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Percussions and repercussions

Monday, August 6th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — ecology, fire, forests, an elevator in Denver, and how one thing leads to another ]

Guy Davenport, a stylist worthy of his Masters


HeraclitusHerakleitos — sees this world as one seamless “all” in constant motion and taking many forms — with what we call “fire” as the recurring form within that flux that he can point to by name, using it as his best metaphor for that “all”…

In the beautiful translation of Guy Davenport (drawn here from fragments 28 and 29 in his book, 7 Greeks, p 161:

Everything becomes fire, and from fire everything is born, as in the eternal exchange of money and merchandise.

This world, which is always the same for all, neither god nor man made: it has always been, it is, and always shall be: an everlasting fire rhythmically dying and flaring up again.


This is just a quick post, a little creativity flaring up and dying down again while I am preparing longer pieces on Nidal Hassan (as discussed by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, JM Berger and emptywheel), a zennish biography of John Cage, and Rain (with a capital roar) in African religion and urban settlements.

I was glancing at Chris Bright‘s entry Anticipating Environmental “Surprise” in State Of The World 2000, and my eye was caught by the phrase, “Surface fires do not climb trees and become crown fires.”

I’d never heard of “surface fires” and “crown fires” before, and “crown fires” in particular had me thinking there’s poetry here…

So I took a deep breath, slowed down, and read more carefully. And as I was reading the whole short section that began with those words, one part of my mind was soaking in the vivid images the text conjured up for me, but another part was calculating percentages in what seemed to be a rapidly accelerating descent.

I have tried to picture that double effect — of lush rainforest and the numbers that illustrate its fiery fall — in what follows:



Surface fires do not climb trees and become crown fires. They just crackle along the forest floor, here and there, as little patches of flame, going out at night, when the temperature drops, and rekindling the next day. They will not kill the really big trees, and they do not cover every bit of ground in a burned patch. But they are fatal to most of the smaller trees they touch. Overall, an initial surface fire may kill perhaps 10 percent of the living forest biomass.


The damage may not look all that dramatic, but another tract of forest may already be doomed by an incipient positive feedback loop of fire and drying. After a surface fire, the amount of shade is reduced from about 90 percent to around 60 percent, and the dead and injured trees rain debris down on the floor. So a year or two later, the next fire in that spot finds more tinder, and a warmer, drier floor. Some 40 percent of forest biomass may die in the second fire. At this point, the forest’s integrity is seriously damaged; grasses and vines invade and contribute to the accumulation of combustible material.


The next dry season may eliminate the forest entirely.



Those falling numbers remind me of the floors whizzing by in an elevator I once frequented in Denver — where the framed elevator license said, ominously enough, Type: Plunger.

And so here we are at “Ground floor: Perfumery, Stationery and leather goods”.

One very simple part of how complex the world we live in really is has to do with repercussions…

Recommended Reading & Viewing

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Top Billing! Grand Blog Tarkin (Jon Jeckell) – The Jedi Way of War

….While it seems the Jedi would be the only institution competent in warfare after thousands of years of peace, they were the worst possible choice on many levels. What institution within the Republic retained any practical knowledge of warfare? Some private institutions and individual planetary governments, such as Naboo, had their own modest security forces, but the Republic seemed to lack any other institution capable of employing coercion on behalf of the state. This study will elide the political, policy and civil society aspects and focus on explaining why the Jedi Order were a uniquely poor choice to lead the Grand Army of the Republic. Although it superficially appears the Jedi are the only ones capable of taking on this burden, they suffered from numerous institutional biases and a philosophy that impeded their ability to understand what was happening or adapt to realities of their new role. Leading a massive Army was not a linear extension of the skills the Jedi possessed, and they lacked the ability to gain those skills.

Although the Jedi were renowned diplomats and keepers of the peace, they were not politicians or strategists, and never critically examined the Separatist’s grievances to identify the root causes of the conflict. Without understanding the causes of conflict, they failed to develop a theory of victory. Without this, they merely continued to pursue of the Separatist leaders and the destruction of their army after the first engagement. They failed to reframe from their roles as individual combatants to leaders of an Army for a multitude of reasons explored below.

The much talked about post of the week where science fiction meets strategic analysis.

Diane Ravitch –Rahm and Other People’s Children 

One of the themes of the corporate reform movement is this:

“We know what’s best for other people’s children but it is not what’s best for mine.”

Many of the leading corporate reformers went to elite prep schools and/or send their children to them.

Schools like Exeter, Andover, Deerfield Academy, Sidwell Friends, the University of Chicago Lab School, Lakeside Academy (Seattle), Maumee Country Day School (Toledo). At these schools there are beautiful facilities, small classes, experienced teachers, well-stocked libraries, science laboratories, and a curriculum rich in the arts, sciences, languages, and other studies.

I hope you read this post about Chicago billionaire and school board member Penny Pritzker. She sends her children to the University of Chicago Lab School, which has the best of everything, but feels no embarrassment that the children of Chicago who attend public schools that she oversees do not have the same advantages.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his children to this school. Arne Duncan is a graduate of it.

Remember that theme: Other People’s Children.

This reader thought about what Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants for his own children. Why doesn’t he want the same for all Chicago’s children? 

Good charter schools tend to be based upon delivering a different, innovative, curriculum well or serving a specific, generally disadvantaged, student population (the original, largely forgotten and abandoned, justification for charter schools). The founder is usually there on site, putting in long hours, leading by example, working with children, because their educational vision is a mission and labor of love. Their own kids are usually their first students.

Unfortunately, that has little or nothing to do with the Corporate Ed Reform pushed by both President Obama and Governor Romney, which rides on the reputation of the mom & pop charters but frequently fails to live up to it because their mission is a profit-maximizing business model devised by and lobbied for by hedge funds and private equities firms to divert public tax dollars to investors at the lowest delivery cost possible.  That model is not compatible with quality education and isn’t intended to be. If it were, the owners and investors would be enrolling their own children in the highly regimented, rote-learning script, worksheet based schools and “virtual charter” scams they are pushing on states, cities and school districts.

Conspicuously, they don’t.

WPR (Steve Metz )- A Necessary Evolution: U.S. Military Strategy Goes Invisible 

….It also became clear that the belief that removing Saddam Hussein or the Taliban from power would strike a mortal blow against al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations was unfounded. If anything, the war in Iraq added to the terrorism problem by radicalizing thousands more terrorists and giving them an opportunity to acquire training and experience. Even the demise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, though it forced al-Qaida to relocate and reorganize, was not the body blow to terrorism that the Bush administration hoped. Rather than deterring extremists, it motivated new ones. 

Terrorism, it turned out, was not a nail after all. 

But a strange thing happened along the way to this simple discovery: The United States developed a different form of offensive military action — reliance on invisible or less-visible actions such as strikes by special operations forces and unmanned aerial vehicles — which held more promise. While they might not have led to a decisive and unambiguous victory over terrorism, these approaches certainly degraded the extremists’ capabilities. 

Google lends it’s analytical heft and cool graphics in a not so subtle effort to aid supporters of the UN Small Arms Treaty. Some of the stats for third world nations, or major arms exporters like Russia, appear impossibly small or are absent. For example, somehow, I think Afghanistan has imported some weaponry in the past twenty years. Click through and see if you agree.

John Robb – How Do You Attract Resilient People? Give Them Room to Grow 

Fred Leland –Check out My Latest P1 Column: Patterns of behavior, officer safety, and ‘the rule of opposites’

SWJ Blog –Why There’s Nothing Illegal about CIA Drone Pilots  

Eide Neurolearning Blog –The Steps of Creativity – Early Crowd sourcing and Prototyping 

Gunnar Peterson – Security > 140 Conversation with Jason Chan 

Abu Muqawama – Guest Post: The Last Argument of Tyrants 

Feral Jundi –California: Sacramento International Airport Dropping TSA



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