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The deliciousness of snakes that bite their tails, &c

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing my miscellaneous collections, with metaphor, paradox &c a specialty ]
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Two recent headers caught my eye:

and:

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You can see why I like those two — there’s something very attractive about the way those headlines double back on themselves.Writers know this self-referential form — the serpent biting it’s tail, or ouroboros — I’ve been suggesting for some time that it’s also a useful heuristic marker of matter of special interest, worth particular attention by intel, natsec and geopolitical analysts.

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Okay, another item — a double number his time — for the collections series:

This is from about a week ago, I think, and belongs in my war as metaphor category.

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, or perhaps said, “The world is so full of a number of things, I ‘m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” I’m that happy, I have to admit, though I’ve no idea whether kings themselves are — hey, given that Shakespeare himself wrote “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown…”

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Gov. Northam‘s predicament is one I won’t comment on, but Rev Al Sharpton had a few comments I found worth noting:

  • This (KKK outfit) is a terrorist uniform .. a terrorist, racist outfit ..
  • You’ve got to be consistent if you’re going to take a moral stand ..
  • Clan robe is a terr– Clan represents lynchings, murder, bloodshed; there’s no way to act like you didn’t understand ..
  • When Sharpton didn’t feel the Northam had sufficiently plumbed the depths of black dismay at the confluence of KKK and blackface on his page, the Rev — at least to my ear — put considerable emphasis on the concept of terrorism — the KKK as home-grown, native-born, internal, domestic, normal, pretty much, right-wing terrorists.

    And they’re still around:

    Georgia, 2016

    **

    Anyway, I’ll continue dropping visuals in here, and relegate most of my text collections to this and other comments sections.

    The map borders on the territory? Turkey, Palestine

    Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — maps as records, as wishes, as hints, as silent threats ]
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    Interesting things, maps. Models and descriptions, too, but it’s maps I’m thinking of here. Two examples:

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    Turkey:

    turkish-map

    From my point of view, the most striking paragraph in the Foreign Policy piece titled Turkey’s New Maps Are Reclaiming The Ottoman Empire was this one:

    At first glance, the maps of Turkey appearing on Turkish TV recently resemble similar irredentist maps put out by proponents of greater Greece, greater Macedonia, greater Bulgaria, greater Armenia, greater Azerbaijan, and greater Syria. That is to say, they aren’t maps of the Ottoman Empire, which was substantially larger, or the entire Muslim world or the Turkic world. They are maps of Turkey, just a little bigger.

    Map bloating & boasting is obviously bigger business than I had fully realized.

    Also of interest was the comment:

    On two separate occasions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the Treaty of Lausanne, which created the borders of modern Turkey, for leaving the country too small. He spoke of the country’s interest in the fate of Turkish minorities living beyond these borders, as well as its historic claims to the Iraqi city of Mosul..

    Mosul, okay, noted — but what interests me more is the parallelism with Putin‘s attitude to the Ukraine:

    “Novorossiya” or “New Russia”: Putin only briefly mentioned that term during a five-hour, televised question-and-answer session this month. But his revival of that geographic title for southern and eastern Ukraine—territory won from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th century by Catherine the Great—is resonating among Russians today.

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    Palestine:

    One other recent map controversy caught my eye…

    google-map

    The claim was made that Google had eliminated the name Palestine from Google Maps. Google denied this:

    “There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps, however we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip,’ ” the company said in a statement. “We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area.” It is unclear if that bug played a role in spurring the online outrage.

    Elizabeth Davidoff, a spokeswoman, said in an email that the company had also never used the label “Palestinian territories” on its maps. The bug affecting the words “Gaza Strip” and “West Bank” persisted on Wednesday, but when Google Maps functions properly both areas are labeled and separated from Israel by a dotted line to signify that their borders are not internationally recognized.

    **

    Dotted lines in the sand..

    On targeting as a mood this electoral season, 1

    Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — the only virtue I can see in this darkness is that the light contrasts with it ]
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    I find this frankly horrifying:

    This, at a supposedly Christian university?

    Feh.

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    Mark you, I think targeting an individual — any individual –in this way is very different from targeting contested seats in an election. I can understand both Democrats and Republicans using the imagery of targets or cross-hairs to suggest where they’d like their supporters to get active, get out the vote and win seats..

    acceptable-or-not

    I said as much in On sneers, smears, and mutual sniping:

    Neither “targetting” political adversaries nor “having them in your crosshairs” equates to killing or there would have been a whole lot more attempted assassinations — just the one was bad enough.

    Have some proportion, people.

    **

    However, as an inveterate DoubleTweeter I have to say that pinning targets or cross-hairs on individual leaders in highly charged political disputes speaks a wholly different language, and presents a far higher threat level, than targeting districts on an electoral map:

    **

    For the record, I find this no less offensive:

    trump-target

    Downward Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?

    Friday, October 21st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a thoroughly impertinent riff on that saying of von Moltke ]
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    Hw many places could this sentence be applied to?

    But the latest attacks, which appear to have been several months in the preparation, threaten to draw the entire population into a downward spiral of deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns by the security forces and toxic relations between local communities and the authorities.

    It happens to come from an article about the Rohingya, Richard Horsey‘s Reality bites for Aung San Suu Kyi amid surging violence from the Nikkei Asian Review.

    But how many other places might such a sentence apply to?

    I ask this because we tend to focus on certain words in a sentence like this: attacks, preparation, threat, population, deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns, security forces, local communities, the authorities. Those are the forces in play, if you will. But their play follows the rules of a certain game, and that game is also named in the sentence.

    Its name is downward spiral.

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    vatican-spiralSpiral staircase, the Vatican, Rome

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    What I want to suggests that we might learn a great deal if we shifted our attention from attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest, and thought about spiral.

    Spiral is the form that the attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest — here and in those other places — takes, and as such it’s an archetype that underlies them, not just among the Rohingya, their Buddhist compatriots and Aung San Suu Kyi, but across the globe and through time itself.

    Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?

    **

    If, as I suppose, von Moltke can be translated as saying, “no operating concept survives contact,” it would seem we may need to conceptualize contact, ie the complexity of relations, rather than operations, which are far more focused on us — how we “will prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars” — than on conflict and wars, both of which are minimally two-party affairs.

    And I’m not trying to say anything so terribly new here, just to give fresh phrasing to Paul Van Riper‘s comment:

    What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. We’re only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third is to get a bird’s-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.

    **

    sintra-castle-spiral-credit-joe-daniel-price-740x492Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal, credit Joe Daniel Price

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    The sentence immediately preceding the one from the Nikkei Asia article I quoted above will hopefully illuminate hope in a pretty desperate situation:

    The majority of this community and its religious leaders continue to eschew violence.

    **

    Image sources:

  • Both spiral images from the Top 10 Spiral Architecture page
  • The importance of Albrecht Dürer in grokking ISIS

    Thursday, October 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — because the world of the jihadists resembles Dürer’s more than it does our own? ]
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    It’s extraordinary the insight that an appreciative acquaintance with Albrecht Dürer provides, in attempting to understand ISIS not just theoretically but imaginatively, and thus viscerally.

    Under the title ISIL Boasts: America will go down to defeat in the Streets of Mosul Juan Cole blogs [emphasis mine]:

    AFP is reporting that a news agency linked to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), “A`maq,” is carrying a video of a Daesh fighter who swears that he and his colleagues will inflict a decisive defeat on the US in Iraq, as the guerrillas spread through the streets of the city. He addresses the camera saying, “As for you, America, we promise you that which our honored elders promised you, God bless them, such as Abu Mus`ab (al-Zarqawi) and Abu `Umar and Abu Hamza [etc.].”

    The threats don’t make any sense. The US does not have infantry combat troops at the front lines, and is mainly intervening with fighter jets and bombers. If you are a small guerrilla group, you really cannot match that firepower. There is no obvious way in which Daesh could inflict harm on the US in Mosul.

    How about a non-obvious way?

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    For the apocalyptic true believers of ISIS, these verses (ayat, which also refers to “signs”) from the Qur’an ring true today:

    When thou saidst to the believers, ‘Is it not enough for you that your Lord should reinforce you with three thousand angels sent down upon you? Yea; if you are patient and godfearing, and the foe come against you instantly, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand swooping angels.’

    Qur’an 3.124-25

    We may have lost sight of the angels, and for that matter the dragon, the horsemen, the “woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” and the “Lamb which is in the midst of the throne” — in our western mostly post-Christian tradition, but John of Patmos and Albrecht Durer saw them, in what we now think of as “the sky”, familiarly known in their days as “the heavens”.

    But is that our clarity or our blindness?

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    If we are to understand ISIS, we need an analytic framework which doesn’t automatically exclude angels from its purview — as I argued somewhat more broadly in my essay The Dark Sacred: The Significance of Sacramental Analysis in Robert Bunker‘s Blood Sacrifices [Kindle, $3.99].

    We are dealing with a subset of that culture wherein poetry is as highly valued as it is lowly valued in our own — as Shahab Ahmad tells us in What is Islam, “the poetical discourses of Muslim societies” are “the form of speech regarded as the highest register of human self-expression and social communication.”

    And we are easily blind to such things. Thomas Hegghammer, in his Paul Wilkinson Memorial Lecture at the University of St. Andrews, Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants, writes:

    It took me a long time to even notice these things. I’ve studied jihadi groups for almost fifteen years, and for the first ten, I was addressing standard questions, like, how did group A evolve, what has ideologue B written, who joins movement C, etc. The thing is, when you study one type of group for a while, you take certain things for granted. I knew that these groups were weeping and reading poetry, but it didn’t really register – it was background noise to me, stuff I needed to shove aside to get to the hard information about people and events.

    Hegghammer goes on to comment that “soft” activities — he names weeping, reading and reciting poetry, dreaming — “pose a big social science puzzle, in that they defy expectations of utility-maximising behaviour.”

    We tend to the “utility-maximizing” end of a philosophical spectrum (running, as per my example above, from “heaven” to “sky”) but they do not.

    Oh, no. They do not.

    **

    To understand the poetics of jihad, and thus the passions it arouses, we must first glimpse the visionary faculty that is implicit in our own so easily disregarded poetry.

    Thus William Blake, in his A Vision of the Last Judgment:

    “What,” it will be Questioned, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight: I look thro it & not with it.


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