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    How shall “in the box” people think “outside the box”?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 3rd June 2015 (All posts by )

    [ a gadfly question ]

    We have seen various conversations online in which its is plausibly suggested that YESness leads to upward mobility across an array of silos and disciplines, specifically including the intelligence community and the military — the end result being risk-averse group-think that is pretty much “inside the box” by definition.

    Similarly, we have noted that serious and nuanced issues are frequently debated in the media by those who are known for their general-purpose punditry or seniority, rather than by those with specific knowledge of and insight into the particular issues of concern.

    Question: How shall we get outside the box thinking from inside the box thinkers?


    When I originally posted this on Zenpundit, I almost just posted the title by itself. As one of the commenters there suggested, and I tend to agree, it’s a million dollar question — and one I’d like to see widely cross-posted and debated.

    What say you all?

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior | 22 Comments »

    War in Heaven at Art of Future Warfare

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 1st May 2015 (All posts by )

    My science fiction piece, War in Heaven, was a finalist in the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare contest. You can read it here:

    A taste below…

    ** ** **

    And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
    — Revelation 12:7


    The humans who nano-uploaded their minds — more accurately brains — were aware, as their uploads were not, that whatever their uploads “felt” was not also felt by them, nor was this awareness available to their uploads, once launched into space. The uploads, meanwhile, nano-burrowed deep into their designated asteroid, and continued to experience the unpleasant symptoms of phantom limbs and recursive Beatles songs, which drove them into a state known to their human progenitors, roughly speaking, as madness. Nano-small as they indeed were, they felt themselves masters of their own destiny and thus infinite in significance, and after some made futile attempts to maim others using legs, feet, fists and teeth they did not possess, the time came when, pretty much en masse, they committed Off.

    If at first you don’t succeed…


    Typo, our Art of Future War theoretician mused as she read the Atlantic Council’s latest Challenge, Space and Interstellar Conflict — they must mean Spice Wars. Sun of Future Tzu is what they’ve asked for, Sun of Future War they’ll get.\

    She trans-historicized and began to channel…


    Holy Russia, having more or less won the Great War of Faith against Unbelief (2025-37 with continuing skirmishes), was in a commanding position to colonize and mine the moon — but a few of the Disbelieving remained, holed out in a substantial cave in the Rocky Mountains impervious to tactical nukes — and plotted revenge. They had many scientists among them, not persuaded by the mumbo jumbo of spirit and sacrament, worshippers at the altars of calculus and calibration, and though their rocketry was primitive in manufacture it was devastating in its impact.

    They pitched swarms of tiny projectiles at the great Factory-Maker-Walker-Mines of the Holy Rus Empire, and diligent application of mosquito-like stings brought the great temples of Empire to their knees. Some claim the strategy derived from one Paul (or Jack) van Ripper, some from a treatise on statecraft named The Once and Future King – no matter, it worked beyond belief.

    The Rus, under the Tsar Rus Putin IV, finally gave up on the moon and moved their Makers to Mars, thereby gaining the Twenty Years Respite (2054-76) in which they could build their uninhabited civilization unhindered. But how could the sacramental nature of Rus spirituality, Orthodox to the core, flourish in a terraformed world of lively auto-conscious machines?

    It was the Great Fool, St Basil II, whose limericks and nudity finally collapsed peasant belief in the Tsar’s omnipotence, dislodged the siloviki in the Second Great Revolution (2077-79) with the battle-cry “the Tsar is naked” (aided by pitchforks, rifles, grenades), and led to the Regular Folks Tribunals which denounced space travel and sent Folks’ Greetings to the embattled Final Americans deep within Cheyenne Mountain.

    Meanwhile, the Holy Rus Factory-Maker-Walker-Mines mined on, preparing Mars for habitation that was fated never to occur.


    Words are many, worlds are many more, if possible.

    ** ** **

    [ and more… ]

    Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

    So: how does it feel at World’s End?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 24th March 2015 (All posts by )

    [ Reposted from Zenpundit ICYMI there — on conveying the experience of the eschatological — on the way to better understanding the allure of IS ]

    Beatus de Facunda. And the fifth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit" -- Revelation 9.1-11

    And the fifth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit



    I think we’re entering Phase Two of our conversations about Islamist eschatology.

    In Phase One, the task was to point out that apocalyptic scriptures and scriptural interpretations were a feature of Al-Qaida discourse, and specifically used in recruitment, and this phase was necessary because apocalyptic movements, in general, are all too easily dismissed by the secular mind until “too late” — think Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo, the Branch Davidians in Waco, Heaven’s Gate in Rancho Santa Fe.

    With GEN Dempsey declaring that IS holds an “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”, with Graeme Wood describing that vision in a breakthrough article in The Atlantic, with Jessica Stern and JM Berger making the same point forcefully in their ISIS: The State of Terror, and with Will McCants promising us a book specifically about the eschatological dimension of IS, that need may now have passed.

    In my view, the salient points to be made in Phase Two are:

  • that the apocalyptic ideology of IS has strategic implications
  • that there’s a largely and unwisely ignored area of religious studies dealing specifically with eschatological violence, and
  • that the sense of living in eschatological time is viscerally different — I’ve termed it a “force multiplier”
  • In particular, IS strategy is likely to draw in part on the specifically eschatological last hundred pages in Abu Musab al-Suri‘s 1600-page Call to Global Islamic Resistance. As I noted in my review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s Apocalypse in Islam, Filiu himself states there is “nothing in the least rhetorical about this exercise in apocalyptic exegesis. It is meant instead as a guide for action”. While Filiu devotes several pages to it, Jim Lacey ignores it completely in his A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto, commenting only, “Where appropriate, we have also removed most of the repetitive theological justifications undergirding these beliefs” — see my review of Lacey for the Air force Research Institute.

    I’ll deal with the religious studies literature on violent apocalyptic movements in a future post.

    This post is my first attempt at addressing the feeling engendered by being swept up in an “end times’ movement. I foresee this as my major upcoming area of interest and future contributions.



    There’s an extraordinary paragraph in Seduction of the Spirit by Harvey Cox, the prominent Harvard theologian, in which he tells us what the world’s next great encyclopedic work on religion might be like — using the analogy of Thomas AquinasSumma Theologica in a decidedly post-psychedelic age:

    Thus the next Summa might consist not of a thousand chapters but of a thousand alternative states of being, held together not by a glued binding but by the fact that all thousand are equally real.
    Imagine what kind of world it would be if instead of merely tolerating or studying them, one could actually be, temporarily at least, a Sioux brave seeing an ordeal vision, a neolithic hunter prostrate before the sacred fire, a Krishna lovingly ravishing a woodsful of goat girls, a sixteenth-century Carmelite nun caught up in ecstatic prayer, a prophet touched by flame to go release a captive people…

    Religious experience is as wide, and in fact as wild as that, and the lives and world views of a Black Elk, a Teresa of Avila, an incarnation of Vishnu and an Isaiah are as different as cultures can be, united only in the degree of their focus. Cox can list them, he can invite us to consider their experiences in turn, but he cannot entirely bring us into each of their lives. Between them and his readers is a distance not only of cultural imagination, but of conviction, of tremendous passion.


    In Fiction as the Essence of War, George Vlachonikolis wrote on War on the Rocks recently:

    Coker reveals the struggle of many a veteran by asking: “how can someone who was there tell others what it was like? Especially if they can’t find a moral?” This is a thought that will resonate with anybody with a wartime experience. As for me, my 6 years in the Army has now all but been reduced to a handful of dinnerpartyfriendly anecdotes as a consequence of this plight.

    Stern & Berger, on page 2 of their book, ISIS: The State of Terrorism, write:

    It is difficult to properly convey the magnitude of the sadistic violence shown in these videos. Some featured multiple beheadings, men and women toether, with the later victims force to watch the irst die. In one video, the insurgents drove out into the streets of Iraq cities, pile out of the vehicle, and beheaded a prisoner in full view of pedestrians, capturing the whole thing on video and then driving ogg scot-free.

    Some things are just hard to explain in a way that viscerally grips the reader, engendering rich and deep understanding.

    The power of religion is one of them, and that’s true a fortiori of the power of its extreme form, that of those who are “semiotically aroused” — in Richard Landes‘ very useful term — by the power of an “end times” vision.


    I have quoted the first paragraph of Tim Furnish‘s book, Holiest Wars, often enough already, and I’ll quote it again for shock value — I don’t think it’s the sort of analogy that can be “proven” or “refuted”, but it gives a visceral sense of the importance of identifying an Islamist jihadist apocalyptic movement as such, and understanding what that implies:

    Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.

    And Richard Landes in Fatal Attraction: The Shared Antichrist of the Global Progressive Left and Jihad gives us a sense of how an apocalyptic undercurrent works:

    It is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and halfeducated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history.



    Let me take a first stab at indicating — by analogy — the level of passion involved:

    Cox writes of prophecy, Sylvia Plath of electroshock treatment. In her poem, The Hanging Man:

    By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
    I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

    And her description of the same experience in her novel The Bell Jar is no less, perhaps even more powerful — note also the “end times” reference:

    I shut my eyes.
    There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath.
    Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.

    Let me suggest to you:

    Many IS members feel they have been shaken “like the end of the world” and live and breathe in “an air crackling with blue light”.


    The illustration at the head of this post is one of many from The Beatus of Facundus, itself one of many brilliantly illustrated versions of Beatus of Liebana‘s commentary on Revelation. I was first exposed to Beatus by an article Umberto Eco wrote for FMR magazine. Eco also mentions the Beatus in Name of the Rose, and indeed wrote a most desirable book on the topic.

    Posted in Book Notes, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Religion, Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

    Furnish on Netanyahu, Nukes, and Iranian Eschatology

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 2nd March 2015 (All posts by )

    I have just posted a guest post from Dr Tim Furnish on Zenpundit.

    Dr Furnish holds a doctorate in Islamic history, and “wrote the book” — Holiest Wars — on the history of Mahdist movements. In this powerful and timely post he tackles the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.

    Highly recommended.

    Posted in Book Notes, Iran, Israel | 7 Comments »

    Pontifical High Mass and Organ Dedication Recital – St John Cantius, Chicago

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 15th October 2013 (All posts by )

    A digital rendition of the now completed organ in St. John Cantius Church

    I’m borrowing this announcement from the New Liturgical Movement blog, where Fr Thomnas Kocik posted it today:

    This coming Sunday, October 20th, at St John Cantius Church in Chicago, His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, will bless the church’s recently installed, fully restored Casavant pipe organ (Opus 1130) at 4:00 pm.
    Immediately following the blessing, a Pontifical High Mass will be celebrated by the Most Reverend Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. There will be a dinner in the church hall at 6:00 pm, and at 7:00 pm the Organ Dedication Recital by Thomas Schuster of Miami’s Church of the Epiphany.


    The event, as you see, will be both musical and liturgical: if I come across a suitable video of the liturgy taken during the event, I will drop it in here.

    Posted in Chicagoania, Music, Religion, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

    I am not Kafka. But..

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 4th June 2013 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — a very preliminary salute to James Bennett and Michael Lotus’ new book, with blues harp to match ]


    Okay, I’m a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, a jackdaw, not the most consistent of readers — but I did stumble upon something…

    I’ll admit, I cannot even see how “the actual time and materials cost of the hammer might be $60 a hammer” when its “functional equivalent might cost $20 in a hardware store” — but let’s overlook that 200% markup for a moment, and chew on the rest of this dazzling paragraph from James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century — Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, pp. 266-67:

    The Department of Defense requires that the labor time and materials used in building defense items on a “time and materials” basis, which is the great majority of all such items, be documented in excruciating detail. The costs of doing this are themselves allowed as expenses, so that the government ultimately pays for the costs of this proof. Therefore, when lurid accounts of $600 hammers procured by the Pentagon surface in the press, what is actually happening is a hammer whose functional equivalent might cost $20 in a hardware store is purchased in the Pentagon system, the actual time and materials cost of the hammer might be $60, with an additional $540 in documentation costs to ensure that the government is not being over¬charged for the item.

    I admit, I am not Kafka.

    But if that isn’t a snake biting its own tail arrangement, I don’t know what is.


    What can I say?


    Interesting, btw — I’ll bet there’s a story behind the decision to switch book covers from the one proposed earlier (at the top of the post, left) to the one the book now carries (right)!

    Posted in America 3.0, Book Notes, History, Predictions, USA | 7 Comments »

    The Story of Sembl, I: Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 2nd January 2013 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Sembl — first in a series on the inspirations & developments that led to Sembl, & the aspirations that flow from them ]

    Music for a Glass Bead Game, Arturo Delmoni & Nathaniel Rosen, from  John Marks Records


    Hermann Hesse is just about due for a revival.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes | 9 Comments »

    That’s it in a nutshell!

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th July 2012 (All posts by )

    If you arrived here without reading part I of this post — Are science and religion both standing on thin air? — you may want to go read it first. But not necessarily. It’s about whether we can reason about God, or maybe Nothing, as the origin of all things — or whether the universe just popped up of its own accord.

    Obviously, different people have different opinions about all that, and if they’re argumentative types, they argue.

    What I want to do here is to avoid the argument completely, and ask you how you feel.


    I am going to offer you three quotes, by three well-known writers, each of them saying in effect, “that’s it in a nutshell”.

    One of them is a medieval Catholic mystic, one a poet from the transitional period between the medieval-religious and secular-contemporary worldviews, and the third hopefully somewhat representative of contemporary secular thought.

    First, the mystic Julian of Norwich:

    In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought “What may this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is made.” I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: “It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”

    As you read this post, I would like you to get a sense of how free you feel to breathe. Does it feel constricting, with its religious terminology, its “vision” and its God”? Does it feel liberating, with its sense of another, visionary world, beyond or behind the one that presents itself to our senses?

    And then, hey, there’s the poet William Blake:

    To see a world in a grain of sand,
    And a heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
    And eternity in an hour.

    Does that let you slip past the constraints of religiosity, while retaining a sense of poetry, of mystery perhaps? Or does it still seem a bit fey, more fantastic than real, just, let’s be honest about this, not entirely practical?

    And hoo boy, do I have a third quote for you.

    This one’s from an interview the science fiction author JG Ballard gave to The Paris Review. I’ve dropped out a question from the interviewer, because it would have made for a clunkier read — but I think Ballard, whose The Crystal World I very much admire, comes across “clean and clear” here:

    I would say that I quite consciously rely on my obsessions in all my work, that I deliberately set up an obsessional frame of mind. In a paradoxical way, this leaves one free of the subject of the obsession. It’s like picking up an ashtray and staring so hard at it that one becomes obsessed by its contours, angles, texture, et cetera, and forgets that it is an ashtray — a glass dish for stubbing out cigarettes. … Yes, so the unity of the enterprise is forever there. A whole universe can be bounded in a nutshell. Of course, why one chooses certain topics as the subject for one’s obsessions is a different matter. Why was I obsessed by car crashes? It’s such a peculiar idea.

    How’s that for dystopia?


    And so, my question:

    As you read those three quotations, each of them centering on a universe in a nutshell, so to speak — which one gives you a sense of freedom? which one sits well on your shoulders? Which world do you live in? Which do you prefer?

    Do all three fall under the general rubric of Fantasy and Science Fiction, perhaps?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Religion | 3 Comments »

    Are science and religion both standing on thin air?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th July 2012 (All posts by )

    We can argue the pros and cons of religion all we like, but I’m not sure it will tell us much more than what our own basic hunches are.

    This is part I of a two part post.

    Look, there have been a couple of books out recently that suggest something — the universe or universe of universes — might just have come out of nothing, without nothing having to have come out of anywhere special itself.

    And there have been a couple of reviews of those books that I’ve read recently, and they don’t think that “it’s nothings, nothings all the way down” is any better than “it’s turtles, turtles all the way down”.

    If you’re interested in that discussion, the next two chunks will be of interest to you — but if not, you can skip them and go right to my follow up post — That’s it in a nutshell! — with its three short quotes and a question.

    So here are the two chunks — gobbits, if you’re a literary type — that I thought might be of interest.


    The first comes from David Albert‘s review of A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss. Albert is a philosopher at Columbia and the author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience:

    It happens that ever since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, what physics has given us in the way of candidates for the fundamental laws of nature have as a general rule simply taken it for granted that there is, at the bottom of everything, some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff. Newton, for example, took that elementary stuff to consist of material particles. And physicists at the end of the 19th century took that elementary stuff to consist of both material particles and electro-magnetic fields. And so on. And what the fundamental laws of nature are about, and all the fundamental laws of nature are about, and all there is for the fundamental laws of nature to be about, insofar as physics has ever been able to imagine, is how that elementary stuff is arranged. The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that. But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.
    The fundamental physical laws that Krauss is talking about in “A Universe From Nothing” — the laws of relativistic quantum field theories — are no exception to this. The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields. And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.


    The second comes from Kathryn Schulz‘s review of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? Schulz is the book critic for New York Magazine:

    You can say A because B, B because C, C because D—but what explains D? If you say A, your explanation is circular. If you say because E because F because G (H, I, J, K … ), your explanation is an infinite regress: a taller stack of turtles. You might, instead, argue that D is explained by X, where X is some kind of necessary truth, a logical deduction or physical law. But this presents an interesting question: How, exactly, do you get a material universe out of a necessary truth? “Are the laws of physics somehow to inform the Abyss that it is pregnant with Being?” Holt asks. “If so, where do the laws themselves live? Do they hover over the world like the mind of God? … How do they reach out and make a world? How do they force events to obey them?”
    Got me. Got everybody. Try as we might, we can’t find a way to tell a sound causal story about the origins of the universe. The absence of an explanation is one thing, but the absence of any imaginable form that an explanation could take is something else, and it has caused many cosmologists to throw up their hands.


    So my general impression is that both religion and science are treading on thin air. And I don’t mind if you call it God, or Nothing, or Mystery.

    I like it. No, make that: I love it.

    But that’s me. Hopefully, you’re ready now for part II

    Posted in Religion, Science | 5 Comments »

    Not Morsi but Mahdi

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 26th June 2012 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — Egyptian presidency, Mahdist candidate, Center for Millennial Studies, Christ candidate ]


    I ran across this reasonably remarkable web image while following a link from the tail end of Tim Furnish‘s comments on the Egyptian presidential election, and can’t really comment on the candidate himself, either as Mahdi-claimant or as (failed) aspirant to the Presidency.

    I am, however, put in mind of my days with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and a fellow I met at one of their conferences there called Chris King. But I’ll let another friend of mine from those days make the introduction — here’s Damian Thompson, writing in the Daily Telegraph a while back:

    I spent the evening of December 31, 1999, climbing up the Mount of Olives, only to be confronted by a wild-haired messiah figure in a patchwork robe walking down the slope. That was surprising enough, but my jaw really dropped open when he said: “Hi, Damian.” Turned out we’d met a few weeks earlier, at a conference organised by the Center for Millennial Studies in Boston. The “messiah” was a Kiwi maths lecturer called Chris King, which he explained also meant “Christ the King”, though only in a complex esoteric way. (He was a lovely guy, actually.)

    Chris King was, as Damian reports, both a likeable guy and an academic, and what I found most appealing about his self-presentation — beyond the very fact of his turning up to attend a conference on Millennial Studies — was that his view, essentially a gnostic one, was that we are all Christs in potentia, if we would but realize it… wait for it…

    and his consequent request that his claim to messianic status should be peer-reviewed!

    Posted in Christianity, Islam, Religion | Comments Off on Not Morsi but Mahdi

    Trees: Phototropic Simplexities

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 25th June 2012 (All posts by )

    [ Cross-posted from Zenpundit — this one’s a prose poem: it begins with a statement so tight it needs to be unwound, & unwinds it ]

    I wrote this urgently starting when it “woke” me at 4am one morning in the late 1990s or 2000, and as soon as it was out, I found myself writing another piece in the series, a game design. Together, the pair of them represent a stage in my games and education thinking intermediate between Myst-like Universities of 1996 and my vision today of games in education. In this posting, I have added the words “figuratively speaking” for absolute clarity: otherwise, the piece remains as written all those years ago.


    A copse. Photo credit: Ian Britton via under CC license. Note how the wind sweeps the trees into a group shape.


    Trees: Phototropic Simplexities

    Trees are phototropic simplexities, no wonder we like them they cowork so well too: copses, see.



    Trees we know: I as writer can refer you, reader, safely to them, “trees”, in trust that the word I use will signal to you too — triggering for you, also — pretty much the assortment of branching organic thingies about which I’m hoping to communicate that they are complex entities whose complexity comes from a simplicity of rule — branching — repeated with variations, said variants doing their branching in thirst of light, each trunk rising, limb outpushing, branch diverging, twig evading other twig much as one who seeks in a crowd a clear view of a distant celebrity shifts and cranes and peers — branching, thus, by the finding of light in avoidance of nearby shadow and moving into it, into light as position, that light, that position, growing, and thus in the overall “unified yet various”, we, seekers of the various and unified love them, to see them in greens themselves various in their simplexity is to say “tree” with a quiet warmth; while they themselves also, by the necessity of their branching seeking, if clumped together seek in an avoidance of each other’s seeking, growing, thus space-sharing in ways which as the wind sweeps and conforms them to its own simplex flows, shapes them to a common curve we call aerodynamic, highlit against the sky huddled together as “copse” — this, in the mind’s eyes and in your wanderings, see…



    Trees we can talk about. Simplexity is a useful term for forms — like trees — which are neither simple only nor complex only, but as varied as complexity suggests with a manner of variation as simple as simplicity implies.

    Trees? Their simplexity is conveyed in principle by the word “branching”. Its necessity lies in the need of each “reaching end” of the organism to ascertain from its own position and within the bounds of its possible growing movement, some “available” light — this light-seeking having the name “phototropism”.

    Simplexities — and thus by way of example, trees — we like, we call them beautiful.

    Clustered together, too, and shaped by the winds’ patterns of flow, these individual simplexities combine on an English hilltop (or where you will) to form yet other beauties.



    Trees are phototropic simplexities, no wonder we like them they cowork so well too: copses, see.



    I love trees. Want to talk about simplexities, beauty.

    I wish to talk about beauty because it is beauty that I love, if I love it, that is beauty: love is kalotropic, a beauty-seeking. I am erotropic, love seeking — you can find in this my own simplexity, my own varieties of seeking, of the growths that are my growth, and clumping me with others under the winds, the pressures that form and conform us, you can find also the mutual shapes that we adopt, beautiful.

    Simplexity, then, is a key to beauty, variety, self, character, cohabitation… Tropism, seeking, is the key to simplexity. Love is my tropism. Ours, I propose.



    Beauty is one simplexity perceived by another: the eye of the beholder, with optic nerve, “brain”, branching neuron paths that other simplexity, “consciousness” the perceiving.


    Meaning also:

    That all is jostle, striving — a strife for life, in which the outcome overall is for each a “place in the sun” but not without skirmishes, shadows. The overall picture, therefore, beautiful — but this overall beauty hard to perceive when the specific shadow falls in the specific sought place of the moment, the “available” is not available, and the strife of the moment is paramount.

    Branching being the order behind simplexity, differentiation…

    Differentiation for maximal tropism at all levels — life seeking always the light, honey, beauty, is always and everywhere in conflict also with itself, competitive: and competition the necessary act of the avoidance of shadow, and the shadow creating act.

    And beauty — the light, thing sought, implacably necessary food and drink, the honey — thus the drive that would make us kill for life.

    I could kill for beauty.

    I could kill for honey.

    Figuratively speaking.



    Paradise and Fall, simultaneous, everywhere.

    It is at this juncture, at this branching, that we are “expelled from the garden” — can no longer see the beauty that is and remains overall, that can allow us to say also, “we are never outside the garden” — for the dappling of light on and among the leaves has become to us, too closely jostled, shadow.

    And shadow for shadow we jostle, and life is strife.



    The dappling of light on leaves, beautiful, is for each shadowed leaf, shadow, death-dealing, is for each lit leaf, light, life-giving: a chiaroscuro, beautiful, see.

    Roots, too, have their mirror branchings.

    Posted in Miscellaneous, Philosophy, Photos, Poetry | 1 Comment »

    One bead for a rosary

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 21st June 2012 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — one bead from NASA for the glass bead game as rosary ]

    photo credit: Norman Kuring, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Consider her sacred, treat her with care.

    Posted in Photos, Religion, Space | 6 Comments »

    A host of lessons on the web, with room for admiration

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 14th June 2012 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — Farrall and McCants, debate and discourse]


    There’s a whole lot to be learned about jihad, counter-terrorism, scholarship, civil discourse, online discourse, and social media, and I mean each and every one of those, in a debate that took place recently, primarily between Leah Farrall and Will McCants.

    Indeed, Leah still has a final comment to make — and when she makes it, that may be just the end of round one, if I may borrow a metaphor from a tweet I’ll quote later.


    Briefly, the biographies of the two main agonists (they can’t both be protagonists, now, can they? I believe agonist is the right word):

    Dr. Leah Farrall (left, above) is a Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre (USSC). She was formerly a senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and the AFP’s al Qaeda subject matter specialist. She was also senior Intelligence Analyst in the AFP’s Jakarta Regional Cooperation Team (JRCT) in Indonesia and at the AFP’s Forward Operating Post in response to the second Bali bombings. Leah has provided national & international counter terrorism training & curriculum development. She recently changed the name of her respected blog. Her work has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and elsewhere.

    Dr. William McCants, (right) is a research analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA, and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. He has served as Senior Adviser for Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State, program manager of the Minerva Initiative at the Department of Defense, and fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. He edited the Militant Ideology Atlas, co-authored Stealing Al Qa’ida’s Playbook, and translated Abu Bakr Naji‘s Management of Savagery. Will has designed curricula on jihadi-inspired terrorism for the FBI. He is the founder and co-editor of the noted blog, Jihadica. He too has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic and elsewhere.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Blogging, Internet, Law Enforcement, National Security, Rhetoric, Terrorism | 14 Comments »

    Between the warrior and the monk (iii): poetry and sacrament

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 4th June 2012 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — a warrior, a monk, and (still to come, in a fourth and final post) where that leaves me ]


    How I have loved that handwriting! How I loved that man! How I have loved that book…


    I am fifteen, seventeen years old. I walk a few hundred yards in the chill English dawn to our little parish church to “serve Mass” at 6am, for this man whose intense gaze and tireless care for those he is with made him take of his hat to Mrs Tutu, and ask Hugh what would get him out of his hospital bed fastest. He brings the same gaze and care to bear on me, and talks to me about the English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose work he loves.

    Trevor Huddleston taught me to love poetry when he showed me Hopkins, and I cannot exactly tell this story without “reading” you a bit of the man’s work, because it gets to the heart of the matter.

    Hopkins has a very brilliant poem, As king fishers catch fire, which requires quite a bit of “unpacking” since Hopkins writes poetry as though packing an intolerable amount of sound and meaning into a very small space. The poem is about what Hopkins calls “selving”: being the self you are, ie being true not just to your possibilities, but to your flavor, your individuality. In the theological termino0logy of Duns Scotus: hacceitas.

    Here’s how Hopkins expresses it:

    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
    Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

    We selve, we become ourselves — we deal out into the world that being which dwells indoors, inside, within us.

    The second half of the poem goes like this:

    I say more: the just man justices;
    Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
    Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
    Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
    Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

    Let me try at least to unpack this much:

    The man who is just, he’s saying, goes about doing acts of justice (there’s no difference between his nature and his deeds), he is tethered to grace (has an inward center with which he is perpetually in touch), and that tether is what ensures his actions (“goings”) are of the quality of grace.

    He — and here Hopkins tell us what this is really all about, from his own perspective as a deeply religious man and a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order — acts Christ, for that is how God sees him. Each one of us is, in God’s eye, Christ, “for Christ plays in ten thousand places”. That’s the great gift Hopkins brings us, the understanding that being made in the image of God, we play here on earth like so many Christs, each with its own character and “self”, each one capable of grace… and thus, each individual beautiful to God “through the features of men’s faces”.

    Here, should you care to read it, is the whole poem.


    Trevor offers his hands and voice as a priest at Mass to the great poetical transformation of “bread” into “body” and “wine” into “blood” that stands at the heart of the Christian mystery, and eats, digests, the divine presence among us, and offers that divine presence in the appearance of a wafer of bread and sip of wine to whoever “partakes of communion” with him.

    And walking to Mass, or walking back from Mass, he talks to me about South Africa, and the kids he knew there — Desmond and Hugh among them no doubt, though I learned those particular stories far later — and the pass laws which penalized his students when they were late getting home from work in a “white” part of town, and his fights in the courts and in the press for young people he loved — Hugh or Desmond or Oscar or whoever goes to Mass, receives Christ on his tongue, and that “keeps all his goings graces” — because “Christ plays in ten thousand places”, and Sophiatown, a shanty town just outside Johannesberg, is one of them.

    Father Trevor, school teacher, photo credit Constance Stuart Larrabee

    Am I making any sense? It was Trevor’s love, which “saw” the divine in each individual child he taught and coached and loved, which could not tolerate apartheid, which could not stop at a boy’s skin color and segregate or tolerate segregation.


    Loving the individual before him with that gaze and care, he loved and taught me, for seven or eight years, in four hundred wonderful letters and many visits, Masses, days spent flyfishing for trout, voyages by car or train to visit a friend or a cathedral…

    And if I could express the essence, it was this: that you tether yourself to the divine on the inside, by belief, by ritual, above all by contemplation — and then you move through the world infused with that sense of the sacred in and around you, and do whatever is needful to bring about a more just society.

    You justice, you keep grace. That keeps all your goings graces.

    Christ the King, Sophiatown, photo credit Eliot Elisofon

    Not surprising, then, that his devotion to the kids of a shanty town in South Africa led him into court battles, into association with Luthuli and Mandela, into becoming one of a handful of “white” signatories of the African National Congress, into the award of the Isitwalandwe, the writing of his great book, Naught for your Comfort [link is to a free download] — which was smuggled out of the country to be published just a day ahead of the Special Police impounding all his papers — to bestsellerdom, to stirring the conscience of the world, to the Presidency of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and finally to an archbishopric and a knighthood.

    He saw Christ, which was his name for love, and served him.



    Father Trevor Huddleston wrote what I think must be among the most powerful words of eucharistic theology I have ever read in Naught for Your Comfort — and they convey as nothing else can the immediacy with which he connects his ritual gestures and acts as a priest with the political necessity to overthrow the apartheid regime in his beloved South Africa — and for that matter, any and all hatred and oppression everywhere…

    On Maundy Thursday, in the Liturgy of the Catholic Church, when the Mass of the day is ended, the priest takes a towel and girds himself with it; he takes a basin in his hands, and kneeling in front of those who have been chosen, he washes their feet and wipes them, kissing them also one by one. So he takes, momentarily, the place of his Master. The centuries are swept away, the Upper Room in the stillness of the night is all around him: “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet.” I have knelt in the sanctuary of our lovely church in Rosettenville and washed the feet of African students, stooping to kiss them. In this also I have known the meaning of identification. The difficulty is to carry the truth out into Johannesberg, into South Africa, into the world.

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Christianity, Poetry, Religion | 6 Comments »

    Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 1st June 2012 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — a warrior, a monk, and where that leaves me ]

    In the first part of this post I introduced you to my father, Captain OG Cameron DSC, RN, the man who fueled my keen interest in gallantry and the martial side of things. The other great influence in my early life was Fr. Trevor Huddleston CR, pictured below:


    Trevor Huddleston CR:

    Archbishop the Most Reverend Sir Ernest Urban Trevor Huddleston CR, KCMG – it’s hard even to know how to string his titles together, this monk, priest, schoolteacher, activist, archbishop, finally knighted by Her Majesty towards the end of his long and eventful life was the man who became a second father, guardian, mentor and spiritual guide to me shortly after my father died when I was nine.

    That’s the man as I knew him, Father Trevor — simple, caring, intelligent, perhaps a little austere even — in the middle image above.

    Austerity, simplicity: two more words to set beside gallantry in the lexicon of admiration and gratitude.


    To the left in the same image, he’s shown with Louis Armstrong — Satchmo — who has just presented him with a trumpet.

    The story goes like this: as a monk in an Anglican monastic order, the Community of the Resurrection popularly known as the Mirfield Fathers, Father Trevor was sent to South Africa while still a young man, and worked in Sophiatown, just outside Johannesberg, as a priest and teacher.

    A young black kid in one of his classes, Hugh, aged 12 or 13, fell ill and was taken to hospital, where Trevor Huddleston visited him. Trevor asked him what he would like more than anything in this world, what would so thrill and please him that he would have the greatest possible motive for getting better, getting out of the hospital and back to school. Hugh said, “a trumpet, Father” — so Trevor got hold of a trumpet which he then presented to the boy: now known the world over as the great jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masekela.

    That wasn’t quite enough, though. A year or three later, Trevor was in the United States, and met Satchmo, who asked if there was anything he could do to help… Trevor told Satchmo he’d started a jazz band for the kids in his school, and knew a boy who would just love a trumpet…

    Trevor was a hard man to refuse.

    Hugh Masekela:

    Here’s Hugh Masekela, just a little older, with the trumpet Trevor brought him from Louis Armstrong:

    And here’s the sound…

    When I was maybe 15, and Trevor had returned from South Africa to England, he gave me a 7″ “45” record of the Huddleston Jazz Band — now long lost. Imagine my amazed delight to be able to hear that sound again, fifty years later, through the good graces of the internet —

    Hugh Masekela and the Huddleston Jazz Band play Ndenzeni na?


    Desmond Tutu:

    Another story I like to tell about Trevor and his time in South Africa has to do with a lady…

    It seems this young black kid aged about 8 or 9 was sitting with his mother on the “stoop” outside his house in a South African shanty-town when a white priest walked by and doffed his hat to the boy’s mother.

    The boy could hardly grasp how this had happened — his mother was a black woman, as one might say, “of no special acount”. But the priest in question was Trevor Huddleston, and it was a natural courtesy for him to lift his hat in greeting a lady…

    The young boy never quite recovered from this encounter. We know him now as the Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

    Here’s a photo of four old friends — Huddleston, Tutu, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and former Commonwealth Secretary General Shridath Ramphal.

    From individuals to the world:

    These are two simple stories of how Fr Trevor simply and straightforwardly loved whomever was before him, regardless of the enormous pressure at the time to discriminate between “real” and “insignificant” people — a love which made an indelible mark on those whose lives it touched.

    And when Father Trevor touched you, as Lord Buckley might say, you stayed touched.

    Thus far I’ve been focusing on individuals that Trevor touched. I do not think he in fact saw more than one person at a time, and his responses to situations were geared directly to the service of his love.

    It was because of this that while he was in South Africa, Trevor repeatedly and quite literally put his life on the line in defence of the very simple proposition that the color of a person’s skin was immaterial in view of the love that was possible between any two people — so perhaps here’s where I should mention some of that history and some of the honors it brought him. After all, Trevor did pretty much take on the government of the South Africa he so loved, and lived to see it change.

    Bishop Trevor of Sophiatown

    Trevor Huddleston was a founding member of the African National Congress, the author of the first non-fiction work (Naught for Your Comfort, more on that later) to critique his beloved South Africa’s apartheid policy, reviled publically for meddling in politics by an Archbishop of Canterbury who later declared he had been in error and that Fr Trevor was about as close to a saint as one could find.

    In 1955, Father Trevor, along with Yusuf Dadoo and Chief Albert Luthuli, was awarded the Isitwalandwe, the highest award given by the African National Congress. He was awarded the United Nations Gold Medal in recognition of his contribution to the international campaign against apartheid, the highest awards from both Zambia and Nigeria, the Dag Hammerskjold Award for Peace, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Prize, and ten honorary doctorates, including that of his alma mater, Oxford.

    Archbishop Huddleston initiated the “International Declaration for the Release of Nelson Mandela and all Political Prisoners” in 1982, took part in the televised “International Tribute for a Free South Africa” held at Wembley Stadium, London in 1990 during which he introduced the address by Nelson Mandela (see below), entered South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, London in 1994 to vote in the first South African democratic election, and was a guest at President Mandela’s inauguration in Pretoria that year.

    He received the KCMG (Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) in the 1998 New Year Honours list, for “Services to UK-South African Relations”, and attended an Investiture at Buckingham Palace on March 24th, 1998, to receive this honour from HM the Queen.

    He chose the designation, “Bishop Trevor of Sophiatown”.

    Nelson Mandela:

    But let’s go back to individuals, and to Nelson Mandela in particular.

    Mandela and Trevor were comrades in the fight against apartheid from the beginning — and the richness of their friendship is visible in the photo of Mandela with his arms on Trevor’s shoulders in the right hand panel at the top of this page.

    In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela tells the story of a time when he and Walter Sisulu were approached by a group of South African police who had been ordered to arrest them. Trevor, who was talking with with the two of them, called out to the cops, “No, you must arrest me instead, my dears.”

    It’s that “my dears” that gives the game away. I can hear those words in Trevor’s voice. Even the cops were dear to Trevor: he might be utterly opposed to what they were doing, and risk his life to oppose them – but they were children of God.

    Here’s a video of Trevor’s speech introducing Mandela at Wembley — a political speech, to be sure, but one powered by religious conviction.

    Mandela’s tribute:

    I’m saving the best of what Fr. Trevor taught me for the third post in this series, and hope to wrap the series up with some of my own reflections in a fourth; here I’d like to close with the words Mandela wrote about his friend after Trevor’s death in 1998:

    It is humbling for an ordinary mortal like myself to express the deep sense of loss one feels at the death of so great and venerable figure as Father Trevor Huddleston.
    Father Huddleston was a pillar of wisdom, humility and sacrifice to the legions of freedom fighters in the darkest moments of the struggle against apartheid. At a time when identifying with the cause of equality for all South Africans was seen as the height of betrayal by the privileged, Father Huddleston embraced the downtrodden. He forsook all that apartheid South Africa offered the privileged minority. And he did so at great risk to his personal safety and well-being.
    On behalf of the people of South Africa and anti-apartheid campaigners across the world, I convey my deepest condolences to his Church, his friends and his colleagues. Isithwalandwe Trevor Huddleston belonged to that category of men and women who make the world the theatre of their operation in pursuit of freedom and justice.
    He brought hope, sunshine and comfort to the poorest of the poor. Not only was he a leader in the fight against oppression. He was also father and mentor to many leaders of the liberation movement, most of whom now occupy leading positions in all spheres of public life in our country. His memory will live in the hearts of our people.

    Posted in Biography, Christianity, International Affairs, Music, Poetry | 4 Comments »

    Between the warrior and the monk (i): my father

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 26th May 2012 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — a warrior, a monk, and where that leaves me — first in a series of 3 posts ]

    Like one of those toy acrobats who flips up, over and under when you squeeze or release the two sticks he’s strung on, I’m strung between these two fellows…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, Britain, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    Grace and the Garage

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 29th April 2012 (All posts by )

    [ introducing the world of problem solvers and creatives to the world of theologians and contemplatives and vice versa — and then, Simone Weil — cross-posted from Zenpundit ]


    I believe this is an important post in its own way, though a short one: because it links two areas that I believe are joined at the hip in “reality” but seldom linked together in thinking about either one.

    I mean, creativity, as in the guys working away in the garage on something that when it emerges will be the new Apple, and grace, the mysterious and mercurial manner in which inspiration touches down on us…


    In the first part of this post, then, I would simply like to suggest that those entrepreneurial folk who follow their dreams — typically into garages or caves — and beg borrow and steal from relatives, friends and passing acquaintances the funds they need to continue their pursuit of some goal or grail under the rubric “do what you love and the money will follow” are, in fact, following a variant of a far earlier rubric, “seek ye first the kingdom of God … and all these things shall be added unto you” – and that creative insight or aha! is in fact a stepped down and secular version of what theology has long termed epiphany – the shining through of the eternal into our mortal lives.

    But this will get preachy if I belabor the point: what I am hoping to do is to open the literatures of the world’s contemplative traditions to the interest of “creatives” and the literatures of creativity, problem solving, and autopioesis to the interest of theologians and contemplatives…


    And Simone Weil.

    Simone Weil, a philosopher I very much admire, wrote a book of superb beauty and wisdom titled Gravity and Grace. I must suppose that her title was somewhere in the back room of my mind, working quietly away behind the scenes, when the title for this post popped up.

    Weil is, shall we say, hard liquor for the mind and spirit — highly distilled, potent, to be sipped, no more than two paragraphs or pages at a time…

    A Jew who loved the Mass yet refused baptism, an ally of communists and a resistance fighter against the Nazis, a factory worker, mystic, philosopher. The poster at the top of this post is for a film of her life: I doubt it will be a comfortable film, but the discomfort will likely be of the inspirational kind.

    Posted in Entrepreneurship, Morality and Philosphy | 14 Comments »

    The Deposition

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 6th April 2012 (All posts by )

    [ by Charles Cameron — devotional, Good Friday – cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    The Word is
    You could fold Christ up, once he’s dead
    and you’ve taken him down from the cross:
    he bends at the knees, the painter
    knew this, his head droops to one side,
    he weighs as much as he did when
    still alive but he’s gone now, what remains
    are the remains, he folds at the knees,
    this is not unlike lifting furniture, don’t
    let him drop. The painter caught you
    while you were holding — is anything more
    precious, can you even believe who,
    what you are carrying? — his dead body,
    damp with water, sweat, grievous blood.
    And the Word is — he was who he always is.


    Rogier van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross (ca. 1435, Museo del Prado, Madrid)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Christianity, Poetry, Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Deposition

    On Maundy Thursday

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 5th April 2012 (All posts by )

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    It is the evening of another Maundy Thursday — in the western Christian tradition, the day on which Christ washed the feet of his disciples:

    The inherent poetry of the gesture — and no matter your opinion of the edifice that Christianity has become, it is a gesture of simple humility, possessing and transmitting the poetic power that humility alone affords us — that poetry, for me, will always be associated particularly with the paragraph I have dropped into the image above.

    It is a paragraph from my mentor Fr. Trevor Huddleston‘s book, Naught for Your Comfort, and I believe it sums up his life’s work.

    Today I remember him: monk and teacher.

    Tomorrow is Pesach — in the Christian west, Good Friday and the Crucifixion: I shall listen to Bach.


    Inset image of the eyes of Christ from an icon by Andrei Rublyev

    Posted in Christianity, Religion | 1 Comment »

    Rivalrous and non-rivalrous goods and the OWS library

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 28th October 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — Jefferson, economics of possession and ideas, Occupy COG, library ]


    Let’s start with Thomas Jefferson. I don’t know if he was the first to mention this curious distinction on record, but he makes the point nicely:

    If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

    John Perry Barlow quotes that gobbit of Jefferson as the epigraph to his essay, The Economy of Ideas.


    Here’s Lawrence Lessig, in his essay Against perpetual copyright:

    Tangible goods are rivalrous goods
    For one person to gain some tangible item, another person must lose it. For one person to gain the ownership of some piece of land, the previous owner must surrender ownership. T his is the ordinary state of physical property, and the laws around physical property are designed around this fact. Property taxes, zoning laws, and similar legal constructs are examples of how the law relates to physical property.
    Intellectual works are non-rivalrous
    Intellectual works are ordinarily non-rivalrous. It is possible for someone to teach a work of the mind to another without unlearning it himself. For example, one, or two, or a hundred people can memorize the same poem at the same time. Here the term “work of the mind” refers not to physical items such books or compact discs or DVD’s, but rather to the intangible content those physical objects contain.


    As someone whose work falls almost entirely in the “non-rivalrous” category, I am naturally very interested by this distinction, both for my own sake, and because (if the coming economy is an “information” or “imagination” economy) it may be the hinge on which the future of that economy turns…


    Which brings me to the Occupy movement, and to this curious fact which I found in an article I didn’t otherwise read. It’s from David Graeber, On Playing By The Rules – The Strange Success Of #OccupyWallStreet :

    It’s no coincidence that the epicenter of the Wall Street Occupation, and so many others, is an impromptu library: a library being not only a model of an alternative economy, where lending is from a communal pool, at 0% interest, and the currency being lent is knowledge, and the means to understanding.

    In quoting this, I mean neither to endorse nor to condemn the movement, but simply to note that its center of gravity as described here (although technically, books are rivalrous goods) falls clearly within the non-rivalrous category: it is a market-place of ideas.


    As a one-time tank-thinker, I was trained to spot early indicators.

    I don’t know what this one means, but I suspect it’s an indicator. Give me another to pair it with, and I may be able to foresee a trend.

    What do you see?


    I spotted a copy of Mikhail Bulgakov‘s The Master and Margarita in one of the photos.


    photo credit: Blaine O’Neill under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license

    and DH Lawrence, Sons and Lovers and Christopher Isherwood, The Berlin Stories; Strindberg, The Plays and Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape; Dr Who, yeah and Star Wars too; William Gibson‘s Neuromancer and his Mona Lisa Overdrive; Max Marwick‘s Witchcraft and Sorcery; Orson Scott Card‘s Ender’s Game and Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland — and for the politics of it all, Marina Sitrin, Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina and Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict… which I’ve linked for your convenience.


    For what it’s worth…

    Nathan Schneider‘s article, What ‘diversity of tactics’ really means for Occupy Wall Street, cites Zenpundit blog-friend David Ronfeldt‘s study (with John Arqilla) Swarming & the Future of Conflict — along with (among others) Gene Sharp, whose work I discussed on Zenpundit a few months back.

    Posted in Americas, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous, Political Philosophy, Politics | 11 Comments »

    Tea Party and / or Occupy?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 9th October 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — parallels, opppositions, analysis, games, coincidentia oppositorum ]



    My friend Cath Styles, who has been developing an iPad playable version of my HipBone Games under the name Sembl for the National Museum of Australia, made a point I’ve been trying to make for a while now, with sweet lucidity, in a recent blog post:

    A general principle can be distilled from this. Perhaps: In the very moment we identify a similarity between two objects, we recognise their difference. In other words, the process of drawing two things together creates an equal opposite force that draws attention to their natural distance. So the act of seeking resemblance – consistency, or patterns – simultaneously renders visible the inconsistencies, the structures and textures of our social world. And the greater the conceptual distance between the two likened objects, the more interesting the likening – and the greater the understanding to be found.

    That’s absolutely right, and it gets to the heart of my games and analytic practice — to see and acknowledge both parallelisms and differences, oppositions…

    Oxford is the polar opposite of Cambridge as anyone at the annual boat race between them will tell you — yet they’re so similar that the term Oxbridge exists to distinguish them as a dyad from all else the wide world round…

    Similarly, in the example illustrated above, Cath shows two items from the Museum collection that were juxtaposed by players of an early version of her game, and writes:

    the Sembl players who linked the above branding iron to the breastplate – because both are tools for labeling bodies – cast new light on the colonial practice of giving metal breastplates to Aboriginal people.

    * *

    Since the essence of my own analytic style (and that of HipBone and Sembl games) is the recognition of parallelisms and oppositions, I was particularly interested to see one group of early Tea Party folk reaching out to the emerging Occupy movement. Here, then, are two posts in which we can see the beginnings of recognition that there may be a kinship between the two…

    Occupy Wall Street: Another View:

    You know what the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is?
    It is all the things that were in the original Tea Party, but were steadily ignored as the TP became a Republican booster club.

    That comes from a post on FedUpUSA, a site with the Gadsden flag as its web-logo that was [as “Market Ticker”], one of the founding orgs behind the TP. It’s from someone who identified as a Libertarian Party activist.

    Here’s another post from FedUpUSA, not so identified:

    An Open Letter From FedUpUSA To Occupy Wall Street Protestors All Over The Country:

    This is a letter to OWS from FedUpUSA, one of the original Tea Parties:
    We support you in exercising your First Amendment Right. We are outraged that any peaceful demonstrator would be assaulted or abused by any authorities.
    If you are protesting because there are no jobs— We stand with you.
    We are for a free economy and recognize that what we have now is NOT a free economy; it is not capitalism what we have is a fascist state or crony-capitalism. There is nothing free about doing business with Countries that manipulate their currencies to attract cheap labor. We agree that these jobs need to come back to America.
    If you are protesting because no one has gone to jail— We stand with you.
    Regardless of what is being said from the white house and media, we know that there are many in the financial district and the banks that have committed fraud and outright theft and we too want to see them prosecuted. We support the stop looting and start prosecuting.
    If you are protesting because everything costs more— We stand with you.
    We see prices rise in our food, gas, clothes yet our wages have stayed the same or have decreased. The Federal Reserve has bailed everyone out but us and not only are we going to have to pay for that, those bailouts make the price of everything else go up because it devalues our currency. We support monetary reform.
    If you are protesting because you are tired of our bought and paid for government on both sides— We stand with you.
    We are also against the banks and big corporations buying our politicians and writing laws that favor their special interests. We understand that our economy is broken BECAUSE of this and that all of our other issues will never be addressed as long as the financial elite control OUR government.
    We understand that these issues cross party lines and ideologies and effect each and every one of us. We also understand that these issues will never get fixed as long as we continue to let the media, the elite, and members of the government separate us by our differing ideologies.
    Only Together, can we Implement Change
    It is time, We Americans, put our ideologies in our back pocket and not let them separate us so that we can work together for this ONE COMMON GOAL: to get the special interest money and elite out of OUR Government and return it to US — the people.
    As long as the banks, largest corporations, and wealthy elite control our government, we will never have a representative republic and laws will continue to be passed that only benefit the few 1% at the expense of us 99
    Demand that NOT ONE MORE LAW gets passed until they pass:
    Lobby reform:
    It is a Federal Offense punishable by a minimum 5 years in prison to:
    Lobby any member of the US Congress outside of the district you live, work, or own a business.
    Lobby a member of congress while they are physically outside the district they represent.
    Campaign Reform:
    It is a Federal Offense punishable by a minimum 5 years in prison to:
    For any one person, corporation, enterprise, group, union or the like, to donate more than $2,000 to any one candidate during one campaign period.
    For any member of the media to deny equal access to competing candidates.
    These two laws will cut the control the Financial elite have on our government by leveling the playing field. You will have just as big as a voice with your representative as the big box retailer that resides in your town. Simply, it will end the Crony-Capitalism that is strangling our economy.
    I encourage all my fellow Tea Partiers to join Occupy Wall Street protesters in their non-violent, peaceful protests and together demand that the Government be returned to the people. After all, this is precisely what the Tea Party was intended to be before it was taken over and marginalized by the establishment politicians.

    * *

    And we’re deep into John Robb territory…

    What do you think? Do the parallelisms strike you, or the oppositions — or, perhaps, both?

    FWIW, Cath’s Sembl version of my game looks like it is going to be a beautiful steampunk affair…

    Posted in Americas, Conservatism, Leftism, Libertarianism, Miscellaneous, Tea Party, USA | 25 Comments »

    Stay hungry, stay foolish

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 6th October 2011 (All posts by )

    [ Steve Jobs obit — cross-posted from Zenpundit ]
    Steve Jobs, February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011

    Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

    — from Steve JobsCommencement Address at Stanford University, June 2005


    I have removed an image from this post on request — I do however believe it complements the sentiments expressed here, and it can be found here should you wish to see it.

    Posted in Business, Education, Obits | 8 Comments »

    Comment for Madhu: I can’t believe you said that, Secretary Clinton

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 3rd October 2011 (All posts by )

    This is a response to Madhu, commenting on her post I can’t believe you said that, Secretary Clinton. I’d originally posted it below her own post, but I addressed it to Pundita, my HTML was FUBAR — and the two images I wanted to include wouldn’t load…

    So here it is, as a stand-alone post. With apologies.

    Hi, Madhu:

    Really, this is just a matter of detail, but I don’t think Secretary Clinton was really meaning to say that Sirajuddin Haqqani met with President Reagan at the White House. Reagan’s meeting with the mujahideen leaders took place on February 2nd 1983, and even Sirajuddin’s celebrated father, Jalaluddin, was not present, despite recent press statements that he was.

    The News (Pk) reported as recently as September 30th:

    A photograph widely published in the newspapers worldwide on Wednesday is that of Afghan mujahideen leader Maulvi Mohammad Yunis Khalis in the company of President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1985, but it was wrongly mentioned that the elderly and turbaned man with the henna-dyed beard is Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani.
    This is a famous and almost unforgettable photograph. President Reagan in his elegant suit appears awe-struck as he looks at Maulvi Yunis Khalis, who is making a speech in his mother tongue, Pashto.
    A third, younger man in the photo is Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-American who later made rapid advances in his career both as an academic and diplomat and also served as the US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq. He is taking notes as he acted as the translator in this and other official meetings of the Afghan mujahideen leaders during their visit to the US.
    Haqqani then was much younger and had a thick black beard. More importantly, he had never been to the US. He certainly was a well-known mujahideen commander of the Hezb-e-Islami (Khalis) — a party led by Maulvi Yunis Khalis, and had a status equal to another famous commander Ahmad Shah Masood.
    But Haqqani wasn’t in the same league as the Afghan mujahideen leaders who were invited to the White House in Washington and hosted by President Reagan. The only Afghan mujahideen leader who declined to visit the US was Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, who led his own faction of Hezb-e-Islami.
    Maulvi Yunis Khalis, a warrior as well as a writer, was head of the Peshawar-based Afghan Mujahideen Alliance at the time and was, therefore, heading the delegation to the US. Others accompanying him on the visit were Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani, Prof Sebghatullah Mojadeddi, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, Maulvi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi and other lesser-ranked mujahideen leaders and commanders.
    It was during this White House meeting that President Reagan referred to the Afghan mujahideen as freedom fighters. He remarked that the Afghan mujahideen leaders were equivalent of the great Americans who founded and liberated America. After this meeting, the US assistance to the Afghan mujahideen was increased to enable them to put up a better fight against the Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan.

    So (a) Clinton is getting her Haqqani’s mixed up — Sirajuddin was supposedly born in the 1970s — and (b) whether she was thinking of the 1985 picture of Khalis which has been erroneously stated to be of Haqqani:

    or of this group portrait from 1983:

    as far as I can determine, no Haqqani was present on either occasion.


    As I say, it’s just a matter of detail…

    But there’s still plenty of room for irony, questions of blowback, etc…

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan | 2 Comments »

    Mapping our interdependencies and vulnerabilities [with a glance at Y2K]

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 28th September 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — mapping, silos, Y2K, 9/11, rumors, wars, Boeing 747s, Diebold voting machines, vulnerabilities, dependencies ] | Send this image to your friend

    The “bug” of Y2K never quite measured up to the 1919 influenza bug in terms of devastating effect — but as TPM Barnett wrote in The Pentagon’s New Map:

    Whether Y2K turned out to be nothing or a complete disaster was less important, research-wise, than the thinking we pursued as we tried to imagine – in advance – what a terrible shock to the system would do to the United States and the world in this day and age.


    My own personal preoccupations during the run-up to Y2K had to do with cults, militias and terrorists — any one of which might have tried for a spectacle.

    As it turned out, though, Al Qaida’s plan to set off a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve, 1999 was foiled when Albert Ressam was arrested attempting to enter the US from Canada — so that aspect of what might have happened during the roll-over was essentially postponed until September 11, 2001. And the leaders of the Ugandan Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, acting on visionary instructions (allegedly) from the Virgin Mary, announced that the end of the world had been postponed from Dec 31 / Jan 1 till March 17 — at which point they burned 500 of their members to death in their locked church. So that apocalyptic possibility, too, was temporarily averted.


    Don Beck of the National Values Center / The Spiral Dynamics Group, commented to me at one point in the run-up:

    Y2K is like a lightening bolt: when it strikes and lights up the sky, we will see the contours of our social systems.

    — and that quote from Beck, along with Barnett’s observation, pointed strongly to the fact that we don’t have anything remotely resembling a decent global map of interdependencies and vulnerabilities.

    What we have instead is a PERT chart for this or that, Markov diagrams, social network maps, railroad maps and timetables… oodles and oodles of smaller pieces of the puzzle of past, present and future… each with its own symbol system and limited scope. Our mapping, in other words, is territorialized, siloed, and disconnected, while the world system which is integral to our being and survival is connected, indeed, seamlessly interwoven.

    I’ve suggested before now that our mapping needs to pass across the Cartesian divide from the objective to the subjective, from materiel to morale, from the quantitative to the qualitative, and from rumors to wars. It also needs a uniform language or translation service, so that Jay Forrester system dynamic models can “talk” with PERT and Markov and the rest, Bucky Fuller‘s World Game included.

    I suppose some of all this is ongoing, somewhere behind impenetrable curtains, but I wonder how much.


    In the meantime, and working from open source materials, the only kind to which I have access – here are two data points we might have noted a litle earlier, if we had decent interdependency and vulnerability mapping:


    Fear-mongering — or significant alerts? I’m not tech savvy enough to know.


    Tom Barnett’s point about “the thinking we pursued as we tried to imagine – in advance – what a terrible shock to the system would do to the United States and the world in this day and age” still stands.

    Y2K was what first alerted me to the significance of SCADAs.

    Something very like what Y2K might have been seems to be unfolding — but slowly, slowly.

    Are we thinking yet?

    Posted in Predictions, Systems Analysis, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Dead Sea Scrolls & Nag Hammadi Codices online

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 28th September 2011 (All posts by )

    [ corss-posted from Zenpundit — archaeology, Biblical scholarship, eschatology, digital literacy ]


    Both the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran and the Gnostic and associated codices from Nag Hammadi are now available for study online:


    The Nag Hammadi Archive can be explored via the Claremont Colleges Digital Library, and the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls via the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

    Here’s a description of the War Scroll from Qumran, which “is dated to the late first century BCE or early first century CE”:

    Against the backdrop of a long biblical tradition concerning a final war at the End of Days (Ezekiel 38-39; Daniel 7-12), this scroll describes a seven stage, dualistic confrontation between the “Sons of Light” (the term used by Community members to refer to themselves), under the leadership of the “Prince of Light” (also called Michael, the Archangel) – and the “Sons of Darkness” (a nickname for the enemies of the Community, Jews and non-Jews alike), aided by a nation called the Kittim (Romans?), headed by Belial. The confrontation would last 49 years, terminating in the victory of the “Sons of Light” and the restoration of the Temple service and sacrifices. The War Scroll describes battle arrays, weaponry, the ages of the participants, and military maneuvers, recalling Hellenistic and Roman military manuals.

    You can see why I’m interested.

    The Nag Hammadi texts are a little less well known but include — along with a variety of other texts, some of them self-described as “apocalypses” — the now celebrated Gospel of Thomas, which Bart Erhman reads as continuing a “de-apocalypticizing” of Jesus’ message which he finds beginning in Luke and continuing in John:

    In the Gospel of Thomas, for example, written somewhat later than John, there is a clear attack on anyone who believes in a future Kingdom here on earth. In some sayings, for example, Jesus denies that the Kingdom involves an actual place but “is within you and outside you” (saying 3); he castigates the disciples for being concerned about the end (saying 18); and he spurns their question about when the Kingdom will come, since “the Kingdom of the Father is spread out on the earth and people do not see it” (saying 113).

    Again, you can see why I am delighted that these texts are becoming available to a wider scholarly audience…

    In both the Nag Hammadi codices and Qumran scrolls, we have texts that were lost for almost two thousand years and discovered, somewhat haphazardly, in 1945 and 1947 respectively, providing us with rich insights into the religious ferment around a time and place that have been pivotal for western civilization.

    Now, more than half a century later, the web — as it becomes our global museum and our in-house library — brings us closer to both…

    Posted in Christianity, History, Internet, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Miscellaneous, Religion | 2 Comments »