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Sunday surprise: doubles

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- at first glance, the idea of a body double in US politics seems strange -- until you consider Kurosawa, or Jonathan Swift ]

I found the above video clip, in which candidate Timothy Ray Murray accused his primary opponent Rep. Frank Lucas of having been executed in the Ukraine and replaced by a body double, in a WashPo piece titled The Manchurian candidate .. of Oklahoma?

Ridiculous. Or is it?


My only real problem here is that Akira Kurosawa‘s masterpiece, Kagemusha, would have been a better call than The Manchurian Candidate. But maybe Japanese film is a little far removed from Washington?


For those who don’t understand that dialog in either Japanese or French, here’s the low-down: the daimyo Takeda Shingen, center, is talking with his brother Nobukado, left, about a thief Nobukado has found and rescued, right, who bears a striking resemblance to Shingen. It is the opening scene of the film, in which the thief will serve as the “Kagemusha” or “shadow warrior” of Shingen for three years after his lord’s death — thus maintaining for his enemies the illusion of Takeda strength. At first, Shingen and Nobukado speak:

Shingen: He looks like me.
Shingen’s brother Nobukado: Exactly like you. I have impersonated you for a long time, but he is a miracle.
Shingen:Where did you find him?
Nobukado: At the execution grounds. He was about to be crucified. I thought he would be useful as a double for you.
Shingen:What was his crime?
Nobukado: Found him sneaking around the grounds. He’s a thief.
Shingen:A thief?
Nobukado: And a tough one. Torture failed to make him talk. Possibly aside from stealing, he’s also killed.
Shingen:What did the prosecutors say about his resemblance to me?
Nobukado: Nothing. Only I, your brother, could see it from the first. His hair, clothes, the way he talks .. all so different.

At a certain point, the thief breaks into the conversation, less than intimidated, having just recently escaped the death sentence:

Thief:I only stole a few coins. I’m a petty thief. A man who’s killed hundreds and robbed whole domains is hardly the one… is hardly the one… to call… to call me a scoundrel.

Nobukado tries to silence him, but Shingen responds:

Shingen: I am wicked, as you say. I am a scoundrel. I banished my own father and killed my own son. I will do anything to rule this country. War is everywhere. Unless somebody unifies the nation and reigns over us, we will see more rivers of blood and more mountains of the dead.

He might be of some use. Train him.


In a deft move, son Emlyn pointed me to Jonathan Swift and the hoax he played on one John Partridge, astrologer and almanac writer. Partridge’s spluttering reply reminds one of poor Frank Lucas finding himself obliged to point out that he is neither dead, nor a body double, nor indeed a robot.

I’ll let the Wikipedia entry for John Patridge tell the tale:

In the 1708 edition of the Merlinus Almanac, Partridge sarcastically referred to the Church of England as the “infallible Church”. This drew the attention of satirist and Church of Ireland cleric Jonathan Swift. Playing on Partridge’s own (generally inaccurate) yearly predictions of deaths of notable individuals, Swift, writing under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff, predicted in a letter published in January 1708 that Partridge himself would die an “infallible death” on March 29 of that year. On that date, Swift published another letter (purportedly by a “man employed in the Revenue”) confirming Partridge’s death.[1] The letter was reprinted by other writers and publishers along with its accompanying eulogy:

Here five foot deep lyes on his back
A cobbler, starmonger, and quack…
Who to the stars in pure good-will,
Does to his best look upward still.
Weep all you customers that use
His pills, his almanacks or shoes.

When Partridge published a letter proclaiming that he had not in fact died, Swift announced that his letter was false, as “they were sure no man alive ever to writ such damned stuff as this.” Partridge’s intense unpopularity among Church supporters, those whose deaths he had falsely predicted, anti-Whigs, and those who felt his “astrology” was in reality quackery kept the hoax going long after Swift finally dispensed with it. Partridge reportedly suffered from the effects of the hoax for the rest of his life.

Good stuff, Emlyn!


Chernobyl and that Idaho Republican gubernatorial debate

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with an extended riff on the apocalyptic significance of Chernobyl, as mentioned by the Idaho curmudgeon, Walt Bayes ]

This may be the most remarkable piece of political theater I have ever seen

It’s the debate between four Republican candidates for Governor of Idaho — “a cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy, take your pick” as the biker claims — and although the whole video runs close to an hour in toto, I found it riveting.

I’m not alone: Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri headlined it as “surreal, magical”, and termed it “incredible” and “everything that you ever wanted and more”.

Why? Not because it featured the sitting Governor and a State Senator, who utter their focus-grouped speaking points, but because of two of we-the-people, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes, who speak their minds.


It’s the last four minutes or so of the debate — from 54.25 to be exact — that contain the apocalyptic reference to Chernobyl that caught my attention:

At 54.25, candidate Walt Bayes (the “curmudgeon”) begins his closing statement. Earlier in the debate he had made it clear that

You remember Chernobyl where the Russians had a little problem with their atomic energy? Chernobyl, when you translate that into English it comes out Wormwood. Wormwood is mentioned in the Bible a whole lot where your studying these Last Days, and it’s radiation.

and then after a brief discussion of potassium iodide, Fukushima, and US nuclear power plants, he closes on the words:

and my Bible says it’s going to get worse and worse and worse! We’d better get some


Our curmudgeon is correct, BTW, insofar as it’s true that the Ukrainian word Chernobyl corresponds to English Wormwood.

Michael J. Christensen presented a paper on The Russian Idea Of Apocalypse: Nikolai Berdyaev’s Theory Of Russian Cultural Apocalyptic at one o the Center for Millennial Studies conferences which I attended. I’m quoting his paper in the extracts which follow here.

Revelation 8. 10-11 reads:

Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it was made bitter.

The Orthodox Study Bible comments:

Wormwood (in Slavonic, “Chernobyl”), an extremely bitter plant that would make water undrinkable, symbolizes the bitter fruits of idolatry…

The association of the Chernoby the place with Chernobyl the devastating apocalyptic star has history to it:

Chernobyl is first mentioned in twelfth century manuscripts as a settlement near the River Pripyat in Lithuania (later Poland and Ukraine), and was settled by an apocalyptic sect of Old Believers in 1775, under the headship of one Illarian Petrov. The “Chernobylites” preached the arrival of the Antichrist and the imminent end of the world. Whether they migrated to Chernobyl because they believed the end centered around that town, we do not know. Illarian Petrov, according to Russian journalist, Andrey Illesh, “bore the rather strange nickname ‘Cows Legs’ and was known for his extreme fanaticism.” The Chernobylites were persecuted because they “refused to pray for the tsar, acknowledge passports, forbade military service and oaths, and behaved in a contrary manner.” At the end of the nineteenth century (when the end did notcome), the sect emigrated to Austria.


In the refectory of Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, there is a fresco illustrating the falling Wormwood star. During the 1950′s, the monks interpreted the Wormwood prophecy in terms of a [sic] atomic bombs

Then the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 happened, and was interpretetd…

On a widespread and popular level in Ukraine and Belarus, according to documentary evidence, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster is considered “an act of God” and assigned religious significance. Chernobyl is interpreted as prophetic (fatalistic or predictive) and apocalyptic (cataclysmic or revelatory) in harmony with a long, popular tradition of Russian apocalyptic.

During my initial visits to the Chernobyl region in 1990-91, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Chernobyl, I often would ask Belarusians: “Do you have a religious opinion about Chernobyl?” They typically answered “yes,” and proceeded to rehearse the long history of suffering in Belarus. Frequently, they would cite the “Wormwood star” in the writings of Nostradamus and in the Bible as referring specifically to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

And the results?:

Applying Berdyaev’s Russian apocalyptic eschatology to the Chernobyl Prophecy in Revelation 8:10-11, it can be argued that the Chernobyl catastrophe of 26 April 1986 was a decisive apocalyptic event in the history of Rus, marking the end of an age. It fueled the reformist policies of glasnost and perestroika, broke the back of Communism. It serves an eschatological marker for the end of the Soviet Union, the end of the modern age of the “peaceful atom” and fail-safe technology, as well as the beginning of a postmodern age in the newly independent states.


Regardless of authorial intent and historical-critical interpretations of Revelation 8:10-11, the Chernobyl prophecy is understood widely, in the context of post-Soviet Ukraine and Belarus as pre-ordained and prophetically fulfilled, presenting a fascinating case study of Russian apocalyptic eschatology.

From Richard Landes, ed., Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, p. 133:

In the aftermath of Chernobyl, popular calendars in Minsk and Kiev distinguished the years before and after Chernobyl. Digital clocks in Belarus continued to flash the current time, temperature, and radiation level. Citizens remembered their former life and anticipated future sufferings. The passing of time had not changed apocalyptic consciousness as much as it changed the meaning of the End for different segments of the population. In striking apocalyptic language, Russian journalist Alla Yaroshinskaya writes how Chernobyl has changed the course of personal histories, national history, and perhaps even sacred history:

…this ancient wonderland, this forest, these fields and meadows, our whole lives…from now on life on earth would not only be divided into epochs and eras, civilizations, religions and political systems, but also into “before” and “after” Chernobyl. The earth would never be the same as it had been before 26 April 1986 at twenty-four minutes past one….


I can’t really leave the debated without a quick tip’o’the hat to the biker, Harley Brown, one of whose central concerns on behalf of his fellow Idahoans is “getting our lands back from the Feds”. He explained:

The key is getting our lands back from the Feds … Here’s my plan of attack. You go in there, and your use spiritual warfare. Everybody talks about the natural, but this other realm … you bind the evil spirits that are behind the fights with the blood of Jesus, the name of Jesus, and the power of [??] of the Holy Spirit, the power of agreement, the word of God. Take air superiority and then go in with your tanks… blitzkrieg.

To which the reporter who had questioned him responded, “The question was about taxes.”

Spiritual warfare? That’s the territory of C Peter Wagner and his New Apostolic Reformation, featuring Rick Joyner and Gen. Jerry Boykin among others — and including such views at that Japan is under demonic influence because the emperor slept with the Goddess Amaterasu-?mikami at his coronation

And for the record, the particular talk of spiritual warfare at the Idaho debate comes from a proud biker who has also been a Navy SeaBee, a long haul trucker — and a taxi driver, who also says:

I’ve picked up my fair share of the gay community. And they have true love for one another. I’m telling you, they love each other more than I love my motorcycle.

Consider me amazed!

And Harley Brown is both “reach for the stars” and humble with it. Reaching for the stars…

I said, God, how about putting me back on active duty and making me a battalion commander? Long story short he says, “No son, I got a higher rank for you, I’m gonna make you the commander-in-chief.” And I staggered not at his promise….

After God told me he was gonna make me president, I went out and got the presidential seal tattooed right here on my shoulder, my morale went from negative-500 to off the scale, and I started a presidential campaign right there. [ … ]

For three years I had the credibility of Chicken Little, you know, the sky is falling? And finally, one time, one day, this bishop from Africa comes over and he says, “I am a prophet of the most high God, and in that office I here authenticate that God told you that.”

I says, “Yeah? You mind putting that in writing? He said, “Sure.” And he put it in writing, and I’ve got the original at home. And I was able to go up to all my detractors and say, “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.”

That’s more than a touch apocalyptic too, to be frank. But fortunately, Brown is also humble…

I need practice! Practice! I don’t wanna say stuff [when I'm president] like, “Sorry if our bombing caused you any inconvenience.” So I wanna work in the Little Leagues as a governor.


A “cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy” — these were the candidates for Governor of Idaho in the debate.

Idaho has a $2.78 billion budget for fiscal 2014.


Serpent logics: the marathon

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- oh, the sheer delightful drudgery of finding patterns everywhere ]

I’ll start this post, as I did the previous one to which this is a sort of appendix, with a (deeply strange, tell me about it) example of the…

Matrioshka pattern:

That’s a piece of jewelry made out of disembodied pieces of Barbies from the extraordinary designer’s mind of Margaux Lange, FWIW.


This post is the hard core follow up to my earlier piece today, Serpent logics: a ramble, and offers you the chance to laugh and groan your way through all the other “patterns” I’ve been collecting over the last few months. My hope is that repeated (over)exposure to these patterns will make the same patterns leap out at you when you encounter them in “real life”.

Most of the examples you run across may prove humorous — but if you’re monitoring news feeds for serious matters, my hunch is that you’ll find some of them helpful in grasping “big pictures” or gestalts, noting analomalies and seeing parallels you might otherwise have missed.

Have at it!


Here’s another Matrioshka, from the structural end of lit crit that my friend Wm. Benzon attacks with gusto over at New Savannah:



You’ll recall this is the pattern where something turns into its opposite… as described in this quote from the movie Prozac Nation:

I dream about all the things I wish I’d said.
The opposite of what came out of my mouth.
I wish I’d said
“Please forgive me. Please help me.
I know I have no right to behave this way?”

Here are a few examples…

Ahmed Akkari Repents Violent Opposition to Danish Cartoons Lampooning Islam:

After a Danish newspaper published cartoons satirizing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed Akkari spearheaded protests that ultimately cost the lives of 200 people. Now he says he’s sorry. Michael Moynihan on what changed Akkari’s mind.

That’s impressive!

That one’s run of the media mill…

And this one’s from my delightful, delicious boss, Danielle LaPorte:


A friend sent me this:


Let’s just plough ahead…


Nominalism is the category where the distinction between a word and what it represents gets blurry — a very significant distinction in some cases —

How’s this for naming your donkey after your President?

Consider this one, another instance of nominalism in action, from the French justice system:

A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words “I am a bomb” on the front, along with his name and ‘Born on September 11th’ on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for “glorifying a crime”. A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

The classic nominalist image — with which I’d compare and contrast the French three-year-old with the unfortunate name and tsee-shirt — is Magritte’s cdelebrated “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”:

And here’s one final nominalist example:


The spiral:

Here’s a potential downwards spiral, for those watching India:


Straight parallelism:

This one’s from Jonathan Franzen:

And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.


Simple Opposition:


Some of these categories seem pretty fluid — or to put that another way, some of these examples might fit with equal ease into several doifferent categories. Here’s another oppositional class:

Arms crossed:

From Ezra Klein and Evan Solta blogging at WaPo’s Wonkbook: The Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences:

It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

A great “values” juxtaposition:

And hey, nice phrasing:


Here’s an example of one of the central patterns of violence and justice:

Tit for Tat:

[ the account this tweet came from, which was a media outlet for Shabaab, has since been closed -- hence the less than euqal graphical appearance of this particular tweet... ]


And here, without too much further ado, is a whole concatenation of…

Serpents biting their tails:

[ ... and that last one of Nein's appears to have been withdrawn from circulation ]

This one I love for its lesson on biblical pick-and-choose:

This one is also a DoubleQuote:

when closely followed by:

And this one really bites:


To close the series out with more of a bang than a whimper, here’s Serpent bites Tail with apocalypse & gameplay for additional spice:


American Caesar — a reread after 30 years

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 188-1964, by William Manchester

Often on weekends my wife allows me to tag along as she takes in area estate sales. She’s interested in vintage furniture, and I hope for a decent collection of books. A sale we visited a couple months ago had very few books, but of those few was a hardback copy of American Caesar. I purchased the copy for $1 and mentioned to my wife, “I’ll get to this again someday…” as I’d first read Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur in the early 1980′s while stationed on my first submarine. “Someday” started on the car ride home (she was driving), and I must admit: American Caesar was even better thirty years later. Manchester is a masterful biographer, and equal to the task of such a larger-than-life subject.

MacArthur still evokes passion among admirers and detractors. One take-away from the second reading was just how well-read MacArthur and his father were. When MacArthur the elder died, he left over 4,000 books in his library—both seemed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of history and warfare. Highly recommended.

PS: I visited the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, recently while in town for business and would recommend as well.


A theological look at Bachmann in overdrive

Monday, May 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- regretting the ways people trample on Christianity if they think they can squeeze political advantage out of it ]

Here is Rep. Michele Bachmann, speaking recently:


I’m certainly not a “biblical inerrantist” — but I do have a considerable affection for both Christianity and theology, and I appreciate that someone who reads the book of Amos in the New International Version will find the prophet declares at chapter 3 verse 6:

When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?

Of course, this was immediately preceded by a comment in the same verse, “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble?” which might give pause to one Richard Waddell next time he’s thinking of playing a trumpet solo at a wedding or funeral in Boston — but as I say, I don’t take scriptures that literally, and I hope the man plays on…


Look — if you are a person of influence, and are going to take a theological stand on an issue as grave as whether an entire nation is under divine judgment on the basis of your reading of acts of terror in the skies and riots in the Middle East, you might first want to ponder this advice from Douglas Sukhia in the Journal of the Western Reformed Seminary [WRS Journal 9/1 (February 2002) 1-5]:

Caution Against Rushing to a Conclusion

Although there are negative events that are clearly identified as acts of God’s judgment in Scripture, there are times when “bad things” happen as part of the general consequences of the fall and not due to specific sins. The book of Job, which many consider the oldest book in the Bible, deals with theodicy, i.e., the justice of God’s actions in the world. The book shows that Job’s counselors were wrong in their opinion that Job must have sinned to have experienced such a terrible disaster — i.e., the sudden loss of loved ones, property and health (Job 8:20; 18:5ff; 22:4-11, 21-25, etc.). Jesus corrected that same kind of thinking on the part of the disciples in John 9:1-2. He tells them the man was not blind as a result of his sins. Jesus also makes clear that the tragic deaths of several in a tower collapse and others at the hands of Pilate were not because the victims were especially evil (Luke 13:1-5). Paul and the faithful saints of Hebrews 11 experienced unjust, cruel treatment due to their obedience and faithfulness to God not because they were being judged by God. God often lets the wicked prosper in this world (Ps. 73:2-12; Job 24) and He assigns special trouble to the righteous (2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 2:19-20). Without special revelation from God I think it is presumptuous to dogmatically conclude that any temporal tragedy is a judgment of God for specific sins. We should humbly admit with the “wise man” that “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun” (Eccl. 8:17; Dt. 29:29).



It’s a little bit subtler than claiming you know at all times whom God is punishing right now — and always somehow in line with your own set of political beliefs and preferences.


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