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Sunday surprise, surprise

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — quoting Emerson next to Arthur Waley on Li Po ]

SPEC DQ emerson waley li po

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — my title is taken from the book of Job — known to Islam as the prophet Ayyub — chapter 38 verse 7 ]

Let’s begin with Qur’an 22. 40:

SPEC Quran 22.40

I can deeply appreciate a perspective as respectful as this.


Consequently, I am even more deeply saddened when the Islamic State tears down the crosses atop churches —

SPEC DQ china is

than I am when the Chinese do the same exact thing..


And I’d suggest that the phrase “were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques” as indicating that those who check / repel / drive back those others who demolish such places of worship, do so in accordance with the divine will..

Here, members of the Islamic State bulldoze a monastery..

bulldozing Mar Elian

Such acts, then, should be checked, prevented, surely, by those who honor the Qur’an.

The question that remains is how best to accomplish this.


Likewise, there is the phrase about “monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned”..

Apparently, the “name of Allah” was “much mentioned” in monasteries and churches at the time of the Prophet, and we may therefore wonder why Malaysian Muslims would wish to ban the use of that name by Christians —

SPEC malaysia

— when as KL Chan pointed out in his recent LapidoMedia post Do Muslims have a monopoly on the word Allah? — even if we ignore the clear evidence of the Qur’an itself,

One of the oldest evidences of Christian use of the word ‘Allah’ can be found in a Bible translation from 1514.

That’s two years after Michaelangelo finished painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and three years before Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.

As Usama Hasan says, it’s a fiasco.



  • BibleGateway, Job 38.7,
  • Qur’anic Arabic corpus, Qur’an 22.40
  • Legatum Institute, China arrests Christians
  • Christian Today, Isis militants desecrate Iraqi church
  • Daily Mirror, ISIS Jihadists using a bulldozer
  • Perry, Malaysia Top Court
  • Usama Hasan, #Malaysia #Allah fiasco

  • No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

    Monday, August 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — borders and distinctions from Trump to Revelation, plus one ]

    Donald Trump‘s “three core principles of real immigration reform”:

    1. A nation without borders is not a nation.


    G Spencer-Brown wrote of his book. Laws of Form, “The theme of this book is that a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart” — or as Heinz Von Foerster rephrased him, “Draw a distinction and a universe comes into being”. Indeed, his book opens with the words:

    We take as given the idea of distinction and the idea of indication, and that we cannot make an indication without drawing a distinction.

    He writes:

    Distinction is perfect continence.

    That is to say, a distinction is drawn by arranging a boundary with separate sides so that a point on one side cannot reach the other side without crossing the boundary. For example in a plane a circle draws a distinction.

    Similarly, Gregory Bateson defines an idea as “A difference or distinction or news of differences”.


    Borders are both physical and metaphysical: the border between the physical and the metaphysical passes through human beings, who are themselves both metaphysical and physical.

    Borders may thus be heeded or ignored.

    Smugglers don’t necessarily ignore them, they may take them very seriously, as do those who police them. Birds, however, ignore them, fishes, lizards, languages..

    There are would-be states that straddle national borders, as the Basque peoples straddle the border between France and Spain:

    Basque France Spain 600

    There are also would-be states that literally erase national borders, as in the case of IS bulldozing thw border between Iraq and Syria:

    Iraq Syria Border 600

    Thus while borders may be tidy in separating one from a second, they are also untidy in straddling them, neither one nor two, yet (like Janus) both.. They are, in short, thresholds, limina. And so wahat we know of liminality applies to them. I have discussed tthis previosuly on Zenpundit in Liminality II: the serious part — suffice it to say here that limiality is a condition that exacerbates, intensifies.


    The anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, quotes Leviticus 19.19:

    You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff.

    Why these disjunctions? Dougles notes the repeated refrain in just such contexts:

    Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy

    and points out that Ronald Knox correctly — if “rather thinly” — translates this:

    I am set apart and you must be set apart like me

    She then tells us:

    Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order.

    noting that:

    The word ‘perversion’ is a significant mistranslation of the rare Hebrew word tebhel, which has as its meaning mixing or confusion.

    and concludes

    ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created.


    The upper image, below, is taken from my recent post on Matrioshka cartography, and waas taken in turn from Say goodbye to the weirdest border dispute in the world in the Washington on August 1st..

    SPEC DQ maps

    … while the lower image is from Welcome to Liberland, the World’s Newest Country (Maybe) in the New York Times Magazine, dated Aug 11


    Lydia Kiesling, in her post Letter of Recommendation: Uzbek in the NYT magazine today, writes:

    National borders can be risibly at odds with reality, especially in Central Asia, where Turks, Mongols, Persians and others roved and mingled, where ‘‘Uzbek’’ was, for a time, more of a descriptive antonym of ‘‘Tajik’’ — no­­madic versus settled — than an ethnic classification.

    And why not?

    They are, after all, distinctions drawn in the mind, lines drawn on paper. Thus the Sykes-Picot map:

    Sykes_Picot_Agreement_Map_signed_8_May_1916 600

    Sykes was quite clear about the “lines dorawn on paper” part. He is reported to have said:

    I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk

    The map, in other words, is not the territory: the map is a map.

    To take another instance of importance in today’s world, the Durand Line:

    Durand_Line_Border_Between_Afghanistan_And_Pakistan 600

    Not only is the map not the territory in this case — it can be seen, as one-time Afghan president Hamid Karzai said, as “a line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers” — Afghanistan and Pakistan.


    Sympathies which exist across borders can be potent forces for their dissolution. In a poem titled “Their Eyes Confer Fire” written in the 1980s about Basque country, I wrote

    We have
    little time,
    Marie explained,
    for those
    who, because
    it is hard
    to draw
    across actual
    carve up
    this earth on

    France, Spain:
    we disdain
    boundaries, borders,
    and border guards.

    A canny reader noted that the entire poem could be read not as a description of the Basques as they exist in reality, but as a paean to the corpus callosum joining the two hemispheres of the brain — and thus the two modes of cognition of which I so recently wrote.


    Returning to Lieberland, or Gornja Siga as the locals call it, we learn:

    Gornja Siga has come, over the last few months, to assume an outsize role in the imagination of many — not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and in the United States. Its mere existence as a land unburdened by deed or ruler has become cause for great jubilation. There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation. All the most recent states — South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea — were carved from existing sovereignties in the wake of bitter civil wars. Here, by contrast, is a truly empty parcel. What novel society might be accomplished in a place like this, with no national claim or tenant?

    Consider one sentence alone as the key to that “outsize role in the imagination”:

    There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation.

    The apocalyptic yearning here and its kinship with the Amrican dream are hard to miss — it is like a conflation of Matthew 5.14:

    A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

    with Revelation 21.1-2:

    And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.



    The quantity of mercy is not strain’d?

    Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

    [by Charles Cameron — some remedial philosophy at age 71 ]

    I seem to be doing remedial political philosophy this week. As it happens, I read a Chinese comedian in my youth and was admonished against “sitting down while running round in circles” and have been aerating my brain with too much conscious breathing ever since — neither leaving me much time or interest for what in Oxford in my day was known, somewhat dismissively, PPE — Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

    Which brings me today, and to grabbing lectures in just that sort of thing from Harvard’s Michael Sandel, courtesy of YouTube:

    The video shows Sandel’s lectures, “Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life”, and “How to Measure Pleasure” — salted with some dark humor:

    Back in ancient Rome, they threw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum for sport. If you think how the utilitarian calculus would go, yes, the Christian thrown to the lion suffers enormous, excruciating pain, but look at the collective ecstasy of the Romans. .. you have to admit that if there were enough Romans delirious with happiness, it would outweigh even the most excruciating pain of a handful of Christians thrown to the lion.

    I enjoyed the two lectures immensely — maybe I should rewind fifty years, and try PPE at Harcard?.


    All of which caused me to wonder:

    SPEC pinto and lincoln continental


  • Mark Dowie, Pinto Madness
  • W Michael Hoffman, Case Study: The Ford Pinto
  • See also:

  • ES Grush and CS Saunby, Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires
  • **

    I mean, all of which made me wonder about Jeremy Bentham, I suppose.

    We had Locke at Christ Church, staring disdainfully from his portrait during dinners in the Great Hall — but Bentham? I don’t think I saw any utility in utilitarianism.


    But then I also wondered:

    SPEC trolley problem torture

    I wondered: how close is the analogy between the trolly problem and the ticking bomb torture questionn? Do we start from numbers of likely victims in each case and decide from there, or should we instead start by contemplating torture — and recognize the abyss staring back at us?


  • Wikipedia, Trolly problem
  • Michael Sandel, Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life & How to Measure Pleasure
  • See also:

  • Kyle York, Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations
  • **

    What Shakespeare said, though — getting back to my title — was “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” — not the quantity, the quality — unquantifiable.

    On the various uses and modes of DoubleQuotes thinking

    Monday, August 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — working my way towards that ever-elusive Grand Theory of Linkage ]

    Ahem — not unlike my DoubleQuote format, these Taiwanese leg-irons offer another form of linkage


    Here’s a cross-cultural DoubleQuote embedded in a Guardian paragraph — from Xiaolu Guo, writing on the Analects of Confucius in Ten Books that Changed the World:

    If you are Chinese, lines from the Bible such as “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” can only bewilder you, as Confucius said nearly the opposite: “It is only the truly virtuous man who can love and hate others.” Hate is a necessary moral stance for a Chinese man.


    More elaborately, Marcy Wheeler over at emptywheel has an entire post using what’s in effect a DoubleQuotes form of argument, comparing Buffalo’s ISIS Supporting Terrorist and Its Klan Supporting Terrorist as her title puts it, and including such quotes as these..

    Concerning Michael O’Neill:

    On January 21, 2015, the Niagara County Sheriff’s office responded to a report of an explosion at the house of Chair of the Niagara County Legislature, William Ross. They discovered that his stepson, former corrections officer Michael O’Neill, who lived with his mother and stepfather at the house, had blown off his leg while working with explosives in the garage. In addition to the one that exploded, there were 6 completed Improvised Explosive Devices in the garage, along with shrapnel, fireworks powder, and other explosives precursors.


    That evidence shows that the work bench at which Ross’ stepson was emptying fireworks for powder and adding nails to IEDs was decorated with a Stormtrooper poster, a picture of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate flag, and a poster advertising, “The KKK wants you.” O’Neill also appears to have had a sword (most visible in Exhibit 14) not mentioned in any legal document.

    Concerning Arafat Nagi:

    A week later, on July 29, also in the Buffalo area, FBI Agent Amanda Pike arrested US citizen Lackawanna resident Arafat Nagi on charges of attempting to materially support ISIS. The complaint laying out the case against Nagi relied on trips to Turkey and Yemen (Nagi has family in the latter), a slew of tweets supporting ISIS, and some 2012 and 2013 purchases of military equipment — including body armor and a machete — and Islamic flags from eBay. The complaint also included pictures Nagi had tweeted out depicting ISIS and extremist flags and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

    — and concluding:

    Still, these two extremists were working their way through the same court room at the same time. The contrast between the two cases is instructive.

    Read her entire piece for further elaboration.


    A DoubleQuote in my DQ format is intended to work as a sort of haiku, or perhaps a stem christie, incorporating in miniature a change of direction or leap of insight — they come to much the same thing.

    A single, glorious gothic arch — you get the picture.

    It is becoming ioncreasingly obvious, though, that the DoubleQuote method of comparison and contrast has far wider application — and as my collection of DoubleQuotes in the Wild has hopefully shown, that the basic idea continues to strike artists, writers and analysts as a powerful means of corralling and communicating concept and meaning.

    It’s a naturally occurring form for thought, in other words, and at best my graphical DoubleQuotes format can bring a formal unity to many of its possible examples, and thus sharpen it — as a the general idea of a branch can be “formalized” into the concept of a fishing rod or baseball bat — into a tool.

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