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Two eminently watchable TV series by Hugo Blick

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — I suspect Mike Sellers & Ali Minai might find them of interest as subtle narrative avenues into complexity ]

I’ve been watching Black Earth Rising , British writer-director Hugo Blick‘s latest series, starring Michaela Coel:

As with his earlier series, The Honourable Woman featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal, I’m transfixed. Here is complexity delivered — in both cases, brilliantly — on TV:

Once Blick puts down his first card, as a viewer you think, “Oh, that’s good. That will be interesting.” Then he essentially flips the other 51 into the air and lets them fall all over the script. That’s the ambitious beauty of The Honorable Woman, which explodes across each episode with elaborate twists involving the Israelis, the Palestinians, the British and the Americans.



  • Hollywood Reporter, The Complicated, Ambitious Brilliance of ‘The Honorable Woman’
  • Hollywood Reporter, ‘Black Earth Rising’: TV Review
  • IndieWire, Netflix Thriller Shows the Danger of Treating Global Politics Like a Game
  • **

    I have been discussing systems dynamics and complexity with my game designer friend Mike Sellers recently — see his brilliant book, Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach — and complexity, glass bead games and AI with a new friend, Ali Minai — hear our podcast at BrownPundits. Let’s make it clear: I’m the student here.

    In the course of our discussion, I’d written:

    I think of novels and plays as offering approaches to an intuitive grasp of complex situations


    I think polyphony and counterpoint are what we meet with in the social world, and indeed in our conflicted minds and hearts, and that Bach will prove to be the great master of our age, once we’ve matured enough to learn from him. But listening must come first, and that seems a skill that’s wildly at variance with our times..

    Mike responded:

    Novels and plays give us, I think, something of an implicit systemic view, in that we understand how a greater whole (a love story, a tragedy, etc.) emerges from the mutual interactions between actors. Same with counterpoint and polyphony — the notes mutually interact at the same time, and set up call-and-response interaction within our minds across time, to create a larger experienced whole from the entire musical piece.

    I’m trying to make those relationships more explicit and more generalized, seeing the commonalities in books, music, biology, and games

    so — for both Mike and Ali — I’d recommend these two Hugo Blick series as contemporary works of Shakespearean subtlety, to consider as avenues into coomplexity. And although I lack the linguistic skills to appreciate him I’m sure Ali would like to add the Urdu poet Ghalib to the list..

    So that’s my interest.

    Complexity, what is it? Which avenue takes us deepest into the heart of the matter?


    Hugo Blick?

    Hugo Blick, who likes to teach the ambiguities to which a probing sense of morality will necessarily find itself subject, might like to examine “Combat charities” in the West and their jihadi twin:


    “Combat charities”—entities that seek to provide non-profit military and political assistance to weaker armed groups or minorities resisting the military onslaught of others (like ISIS)—are one mechanism for foreign anti-ISIS volunteers to join the fight. “Combat charities” are a new rising phenomenon of the 21st century battlefield and political dispensation. They can significantly affect both local orders and international politics. [ … ]

    Thousands of Western foreign fighters have traveled to the Middle East in recent years to join the fighting that has engulfed the region. They have overwhelmingly participated on the side of jihadi organizations like the Islamic State (ISIS) or the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front).

    However, a smaller and often unnoticed segment of these volunteers has embedded with groups that resist the jihadis, such as Kurdish, Assyrian, and Yazidi militias. These fighters vary in their motivations for joining the fight: Some are driven by moral outrage and seek to prevent the atrocities minority groups have suffered at the hands of the jihadis, while others are motivated by co-religionist solidarity. Some seek a sense of adventure and the adrenaline highs of military tourism, while others wish to escape problems at home, finding in the fight a form of self-medicating for post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems. [ … ]


    SOLI is the oldest and most established combat charity in the world. Founded and led by American citizen Matthew VanDyke, it operates in Iraq, and is building abilities to operate in Syria and North Africa. Since its creation in 2014, SOLI has helped form, train, and to certain extent equip the two largest Assyrian militias in northern Iraq fighting against ISIS. [ … ]


    Founded in May 2016, Malhama Tactical is the first sunni jihadi private military company. As Rao Komar, Christian Borys, and Eric Woods reported in Foreign Policy magazine in February, during its short existence Malhama Tactical has provided training and battlefield consulting for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front, affiliated with al-Qaida) and the Turkistan Islamic Party, an Uighur extremist group from China’s restive Xinjiang province.

    Get that? Rival combat charities to throw a heavy dose of ambiguity into the already three-cornered Syrian situation..

    IMO, these combat charities on both sides of an already fraught situation might make excellent fodder for Hugo Blick‘s subtle story-telling mind..



  • Netflix, Black Earth Rising
  • Amazon, The Honorable Woman
  • Further reading — the full combat charities report:

  • Brookings, Combat charities or when humanitarians go to war:
  • Systems, loops, forms, diagrams, games

    Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — among other things, a great lecture on complexity / complicity in a complex world ]


    I am always on about form, practicing ways of seeing form, of recognizing pattern in the very structure and logic of events — as though that practice were practical, had some eventual fruitfulness in practice, in the world of worldly affairs. And it may seem strange, erratic, off-course to many of my readers here, especially those who arrive in mid-stream, or with expectations of specifically strategic insight.

    The other day I watched a lecture a friend of mine gave a couple of years back, and I wanted to bring it here because — tangentially — with its loops and diagrams it shows underlying form as it in-forms the games we play, the worlds they conjure, the ways we understand and navigate them, and the world around us — in which we find ourselves, and on which they are, however remotely and ingeniously, based.

    My friend Mike has been lead designer on Sims 2 and Ultima Online among other games, and is currently a Professor of Practice in game design at Indiana University, Bloomington.

    Mike Sellers..

    More from Sellers’ bio:

    He has a Bacon Number of 2 and hopes someday to have an Erdos Number.

    Oh — and he was an extra — lucky dog, sorta — in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now.


    My own analytic approach, my insistence on monitoring form as well as content, and my own HipBone Games all work at the underlying / subconscious level at which Mike pitches his talk. I hope this helps you understand what I’m about — but even if it doesn’t, it’s a fine introduction to game design and the understanding of a complex world by the man who famously reminded his fellow game designers:

    An idea isn’t a design. A design is not a program. A program is not a product. A product is not a business. A business is not profit. Profit is not happiness.

    Good thinking, from a good friend.

    Considering Viv, Wolfram Language, Syntience, and the GBG

    Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — expanding the computable to include qualitative ideation ]

    Let’s start with Viv. It looks pretty phenomenal:

    That video is almost exactly a month old, and it’s pitched at “the universe of things” with a marked tilt towards e-commerce. Fair enough.


    It’s instructive to compare it with Wolfram Language, although here I’ve had to go with a video that’s a couple of years old:

    Stephen Wolfram, the creator of both Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha, is focused on the world of numbers — and incidentally, that includes graphs of the sort I’ve been discussing in my series here On the felicities of graph-based game-board design, as you can see in the video above.

    It will be interesting to see how the two of them — Viv and Wolfram — interact over time. After all, one of the purposes of these lines of development is to dissolve the “walled gardens” which serve as procrustean beds for current thinking about the nature and possibilities of the web. Do these two gardens open to each other? If so, why? If not, why not?


    I’ve talked enough for my purposes about AlphaGo and it’s narrowly focused though impressive recent triumph, and the wider picture behind it, as expressed by Monica Anderson — and tying the two together, we have this video from Monica’s timeline, Bob Hearn: AlphaGo and the New Era of Artificial Intelligence:

    Bob Hearn: AlphaGo and the New Era of Artificial Intelligence from Monica Anderson on Vimeo.

    Monica’s Syntience, it seems to be, is a remarkable probing of the possibilities before us.


    But I’m left asking — because Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel The Glass Bead Game prompts me to ask — what about the universe of concepts — and in particular for my personal tastes, the universe of musical, philosophical, religious and poetic concepts. What of the computational mapping of the imagination?

    My question might well have large financial implications, but I’m asking it in a non-commercially and not only quantitative way. I believe it stands in relationship to these other endeavors, in fact, as pure mathematics stands in relation to physics, and hence also to chemistry, biology and more. And perhaps music stands in that relationship to mathematics? — but I digress.

    If I’m right about the universe of concepts / Glass Bead Game project, it will be the most intellectually demanding, the least commercially obvious, and finally the most revelatory of these grand-sweep ideas..

    From my POV, it’s also the one that can give the most value-add to human thinking in human minds, and to CT analysts, strategists, journos, educators, therapists, bright and playful kids — you name them all!

    Seeing it in terms of counterpoint, as Hesse did — it’s the virtual music of ideas.

    Book Mini-Reviews to Clear a Boundless Bibliographic Backlog!

    Friday, December 10th, 2010

    I have too many books that I have read that I would like to review that, realistically, I will never get to post on in conventional fashion. A fair number belong with Summer Series which seems ridiculous as it is two weeks to Christmas! Therefore, brace yourselves, as I commence the first, and hopefully only, Mini-Reviews post:

    Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, MD

    Dr. Stuart Brown, scientist and psychiatrist, has written a short tome on the nature and cognitive value of play. While there is plenty of child social development information and “pop”self-helpish type chapters, ZP readers wil gravitate to the chapters on play’s vital role in creaivity and innovation ( which are not the same thing), scientific discovery and work. Also of interest are the spectrum of “play personalities” and the “dark side of play”. Not an academic book but a reasonable read on a deceptively complex subject.

    The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter

    A superb academic book, previously featured and reviewed in the blogosphere by John Robb and Joseph Fouche, The Collapse of Complex Societies embarks upon a critical examination and partial de-bunking of theories that purport to explain the “sudden” fall of great empires, such as Rome or the vanishing of the Mayans. With caveats, Tainter settles on declining marginal returns from increasing societal investment in complexity as a rough proximate cause capable of subsuming a ” significant range of human behavior, and a number of social theories” under it’s rubric. Highly recommended.

    The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century by Steve Coll

    A biography of the Bin Laden family, this book does not come close to matching the impact or importance of Coll’s previous instant classic, Ghost Wars. There are many interesting trivialities about the divergences between the “religious and the hard Rock Cafe wings” of the Bin Laden families, and intriguing nuggets about political matters such as the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque and the connections between the Bin Ladens and elite figures inside the beltway but anyone looking for insight into Osama bin Laden will be disappointed. The most infamous member of Saudi Arabia’s dominant non-royal business clan is a subdued figure in this biography. Coll’s superior skills as a wordsmith and reporter manage to make the book a pleasant page turner.

    The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch

    Conservative education scholar and historian Diane Ravitch lays out the demise of the movement for high curricular standards in public education that she once championed and it’s transmogrification under NCLB into a punitive system that is slowly imposing an unprecedentedly narrow and dumbed down national curriculum focusing on basic math and reading skills, featuring gamed  test results, highly paid lawyer-consultant insiders and perverse incentives for public and charter schools alike. A depressing but important read.

    Field of Dreams Theory for Blog Networking ?

    Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

    “If you build it, they will come…”

    A start-up called Creative Weblogging  is attempting to build a stable of  business/finance/tech bloggers from scratch by paying unknowns a modest but not unattractive sum ($ 84 -140/ month) for steady posting.  In fact, they offer a “Pro Blogger Compensation Package” of sorts:

    Pro Blogger Compensation Package:

    • Monthly compensation: $84-140 (US) – paid via PayPal or Moneybookers
    • 3-5 posts per week are required, min. of 70 words each.
    • Traffic bonuses for aggressively growing traffic are available.
    • Access to our vibrant community discussion group with 80+ bloggers, where you can share tips and network.
    • We take care of all the technology with an advanced blogging platform.
    • We also provide marketing support.
    • Virtual shares program: blog with us for a year and you can earn virtual shares in the company.

    Hmmmm…..Do “virtual shares” pay real dividends? 

    Kind of interesting. Where Newsvine tried relying upon an ego-driven reputation management economy to gain free content, these folks are betting on actually sharing some of the wealth with creators will assemble a social network that can be commoditized.  As most bloggers produce inane drivel, especially when they are new to the game, the payment is far more than the labor is worth – until they find a blogger who can pull in hundreds of thousands of hits a week. Four of five of them should pay the bills for all the failures.

    Presumably their business model is some kind of targeted RSS feed subscription marketing to justify ad revenues and later by hyping products by raising their status in the attention economy, assuming the network ever commands that kind of traffic leverage. I suspect the company retains intellectual property rights to what their bloggers write but I could be wrong. Bears watching as an experiment in the evolution of Web 2.0.

    ( Hat tip to Complexity and Social Networks Blog)

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