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Picking up on symmetries observed

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — after Scaramucci on symmetry ]
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It’s encouraging — heart-heartening — to see Doreen St. Félix at the New Yorker picking up on An Image of Revolutionary Fire at Charlottesville:

Two points about her commentary strike my interest. The first had to do, specifically, with symmetry, an old hobby-horse of mine as you may know:

Steve Helber shot an image of peculiar symmetry, in which a man of fortitude was bearing a different light. Two men extend weapons: one is the Confederate flag, furled, hiding its retrograde design, and the other is an aerosol can, modified to eject fire. The figures stand in a classical configuration, on the diagonal, as if a Dutch master has placed them just so.

The second made reference to theology..

The composition of this photo is fiercely theological. The black man is wielding what the black theologian James Cone, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, might call the “burning fire shut up in my bones,” what James Baldwin would have identified as “the fire next time.” (Cornel West, a student of Cone, has advanced the liberatory concept of “black prophetic fire”; West travelled to the city to march with members of Charlottesville’s faith community on Saturday.) It is a pose that upsets a desire for docility; it’s a rebuke to slogans such as “This is not us” or “Love not hate.” This graceful man has appropriated not only the flames of white-supremacist bigotry but also the debauched, rhetorical fire of Trump, who gloated, earlier this week, that he would respond to a foreign threat with “fire and fury.” The resistance has its fire, too.

**

I don’t think I see that image the same way St. Félix does. She sees fire on both sides — the fires of the tiki torches in the hands of the supremacists, though they are absent from this particular pohotograph, and the fire visible in the photo, wielded by the “man of fortitude”. Using an improvised flame-thrower strikes me as, if anything, more menacing than waving a furled flag, to be honest, and even though flame-man is in the lower position, his flame makes him, in my eyes, the dominant figure in the composition — and flag-wielder, correspondingly, even though holding the higher ground, more the underdog,

While my sympathies would naturally lie with those who protest supremacism rather than those who proclaim it, this image at first saddens me with the spectacle of fire-power unilaterally vielded by the guy I’d otherwise cheer for — and it’s only when I read a little deeper —

Long said that the protest had seemed peaceful until “someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”)

— that I began to understand why he, rather than the supremacist, might be the one who has feeling most threatened.

**

I feel ambiguous, then, about St Félix’ reading of the photo, but grateful that someone has an eye out for form, art, symmetry, in the photo-reporting of a vile, incendiary event.

Stunning Dillard solar ratio

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — mathematics and metaphor, a ratio of the irrational ]
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A total solar eclipse in Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Norway, on March 20, 2015 — Jon Olav Nesvold

**

From Annie Dillard’s Classic Essay: ‘Total Eclipse’:

Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.

Annie Dillard is one of our great stylists, so it’s perhaps not surprising she came up with this jaw-dropping piece of mathematics, or should I call it logic? It’s a ratio, anyhow:

Seeing a partial eclipse : seeing a total eclipse :: kissing a man : marrying him

By common consent, ratios are usually applied to quantifiables — but there’s really no quantifying seeing, kissing, or marrying.

**

I don’t think I’ll be able to make the eclipse, but if any of you can, please do. No less an authority than Annie Dillard — she wrote Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek and Holy the Firm — strongly advises it.

Graeme Wood and a symmetry in Dallas

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on writers and analysts, via Dallas, Syria, Wagner, Bayreuth, Hitler and Israel ]
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The symmetry is between two men that Graeme Wood has profiled in The AtlanticRichard Spencer and John Georgelas aka Yahya Abu Hassan, leader of the alt-right and early American proponent of ISIS, respectively:

Both men are the only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians. They both bloomed late, intellectually and politically, and overcompensated by immersing themselves in books and ideas with gusto uncommon among their bourgeois demographic. Both admired Ron Paul, and both saw their home country as a broken land — and themselves as its savior.

They are also both young.

You can read about them both in greater detail in Wood’s twin accounts here:

  • Wood profiles Richard Spencer, His Kampf
  • Wood profiles John Georgelas, The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS
  • **

    When I worked at John L Petersen‘s think tank The Arlington Institute, the boss often used to ask me for a “leading indicator” — and I’d reply that one data point seldom meant anything to me, whereas two in parallel or opposition might indicate a trend. My motto became “two is the first number” — a mantram I’ve repeated here from time to time [1, 2, 3], finding notable backup in Aristotle, Carl Jung, and the Ismaili Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, as reported in my post It is always good to find oneself in good company.

    Graeme Wood must feel some satisfaction in having written profiles of two such opposite yet well-matched men as Georgelas and Spencer — I certainly take delight in the pairing — and the parallelism is truly quite striking. Yet to deduce a trend from the observation that both are “only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians” isn’t grounds for alerting the FBI to profile — let alone surveil — all other such only sons.

    Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

    And yet, and yet.

    Graeme Wood is a writer, not an analyst, and while the specifics here — “only son”, “north-Dallas physician” — do not in themselves provide “actionable intelligence” for intel purposes, the two stories as Wood spells them out enrich our analytic understanding of the drivers that may be in play in the recruitment of extremists and terrorists.

    **

    I have a small and tattered pamphlet in my desk, 1876 – 1896, Die ersten zwanzig Jahre der Bayreuther Bühnenfestspiele by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who later married Richard Wagner‘s daughter Eva von Bülow.

    Chamberlain’s pamphlet about Wagner’s operas and the theater he built for them in Bayreuth, published there in Bayreuth in 1896, is not his best-known work, however. That would be his two-volume work, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, or The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century — published in the same year, 1899, as Freud‘s Die Traumdeutung — which was to provide Nazism with some of its anti-Semitic ideology. Of similar interest, his 1905 Aryan Worldview.

    Chamberlain’s letter to Hitler in 1923 has to my ear some resonance with discussions of Donald Trump today:

    Now I believe I understand that it is precisely this that characterizes and defines your being: the true awakener is at the same time the bestower of peace.

    You are not at all, as you have been described to me, a fanatic. In fact, I would call you the complete opposite of a fanatic. The fanatic inflames the mind, you warm the heart. The fanatic wants to overwhelm people with words, you wish to convince, only to convince them-and that is why you are successful. Indeed, I would also describe you as the opposite of a politician, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, for the essence of all politics is membership of a party, whereas with you all parties disappear, consumed by the heat of your love for the fatherland. It was, I think, the misfortune of our great Bismarck that he became, as fate would have it (by no means through innate predisposition), a little too involved in politics. May you be spared this fate.

    **

    I am chasing down byways of history and culture here to be sure — and it is not my intention to make a facile comparison between Trump and Hitler. But Wagner — surely it is interesting to note that not only were Hitler and Chamberlain obsessed with Wagner’s operas, but Graeme Wood’s account of Spencer notes that at one point Richard Spencer worked as “a gofer at the Bavarian State Opera”.

    Echo? Parallelism? Kinship?

    Wagner is a cultural influence of connsiderable strength — as an Alex Ross article in the New Yorker, The Case for Wagner in Israel, notred in 2012:

    In recent decades, musicians have periodically attempted to play Wagner in Israel, setting off impassioned protests; Na’ama Sheffi’s book “The Ring of Myths: The Israelis, Wagner, and the Nazis” gives an account of them. At an Israel Philharmonic concert in 1981, Zubin Mehta, after giving audience members an opportunity to leave the hall, conducted the “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore; in response, Ben-Zion Leitner, a Holocaust survivor and a hero of the First Arab-Israeli War, walked in front of the podium, bared his scarred stomach, and shouted, “Play Wagner over my body.” Similarly charged scenes unfolded when Daniel Barenboim led the “Tristan” Prelude in Jerusalem in 2001. This past summer, an effort by the Israel Wagner Society to present a concert at Tel Aviv University created yet another media frenzy; in the end, the university withdrew its permission, and plans to move the event to a Hilton subsequently fell through. The Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, who was to have led the concert, has personal reasons for campaigning against the unwritten ban: his mother, who was forced to leave Vienna in 1939, felt that if her son could conduct Wagner in Israel it would amount to a final victory over Hitler, and he still hopes to realize her dream.

    **

    An author’s skilled meanderings in cultural associations may not make for actionable intelligence, but they do provide invaluable context for the overt tides and little known undertows of human history.

    Which in turn affect us all, and which we in turn may wish to affect or deflect..

    China as the balance between DPNK and the US

    Saturday, August 12th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — once again, it’s the formal properties that interest me here ]
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    You may agree or disagreee, but in two-party negotiation I’d say, speaking as a moderator, bridge-builder, peace-maker, there’s a natural parity between the two parties

    — this parity will be there, somehow, even if not immediately apparent, or something is seriously amiss.

    **

    Here, then, are two of countless ways in which China must handle disparities between the parties, if she is to maintain a balance between the US and Korth Korea:

    The population balance — or imbalance — is pretty extreme, and the nuclear arenal imbalance even moreso:

    **

    I’ve included the moderator (China) along with the two parties in my weightings above, pondering whether it makes a difference when the moderator is “heavier” than either party, or when one party “heavily” outweighs the moderator.

    I don’t know, I’m feeling my way towards an intuitive grasp of something here, not presenting a certainty of some kind.

    The WaPo article that brought me to these considerations is full of “balance” and “imbalance” imagery..

    At issue is “a series of threats and counterthreats by the U.S. and North Korean governments.”

    Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said there had been an “overwhelming amount” of “belligerent rhetoric” from Washington and Pyongyang.

    Even-handedly:

    China has repeatedly warned both Washington and Pyongyang not to do anything that raises tensions or causes instability on the Korean Peninsula, and it strongly reiterated that message Friday.

    In an editorial, the Global Times said China should make it clear to both sides that “when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand.”

    And considering how things can get worse:

    China hopes that all relevant parties will be cautious in their words and actions, and do things that help to alleviate tensions and enhance mutual trust, rather than walk on the old pathway of taking turns in shows of strength, and upgrading the tensions.

    And better:

    “The side that is stronger and cleverer” will take the first step to defuse tensions..

    **

    All this is, on the one hand, obvious, and barely needs saying — and on the other hand, fascinating and instructive in its abstract formalism. Of course, there are details that I’m omitting to bring that formalism front and center, but you have the WPo article to give you those.

    Most interesting, perhaps, is that final observation:

    “The side that is stronger and cleverer” will take the first step to defuse tensions..

    It reminds me of another quote I included in a post here on ZP recently:

    the problem of defense in the modern world is the paradoxical one of finding ways for the strong to defeat the weak.

    Paradox, too, is a matter of form, and thus of particular interest when it occurs in an analytic context.

    Metaphors, analogies, parallelisms, paradoxes — my stock in trade — are delicate matters, and should be treated with care.

    **

    Okay, now how do you diagram the balance mentioned in the WaPo article, In dealing with North Korea, Trump needs allies — not bombast?

    Tillerson’s impossible job: Balancing North Korea, China and Trump

    **

    Sources:

  • Business Insider, Where the World’s 14,995 Nuclear Weapons Are
  • Worldometers, Countries in the world by population (2017)

  • Washington Post, Beijing warns Pyongyang: You’re on your own if you go after the US
  • Hat-tip, btw, to xkcd for painstakingly providing the number graphics via the xkcd Radiation page.

    Trump blowback — not boustrophedon but enantiodroma?

    Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — with a stinger from Bucky Fuller in the tail ]
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    Here’s boustrophedon

    — since it’s harder to find a decent illustrations for enantiodromia.

    **

    Boustrophedon is the motion of an ox ploughing a field, up to the top and then back down: it’s a motif of reversal, but the farmer’s volition is the same both going up and coming back down. Enantiodromia, o the other hand, is just straight reversal as I understand it, a sudden switch of direction not caused by continuing intent, but by balance restoring itself after excess.

    Hence, Trump blowback as described in WaPo’s Behold the Trump boomerang effect would fall in the latter category of form.

    **

    Fred Hiatt opens his piece under that title:

    Did your head spin when Utah’s Orrin Hatch, a true conservative and the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, emerged last week as the most eloquent spokesman for transgender rights? Credit the Trump boomerang effect.

    He carries on:

    Much has been said about White House dysfunction and how little President Trump has accomplished in his first six months. But that’s not the whole story: In Washington and around the world, in some surprising ways, things are happening — but they are precisely the opposite of what Trump wanted and predicted when he was sworn in.

    The boomerang struck first in Europe. Following his election last November, and the British vote last June to leave the European Union, anti-immigrant nationalists were poised to sweep to power across the continent. “In the wake of the electoral victories of the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump, right-wing populism in the rich world has appeared unstoppable,” the Economist wrote. Russian President Vladimir Putin would gain allies, the European Union would fracture.

    But European voters, sobered by the spectacle on view in Washington, moved the other way. In March, the Netherlands rejected an anti-immigrant party in favor of a mainstream, conservative coalition. In May, French voters spurned the Putin-loving, immigrant-bashing Marine Le Pen in favor of centrist Emmanuel Macron, who went on to win an overwhelming majority in Parliament and began trying to strengthen, not weaken, the E.U.

    Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Trump belittled for having allowed so many refugees into her country, has grown steadily more popular in advance of a September election.

    There’s more, of course, but you get the picture.

    Unintended consequences.

    There’s a huge industry that advises us to shoot for the goal — but yachtsmen know that sometimes to get places, you need to tack with the wind. And Buckminster Fuller said [Critical Path, chapter titled “Self-Disciplines of Buckminster Fuller”] the most interesting effects occur in a manner that’s orthogonal to force applied:

    **

    What a fascinating world we live in!


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