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Do nothing — just don’t do, eh?

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Trump — Lao and Chuang on their way to the New Year — & Iran ]

It’s quizzically amusing for someone with basic meditative or comparative religious eyes to read Philip Gordon‘s NYT piece yesterday, How Can Trump Help Iran’s Protesters? Be Quiet.

I, too, want to see the government in Tehran weakened, moderated or even removed. So let me offer Mr. Trump some unsolicited advice: Keep quiet and do nothing.

Ah, quiet. Ah, nothing.


Wu-wei, not-doing, is a basic principle of Taoism, the religion or school of philosophy which gave us Lao Tsu, author of the Tao Te Ching, and Chuang Tsu, the master humorist of Chinese philosophy.

Lao Tsu:

  • Thirty spokes share a single hub; grasp the nothingness at its center to get the use of the wheel.
  • Clay is fashioned to make a vessel; grasp the nothingness at the center to get the use of the vessel.
  • Bore windows and doors to create a room; grasp the nothingness of the interior to get the use of the room.
  • Thus that which is constitutes what is valuable, but that which is not constitutes what is of use
  • Ah, nothing.

    But as that fourth aphorism indicates, wu-wei, nothing doing, is nothing without wei wu-wei, doing-nothing-doing — doing that springs effortlessly from the way of things. What results is true excellence.

    Chuang Tsu:

    Cook Ding was cutting up an ox for Lord Wenhui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – whop! whish! He wielded his knife with a whoosh, and always in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the Dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Jingshou music.

    “Ah, marvelous!” said Lord Wenhui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

    Cook Ding laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Dao, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I meet it with my spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

    “A good cook changes his knife once a year – because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month – because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough leeway for the blade to play about. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

    “However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until … flop! – the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand with my knife raised and turn to look all around, prancing in place with complete satisfaction. Then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

    “Excellent!” said Lord Wenhui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ding and learned how to nurture life!

    Aha! Nothing, doing!


    And now back to that original question:

    How Can Trump Help Iran’s Protesters?

    And the resply?

    Be Quiet.

    Be quiet! And listen, listen. Let the CIA in place just listen.

    Hey, Happy New Year!

    HipBone implications of the second shoe dropping for intel analysis

    Sunday, August 6th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — also, the role of the True Name in intel analysis & Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea ]

    You may know that I value the documentary film Manhunt for its lucid presentation of the process by which the finest intelligence analysts “leap” to their quarry — in which Cindy Storer notes, “not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic”.

    In my post The process of associative memory I decribe this process, which I consider the root process of true creativity:

    There’s the present moment .. And there’s the memory it elicits.

    Compare Michael Hayden in Manhunt, at 1.19.18:

    The way it works is, information come in, you catalog it, your organize it – that little nugget there could sit fallow on your shelves for four or five years until something else comes in that’s suddenly very illuminating about something that you may have had for a very long period of time. That actually happened in the work we did to hunt for Osama bin Laden by trying to track his courier.

    By way of confirmation, here is Robert Frost:

    The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic.

    And here’s Jeff Jones on piecing together puzzles —

    Some pieces produce remarkable epiphanies. You grab the next piece, which appears to be just some chunk of grass – obviously no big deal. But wait … you discover this innocuous piece connects the windmill scene to the alligator scene! This innocent little new piece turned out to be the glue.


    My point here is that the board in my “game” of DoubleQuotes provides a matrix for eliciting and annotating such leaps between fact and memory — that’s its purpose, and that’s why I believe the practice and “playing” of DoubleQuotes is, in itself, an ideal training for the analytic mind in that otherwise elusive aptitude which Ms Storer says seenms like magic to those who do not possess it..

    I believe my DoubleQuotes would be an invaluable tool for analysts in training.


    Note, however, that Jose Rodriguez, speaking immediately after Michael Hayden at 1.19.55, adds a reference to the “True Name” — accompanying screencaps included — something to which as a theologian I am naturally drawn:

    It took years for the agency to recruit the human source that eventually gave us the true name. That’s why we were in the business the of condensing human intelligence because, in many cases, all these fancy gadgets and everything else won’t give you the information that you really need. A true name.

    And we finally got his true name, which is whatever it is. Whatever. Arabic name, you know. But the true name – we were able to find out a lot about him. From then on, you know, the agency was able to do what it does so well. Track the guy and find him.

    That too elicits memories, though in this case providing cultural context rather than actionable intelligence. It’s interesting to compare Rodriguez’ quote with the passages in which Ursula Le Guin describes the nature of magic in her book, Wizard of Earthsea:

    He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea.


    He saw that in this dusty and fathomless matter of learning the true name of every place, thing, and being, the power he wanted lay like a jewel at the bottom of a dry well. For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.


    See also:

  • Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B
  • Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles
  • FWIW, there’s an appendix on the central spiritual significance of remembrance of the True Name in Judaism (HaShem), Christianity (Jesus Prayer), Islam (dhikr), Hinduism (nama-rupa), Buddhism (nembutsu) etc at the back of Frithjof Schuon‘s little book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions.

    On which frankly mystical note, here’s a third para from Le Guin to carry you towards Lao Tzu‘s observation that “The name that can be named is not the eternal Name” —

    It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

    I did not lead a busload of others down a path

    Monday, May 29th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — the unrealities and realities of dream and vision, sensitive compartmented information, zahir and batin, bin Laden and the Mahdi, more ]

    I did not lead a busload of others down a path to a hotel.
    I did not arrive near my childhood home by bus.
    I was not a member of a CIA team meeting for a conference.
    I did not attend breakfast in the hotel.
    I did not have a pen clipped inside my trousers.
    My attention was not called to my pen having leaked by a female friend.
    I did not have a female friend.
    I did not manage to remove both pen and leaked ink from my trousers.
    I did not wonder how I would climb hills or trees if ncecessary during the conference exercises.
    I am in no condition to climb hills or trees, nor to lead others down a path.
    There is, however, a conference center very close to the house I used to live in during my childhood.
    I dreamed these things.


    The De Vere Horsley Estate, just a couple of fields away from my childhood home, now a conference center:

    Google images thinks of it more as a marriage location. This particular photo is from the Hetty Hikes album.

    Ada, Countess of Lovelace, who intuited the operational utility of punched cards of the type used in Jacquard looms for retaining information generated by her friend Charles Babbage‘s Difference Engine, prototype of today’s computers, lived at Horsley Towers, built by the same architect, Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament..

    My own more modest childhood dwelling was within the grounds, just a few hundred feet inside the Horsley Towers Gates.


    Dreams are, in a sense, occulted from waking life: there is a secrecy to them.

    When the time comes that we can reliably scan and record the visual and verbal imagery of dreams, perhaps even at a distance from and without the consent of their dreamers, questions will arise as to whether their contents should be classified, indeed perhaps deemed Sensitive Compartmented Information, and dreaming permitted only in SCIFs?

    Various occult, psychological and imaginal theories suppose that dreams can touch upon a subjective yet absolute realm, Jung‘s collective unconscious with its archetypes, Shia Islam’s ‘alam al-mithal, termed by Henry Corbin the mundus imaginalis

    there exists an inner world, which lies ‘outside’ our personal minds, and in which they are contained in exactly the same way as our bodies are contained in the outer world revealed by the senses

    writes D Streatfeild in Persephone.

    And Corbin, writing of the Suhrawardian mundus imaginalis:

    Essentially the relationship involved is that of the outer, the visible, the exoteric (in Greek ta exo, in Arabic zahir) to the inner, the invisible, the esoteric (in Greek ta eso, in Arabic batin), or the relationship of the natural to the spiritual world. Leaving the where, the ubi category, is equivalent to leaving the outer or natural appearances that cloak the hidden inner realities, just as the almond is concealed in its shell.

    Zahir and Batin are, respectively, the literal or apparent meanings of Quranic verses, and their hidden or spiritual meanings, known only to those who have eyes to see, ears to hear…


    For a dream in which the young bin Laden is instructed to carry a black flag (“similar to the flag of Saudi Arabia” and with “something written on it in white color”) to the Mahdi at the gates of Al-Quds, Jerusalem, see A “Big Dream” attributed to Osama bin Laden.

    I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours — Bob Dylan said that.

    Blowback blues redux, and redux redux, recurring

    Thursday, February 9th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — category title would be along the lines of “the unobvious which ought to be blindingly obvious” — maybe that explains why these things are so hard to see ]

    It’s a pattern.


    You can stumble on an unintended blowback example any day of the week — and thrice on some days:

    let me quickly add the next two in Callimachi’s series:



  • TBIJ, Nine young children killed: The full details of botched US raid in Yemen
  • Politico, CIA Memo: Designating Muslim Brotherhood Could ‘Fuel Extremism’
  • Twitter, Rukmini Callimachi
  • Clinton Comey?

    Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — with a side dish of Tzipi Livni ]

    Ckinton Comey
    photo credit: Greg Nash via The Hill

    I’ll be socratic here, asking questions to illuminate my hunches.


    I’m seldom fully convinced by anything that comes from the left and reads the way I’d expect the left to read, and seldom convinced by anything that comes from the right and reads the way I’d expect the right to read, so I don’t take the left’s assertions downplaying H Clinton’s security behavior with reflex belief, and on the whole I’m inclined to follow John Schindler, who — both as an ex-NSA analyst and as a regular at The Observer — takes a very hard line on Clinton’s security behavior, writing just a couple of weeks ago under the title, The Coming Constitutional Crisis Over Hillary Clinton’s EmailGate.

    I also follow War on the Rocks, though, and was struck a while back by a post there from Mark Stout, drawing some interesting distinctions in line with its subtitle, “A former intelligence analyst who worked at both the CIA and the State Department explains how different approaches to classifying information sits at the heart of the scandal that threatens to undo Hillary Clinton.”

    Which does somewhat complicate matters, while somewhat helping us understand them.


    I’m neither an American nor a lawyer, and as someone who is generally inclined more to bridge-building than to taking sides in any case, I don’t feel qualified to debate the Comey-Clinton affair – but was interested to see emptywheel’s Marcy Wheeler, whom I take to be leftish, coming out today describing Comey’s decision as an “improper public prosecutorial opinion”. She writes:

    Understand, though: with Sterling and Drake, DOJ decided they were disloyal to the US, and then used their alleged mishandling of classified information as proof that they were disloyal to the US ..Ultimately, it involves arbitrary decisions about who is disloyal to the US, and from that a determination that the crime of mishandling classified information occurred.

    Comey, in turn, seems to have made it pretty clear that “Secretary Clinton or her colleagues“ were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” – specifically:

    .. seven email chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received.  These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending emails about those matters and receiving emails from others about the same matters.


    Is there, in your views, special treatment in this matter for persons of high rank present here?


    And out of curiosity, if so, do you see a similar case of special treatment for persons of high rank over in the UK, known to be substantially less Israel-friendly than the US, where Scotland Yard wanted to question Tzipi Livni about alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza under her watch as Foreign Minister, and “after diplomatic talks” Livni was “granted special diplomatic immunity”?


    On the one hand, I don’t like show-trials, trials-by-press, banana courts or mob justice, and far prefer just laws justly applied – and on the other, I can understand that the scrutiny those in high office find themselves under can render them legally vulnerable in ways that may unduly influence their decision-making – and justice may be platonically blind, but is not always uniformly applied in practice. Such, it seems to me, is the human dilemma.

    What say you?

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