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& a new post — Time & Space, exact and vast, in few words

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- matching aphorisms for a glimpse of contrasting worldviews -- Western, Taliban, South Asian, African, ISIS ]

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Francesca Borri, writing for Al-Monitor under the title Behind the black flag: current, former ISIS fighters speak, is my source for the aphorism in the upper panel, which, if I might move up a level or two of abstraction, translates to the “ratio”:

you : bounded :: we : boundless

in spatial terms — really not a far cry from its temporal equivalent in the lower panel:

you : time-bound :: we : time free

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Here’s a touch of context for the ISIS fighter’s remark:

M. is still a fighter. When ISIS withdrew eastward, he withdrew, too, speaking to Al-Monitor via Skype from Al Bab. Aleppo’s countryside is scattered with ISIS gunmen.

I asked M. if his movement was bent on redrawing the map of the Middle East, to which he replied, “There is no map. … Where you see borders, we see only your interests.”

And here’s Joel Hafvenstein at Registan, supported by the redoubtable Joshua Foust, describing the alleged Taliban aphorism as “oddly condescending and inapt” in a 2010 post titled Oh, And We Have The Watches Too:

I’m curious: has anyone out there ever personally heard an insurgent (or any Afghan, for that matter) use the proverb, “You have the watches, but we have the time”?

I’ve heard it quoted grimly by a lot of NATO military personnel, and of course it’s been repeated ad nauseam by the media.  But it sounded strange and inauthentic to me from the first time I heard it in 2003.   I never saw it attributed to an actual Afghan; many early reports openly called it apocryphal, before it took on a life of its own.  In my admittedly limited experience, I’ve never heard it used by an Afghan.  But it’s a familiar phrase in other parts of South Asia and Africa, where it’s used very differently: to contrast the soulless Western rat race with the local good life.

So the DoubleQuote may be a QuoteMisquote, at least as far as Afghanistan is concerned – but whether its talking insurgency warfare or the good life, it suggests — as does the upper quote — that an overly-calibrated life may lose in its rigidity what a more free-form and responsive life may gain in fluidity.

Shades of Lao Tsu, and the way that can be quantified is not the way of quality!

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Landslides: Oso, Washington & Abi Barak, Afghanistan

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- comparing two recent landslides for scale, and a conundrum ]
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Abi Barak, Afghanistan: 2,100 believed buried


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Oso, Washington: 41 dead, 2 missing


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I wanted these two images to be as large as the Zenpundit format would permit, and fear they would be too small if reduced to fit my usual DoubleQuotes format — and since that still leaves them equal in image-size though very different in scope of devastation, I’ve added the figures of those who are thought to have died in the two slides, so that you can get a sense of differences of scale which may not be so easily apparent from the images alone.

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So, the conundrum:

  • Are distant tragedies less tragic than nearby ones?
  • Is a tragedy with more dead more tragic than one with less?
  • Or is there no mathematics to tragedy?
  • For that last opinion, see the views of Ludwig Wittgenstein, CS Lewis and Arne Naess quoted in Of Quantity and Quality II: Holocaust, torture and sacrament.

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    Sources:

  • Abi Barak, Afghanistan: 2,100 believed buried
  • Oso, Washington: 41 dead, 2 missing
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    Serpent logic and related

    Saturday, September 14th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- where paradox begets form in phrasing, redux ]
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    Here for your entertainment and entrainment are some further instances where the tweet doubles back on itself, bites its tail, or otherwise embodies some form of “form” that’s noteworthy in its own right, and possibly indicative of the heart of a problem — think of these tweets as eddies in the flow of things, knots in the wood…

    Two arms crossed as in that MC Escher hand-draws-hand piece:

    And a net version of the same, aka “tit for tat”:

    Speaking of economics, here’s a bit of spiral logic — the economics of spiralling out of control?

    And here’s an example of “endless” recursion, as featured in two tweets about “end” times from Barth’s Notes:

    and its 2013 equivalent:

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    Okay, here are some simple sample opposites. First, the weather forecast for Syria:

    — spelled our explicitly by Andrew Stroehlein, who tweeted “Sunny with a chance of cluster bombs…” in response.

    That one seems fairly fair, but click on the links yourself to see the nuances in King‘s actual statements.

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    Now for some regular serpents’ tails, from the reasonably light-hearted to the heavier end of the scales:

    Okay, here are two from Mikko Hypponen, the first of which is frankly outdated, but still fun:

    Angela Watercutter caught the tide at just the right moment with her Wired piece, Skynet Becomes Self-Aware: How to Welcome Our AI Overlords:

    The time has come. According to the Terminator clock, at 8:11 p.m. Tuesday, Skynet will become self-aware. And humanity will be screwed. Going by canon set out in the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series, Judgment Day should hit Thursday.

    Never mind Mikko, this one’s funny too — if and only if one’s also familiar with Wikipedia, which seems plausible in all cases for those who follow twitter — it wins double-honors in fact, hitting it out of the self-reference ball-park and into parallelism as satire:

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    Namarupa, or “name and form”, has to do with parallelisms between a name and its referent — or what zen might call the “finger pointing” and the moon — always fun:

    The next one depends on your knowing that the Greek mythological creature known as a Naiad refers to “any of the nymphs in classical mythology living in and giving life to lakes, rivers, springs, and fountains”:

    – aptly named indeed.

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    We’re almost done — here’s one with a built in time-factor:

    It it still there? Aha!

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    Finally, this isn’t a serpent eating its tail by itself:

    — but it becomes one, I’d suggest, when Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2011, retweets it!

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    Until next time…

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    Blip: algo’s got rhythm at last!

    Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a qualit with little time for quants making another graceful retraction ]
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    I haven’t been too convinced that algorithms were good at understanding my interests — remember that ad for “bold” Christian shirts (and babe) some fool code placed on Islamic Awakening — a site I was visiting to read up on Awlaqi?

    Well, those algos are improving… Here’s what YouTube thinks I might want to listen to next, hot from the digital presses…

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    Turing Test: check!

    I’d say YouTube’s algorithm has finally figured out — at least momentarily — the basics of who I am.

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    On two, one, seven plus or minus, and ten – towards infinity

    Monday, July 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a few quirky thoughts about graphs and analysis ]
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    Two eyes (heads, ideas, points of view) are better than one.

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    When I worked as senior analyst in a tiny think-shop, my boss would often ask me for an early indicator of some trend. My brain couldn’t handle that — I always needed two data points to see a pattern, and so I coined the mantra for myself, two is the first number. When the American Bankers Association during the Y2K scare wrote and posted a sermon to be delivered in synagogues, churches and mosques counseling trust in the banking system it was a curiosity. When the FBI, in response to the same Y2K scare, put out a manual for chiefs of police in which they provided input on the interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the two together became an indicator: they connected.

    My human brain could see that at once — non-religious authority usurps theological function, times two.

    For what it’s worth, the Starlight data-visualization system we used back then (1999) couldn’t put these two items together: I could and did.

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    To wax philosophical, in a manner asymptotic to bullshit:

    One isn’t a number until there are two, because it’s limitless across all spectra and unique, and because it is its own, only context.

    One isn’t a number unless there’s a mind to think of it — in which case it’s already an abstraction within that mind, and thus there are, minimally, two. At which point we are in the numbers game, and there may be many, many more than two — twenty, or plenty, or plenty-three, or the cube root of aleph null, or (ridiculous, I know) infinity-six…

    Go, figure.

    Two is the first number, because the two can mingle or separate, duel or duet: either way, there’s a connection, a link between them.

    Links and connections are where meaning lies — in the edges of our graphs, where two nodes seamlessly integrate, much as two eyes or two ears give us stereoscopic vision or stereophonic sound, not by abstracting one from two by skipping the details that make a difference, but by incorporating the rich fullness of both to present a third which contains them fully via an added dimension of depth.

    That’s the fundamental reason that DoubleQuotes are an ideal analytic tool for the human mind to work with: they’re the simplest form of graph — the dyad — populated with rich nodes and optimally rich associations between them.

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    Cornelius Castoriades wrote:

    Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table; what does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night; what does this show me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Requiem of Mozart be a paradigm of being”, and seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way around, instead of seeing in the imaginary, i.e., human mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being.

    When I specified above “the simplest form of graph — the dyad — populated with rich nodes and optimally rich associations between them” I was offering a Castoriades-style reversal of approach, in which our choice of nodes is determined not by their abstraction — as single data points — but by their humanly intuited significance and rich complexity. Hence: anecdotes, quotes, emblems, graphics, snapshots, statistics — leaning to the qualitative side of things, but not omitting the quantitative. And their connection, intuited for the richness of the parallelisms and oppositions between them.

    Often the first rich node will be present in the back of the mind — aviators wanting to learn how to fly a plane, but uninterested in how to land it — when the second falls into place — when a student asks a diving instructor to teach the diving technique, with no interest in learning to avoid the bends while coming back up. And bingo — the thing us understood, the pattern recognized, and an abstraction to “one way tasks” — including “one way tickets” established.

    Let’s call that first node a “fly in the subconscious”. I’d love to have been a fly in the subconscious when SecDef Rumsfeld told a Town hall meeting in Baghdad, April 2003:

    And unlike many armies in the world, you came not to conquer, not to occupy, but to liberate and the Iraqi people know this.

    Because I could have chimed in cheerfully in the very British voice of General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, in that different yet same Baghdad in 1917:

    Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators…

    Oh, the echo — the reverb!

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    The ideal number of nodes in the kind of graph I’m thinking of is found in terms of the human capacity to hold “seven plus or minus two” items in mind at the same time — thus, with a slight scanning of the eyes, a graph with eight to twelve nodes and twenty or so edges is about the limit of what can be comprehended.

    The Kabbalistic Tree of Life, infinitely rich in meaning and instruction, has ten nodes and twenty-two edges. Once taken into the mature human mind, there is no end to it.

    The value of a graph composed of such rich nodes and edges lies in the contemplation it affords our human minds and hearts.

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    Two, being the simplest number, will probably give you the richest graphs of all…

    Art, in the person of Vincent Van Gogh, meet science, in the person of Theodore von Kármán.

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