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Archive for December, 2010

Analogy as the Core of Cognition

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

North Korea, Juche and “sacred war”

Monday, December 27th, 2010

[ by Charles Cameron ]

Okay, I am now clear that the correct translation of the Korean phrase that has sometimes been rendered “holy war” in recent news reports is in fact “sacred war”.

I’d been wondering just what an atheist state was doing threatening “holy” or “sacred” war…

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Juche is the state philosophy of North Korea, and is considered to be the 10th largest religion in the world by the Adherents.com portal, ranking above Judaism, Baha’i, Jainism and Shinto. It developed out of Marxist-Leninism and has more recently incorporated Confucian elements.

Sunny Lee, writing in a 2007 article in Asia Times titled God forbid, religion in North Korea?, quotes Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister, as saying “There is a deification and a religious emotional element [in juche] in the North. The twinned photos of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are everywhere. Every speech says Kim Il-sung is still alive. I think if I stayed another two weeks, I might even see Kim Il-sung. The country worships someone who is deceased, as if he were alive.”

One Christian site goes so far as to call Juche a “counterfeit Christianity:

Recognizing the power of Christianity, Kim wanted it to be directed at himself. So he took Christianity, removed God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, set up himself, his wife and son as the new trinity, and called it Juche. At its core, Juche is a counterfeit Christianity that is deathly afraid of true version, and rightfully so.

I suppose a close comparison here would be with the cult which Robert Jay Lifton described in Revolutionary immortality: Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese cultural revolution.

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In On Junche in Our Revolution, vol II (published in English, 1977), Kim Il Sung writes:

No military threat of the US imperialists, however, can frighten the Korean people. If, in the end, the US Imperialists and their stooges unleash a new war against the DPRK, in defiance of our people’s patient efforts to prevent a war and maintain peace and the unanimous condemnation of the peace-loving people of the world, the Korean people will rise as one in a sacred war to safeguard their beloved country and the revolutionary gains. They will completely annihilate the aggressors.

So the “sacred war” phrasing has been around for a while.

I hope to learn more — these in the meantime are some clues to be going on with…

Holiday Recommended Reading

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Top Billing! Callie Oettinger at Steven Pressfield OnlineThe Elephant in the Room

Callie has become a friend through many backchannel emails but she is known for work in the publishing world as a publicist for such luminaries as Col. TX Hammes, General Hugh Shelton, Nathaniel Fick and, naturally, Steven Pressfield. It is good to see Callie blogging with Steve; here’s a sample with some sage advice for would-be authors:

….For now, I want to jump back to Shawn Coyne’s first “What It Takes column”-“Getting the Meeting“-in which he shared the big elephant in the sales room:

“My colleagues and I were not in the business of selling to consumers. We made (and our authors made) our livelihood by selling to retailers.”

Delete the word retailers and insert traditional media and you’ll have the big elephant in the publicity room.

Traditional media has always been the way-point on publishers’ routes to connect with consumers. Book reviews, radio and television interviews, and magazine features have been the middlemen. With a few exceptions, direct-connects between publishers, publicists, authors and readers didn’t exist.

As we started building awareness for Steve’s blog, his work was featured by traditional outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the NY Daily News,  and Newsweek. These are the outlets publishers and their sales reps like to see.

Reality: None of these outlets triggered the traffic that we witnessed when Crossfit posted the name of one of Steve’s blog series on its site. That was Oct. 2, 2009, and we’re still seeing traffic from the Crossfit community today. The same is true for sites such as Small Wars Journal and individual bloggers Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. Instapundit) and Seth Godin.

Traditional media outlets have never covered even a dime in the dollar of books published each year. Everyone wants in, but there’s not enough room. And even though specific genres have never received equal coverage from traditional media outlets-military, science-fiction, and romance come to mind-many of the publishers and authors of these books continue traditional pitching, hoping something will stick. Why? Because that’s what’s always been done.

Those interested in having Callie’s professional expertise at their disposal can contact her at Oettinger & Associates.

Thomas P.M. BarnettThe final version of the Sino-American grand strategy “term sheet” , WPR’s The New Rules: Obstacles to a U.S.-China Partnership Made in U.S.A.? , Esquire: “When China Ruled the World” (January issue)

Due to some serious offline issues the past few months, I have not been able to devote a sufficient amount of attention to a number of significant projects and arguments going on in this corner of the blogosphere. A critical one is Dr. Barnett’s attempt to fashion a potential “grand bargain” for Sino-American relations, which he has done in partnership with John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, with the support of Wikistrat, for whom Tom is the resident Chief Analyst. Given the reception the proposal has received in Beijing, this is Tom’s most significant geostrategic work since The Pentagon’s New Map.

I am going to give this fuller analytical examination in the near future, but here is some explanation from Dr. Barnett:

….Okay, a gruesome analogy, perhaps, but apt. I’m here to tell you that America plunged its fingertips into the Middle Kingdom’s body politic across the 1970s, beginning with Nixon going to China in 1972 and culminating with Jimmy Carter’s normalization of relations in 1979. The first embrace allowed aged Mao Tse-tung to extinguish his nonstop internal purge known as the Cultural Revolution by firewalling his fears of Soviet antagonism. The second cemented China’s wary-but-increasingly-warm relationship with the United States and allowed Deng Xiaoping, who narrowly survived Mao’s insanities, to dismantle the dead emperor’s dysfunctional socialist model, quietly burying Marx with the most revolutionary of eulogies – to get rich is glorious!

Deng chose wisely: Reversing Mikhail Gorbachev’s subsequent logic, he focused on the economics while putting off the politics. This decision later earned him the sobriquet “the butcher of Tiananmen” when, in 1989, the political expectations of students quickly outpaced the Party’s willingness for self-examination. But it likewise locked China onto a historical pathway from which it cannot escape, or what I call the five D’s of the dragon’s decline from world-beater to world-benefactor: demographics, decrepitude, dependency, defensiveness, and – most disabling of all – democratization.

Eide Neurolearning BlogAnalogy as the Core of Cognition, Curiosity and the Creative Drive

Two excellent metacognitive posts by the Drs. Eide:

Jonah Lehrer adds this additional interesting reflection: “the scientists found is that curiosity obeys an inverted U-shaped curve, so that we’re most curious when we know a little about a subject (our curiosity has been piqued) but not too much (we’re still uncertain about the answer). This supports the information gap theory of curiosity, which was first developed by George Loewenstein of Carnegie-Mellon in the early 90s. According to Loewenstein, curiosity is rather simple: It comes when we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know”. This gap has emotional consequences: it feels like a mental itch, a mosquito bite on the brain. We seek out new knowledge because we that’s how we scratch the itch.”

This is a prerequisite for insightful breakthroughs – the desire to “know” is high without the student having internalized the “rules” of what the field consensus considers “impossible”.

Colonel Robert Killebrew at CNASCrime Wars: Gangs, Cartels and U.S. National Security (PDF)

This report is from late September but I only ran across it now – strongly recommended.

SEEDOn Education

Frames the epistemic problem of systemic paralysis by analysis in the face of uncertainty and complexity very well:

…The global skill gap arises because neither the high-level specialist within a discipline nor the policy-school graduate is likely to be equipped with the skills needed to solve global problems of a cross-disciplinary nature. The experts provide crucial insights, but their skills are typically focused on generating research, debating ideas, and addressing narrow issues rather than large-scale professional problem solving and management. Meanwhile, the policy graduate typically lacks the grounding in core scientific principles across the appropriate range of topics. The solution lies in training sophisticated science-educated generalists who can coordinate insights across disciplines while managing complex agendas for results.

The National Security ArchiveThe United States and Pakistan’s Quest for the Bomb

That’s it!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Christmas holiday!

Follow-up: Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange

Friday, December 24th, 2010

[ by Charles Cameron ]

This is a follow-up to my earlier post on Zenpundit and ChicagoBoyz, picking up on some comments made on both sites, explaining my own interests, and taking the inquiry a little further.

On Zenpundit, Larry said, “Your need to destroy Assange is getting embarrassing. Why not make lemonaid?” and JN Kish, “The real story here should be about the data – and who is helping Assange – not Assange himself.” Meanwhile on ChicagoBoyz, a certain Gerald Attrick commented, “Ah, but as we say in in art crit: Deal with the Art and not the Man…”

To Larry I would say, I think that my post WikiLeaks: Counterpoint at the State Department? — in which I point up the irony inherent in the same State Department spokesman celebrating World Press Freedom Day and chiding Assange for “providing a targeting list to a group like al-Qaida” on the same day — could as easily be read as pro-Assange as today’s post, Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange can be read as calling for his destruction.

More generally, it seems to me that there are a whole lot of stories to be told here: the ones I wish to tell are those where I have a reasonably informed “nose” for relevant detail, and which tend to be overlooked by others — and thus have the potential to blindside us.

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My own main interest is in tracking religious, mythic and apocalyptic themes in contemporary affairs, where they are all too easily overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed. Thus I have posted on Tracking the Mahdi on WikiLeaks, and added related material in section 1 of my post today.

I am also interested in concept mapping, games and creative thinking — interests which led me to post WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies and The WikiLeaks paradox, and more lightheartedly to take an amused sideways glance at WikiLeaks in The power of network visualization.

And I certainly find Assange himself an interesting figure, and have done what I can to illuminate his background in mythology, religion and games in Wikileaks and the Search for a Cryptographic Mythology, again in Update: Wikileaks and Cryptographic Mythology and (again light-heartedly) in A DoubleQuote for Anders.

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Let me be more explicit: I have no wish to lionize Assange, nor to feed him to the lions — I would like to understand him a little better.

I come from a scholarly tradition that doesn’t favor the demonization of new religious movements, and believes (for instance) that it is entirely plausible that the Waco inferno could have been avoided if the religious beliefs of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians had been taken seriously as such, and not dismissed out of hand as “bible babble”.

James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher in Why Waco for instance, write:

The Waco situation could have been handled differently and possibly resolved peacefully. This is not unfounded speculation or wishful thinking. It is the considered opinion of the lawyers who spent the most time with the Davidians during the siege and of various scholars of religion who understand biblical apocalyptic belief systems such as that of the Branch Davidians. There was a way to communicate with these biblically oriented people, but it had nothing to do with hostage rescue or counterterrorist tactics. Indeed, such a strategy was being pursued, with FBI cooperation, by Phillip Arnold of the Reunion Institute in Houston and James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, one of the authors of this book. Arnold and Tabor worked in concert with the lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, who spent a total of twenty hours inside the Mount Carmel center between March 29 and April 4, communicating directly with Koresh and his main spokesperson, Steve Schneider. Unfortunately, these attempts came too late. By the time they began to bear positive results, decisions had already been made in Washington to convince Attorney General Janet Reno to end the siege by force.

Jane Seminaire Docherty’s Learning Lessons from Waco, similarly, “offers a fresh perspective on the activities of law enforcement agents. She shows how the Waco conflict resulted from a collision of two distinct worldviews-the FBI’s and the Davidians’—and their divergent notions of reality. By exploring the failures of the negotiations, she also urges a better understanding of encounters between rising religious movements and dominant social institutions.” [Syracuse UP]

I’d therefore be hesitant to drag Assange into a somewhat murky association with the “cult milieu” – but Assange himself was quite open in talking with Raffi Khatchadourian of the New Yorker about the man his mother lived with and had a child by, then ran away from, after her marriage to Assange’s father broke up. Khatchadourian writes:

When I asked him about the experience, he told me that there was evidence that the man belonged to a powerful cult called the Family—its motto was “Unseen, Unknown, and Unheard.” Some members were doctors who persuaded mothers to give up their newborn children to the cult’s leader, Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The cult had moles in government, Assange suspected, who provided the musician with leads on Claire’s whereabouts.

Wikipedia’ has an account of that group, also known as the Santiniketan Park Association.

And as you might expect, there’s a bizarre and frankly conspiracist take on this connection already out and about on the web.

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For a more detailed and indeed harrowing view of the Santiniketan Park Association from a member who left, see this excerpt from Sarah Moore’s book, Unseen, Unheard, Unknown.

A couple of odd remarks here strike me:

Some of us had multiple birth certificates and passports, and citizenship of more than one country. Only she knows why thus was and why we were also all dressed alike, why most of us even had our hair dyed identically blond.

The motto of the sect is ‘Unseen, Unheard and Unknown’, and even now the thought of the consequences of betraying that motto still worries me sometimes.

We weren’t often allowed to see newspapers, in fact that happened only after we were quite a bit older and even then they’d been censored .

and:

Looking back, I can see that any game or hobby that we started we would get hooked on, playing it over and over again in our limited spare time. If we got into a game or fantasy we tended to want to keep on with it and it assumed the utmost importance in our lives.

It might have appeared that we were obsessive kids but it was understandable considering the malevolent reality we faced outside our games. Usually Anne and the Aunties saw to it that as soon as we started enjoying ourselves, it was stopped, and a new rule would be made, forbidding us from playing that particular game. We would thus be forced to try and make up a new one within the boundaries of the rules that governed our lives, still knowing that eventually this new one would be banned also.

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Speaking of “cults” – there are several WL cables that make reference to a cult or cults, generally in the context of a “cult of personality” (Mao, eg), and in one case with reference to Scientology. There’s also – and this where things get interesting from my POV — one intriguing reference to a cult in Iran:

Though stressing that he is not an opponent of the Islamic system, he warned that the Revolutionary Guard-based faction which “stole the election,” and is now seeking total control is “extremely dangerous to both us and you.” He repeatedly characterized this group as “a criminal cult,” motivated by its fanaticism, ignorance, and the monetary self-interest of its members. He added that the group is intent on exporting revolution. According to source, both Ahmedinejad and Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi are affiliates rather than “leaders” of this group, and neither will likely end up with significant power if the group successfully consolidates control over the state and its economy (see reftel).

A religious group of which “both Ahmedinejad and Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi are affiliates” sounds suspiciously like the Hojjatiyeh.

But that’s the topic for another upcoming post, I promise.


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