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Two from my FB feed this morning

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — well, three — what I read on FB, and what Chinese AI can now deduce about me ]
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First:

Carla Cahill‘s catch, I think, speaks for itself — the super blood wolf moon caught at exactly the right moment:

Carla writes:

Okay, I saw this jet coming, so I acted fast and got it along with the Blood, Wolf, Blue, Eclipse Moon!

The photographer’s gift is eternal alertness.

**

Second:

This DoubleQuote response to the #tenyearchallrnge showing a dying coral reef, via John Kellden and March for Science:

Friend Marshall Massey contributed this example:

I somehow suspect the photographer of the coral reef — the Great Barrier Reef? — didn’t mark the exact few “leaves” of coral he photographed ten years earlier, and then returned to those exact few leaves ten years later — I imagine he may have returned to the same rough spot where he — or she, why do I suppose a he? — had taken her first shot, and found a similar spot to take the second.

Or were there in fact two photographers? The similarity of the two photos almost convinces me of a single photographer with his eye on the same exact sport for years — his or her wife, lover or friends bringing sandwiches every day for ten years, sleepless nights under a cold moon..

Except both photos were presumably taken by a diver or divers, underwater..

Ah, the human mind!

And the forest / mine pair — were they taken at the same spot, roughly the same spot — or close enough to make a point, maybe a few miles apart, with the second shot positioned to include the truck..?

**

Third:

This was too rich to omit. Ali Minai wrote:

I don’t read or speak Urdu, so knowing Ali is an AI expert, I asked for translations from two AIs. FB’s in-house translator gave me:

It’s very short of the dead country.
The ironic is the same, yooo change.

Google Translate gave me:

History is very short of my country
Satyam is the same, the stars keep changing

Okay, those two give me state of the art, readily available AI capabilities. I then asked Ali how he would translate the couplet into English.. and gave my own best guess, sticking my neck out and working from similarities between the two AI versions:

History short-changes my native land —
ah, but truth’s the same, as changeable as the stars.

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Here’s Ali’s very gracious response:

Aha! Sense at last — English sense, that is.

I think this entire episode is a living, breathing testament to the state of the art in intelligence — artificial and embodied. Way to go, Ali Minai

**

Chinese AI looking for vulnerabilities to exploit will now think I’m an Urdu speaker, because I commented on Ali Minai‘s Urdu post. And ZP’s version of WordPress couldn’t even render Ali’s couplet except as:

??? ??? ?? ??? ????? ?? ?? ?????
??? ??? ??? ????? ????? ???? ???

— which captures my own sentiment when I first saw Ali‘s post exactly..

All in all, a rich morning’s education!

Kill them all, said the Abbot, and Saddam said much the same

Friday, January 4th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — personally, i don’t at all mind the fact that both saddam and the abbot are no longer around, given the brutality of their acts ]
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Saddam reveals himself {upper panel] to be plausibly mediaeval [lower panel]:

He also puts himself in the judgment seat the Abbot reserves for God…

**

The massacre of Béziers, and the Albigensian Crusade of which it was the opening salvo, came about, I’d suggest, fundamentally because the good people of Languedoc — home of the Troubadours as well as the Cathars or Albigensians — found the leaders of the Cathars, known as the Perfecti, to be humbler, poorer, and less ostentatious than the Abbots and Bishops, leaders of the Catholic Church, who tended to be among the “fat cats” of their day.

Understandably, the Church disliked this almost unavoidable comparison, but was unwilling to relinquish its personal and institutional wealth — hence the Abbot’s instruction, Kill them all, God will sort out his own, which somehow made the massacre tolerable, theologically speaking.

**

Reading, for the Cathars:

  • Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error
  • King Canute, Imperial Beach, CA, and rising tides

    Monday, October 22nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a coastal California town has learned the lesson King Canute either taught his nobles or learned the hard way himself — but what can anyone do about it? ]
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    **

    Okay, here’s the first para of Can a California town move back from the sea? Imperial Beach considers the unthinkable: a retreat from nature:

    At the start of each year, Southern California gets a glimpse into a future of rising seas, through an annual event called the king tide. On that day, the sun, moon and Earth align to create a heavy gravitational pull, leading to the highest tides of the year. If “king tide” sounds ominous, that’s because it is, particularly for a city like Imperial Beach, a small coastal town near the Mexican border surrounded by water on three sides: San Diego Bay to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Tijuana River Delta to the south.

    It doesn’t hurt that there’s a king reference there either, from my POV — because?

    **

    Because King Canute.

    As a Brit, I was introduced to King Canute at an early age, along with every last one of the other Kings and Queens of England — and their dates — memorize them! Americans, however, have shaken off the dust of kings and queens, and may not know the tale of King Canute and the waves. Was he, as my gold-embossed, colour-plated richly patriotic children’s book had it, an imperious royal who set his chair in the sand before the incoming tide, and not about to lose one inch of English sovereign soil to the waves, dared the Atlantic to encroach on his royal prerogative?

    Or was he, as Henry of Huntingdon, the original chronicler of the tale has it, a humble and wise, one might say ecologically sound king, who set his chair in the sand to demonstrate to his fawning and flattering courtiers that look, not even my royal command can overrule the laws of God — or Nature?

    **

    So, back to the humbling question — rising tides?

    Currently an anomaly, the king tide is a portent of things to come. Researchers warn that, due to myriad factors including the Earth’s rotation, California will deal with even higher sea-level rise than other locations, as the atmosphere and oceans warm. The oceans are now rising at a faster rate than any time since the last Ice Age, about half an inch or more per decade. While much of this is understood by researchers and informed readers, very little has been done by coastal cities to confront this slow-moving catastrophe.

    And Imperial Beach in particular?

    That is what makes Imperial Beach so interesting. Here, at the southernmost beach town in California, in an obscure corner of the United States, one small city is asking: What if we just got out of nature’s way?

    **

    Sources and readings:

  • High Country News, Can a California town move back from the sea?
  • The Sun, You Canute be Serious

  • Wikipedia, King Canute and the tide
  • New York Times, Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040
  • ipcc, Global Warming of 1.5°C
  • Greed can do it as easily as Religion — or Time Itself

    Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — the passing of time is theft is the passing of all things ]
    .

    Here’s a quick stop-motion movie of the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, in four powerful frames.

    The Temple was originally gloriously decorated..

    null

    That’s Palmyra’s divine triad: Baalshamin, with the Moon god Aglibol on his right and the Sun-god Yarhibol at left, discovered at Bir Wereb, near Palmyra, 60 cm high (Louvre, Paris) (photo: Emmanuel PIERRE, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    The Temple was, in fact, until recently, an impressive ruin..

    null

    That’s the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, in a photo by Bernard Gagnon, GNU license.

    But then ISIS used explosives for a sacred demolition..

    null

    Credit for this and the final image goes to Reuters

    …and now there’s not much remaining of the glory..

    null

    End of film, end of story — setup for the point I want to make.

    **

    Stuff gets made or born, stuff lives or exists.. stuff dies, fades, crumbles, evaporates.. sometimes stuff is reboorn, salvaged, gets a second life..

    Consider the great temple of Angkor Wat, buit by Khmer artists, partly destroyed by centuries of weather and overgrowth, pock-marked by the bullets of insurgents & army.. now given a second life as a tourist destination.. Consider Tibetan mandalas, chalked out in detail, painstakingly painted in sand, then swept away, proof of impermancence..

    Well?

    **

    The establishment of monotheism in Egypt was accompanied by royal command with the destruction of what we might now call religious and cultural works —

    In rebellion against the old religion and the powerful priests of Amun, Akhenaten ordered the eradication of all of Egypt’s traditional gods. He sent royal officials to chisel out and destroy every reference to Amun and the names of other deities on tombs, temple walls, and cartouches to instill in the people that the Aten was the one true god.

    — in a manner that calls to mind some of ISIS excesses, their destruction of the Temple of Bel, for a recent and striking instance.

    **

    Indeed, places of worship have not infrequently been torn down:

    Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.

    That’s from England — which suffered under Cranmer (Reformation) and Cromwell (Civil War), both of them politically influential Puritans.. who between them made ruins of many British abbeys — think Glastonbury, Fountains, Walsingham..

    Well, all that’s background, simply to establish that time’s river allows for the buildup by a wide variety of means and sweeping away of all manner of things animate and ootherwise, in a continual flux, a continual emergence, a continual impermanence..

    **

    But my point, remember?


    Photo credit: via Trib Live

    My point is that the thief of Pittsburg’s unique and valuable book antiquities deprives us of treasures of the mind in much the same way that ISIS does with its explosives in Palmyra. In the latter case: impassioned religion; in the former: simple greed.

    Appraisers discovered missing items and books that had been “cannibalized,” with entire portions removed, according to the affidavit.

    and the alleged thief:

    is charged with theft, receiving stolen property, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, conspiracy, retail theft, theft by deception, forgery and deceptive business practices.

    Items of high value and greed, idolatry and iconoclasm — the cutting up of books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh including a copy of Newton’s Principia is nend ot in the too different from what ISIS’ Kata’ib Taswiyya batallion did to Palmyra.

    Not too different, either, from the activities of Tibetan monks.. or, I suppose, wind, rain, and a thousand years..

    **

    Percy Bysshe Shelley:

    I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal, these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    “The Gold Standard of Dictatorships”

    Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

    [mark safranski / “zen“]

    The Hoover Institution interviews historian Stephen Kotkin about Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Kotkin, a professor of Russian Studies at Princeton University,  is 2/3 of the way through writing his three volume biography of the life and times of Stalin. The first two volumes are each groundbreaking and monumental and if the third is their equal then Kotkin will have written the definitive work in the field.
    .
    Part I.
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    Part II.
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    Stalin’s only true peers are Hitler and Mao. Kotkin’s second volume – subtitled Waiting For Hitler – does not seek to reprise Alan Bullock’s work or those of Richard Overy or Robert Gellately – Hitler is important not as a direct comparison to the Soviet dictator but as a geopolitical and military threat posed by Nazi Germany with which Stalin was forced to account even as he pursued his internal purges or faced military provocations by Imperial Japan. Stalin feared Hitler and admired him in a backhanded way without really understanding the Fuhrer. In Hitler’s shoes, Stalin never would have gambled so recklessly and most of his brutal policies were bent toward increasing Soviet security as he saw it, even devastatingly counterproductive ones like the purges or the Winter War.

    Hat tip to Scott Shipman

    Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928    Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941


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