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Peacemaking: of serious joking and most studious play

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the aesthetic element in DoubleQuotes, and peacemaking as making connections; together with Renaissance phrasing of the same ideas ]
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rice hoops
Ambassador Susan Rice on the White House court with the Israeli & Palestinian Peace Players Yesterday

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There’s a fair amount of gaming leaking into the blogging I read these days.

Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis is hosting an IS/Coalition War Game [1, 2, 3], while over at PAXsims, Rex Brynen is hosting the “game developer’s diary” of Alex Langer, a McGill undergraduate who is “designing a wargame of the current Syrian civil war as a course project” [1, 2].

Both efforts are of interest, but what the PAXsims venture makes clear to me is that I have been using my Zenpundit blogging as, among other things, a “game developer’s diary” for my own game thinking, and in particular for my thoughts about the DoubleQuotes format as a playful / serious analytic tool.

Both playful and serious, because all fresh thinking requires the application of a playful spirit to serious ends — an approach illustrated by the image of Palestinian and Israeli kids on the White House basketball court at the head of this post, by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra put together by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim — and enshrined in the Florentine Renaissance motto “iocari serio et studiosissime” — which Marsilio Ficino, the genius behind the Florentine Renaissance, named as the core practice of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato – “joking seriously and playing assiduously” in Edgar Wind‘s translation.

Which would among other things be the Renaissance Platonist’s answer to Scott Shipman‘s question posed here the other day, What tools do you use to boost your creativity?

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Ficino also said, “the task of Magic consists in comparing things to one another”, as quoted by Mircea Eliade in his Foreword to Ioan Couliano‘s great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

That’s precisely what my own games do, expressed in Renaissance terms, and my DoubleQuotes in particular.

In terms of theorizing about them, one point I may not have emphasized enough is that the quality of a given DoubleQuote (or move in a HipBone or Sembl game) is dependent on the aesthetics of the juxtaposition.

Let me give you a simple example, not taken from my own work but from a “DoubleQuote in the Wild” — the header illustration to a recent FP post, The Activists Assad Hates Most Are Now Obama’s Problem. FP could have used any two photos of Obama and Assad, photos of Obama on the phone in the Oval Office, say, or Assad against the background of the Syrian flag — but they chose two images that showed the two men in near-identical poses, and it’s that near-identity which gives force to the juxtaposition:

obamaassad

Likewise, I could have chosen any one of a flock of quotes to illustrate British and American forces entering Baghdad in 1917 and 2003 respectively — but the most effective way to make the point was via two quotes that very closely paralleled each other:

SPEC Baghdad

That too is fundamentally an aesthetic choice — a choice that favors the simple elegance of the tightest available symmetry.

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The image at the head of this post show Ambassador Rice on the Court with the Peace Players Yesterday

Peacemaking, too, is often a matter of bringing out the similarities between otherwise opposing forces.

As Nicholas of Cusa, Cardinal of the Roman Church, said in his De ludo globi / Of the Game of Spheres, a distant forefather to Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and thence to my own various games:

This game is played, not in a childish way, but as the Holy Wisdom played it for God at the beginning of the world.

Luditur hic ludus; sed non pueriliter, at sic / Lusit ut orbe nova Sancta Sophia Deo.

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The dapple, shimmer, dazzle

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the Jesuit poet GM Hopkins, on the dazzling diversity of life and the stark contrasts of mortality ]
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The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ made great and frequent use of the word “dapple”. I’ll get to that word, and what I make of it, by a roundabout route.


Canyon de Chelly, in Navajo country

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Philosopher-architect Christopher Alexander in his book A Pattern Language describes the “pattern” he terms Pools of light, first by dissing “uniform illumination” — which he calls “the sweetheart of the lighting engineers” — saying it “serves no useful purpose whatsoever”, and that it “destroys the social nature of space, and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded.” The engineers’ preference for uniform lighting, he continues, “is based on two mistakes.” It is the first of these that interests me here:

First of all, the light out-doors is almost never even. Most natural places, and especially the conditions under which the human organism evolved, have dappled light which varies continuously from minute to minute, and from place to place.

Let’s call that a contemporary version of an ancient truth.

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Christopher Alexander is not alone in noticing this feature of our natural surroundings. It’s a less poetic and more prescriptive version, for instance, of the Navaho view of creation in terms of the “four cardinal lights” which play unceasingly across the gloriously striated walls of Canyon de Chelly and the lands of the Dine:

Trudy Griffen-Pierce describes the Navaho cardinal lights thus, in her Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting:

the four cardinal light phenomena are results of the sun’s apparent daily motion. These phenomena are the four directions and the times of day and colors that are linked to them. A Navajo does not think of the east without envisioning hayolkaal, Dawn, and the white color of the sky at this time of day. Next is nahodeetl’iizh, which is usually glossed as “horizontal blue” or “blue haze” in reference to the band of relatively darker blue that lies on the horizon at midday; this light is associated with the south. Nahootsoii follows and literally means “around the area becomes yellow,” although this word is usually translated as “evening twilight”; it is linked to the west. Finally, chahalheel, darkness, is associated with the north and with the blackness of the night sky.

Here a people who live, walk in beauty, balance, peace, sa’a naghai bik’e hozho, minutely observe the play of light and shade that contitutes our “dappled” world.

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Hopkins was the first poet I read and loved — Trevor Huddleston introduced me to him — and the word “dappled” was and remains a central one in Hopkins’ poetry, a window on the way he saw the world, and thus a window on how we may see it ourselves.

Poem the first:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                    Praise him.

That would almost certainly have been the poem from which I first learned Hopkins use of the word “dappled” — and it remains a touchstone for me, more than a half-century later.

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It is glorious, begins indeed with the word “glory” — and Hopkins’ world is one in which a divine glory “will flame out, like shining from shook foil” to use another phrase of his. It is the “kingdom” of the Gospel of Thomas —

the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.

— and one of those who did see it is the English poet Thomas Traherne, who wrote to his friend:

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things: The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places.

I think here also of the American poet, still among us, Gary Snyder, and of one poem of his in particular, The Dazzle, from his Turtle Islamd collection:

the dazzle, the seduction the
design
intoxicated and quivering,
bees? is it flowers? why does this
seed move around.
the one
divides itself, divides, and divides again.
“we all know where that leads”
blinding storms of gold pollen.
– grope through that?
the dazzle
and the blue clay.
“all that moves loves to sing”
the roots are at work.
unseen.

The dapple, shimmer, dazzle.. the trembling of populus tremuloides, the quaking aspen in the canyon.. trembling of the Quakers before their God..

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Hopkins illustrates this exuberant, ecstatic, exhilarating sense of “dapple” in another great poem of his, The Windhover:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air…

In his poem, Duns Scotus’s Oxford he writes of the “dapple-eared lily”..

In The May Magnificat he asks:

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:

and answers himself:

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all–
This ecstacy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.

Dapple, dapple, dapple — the outer and inner worlds, dappled, the outer and inner worlds dappled together.

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And then, as Hopkins moves towards the end of his life, and his world towards the End of Days, the dapple, the variegation, is lost, the many colors turn to black and white.

I find Hopkins’ poems in general are wrestling matches of a sort that strengthens the fortunate reader, as Jacob wrestled with an angel, just as Rilke reported:

I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Poem the second is a harsh, hard poem. There is more in it of both music and meaning than I can easily wrestle from it — but these are the phrases I would pick out as delivering the central thread:

Evening strains to night .. earth her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end… let life .. wind off her .. veined variety .. all on two spools .. páck now her all in two flocks, two folds .. black, white; right, wrong .. reckon .. mind .. but thése two.. ware of a wórld where but these two tell, each off the other ..

Here, then, is the poem itself:

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ‘ vaulty, voluminous, … stupendous
Evening strains to be tíme’s vást, ‘ womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ‘ her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ‘ stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ‘ her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as- 5
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ‘ self ín self steedèd and páshed—qúite
Disremembering, dísmémbering ‘ áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ‘ whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ‘ damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ‘ Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind 10
Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ‘ upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ‘ right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ‘ twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ‘ thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.

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Anthony Burgess, in a New York Times piece, The Ecstasy of Gerard Manley Hopkins, writes:

To Hopkins, who was almost blindingly devout, God’s glory showed itself in the intense variety of the physical world, especially when such variety was present in a single member of it. .. Dapple was a kind of tension of opposites: nothing flaccid, everything dynamic..

At the end, for Hopkins — at the end of his days, and at the End of Days — all that glorious variety of dazzle and dapple narrows and collapses into a stark yes or no: black or white, good or evil, pass or fail, quick or dead.

It is a humbling thought, for one who loves the dapple, dazzle.

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Gaza: the video, Lex’s comment, my response

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a powerful video with strong implications for Israel and keen insight into Gaza -- thus far the best I've seen ]
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The video:

I found this video extremely powerful. Lexington Green pointed us to it via a link in a comment on a recent post of mine, and I responded to Lex’s comment — but links, comments and counter-comments easily escape notice, and I wanted to bring the video itself — and our conversation thus far — into a post of its own, in the hope that it will receive closer attention, and that the discussion will progress from here…

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Lex’s comment, which he posted with a link to the video:

This video shows what Israel is up against, and why images of grief are not an argument for letting Hamas survive to continue to attack Israel.

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My response:

Thanks for your comment — I found the video remarkable indeed.

I see very easily how it can be read as proof that this particular woman and Hamas more generally are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. .. That’s there, in her words — and in the Hamas charter, which I’ve written about many times — but it’s far from all that I see there.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the video for me is the part where, speaking of her two daughters who died, she says “Allah gave them to me, and Allah took them away from me.” That’s of a piece with what she means when she says that life (according to her worldview) is not precious — and it’s also an exact counterpart to a central Jewish tenet: 

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord

As I read such sayings, that’s a lofty teaching — and she reaches for it as she thinks of her two daughters, telling us that her grief was difficult for her, but that she found comfort in this perspective — which is also Job’s perspective: Baruch haShem.

The second point of interest to me was that the conversation turned to Tisha b’Av, and thus to the Temple, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem as a whole — which is claimed in toto by both parties, even though the physician floats the suggestion of a 50/50 split. She’s unwilling to become “a heretic” — even if it costs her the life of her son.

Martin Luther King is alleged to have said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” I don’t know if he actually said that, and I’m not sure that I’d agree with him even if he did, but I do believe there may be things worth dying for — and as I understand her, she’s claiming that life is not precious when weighed in the balance against such things.

The problem, for me, is that she thinks the physical space of Temple Mount / the Noble Sanctuary is worth dying for. Her claim that Jerusalem is sacred to her and her companions because the Mount / al-Aqsa is where the Prophet ascended to heaven from on the night of the Miraj is as sacred in the Muslim calendar as the destruction of the two Temples is in the Jewish calendar on Tisha b’Av. The claim on Netanyahu’s side, “Jerusalem is the heart of the nation. It will never be divided,” is no less inflexible, and likewise driven by scripture, tradition and faith.

That’s the level on which the battle of scriptures, traditions and faiths is fought..

Gershom Gorenberg has called the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary “the most contested piece of real-estate on earth” — and Naomi Wolf just the other day ended her “open letter to Rabbi Boteach” with the suggestion:

What if “the holy land” is not a place on the globe but a way of behaving to one’s fellow man and woman? I choose that place.

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And now…

What say you all?

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One grief, all worlds

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from Gaza to Mt Sinjar and beyond, the universality and singularity of grief ]
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One grief at a time is enough. It is “unbearable”, meaning that it arrives at the limit of what we single humans can possibly endure.

How can one match this father’s face at the funeral of his son — one of the four boys killed while playing on a Gaza beach — caught here (above) by photographer Hosam Salem?

How can one match these words of Yassin Suliman, speaking of his cousin, also killed in Gaza?

We buried his legs this morning and we will bury his body this afternoon.

Do the fathers and mothers of the Israeli dead feel any the less grief?

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The Talmud, at Sanhedrin 37a, tells us:

For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world.

The mention here is of a single soul “of Israel”, a phrase that many contemporary Jewish sources omit — perhaps because the immediate context indicates a that it should be taken in a universal sense, since those particular words are immediately followed by the observation that the very diversity of HaShem’s creation of humanity is evidence of his greatness:

Furthermore, [he was created alone] for the sake of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow, ‘my father was greater than thine, and that the minim might not say, there are many ruling powers in heaven; again, to proclaim the greatness of the holy one, blessed be he: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme king of kings, the holy one, blessed be he, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake.

Qur’an 5.32 picks up the idea and continues it:

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.

Likewise, Qur’an 49.13 celebrates human diversity as evidence of the merciful intentions of the Merciful at ):

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

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Somewhere in my recent readings — on Gaza, Hamas, Iraq, Syria, the caliphate, the Yezidis — I found a sentence to the effect that one person’s grief is about as much as we can savor. It was a casual observation, but the same idea has been stated as a philosophical and theological proposition by Wittgenstein, CS Lewis and others: I catalogued those I knew in Of Quantity and Quality II: Holocaust, torture and sacrament.

Matthew Barber, blogging about Sinjar and the Yezidi at Joshua Landis‘ Syria Comment in a post titled Sinjar Was Only the Beginning, tells us:

In my conversation with Osman, it struck me that I was encountering the pain of just one man among several hundred thousand new refugees in the Dohuk governorate, each with a unique story.

I ask again, how can one fully and richly feel the utmost grief of a single person, and multiply it? And in circumstances where so many are bereaved at once, how can one not attempt to multiply their individual griefs?

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New E-Book from John Robb

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

I have been a long time fan of John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog for many years and strongly recommend his military theory book  Brave New War for anyone interested in changes in warfare in the 21st century.  If you have been following GG, you know that John’s interests have turned in recent years  from the destructive part of  Boyd’s strategic continuum (tactics-operations/grand tactics -strategy) more toward the constructive ( grand strategy – theme for vitality and growth) with increasing examination of economic, ethical, legal, cultural and moral dimensions of societal rule-sets.

John has a new E-Book out, first of a series, that lays out his thinking in this area and how we can fix what ails America.

The American Way

My new booklet, “The American Way” is now on Amazon.  

If you are wondering what is wrong with America.  This booklet provides a concise answer.  

Also, this booklet provides a way to get us back on a path towards economic progress.  

Be forewarned, this booklet is just the start.  I’ll have more concrete ways to do it in booklets to be released over the next three months.  

Enjoy.  

PS:  I’ve got a booklet on iWar coming out next month too.

John gave me a preview of the manuscript and I thoroughly endorse the direction in which he is going with The American Way. America’s economic and political problems and strategic dysfunction have epistemological and moral roots.

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