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Regarding the Lesser and Greater Sludges

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the warnings, the lack of response, the tragedy, and a diagnosis of the underlying, near-universal human condition ]
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Devastation wrought by the Lesser Sludge, Snohomish County, WA, March 2014

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Hear ye! Hear ye!

The most stunning account I’ve yet seen of the Oso mudslide isn’t really about the slide itself, it’s about how much we already knew and how little we listened. Here’s an interview with geomorph­ologist Daniel Miller, who wrote up the danger of a slide in a 1997 report for the Washington Department of Ecology and the Tulalip Tribes, and followed it up with a report for the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1999, in which he warned of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure”:

Compare and contrast that with the quote from a piece yesterday on Vice Motherboard titled Lidar Mapping Could Save Lives Before the Next Mudslide:

Nevertheless the county believed that it was safe to build homes down by the Stillaguamish River. “It was considered very safe,” John Pennington, head of Snohomish County’s Department of Emergency Management, said at a news conference Monday. “This was a completely unforeseen slide. This came out of nowhere.”

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The Lesser Sludge:

According to Chapter 14, Landslides and other mass movements, in Snohomish County’s 2010 Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan Update:

Mudslides or mudflows (or debris flows) are rivers of rock, earth, organic matter and other soil materials saturated with water. They develop in the soil overlying bedrock on sloping surfaces when water rapidly accumulates in the ground, such as during river of rock, earth, organic matter and other heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt. Water pressure in the pore spaces of the material increases to the point that the internal strength of the soil is drastically weakened. The soil’s reduced resistance can then easily be overcome by gravity, changing the earth into a flowing river of mud or “slurry.” A debris flow or mudflow can move rapidly down slopes or through channels, and can strike with little or no warning at avalanche speeds. The slurry can travel miles from its source, growing as it descends, picking up trees, boulders, cars and anything else in its path. Although these slides behave as fluids, they pack many times the hydraulic force of water due to the mass of material included in them. Locally, they can be some of the most destructive events in nature.

— and their Hazard Profile comments:

Landslides are caused by one or a combination of the following factors: change in slope of the terrain, increased load on the land, shocks and vibrations, change in water content, groundwater movement, frost action, weathering of rocks, and removing or changing the type of vegetation covering slopes.

Note that no human intervention is required — this is what an insurance writer might call an “act of God” while a scientist might prefer to call it the result of “natural causes”.

As for myself, I would like to refer to the actual mudflow consisting of “rock, earth, organic matter and other soil materials saturated with water” that recently buried much of the small, humanly-populated town of Osa in Snohomish County, WA, as the Lesser Sludge.

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Hear ye!

Listen! Warnings have been issued for millennia — and still the kings, the potentates, the real estate moguls refuse to listen:

Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle.

— Jeremiah 19:3

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Managua:

I was in Managua, Nicaragua, shortly after the 1972 earthquake there. I had spent the day before with a 35mm Pentax, photographing square block after square block of demolished housing, with the occasional yellow flag indicating that a body — hence a possible source of infection — had been located there, too deep to be retrieved at that point. And I recall all too vividly what the physician sitting next to me on the plane home said to me:

They will rebuild on this same spot.

Managua had been the site of previous quakes, including one in 1885, and another in 1931 — it was at risk for serious quakes roughly twice a century. But real estate is real estate, Managua as Nicaragua’s capital city was valuable real estate, and the owners of valuable real estate would want to rebuild on their own real estate, no? It only makes logical sense…

And they did.

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What, then, is the Greater Sludge?

What I am calling the Greater Sludge is the mental sludge that somehow lodges itself, not just in this instance but in ten thousand others, between appropriate warnings on the one hand, and acting on the need for change on the other.

The Greater Sludge, in other words, is between our ears and behind our eyes: we cannot see it, and we cannot hear it.

I spent the better part of a decade working and talking with the fine group of social entrepreneurs that Jeff Skoll‘s foundation gathered for discussions at the late, lamented SocialEdge site, and I noticed something that struck me forcibly at the time, and has only become more deeply rooted in my thinking since then: we have Foundations, think tanks, journals, RFPs, and funding reources for all manner of top-down approaches to single-issue problems — depleted or polluted water supplies, lack of housing, education, medicine, you name it. We even have a few people like Anthony Judge and his Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, trying to see the complex interweavings of multiple problems — and a few more like Victor d’Allant and his team at Urb.Im working on bottom-up solutions.

But there isn’t really even a category for approaches to the problem of the Greater Sludge: our need to make across-the-board improvements in mental clarity isn’t even on the map.

And yet mental sludge is the greatest obstacle facing all those who see problems and have the clarity to know how to go about fixing them: from distraction and disinterest to outright denial, the many shades of sludge constitute our one totally interdisciplinary, wholly integral and universal problem.

Conversely, clarity in that invisible space behind the eyes, the ability to hear the quiet voice of sanity above the babel-babble between the ears — that would be the universal solvent.

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Further readings:

  • Critical thinking — cf. The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking
  • Bias avoidance — cf. The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis and The Mind’s Lie
  • Systemic thinking — cf. Places to Intervene in a System and Dancing with Systems
  • Associzative leaps — cf. On the HipBone and Sembl games: update and Recap: on HipBone / Sembl Thinking
  • Then read the whole sad mudslide and warnings story at the Seattle Times again, and weep:

    I think we did the best that we could under the constraints that nobody wanted to sell their property and move…

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    March 16th: Purim, or Israel vs Iran redux?

    Sunday, March 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- still trying to cover some of the major feasts and fasts of the world's religions in calendar time, which can open on occasion into timelessness -- Chag Purim Sameach! ]
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    Jan Lievens, The Feast of Esther, ca 1625

    From the North Carolina Museum of Art site:

    The subject of this painting comes from the Old Testament Book of Esther. Ahasuerus (Xerxes), king of the Persians, took Esther as his queen, not knowing she was a Jew. Haman, the king’s evil minister, plotted to annihilate the Jews by issuing a decree of execution in the king’s name. Esther invited both men to a banquet in order to reveal Haman’s plot to Ahasuerus and to plead for the life of her people. The king’s anger is seen in his clenched fists; soon, Haman would meet his fate on the gallows. Although this picture was long attributed to Rembrandt, its scale, bold colors, and dramatic energy have much in common with others painted by Lievens at a time when he may have shared a studio with Rembrandt in Leiden.

    **

    I don’t want to get itno too much detail on this one, since Purim caught up with me before I’d done the necessary research to write a properly up-to-date account of its “prophetic” significance in terms of contemporary geopolitics this year — but I would like to point us a couple of years back, to PM Netanyahu’s gift of an Esther scroll to Pres. Obama:

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    I’ve chosen to illustrate that gift of an Esther scroll via blog headlines, then and now, from the site of Joel Rosenberg, popular Christian novelist and apocalyptic influencer of politicians, who clearly finds “signs of the times” in WaPo and NYT — essentially reading with “news / scripture” bi-focals.

    This kind of religious enthusiasm and double-reading is also present in the controversial Gen. Boykin. Accordding to a DOD report of August 5, 2004 titled Alleged Improprieties Related To Public Speaking: Lieutenant General William G. Boykin, U.S. Army Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence“, GEN Boykin gave repeated speeches in which he claimed:

    After telling the story of Esther — a biblical figure who, according to LTG Boykin, became queen of Persia and was told she had been “raised up for for such a time as this” to save her people (the Jews in Persia), LTG Boykin analogized the story to the election of President Bush who, he said, had been placed in the presidency by God. “for such a time as this” (referring to the war on terrorism).

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    The geopolitical influence of rival eschatologies, then, can be found in Netanyahu, Boykin, Rosenberg, and (plausibly at least) also in Khamenei… and is well illustrated in the books of the “Two Joels”:

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    Here’s the rub, though.

    When you view the world through apoc-specs, and then influence the policies of Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions (words which have, interestingly enough, their own bi-focal meanings, temporal / terrestrial and celestial / demonic), and the world changes in unexpected ways — Ahmadinejad, with his imminent Mahdist expectation, is replaced by the far more suave and less apocalyptically aroused Hassan Rouhani — it takes some deft footwork to avoid being caught wirthout a chair when the music stops…

    As I observed in the mid-1990s:

    Bernard McGinn makes a shrewd comment on Luther’s process, in his article on Revelation in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode’s Literary Guide to the Bible:

    Earlier interpreters, such as Joachim (but not Augustine), had also claimed to find a consonance between Revelation’s prophecies and the events of Church history, but they had begun with Scripture and used it as a key to unlock history. Paradoxically, Luther, the great champion of the biblical word, claimed that history enabled him to make sense of Revelation…

    So: which direction should theologians “read” the analogy between Revelation and history in?
    Should they, like Luther, start with history and try to “shoe-horn” the Book of Revelation to fit it, or vice versa? There are two very different processes here, and the results may be correspondingly different — but when people today read accounts of Revelation which propose that the “end times” are nigh, they seldom even ask the question: which came first in the interpreter’s mind?

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    Without even getting into the rival eschatologies of Jewish Messianism and Islamic Mahdism, Christian eschatological interpretations themselves are a vastly obscure and complex matter — essentially a sort of verbal Rorshach blot onto which different people in different centuries and on different continents all find it only too easy to project their own circumstances and political beliefs…

    Ezekiel, for instance, is famously hard to understand:

    Is he writing about semi-mathematical angels or flying saucers?

    And what does that map — taken from one of many, many, in Clarence Larkin‘s Dispensational Truth (1918, revised 1920, mine is the 29th printing) — really mean, not in 1918 at the end of World War I, but today, almost a century later?

    I confess I have a fondness for Ezekiel. One of his visions, via the gospel song Dem Bones, gave me the name under which I developed my HipBone Games… and of course his interest as an eschatological visionary helped, too…

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    DoubleQuote sources:

  • Joel Rosenberg, From Ancient Persia to to Hitler’s Germany
  • Joel Rosenberg, Netanyahu gives Obama Esther Scroll
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    Boykin and Furnish: be sober, be vigilant

    Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- some good advice from Tim Furnish, which Jerry Boykin doesn't appear to have heard... ]
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    Gen. Jerry Boykin (upper panel, below), speaking with his visionary preacher friend, Rick Joyner, naturally has the right to voice his views, including those that see Middle Eastern geopolitics through the lens of Isaiah 17:1-3

    … but he might want to listen to blog-friend Dr Timothy Furnish (lower panel, above) — a fellow Christian and conservative — first.

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    I fear that at the moment, Boykin sounds more vigilant than sober, though both are jointly scripturally mandated at 1 Peter 5:8.

    Here Boykin & Joyner discuss Syria, Biblical Prophecy, And The End Times:

    Rick JOYNER: And we’re seeing Biblical prophecy unfold.
    Jerry BOYKIN: We are.
    JOYNER: These are times in which things are unfolding in scripture, and one of the Scriptures that has never been fulfilled…
    BOYKIN: Unhuh…
    JOYNER: …and has to be fulfilled before this age can end, is that Damascus will be destroyed, never inhabited again.
    BOYKIN: I share your concern, Rick, and as you say, certainly, and I’ve said this for a long time, one of the ways that Damascus could be destroyed, never to be reoccupied, would be through a chemical attack. So let’s just take a scenario…

    Interested? You can hear Boykin’s scenario of Assad’s final gesture in utter defeat, here.

    **

    Sources:

  • Boykin
  • Furnish

  • I hope to discuss Boykin’s friendship with Joyner ["our only hope is a military takeover; martial law"] and what it may portend, in a subsequent post.

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    Monk Wirathu’s 969 quotes the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra

    Sunday, October 27th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a Buddhist instance of the widespread use of sacred texts as offering sanction for religious violence, with Muslims depicted as the enemy on this occasion ]
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    Three dimensional Kalachakra mandala by Arjia Rinpoche, photo credit kalachakranet.org

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    I have commented a couple of times on texts from the Kalachakra Tantra literature about a future war between Buddhism and Islam, first in In a time of Religious Arousal and later more fully in Apocalypse Not Yet? — and today I ran across a reference to the same texts on the web page of the 969 movement in Myanmar.

    969 is the monk-led Buddhist movement which has been rioting recently against the Rohingya Muslims, and the monks concerned are Therevadins. The Kalachakra Tantra is the empowerment HH the Dalai Lama gives in the cause of peace, and the tantras are Vajrayana teachings. I think this para from the current Wikipedia article on Buddhism gives the relevant distinctions in a non-contentious form:

    Two major branches of Buddhism are generally recognized: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”). Theravada has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar etc.). Mahayana is found throughout East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan etc.) and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, and Tiantai (Tendai). In some classifications, Vajrayana — practiced mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, and adjacent parts of China and Russia — is recognized as a third branch, while others classify it as a part of Mahayana.

    I won’t go into the theological, philosophical and ritual differences, which are considerable, complex — and somewhat contested.

    **

    To refresh your memory of the relevant details regarding the Kalachakra’s treatment of “holy war”, here are my key paragraphs on the topic from Apocalypse Not Yet?:

    Alexander Berzin has been tutored by HH the Dalai Lama and HHDLs own tutors on the interpretation of the Kalachakra Tantra, and served for some years as HHDL’s translator when HHDL was giving the Kalachakra initiation: indeed his book on the Kalachakra initiation carries a Foreword by HHDL.  His writings are thus among the most scholarly and trustworthy available in the western world on the topic of the initiation which the Dalai Lama will impart for world peace again this July.

    Berzin’s words introducing the topic of Holy Wars in relation to the Kalachakra, Buddhism and Islam, are therefore important:

    Often, when people think of the Muslim concept of jihad or holy war, they associate with it the negative connotation of a self-righteous campaign of vengeful destruction in the name of God to convert others by force. They may acknowledge that Christianity had an equivalent with the Crusades, but do not usually view Buddhism as having anything similar. After all, they say, Buddhism is a religion of peace and does not have the technical term holy war.

    A careful examination of the Buddhist texts, however, particularly The Kalachakra Tantra literature, reveals both external and internal levels of battle that could easily be called “holy wars.” An unbiased study of Islam reveals the same. In both religions, leaders may exploit the external dimensions of holy war for political, economic, or personal gain, by using it to rouse their troops to battle. Historical examples regarding Islam are well known; but one must not be rosy-eyed about Buddhism and think that it has been immune to this phenomenon. Nevertheless, in both religions, the main emphasis is on the internal spiritual battle against one’s own ignorance and destructive ways.

    Specifically, he writes:

    In The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, Manjushri Yashas explains that the fight with the non-Indic people of Mecca is not an actual war, since the real battle is within the body. The fifteenth-century CE Gelug commentator Kaydrubjey elaborates that Manjushri Yashas’s words do not suggest an actual campaign to kill the followers of the non-Indic religion. The First Kalki’s intention in describing the details of the war was to provide a metaphor for the inner battle…

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    That, then, is the context — “the fight with the non-Indic people of Mecca is not an actual war” but a metaphorical one. Here, by contrast, is the interpretation given to the same text by the 969 movement in an article titled Kalachakra Tantra and 969, posted on their website two months ago (Sept 1st, 2013):

    The Kalachakra is a Tibetan Buddhist doctrine on the cycles of time. In addition to being a text, meditation practice, and initiation ritual, Kalachakra is a prophecy for the victory of the Buddhist religion in a war with Islam.

    Beginning in 712AD and continuing through 1030AD, India was subject to massive annual invasions from Muslims who eventually conquered and destroyed much of the cultural heritage of India. In a final desperate act to annihilate Buddhism, in 1193, Nalanda University which was home to the greatest center of learnings in the East was destroyed, with thousands of monks beheaded. The destruction of the temples, monasteries, centres of learning at Nalanda and northern India to be responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy. Much of what modern scholarship of Buddhist studies puzzles over today was contained in the manuscripts and minds of those who were lost during this calamity. However as the Kalachakra Tantra shows, the war between Dhamma and Islam is not over, nor is it. The prophecy includes detailed descriptions of the future invaders as well as suggested ways for the Buddhist teachings to survive these onslaughts.

    The Dalai Lama has stated that the public exposition of this tantra is necessary in the current degenerate age. The initiation may be received simply as a blessing for the majority of those attending, however, many of the more qualified attendees do take the commitments and subsequently engage in the practice.

    In a phrase, “Kalachakra is a prophecy for the victory of the Buddhist religion in a war with Islam”.

    That’s the opening of the article, clearly identifying the Kalachakra as a text about Buddhism vs Islam. There follows a curious incomplete sentence:

    We must be diligent in reminding the

    I’d love to know what the author wanted to remind us of, and what the rest of that paragraph — or group of paras? — had to say about the Kalachakra, but the rest of the text as printed is no longer talking about warfare, but explaining some basic notions in Buddhism:

    It is important to notice what Alexander Berzin wrote how “Karmic potentials, in fact, give rise to a broad array of impulses that affect our lives. Collective karmic potentials from previous actions of a huge number of beings – including ourselves – give rise, for example, to the impulse for a universe to evolve with specific environments and life forms into which we and these beings subsequently take rebirth.” Collective karma can be seen as the actions that have generated us in our present bodies, from the decisions of our parents, ancestors, and peers that gives us the appearance of our lives (Janaka kamma or the kamma that determines birth). We are all recipients of karma beyond our control. Put in another way, our DNA contains a vast storehouse of kamma.

    This sad state of affairs is where the Kalachakra initiation takes its cue. By harnessing ritual and intention, the Kalachakra initiation at its highest level bestows a daily practice for awakening that an army of practioners around the world are also engaging in. This collective kamma has the subtle effect of making the conditions of purifying bad kamma’s and unwholesome dhamma’s into virtuous ones.

    Ultimately we feel this will have the eventual effect of producing a Dhamma centered world based on the natural laws of mind that the founders of the 969 Movement are striving to achieve.

    Whether or not warfare, as suggested in the first section of the article, is compatible with Buddhism, as expressed in the second, is a matter for Buddhist theological debate — as is the nature of “war” as envisioned in the Kalachakra itself.

    My own purpose in making this post is to point out that the 969 movement, led by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, is now quoting a prophecy of war against Islam, found in the Kalachakra literature, which in turn is taught as a instrument of peace by HH the Dalai Lama. To my ears, that sets up a howl of cognitive dissonance.

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    With one eye on the Bible, one eye on the news

    Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in whose borrowed opinion, if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light ]
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    Here’s another DoubleQuote that doesn’t fit my usual format, but sets up an interesting dynamic anyway. This just in, from Joel Rosenberg:

    I find it charming that we can read the opening paragraphs of a Mother Jones piece about Joel Rosenberg on on Rosenberg’s own site. Here are the first paras — or grafs, as my friend Danielle would say:

    In early 2012, bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg came to Capitol Hill for a meeting with an unidentified member of Congress to discuss the end of the world. “I thought the topic was going to be the possible coming war between Israel and Iran,” Rosenberg explained on his website. “Instead, the official asked, ‘What are your thoughts on Isaiah 17?’”

    For the better part of an hour, Rosenberg says, the writer and the congressman went back forth on something called the “burden of Damascus,” an Old Testament prophecy that posits that a war in the Middle East will leave Syria’s capital city in ruins—and bring the world one step closer to Armageddon. As Rosenberg put it, “The innocent blood shed by the Assad regime is reprehensible, and heart-breaking and is setting the stage for a terrible judgment.”

    But Rosenberg and his anonymous congressman aren’t alone in viewing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s actions through a Biblical lens.

    That’s my first shoe. And here’s Richard Bartholomew, the blogger at Bath’s Notes, dropping the second:

    **

    Okay, here are some observations of my own, which I wrote a while back…

    Which comes first: history or Revelation?

    Just as nature and scripture can be “read against” one another, each perhaps illuminating the other at times, so in the case of one particular scripture — the Revelation — the book is “read against” history: there’s a long history of interpreters attempting to “translate” the book into contemporary political terms.

    Luther is one who tried his hand at this:

    Since it is meant as a revelation of what is to come, and especially of coming tribulations and disasters for the Church, we can consider that the first and surest step toward finding its interpretation is to take from history the events and disasters that have happened to the Church before now and to hold them up alongside these pictures and so compare them with the words. If, then, the two fit and agree with each other, we can build on that as a sure, or at least an unobjectionable, interpretation.

    But Bernard McGinn makes a shrewd comment on Luther’s process, in his article on Revelation in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode‘s Literary Guide to the Bible:

    Earlier interpreters, such as Joachim (but not Augustine), had also claimed to find a consonance between Revelation’s prophecies and the events of Church history, but they had begun with Scripture and used it as a key to unlock history. Paradoxically, Luther, the great champion of the biblical word, claimed that history enabled him to make sense of Revelation…

    So: which direction should theologians “read” the analogy between Revelation and history in?

    Should they, like Luther, start with history and try to “shoe-horn” the Book of Revelation to fit it, or vice versa? There are two very different processes here, and the results may be correspondingly different — but when people today read accounts of Revelation which propose that the “end times” are nigh, they seldom even ask the question: which came first in the interpreter’s mind?

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