The best of war games?

September 29th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — this may be the most expensive single chess set ever, but let’s wait for part two ]



From the catalogue description:

Lavishly decorated and large in size, this extraordinary, elaborate chess set is the only one of its kind, and is perhaps the best ever made. Crafted by the hand of a master jeweler, the exquisite quality of its manufacture is showcased in each and every detail. Every 14k gold game piece is different, encrusted with semiprecious stones and brightly hued enamel, and each is endowed with mechanical movement. This ancient game of war truly comes to life on the breathtaking board, which is itself a spectacular sight to behold. This incredible chess set rests atop its custom-crafted mahogany and leather-topped table, and is accopanied by a pair of handsome 19th-century leather upholstered chairs.

The ancient Battle of Issus is the subject of this extraordinary set and an apt reference to the military-like strategy of the game. What was one of the most important battles of the ancient world is beautifully retold here through pieces representing gods and goddesses, ancient structures, and creatures of both Greek and Persian origin. Alexander the Great and King Darius III take their places on the board as kings. At Alexander’s side is Queen Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, while the winged Persian god of war stands as Darius’ queen piece. War ships sailing over waves and massive elephants covered in elaborate trappings take the place of bishops, while the castles have been transformed into the columned temples of ancient Greece and the impressive Persepolis. Horsemen and footmen face off as well, each with their own sword, javelin, or bow.

I don’t think there’s any doubt of the intricate quality of the workmanship, nor the costliness of the materials, in this chess set based on Alexander‘s victory at Issus..


With any luck, the Go set I hope to describe in part two will be even more beautiful.

Not up for debate: three candidates

September 29th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a light-hearted, part-musical, part-personal, part-putinesque — counterpoise to the present Presidential electoral season ]

You wanna make government a barrel of fun? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!
Your Politics Oughtta Be A Groovier Thing? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!


Okay, we’ve had a day or two to recover from the first of this year’s Presidential debates, and I’d like to give you a break from the incessant Trump no Hillary no stay home or vote Stein or Johnson or write in or whatever shindig with three possible candidates not on most lists.

One is anonymous. One is myself (ridiculous). And one — the best known of the three, but deceased, alas — plays trumpet, and ran in 1964.


No, as far as we know, Vladimir Putin has not expressed a wish for Donald Trump to be President of the US, despite some fraternal noises. Instead, he somewhat cannily answered an unnamed US journalist’s question by wishing she could hold that office (upper panel, below):

Tablet DQ Putin & Abu Walid


Putin’s candidate is, as far as I know, anonymous — though there’s a presumably a journalist somewhere who knows, since she was there at the time, and Putin was responding to her.


I probably wouldn’t have given this particular remark of Putin’s a second thought, had Abu Walid al-Masri not wished the same fate on me (lower panel, above).

Here’s how that happened.

I’d been in friendly contact with the noted Australian Federal Police counterterrorism analyst Leah Farrall for a while, when Leah struck up an email correspondence some years back with Abu Walid. The latter was among the first Arabs in Afghanistan, a journalist, a friend of Mullah Omar and bin Laden, and a fierce critic of 9/11. Both Leah and Abu Walid were bloggers, and both deeply interested in the early history and structure of Al-Qaida so, Leah thought, why not talk? And talk they did.

At one point, Leah very kindly invited me to join their conversation. I’m a know your enemy type on my father‘s side (he was a naval warrior) and a love your enemy type on my mentor‘s (he was a monk, and quite the warrior in his own way) — so I wrote to Abu Walid, and he responded:

  • All Things CT, Charles Cameron to Abu Walid al Masri
  • Zenpundit, Abu Walid al Masri to Charles Cameron
  • I don’t see myself as US President any time soon — I’m a Brit born and bred, which would rule me out in any case, and a monarchist at that — but Putin’s comment to the journalist reminded me of my own equivalent in Abu Walid’s response to my letter, and gave me a quiet chuckle — hence this post.

    More significant than my cameo appearance.. Years later, Abu Walid was released from house arrest in Iran. He — now dropping his nom de guerre and going by his original name, Mustafa Hamid — met in person with Leah in Alexandria, amd after months of conversations they produced an unparalleled joint work, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan (Hurst, 2015).

    It is, as I said, without parallel — with a second volume to follow?


    Okay, back to electoral candidates. How about Dizzy Gillespie? Here’s a belated tribute to the candidate who blue-notes outside the lines:

    As blog-friend and jazz-meister Bill Benzon noted recently, Dizzy Gillespie nominated himself. And how!

    When I am elected President of the United States, my first executive order will be to change the name of the White House! To the Blues House.

    Income tax must be abolished, and we plan to legalize ‘numbers’ – you know, the same way they brought jazz into the concert halls and made it respectable. We refuse to be influenced by the warnings of one NAACP official who claims that making this particular aspect of big business legal would upset the nation’s economy disastrously.

    One of the ways we can cut down governmental expenditures is to disband the FBI and have the Senate Internal Security Committee investigate everything under white sheets for un-American activities. Understand, we won’t take no ‘sheet’ off anybody!

    You wanna make government a barrel of fun? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!

    Thucydides Roundtable Begins October 17

    September 26th, 2016

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    An update regarding the Thucydides Roundtable;

    Our list of esteemed roundtable participants has been finalized and while some administrative details need to be taken care of in the coming weeks and some promotional announcements are to come, we will formally begin October 17.

    Readers who wish to follow along with us or engage in the comment section, we will be using The Landmark Thucydides as our official text.

    When tweeting about the Thucydides Roundtable we will use the hashtag #FearHonorInterest. Participants may be cross-posting as well to their own blogs or social media accounts and are strongly encouraged to do so, but for ease of discussion, every participant’s post will appear here at zenpundit.com

    The format will be similar to blogging roundtable events in past years, notably the Clausewitz and Xenophon roundtables. Participants will post on one “book” (chapter) a week in sequential order – i.e.  in week one, everyone posts about some aspect of Book I. The following schedule will be maintained throughout the roundtable:

    Book I.  week of October 17
    Book II. week of October 24
    Book III. week of October 31
    Book IV. week of November 7
    Book V. week of November 14
    Book VI. week of November 21
    Book VII. week of November 28
    Book VIII. week of December 5
    Concluding Analysis week of December 12

    Marching Orders”

    For returning participants from prior roundtables, these are essentially the same as the ones enacted at Chicago Boyz blog for the Clausewitz Roundtable by Lexington Green.

    Purpose of the roundtable: The overall goal is for each participant to read The Landmark Thucydides and to learn something from it, and to convey what they have learned in an interesting and engaging and informative way to the other participants and to our readers. Everything else is to flow from that goal and to be consistent with that goal.

    1. Each participant shall read the book.

    2. Each participant shall post his thoughts, comments, analysis, and impressions of the book, including its relevance and application today and in the future. The general thrust is to engage the text of the book, to “meet Thucydides” and then for each participant to communicate what he has learned in that meeting.  Beyond the Peloponnesian War itself, the application of Thucydides’s views, as conveyed in The Landmark Thucydides, to current and future issues of strategy, warfare, politics or any other pertinent subject, is encouraged.

    3. There is no absolute prohibition on discussing context, other writers’ views, the history of Thucydides’ influence, etc. However, the focus should be the text. Each participant shall use their discretion in this regard. There is no limit on length of posts or number of posts by any participant.

    4. The schedule for the roundtable is as stated above. There is no ironclad requirement that each person post each and every week. Nor is there a requirement that each participant only post once per week. However, one post, per week, on the Book which is scheduled for that week, is the guideline. Again, each participant shall exercise discretion in this regard. This is supposed to be fun and enlightening, not a chore.

    There will be a “first” post to begin the roundtable by our co-host, Tanner Greer of Scholar’s Stage. After that, any and all participants may fire away, keeping the schedule in mind.

    If other personal or professional commitments come up, that is understood and excused in advance.

    If a participant wants to put up some short post pertaining to the roundtable on their own blog or social media account, prior to the formal beginning date, I leave that to each person’s discretion, but request that no one “jump the gun” with any substantive post prior to the first week.

    5. Each participant should feel free to respond to issues raised by other participants in their posts, leave comments on posts, cross-post on their own blogs, or otherwise engage in “lateral” dialogue about the book. Such lateral engagement is encouraged. Disagreement and argument of a civil and productive nature is also encouraged.

    6. Mechanics. Each post shall have a title “Thucydides, Book __:” then the title the participant is using for the specific post, after the colon. This will help everyone keep track of where each participant is in the book. Each post shall be labeled with the category “Thucydides Roundtable”. Posts will have a “read more” break after a few paragraphs in order to maximize attention on all of the posts and to make things visually manageable for our readers.

    Participants in coming weeks will be given access to ZP to post directly. If the participant is unfamiliar with WordPress and blogging generally, they may email their posts to me and I will put them up as quickly as I can. Participants with technical questions about formatting (ex. an image or map) in their posts can address their questions to co-host Lynn C. Rees.

    7. Comment section:  this point is more for newer readers who might be joining us rather than the participants. As a rule, the comment section here is a genteel place regarding discussions with others and problems are very few. The managing editor here is Charles Cameron and he keeps an eye on the comments section – comments with two or more links are automatically held for moderation, which he or I will approve as soon as time permits.

    Participants, we will be contacting you with further information this week.

    We look forward to seeing you at the roundtable!

    Concerning the Future — black swans & white

    September 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — in concern, yes — and hope ]


    I know which I’d choose — but I can’t speak for the powers that be (Ephesians 6.12 included).


    Here’s a paragraph from David Barno and Nora Bensahel, The Future of the Army: Today, Tomorrow, and the Day After Tomorrow:

    Some future developments can be predicted, but others will be unexpected and unforeseen. “Black swans” —- unpredictable events with very serious consequences — will be as inevitable then as they have been in the past.105 In 2000, for example, no analyst could have possibly foreseen all of today’s disparate security challenges—the 9/11 attacks, the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, a resurgent Russia annexing Crimea and threatening neighbors with force, and China building artificial islands in the South China Sea from which to project power, among others. Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.


    I’m somewhat sceptical of the polling methodology used by the Lincoln Leadership Initiative to generate these conclusions reported by The Hill:

    Among those who say they will vote for Trump, 48 percent say he’ll create a database to track Muslims? 36 percent say there will be race riots? 33 percent say the government would default on its debt? and 32 percent say Trump would punish his political opponents and authorize internment camps for illegal immigrants.

    Only 22 percent of Trump supporters believe he will start a nuclear war.

    Whatever the reliability of the poll — and I’ve asked — it seems clear that at least some potential voters believe Donald Trump, if elected president, might use nuclear weapons, perhaps in the fight against ISIS.

    I’d call the database, the race riots and the debt default that Barno and Bensahel mentiom black cygnets at best, but the prospect of nuclear war almost qualifies IMO as a full-on black swan — and I’d refer you back to the final sentence of the Barno-Bensahel quote above:

    Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.


    Barno-Bensahel sat they would consider a nuclear exchange a black swan in their chapter on 2020-2035, whereas Trump’s first term, if he were to be elected president, would barely touch the beginning o0f that range — so that particular black swan, if it is one, might conceivably occur quite soon.

    But note that word “conceivable” — a true black swan, to my way of thinking, would be something that hadn’t even occurred as a possibility to forward thinking folks like David Barno — indeed not even, with all due respect, to John Robb.

    And Barno-Bensahel predict out to 2040.


    My own predictive vision as a student of wisdom literature and propecies of various kinds shows me the following timeline:


    It goes without saying that I could be wrong — a whiter shade of swan might make all the difference.

    On going shopping

    September 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — this one’s for the Thomas Hegghammer’s “Bored Jihadi” archives ]

    For that special occasion when formal “penguin” attire is required, all black and white — yet with a casual artistic / rebellious flair:


    A good place to shop for such things if you happen to be in Istanbul — Islami Giyim, or Islamic Clothing:


    Of course, you may not feel like dressing in support of terror — but you can still have swag:


    This tote-bag carries an Arabic inscription that reads:

    The only goal of this text is to spread panic among those who fear the Arabic language.

    And there are in fact people for whom a small amount of Arabic script is enough to call in the bomb squad, as occurred a few days back in Marshall’s Creek, Pennsylvania:


    Mmm, date-filled cookies!



  • Vocativ, The Perfect Gift for the Jihadi on Your Shopping List
  • Roads & Kingdoms, The Jihadi Gift Shop in Istanbul
  • Special Broadcasting Service, The Arabic on this tote bag is hilariously edgy
  • WNEP The News Station, Bomb Unit Investigates Box Left at Gas Station

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