Archive for September, 2014

Unbelievable

September 24, 2014

You may not have noticed, but twice each month –in the days immediately preceding the full moon and new moon– human behavior often takes an unusual or erratic turn.  Automobile accidents occur with slightly greater frequency, sexual appetites intensify, and ‘impulse crimes’ such as assault, petty theft or vandalism increase.  But don’t just take my word for it:  go crunch the data. It’s out there.

This isn’t just something that happens only in the United States –it’s a worldwide phenomenon.  Case in point: Paris.

Eight topless Femen protesters brandishing plastic Kalashnikov rifles swathed in flowers marched on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on Wednesday urging ‘infidels’ to rise up against Islamic State militants who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq.  One of the women shouted:  “All those who are threatened by ISIS jihadists, show your hostility towards ISIS’s ideas. It’s only by criticizing them publicly that we can destroy them. Infidels, rise up against ISIS.”

The protest comes days after an ISIS spokesman urged all Muslims to kill “dirty” and “spiteful” French citizens, [whose government] has joined the US-led coalition to fight the jihadist organization.

Femen_Arc_20140924-a

I’m going to guess that the journalist who wrote that article wasn’t really looking very closely at Femen’s faux weaponry, because photos of the event appear to show two pink plastic Beretta 9mm pistols, three or four Uzi bouquets, and maybe one folding-stock AK-47 adorning Place de la Concorde.  But who’s actually counting?  What really matters is that each protester has two breasts apiece, and that Femen’s message is: unite, rise up, speak out, stand up, fight.  Furthermore, the Arc de Triomphe looming in the background asserts the promise of ultimate victory.  Allons enfants de la patrie(-archy), etc.

 

Femen_Arc_20140924-b

So, does the presence of so many Uzis in Femen’s arsenal indicate that the organization is now sponsored by the state of Israel?  Inquiring minds want to know.  It’s a credibility issue.

 

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White On Rice Crime

September 21, 2014

What’s the best possible way for the National Football League to divert attention from the enormous tort liability risk associated with traumatic brain injury among its workforce?  It might well be to focus attention –instead– on violent off-field behavior by some of  ‘the usual suspects.’   Now, I’m not making the claim that Roger Goodell and his minions actually orchestrated the ongoing and frenzied media demonization of Ray Rice et al., nor am I suggesting that current furor over NFL-related violence against women and children is overblown or unwarranted.  Violent (or ‘merely’ coercive) oppression of women definitely has to stop right now: several millennia of gender subjugation have brought our species to where it is today … on the brink of self-extinction.  Compared to that stark fact, the rattled skulls of a few (thousand) Sunday afternoon ‘heroes’ is really just a mildly regrettable side-effect of industrial-scale entertainment that glorifies a culture of coercion and domination.  So it’s not particularly useful to spend much time musing about whether or not NFL owners might find it expedient to sacrifice their wholly-owned commissioner on the altar of (patriarchial) family values at precisely the time they’re trying to lure more women into the fanbase advertising market.

Instead, I’d prefer to steer this soliloquy away from the alluring but illusory option of binary choice.

  • traumatic brain injury (euphemized as ‘sports-related concussions‘)
  • violent oppression of women (euphemized as ‘domestic violence‘)

Why should we reflexively assume that these are discrete phenomena without examining the possibility of linkage?  At any rate, before claiming causation, let’s look for correlation … at least.  I seem to recall that DoD/DARPA/CDC research suggests war-related TBI may be associated with episodes of violence and self-harm among military veterans returning from ‘active duty.’  Perhaps other diligent researchers have already accumulated additional empirical evidence one way or the other –I haven’t checked.  If the studies are out there, now is the time to seek greater visibility for those findings.  InBev, Coca-Cola and General Motors may not particularly like the answers they find, but it’s a lot less embarrassing than deliberately choosing not to know.  Just ask Roger Goodell.

Until then, round up the usual suspects.

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Nae Is For Horses

September 14, 2014

If Sassenach spawn who flaunt gold, white and blue are the ones beating the drum for a ‘Nae’ vote, Lunghu is going to double-down on ‘Aye.’  It’s a pity that Paddy Power is only offering 3 to 1 odds.

Nae-sayers

A proper Glesga sendoff to ye all!

 

Braking Vlad

September 12, 2014

Lunghu hasn’t written about Comrade Bear in a while; not since the relatively early stages of the Ukraine reconquista.  There really hasn’t been much doubt about Russia’s Intent and Capability, so what would have been the point?  But an earlier post about the possible impact of 19th c. Russian literature on Putin’s worldview created modest ripples in the placid pond of Lunghu’s mind that have finally wiggled their way to shore.  If literature –fictional representation of the human condition– can shape human behavior (or intended behavior) long after ink has dried on the page, what other dimensions of existence (real or imagined) might do likewise?

So –in the context of risk/threat assessment– it’s now perhaps appropriate to take up the task of attempting a preliminary definition for the elements of Intent. We’ve previously established that R = T + V and that T = I + C, and we’ve defined some elements of C (Capability), but the underlying formula for Intent is still very much terra incognita.

Notice that Lunghu said “take up the task” and “attempting” and “preliminary definition”.  Those weasel words should signal –nay, proclaim– that these inchoate thoughts are still very much a work in progress, if indeed progress is to be made at all.  So, to begin, let’s ground our quest in current events and work our way back from there.  It will be ‘rewind analysis’ of a somewhat different kind.

Russia’s navy announced the successful launch of a Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile from the nuclear submarine Vladimir Monomakh on Wednesday.  Addressing a Kremlin meeting on weapons modernization, Putin warned that U.S. missile defense plans and its use of the crisis in Ukraine to reinvigorate NATO have [undermined] Russia’s security.

“We have warned many times that we would have to take corresponding countermeasures to ensure our security,” Putin said.  “I would like to underline that we only take retaliatory steps.”  He and other officials have repeatedly boasted about new Russian nuclear missiles’ capability to penetrate any prospective missile shield.

Rather than focus, as so many will do, on the superficial content of Comrade Bear’s words, let’s instead briefly examine the cultural/symbolic allusions that permeate Wednesday’s missile test.  What’s a Bulava?  And who is Vladimir Monomakh?  It’s a good idea to ask.

Bulava_Kiev

Bulava

  • In the Ukrainian language, a buława or bulava is a mace or a club, in both the military and ceremonial senses.  Historically the buława was an attribute of a Hetman, an officer of the highest military rank or the military head of a Cossack state (Cossack Hetmanate).  The bulava is also an official symbol of the President of Ukraine.
  • Hetman (variants: Otaman, Ataman, Wataman, Vataman; Russian: атаман) was a title of Cossack leaders of various kinds. In the Russian Empire, the term Otaman was the official title of the supreme military commanders of the Cossack armies.  The Ukrainian “Hetman” form may derive from the German Hauptmann by way of Polish, like several other titles.  During certain historical periods, the supreme leader of Ukrainian Cossacks was called Hetman.

So:  the bulava is simultaneously a ceremonial accessory of the President of Ukraine (symbolizing his authority) and (historically) a badge of rank for the supreme military commander of the Ukrainian Cossack army under the Russian Empire.

Vladimir Monomakh

Grand Duke Vladimir Monomakh (1053 to 1125) was the last grand prince of Kiev able to unify the Ancient Rus’ within a coherent polity.

  • Kievan Rus’ was a loose federation of East Slavic tribes in Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century. The peoples of present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia all claim Kievan Rus’ as their cultural ancestors. The Kievan state prospered due to its abundant supply of furs, beeswax, honey, and slaves for export, and because it controlled three main trade routes of Eastern Europe.  Kievan Rus’ attained its greatest territorial extent under Yaroslav I (1019 to 1054); shortly after his death his sons assembled and issued its first written legal code, the Rus’ Justice.
  • The term “Kievan Rus'” (Ки́евская Русь) was coined in the 19th century by Russian historians to refer to the period when the capital was in Kiev.

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  • Vladimir Monomakh was the son of Grand Prince Vsevolod I of Kiev’s Rurik Dynasty and Anastasia of the Byzantine Empire.  Anastasia is believed to be related to the family of the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos, from whom Vladimir derived his surname.  Beginning in 1094, Vladimir’s chief patrimony was the southern town of Pereyaslav, although he also controlled Rostov, Suzdal, and other northern provinces.  In these lands he founded several towns, including his namesake, Vladimir, the future capital of Russia.
  • In 1107 he and his army defeated a Cuman invasion of Kievan Rus’ territory. When Grand Prince Sviatopolk II died in 1113, the Kievan populace revolted and summoned Vladimir to the capital. He entered Kiev to the great delight of the crowd and reigned there until his death in 1125. These years saw the last flowering of Ancient Rus, which was torn apart 10 years after his death.  Succeeding generations often referred to Vladimir’s reign as the golden age of Kiev.

 

Analysis/Synthesis

What might observers reasonably infer from the cultural touchstones associated with historicized symbols such as the bulava and Vladimir Monomakh?  Let’s review:

bulava

a symbol of the authority of Ukraine’s President.

an emblem of rank for the military commander of Ukranian Cossacks in the Russian Empire.

a warclub for smashing the skull of one’s enemy.

Vladimir Monomakh

defender of Kievan Rus’ from barbarian invasion.

unifier of the Rus’ nation and protector of the people.

founder of a Golden Age of peace and prosperity in Kievan Rus’

Executive authority.  Military command.  Defense against barbarism. A united people.  Fond memories of a Golden Age.  These are just some of the cultural themes evoked by two simple(!) terms.  That is to say, these are the themes evoked in Slavic minds, among people deeply familiar with Russian history and culture.

Elsewhere, in Western Europe and on the American continent, ‘bulava’ and ‘Vladimir Monomakh’ are nearly-empty nominal labels, which merely designate particular Russian weapons systems with particular capabilities. The larger cultural meaning is completely opaque to such observers. And that’s more than a pity, because it’s also a strategic Vulnerability.  When you don’t understand your adversary’s Intent, you can’t properly assess the Threat he may pose, and thus you don’t understand the Risk you’re implicitly, blindly accepting.  C – (I) = T^2 = R^3

Back at the beginning of this post, Lunghu made some broad, grandiose, sweeping claims about attempting a definition of the elements of adversary Intent. It might be better to describe the effort as one of groping toward the barest glimmer of a shadowy twilight from the depths of a pitch black cave.  John Boyd, the 20th C. military strategist perhaps best known for his use of the OODA Loop concept, made the claim that all men (and, Lunghu would add, women too) are motivated by the desire to preserve maximal freedom of action in building a better life for themselves and their kin.  In this context, the better life each seeks to build is one that each imagines for himself –or in concert with like-minded others.  Their imaginations may be shaped by literature, myth, dreams and visions, religious doctrine, or a historical narrative with particular emphases of one kind or another.  In this way, people who share a common culture construct a collective vision of their desired future by reconfiguring and redefining their collective memory of a partially imaginary and sometimes romanticized past.  What do they Intend?  They may not even know themselves.

 

Pretty Polly

September 9, 2014

Since when did Mel Brooks start reading the novels of Haruki Murakami? And how has the work of one master informed the other?  These are questions I’ve been pondering ever since yesterday, when the auteur of The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and History of the World Part One went down on all fours to perform an ancient Hollywood ritual:

Mel Brooks sank his hands and feet into cement in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on Monday.  But Brooks, who’s 88, wore a fake sixth finger on his left hand.   He said he did it so that “some schmuck [tourist] from Des Moines will say `Harry! Harry! Look, Mel Brooks has six fingers on his left hand!'”

credit: Nick Ut

What does Haruki Murakami have to do with any of this promotional nonsense? Well, polydactyly makes a tangential appearance in Murakami’s latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki… (beginning on page 223).  This time around, Murakami’s (invariably) male protagonist once again does what Murakami’s male protagonists inevitably do: he wanders around on a quest to make sense of his aimless life.  And once again, Murakami’s male protagonist (among other things) participates in socially unacceptable sexual activity while safely adrift in a dreamlike alternate reality where traditional customs and mores do not apply.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki has recurrent dreams of threeway sex with two teenage girls from his high school days, and later has a bizarre gay experience with the spectral presence of a college friend.  I guess that once your protagonist has been-there-done-that with incest (Kafka On The Shore) and pedophilia (1Q84), you have to reach a little higher for forbidden fruits to pluck.   Just the same, it seems as though the formula is getting a bit thin.   Sometimes I get the feeling that Murakami may just be mailing it in some of the time.   But hey, doesn’t everyone?

Even the greatest artists can’t always be endlessly creative.  Not even Mel Brooks: when did he last produce a truly side-splitting comedic masterwork?  Perhaps it’s been a while.  Today, September 9th, “Young Frankenstein” was released on Blu-ray DVD to mark the movie’s 40th anniversary.

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