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Miracles and rumors of miracles

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Timbuktu tombs, cultural preservation, WWII, miracle stories, della Robbia ]



A report on Al Jazeera today is sub-headed:

Al-Qaeda-linked group in northern Mali attacks tombs of Sufi saints just days after sites put on UNESCO endangered list.


My friend Michael Robinson just pointed me to this piece by Dr. Laurie Rush on “Cultural Property Protection as a Force Multiplier, from the March-April edition of Military Review:

Preservation of cultural property can be critical for social restoration in a devastated community. During World War II, the Germans systematically blew up every single structure in the small town of Pieve Santo Stefano, Italy. Incredibly, they failed to destroy the Andrea della Robbia altarpiece relief, Assumption of the Virgin, in the local church. The MFAA wanted to remove the piece for its own protection, but the prospect of its relocation was unthinkable to the citizens of the community. Instead, the MFAA worked with them to save the altarpiece as part of the town’s restoration. Cultural property that survives war, sometimes miraculously, offers hope when all else seems lost.


Miracles and rumors of miracles…

Picking up where I left off last time: people with a non-miraculous worldview are apt to use the word “miraculous” to describe something like that altarpiece surviving, meaning roughly “fortunate” — while those whose worldview includes and welcomes miracles will use the same term in a very different sense, and with very different feeling.

These are differences that make a difference.


Here, because I was curious, is another Andrea della Robbia Assumption of the Virgin altarpiece, this one from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, London:

Miraculous? Me personally, I’d say so.

Recommended Reading & Viewing

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Top Billing! Information Dissemination Guest Post Series

Galrahn needs to be commended for organizing this excellent series and also the top-notch contributors who participated, including a sitting Member of Congress. A first-rate blog event!

Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., Captain USN –Is there a connection between your strategic and tactical assertions?

Dr. Andrew Exum –What should the US Army be contributing to AirSea Battle? 

Jan Van Tol –When matching the strategic objective of preventing war to resources, can the US Navy prevent war in the 21st century, and if so, how? 

Rep.  J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) –What is the potential and what are the challenges the Navy faces in fielding a UCLASS to the fleet? 

Feedback and Discussion

SWJ Blog  1. (Octavian Manea) The Russian COIN Campaign in North Caucasus 

How different is the ranking of priorities in the Russian COIN compared to the Western pop-centric approach? In what kind of missions and priorities were the main resources invested?

I assume you’re referring to doctrinal approaches here. It’s important to point out that there are still plenty of Western analysts who believe that heavy “enemy-centric” approaches are more effective than the “population-centric” approaches upon which our doctrine is based. Western doctrinal COIN approaches start with and revolve around “security” – for the government as well as the local population, whereas you can see from the chart in my book on page 201 that the Russian approach considers security of the local population a much lower priority. In the Western approach, it is important to start trying to gain the support of the indigenous population through a number of means (security, economic, civil affairs projects, diplomatic, etc), while the Russians initially put these types of activities way at the bottom of their list (although Ramzan Kadyrov has placed a much higher emphasis on those types of activities since he has assumed the presidency).  The Russian Main Effort has always been focused on the general Russian population within Russia proper, as opposed to the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasus.  And as an enemy-centric approach, they have emphasized killing the enemy over building support for themselves among the local population. All in all, I’d say the Russian and Western priorities are generally very different.

2. (Alex Verschoor-Kirss) Foucault and Fourth Generation Warfare: Towards a Genealogy of War and Conflict 

Inclusion does not equate with my endorsement.  Frankly, there’s a cocked-up misunderstanding of historical methodology (and the field of military history) and hero-worship of Michel Focault; however, the piece is certainly thought-provoking as it is a critique of 4GW coming way out of left field and worth a read.

Abu Muqawama (Kelsey Atherton) –Guest Post: Learning from Greece the Hard Way


….At the beginning of the current system is America’s involvement by proxy in the Greek Civil War. Following an awkward post-war realization that maybe arming every faction fighting against the Nazi occupation was not the wisest run in the long term, the Allied powers (initially the United Kingdom) decided to disarm as many partisans as they could in the immediate outbreak of peace, while shoring up support for the royalist government.  Not all partisans were agreeable to being disarmed or towards the ancien regime, and Greece developed a communist insurgency.  In 1947, the UK decided they could no longer afford their investment in the Greek government, and in their stead Truman decided to shoulder the task of providing military assistance in their stead. He did this through the American Mission for Aid to Greece “outside and independent of the embassy at Athens and of Ambassador Lincoln MacVeagh.” Inevitably, the Greeks observed that Griswold controlled the resources, so they bypassed the Ambassador and dealt directly with him. The  Ambassador’s authority diminished, and a conflict within the Embassy emerged. 

PARAMETERS (Ralph Peters) –In Praise of Attrition 

Dr. Von –Do We Have the Educational Infrastructure to do Major STEM Education?


Diane Ravitch –Bill Gates Turns His Attention to Higher Education

Eide Neurolearning Blog –Education for Misfits and Neurodiversity and The Steps of Creativity – Early Crowd sourcing and Prototyping 

Robert Slavin –A Call to Arms for Education Innovation

Chicago Boyz – (Ginny) Taylor 1: Liberal Arts Purpose to Leave Our Selves Behind 

Recommended Viewing:

When you have a worldview, it all fits together

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

[by Charles Cameron — the difficulty of difference, plus a poem for M ]


When you have a worldview, it all fits together pretty seamlessly. You see a map of record high temperatures such as the one above, swiped from emptywheel today, and it’s either global warming, and maybe:

this is getting to a point where the terror industry and the homeland security industry, generally, needs to come to grips with the fact that the biggest immediate threat to the “homeland” is not terrorism or drugs or even hackers, but climate change…

or it’s the hot face of an angry God:

And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.

— Revelation 16.8


I read the Book of Revelation in much the same spirit in which I read William Blake or WB Yeats — as figurative, imaginative thinking rather than future history. Record high temperatures, rising sea levels, dazzling storms, wildfires and the like I tend to view as natural phenomena belonging to the realm of science as far as causation is concerned, and to first responders and FEMA in terms of crisis response.

But they’re still awesome, the poet in me still stirs…


What concerns me here, though, is not to explain my own position nor to refute or approve either the prophetic or scientific explanations, but to emphasize that when you have a worldview, you have explanations ready-made in place for (almost) whatever happens.

And that goes for the Taliban, for Al Qaida, for the Brotherhood, for Christians of the Dominionist or Soon Coming or Episcopalian varieties, for Buddhists, for Scientists, and for many who are braiding their own, picking up different strands in different places as they go along.

If someone else’s worldview is not your worldview, it may very well be as different as the world in which God is blasting His displeasure at Washington DC is different from the world in which Washington DC needs to do something about global warming before nature re-balances our ecosystem in a manner we find decidedly inhospitable.


In a shared worldview, you can talk face to face. Across worldviews, you can only talk worldview to worldview — and the “other” worldview may well be unable to make sense of what you say or do, or take a meaning from it that has serious negative consequences for you in your world.

Just yesterday, Gulliver tweeted:


But it’s true, as Paul Van Riper said and I know, I’ve quoted him before, but this is good:

What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. We’re only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third is to get a bird’s-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.

The thing is: how do you get inside a magical head with a rational mind?

It’s not impossible, mind you — but it takes great strength of imagination.

That’s the point I’m trying to make here. Done. Finished.


And this is for Madhu, who encourages me to post my poems:

Storm words

There are no words for the stride of thunder –

pounding stride of clouds across a drumhead of plains,
the traveling downpour, drenching
the dry gullies and passing, words cannot
see nor show what the eye sees, the great lights
thrown, the target trees scorched and left —

but for man who lives in the path of thunder,
wrestling a little grass for soup from the parched land,
feeling thrum of a god’s advance under bare feet,
seeing the lowering god with his bright arms striding,

sensing the god’s strong coming, longing
for the fresh grasses after the storm’s passing,
the calm that follows the god: fearing
the god’s blasting, scorching, man’s words are prayer.


Friday, June 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — borrowing as the nature of creativity from lichen to origami, copyright ]

Lichen covered wall, Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo. Cusco, Peru


Leonardo in his Treatise on Painting came up with what he called “a new theoretical invention for knowledge’s sake … of great utility in bringing out the creativity in some of these inventions”:

This is the case if you cast your glance on any walls dirty with such stains or walls made up of rock formations of different types. If you have to invent some scenes, you will be able to discover them there in diverse forms, in diverse landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, extensive plains, valleys, and hills. You can even see different battle scenes and movements made up of unusual figures, faces with strange expressions, and myriad things which you can transform into a complete and proper form constituting part of similar walls and rocks. These are like the sound of bells, in whose tolling, you hear names and words that your imagination conjures up.

Borrow, he says, from nature.

Michelangelo, you may recall, used to see statues in chunks of marble, then chip away the excess to reveal what had been there all along…


The stone-cutters whose marvelous ingenuity pieced together the stone wall in the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo, Peru, depicted above in a photo by Teosaurio (under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license) borrowed stone from nature in somewhat the same manner, brilliantly.

Nature repaid the compliment, adding the colors of lichen to the sunlit and shadowed grey of stone.


In Paris, the artist Mademoiselle Maurice has been adding her own kind of lichen to the shadowed and sunlit walls of Paris, in an installation she calls spectrum – her lichen being composed entirely of small, colored origami folds, by way of honoring the origami peace cranes of Hiroshima artist Sadako Sasaki.

image: Mlle Maurice, abstract paper rainbow



Origami is an exquisite art in its own right, demonstrating once again that mathematics belongs as much to the arts and humanities as it does to the sciences and technology.

[Consider this bleeding together of arts and sciences as something of a crusade of mine. Photography is art, and it does not became science just because the photograph is of stars rather than stones: photography is science, and it does not become art simply because the stars are beautiful.]

One genius of the artful mathematics of folding would be Robert Lang, who, as Kevin Kelly just told us, “helped NASA design satellite folding/unfolding solar panels” and “uses computers to devise folding patterns to create impossibly detailed 3D organisms from a single piece of paper…”

One can hardly deny that his work is quite lovely:

Butterfly image: Robert Lang, Origami Insects Vol 2, ed. Makoto Yamaguchi


One might wonder whether Lang is the genius, or mathematics? Does he borrow from God, from some principle immanent in universe?

His diagram depicted, left, below, “will, when folded by him, turn into a convincing Rhinoceros Beetle”

Of the Rhinosceros beetle or of the butterfly one might ask, as William Blake asked of the Tyger:

Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Science, naturally, somewhat believes it has the answer…


Compare and contrast:

image: Kevin Kelly, from the Technium


Inappropriately appropriated? The very concepts battle each other into oxymoron fatigue.

The painter Susan Morris borrowed Robert Lang’s beautiful design, itself a WoA — useful bureaucratese devised by a friend of mine for filing Works of Art in a category of their own – to make the painting, also a WoA, depicted above, right.

Morris, it seems to me, takes Lang in a direction pioneered by Frank Stella:

image: Frank Stella, Harran II


It was Kevin Kelly who juxtaposed Lang and Morris in the image above — in what I’d have claimed was a WoA in my DoubleQuotes format if I’d done it myself — so as to discuss copyright.

Or more precisely, copy — right or wrong?

Nature copies, without apology, with beauty – and, in the case of certain poisonous spores, without remorse. And are we not nature?

Here’s Leonardo again:

Don’t underestimate this idea of mine, which calls to mind that it would not be too much of an effort to pause sometimes to look into these stains on walls, the ashes from the fire, the clouds, the mud, or other similar places. If these are well contemplated, you will find fantastic inventions that awaken the genius of the painter to new inventions, such as compositions of battles, animals, and men, as well as diverse composition of landscapes, and monstrous things, as devils and the like. These will do you well because they will awaken genius with this jumble of things.

To study, to copy, to derive: this awakens genius. Who am I to disagree?

“It’s Tablet!”….”No, it’s a Coffee Table!”

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Starbuck gets at hat tip for this cool mash-up of furniture with a giant next-generation tablet:

Get Ready for the Smart Coffee Table

Computers started out as discrete objects to be placed on top of furniture — a PC on the desk, a laptop on the dining room table. An iPad on the kitchen counter. But the destiny of computing devices is to be built into our furniture. The desk itself will become a PC. The dining room table will be usable like a laptop. And the kitchen counter will work a lot like an iPad.

In computer science, the concept of computers built into everything is called ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, ambient intelligence or, my favorite label: everyware.

The transition to intelligent furniture will also involve a reconsideration of the hierarchy of furniture. For example, the tables throughout your house exist in a functional ranking system. Today the king of tables, of course, is the dining room table. You spend more money on it than other tables, such as bedroom nightstands, the coffee table, the patio table, the workbench in the garage, the desk in your home office and so on. Its quality, appearance and placement are far more important than that of lesser tables.

When the dust settles on the transition to intelligent furniture, however, it’s likely that the lowly coffee table will usurp the crown and become the most important (and expensive) table in your house. The reason is that the current location and purpose of a coffee table as a table are peripheral to what’s important about your family’s life. But the intelligent coffee table of the future may be the central computing device in your home.

This is sort of an evolutionary half-step toward the internet of things, as is Google’s Daemon –type glasses. The step beyond that is networking the internet of things with our own brains. Can our brains handle this additional order of magnitude of continuous information flow? Most likely, as we adapted from pastoral life to high-tech civilization without any major evolutionary changes but our culture will definitely evolve – perhaps more than with the advent of literacy or the printing press. Without a depth of connection to others we would be at risk of cultivating a culture of isolation and self-absorbtion (I was going to write “introspection” but, well…we know that is not going to happen). With too much connection there is not enough focus to recognize or develop insights.


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