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The Ping-Pong Possibility

Monday, January 6th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — Soleimani’s death prospects — does my title sound like the title of a Ludlum novel? Good! ]
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I’ll do this all, or mostly, in tweets — things are happening fast enough that just watching my twitter stream is keeping me pretty busy.

Okay: there’s a whole lot of mirroring going on. Commenting on the assassination of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani, President Trump tweeted:

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have…..

….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

To which a senior IRGC officer just responded:

“If [US President Donald] Trump retaliates to Iran’s revenge, we will strike Haifa, Tel Aviv and wipe out Israel,” said Mohsen Rezaei.

About Mohsen Rezaee.

In both cases, we have threats, which we might say fall half-way between words and deeds, and which may also be pure bluster. It’s a thriller, to be sure, given President Trump‘s propensity to exaggerate in both speech and action.

More mirroring, as commentator Wajahat Ali tweets:

Trump promises to blast 52 Iranian sites for the 52 American hostages held over 40 years ago. Does Iran respond by threatening 53 US sites for the US backed coup of Iran’s democratically elected leader Mossadegh in 1953?

On the other hand, as Evan Kohlmann teeeted, there are more reasoned voices on the Iranian side

Iranian military official Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan: “We will not enter into an all-out war with America under any circumstances and we will respond appropriately to the U.S. strike. Iran’s response will be based on wisdom and reason and will be deterrent and influential.”

No mirroring there — no ping-pong, no tit-for-tat, just restraint — an “appropriate” and “restrained” response.

And breaking symmetry completely

Former Ambassador John Limbert, one of the 52 Americans taken hostage by Iran in 1979, says “I for one want no part of the president’s posturing about Iran.”

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As Jenan Moussa tweeted:

:Expelling American troops from Iraq was a main objective for #Soleimani.

Cynically what Soleimani couldn’t achieve in life, he might well achieve it by his death.

Iraqi lawmakers have indeed voted for US troops to be expelled from Iraq.

But look, there’s more going on there — there’s death mirroring life. And if you’ll take a moment to break from national security concerns, death mirroring life is precisely what Jean Cocteau shows us in his great film Orphée:

Cocteau’s porophetic. There’s more death mirroring life in this quote from Soleimani himself, as reported in this tweet from the FARS news agency, August 2015:

“Soleimani has taught us that death is the beginning of life, not the end of life,” one militia commander said.

And that may be the wisest mirroring comment of all.. though Soleimani surely intended it in the context of that other quote I cited yesterday:

The war-front is mankind’s lost paradise. One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries. But there is another kind of paradise. … The war-front was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed.

Mirrorings found, but paradise lost, I fear — not Soleimani‘s war-front, but its mirror-image, the paradise of hoped for Middle Eastern peace. That’s a mirror undone, when you consider the letter from Soleimani to the Iraqi PM that Brasco Aad tweets about:

raqi PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi: “Hadj Soleimani was in Baghdad at my invitation. He was scheduled to visit me and carried a letter with him from the Iranian leadership on how to de-escalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.”

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Okay, further reading:

  • New Yorker, Where Will U.S.-Iran Tensions Play Out? An Interview with Iraq’s President
  • On the liquidity of mountains, and cats

    Sunday, November 24th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — you might not have thought of cats as liquid, though they flow quite nicely on a decent carpet; and as for mountains — would they flow to Mohammed, or would he have to flow to them? ]
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    Somewhere I’d heard that Muhammad said that mountains moved like waves. I’d wondered which direction the Rocky Mountains might be moving in, whether they were aiming for the Pacific or the Atlantic coast, and what would happen to real estate prices and military bases in either case. I used to live in Denver..

    And today I discovered the concept of the Deborah Number, defined thus:

    The Deborah number (De) is a dimensionless number, often used in rheology to characterize the fluidity of materials under specific flow conditions. It quantifies the observation that given enough time even a solid-like material might flow, or a fluid-like material can act solid when it is deformed rapidly enough.

    Reiner, whose paper originated the term, notes:

    Deborah knew two things. First, that the mountains flow, as everything flows. But, secondly, that they flowed before the Lord, and not before man, for the simple reason that man in his short lifetime cannot see them flowing, while the time of observation of God is infinite. We may therefore well define a non-dimensional number the Deborah number..

    The equation by which the Deborah Number, De, is defined as:

    De = λ / T, where T is a characteristic time for the deformation process and λ is still the relaxation time.

    **

    The Deborah reference here is to the book of Judges chapter 5, verse 5, which Reiner reads as saying “The mountains flowed before the lord” — whereas the KJV has “The mountains melted from before the LORD” and the NIV, “he mountains quaked before the Lord”. Melting at least has a transition from solid to liquid state implied, whereas quaking doesn’t really shift mountains from their solidity, though they shake — like Quakers, perhaps?

    It seems there may have been some conflation here, for Isaiah finally provides us with a text that gives mountains complete liquidity — Isaiah 64:3 in the KJV gives us “the mountains flowed down at thy presence..”

    But see also the SKV renderings in the Addendum below..

    **

    And what of Muhammad? Shakir translates Qur’an 31.32:

    And when a wave like mountains covers them they call upon Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience, but when He brings them safe to the land, some of them follow the middle course; and none denies Our signs but every perfidious, ungrateful one.

    That has the waves moving, and their size resembling that of mountains, as I read it. Mohsin Khan‘s version often adds the translator’s explanations in brackets, as here:

    And when a wave covers them like shades (i.e. like clouds or the mountains of sea­-water), they invoke Allah, making their invocations for Him only. But when He brings them safe to land, there are among them those that stop in the middle, between (Belief and disbelief). But none denies Our Signs except every perfidious ungrateful.

    Here, “mountains of sea-water” are compared with “clouds” inside the brackets, but the text itself doesn’t mention either one..

    **

    Maybe the mountains won’t budge. That was the opinion of John Owen, who wrote in 1643:

    If the mountaine will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will goe to the mountaine.

    Bakker, Egbert J. 2005. Pointing at the Past: From Formula to Performance in Homeric Poetics. Hellenic Studies Series 12. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies devotes chapter 9 to the topic of Mohammed and the Mountain, referencing Karl Bühler’s Sprachtheorie: Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache (1934):

    As Bühler puts it himself in reference to the well-known anecdote: either the mountain comes to Mohammed or Mohammed goes to the mountain … he adds that in real life the mountain is a lot more willing to move than in the legend, since the ease with which any given speech arena can be transformed into an imagined new reality is remarkable, and lies at the basis of any mimetic, theatrical illusion. .

    Here, the mountain’s movement depends on imagination, even though Bühler seems to refer to it as moving “in real life” as well as in “any mimetic, theatrical illusion”.

    Of course, the very idea concealed within the name Rheology is that of universal flow, espoused by Heraclitus:

    παντα ρει : Everything Flows

    **

    And if everything, then cats. It was a tweet by blog-friend Adam Elkus that put me in mind of liquidity in the first place this morning:

    Cat physics!

    It’s an an obvious field of study once you understand the centrality of cats to the universe, and It’s appropriate enough that a cat physicist, Marc-Antoine Fardin, should have won the Ig Nobel Prize. His definition of liquid is a simple one:

    A liquid is traditionally defined as a material that adapts its shape to fit a container.

    He proceeds to show two examples which may fit this definition, which I’ve cropped to show you full size. First, a cat demonstrating oval form:

    And here’s the rounded rectangle form, adopted by the cat from Adam‘s tweet —

    **

    Suggested Thinking:

  • >Wolfram MathWorld tells us a sausage-form filled rounded rectangle is termed a stadium. Cat stadium, or a stadium cat? Now there’s food for a football (or baseball, or rock music) thought..
  • _____

    Addendum:

    Tweets from Splymoth A. Klavrock supplied us with the SKV translation of Isaiah 64:1-3:

    Oh if you would only tear the Heavens apart and descend. In your presence the mountains would melt down like when fire crackles through kindling. The fire makes oceans seethe, so your name is made known to your adversaries, and nations quake in your presence.

    You did fearsome things, things we never hoped for, and in the doing of them you descended. The mountains melted down in your presence.

    From all eternity no ear has heard, and no eye has seen any god but you, and the things you do for the ones who wait for you.

    Klavrock had another suggestion, linking the “motion” verb to something internal, close to an “emotion”:

    I think “melted” is the same verb as when the Israelites’ hearts “melt” in fear facing a strong enemy. Which is interesting.

    Many thanks, SK!

    The anti-social in Social Media?

    Friday, November 1st, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — online community member for 20 or more years, usenet user before that, made good friends and happy overall ]
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    There’s FaceBook vs Twitter — and then, well, Reuters has the stories:

    **

    On the one hand:

    Sources familiar with WhatsApp’s internal investigation into the breach said a “significant” portion of the known victims are high-profile government and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents. Many of the nations are U.S. allies, they said.

    The hacking of a wider group of top government officials’ smartphones than previously reported suggests the WhatsApp cyber intrusion could have broad political and diplomatic consequences.

    WhatsApp filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group. The Facebook-owned software giant alleges that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users between April 29, 2019, and May 10, 2019.

    The total number of WhatsApp users hacked could be even higher. A London-based human rights lawyer, who was among the targets, sent Reuters photographs showing attempts to break into his phone dating back to April 1.

    While it is not clear who used the software to hack officials’ phones, NSO has said it sells its spyware exclusively to government customers.

    Some victims are in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India, said people familiar with the investigation. Reuters could not verify whether the government officials were from those countries or elsewhere.

    Some Indian nationals have gone public with allegations they were among the targets over the past couple of days; they include journalists, academics, lawyers and defenders of India’s Dalit community.

    On the other:

    The U.S. government has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly, according to two people familiar with the matter.

    While the $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago, U.S. lawmakers have been calling in recent weeks for a national security probe into TikTok, concerned the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data.

    TikTok has been growing more popular among U.S. teenagers at a time of growing tensions between the United States and China over trade and technology transfers. About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said earlier this year. [ … ]

    “With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” Schumer and Cotton wrote to Joseph Macguire, acting director of national intelligence.

    TikTok allows users to create and share short videos with special effects. The company has said U.S. user data is stored in the United States, but the senators noted that ByteDance is governed by Chinese laws.

    **

    Sources:

  • Reuters Oct 31 2019, Exclusive: Government officials around the globe targeted
  • Reuters Nov 1 2019, Exclusive: U.S. opens national security investigation into TikTok
  • Not bad for a two-day haul.

    **

    BTW, Twitter vs FaceBook:

  • Guardian 31 Oct 2019, Twitter’s canny political ad ban costs it little – and piles pressure on Facebook
  • .
    The Twitter co-founder and chief executive, Jack Dorsey, has turned a weakness into a strength, cutting off a minuscule revenue stream in order to heap pressure on his main competitor. In the hours since Twitter’s announcement, support has come from voices as diverse as the US-based campaign group Muslim Advocates, the Open Knowledge Foundation thinktank and the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. [ … ]

    Sorkin, writing in the New York Times, criticised Mark Zuckerberg for enabling the “crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together”. The screenwriter behind The Social Network, a film about Facebook’s early years, joined in a chorus of criticism of the site’s policy of explicitly allowing misinformation in political adverts.

    “Right now, on your website, is an ad claiming that Joe Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a billion dollars not to investigate his son. Every square inch of that is a lie and it’s under your logo. That’s not defending free speech, Mark, that’s assaulting truth,” he wrote.

    Go Twitter!

    **

    Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, TikTok — just lining up some ducks..

    ICYMI Natasha Bertrand and Laura Walker

    Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — this story of the “Nunes acolyte” is too timely to miss, too singular to loom large in the so-called greater picture ]
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    I’ll let Laura Walker have the first word of the White House worm called Kashyap Patel:

    Nunes acolyte misrepresented himself to Trump as Ukraine expert

    Natasha Bertrand, brilliant Politico writer, gets the next bite, writing the original story that Laura opened with:

    Nunes acolyte misrepresented himself to Trump as Ukraine expert

    And I’ll close with Laura‘s closing link, backgrounding Patel:

    Trump admirer Kashyap ‘Kash’ Patel lands important White House position

    **

    Follow Laura. Follow Natasha

    That’s it for today.

    A DoubleTweet in which two religious icons confront urban decay

    Monday, August 19th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — I spend a fair amount of time showing the ways in which religious extremism across many religions results in violence — it’s my pleasure here to show how simple religious devotion can have a positive impact ]
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    This is a very simple example of one positive aspect of religions, plural:

    **

    BTW, anyone who wonders whether Twitter can be worthwhile might take a look at this exchange between scholars of religion, as an example of the simple notion that two minds are better than one.

    In this case, I’m grateful both to Judy Silber, who posted How a Buddhist shrine transformed a neighborhood in Oakland, and to Andrew Chesnut, aka Dr. Death & Divinity, for his quick and profound reponse to my original tweet.


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