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How is history made — songs, dreams, and sermons included?

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the moral arc of history from Billie Holliday via MLK to Obama — and beyond, who knows? ]

Our topic here is foresight — prediction, prophecy, prognosis, projection.


The Legatum Institute today tweeted a Pew Research projection of Muslim and Christian growth 2010-2050.

Pew Christian Muslim to 2050

It is now 2015, so for practical purposes, we’re thinking here about prophecies and predictions that offer what their authors hope will come close to 35-year foresight.

Short form: I don’t get it.

Obama, like him or not, Christ or Antichrist, Peace-Nobelist or Pol, is now US President and has — whatever his strengths, failings, or both — some influence on how the earth turns, which way the moral arc of the universe bends, and or what history will be seen and written once the future is present.

Short form: How does history happen?

I’ll raise that question by posting three videos along one such arc of history — and I’ll avoid the usual genre of “news” and work with song, dream and sermon.


Describing the impact of Billie Holliday’s song, Strange Fruit, David Margolick wrote in his “biography of a song“:

An “historic document,” the famed songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg called “Strange Fruit.” The late jazz writer Leonard Feather once called “Strange Fruit” “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” To Bobby Short, the song was “very, very pivotal,” a way of moving the tragedy of lynching out of the black press and into the white consciousness. “When you think of the South and Jim Crow, you naturally think of the song, not of `We Shall Overcome,’” said Studs Terkel. Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary record producer, called “Strange Fruit,” which Holiday first sang sixteen years before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, “a declaration of war … the beginning of the civil rights movement.”

As Shelley reported, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”


Preaching borders on prophecy when it addresses dreams, as in Martin Luther King’s great 1963 oration, spoken decades after Abel Meeropol published Strange Fruit as a poem in 1937 and Billie Holliday recorded it in 1939:

It’s surely notable that a singer had a part in that speech, too. As Wikipedia reports, citing DD Hansen‘s The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation:

The focus on “I have a dream” comes through the speech’s delivery. Toward the end of its delivery, noted African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” King stopped delivering his prepared speech, and started “preaching”, punctuating his points with “I have a dream.”


The President of the United States is an acknowledged legislator, constrained by checks and balances that preachers and poets do not face, yet his voice too has been raised from rhetoric to song:

Here are the Here are the “three rhetorical aspects” of Obama’s speech that James Fallows singled out for special praise:

  • The choice of grace as the unifying theme, which by the standards of political speeches qualifies as a stroke of genius.
  • The shifting registers in which Obama spoke—by which I mean “black” versus “white” modes of speech — and the accompanying deliberate shifts in shadings of the word we.
  • The start-to-end framing of his remarks as religious, and explicitly Christian, and often African American Christian, which allowed him to present political points in an unexpected way.
  • Amazing Grace now takes the place of Strange Fruit, and a President that of a poet and a singer — much has changed, yet much remains.


    My own Prior Art on prognostication:

    Recently, in Simply so much.. 02 here on Zenpundit, I pondered the nature of foresight in terms of a Marine Corps forecast:

    I’m thinking of Lise Meitner as I view the Marine Corps’ ambitiously titled Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045. Who would have thought in 1919 that Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann in 1935 would begin a program that resulted in 1939 in her 1939 paper Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction — which in turn led to Moe Berg‘s attending a lecture by Heisenberg, the Trinity test at Alamagordo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    And yet the period from 1919 (Treaty of Versailles) to 1939 (fission theorized) is only 20 years, and from 1919 to 1945 (nuclear warfare) is 26 years — equivalents, respectively, to the periods from 2015 (today) to 2035 (a third of the way into the USMC’s period of prediction) and 2041 (still within the UMSC timeline).

    That’s my attempt at a sober assessment of how difficult it is to “see ahead”.


    My Art of Future Warfare story, War in Heaven, is set — as the contest rules required — in 2090.

    By twenty-ninety, in my fanciful hypothesis, we may well have learned how to choose which timeline we want to live along in a “manyworld” of constantly branching possibilities – “words are many, worlds are many more, if possible” I wrote, and supplied portals to worlds secular, magical, religious and fictitious:

    Forty some years from now, in the wake of John Hardy Elk’s vision and its definitive corroboration “in the external” by physicists at the CERN Diffraction Lab, Shamanism is overturning “the Enlightenment” as the preferred intellectual basis for inquiry. With its gestalt understanding of the interconnectedness not only of space and time but of chance and will, context and perspective, self and other, the Shamanic method of burrowing into deep external space “in the internal” has proven more powerful, faster, and – yes — way more creative than what are now known as the old “heavy lifting” methods of transport.

    With schools of Tibetan, Navaho, Benedictine and other forms of contemplative instruction now rapidly surpassing CalTech as the educational venues of choice, and Oxford morphing back towards its earlier life in which theology was Queen of the Sciences, a great many talented explorers have now visited realms considered impossibly “far away” even a decade earlier, the “digital” has fallen away at a time when communication between the like-minded is achieved telepathically, and “radiance bombs” vie with “dark bombs” in the end-of-century duels scattered across many galaxies in which “white” and “black” magics compete — under the law, some would say theory, of the Conservation of Moral Balance.

    Who knows? Who can really say?


    And then there was the ChicagoBoyz Afghanistan 2050 RoundTable. Introducing the RoundTable, Lexington Green noted:

    40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.

    The event, then, was pitched five years past the Marines’ forecast, though still forty years short of my War in Heaven. And once again, though more explicitly this time, I relied on the branching worlds idea.. Here, though, I attempted –- not unlike a circus performer astride two horses -– to bring together the physical and moral universes:

    Historians — on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me — tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.

    We don’t, I posited, move across parallel “shadow” worlds by diving into portrait size Tarot cards, walking a kundalini-enhancing maze, or substituting the sky, landscape and other furniture of one world-line into that of another, though the great Roger Zelazny in his Amber series posits these as methods for planet-hopping.

    My suggestion: we chose which routes we take when faced with the constant bifurcations of the manyworlds by the moral choices we make.


    And in all this I attempt, however playfully, to glimpse how the past and present might prefigure our possible and impossible futures — and how one or more of those futures may pass through the sieve of the onward-pressing present to become history

    Sunday surprise: a couple of apocalyptic footnotes

    Sunday, April 26th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — because they don’t deserve posts of their own, but I can’t resist posting them anyway ]

    Krasheninnikov prophecies about antichrist and mark of the beast:

    Russian Orthodox adolescent Vyatcheslav Krasheninnikov said the following.

  • Airplanes that go down are hit by demons because they need the airspace to fight Jesus.
  • Dinosaurs live under our level. They will get out through sinkholes and lakes.
  • There will be hole to the abyss in China with radiation.
  • With blood transfusion, sins transfer.
  • Boiled water is dead.
  • Scientists will make a device that will allow people to see demons in the dark.
  • Icons of Jesus will be on the nose of airplanes: similar in submarines.
  • So much for Russia. In the US, meanwhile…

    President Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner said:

    Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now, that’s a legacy. That’s big. I mean, Lincoln, Washington, they didn’t do that.


    There are plenty of serious things to be said about apocalypses secular and sacred — but the end of the world is also an endless source of the quirkiest imaginative leaps and punchlines.

    i though Scott in particular might enjoy the prediction about the noses of airplanes and submarines…

    DoubleTweet: Netanyahu, Obama and that little round bomb

    Friday, April 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — an image and its likeness ]

    I know, it’s a day or two old, but Netanyahu / Obama is a ping-pong match with quite a bit of top spin to it, in which:

    becomes this:


    And the bomb? It’s a cartoon bomb of the kind you’d see in one of MAD magazine’s old Spy vs Spy pages — or in the headgear of a certain religious figure disrespectfully portrayed by Jyllands-Posten.

    And now, the “Most Dangerous” finalists

    Monday, March 30th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a man vs machine contest, with the betting shops favoring.. ]

    The semi-finals have been conducted, contested and concluded, with judges Elon Musk:

    and The Republicans:


    The final round is upon us.

    In a definitive Man vs Machine match to be adjudicated by The Turn of Events, we shall see whether artifical intelligence, slouching towards Bethlehem, is more dangerous than the sitting President, suffering under — or perhaps liberated by — the two-term limit on his office..

    Who or what will win the Most Dangerous of All belt, and end-of-the world cash prize that goes with it?

    According to noted statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight..

    Intended clouds and unintended consequences

    Thursday, March 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — this post is mostly concerned with unintended consequences in foreign policy, not Berndnaut Smilde‘s intended and dramatic clouds, but hey! ]

    Nimbus Sankt Peter, 2014. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde

    Nimbus Sankt Peter, 2014. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde


    Obama said in an interview on Vice this week:

    ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.


    Rumsefeld said:

    As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

    Walt said:

    In international relations, at least, none of our theories are all that powerful, the data are often poor, and coming up with good solutions to many thorny problems is difficult. Unintended consequences and second-order effects abound, and policymakers often reject good advice for their own selfish reasons.

    Taleb said:

    Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others extremely concerned with the coloring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.

    Clapper said:

    unpredictable instability is the new normal


    Let me list them:

  • unintended consequences
  • known and unknown unknowns
  • second-order effects
  • black swans
  • unpredictable instability
  • Are these all what you might call “birds of a feather”?


    Taleb also said:

    Viagra, which changed the mental outlook and social mores of retired men, was meant to be a hypertension drug. Another hypertension drug led to a hair-growth medication. My friend Bruce Goldberg, who understands randomness, calls these unintended side applications “corners.” While many worry about unintended consequences, technology adventurers thrive on them.


    Mandelbrot’s fractals allow us to account for a few Black Swans, but not all. I said earlier that some Black Swans arise because we ignore sources of randomness. Others arise when we overestimate the fractal exponent. A gray swan concerns modelable extreme events, a black swan is about unknown unknowns.

    It strikes me that we could use a Venn diagram of these things, so we can better understand what we don’t understand.


    So let’s add a couple more to our list:

  • corners
  • cloud of unknowing
  • The anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing, speaking of God, says:

    For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.

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