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Serpent logics: the marathon

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- oh, the sheer delightful drudgery of finding patterns everywhere ]
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I’ll start this post, as I did the previous one to which this is a sort of appendix, with a (deeply strange, tell me about it) example of the…

Matrioshka pattern:


That’s a piece of jewelry made out of disembodied pieces of Barbies from the extraordinary designer’s mind of Margaux Lange, FWIW.

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This post is the hard core follow up to my earlier piece today, Serpent logics: a ramble, and offers you the chance to laugh and groan your way through all the other “patterns” I’ve been collecting over the last few months. My hope is that repeated (over)exposure to these patterns will make the same patterns leap out at you when you encounter them in “real life”.

Most of the examples you run across may prove humorous — but if you’re monitoring news feeds for serious matters, my hunch is that you’ll find some of them helpful in grasping “big pictures” or gestalts, noting analomalies and seeing parallels you might otherwise have missed.

Have at it!

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Here’s another Matrioshka, from the structural end of lit crit that my friend Wm. Benzon attacks with gusto over at New Savannah:

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Enantiodromia:

You’ll recall this is the pattern where something turns into its opposite… as described in this quote from the movie Prozac Nation:

I dream about all the things I wish I’d said.
The opposite of what came out of my mouth.
I wish I’d said
“Please forgive me. Please help me.
I know I have no right to behave this way?”

Here are a few examples…

Ahmed Akkari Repents Violent Opposition to Danish Cartoons Lampooning Islam:

After a Danish newspaper published cartoons satirizing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed Akkari spearheaded protests that ultimately cost the lives of 200 people. Now he says he’s sorry. Michael Moynihan on what changed Akkari’s mind.

That’s impressive!

That one’s run of the media mill…

And this one’s from my delightful, delicious boss, Danielle LaPorte:

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A friend sent me this:

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Let’s just plough ahead…

Nominalism:

Nominalism is the category where the distinction between a word and what it represents gets blurry — a very significant distinction in some cases —

How’s this for naming your donkey after your President?

Consider this one, another instance of nominalism in action, from the French justice system:

A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words “I am a bomb” on the front, along with his name and ‘Born on September 11th’ on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for “glorifying a crime”. A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

The classic nominalist image — with which I’d compare and contrast the French three-year-old with the unfortunate name and tsee-shirt — is Magritte’s cdelebrated “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”:

And here’s one final nominalist example:

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The spiral:

Here’s a potential downwards spiral, for those watching India:

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Straight parallelism:

This one’s from Jonathan Franzen:

And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.

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Simple Opposition:

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Some of these categories seem pretty fluid — or to put that another way, some of these examples might fit with equal ease into several doifferent categories. Here’s another oppositional class:

Arms crossed:

From Ezra Klein and Evan Solta blogging at WaPo’s Wonkbook: The Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences:

It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

A great “values” juxtaposition:

And hey, nice phrasing:

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Here’s an example of one of the central patterns of violence and justice:

Tit for Tat:

[ the account this tweet came from, which was a media outlet for Shabaab, has since been closed -- hence the less than euqal graphical appearance of this particular tweet... ]

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And here, without too much further ado, is a whole concatenation of…

Serpents biting their tails:

[ ... and that last one of Nein's appears to have been withdrawn from circulation ]

This one I love for its lesson on biblical pick-and-choose:

This one is also a DoubleQuote:

when closely followed by:

And this one really bites:

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To close the series out with more of a bang than a whimper, here’s Serpent bites Tail with apocalypse & gameplay for additional spice:

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200 lashes for a Saudi rape victim???

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- how a half-baked, re-raked tale from 2007, now showing on my local Facebook, gets things all wrong ]
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Let’s set the record straight.

It seems that Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times did the amplification in this case. He tweeted, and Mia Farrow retweeted him, so we know what he said:

I can’t find Kristof’s original tweet, I guess he’s deleted it. About the same time Mia Farrow was RTing it, though, and thus saving it for the record, he tweeted:

And if you go to JM Hall‘s twitter stream, you’ll see that he was schooling Kristof on this one, and pointed him to an NYT piece from 2007. Funny, that — being an NYT piece and all…

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Anyway, the word got out on Facebook and went at least a little viral. And that’s sad. Because while the story does illustrate the state of jurisprudence in Saudi in 2007, the raped girl never actually received those 200 lashes — she was personally pardoned by the King.

Which should be a reason for rejoicing, not condemnation.

But here’s how it was presented on my FB page —

That does somewhat encourage the reader to think she did in fact receive those lashes, doesn’t it?

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I understand, Nick Kristof tweeted it — and he’s the good guy who helps a whole heap of socially beneficial causes around the world that deserve all the support and encouragement he can bring them. I’m not disputing that, in fact I’ll gladly stipulate it.

But the story was wrong, and wrong in a damaging way. And forwarding or endorsing this sort of thing makes me very sad. Let me explain why.

The Examiner.com is an outfits that “operates a network of local news websites, allowing ‘pro–am contributors’” — nothing wrong with that, you just need to be careful when you read them, in other words.

The Examiner article in question quotes the Clarion Project, calling it “the women’s rights-centered news portal” when it’s far better known as the source of a whole lot of anti-Islamic propaganda — the Muslim organization CAIR lists Clarion among the “Islamophobia Network’s inner core” groups, while Clarion views CAIR with similar distaste. Okay, maybe they cancel each other out, let’s stipulate that, too.

But the article then states that the Clarion piece was posted “on Sept. 22, 2013″ — whereas if you click through, you’ll find it’s actually dated Thu, November 15, 2007 — it’s 5 going on 6 years old. So why drag it up again now?

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Retired US diplomat John Burgess who blogs about Saudi Arabia quotes to us, in a blog post from December 2007 and titled ‘Qatif Girl’ Receives Saudi Royal Pardon, an article from Agence France Presse in Riyadh, also dated December 2007, which can tells us what actually happened — how this unhappy story ended:

RIYADH (AFP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has pardoned a teenage girl sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes after being gang raped, Al Jazirah newspaper reported on Monday.

The ruling against the 19-year-old girl in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom had attracted widespread international condemnation, including from human rights groups and the White House.

The Arabic language daily said it had been informed of the royal pardon from its own, unidentified, sources.
But in the same article, the kingdom’s Justice Minister Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Ibrahim Al Shaikh told the paper the king had the “right to overrule court judgements if he considered it benefiting the greater good.”
The minister added that the king, who is viewed by many as a cautious reformer, was concerned with “the needs of the people and the court judgments that are made against them.”

Got that? Pardoned. By the King. Who is viewed as a cautious reformer.

I hope Kristof and Farrow have let their friends know…

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So the Examiner writer whose work Kristof and others are quoting has:

  • picked up a nasty story from Saudia Arabia almost six years ago,
  • that actually didn’t end in a girl being given 200 lashes for being raped
  • but resulted in the King personally pardoning her,
  • thus moving Saudi jurisprudence in a very welcome new direction
  • — and posted it without any of the redeeming parts, with attribution to a group that’s not exactly friendly to the House of Saud, and getting the date wrong by almost six years in the process… And then well-meaning, generous people — Nick Kristoff and some of my friends among them — circulate this ugly and incomplete story, without first checking to see what truth there is to it.

    I quoted a source without checking its veracity only the other day [1, 2, 3], so I’m in no position to go around blaming people who don’t check their sources. But seeing this particular story of the 200 lashes go viral makes me sad — because repeating it only stirs up righteous anger, disgust and hatred.

    Rape is terrible. A penal code that sentences people to 200 lashes is way, way beyond my sense of justice. But I don’t believe stirring up hatred between nations or against religions is the path we want to choose…

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    One-eyed: or suspecting Ali Gharib might just be the Dajjal…

    Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

    [ Charles Cameron -- always on the lookout for signs of the dajjal -- even in the New York Times ]
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    Seriously, WTF?

    Are you Presbyterian?

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    I probably wouldn’t have take much notice of Ali Gharib’s tweet (upper panel, above) if I hadn’t just wandered off after reading a tweet from Habib Zahori:

    to find out who he was, and run across his NYT piece, The Insidious Language of War, which looked interesting enough that I read it — leading me to the headlights quote (lower panel, above).

    Okay, two one-eyed remarks in five minutes got me thinking…

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    But as you may know, by now my mind is fully stocked with what Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria calls the “hooks and eyes of memory” — so a broken headlight in Kabul and mention of the Mullah’s missing eye brought me naturally to the celebrated image of Mullah Omar (below, upper panel)

    and thence (lower panel) to the Dajjal — Islam’s version of the Antichrist.

    **

    Thus, a sort of Six degrees of Kevin Bacon game brought me from a Daily Beast blogger via broken headlights to the Dajjal in three quick hops — and the result is what one might term a false positive

    It was fun while it lasted — I just wonder how many times NYPD officers ask drivers “Are you Amish?” Maybe a horse and buggy on Fifth Avenue would somewhat justify so inquisitive an inquiry.

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    Sources:

  • Ali Gharib
  • Habib Zahori

  • Mullah Omar
  • Dajjal
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    On eating one’s enemy

    Saturday, May 18th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- not good branding, not Islamic, dumbstruck? -- not a whole lot else to say ]
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    Commander Abu Sakkar / the Farouq Brigades logo


    Let’s take the bald facts first:

    Commander Abu Sakkar of the Farouq Brigades, Free Syrian Army, had himself videotaped this month cutting open and seeming to eat the flesh of a just-killed Syrian soldier loyal to President Assad — to send a message. According to a New York Times “Lede” blog-post, he preceded this act with the words:

    I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs — we will eat your heart and livers! … God is great! Oh, my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!

    His rhetoric as reported speaks of eating the heart: in the event, it is a portion of lungs that he eats, or mimics eating.

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    This has to be seen in many contexts — one of them, the branding of the Syrian rebels in general and the Farouq Brigades in particular.

    This is taken from an article a couple of weeks ago on a WSJ blog titled For Some Syrian Rebels, It’s a Battle of the Brands:

    Twelve activists in an office in Reyhanli, Turkey near the border run Farouk’s Facebook page, web site, and Twitter account. They’re working on the TV channel, which Mr. Awad says they’ve envisioned as a tool to resocialize fighters off the battlefield.

    “The regime will fall one day,” he says. “We have 20,000 fighters–they all won’t stay fighters. They will put down their weapons, and need to integrate into the world. TV, radio, these things will help.”

    The media office’s latest brand offering? A three-dimensional version of the Farouk logo, which will be used in videos and other online material.

    “The guys complained the logo wasn’t nice enough,” Mr. Awad said, laughing. “They wanted a 3D one.”

    **

    Moralizing about someone eating the flesh of a deceased enemy is pretty easy to pull off — unless one still thinks it’s a potent way to acquire one’s enemy’s courage, which is now something of a curiosity in the anthropologist’s cabinet of concepts. Here, dug up from the section on Homeopathic Magic of a Flesh Diet in Sir JG Frazer‘s 1922 edition of The Golden Bough, now long out-dated, is the picture as it used to be seen:

    When Basutos of the mountains have killed a very brave foe, they immediately cut out his heart and eat it, because this is supposed to give them his courage and strength in battle. When Sir Charles M’Carthy was killed by the Ashantees in 1824, it is said that his heart was devoured by the chiefs of the Ashantee army, who hoped by this means to imbibe his courage. His flesh was dried and parcelled out among the lower officers for the same purpose, and his bones were long kept at Coomassie as national fetishes. The Nauras Indians of New Granada ate the hearts of Spaniards when they had the opportunity, hoping thereby to make themselves as dauntless as the dreaded Castilian chivalry.

    Even as a cannibal delicacy, the white man’s heart seemed to have special virtue! As I say, though — that’s all a little out of date.

    **

    Eating one’s enemy, however, is a distinctly un-Islamic behavior, whatever century we’re in. One early Islamic narrative concerns Hind bint ‘Utbah avenging deaths in her own family by eating the heart of a great Muslim warrior, dear to the Prophet — far from being an example of what is permitted in Islam, she’s an example of what Muhammad was up against by way of enemies in the early days of his preaching:

    Hind Bint `Utbah, the wife of Abu Sufyaan, ordered Wahshiy to bring her Hamzah’s liver, and he responded to her savage desire. When he returned to her, he delivered the liver to her with his right hand, while taking the necklaces with the left as a reward for the accomplished task. Hind, whose father had been killed in the Battle of Badr and whose husband was the leader of the polytheist army, chewed Hamzah’s liver hoping to relieve her heart, but the liver was too tough for her teeth so she spat it out and stood up shouting her poem:

                        For Badr we’ve paid you better
                        In a war more flaring than the other.
                        I was not patient to revenge the murder of
                        `Utbah, my son, and my brother.
                        My vow’s fulfilled, my heart’s relieved forever.

    Hind did eventually become a Muslim — but on account of this very event, was never fully included among “the Companions of the Prophet”.

    **

    I don’t want to moralize over Commander Abu Sakkar‘s act, not having been in his shoes — but it is vile under pretty much any moral standard you might choose. A problem arises, though, when one attempts to use it to justify one side or another, in a conflict in which brutality of one kind or another seems to be present on both sides. As Sakkar himself told a Time correspondent:

    You are not seeing what we are seeing, and you are not living what we are living. Where are my brothers, my friends, the girls of my neighborhood who were raped?

    **

    Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch is quoted giving another kind of context to the affair:

    Abu Sakkar is just one man, and there are many other armed fighters in Syria who reject such sectarian actions and would be horrified by the mutilation and desecration of a corpse — let alone an act of cannibalism. But he is a commander in a decisive battle in Syria — hardly a marginal figure.

    **

    Not without reason did Kurtz whisper at the end of Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness, as in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now:

    The horror! The horror!

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    Hysteria about Afghan schoolgirl hysteria

    Sunday, April 28th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- Reuters publishes scary stuff, should have checked their facts with WHO epidemiologists first ]
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    Last time, it was the Jerusalem syndrome — this time it’s mass hysteria, not poison.

    The Reuters article, Afghan girls’ school feared hit by poison gas by Folad Hamdard (upper frame, above) was posted on April 21, 2013, just one week ago.

    Its key paragraphs in terms of etiology and blame are these:

    As many as 74 schoolgirls in Afghanistan’s far north fell sick after smelling gas and were being examined for possible poisoning, local officials said on Sunday.

    While instances of poisoning are sometimes later found to be false alarms, there have been numerous substantiated cases of mass poisonings of schoolgirls by elements of Afghanistan’s ultra-conservative society that are opposed to female education.

    and:

    Between May and June last year there were four poisoning attacks on a girls’ school in Takhar, prompting local officials to order principals to stay in school until late and staff to search the grounds for suspicious objects and to test the water for contaminants.

    Takhar has been a hotbed of militancy and criminal activity since 2009, with groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan active.

    One wonders: Does Reuters employ fact checkers?

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    One wonders because…

    An Editorial Note on the 2012 article Mass Psychogenic illness in Afghanistan (lower frame, above) in the WHO’s Weekly Epidemiological Monitor (Vol 5 # 22, 27 May) reads in part:

    This is the fourth year where episodes of suspected mass poisoning of school girls is reported from Afghanistan. Like in the previous years the events are triggered off with one girl developing symptoms of headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea and fainting. Often these outbreaks were believed to be the work of political elements in the country who oppose girls education. Reports of stench smells preceding the appearance of symptoms have given credit to the theory of mass poisoning (chemical/bioterrorism). However, investigations into the causes of these outbreaks have yielded no such evidence so far. In the last four years over 1634 cases from 22 schools have been treated for Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI) in Afghanistan. There are no related deaths reported.

    Reuters is read by a whole lot more people than some WHO epidemiological weekly, eh?

    **

    Luckily, the NY Times at least posted a blog post by Matthieu Aikins writing from Kabul, The ‘Poisoned’ Girls of Afghanistan, by way of alerting us to the WHO report:

    I’m willing to bet that there was no poison.

    Over the past few years, thousands of girls have fallen victim to waves of alleged poisonings in Afghan schools. The government, media and education activists have blamed the Taliban, and the police in a number of provinces have produced the “guilty” parties, with some of them confessing on national television.

    But last July when I investigated the subject for Newsweek, I discovered never-released reports showing that the United Nations, the World Health Organization and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force had investigated the incidents for years and had never found, despite extensive laboratory tests, any evidence of toxins or poisoning — a fact that may explain ISAF’s conspicuous silence on the issue.

    I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

    **

    Here’s another DoubleQuote for you:

    Of course, the Taliban spokesman was addressing a 2012 outbreak of the same hysteria story, and the “no claim of responsibility” report is from one of this year’s versions.

    But why would anyone claim responsibility in any case, if the actual cause is mass hysteria rather than poisoning? There’s history to these things — they didn’t begin in Afghanistan:

    The cases the Afghanistan incidents most resemble are the Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962, in which hundreds of people, mostly schoolgirls, were overcome by fits of mirthless, extended laughter, in what is now known as Tanzania, and the West Bank fainting epidemic of 1983.

    The similarities between the heavily studied epidemic in the occupied West Bank and Afghanistan are particularly striking. Both places are in a state of conflict, where political violence is a fact of life, and both have powerful local rumor mills. The incidents follow a similar pattern: First a single report of a bad smell, then a small number of girls come down with symptoms, then it spreads. Local media fueled the rumors and the incidents spread in Afghanistan, just as they did in Israel and Palestine.

    Albert Hefez, Israel’s lead psychiatric investigator of the incident, wrote in his 1985 study “The Role of the Press and the Medical Community in the epidemic of ‘Mysterious Gas Poisoning’ in the Jordan West Bank” that Israeli newspaper reports of “poisoning” at the start of the epidemic added fuel to the flames. A front page article in Haaretz on March 28, 1983 even claimed that Israeli military investigators had found traces of nerve gas and quoted “army sources” as saying they suspected Palestinian militants were poisoning their own people in order to blame Israel and provoke an uprising. Palestinian leaders followed up with accusations that Israel had poisoned them in an attempt to drive them from the West Bank.

    And such things don’t only happen “abroad” — as detailed in that same NYT blog post I quoted above:

    The phenomenon of groups of people falling ill for psychological, rather than physical, reasons is not unknown, nor is it limited to Afghanistan. Moreover, the typical victims are school-age girls. In late 2011, when a group of girls in Le Roy, New York, fell victim to a mysterious twitching illness, medical authorities eventually concluded it was psychogenic.

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