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Foolishness, Martin Luther King Jr and the Resurrection

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — from MLK via St Basil the Great to Mullah Nasruddin ]
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Three lines from the Apostles Creed locate the Resurrection between a descent into hell and an ascent into heaven. These lines are worth pondering in concert:

He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,

In what world of three worlds are these three utterances, so poetically juxtaposed, credible as declarative propositions?

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He is risen!

Bach’s Easter Oratorio, with Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Orchestra:

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Martin Luther King Jr gently lays out the liberal / modernist perspective on the Resurrection:

The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story. This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death. From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine?

The root of our inquiry is found in the fact that the early Christians had lived with Jesus. They had been captivated by the magnetic power of his personality. This basic experience led to the faith that he could never die. And so in the pre-scientific thought pattern of the first century, this inner faith took outward form. But it must be remembered that before the doctrine was formulated or the event recorded, the early Christians had had a lasting experience with the Christ. They had come to see that the essential note in the Fourth Gospel is the ultimate force in Christianity: The living, deathless person of Christ. They expressed this in terms of the outward, but it was an inner experience that lead to its expression.

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The Jesuit priest Fr James Schall defends that outward interpretation, as found in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, taken for dogmatic purposes as declarations of fact:

To the wise Greeks, as St. Paul tells us, the whole aura around Christ’s death and resurrection seemed to be “foolishness.” And it is foolishness unless considerable evidence is found showing that something astonishing was in fact going on. This evidence is basically the testimony of the women and men who attested to the fact that Christ did rise again. This is the same Christ whose death on the Cross they had witnessed a few days before.

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To take these declarations as reporting historical fact, it may help to have an upside-down worldview — that of the wisdom of the fool. Appropriately, this year Easter is celebrated on April Fools Day. Indeed, Fr Schall opens his piece from which I quoted above by noting that fact, then moves to a discussion of Christ himself as a Fool:

A tradition exists about “Christ the Fool.” It probably originates from when Pilate sent Christ to see Herod. Herod was anxious to see him. See him do what? See him perform. He had heard much about this man and his miracles. So naturally the king wanted to see what Christ could do; he wanted a private show to entertain the court. In response, Christ was simply silent.

Christ, we might say, played the naïf for Herod.

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Scripture declares how a naturalistic worldview perceives the eruption of God’s wisdom into this world as folly, and vice versa:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.

while:

the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

and, in an almost tongue-twisting formulation:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

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All of which leads Christians to imitate the foolishness of Christ:

We are fools for Christ’s sake

That too is St Paul, writing of himself and his contemporaries, followers of the pattern set by Christ — and his message has echoed down the centuries among those who wish to imitate that pattern closely:

One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference.

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In the Orthodox tradition — in which, this year, Easter and the Resurrection will be celebrated next Sunday — the foolishness of saints is a recurrent story. As I noted, quoting from the National Catholic Register in an earlier post:

In Russian history the greatest of the “holy fools” was Basil the Blessed, a man so revered that the famous Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square next to the Kremlin was named in his honor. Basil walked through Moscow wearing nothing more than a long beard. He threw rocks at wealthy people’s houses and stole from dishonest traders in Red Square.

Few doubted Basil’s holiness. Tsar Ivan the Terrible feared no one but Basil. Basil was also given to eating meat on Good Friday. Once he went to Ivan’s palace in the Kremlin and forced the tsar to eat raw meat during the fast saying, “Why abstain from eating meat when you murder men?” Countless Russians died for much less but Ivan was afraid to let any harm come to the saintly Basil.

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I don’t suppose one could speak of left and right wing parties under the Terrible Ivan, but evcen if one could, I don’t think St Basil’s approach would fit either description — he’s acting in a manner that is plain contrary to all sane opinion — and indeed, the term “Contraries” is applied by anthropologists to trickster shamans and holy foots in many traditions. Interestingly, in Sufism the “path of blame” has at times been highly esteemed — its practitioners, like the Russian Holy Fools, draw blame on themselves to awaken those around them while subverting their own propensity to take pride in how “spiritual” they are.

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Mullah Nasruddin really didn’t want to loan his donkey to a neighbor.
My brother borrowed him yesterday and hasn’t brought him back, the Mullah said..
Just then, the donkey brayed.
Who are you going to believe, the Mullah asked hastilyy — me or a donkey?

Now, who in that little vignette is more of an ass?

Tea with your sugar, sugar with your tea

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — who has moved on to caffe latte ]
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Two things I read in quick succession.

Sugar:

The first deals with a moment in the history of slavery and abolition, and by extension, sugar:

When will Britain face up to its crimes against humanity?:

Shortly after Christmas 1831, an audacious rebellion broke out in Jamaica. Some 60,000 enslaved people went on strike. They burned the sugar cane in the fields and used their tools to smash up sugar mills. The rebels also showed remarkable discipline, imprisoning slave owners on their estates without physically harming them.

Tea:

The second just begs to be read alongside the first, especially if like so many Brits you like two cubes of sugar in your tea..

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The second leaves you hanging, yeah, needing to comb your memory for the back-story of tea.. which is why, in addition to the fact that I read it after I’d read the entry on sugar and the sugar riots, I have put it second here.

It requires mental work!

But then the first one — with the rebellious slaves treating their imprisoned previous slave-owners civilly..

May I find there an early precedent for the nonviolence of MLK and the civil rights movemnt — in Jamaica, 1831?

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This is the sort of intellectual stimulation I live for!

Lattes for two, if you please. Do you take yours with Splenda?

For Ramadan and against violent extremism

Monday, May 29th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Kuwaiti Ramadan ad message: Let’s Bomb Hatred With Love ]
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At the time I’m writing this, the following video has received 2,298,068 views:

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One site posting the video commented:

As we know from the consumerization of Christmas, nothing seems to scream profits to large corporations like a religious occasion.

In this case, Zain is the large corporation, and Ramadan is the occasion for the video, which features Emirati pop star Hussain Al Jassmi.

Ramadan, the fasting month in which the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Zain is a Kuwaiti mobile telecom provider reaching across the Middle East and Africa.

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The text of the ad, icluding Al Jassmi’s lyrics, is as follows:

I will tell God everything …
That you’ve filled the cemeteries with our children and emptied our school desks …
That you’ve sparked unrest and turned our streets to darkness …
And that you’ve lied …
God has full knowledge of the secrets of all hearts.

I bear witness that there is no God but Allah.
You who comes in the name of death, He is the creator of life.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
The forgiving and forbearing who hurts not those who hurt Him.

God is Greater
Than those who hide what doesn’t show.
God is Greater
Than those who obey without contemplation.
God is Greater
Than those lurking to betray us.

God is Greater
God is Greater
God is Greater

Worship your God with love .. With love, not terror ..
Be tender in your faith, tender not harsh ..
Confront your enemy, with peace not war ..
Persuade others, with leniency not by force ..

Let’s bomb violence with mercy ..
Let’s bomb delusion with the truth ..
Let’s bomb hatred with love ..
Let’s bomb extremism for a better life ..

We will counter their attacks of hatred, with songs of love .. From now until happiness.

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There os an interesting comparison implicit here between the words of Christ:

You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

and those of the Quran:

The Koran says in the subject of surrendering one’s right to exact vengeance from another, “Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (evil) with what is better: then will he between whom and you was hatred become as it were your friend and intimate.” (41: 34) So the Koran holds forgiveness, forbearance, restraint, and turning a blind eye to abuses to be the higher ideal of a belief.

The text from which I’m quoting here, with the Quranic verse embedded in it, is by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali entited Islam and Thurning the Other Cheek, and includes a thoughtful comparison of Martin Luther King and Malcoom X.

I’m hoping to write up a fuller comparison between the Christian and Islamic doctrines, possibly for LapidoMedia, and will report back here.

A popular quote attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib, fourth caliph of the SUnni, first Imam of the Shia:

Hate no one, no matter how much they have wronged you, live humbly, no matter how wealthy you have become, think positively, no matter how hard the life is, give much, even if you have been given little, keep in touch with the ones who have forgotten you, and forgive who has wronged you, and do not stop praying for the best of those you love.

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Blessed are the meek. Ramadan Mubarak.

On the narrative arc

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a recent Wapo example of how history gets bent (ever so slightly) out of shape to serve narrative ]
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Riley Rainbow in Curved Air
One of the universal arcs, and a personal favorite

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Story-telling shapes awareness.

Yesterday’s Washington Post has an article titled Patriots at the gate: The Americans preparing for battle against their own government. It’s an interesting overview, but I’m not interested in discussing the merits or demerits of the Patriot Movement, Southern Poverty Law Center, Oath Keepers, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City, the Bundy Ranch, or Malheur — what interests me is the way the story is told.

Here’s the section dealing with one participant:

Across the family-style table, Alex ­McNeely, 25, a drywaller and “avid YouTuber,” said he became interested in the patriot movement online and joined the group to feel that he was helping to defend the country.

“There’s this D.C. mentality that if you stand up for your rights, you’re dangerous and anti-government,” said McNeely, who has an AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm. “But if I’m denied my rights, what else can I do? Am I just going to stand there and take it, or am I going to do something?”

In the Constitutional Guard, McNeely said: “I feel what we do is stand up for people who don’t have the means to stand up for themselves. I have an overwhelming desire to help people.”

They have passed out more than 2,000 pocket-size copies of the Constitution that Soper said he bought for $500, sent food and clothes to victims of forest fires in Washington state and Oregon and given Christmas presents to more than three dozen children in need.

McNeely considered joining the military when he graduated from high school, but he turned 18 the month Obama was elected in 2008, and, because of Obama’s “socialist” policies, “I wasn’t going to accept him as my commander in chief.”

“I don’t like that he wants to fundamentally change America,” McNeely said.

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The writer is Kevin Sullivan, a WaPo Senior correspondent, and I think we can safely assume he knows his trade. My interest focus on the sentence:

“There’s this D.C. mentality that if you stand up for your rights, you’re dangerous and anti-government,” said McNeely, who has an AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm.

Sullivan has already given his opening identification of McNeely —

Across the family-style table, Alex ­McNeely, 25, a drywaller and “avid YouTuber,” said he became interested in the patriot movement online and joined the group to feel that he was helping to defend the country

— that’s fair enough, and the bit about the “AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm” could have gone in there, or been added to the graph:

McNeely considered joining the military when he graduated from high school, but he turned 18 the month Obama was elected in 2008, and, because of Obama’s “socialist” policies, “I wasn’t going to accept him as my commander in chief.”

where the topic is his consideration of “the military” — but no, Sullivan posts it neither where he’s introducing McNeely nor where he’s talking about his thoughts about the military, but in the graph discussing the Patriot Mov ement ideals as McNeely describes them — see, once again:

“There’s this D.C. mentality that if you stand up for your rights, you’re dangerous and anti-government,” said McNeely, who has an AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm.

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Sullivan wants the irony. He’s making a juxtaposition-with-purpose — long-time readers here will know that juxtaposition as a rhetorical device is a keen interest of mine — he’s linking the movement’s ideals with the AK-47 tattoo to add an inflection of irony.

It’s a tiny point — no more than an inflection — but it’s one that I note in the same way I noted the non-appearance of bin Laden‘s Qur’anic epigraph in media versions of a significant speech, in my post Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns. I don’t happen to share McNeely’s worldview, nor that of bin Laden, but I am deeply interested in the ways the media portray matters of substance and nuance. I am interested in “narrative”.

We’ve all heard MLK’s quote, “somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” The arc of narrative has another aim: it bends towards “good reading” — and if the curve bends fast enough it will spiral ever more lightly and less helpfully in, and we wind up with “click bait”. I know this, because I practice my own version of the dark (and sometimes, brilliantly illuminating) art of writing.

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There’s a lot more to say about narrative, and the various meanings it now has.

One of my own interests is the way in which we think a narrative can be spun out of words and images (aka “propaganda”), when facts, grounded realities, history may, as they say, tell a different tale — and facts may speak louder than words. In that sense, if we need a new narrative, we may need a new behavior, a new policy, a new strategy implemented, to speak it.

What interests me here though, getting back to the WaPo piece and McNeely, is how telling a story in a way that makes it a “good read” influences a narrative arc that is, significantly, also the arc of “the first draft of history”.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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    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”.

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    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?

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    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.

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    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


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