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Archive for March, 2012

Having eyes to see…

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — looking through the eyes of tech, math, art, flies, and intelligence ]

Imaging the winds and the waters

I’ve been raising questions about the varieties of ways of seeing here — asking whether guardian angels can be more than guys on night watch and if so what that “more” means, invoking William Blake’s fourfold vision [see move 4], and so forth. And I tend to emphasize the visionary over against the material.

I thought I’d do something different this time, and show you two views of the world that science brings us, that we couldn’t have seen half a century ago unless you were Theodore von Kármán (below, upper image)…

let alone a century ago, unless you were Vincent van Gogh (lower image).


In descending order, these four images are:

  • the winds over a portion of the Americas, as depicted by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg a few days ago, see also their current live feed
  • a NASA image drawn from the Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio‘s Perpetual Ocean animation, hi-res Gulf Stream image
  • a diagram of a Kármán vortex street, from Arthur E. Bryson, Jr., Demetri P. Telionis, “Kármán vortex street,” in AccessScience, ©McGraw-Hill Companies, 2008
  • and Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night, in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The gentleman in the meditation goggles — he calls them “eye-bags” — featured in the “mini-SPECS” section of the Winds and Waters SPECS is my friend David Woolley, who alerted me to these simulations on his Just think of it blog today. David, btw, is the fellow who designed and wrote PLATO Notes, the first permanent, general-purpose online conferencing system, back in 1973.

The eyes features in the “mini-SPECS” of the Kármán / van Gogh SPECS are a fly’s “compound” eyes — “compound meaning that each eye has hundreds of facets (ommatidia or simple eyes).


And that’s the point, isn’t it?

We as the human community have many eyes, many perspectives — the visionary, the technological, the abstract, the photographic, the artistic, the consensus, the minority opinion — such as that of Mr Justice Douglas in Sierra Club vs Morton, perhaps? …

Our intelligence — our intel too — should build on a rich and wide array of ways of seeing. After all…

… unless the above is just a recruitment slogan.

More on Strategy

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Two posts worth your attention:

Gulliver at Inkspots continues the strategy convo between myself and Jason Fritz with a major post of extended commentary:

Let’s just be up front with each other: this is a really long rant about strategy 

….I’m willing to concede that the line between civilian and military reponsibilities in strategy formation and the associated operational planning is a blurry and unstable one, and that what I’ve laid out as the normative standard isn’t always the way things play out in reality. You certainly shouldn’t take anything I’ve written above as an exculpatory argument for our elected officials. But more on this a bit later.

As for our man Carl: Jason’s choice of Clausewitz quote is simultaneously interesting and surprising to me. Committed students of the sage will recognize it from perhaps the most remarked-upon pages of On War: Book Eight, Chapter 6B. (If it were an episode of “Friends,” they’d call it The One With the Politics By Other Means.) The language Jason excerpted is from the 19th-century Graham translation; just for the purpose of clarity, let’s look at the somewhat more fluent Paret/Howard version:

In making use of war, policy evades all rigorous conclusions proceeding from the nature of war, bothers little about ultimate possibilities, and concerns itself only with immediate probabilities. Although this introduces a high degree of uncertainty into the whole business, turning it into a kind of game, each government is confident that it can outdo its opponent in skill and acumen. (606)This is a pretty difficult passage (especially as I present it here, mostly out of context) but I take it to mean that governments are little interested in ruminations on war’s escalatory momentum in the direction of its absolute form, but rather in how violence may be used to achieve concrete political goals. But the paradoxical reality is that addition of violence to politics – violence that is fueled in part by hatred and enmity, violence that is fundamental to war’s nature and sets it off as distinct from all other human activity – actually re-shapes the character of the political contest. War’s essential violence pressures the political contest to take on the character of a duel or a sporting event; without the harness of policy, war risks becoming a self-contained competition conducted according to its own rules, one where victory is not the mere accomplishment of political objectives but rather a revision of the relationship between the two competitors such that the victor is free to enact his preferences. 

The “high degree of uncertainty” that Clausewitz concedes is introduced “into the whole business” is produced by divergence between the things we do in war and the things they are meant to achieve. In limited war, our actions are conceived as violent but discrete and purposive acts of policy, while as war moves toward its absolute form our actions are increasingly divorced from discrete political objectives short of the destruction of our enemy. To put it simply, shit gets crazy in war. [….] 

In a different strategic venue, Matt Armstrong at MountainRunner analyzes  The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012 :

It should be common knowledge that the “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted. This statement, from 1951, is reflected in Eisenhower’s dictum of the next year that “everything we say, everything we do, and everything we fail to say or do will have its impact in other lands.” It was understood then that words and deeds needed more than just synchronization: public opinion could be leveraged to support and further the execution of foreign policy.

What was true then is more so in a modern communication environment of empowerment. The interconnected systems of Now Media, spanning offline and online mediums, democratizes influence, and undermines traditional models of identity and allegiance as demands on assimilation fade as “hyphens” become commas. What emerges is a new marketplace for loyalty that bypasses traditional barriers of time, geography, authority, hierarchy, culture, and language. Information flows much faster; at times it is instantaneous, decreasing the time allowed to digest and comprehend the information, let alone respond to it. Further, information is now persistent, allowing for time-shifted consumption and reuse, for ill or for good. People too can travel the globe with greater ease and increased speed.

It is in this evolving environment that the President issued an updated “National Framework for Strategic Communication” for 2012 (3.8mb PDF, note: the PDF has been fixed and should be once again visible to all). This report updates the 2010 report issued last March that was little more than a narrative on how the Government was organized for strategic communication. The report is required under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009.

Some highlights from the 2012 Framework: [….]

More “night watch” than “guardian angels” perhaps?

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameronguardian angels, really? — or a surface use of in-depth terminology? ]

Just two days ago I posted Quantity and Quality: angelic hosts at Badr and / or Armageddon, and noted in a comment that “the Counterinsurgency Manual, FM 3-24 makes no mention of angels” — whereas “Brigadier Malik’s Qur’anic Concept of War does.


Has someone in ISAF been reading ZP? Two days later, we have this AP report:

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned “guardian angels” — troops that watch over their comrades even as they sleep — and have ordered a series of other increased security measures to protect troops against possible attacks by rogue Afghans.

A bit further down, we read:

According to the senior military official, the so-called guardian angels provide an extra layer of security, watching over the troops as they sleep, exercise or go about other daily activities.

Allen noted that the Afghans also have taken some similar steps to provide guards for their own forces.


Just for the record, that’s not quite what I had in mind.

Specifically — and only half-joking — it’s an instance of what Sri Krishna Prem termed “the degradation of spiritual concepts” in his Yoga of the Bhagavat Gita (original Penguin edition, p. xxv. if my notes are to be believed):

There is a law, which may be termed the law of the degradation of spiritual concepts, by which terms originally used by Seers to express levels of supernormal spiritual experience become in the hands of later and purely scholastic exponents terms for elements in purely normal mental life.

Or as TS Eliot puts it in Burnt Norton: V (in Four Quartets):

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.


Where does the idea of a guardian angel come from — and what did it mean before it meant some poor sod who’s on night watch?



Best night watch ever? Rembrandt‘s, in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam:

The brilliant Peter Greenaway has made two quirky films [link to Amazon boxed set] about the painting. Wikipedia describes them well enough that I’ll simply use their phrasing:

The Night Watch is the subject of a 2007 film by director Peter Greenaway called Nightwatching, in which the film posits a conspiracy within the musketeer regiment of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, and suggests that Rembrandt may have immortalized a conspiracy theory using subtle allegory in his group portrait of the regiment, subverting what was to have been a highly prestigious commission for both painter and subject. His 2008 film Rembrandt’s J’Accuse is a sequel or follow-on, and covers the same idea, using extremely detailed analysis of the compositional elements in the painting…

I was certainly richly educated and entertained by both films — and am a great admirer of his The Draughtsman’s Contract — but not quite convinced.


h/t @peterjmunson.

Recommended Reading

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Top Billing! Maggie’s Farm (Bruce Kesler) – Bloodlands

….Snyder points out: “To dismiss the Nazis or the Soviets as beyond human concern or historical understanding is to fall into their moral trap.” Stalin and Hitler had conscious policies to extract material gain from the people who they thought stood in their way. It was boths’ commonality that had each act so barbarously: “Both the Soviet and Nazi political economies relied upon collectives that controlled social groups and extracted their resources.” Many perpetrators of the horrors, also, had material objectives or just were trying to survive themselves. Snyder says that the millions of deaths tells us as much about the living. “It is not at all obvious that reducing history to morality plays makes anyone moral.” Snyder’s recounting of the murders focuses upon the – to them – practical objectives of Hitler and Stalin: “In colonization, ideology interacts with economics; in administration, it interacts with opportunism and fear.”

The personal vignettes that fill the book, along with the details of the scale of murders, have set every reader back on their heels. No one, no country, is spared the telling of their heroes or devils. Go to Google to see how the learned react to the book. Go to your own soul to see how you react.

Slouching Toward Columbia- The allure of the absolute foe

….The notion of the sort of absolute irregular war had its counterpart in the liberal vision of warfare as punishment of criminality or the neutralization of enemies of humanity writ large. The rise of humanitarian intervention and the War on Terror have been significant drivers of the revival in Schmittian studies, albeit more often by the critical left than Schmitt’s own authoritarian right. The modern U.S. preoccupation with absolute enemies could be posited from two distinct, but now interlinking ways of warfare and preoccupations of enmity.

Inkspots (Jason Fritz) – Ends as wasting assets: time’s negative effect on policy 

….One of the many challenges in developing strategy is in the interaction of policy and military plans. As the Grand Poobah of War himself said, “Policy in making use of War avoids all those rigorous conclusions which proceed from its nature; it troubles itself little about final possibilities, confining its attention to immediate probabilities.” Policy concerns itself with the here and now and what the instrument of war can attain for it in the near term. Beyond that we get into the conundrum that Payne lays out for us. Further, the onset of a policy which employs war as a tool establishes desired ends according to the probabilities of the day, from which the military derives its plans. And then a divergence encroaches: process by its nature maintains the policy’s original ends (possibly with some minor adjustments) while military operations must adapt to the enemy and the realities which it faces on the field. As subservient to the policy, the military thus applies ways and means, with input or allocation from the political class, to ends it cannot, should not, or cares not to attain if the mission continues for such a duration that the original ends become obsolete.
Marine Corps Gazette Blog (Peter J. Munson) –In Loco Parentis or Bureaucratic Cowardice
 ….In any case, we have an obligation to maintain our units at the highest readiness and to develop the skills and character of our young Marines and Sailors.  Like it or not, our services have adopted a culture and a reality of providing some degree of in loco parentis supervision to our juniors.  With that comes some “intrusive leadership.”  The commentators above, however, cite the blow to the concept of “special trust and confidence” and to the likely effects on morale as servicemembers are increasingly treated as suspects.  This is all true, in my book.  But it is not so simple as it seems at first glance.  This is not a blow to trust and morale solely because it is an imposition.  It is seen that way because it is just one more policy doomed to fail because it is based on institutional moral cowardice, risk averse thinking, and is part of a policy portfolio that is reflective of a lack of priorities.  I’ll delve into each of these, but the best summation came from an infantry officer friend of mine: “I get weighed once a month so I don’t get fat.  I pee in a bottle once a month so I don’t take drugs.  Now I’m going to to have to take a breathalyzer on a regular basis so I don’t come to work drunk.  Yet, no one is checking to make sure that I’m competent at my job and am not going to get anyone killed.”  There is a lot to discuss in this statement, but don’t start sniping it yet.  We are going to take a somewhat circuitous route to get back to the breathalyzer issue, but it all ties together.
Milpub(Seydlitz89)- The Big Picture
….Tweaking the tactics on the ground in South Vietnam would have perhaps inflicted higher losses on the North’s invasion force, may have bought the Saigon government a bit more time, but to what purpose? Would this US tactical success have changed the character of South Vietnam’s ruling elite? Would it have made the people in the South willing to die to save the RVN government? Tactics comes down to the implementation of violence to achieve specific and limited goals which supposedly build on one another to create operational and finally strategic success. Violence has it’s uses, and war is essentially organized violence, but it is not going to build a political community. Outstanding tactical virtuosity still would not have translated into a US victory in Vietnam.

At this point the tendency of tactical myopia leading to grand tactical speculation becomes clear and the reason for it as well. It allows us to avoid what the real main questions are and what failure actually entails.

Check out Microsoft’s Chronozoom Project– an amazing tool.

Abu Muqawama shoots it out with Hezbollah (literally). Hat tip to Brett at Marine Corps Gazette.

iRevolution –Crisis Mapping Syria: Automated Data Mining and Crowdsourced Human Intelligence 


Registan.net (Christopher Schwartz) –Abai — Strauss on the steppe

That’s it.

On the martyrdom of al-Hallaj & the modeling of pocket universes

Monday, March 26th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — commemoration of al-Hallaj, sufi and martyr, the nature of circumambulation, matrioshka, modeling and mandalas ]

According to a report by Fahad Faruqui in today’s Huff Post, Mansur al-Hallaj was martyred on this day, March 26, 922 CE.

His offence is often said to have been that he declared “An al-Haqq” — I am the Truth — although many sufis would say that his egoic nafs had been erased in fana, and that it was al-Haqq that spoke through him, not a claim that he made of himself.

So today would be the day to leave a marker here on Zenpundit, saying that I hope to return in the not too distant with a post that ties al-Hallaj as described in Faruqui’s post with the circumambulation of Banaras, the circumambulation of an avatar of Vishnu Shiva and Parvati by Ganesh, and the modeling of what I sometimes refer to as “pocket universes”…


The particular aspect of Faruqui’s post that caught my attention was this:

Hallaj was not sentenced to death for uttering “ana’l-haqq.” After his arrest, he was accused of various things, but, according to Professor Ernst, he was pinned down after his prosecutors discovered a document in the handwriting of Hallaj that recommended that those who were unable to afford Hajj pilgrimage could construct a model of Kaaba at home and perform circumambulation (tawaf) and give alms to poor and feed some orphans and they would have completed the Hajj.

“At that point one of the judges turned to Hallaj and said in Arabic ‘damuka halal,’ that is, your blood may legally be shed. In other words, now we have you,” said Professor Ernst, a specialist in Islamic Studies. “But then Hallaj said that I found this in the writings of Hasan al-Basri, so that was a kind of technicality, but he was given no opportunity to explain or repent.”


I gratefully offer a hat-tip @ Sarah Schlesinger.

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