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The Elegance of Distributed Lethality

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

[by J. Scott Shipman]

In April of 2017 I was honored to speak at a Naval Postgraduate School Littoral Operations Center “Littoral Op-Tech” event in Cartagena, Columbia. This was supposed to be my last Op-tech event, as I was winding down the effort to make our submersible boat a reality. As it turned out, I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia about a year later—and that was my swan song.


The core of this talk was based on four bullet points the late Wayne Hughes wrote on a piece of paper sometime in 2016 and asked me to deliver to VADM Tom Rowden. I had mentioned that I was scheduled to be in a meeting with the admiral the following week, so Wayne wrote four bullet points as points of departure for Admiral Rowden to consider as he attempted to execute his “distributed lethality” concept. The bullets were: Distributed Influence, Distributed Competition, Distributed Confrontation, and Distributed Interdiction. I made a copy and referred to them frequently and added to the list as I thought appropriate. Later in email correspondence, Wayne filled out his ideas of these bullet points and allowed me to use when I told him about this idea for the talk. These bullets are identified with (WPH).


As far as I know, Distributed Lethality as a focus evaporated when VADM Rowden retired, but in my opinion his initiative was refreshing and much needed. Perhaps this little missive will resurrect some interest and spark new interest.


If this collection of ideas seems a bit “all over the map,” it is because it is. The talk was meant to be given with slides, and to generate discussion. This is also my first foray back to blogging in too many years. I apologize in advance it this is too long and conversational—or too navy-centric. Charles left some big shoes to fill.

Setting the stage with quotes and ideas:


“…strikes may in all instances be necessary but they will not in all instances be sufficient to achieve a national military purpose…[and] a fleet is incomplete which has not elements that can operate in waters next to the enemy coast.” From Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Second Edition, pg 249-250 by Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., CAPT, USN, Ret (emphasis added).


“Where missiles are concerned, the contest between the offense and defense is marked by a serious differential in starting points. In practical terms, the offense has a huge and nearly motionless target to hit and needs to hit it only once. One large missile warhead is equivalent to something like five or ten direct hits by a sixteen-inch gun. The defense, on the other hand, is required to intercept an extremely fast and quite agile flying object, sometimes hardly detectable in the various phases of its trajectory, which can be launched from any operational dimension and often—for design purposes, every time—completely by surprise.” From The Littoral Arena; A Word of Caution, by RADM Yedidia “Didi” Ya’ari, Israel Navy, Naval War College Review, Summer 2014 (emphasis added) (this was a reprint suggested by Wayne Hughes who wrote, A Prophet For Our Times to accompany the rerelease.)


“Future wars in which LRPS (Long Range Precision Strike) systems predominate will involve efforts by all sides to find adversary platforms while hiding their own from the enemy’s ISR and targeting systems. In the “hider/finder” competition, a mobile platform that can hide in clutter (such as environmental or electromagnetic noise, dense traffic areas, on and under the water, etc.) will likely survive and be capable of offensive action. This will become the paramount element in contested seas, straits, and littorals. The offensive action of targeting and counter targeting is decisive, and no navy ever triumphed at sea without having the offensive advantage.” RADM Walter E. Carter, Proceedings, May 2014

These three quotes identify challenges that are just the tip of the iceberg one must encounter if there is any hope of success in the littorals. If history is our guide, the littorals are a life and death environment. Whether a defender or an aggressor, how a navy fights in coastal green water more often than not decides who wins and who loses.
US VADM Tom Rowden, Commander of US Naval Surface Forces introduced the idea of “distributed lethality.” In a January 2015 article in Proceedings he and his colleagues wrote:
“For more power in more places, the Navy should increase the offensive might of the surface force and employ ships in dispersed formations known as ‘hunter-killer surface action groups.’
With respect to VADM Rowden, I would suggest a slight modification:
“For more power in more places, the Navy should increase the offensive might of the surface and subsurface forces and employ ships in dispersed formations known as ‘hunter-killer surface action groups.”
These hunter-killer action groups would be an elegant solution to challenges faced in the littorals. So let us quickly examine some of the attributes and advantages Distributed Lethality brings, bearing in mind many of these examples overlap.
Distributable Options. The number of platforms will often determine the number of options available to leadership. Fewer platforms limits options in an almost binary fashion—ships are either available or not. As magnificent as some of our big deck multipurpose warships are, they can’t be in two places at once. The more ships, the more choices and the more flexibility across the spectrum.
Distributable Presence. Presence is a message without words. The Freedom of Navigation Operations conducted in the South China Sea recently are a good example of the power of presence to send an unmistakable message. As William Beasley wisely suggested in the November 2015 issue of Proceedings, the US Navy needs to “close the presence gap.” Beasley “steals” a line from former Naval War College Dean CAPT Barney Rubel and defines “presence” — “it means being there.”
Distributable Influence. (WPH) A large number of affordable surface [ JSS: and subsurface] ships can be widely distributed—or aggregated—on demand anywhere in the world where our presence is wanted and we are needed. I added subsurface ships to Wayne’s list because knowledge of the potential for additional subsurface presence will influence the decision-making process of an adversary.
Distributable Competition. (WPH) A large number of lethal ships that are capable of cooperating to make sneak attacks using a wide variety of targeting capabilities, and can be based forward in peacetime at small cost in friendly ports.
Distributable OODA. John Boyd’s OODA loop for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act is a complex, yet simple diagram of decision making (or learning) and engagement. The larger point I want to illustrate with this slide is the power of Distributable Situational Awareness (observe) (manned or unmanned), Distributable Orientation (multiplied across platforms) (mostly manned, but aspects could be assigned to an algorithm), Distributable Decisions, and Distributable Action (manned or unmanned). Implicit in OODA is explicit knowledge of Commander’s Intent, where individual Commanding Officers possess the knowledge and capability to execute Commander’s Intent throughout the full spectrum of options.
Armed with their commander’s intent, their human senses and ship sensors a ship’s captain will possess a level of adaptability/flexibility that we will never be able to pre-program into an unmanned system, or implement from remote control. From the Battle of Salamis over 2,000 years ago to the War on Terror, the history of warfare is replete with examples of human ingenuity and bravery overcoming what seemed like at the time impossible odds. As CAPT Frank Andrews wrote in a 1958 Proceedings article:
“But let no one forget that one and only one element will finally sway the balance, when a country must defend the things for which it stands. That element is people, people who believe, people who will act, people who can think, people who have what it takes to outfight the enemy.”
We believe there are roles for unmanned vehicles, but we advocate manned solutions over automation for there are things people can do that computers will never be able to do, make no mistake: our people are our edge. In the event of hostilities, navies will need resilient and survivable platforms to adapt, scout, and attack and create:
Distributable Uncertainty. War is the business of the previously unthinkable. If history is any guide, man’s unmitigated barbarity and ability to conjure novel methods of death and destruction will continue. The outcomes won’t change, though the methods and pace will stagger our sensibilities, so we might as well stagger the enemy first. Shaping the mind of the adversary, in his planning and assumptions. The benefit of creating uncertainty is the creation of novelty in the mind of the adversary.
Distributable Confrontation. (WPH) A large number of lethal ships the enemy understands will attack his fleet and commerce if shooting starts the larger number of lethal ships will conduct lethal attacks at an affordable cost to us and he is forced to devote his time and energy to defending against an attack at a time and place of our choosing with a force large enough to cause him great loss. The late naval strategist Herbert Rosinski said:
“At sea there is no halfway house between victory and defeat, because there is no difference between what is needed for defense and what for attack. One side only can gain security at the cost of the other—or neither.”
Distributable Interdiction. (WPH) Ships that will team with international partners to assert the right level of maritime interdiction all the way from occasional inspections up to a full distant quarantine or blockade.
Distributable Deterrence. A credibly armed Fleet, large enough to be distributed/dispersed should dissuade any potential adversary of the inherent folly and hazard of engagement. As Colin Gray points out, “with deterrence the enemy gets a vote.” Deterrence is connected at the hip with credibility. Credible people, doctrine, ships and weapons combine to establish deterrence in the mind of the adversary. The best fight is the one that never occurs, where angst and second-guessing are artifacts for the historians.

Back to Nuts and Bolts, or as a friend in the intel community called “ground truth”


An affordable and executable set of solutions will be needed to make the most of these ideas. We believe essential elements of these action groups should be a combination of manned and optionally manned, subsurface and surface platforms. For the subsurface vehicles the price per hull should not exceed $250M and for the surface platforms the price should not exceed $100M (though we should aim for $70M). We should buy these ships in numbers. The broad concept of operations for these vehicles would be to operate and compliment our growing number of unmanned underwater vehicles, and our SSNs, where appropriate.

For the subsurface realm we have concept model we call a “Hoss Boat:” a small, stealthy, air breathing lightly manned submersible boat designed to operate and fight on the surface or submerged. Our boats have a long surfaced endurance, able to patrol or project force in the littorals as a real-time, networked asset.
Since Hoss boats are small they can operate in shallow coastal water (in the 20-10 fathom curve range). Our boat combines stealth and persistence on station to greatly complicate a potential enemy’s tactical situation. Hoss Boats can hide in coastal clutter such as environmental or electromagnetic noise, dense traffic areas, the hundreds of islands in the SCS (or the Baltic Sea) to increase stealth in places where we’d probably never send an SSN or traditional SSK. Since she can hide on and under the water, unlike a traditional surface craft in the same environment she would likely survive and be capable of persistent offensive action.
“Submarines are difficult to find and hard to destroy. Even fairly crude submarine forces can attack surface ships or other targets with a great deal of stealth, making them perfect for countries with limited resources. The threat of such an attack is a powerful deterrent in Asia, where coastal defenses are vital.” (Eric Talmadge. Battle for control of Asia’s Seas Goes Underwater, Associated Press, 19 January 2012)
We planned her initial primary mission to be anti-surface ship (ASuW) warfare, holding at risk both combatants and when appropriate, other surface assets. She would also have a robust AA capability for air threats. This boat could also be used for scouting/ISR missions operating as a real-time, networked asset, although she is not bandwidth or network dependent and will be able to independently detect and destroy adversaries. We believe these boats could be built for about $250M per hull, considerably less than SSK/AIP solutions, and the resources required to deter them would have a favorable affect on would-be belligerents.
Recently we added a small surface missile boat to our portfolio of possibilities, with the working moniker Hoss-Surface. While this boat has not been drawn her mission sets are similar in some respects to the submersible, and radically different in others. While both will have an anti-ship mission, the surface boat should have variants allowing for additional missions (ASW-MIW, for instance). Given the environments where she will operate, the radar cross section should be reduced as much as possible. Compared to an LCS, she won’t be fast at a modest 25 knots. Her main battery should include at least eight Norwegian naval strike-type anti-ship missiles and the largest gun the design will allow, but 30 caliber minimum. Our working price estimate is less than $70M per hull.
Both of these boats can provide navies with a needed capability to distribute lethality that are survivable and offers more offensive flexibility at a lower cost. Lightly manned and highly automated, our boats would provide a “man-in-the-loop” level of situational awareness. It would be appropriate to interject here that instead of a binary choice manned or unmanned, both designs should be capable of working in concert with unmanned vehicles across the spectrum and incorporate “optional manning” as initial design consideration.
The title of this talk describes Distributed Lethality as “elegant,” as indeed it is, but Distributed Lethality will continue to be a myth if at least three significant obstacles aren’t overcome. (1) No budget growth, (2) an acquisition process is too slow and complex (3) hard force structure choices. The Navy cannot control the first two without Congressional support, which will not happen quickly. Thankfully, within the Navy a fairly vigorous debate on force structure is on-going. If we frame the force structure debate through the prism of a Winston Churchill quote: “Now that we have run out of money we have to think,” our predicament comes into sharp relief and alternatives appear. Trust me: poverty focuses the mind.
To its credit US Navy has embraced innovative technologies, but in ship building we have over-specialized (mostly because of economy) in large-deck multipurpose warships that are so complex and expensive they take years to design and build and of such value that every ship becomes a capital ship—too precious to send into harm’s way when the purpose of a warship is to fight and win when necessary. In too many cases, the budget will not endure the addition of the number or ships necessary meet our commitments using existing plans and acquisition assumptions/processes.
It would seem the less complex and expensive alternatives we have suggested would fit the bill, if only we could speed up the acquisition process. There must be a way. Why? Because the status quo is not sustainable, safe, nor secure. How can we overcome these problems and challenges? We could begin by casting off what Angus K. Ross called some of our “lazy assumptions.” In an institutional bureaucracy like the Pentagon; lazy assumptions are ubiquitous because they are the path of least resistance. Some examples: the status quo is fine, we can shape any environment, our current acquisition process of buying/building ships optimizes for budget scarcity, unmanned will make all our dreams come true, etc., etc. At the risk of trafficking in clichés: If everyone is saying the same thing, someone isn’t thinking.
What is the answer? No easy answers exist, but we could begin by setting aside a small amount of SCN and dedicating to less complex and less expensive smaller ships. The late Captain Wayne P. Hughes provided the scaffold of this approach in his essay for Proceedings in 2018.
One immediate benefit to less complex ships would be shorter times between design, build and deployment. Right now the cycle time between design and deployment is approaching 20 years—where obsolescence can invalidate a solution before it hits the Fleet. There used to be a phrase, “low cost, technically acceptable,” and we would do well to remember as we move forward.
Distributed Lethality properly deployed is the marriage of the strategic and the tactical. While more platforms options to distribute will largely be a function of strategic force structure planning, the capabilities conveyed by the increase in available ships provides tactical commanders on the scene who can adapt and attack—as their decisions more often than not decide who prevails.
Distributed Lethality is elegant precisely because increased numbers of ships and the capability to adapt on the fly to achieve our ends: maritime dominance.
If we were to take a poll from the representatives of the militaries represented here today and asked if you want your navy to have more options and firepower in your area of responsibility my guess is there would be a resounding “YES.”
We need alternatives and will stipulate there are many from which to choose. Our boats would be a cost effective way to influence war in the littorals in our favor, but there are other solutions to be sure.
Making Distributed Lethality a reality is within our grasp if we possess the imagination to reach beyond the status quo and think differently. As Marc Andreessen once said, “True innovations don’t follow a pattern.” Our platforms and options offered by others are an innovation in how to fight that does not follow a prescribed pattern. On the subsurface front, as a student of military history I believe we’re reaching the point when an offensively disposed subsurface force will be needed in growing numbers. In a world of ubiquitous precision-guided munitions, surface ships will be increasingly at risk in areas where navies will need to have eyes and potentially provide fires—specifically in contested coastal shallow waters—the littorals. All navies will need a deeper subsurface bench.  We need also to explore surface design alternatives that are affordable and stealthy enough.
The USN needs manned highly capable submersible craft and stealthy small missile boats that can be bought in numbers, to achieve a lethal, numerous and credible presence that can dramatically change warfare in the littorals.

An Invitation to the Church of the Open Question

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — announcing a new blog for matters quasi-religious, poetical ]

The Church of the Open Question is the name of my church.

I have held this domain name, churchoftheopenquestion.com, for some years now, and a blog-church by that name should be coming online shortly — this is its first announcement.

My church bears that name because it expressly questions dogmatic formulations, while encourageing depthful exploration of the possible resonances of dogma that might go missing if all such formulations are dismissed out of hand.

Push open a question, leave it open, and what you have is possibilities.

The marvelous, beautiful, well-spoken Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel has titled her book on Tibetan Madhyamaka philosophy, The Power of an Open Question: The Buddha’s Path to Freedom, and I find myself to have come by a natural unfolding to a position very sympathetic to that which she has attained by the disciplined enterprise of Madhyamaka Buddhism under the tutelage of her husband, Lama Dzigar Kongtrül — a delightful homecoming for me.

I view my church — and the swing-doors that are its central feature — as offering a place where, for instance, Catholics who are leaving Catholicism may find certain doctrines illuminated as imaginative or poetic vehicles for wonder, which they can then carrry with them as spiritual values in an overwhelmingly secular and monteized societty, while those approaching the Church from outside it may find means of delighting in poetic or imaginative readings of texts that, stated in plain prose as definitive beliefs, are difficult indeed to swallow.


As an example, here’s a poem I wrote in this spirit, exploring the central symbolism of thr Christmas story..

Christmas for Buddhists

Suppose the full radiance inhabiting all things,
on the specific occasion we now celebrate,
finding itself as fond of narrative as of symmetry,
of emptiness as of fullness, decided
for the sake of teaching its selves a thing
or eight, to take on a newborn form,
while letting its nature shine forth visible
to its mum, sundry animals, three visiting kings

and an assortment of invisible winged beings —
what better place than the animal stall
outside an inn, where no room was available
for a pregnant visitor to give birth, could
that master of story, Original Face, choose,
to tell humanity: humility is the necessary virtue?

or it’s close cousin, exploring the Mass:

To suppose the Eucharist

Suppose the hypothetical all of everything
in unspooling itself chose to exhibit itself in
one human, suppose further all the sun’s
light were caught in wheat and baked into
bread, all the world’s pains and passions
crushed like grapes into wine, suppose the
one person took loaf and cup and with
word and gesture raised them blood, body

of his own self to be supped and sipped,
thus woven into his one flesh, blood, mind —
just when his flesh is torn, blood spills —
suppose then that his mind to love were to
entrain this new body of many bodies to
heal with all radiance each instance of pain..

That one certainly owes something to Teilhard de Chardin, as the first may to Thomas Merton — this, then, will be above all a gathering or congregation of friends..


I’m encouraged by Dr Jordan Peterson‘s claim that he “wanted to establish a church .. in which he would deliver sermons every Sunday” — although in my own case, every now and then will have to substitute for every Sunday.

I have a first sermon lined up, too, in which I want to ask “What did Mozart see as Christ‘s life” when chosing the words “Ave verum corpus natum” to set to some of his most wondrous music? The answer’s a bit surprising, and suggestive of the many devotional moods the contemplation of that life can give rise to..

Coming shortly.. Clapton, too. And Anthony Bourdain.

The Republic of Bloggers, SpiralChris & Pundita

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on music, art, and the double meanings of fruit, bread, wine ]

Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose, Francisco de Zurbarán, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena


Chris Bateman, aka SpiralChris, responded a couple of weeks ago to my own open letter to him, beginning:

Dear Charles,

The second of my five religions, Zen Buddhism, came about entirely as a consequence of a famous tale you allude to in your wonderful letter.

After quickly rocounting the tale in question — about the Zen patriarch Hui Neng and the “finger pointing at the moon” which should not be mistaken for the moon itself, he went on:

I spent a great deal of time that night meditating upon the gloriously full moon, a little about my finger, and a great deal about the space in between. Space. The space between. The space beyond. When I could be any or all of these, I went to bed. I thought to myself: How arbitrary it is that we should see ourselves as the finger, and as not-the-moon, when we might just as well consider ourselves the spaces in between – since without that, we could never be not-anything!

This lunar encounter served me well until about five years later I hit a terrifying crisis of identity when I lost faith in any ability to use words to communicate at all. I began to fray at the edges… If everyone’s words were their own symbols, how could we ever manage to communicate? Did we? Or were we just braying at each other at random, each one watching a different play on the stage we had been thrown together upon?


That phrase “the spaces in between” is particularly interesting when you think of it as referencing the space between word and what it refers to, the word “moon” and the up-there orb, the moon. You might think, “there’s no such space between, they’re in different realms, is all” — but there is a between, it’s the relationship. And that’s what all my HipBone & DoubleQuote Games are about — the relationship (mapped along a linking line, aka an “edge”) between two concepts (“nodes”). Because relationship is the essence of their antecedent, Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game. And of all relationships, perhaps those between name and thing, finger and moon, map and territory, moon and enlightenment, are among the most fascinating.

Consider, though, the relationship between person (genetically understood) and person (memetically understood), as in the case of persons of genius or great charisma.

Hermann Hesse played the Glass Bead Game himself, he tells us, in his garden, while raking leaves into the fire, and it consisted of figures he admired, talking across th4 centuries — “I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of the mind.” In his book, the Game does not consist of these people, but of their ideas — disembodied, if you will.

The genetics / memetics difference shows up elsewhere in intriguing ways. Should Peter, the closest disciple, lead the church after Christ‘s death, or James, his blood brother? — that’s the Jerusalem vs Rome controversy that plays out in the background to the New Testament. Should his followers follow Brigham Young, his closest disciple, after Joseph Smith‘s death. or a family member? When Kabir, the poet-saint of India died, his Hindu followers wanted to cremate his remains, his Muslim followers to bury him — when they uncovered his body, they found (so the tale is told) that it had turned to roses, and were thus able to divide his remains and perform both ceremonies.

Family has a claim to the person, discipleship has a claim to the inspiration. Funny, that.


Chris was responding to me as part of what he happily terms The Republic of Bloggers:

During the Enlightenment at the end of the 17th century and the start of the 18th, a disparate group of intellectuals in Europe and the United States engaged in a long-distance discourse that became know as the Republic of Letters, or Respublica Literaria. It was one of the first transnational movements, and scholars have endlessly debated its relevance and influence upon the dramatically proclaimed Age of Enlightenment it heralded. Personally, I feel no need to explain this in terms of cause and effect – the Republic of Letters was simply the written discourse of a movement that was changing the way people thought about their relationship with the world.

It is a seldom noticed fact that while anyone who can read and write could write a letter, very few actually do – and fewer still in our current era, what it is tempting to call the Age of Distraction. Letters, rather than say postcards and other friendly waves expressed in writing, involve a kind of engagement that has become rather rare these days. A letter invites a response, asks us to think about something, requests insight from another perspective… Letters are conversations at a slow enough pace to allow the correspondents to think a out what they are saying. I would like to suggest that it takes a particular kind of introvert to engage in letter writing in this sense – a quiet soul not content to bury themselves in just their solitary activities, but willing and able to reach out in words to another, similar person. I love a good conversation in a pub or bar, or at a conference, or even on a long journey, but as enjoyable as these forms of discourse may be for me they cannot adequately substitute for the pleasure of the letter.

For Chris, blog posts are the current equivaoent of letters, and what he terms The Republic of Bloggers is a latter day equivalent of the Republic of Letters of yore.

It is similar in spirit to Col. Pat Lang‘s Committee of Correspondence, Sic Semper Tyrannis, except that there all the correspondents correspond on the one blog.

The Republic of Letters is a concept I very much appreciate, and I have tried to embody it both here and in my time at the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge platform a decade ago.


At which point, I must introduce blog-friend Pundita, sometimes known as the Julia Childs of Foreign Policy discussion. She and I have been going back and forth on the topic of sacred music — qawwali, gospel, and so forth.

Recently, Pundita, in a post of August 31st titled O Magnum Mysterium: Why has Christianity declined so much in a land that produces the greatest Christian choirs?, responds in part to my having alerted her to Morten Lauriden‘s gloriously beautiful rendering of the Catholic chant, O Magnum Mysterium:

Look at the still-life at the top of this post. What do you see? If you tell me you see the Virgin Mary and the Mystery of her giving birth to the Christ, either you are already familiar with the painting, made famous in this era by Morton Lauridsen’s explanation of how it inspired his version of O Magnum Mysterium. Or you are steeped in the symbolism of the High Church and/or the use of Christian symbols in art.

I’m sorry but the symbolism is so abstract that those are the only ways to read Mary and the Virgin Birth into a painting of fruit, a flower, and a cup of water, although I’ll concede the symbolism could have been understood by well-educated Christians centuries ago in Europe.

Lauridsen himself did not understand the symbolism of the painting when he first saw it — a point he does not make clear to readers in his 2009 article for The Wall Street Journal about the painting It’s a Still Life That Runs Deep, and its role in inspiring his version of OMM.

That post was in response to something I’d sent her, recommending Lauridsen’s work. More “Republic of Bloggers” style communication!


Chance reading the other day brought me to Jacob Mikanowski‘s piece, Camera-phone Lucida, in which i found:

The first society to experience the problem of having too much money and too much stuff, the Dutch had multiple genres of food-related still lifes, each dealing in a different level of luxury. They began with the humble ontbijtjes, or breakfast paintings, to the slightly more elaborate banketjestukken or “little banquets,” and on to the kings of them all, the pronkstilleven, from the Dutch word for “ostentatious.” The “little breakfasts” were the domain of simple food: a plate of herrings, a freshly baked bun, a few olives, maybe a peeled lemon for a bit of color. The atmosphere in these canvases is orderly and Calvinist. By contrast, in the pronkstilleven, the prevailing mood is one of jubilant disorder. Lobsters perch precariously on silver trays. Tables are strewn with plates of oysters, overturned tankards, baskets spilling over with fruit, scattered nuts and decorative cups. Cavernous mincemeat pies jostle with lutes and the occasional monkey.

For a century scholars have sought a deeper meaning in these and other still lifes. A half-eaten cheese stood for the transubstantiated body of Christ; walnuts represented him on the cross — the meat of the nut was his flesh, the hard shell was the wood of the cross he died on.

And so — inside or outside th Republic of Bloggers — the conversation flows..


And if Morten Lauridsen can wring such beauty from a reading of symbolism in Zurbarán, let him do so!

Walter & Lady Tramaine Hawkins, Goin’ up yonder:

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Allah Hoo:

Morten Lauridsen, O Magnum Mysterium:

  • Morten Lauridsen, It’s a Still Life That Runs Deep
  • Visiting with T. Greer and Lexington Green

    Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

     Reading Room, University of Chicago Library

    Last Sunday I spent a very enjoyable afternoon meeting T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage blog and visiting with him and Lexington Green of the group blog Chicago Boyz ( where T. Greer and I both occasionally post).  Greer was in Chicago for The Midwest Political Science Association Conference at The Palmer House downtown.  It was good to finally meet T. Greer and see Lex after a long hiatus and our conversation in person took off from where they had been online without skipping a beat.

    The weather was uncooperative, but Lex took us on a walking and driving tour of his alma mater, the University of Chicago.


    We spent some time at Powell’s Books, a Lexington Green favorite, which is an absolutely fabulous bookstore for the serious bibliophile. We went through the stacks and reached the basement level.



    I bought a few from the military history and strategy section

    Next we spent some relaxing time and deep conversation about books, ideas and policy at  the legendary Jimmy’s Tap where Saul Bellow and a legion of intellectual luminaries, students, writers and workingmen just off their shift rubbed shoulders. We sat in the back room where it was quieter. The discussion was a rare pleasure.

    Finally, we ate at another Chicago and Hyde Park landmark – the cafeteria style service Valois.  If you ever visit the University of Chicago, eat here. The food was outstanding (I had the prime rib with hash browns, which I strongly recommend) and the prices more than reasonable. We ate our fill and talked some more.

    One of the nicest aspects of blogging has been the friendships forged in the broad circle of folks debating military and foreign policy, strategy, counterinsurgency, intelligence issues and (unavoidably) politics. From meetings like this to book and article projects to the Boyd Conferences, the interactions have all been positive and enriching.

    “Friends of Zenpundit.com who Wrote Books” Post #2: Poetry, War & Business

    Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

    As the holiday season is here, I thought it would be amusing between now and Christmas to do a series of posts on books by people who have, in some fashion, been friends of ZP by supporting us with links, guest-posts, friendly comments and other intuitive gestures of online association. One keyboard washes the other.

    The second installment focuses on Poetry, War and Business:

    Stanton Coerr

    Rubicon: The Poetry of War 

    Colonel Stan Coerr is a combat vet (USMC) of Iraq, a naval aviator, poet and a key organizer of the Boyd & Beyond Conference. He is also intent on becoming a historian, to which I give a hearty thumb’s up!

    Terry Barnhart

    Creating a Lean R&D System: Lean Principles and Approaches for Pharmaceutical and Research-Based Organizations

    Scientist and organizational consultant, Dr. Terry Barnhart, is the originator of “fast learning” strategies for organizational excellence and problem solving. I personally use Terry’s “Critical Question Mapping” strategy with students and elicited amazing results each time.

    James Frayne

    Cover of Meet the People by James Frayne

    Meet the People: Why businesses must engage with public opinion to manage and enhance their reputations

    Across the pond, James Frayne is a leading British political and media strategy consultant and former government official. Some of you may remember James from his excellent ( now defunct) political strategy blog Campaign War Room and from his participation in the Reagan Roundtable at Chicago Boyz.

    More to come…..


    The previous post in the series has been pulled temporarily due to emerging scripting execution errors – it will be restored in a few days

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