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The Shoehorn — two into one won’t go

Monday, July 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — these things are multi-factorial, and can’t truthfully be shoehorned to fit two categories — “terrorist” or “deranged” — as realtors might say, it’s nuance, nuance, nuance ]
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Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt have an interesting piece in the NYT today, titled In the Age of ISIS, Who’s a Terrorist, and Who’s Simply Deranged? It hinges on a comparison of two similar events in France, two years apart, in Dijon and Nice.

Here, I’ve presented them as a DoubleQuote. The Dijon article (upper panel, below) comes from an NYT report dated December 23, 2014:

Tablet DQ 600 Terrorist or Deranged

The Nice report (lower panel, above) comes from Mazzetti and Schmitt’s piece today.

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Mazzetti and Schmitt point out that shortly before the Dijon attack,

In September 2014, the spokesman for the Islamic State put out a call for the group’s followers to attack Westerners by any means possible, and to do so without awaiting further instructions from the group’s leaders.

“Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him,” the spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, said during a 42-minute recorded statement.

The whole Mazzetti and Schmitt piece is worth your reading. Categorization, as they explain, is changing —

“A lot of this stuff is at the fringes of what we would historically think of as terrorism,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism and a professor at Dartmouth College. But, he said, “the Islamic State and jihadism has become a kind of refuge for some unstable people who are at the end of their rope and decide they can redeem their screwed-up lives” by dying in the name of a cause.

Mr. Benjamin said this also led the news media and government officials to treat violence like the Nice attack differently from other mass attacks, like shootings at schools and churches that have been carried out by non-Muslims.

“If there is a mass killing and there is a Muslim involved, all of a sudden it is by definition terrorism,” he said

— and this has impacts far beyond the horrific crimes themselves.

For instance, here’s one conclusion with significant foreign policy implications:

But terrorism experts caution that because the Islamic State seems to have broad appeal to the mentally unbalanced, the displaced and others on the fringes of society, there are limits to how much any military campaign in Syria and Iraq can reduce violence carried out in other countries on the group’s behalf.

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As Will McCants puts it in a Time piece titled The Difference Between ISIS and ISIS-ish:

The pattern is tragically familiar: a troubled youth with a criminal past attacks in the name of ISIS. Charlie Hebdo, Orlando, San Bernardino and perhaps now Nice. They are not ISIS, exactly, but ISISish men and women who have no organizational ties to ISIS but murder in its name.

And Heraclitus:

No man ever steps in the same river twice.

Soundbites and hasty headlines don’t chew what they bite. Each case is its own case — sui generis. Classical philosophy used to posit four types of cause: formal and material, efficient and final. In terms of acts of sudden violence, we may want to consider a variety of contextual influences, subconscious drives (James Gilligan‘s work on violnce and shame is deeply relevant here), overt signalling by perps including claims of bayat, methods employed and their history in previous actions and inspoirational or technical literature, and post-action claims by known terrorist groups

Life does not pretend to be simple. Convenience is no substitute for careful analysis.

Premasticated, predigested

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — executive summaries — aren’t they just babyfood for thought? ]
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I have nothing against Alicia Silverstone, that’s the first thing:

tablet dq premasticated

What interests me more, though, is the necessity for executives to be fed (readers?) digests on matters of national security.

If I recall correctly, Jerome Ravetz once made the point that the chief executive charged with the oversight of dozens of nuclear power plants may well have to make multi-million dollar decisions very rapidly, after brief briefings, and with full confidence that his orders will be obeyed without question.. which is not a situation that encourages nuanced discussion.

Brevity may be the soul of executive decision-making, I can see that. I don’t have to like it.

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — what color does a chameleon turn in a hall of mirrors? ]
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oy

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There’s an interesting ascetic aesthetic in photography which prefers black and white to full spectrum color, but the black and white in question has a rich spectrum of its own, a continuum of shades of grey between black and white poles. Not so with black and white choices of the sort President Bush proposed when he said:

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

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Some of the nuances to consider:

David Kilcullen on this video at 48.55:

A lot of families in Afghanistan have one son fighting with the government, and another son fighting with the Taliban. It’s a hedging strategy.

Compare:

In Syria, many families face a terrible dilemma

In recent months I have noticed a trend of some families sending at least one of their children to join ISIL because that was the only way for them to generate an income in the family.

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And then this:

U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Afghan Allies’ Abuse of Boys

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

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This:

Is the CIA undercounting civilian deaths from drone strikes?

Determining the number of civilian casualties under such circumstances is a difficult task — even for the human rights groups that devote significant resources to doing so. If the CIA is simply counting zero civilians killed in operations where it can’t say for certain who the agency is even firing at, that doesn’t inspire much confidence in their numbers.
assumed to be combatants.

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And then there’s the paradox, found even in scripture:

The Synoptic Gospels attribute the following quote to Jesus of Nazareth: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30), as well as its contrapositive, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50; The Synoptic Gospels attribute the following quote to Jesus of Nazareth: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30), as well as its contrapositive, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50; Mark 9:40)

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As I said at the top of this post —

oy

Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
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Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:

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There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

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    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    Adding to the Bookpile

    Sunday, February 9th, 2014

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

    Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq by John Dower 

    Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 by William Shirer

    Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II by Michael Burleigh 

    Picked up a few more books for the antilibrary.

    Dower is best known for his prizewinning Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, which unfortunately, I have never read.  Berlin Diaries I have previously skimmed through for research purposes but I did not own a copy. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany was an immensely bestselling book which nearly everyone interested in WWII reads at some point in time. I would put in a good word for Shirer’s lesser known The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940 . It was a very readable introduction to the deep political schisms of France during the interwar and Vichy years which ( as I am not focused on French history) later made reading Ian Ousby’s Occupation: The Ordeal of France 1940-1944 more profitable.

    I am a fan of the vigorous prose of British historian Michael Burleigh, having previously reviewed  Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism here and can give a strong recommendation for his The Third Reich: A New History.  Burleigh here is tackling moral choices in war and also conflict at what Colonel John Boyd termed “the moral level of war” in a scenario containing the greatest moral extremes in human history, the Second World War.

    The more I try to read, the further behind I fall!


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