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Thy game be won?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a theology of little things, sports and wars included ]

Let’s start with Tim Tebow, and phrase the issue this post raises as a question:


The headline of a TMZ post, God Is Saving the Broncos … Says Colorado Pastor, clearly suggests that God takes sides in sporting events.

Pastor Wayne Hanson — who runs Summit Church in Castle Rock, CO where Tim’s dad often speaks — tells TMZ God is actively intervening in Denver Broncos football games … and aiding Tim on the field because of his strong faith.

Hanson tells us, “It’s not luck. Luck isn’t winning 6 games in a row. It’s favor. God’s favor.”

Pastor Hanson adds, “God has blessed his hard work.”

We asked Hanson if Tebow would be winning games if he wasn’t such a strong believer — and the pastor replied, “No, of course not.”


Tebow himself, if I’m reading my news correctly, realizes that his God might have as much to teach by having a sports team lose as by having it win, hence his prayer as quoted above — “no matter, win or lose…”

And that level of subtlety would also be present in the sports theology of Notre Dame, if (once again) I’m not mistaken:

The team is unapologetically Catholic. Before every game, the Fighting Irish participate in a Mass overseen by one of the team’s two appointed Catholic priests, a tradition dating back to the 1920s. At the end of that ceremony, each player receives a priest-blessed medal devoted to a Catholic saint—a different saint every game for four years. Also during the pregame Mass, players can kiss a reliquary containing two splinters that Notre Dame believes came from the cross of Jesus. “Most of the non-Catholic players are Christian, so when you tell them these splinters came from the actual cross of Jesus they are humbled to reverence,” Doyle says.


I appreciate that combination of prayer for what one hopes and surrender to what happens, it’s way less heavy handed than supposing you can gauge Divine Providence by the results at the end of a game — or a war.

One Huffington Post writer was moved to ask: If Tim Tebow Were Muslim, Would America Still Love Him?

That’s an interesting question, roughly analogous to “If Tim Tebow had a losing streak, would America still love him? And God?

And if God does routinely show preference for one team over another by granting them victory, what are we to make of these two examples?


It seems the universe scales quite happily from tens of billions of years (or more) to femtoseconds (or less), and from almost a hundred billion light years (or more) to the Planck length (and I’m not so sure about less) — and my own tiny worm of a lifeline has given me “experiences” of a car rolling over a center divider and landing upside down, some moments of breathtaking beauty, times of bordeom, rapid eruptions of anger, the rock of early electric Dylan and the Baroque of Bach’s Matthew Passion. And I have causally picked my nose, almost without knowing I was doing it.

Who’s to say a God, ground of being, Great Mystery Power, or simple unaided universe can’t “purposefully” do Big Bangs and enormous time lags while gasses and galaxies and solar systems are formed and dissolve, flashes of lightning, inspiration and insemination, reproductions sexual and asexual, lives long and short, painting by El Greco and Vermeer, horrible puns and ugly Oscar ceremonies, mu mesons and mitochondria, prayers answered, hung up on in disgust, or unheard on account of it’s the Lord’s Day of Rest — grasses, feedlots, cows, milk, beef, methane…?

Depending, of course, on your definition of “purposefully” — since the purpose may be no more and no less than the unfolding of what is.

Whatever it is (or isn’t) that encompasses all this, it’s in little things as surely as big ones — and thumb wrestling, too. So there you have it: my theology of little things.

Israel’s Half-Mad Genius of Mil-Theory

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Just read this profile of Dr. (Gen.) Shimon Naveh, via Soob via Ubiwar.

….Naveh describes his last and perhaps most important military-academic project, OTRI, as a chronicle of failure. “It was a failure of the group and also my personal failure, but in a far deeper sense it was the IDF’s failure. The IDF has not recovered because it doesn’t have the ability, unless it undergoes a revolution.”Naveh, who established OTRI together with Brigadier General (res.) Dov Tamari, draws on imagery from the world of construction to explain the project. “We wanted to create an intermediate level between the master craftsman, the tiling artisan or the electrician, who is the equivalent of the battalion or brigade commander, and the entrepreneur or the strategist, the counterpart of the high commander, who wants to change the world, but lacks knowledge in construction.”Between the two levels, he continues, is the architect/commander-in-chief, whose role is “to enable the system to understand what the problem is, define it and interpret it through engineers.” In the absence of this link, he maintains, armies find themselves unable to implement their strategic planning by tactical means. “Entrepreneurs and master craftsmen cannot communicate,” he says.Already in his first book, “The Operational Art,” published in 2001 and based on his doctoral dissertation, he described the level of the military architect: “The intermediate level is the great invention of the Russians. [The military architects] occupy the middle, and make it possible for the other fields, from politics to the killers, to understand, plan and learn.”

An interesting and to me well constructed analogy by General Naveh that rings true to me from what I know of the Soviet history. Naveh perfectly describes the peculair adaptive requirements forced on the Red Army by the nature of the Soviet political system, especially as it existed under Stalin from the time of the Great Terror forward ( 1936 -1953). Stalin wiped out much of his senior military leadership of the Red Army during the Yezhovschina in 1937 and decimated the junior officer corps to boot, leaving it thoroughly demoralized and rigidly shackled to political comissars who were, like the military commanders, completely paralyzed with fear ( the Red Navy officer corps was basically exterminated en masse).

When Operation Barbarossa commenced in June, 1941, the dramatic Soviet collapse in the face of the Nazi onslaught was due in part to Stalin’s maniacal insistence that Germany was not going to attack and that assertions to the contrary were evidence of “wrecking” and “provocation” – crimes liable to get one immediately shot. Even a high ranking NKVD official, Dekanazov, whom Stalin made ambassador to Berlin, was personally threatened by Stalin for daring to warn the Soviet dictator about Hitler’s imminent attack.

That being said, Stalin quickly realized during the 1941 retreat that he had debilitated his own army by decapitating it and his own judgment as supreme warlord was no substitute at the front lines for what Naveh terms “operational art”. Stalin the entrepreneur-grand strategist needed competent military architects like Zhukov and Rossokovsky to plug the gap with the craftsmen and Stalin not only promoted and protected them, he tolerated their dissent from his own military judgment and sometimes yielded to their concerns. Very much unlike Hitler who could seldom abide criticism or deviation from his general officers or learn from them. Stalin improved as a war leader from interaction with his generals; Hitler did not and if anything grew worse over time – as did the Wehrmacht’s tactical-strategic disconnect.

The above anecdote represents the rich level of depth behind Naveh’s offhand and seemingly disjointed references. There’s a lot of meat there behind the dots Naveh is connecting but the uninitiated will have to be willing to dig deep. I’m cool toward Naveh’s reliance upon French postmodernism but I admire the breadth of his capability as a horizontal thinker and theorist. However, Naveh needs an “architect” of his own to translate for him and make his complex ideas more readily comprehensible to the mainstream. I will wager that few Majors or Lt. Colonels, be they U.S. Army, IDF or Russian, read much Focault these days.


The SWJ had an interview with Dr. Naveh on his theory of Systematic Operational Design in 2007

Dr. Naveh’s book is In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory (Cummings Center Series)

Joint Force Quarterly (via Findarticle) -“Operational art

Jerusalem Post – “Column One: Halutz’s Stalinist moment

Nerds of Jihad and the Virtual Worlds Evolution

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Tim Stevens of Ubiwar had a very intriguing post Thoughts on Countering Online Radicalisation that deals with Islamist “cyberterrorism”  but also the evolution and state of online life and the challenges these pose to CI, CT and law enforcement . You should go read it in full because I am going to comment upon particular snippets:

Terrorists know their actions are reported instantaneously through a multitude of television channels, radio stations, websites, blogs and newsgroups. If the effectiveness of a violent act relies on being able to broadcast it as swiftly as possible to as many people as possible, then the contemporary global communications environment is as near perfect a tool as has yet been invented.

The media environment is at saturation point for “early adapter” elite Westerners by the saturation is fractured. A good visual analogy of the total media picture would be the social media “ripple effect” diagram by David Armano  – including all forms of media would greatly increase the complexity by orders of magnitude but the logic of the effect would remain the same ( the memetic velocity of each form of media differs but they all interact nonetheless). The message of Islamist terrorism like any other meme in a highly competitive, complex adaptive media system must follow the rules of an attention economy or languish to little effect. There must be psychological “hooks” in the message and content, delivery and the multiplicity of audiences must be considered strategically.

Reams of newsprint, untold hours of televisual hyperbole and a thousand academic articles have been expended on this subject, but it remains of critical importance. How do we adjust our Western liberal mores to account for the fact that every violent sub- or non-state actor knows the internet is a tool and, like ‘us’, knows how to use it? The time has long passed when we should be surprised by this, although articles crop up regularly in provincial newspapers and magazines, and occasionally in national dailies, somehow expressing surprise that terrorists use the internet for their own ends, and that something-must-be-done. We wrestle with the First Amendment, the spectre of censorship looms, militaries worry about operational security, and politicians tack with the prevailing wind, dispensing legislation and initiatives like sticking plasters in a bucket of razor blades.

But what is the fuss all about? Do commentators on the subject actually know what happens on the internet? The videos of IEDs in Iraq, or of Juba the Baghdad Sniper, or viral 9/11 videos, might just be the thin end of the wedge. Terrorists and insurgents leverage the tools of new media to broadcast violent propaganda, but why? What lies beneath?

The substrate below the spectacular image factory is a world that most readers of this blog well recognise. Websites, blogs, chatrooms, social networking sites, discussion fora, mailing lists, internet relay chat, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, virtual worlds, email, instant messaging, video sharing, file sharing, torrenting, and a host of other spaces where people – fundamentally – interact.

At this point here it would be profitable for non-geeks and enjoyable for the geeks to detour to Metaverse Roadmap Overview to get a better look at the part of the iceberg of the future that will be beneath the surface of the water. The cognitive power of games should not be underestimated as a learning modality or community-building tool. Virtuality tools drastically lower the transaction costs and risk for experimenting with challenging the social contract and these tools are in the hands of far more more socially alienated people than ever before, not merely unemployed, hiphop listening, Islamist wannabes in Marseilles unhappy with French public housing. The next generation of Ted Kacyznskis might be a superempowered scale free network like “Anonymous“.

Comprehension is critical. All movements congregate around a message, a coherent narrative understood by all, a rallying cry. Extremist propaganda serves this function, and discriminates amongst different audiences. In the court of international public opinion it aims to create either fear or a broad sense of sympathy. When aimed at the enemy, whether military or civilian, the intention is to create fear and uncertainty, and to undermine morale. Different emphases can be placed on the message distributed to extant supporters of an extremist organisation – corroboration, encouragement, reinforcement, righteousness. The fourth audience is the population in whose interest extremists claim to act. Propaganda mobilises public support, constructs bottom-up legitimacy, and affirms credibility through action. Within this population lies the most important group of all: the next generation of extremists.

What would John Boyd have said here ?

“Shape or influence events so that we not only amplify our spirit and strength (while isolating our adversaries and undermining their resolve and drive) but also influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success. – Patterns of Conflict

I would also add that the potential radical online is also drawn in by the same psychological process that occurs with cults – acceptance, affirmation of identity, certainty, an emotive connection that is continually reinforced and provides a neurophysical stimulus. A good book to pick up here would be Eric Hoffer’s classic The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Perennial Classics). The mad gleam in the eye of the ranting Islamist has been seen before in SS diehards, Maoist Red Guards, anarchists of the 19th century People’s Will and innumerable others.

Extremism itself is not the problem and nor is radical thinking, but violence against innocent individuals – becoming ‘kinetic’ in military parlance – is not acceptable in modern liberal society. Although its role is sometimes overstated online radicalisation is very real. It cannot be viewed in isolation from the societies in which it occurs but there are targeted approaches available to mitigate its worst excesses. Testimonies of violent extremists of every ilk highlight the role of the internet in radicalisation, either of themselves or of others, and we are obliged to pay attention.

Prior to the 1960’s, liberal societies and liberals themselves did not have problems accepting the fact that the open society had blood enemies and treating them as such. Liberals volunteered to go to Spain to fight fascism and were enthusiastic advocates for the crusade to destroy Nazism in WWII. Social Democrats and trade unionists fought to kick Stalinists out of unions and democratic-Left organizations and so on.  They had a moral center and argued for a “vital center” against extremism, at home or abroad.

Unfortunately, ever since the Vietnam War, liberals have been unable to effectively answer the anti-Western, anti-democratic, illiberal critique posed by New Left radicals, deconstructionists, multiculturalists, gender feminists and various forms of au courant intellectual nihilism. Instead, the democratic Left have accepted the undemocratic extremists as political allies in good standing against the Right, are loath to criticize them and implicitly accepted the moral legitimacy of their crypto-Marxist jeremiad, if not their policy recommendations or often inane political advice. While a general cultural trend, this effect is most acute in the baby boom generation, particularly the ’68’ers and New Right oponents who are at their zenith of systemic responsibility as managing editors, CEO’s, political leaders, intellectuals and bureaucrats.

 A generation still torn by the cultural civil war of their youth make ineffective defenders of a civilization. “The Long War” will be long in part because our leadership is badly divided and on occasion, blind and grossly incompetent.

Ubiwar on the Value of Social Media Tools

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Tim of Ubiwar had a near-simultaneous post on Social Media yesterday that was congruent with mine and expands on aspects that I did not. Highly recommended:

Noise and News

An excerpt:

Alexander van Elsas wrote an excellent piece on mobile phone functionality in which he referenced a recent post by Scoble, Why Google News has no noise. Scoble’s thesis is that he is able to spot trends in news before the main web news carriers, Google News for mainstream news, and TechMeme for tech news, before either they or their readers can. The enabling media for Scoble’s prognostications are social aggregators like FriendFeed and microblogging services like Twitter. I won’t go into the details of exactly what these are but essentially they are services delivered direct to the device of your choice which provide frequent updates of what your friends and acquaintances are doing, thinking, writing, at all hours of the day. With a lot of people in your network these alerts can be relentless.

Scoble likes this, as do many others, because it provides him with a background of noise which allows him to discern patterns in the network of social interaction across these services. Scoble is a journalist by background and inclination and, arguably, he is a new sort of journalist through his work at Scobleizer, and ‘swimming in the noise’ these services provide is food and drink to someone of his bent:

So, how come services like Twitter and FriendFeed have so much noise? Who likes the noise? Who likes the news?

I like the noise. Why? Because I can see patterns before anyone else. I saw the Chinese earthquake happening 45 minutes before Google News reported it. Why? Because I was watching the noise, not the news.

This is an important and valid point. Scoble is watching the new news ‘wires’ to get a jump on the bigger outlets but also to discern the patterning in the information coming from across the globe. This process is aided by aggregative nodes which filter reports of activities into streamlined summaries of many people’s information. Once such example is ‘bridge blogging‘ which enables one bilingual individual to aggregate locally-generated ‘news’ in one language and to disseminate it in another. Scoble likes to avoid these nodes wherever possible but they serve a purpose, as any blogger will tell you.

I’m very curious about the pattern recognition part. Are Scoble and Jason Calacanis and other uber-geek bloggers following tens of thousands mentally upjumping in terms of discriminating patterns or are they gravitating to those signals in the noise that they are already predisposed to “see” anyway?

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