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More metaphor &c

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing the series, with a choice gobbet of Updike ]
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from Meet the Press, 10/21/2018

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I continue to find the close reading of metaphors an invaluable analytic tool, and one that is also of interest to me personally, for writerly, poetic purposes. I’ve expanded my search from its original focus on games — specifically including sports, theater, war games &c as metaphors for politics — to cover something I’ll characterize as fine writing — giving me the ability to note and quote across a wider range of topics and usages.

My last post in the series ran to 18 comments, each one containing a couple of dozen or so instances of metaphor or fine writing, and I don’t expect my expanded search criteria to expand my actual collection — if anything I hope to cut back in favor of writing other things. But when MSNBC’s Meet the Press splashes a great End Game banner on my screen, as it did today, see above, I still won’t be able to resist.

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On the subject of fine writing, though, how’s this?

Dorothy Dotto, thirty-eight, happily married for nineteen years, the mother of three, a member of the Methodist Church, the Grange, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary. She lives, and has lived all her life, in the town of Elm Corners, somewhere in the Corn Belt; as a child, she won seven consecutive pins for perfect Sunday school attendance, and she graduated with good grades from a public school where the remarkable truthfulness of George Washington and the durable axioms of Benjamin Franklin were often invoked. Her father, Jesse, who is retired but still alive (bless him), for forty years kept above his desk at the feed mill a sign declaring, “Honesty Is the Best Policy.”

That’s John Updike, describing “the unimaginably tactful and delicate process whereby the housewife next door was transmogrified into a paid cheat” in what in retrospect looks like a major turning point in the American psyche — the loss of innocence that occurred when it was revealed that many hundreds of Dorothy Dottos had been suborned into a grand cheating system in what’s now known as the 1950s quiz show scandals:

The American quiz show scandals of the 1950s were a series of revelations that contestants of several popular television quiz shows were secretly given assistance by the show’s producers to arrange the outcome of an ostensibly fair competition. The quiz show scandals were driven by a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons included the drive for financial gain, the willingness of contestants to “play along” with the assistance, and the lack of then-current regulations prohibiting the rigging of game shows.

Back to Updike:

Now, as we remember the flavor and ethos of that innocent era, we realize that the contestants, aside from their freakish passion for Hittite history or skeet-shooting statistics, were meant to be us — you and me and the bright boy next door. This was America answering. This was the mental wealth behind the faces you saw in a walk around the block.

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Okay, game shows, in addition to Updike’s undoubtedly fine writing, that’s a game reference. But a loss of American innocence? That’s not nothing. That’s something worth pondering..

In fact, a loss of innocence is fundamentally a loss of the default assumption of trust — and isn’t it precisely the loss of trust that leads to all those conspiracist theories of a mysterious “They” who run “our” world, Skull and Bones, the Bohemian Club, No Such Agency, whoever — and the ensuing distrust of and between political paetiues, leading us eventually to today’s:

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And how’s that for a delicious paradox? The United States are now Divided as to whether they’re divided or united — with divided in the majority..

Okay, loss of innocence, let alone loss of virginity, may be strong language to describe the impact of those 1950s quiz show scandals on the American psyche — but something broke, a ratchet slipped, and perhaps we haven’t been quite the same since.

In any case, I’ll be collecting my usual snippets and gobbets of this and that — often sports, politics, war or strategy related, but also just plain curious or fine stuff — here in the comments section. And oh, btw, I’ve been misspelling gobbet as gobbit for years hereabout: forgive me, it’s spelt (spelled?) with an e, and means a chunk, primarily of meat or writing — no Gandalfian echo intended.

Ad now, as my friend David Ronfeldt would say, Onwards!

A chess tactic and its Trump/Putin similar

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — companion to A soccer tactic and its parliamentary analog ]
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Trump and Putin are on their respective ways to a meet in Helsinki. This post offers a chess angle on the importance of symmetry as a technique Putin happily uses on Trump and others. Symmetry is already a keen interest of mine in the arts, where it is a prime key to beauty. In chess, too, and it would seem in diplomacy and strategy, symmetry matters.

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Here’s the game in which Bobby Fischer kills Robert Byrne in an astounding 21 moves:

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What’s of interest to us here is the symmetry at move 11, shown here in two diagrams:

where the blue lines annotate the symmetries in files a, b, c, d, g, and h

and here:

where the red center-line serves as a mirror for those symmetrical files, their positions highlighted in green.

And here’s the site’s comment on symmetry:

It’s quite often the case that in very symmetrical positions such as this one, things go about very slowly, it’s often a bit of a maneuvering game, not a lot of, let’s say, great tactics, or fireworks, things of course can change, but there’s a great amount of symmetry here..

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Well, chess is the game of strategy par eminence, isn’t it? Here’s a quote I just used in my metaphors collection:

Brian Williams: Putin does the most rudimentary things, like mirroring, which communications experts will tell you is a way to kind of endearing yourself to your guest.
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Clint Watts: [agreeing] Ingratiate and mirror.

President Trump openly says If you say to me that you like me, then I like you. He’s just opening the door for this. Putin has done this with other world leaders. .. You want to build rapport with President Bush, talk about religion and the Christian Orthodox church. you do these things to build and ingratiate and build a mirror relationship with the target.

I’m not saying there’s a direct parallel between the chess comment and the Brian Williams / Clint Watts conversation, which just scratches the surface of the communications stragegy of mirroring and similar techniques, and their relevance to the immadiate situation with Trump on his way to Helsinki to meet Putin

with only two translators in the room

— just that the emphasis on symmetry in the celebrated Fischer chess match gives us a clue to the possible importance of symmetry in crucial strategic situations in general — and thus to the coming week’s Trump / Putin situation.

Unintended consequences, the collection

Monday, June 18th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — what you don’t see can blindside you ]
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Unintended consequences are the clearest indicators we have of just how much more complex the world is than we imagine it to be. They are therefore of great interest.

A short while back, WaPo had a piece that overtly referenced unintended consequences: Unintended consequences: Inside the fallout of America’s crackdown on opioids.

I’m going to take that as the starting point for another of my collections. When I find a clear case of an unintended cnsequence, I’ll add it to this post or in the comments session..

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One major group of unintended consequences news items clusttered around the revision of redistricting rules in an attempt (at least purportedly) to curb the abuse of partisan power in gerrymandering, an ancient American political tradition practiced by both (all?) partties —

Overby & Cosgrove‘s 1996 Unintended Consequences? Racial Redistricting and the Representation of Minority Interests would appear to be a much quoted starting point, followed by Rose Institute’s 2008 Unintended Consequences of Texas Gerrymandering.

But the general principle is evident: course corrections don’t always set you back on track — or as the Taoist fellow might say, any map you can draw is liable to lead you astray — maps are fallible wrt terrain, wrt reality!

Case in point: The meandering path of the Mississippi, now here, now there — with oxbows!

Travelers, mappers and modelers, beware!

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Oh, and BTW, I woke from the anaesthetic that accompanied my triple heart bypass to find.. Trump was president. That consequence was unintended by me at least, no matter hwat Mr Putin may have decided.

A complexity consideration or two

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — that one is a many among many, and how many does that make? ]
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There are many, many distinctions that can be drawn at the group level, political, financial, religious, tribal, on the right side of the line in the diagram below — but every one of them in constituted of individuals, for each of whom the considerations on the left side would, to a greater or lesser extent, apply:

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How is this multiplied?

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Nice words, nice indeed. Bobby Kennedy‘s words.

But did the darker aspects of “the complex compound of pure and impure impulses” — in every individual, every “tiny ripple” — get lost in the niceness of the words?

I ask because for optimists it so often does, and that’s the great weakness of positive movements. And because for the cynical, so often, no glimpse of the positive aspects can make it through their fog.

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Consider this, for each individual:

As every man goes through life he fills in a number of forms for the record, each containing a number of questions . .. There are thus hundreds of little threads radiating from every man, millions of threads in all. If these threads were suddenly to become visible, the whole sky would look like a spider’s web, and if they materialized as rubber bands, buses; trams and even people would all lose the ability to move, and the wind would be unable to carry torn-up newspapers or autumn leaves along the streets of the city. They are not visible, they are not material, but every man is constantly aware of their existence…. Each man, permanently aware of his own invisible threads, naturally develops a respect for the people who manipulate the threads.

That’s not somebody writing about Cambridge Analytica or FaceBook — that’s Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in Cancer Ward, 1968, courtesy Bruce Schneier.

I may add further one and many instances and illuminations in the comments section as I find them — you are invited to do the same..

Sunday surprise — Li Bai and the Song of Songs

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — it’s all about a scarlet thread and some corks in a current ]
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I have plenty of idle time between naps, and was binge watching The Churchmen on Netflix. Plus it’s a Sunday..

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As you know, I track “twins” in events and quotations, mainly for sheer aesthetic pleasure, but also partly as an analytic tool — believing as I do that “two is the first number” and often a leading-edge clue to pattern, meaning, significance.

I’m used to finding others who have noted these twins or “DoubleQuotes” as I call them — “DoubleQuotes in the Wild” — but I’m not sure I’ve ever run across a clear description of someone else noting them, let alone in a scholarly manner that bridges the secular west and spiritual east — but lookee here!

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Amazing indeed! And what a line! Your lips are like a thread of scarlet! worthy of Li Po, worthy indeed of the Song of Songs!

I’d have been very chuffed if I’d run across the same doublet between Li Bai – better known to me as Li Po — and the Song of Songs — which, by the way, is Solomon’s.

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Li Po, who, drunk and out in a shallow boat, saw the moon reflected in the Yellow River, leaned over to kiss it, and drowned..

Solomon — but you know the story — seated in judgement, ordered a child be cut in two when two women claimed to be its mother — then commanded it be given to the one whose shocked pure love begged him to deliver it to the other.. wisdom as the test of love!

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The discoverer of the binary “Your lips are like a thread of scarlet!” is a brilliant, generous-hearted, flawed founder and leader of a seminary in France who displeases ambitious Vaticanisti, is offered a choice of disgrace (on account off his flaws) or (as an “out”) a posting to an obscure but copacetic position in Shanghai..

A conversation ensues, in which he discusses his options with the nun who serves as his assistant:

The nun ancourages him to consider the Shanghai option..

That option has a certain seductive charm — following that scarlet thread.. but it represents being “bought off” rather than sticking by one’s guns come what may, and somehow weathering the consequences.

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Our nun reflects:

And that’s an interesting idea.

At first glace it seems fatalistic — but that current moving the corks — the seminarians, the nun herself, the priest she serves, an ambitious president of the Franch bishops, various monsignori and a pope – maybe Christ, too? — has its own flows and undertows — a priest’s flaws included. It’s a complex system.

The corks are afloat in a complex system. A scarlet thread traces its curve in the complex system, from contemporary France to eighth- century China.

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And when you’re afloat in a complex system — as we all are — “go with the flow” may be sound advice. That’s why the “corks in a current” idea seems so interesting to me. Sunday surprise!


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