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Pebbles dropped in the Zenpundit pond

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — a bumpy ride from the void, geographically and legally envisioned, via strategy to complexity and fiction, winding up in Rushdie territory with his Quichotte ]
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Just a few odds and ends that spark, I suppose, evens and beginnings.

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The Mandarin, The rocky road to reconciliation in Australia

the British declare Australia terra nullius, a place belonging to no one. The land is most definitely not a ‘null’, but the doctrine of terra nullius is a convenient legal cover for theft on a colossal scale.

Terra nullius — is that the legal equivalent of a cartographer’s here there be dragons?

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Also a nullius matter?

Moot for real or mootness as gamesmanship?” the legendary Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse asked in The New York Times.

That’s from Garrett Epps, ‘The Supreme Court Is Not Well. And the People Know It.’ in the Atlantic.

A moot law is a null law, surely. But though both are fascinating, neither one addresses the viod plenum which so interests me. Still..

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Continuing my meander through one level of abstraction above regular reality..

WOTR, THE GREAT DUALITY AND THE FUTURE OF THE ARMY: DOES TECHNOLOGY FAVOR THE OFFENSIVE OR DEFENSIVE?

In war, firepower favors the defensive and maneuver favors the offensive.

Hm. Assuming this is common knowledge, having two doctrines is one thing — but how many generals have two mindsets, and can switch between them as appropriate. I’m hoping Zen and or other strategy buffs will weigh in here. This is abstract enough to catch my eye, but war is gritty enough that even strategic thinking comes with trench mud and blood attached.

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A Brexit madman or master bluffer? What’s behind Boris Johnson’s suspension of UK Parliament

Game theory – the study of strategy and decision making – offers some clues. In the language of game theory, Johnson faces a serious “credibility” problem. He needs to convince the various players in the Brexit game – including the EU as a whole, Ireland, MPs in the House of Commons, the public and businesses – that he will indeed have the UK leave the EU, if need be, without a deal in place, on the October deadline.

Currently, many of these players do not truly believe that he would – perhaps informed by the inaction of the government of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, or the high stakes involved of leaving without a deal.

Hm, a governmental void as strategy.

That excerpt offers a neat illustration of why human decision-making is so complex and, by extension, fallible

It also illustrates the utility of a HipBone-variant game board for carrying the voices of multiple stakeholders in mind at once — a polyphony (multiple voices) in counterpoint (point counter point) —

Time, clipping the wings of possibility, increases tension at a decision fork where, as another Channel News Asia article also notes, Britain is in its “deepest crisis in living memory”.

Okay:

Complexity? the national and international interests, personal interests, thoughts, and feelings of all participants, as above. How good is Boris Johnson at evaluating all those influences?

After a long period of digestion, I’m willing to believe a novelist or TV showrunner might be able to capture the web of influences involved. But that’s after the fact, after the fork — after fatal decisions have been made. And we call them fatal both because they produce fatalities, and because the Fates, and because the Fates, the Moirae spin them.

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For instance:

To face a people and catch its characteristics as if being confronted by just one person is practically impossible especially when the intention is to give an admonition… or suggest a way to govern it. It is much safer to rely on literature, on the way writers have represented her life, her way of being, the constant mobility of her reality and the variety present in the characters described.

That’s from an account of Sicily and its Mafia connections, but the novel offering access to the understanding of a people by means of the interplay of characters..?

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Meanwhile at Brownpundits, my other home..

Dr Hamid Hussain, An Extension for General Bajwa

:Bless the British who instilled a sense of professionalism in officer corps that has taken a big hit in successor Indian and Pakistani armies. The most scathing criticism came from Lieutenant General Nathu Singh of Indian army who said, “I have not known a British officer who placed his own interests before his country’s, and I have hardly known any Indian officer who did not”

That’s quite a tribute —

the master gamekeeper at the national park

Just for the phrasing..

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& finally:

somewhere between a pinball machine and a three-dimensional game of snakes and ladders

That’s not a description of goepolitical life in the Presidency of Trump, it’s praise for Salman Rushdie‘s upcoming novel, upcoming my way at least, I hope, Quichotte

Enough!

City analogues and climate change 2019-2050

Monday, August 19th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — pretty sure there will be black swans between here and 2050 ]
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We’re beginning to see visual expressions of the implications of climate change that can perhaps help shift our awareness — comparing London, for instance, with Barcelona:

The climate in Barcelona (right) isn’t always a good thing – the city suffered a severe drought in 2008

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The thing is, Barcelona’s weather isn’t exactly desirable in all respects:

London could suffer from the type of extreme drought that hit Barcelona in 2008 – when it was forced to import drinking water from France at a cost of £20 million.

And London in 2050 experiencing weather conditions analogous to those of Barcelona today is a projection based on a 2? rise in temperatures globally: that’s considered “actually quite optimistic, imagining a future where action has been taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Ouch.

Here’s one professor’s comment on the report:

The University of Reading’s Professor Mike Lockwood warned about the damage that could be done to infrastructure.

“Bringing Barcelona’s climate to London sounds like it could be a good thing – if you don’t suffer from asthma or have a heart condition, that is – except London clay shrinks and is brittle if it gets too dry and then swells and expands when very wet.

“As ever, there is destructive and unforeseen devil in the details of climate change.”

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The study, published in the journal PLOS One, suggests summers and winters in Europe will get warmer, with average increases of 3.5C and 4.7C respectively.

It’s the equivalent to a city shifting 620 miles (1,000km) further south – with those furthest away from the equator being most affected.

Southern California weather moves to Northern CA, Northern CA weather becomes the weather inj Northern Oregon and Washington, and on up to Canada and the once frozen north..

And real estate values will shift accordingly.

And transnational, climate driven migration patterns will emerge: US into Canada, and oh boy, Mexico into the US?

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Well, analogues are pretty close cousins to what I’ve called DoubleQuotes, and the visual example above of London and Barcelona is joined in the BBC article I’ve been quoting from by twoi more examples:

Edinburgh could look very different by 2050

and:

People say Melbourne can experience four seasons in one day – something people in Leeds might be used to

— and since the authors of the study, Understanding climate change from a global analysis of city analogues, “found that 77% of future cities are very likely to experience a climate that is closer to that of another existing city than to its own current climate.”

Since they examined “520 major cities of the world,” roughly 400 cities would have analogue cities, climate-wise, which I suspect means 200 would experience shifts to 200 other cities, though heaven knows, the Venn diagram might show quite a few overlaps, giving us strings like “Edinburgh will be like Paris will be like Marrakesh will be like nothing we’ve ever seen”

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DoubleQuotes all. Analogues. duels and duets, climate-counter-climate, city-counter-city, point-counter-point..

But see climate predictions, and how black swans will almost certainly distort them, and my related poem about Mecca in 2050, Mourning the lost Ka’aba

Dank ponds and high places in the garden of forking paths

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Borges’ finest fiction, read with an eye to serpents within serpents ]
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The pre-conscious mind, it seems to me, runs innumerable options before providing a single, first conscious selection, an initial thought, which we can then ourselves choose or dismiss, swaying away from whatever tendency we might dislike in that first choice, with alternatives then provided until we settle on a thought we can live with — whether because it suits our lust, our liking, our laughter, our love, or — simplest — love itself. The whole enterprise resembles, literarily speaking, Jorge Luis BorgesGarden of Forking Paths [link is to a deliciously annotated version, see more below].

But here’s the thing: my mind, at least, offers me quite a mixed bag of lascivious, laughing, light-hearted and level-headed options, all unbidden, and while the courteous Chinese gentleman in Borges’ fine short story would surely only have a selection of insights suitable for the Yellow Empereor among the branchings of his garden’s paths, and his maze of thoughts itself sums up to a transcendant mind, on the wider, non-literary world stage and usual human level there are some pretty dank pools of stagnant ideation to be found, and some skulls among the living that choose to harbor and indeed nourish those pools, hoping their poisonous atmosphere may prove contagious.

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I am driven to these thoughts by a report from yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, Revealing the secrets of one of Australia’s worst online trolls.

Ordinarily I might have scanned this account of an online neo-Nazi and moved on, but it contains a built-in ourboros or snake biting its own tail, when the former pulp magazine editor who lost his job after being persecuted for his affinity with Nazi dolls, and who lived alone in a rooming house, self-published a novel featuring, and I quote, “a former pulp magazine editor who lost his job after being persecuted for his affinity with Nazi dolls, and who lived alone in a rooming house..”

Self-publishing is arguably a mildly neurotic ouroboric loop, but William Blake looped it, as did Martin Luther, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, and Edward Tufte, to name a few..

Self-publishing an autobiographical fiction, however, is more deeply loopy — for the ugly details, see the SMH piece.

Gloriously, Borges reaches as high as the neo-Nazi stoops low: some hope remains for humanity.

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Annotation “o” in the annotated version of The Garden of Forking Paths mentioned above offers us a further — and specifically rhetorical — form of ouroboros to contemplate:

Linguists might classify the phrase “labyrinth of labyrinths” as an example of the genitive of gradation, as in the biblical “King of Kings,” from Daniel 2:37 (originally in Hebrew, “Melech ha-M’lachim”), I Timothy 4:14, and Revelations 17:14 and 19:16 (Curme, [6, p. 88]). Here the repetition of words conveys a sense of preeminence or superiority. A similar rhetorical device occurs earlier in line 30. But “centuries of centuries” might be more readily interpreted as a time span of hundreds of hundreds of years, constituting what is known as the partitive genitive, as in the “land of milk and honey.” Both usages are marvelously recursive, like “wheels within wheels,” and like the Thousand of One Nights, alluded to on line 230, which is a tale of a tale of a tale..

Wheels within wheels — indeed, tiny wheels in a footnote to a larger one — at which point we are back at Ezekiel and his vision of the dry bones, from which I derive my own username, hipbone.

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Fscinatingly, certain equivalent pieces on opposing sides of xiangqi, the Chinese chess game of the sort Borges’ Ts’ui Pên would have played, have different names, though “pieces on the same row in the table below share the same move and ability”:

Their order of battle at the commencement of the game are as follows:

I’m grateful to Robert R. Snapp, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Vermont, for his outstanding contribution to this (mostly) delightful romp through the forking gardens of ideas..

Twice lucky, or thrice? On dodging nuclear fireballs

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two Russian secular saints — and an Australian ]
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It seems we’ve been lucky twice —

saved-twice

Read their two stories, and weep.

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27 October 1962

Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war

If you were born before 27 October 1962, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov saved your life. It was the most dangerous day in history. An American spy plane had been shot down over Cuba while another U2 had got lost and strayed into Soviet airspace. As these dramas ratcheted tensions beyond breaking point, an American destroyer, the USS Beale, began to drop depth charges on the B-59, a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear weapon.

The captain of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, had no way of knowing that the depth charges were non-lethal “practice” rounds intended as warning shots to force the B-59 to surface. The Beale was joined by other US destroyers who piled in to pummel the submerged B-59 with more explosives. The exhausted Savitsky assumed that his submarine was doomed and that world war three had broken out. He ordered the B-59’s ten kiloton nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing. Its target was the USS Randolf, the giant aircraft carrier leading the task force.

If the B-59’s torpedo had vaporised the Randolf, the nuclear clouds would quickly have spread from sea to land. The first targets would have been Moscow, London, the airbases of East Anglia and troop concentrations in Germany. The next wave of bombs would have wiped out “economic targets”, a euphemism for civilian populations – more than half the UK population would have died. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s SIOP, Single Integrated Operational Plan – a doomsday scenario that echoed Dr Strangelove’s orgiastic Götterdämmerung – would have hurled 5,500 nuclear weapons against a thousand targets, including ones in non-belligerent states such as Albania and China. [ .. ]

The decision not to start world war three was not taken in the Kremlin or the White House, but in the sweltering control room of a submarine. The launch of the B-59’s nuclear torpedo required the consent of all three senior officers aboard. Arkhipov was alone in refusing permission. It is certain that Arkhipov’s reputation was a key factor in the control room debate. The previous year the young officer had exposed himself to severe radiation in order to save a submarine with an overheating reactor.

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September 26, 1983

The Man Who Saved the World by Doing Absolutely Nothing

It was September 26, 1983. Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces, was on duty at Serpukhov-15, a secret bunker outside Moscow. His job: to monitor Oko, the Soviet Union’s early-warning system for nuclear attack. And then to pass along any alerts to his superiors. It was just after midnight when the alarm bells began sounding. One of the system’s satellites had detected that the United States had launched five ballistic missiles. And they were heading toward the USSR. Electronic maps flashed; bells screamed; reports streamed in. A back-lit red screen flashed the word ‘LAUNCH.'”

That the U.S. would be lobbing missiles toward its Soviet counterpart would not, of course, have been out of the question at that particular point in human history. Three weeks earlier, Russians had shot down a South Korean airliner that had wandered into Soviet air space. NATO had responded with a show of military exercises. The Cold War, even in the early ’80s, continued apace; the threat of nuclear engagement still hovered over the stretch of land and sea that fell between Washington and Moscow.

Petrov, however, had a hunch — “a funny feeling in my gut,” he would later recall — that the alarm ringing through the bunker was a false one. It was an intuition that was based on common sense: The alarm indicated that only five missiles were headed toward the USSR. Had the U.S. actually been launching a nuclear attack, however, Petrov figured, it would be extensive — much more, certainly, than five. Soviet ground radar, meanwhile, had failed to pick up corroborative evidence of incoming missiles — even after several minutes had elapsed. The larger matter, however, was that Petrov didn’t fully trust the accuracy of the Soviet technology when it came to bomb-detection. He would later describe the alert system as “raw.”

But what would you do? You’re alone in a bunker, and alarms are screaming, and lights are flashing, and you have your training, and you have your intuition, and you have two choices: follow protocol or trust your gut. Either way, the world is counting on you to make the right call.

Petrov trusted himself. He reported the satellite’s detection to his superiors — but, crucially, as a false alarm. And then, as Wired puts it, “he hoped to hell he was right.”

He was, of course. The U.S. had not attacked the Soviets. It was a false alarm. One that, had it not been treated as such, may have prompted a retaliatory nuclear attack on the U.S. and its NATO allies. Which would have then prompted … well, you can guess what it would have prompted.

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Oh, and the Australian. I came by this topic via an article about this man, Professor Des Bell:

des-ball

A strategist with books — he’s the sort of chap this blog thrives on! And he, too, seems to have saved us from a fiery furnace of our own devising:

Des Ball: the man who saved the world

THAT America could launch a limited nuclear strike against Russia was a fashionable belief in US strategic theory of the 1970s. Policymakers thought that if Cold War tensions boiled over, they could hit selected Soviet targets in a way that controlled further escalation and forced Moscow to back down.

It took the iconoclastic Australian security scholar Des Ball to point out that the theory was bunkum. In his influential essays of the early 1980s, Ball argued that reasoned strategic theory was likely to go out the window once the missiles started flying.

Among the first targets would be the other side’s command and control centres – its eyes and ears. Once blinded, a superpower – consisting of real people responding with human instincts – would not distinguish a ”controlled” strike from a full-scale attack and would retaliate with everything it had.

Thrice lucky? I prefer to call it grace.

A Tale of Two Places – Dabiq and Rumiyah

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Rumiyah is a city for sure, Dabiq not so much ]
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The Islamic State has a new magazine out, and it’s titled Rumiyah, not Dabiq. Here’s the first inside page of the first issue of Dabiq, together with the cover of the first issue of Rumiyah:

dabiq-rumiyah-front

And here’s the back cover of each magazine:

dabiq-rumiyah-back

What’s significant here is that the names of both magazines, like bookends, refer to a significant location in IS eschatology — but not the same place, two different places. And thereby hangs my Tale.

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The front cover of Rumiyah, the new magazine, opens with a quote from Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, who was Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi‘s immediate successor as emir of Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the Islamic State:

O muwahhidin, rejoice, for by Allah, we will not rest from our jihad expect beneath the olive trees of Rumiyah (Rome)

Moreover, the back page of Rumiyah, the new magazine, features a hadith about Rome:

Allah’s Messenger (saw) was asked, “Which of the two cities will be conquered first? Constantinople or Rumiyah? He (saw) replied, “The city of Heraclius will be conquered first,” meaning Constantinople (Reported by Ahmad and d-Darimi from ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr).

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By way of contrast, the first issue of Dabiq opens with a quote from Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, the founder of AQI and thus “grandfather” to the Islamic State:

The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.

The back page then offers this hadith concerning Dabiq:

Abu Hurayrah reported that Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said,

“The Hour will not be established until the Romans land at al-A’maq or Dabiq (two places near each other in the northern countryside of Halab).

Then an army from al-Madinah of the best people on the earth at that time will leave for them. When they line up in ranks, the Romans will say, ‘Leave us and those who were taken as prisoners from amongst us so we can fight them.’

The Muslims will say, ‘Nay, by Allah, we will not abandon our brothers to you.’ So they will fight them.

Then one third of them will flee; Allah will never forgive them. One third will be killed; they will be the best martyrs with Allah. And one third will conquer them; they will never be afflicted with fitnah.

Then they will conquer Constantinople. While they are dividing the war booty, having hung their swords on olive trees, Shaytan will shout, ‘The [false] Messiah has followed after your families [who were left behind.]’ So they will leave [for their families], but Shaytan’s claim is false. When they arrive to Sham he comes out.

Then while they are preparing for battle and filing their ranks, the prayer is called. So ‘Isa Ibn Maryam (‘alayhis-Salam) will descend and lead them.

When the enemy of Allah sees him, he will melt as salt melts in water. If he were to leave him, he would melt until he perished, but he kills him with his own hand, and then shows them his blood upon his spear.”

[Sahih Muslim]

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It looks to me that Rodger Shanahan has the difference nailed in his Lowy Interpreter piece, Australia stars in first edition of new ISIS magazine:

First is the name change; no longer is ‘Dabiq’ the title (unless this masthead continues to put out editions separately); ‘Rumiya’ [sic] (formal Arabic for Rome) has replaced ‘Dabiq’. As most marketers will tell you, when a company’s brand is on the skids then it’s time for a refresh.; the same applies to jihadists. Jabhat al-Nusra has (to date) unsuccessfully tried to re-brand itself as a non-Al Qaeda jihadist group by changing its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, as its old name long ago became a dead weight on its leadership aspirations.

With its hold on territory becoming more precarious by the day, ISIS has possibly decided that naming your social media magazine after a town that will likely soon fall out of your control would not be a good look ‘going forward’. Re-naming your publication after the centre of Christendom is a way to show what you aspire to, rather than what you have lost. It’s also in line with the late Muhammad al-Adnani’s recent claims that IS did not fight for territory as a way of extolling the virtues of continuous jihadi resistance.

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Recent posts featuring the idea that we may be near the end of ISIS, at least as a proto-state:

  • Kyle Orton, The End of the Islamic State by Christmas?
  • Kyle Orton, Is This the Beginning of the End for the Islamic State?
  • Anthony Cordesman, Syria and Iraq: What Comes After Mosul and Raqqa?
  • Washington Post, Flow of foreign fighters plummets as Islamic State loses its edge

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