite.  Deng’s successors are following his script, but their hearts no longer appear to be in it – 15 years after Deng’s death, cracks have appeared in the facade of unity. Not a fatal flaw, but lacking a leader of Deng’s stature who, even in retirement, remained the supreme arbiter of China’s political system, factions of China’s elite have more room to push conflicting agendas.

In foreign policy we see the effects in China’s erratically belligerent, then conciliatory behavior towards it’s East Asian neighbors and the United States. Strategically, it makes little sense for China to repeatedly generate friction over territorial claims to the entire South China Sea with Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States and push a separate dispute with Japan simultaneously, yet because of intra-elite, domestic politics, Beijing is unable or unwilling to restrain enthusiast Chinese officials from doing so.

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The Blog Formerly Known as…

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Leah Farrall on the state of counterterrorism ]
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Until recently, friend and blog-friend Leah Farrall‘s highly-regarded blog carried this header:

No more.

Leah, the former al-Qaeda subject matter specialist and senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police — Andrew Exum once called her the “Aussie goddess of all things counter-terrorism” — hasn’t been blogging a whole lot recently.

Today, the header of her blog looks just a little different. It now reads:

To understand why, you’ll want to read the series of seven posts she uploaded today under the new header.

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The title for the series goes with the first post:

When words have consequences: on labeling children “terror spawn,” and some stories and thoughts on agency …

The series continues:

II: The situation of children born into jihad
III: Bin Laden’s children
IV The situation of other children and the lack of options
V Understanding the pressures against leaving and the dangers it can entail
VI Addressing this issue without exploiting already traumatized victims

Leah concludes the series with a post in which she lays out a more general critique of the field, and explains the reasoning behind her decision to change the name of her blog:

VII A Personal Prologue.

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Caitlin Fitz Gerald (@caidid) was among the first to note Leah’s posts on Twitter, and wrote:

Confirmed: @allthingsct series is required reading. Set aside some time this weekend, start here and read all 7.

J.M. Berger (@intelwire) took the time to do so, and tweeted:

Just finished the entirety of @allthingsct’s epic series starting here and I cannot stress enough that you shld read it.

It is a great exposition of something rarely discussed, with broader implications as well. Also very human.

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Leah has written a moving and courageous essay: I commend it highly.

Addendum:

I have also invited Leah to write a guest-post for us here at Zenpundit expanding on her critique of current trends in counterterrorism, and she’s agreed. So that’s something to keep an keen eye out for, date uncertain at this point.

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Tea Party and / or Occupy?

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — parallels, opppositions, analysis, games, coincidentia oppositorum ]

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labelling-bodies1.jpg

My friend Cath Styles, who has been developing an iPad playable version of my HipBone Games under the name Sembl for the National Museum of Australia, made a point I’ve been trying to make for a while now, with sweet lucidity, in a recent blog post:

A general principle can be distilled from this. Perhaps: In the very moment we identify a similarity between two objects, we recognise their difference. In other words, the process of drawing two things together creates an equal opposite force that draws attention to their natural distance. So the act of seeking resemblance – consistency, or patterns – simultaneously renders visible the inconsistencies, the structures and textures of our social world. And the greater the conceptual distance between the two likened objects, the more interesting the likening – and the greater the understanding to be found.

That’s absolutely right, and it gets to the heart of my games and analytic practice — to see and acknowledge both parallelisms and differences, oppositions…

Oxford is the polar opposite of Cambridge as anyone at the annual boat race between them will tell you — yet they’re so similar that the term Oxbridge exists to distinguish them as a dyad from all else the wide world round…

Similarly, in the example illustrated above, Cath shows two items from the Museum collection that were juxtaposed by players of an early version of her game, and writes:

the Sembl players who linked the above branding iron to the breastplate – because both are tools for labeling bodies – cast new light on the colonial practice of giving metal breastplates to Aboriginal people.

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Since the essence of my own analytic style (and that of HipBone and Sembl games) is the recognition of parallelisms and oppositions, I was particularly interested to see one group of early Tea Party folk reaching out to the emerging Occupy movement. Here, then, are two posts in which we can see the beginnings of recognition that there may be a kinship between the two…

Occupy Wall Street: Another View:

You know what the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is?
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It is all the things that were in the original Tea Party, but were steadily ignored as the TP became a Republican booster club.

That comes from a post on FedUpUSA, a site with the Gadsden flag as its web-logo that was [as “Market
Ticker”], one of the founding orgs behind the TP. It’s from someone who identified as a Libertarian Party activist.

Here’s another post from FedUpUSA, not so identified:

An Open Letter From FedUpUSA To Occupy Wall Street Protestors All Over The Country:

This is a letter to OWS from FedUpUSA, one of the original Tea Parties:
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We support you in exercising your First Amendment Right. We are outraged that any peaceful demonstrator would be assaulted or abused by any authorities.
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If you are protesting because there are no jobs— We stand with you.
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We are for a free economy and recognize that what we have now is NOT a free economy; it is not capitalism what we have is a fascist state or crony-capitalism. There is nothing free about doing business with Countries that manipulate their currencies to attract cheap labor. We agree that these jobs need to come back to America.
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If you are protesting because no one has gone to jail— We stand with you.
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Regardless of what is being said from the white house and media, we know that there are many in the financial district and the banks that have committed fraud and outright theft and we too want to see them prosecuted. We support the stop looting and start prosecuting.
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If you are protesting because everything costs more— We stand with you.
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We see prices rise in our food, gas, clothes yet our wages have stayed the same or have decreased. The Federal Reserve has bailed everyone out but us and not only are we going to have to pay for that, those bailouts make the price of everything else go up because it devalues our currency. We support monetary reform.
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If you are protesting because you are tired of our bought and paid for government on both sides— We stand with you.
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We are also against the banks and big corporations buying our politicians and writing laws that favor their special interests. We understand that our economy is broken BECAUSE of this and that all of our other issues will never be addressed as long as the financial elite control OUR government.
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We understand that these issues cross party lines and ideologies and effect each and every one of us. We also understand that these issues will never get fixed as long as we continue to let the media, the elite, and members of the government separate us by our differing ideologies.
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Only Together, can we Implement Change
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It is time, We Americans, put our ideologies in our back pocket and not let them separate us so that we can work together for this ONE COMMON GOAL: to get the special interest money and elite out of OUR Government and return it to US — the people.
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As long as the banks, largest corporations, and wealthy elite control our government, we will never have a representative republic and laws will continue to be passed that only benefit the few 1% at the expense of us 99
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Demand that NOT ONE MORE LAW gets passed until they pass:
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Lobby reform:
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It is a Federal Offense punishable by a minimum 5 years in prison to:

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Lobby any member of the US Congress outside of the district you live, work, or own a business.
Lobby a member of congress while they are physically outside the district they represent.
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Campaign Reform:
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It is a Federal Offense punishable by a minimum 5 years in prison to:
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For any one person, corporation, enterprise, group, union or the like, to donate more than $2,000 to any one candidate during one campaign period.
For any member of the media to deny equal access to competing candidates.
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These two laws will cut the control the Financial elite have on our government by leveling the playing field. You will have just as big as a voice with your representative as the big box retailer that resides in your town. Simply, it will end the Crony-Capitalism that is strangling our economy.
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I encourage all my fellow Tea Partiers to join Occupy Wall Street protesters in their non-violent, peaceful protests and together demand that the Government be returned to the people. After all, this is precisely what the Tea Party was intended to be before it was taken over and marginalized by the establishment politicians.

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FedUpUSA.org

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And we’re deep into John Robb territory…

What do you think? Do the parallelisms strike you, or the oppositions — or, perhaps, both?

FWIW, Cath’s Sembl version of my game looks like it is going to be a beautiful steampunk affair…

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