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Careful with those DoubleQuotes: Benedict & Francis

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two popes, two images, and vive la différence ]
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It seems that back in the day, I missed this classic example of what I call DoubleQuotes in the Wild:

JP II Francis

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I was reading an article in the Catholic Herald this morning, because they’re changing format in response to “just how much technology had reshaped the world in the eight years between the elections of Benedict XVI and Francis”, and my attention was caught by this para:

That change was captured beautifully in an image that did the rounds during the conclave. It showed two crowds waiting for the white smoke. In the first, dated 2005, the faithful milled around under street lights, with just one clunky clamshell mobile phone visible. The second, dated 2013, presented a twinkling ocean of iPads, Nokias, iPhones and Motorolas. The message was simple: almost everyone today is online, seemingly all the time.

That expresses the power of DoubleQuotes very nicely — but I hadn’t seen the twinned images, so I went in search of them, and discovered that NBC New’s Facebook page had posted the image under the caption:

What a difference 8 years makes: St. Peter’s Square in 2005 and yesterday.

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That’s accurate as far as it goes, but others presented the two images just a tad differently, as in:

NBC posted a powerful image of St. Peter’s Square showing how different things looked in 2005 when Pope Benedict was chosen from the new world of 2013 with Pope Francis.

and that’s not quite right. As Emi Kolawole pointed out in About those 2005 and 2013 photos of the crowds in St. Peter’s Square:

A composite image has been making its way around the Internet that appears to juxtapose images of the throng in St. Peter’s Square in 2005 during the announcement of Pope Benedict’s election with the audience present during that of Pope Francis.

But here’s thing, the photos weren’t taken at those times.

Post photojournalist Nick Kirkpatrick did a little digging and found that the lower photo (shown below this paragraph), which features a sea of smartphones and tablets, was, indeed, taken during the announcement of Pope Francis’s election. But the top photo (shown above), which shows an audience with far fewer gadgets was taken during the funeral procession of Pope John Paul II — a very different mood and event type. There was no one addressing the crowd from the balcony, for example. So, the comparison isn’t quite accurate.

Indeed, Kolawole’s piece reproduces the original caption to the upper photo:

People fill Via Della Conciliazione boulevard about half a mile away from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican after Pope John Paul II’s body was carried across the square into the Basilica for public viewing on April 4, 2005. With tens of thousands of mourners outside hoping for a glimpse of the body, 12 pallbearers flanked by Swiss Guards carried the late pontiff’s body on a crimson platform from the Sala Clementina, where it had lain in state since the previous day. (LUCA BRUNO – AP)

— and follows up with photos like this one, of the crowd in St Peter’s Square when the election of Pope Benedict XVI was announced:

daylight

— which does indeed show more than a few digital cameras raised to capture the event, though not as many as at the “comparable” in 2013.

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But then the photo of the 2013 announcement was taken looking towards St Peters, over the shoulders of the crowd, while the photo from 2005 was taken facing into the crowd — and the 2013 announcement was made at night, when the presence of so many digital cameras and phones lit up the square, whereas the announcement of 2005 was made in broad daylight.

So. With DoubleQuotes, wild or otherwise, it’s always a matter of caveat emptor.

Stage Two of any rigorous use of the DoubleQuote mechanism, after the juxtaposition has been made, should therefore take the form of critical thinking, providing a clear analysis of the similarities and differences between the two “quotes” (texts or images or whatever) so that we are not misled by superficial resemblances into conclusions that jump the proverbial shark.

Nor is Francis — though both be Peter — identical to Benedict.

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Of game, the little brother of war

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Maori Haka vs Aboriginal War Dance, Rugby Football, the Huron origins of Lacrosse. the UK's Adventurous Training manual, and a testosteronic Christ with whip by El Greco ]
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Let’s start with war dances on the twenty-first century Rugby football field. Here’s the Maori Haka vs the Aboriginal War Cry — in a video that’s all the more remarkable in that it pits two forms of Australasian war dance against one another:

One wonders whether the game can be won or lost before the game begins…

One commentator on the above clip said, “I’m guessing we’ll see something very similar when Tonga take on Samoa on Friday night”.

Here’s Tonga vs Samoa — not quite so ediying, perhaps, but a little closer to war?

– and, for what it’s worth, here’s New Zealand Maori Vs Tonga absent the feathers and war-paint:

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What’s going on here is another of the intersections of wars and games — and that should be of interest to anyone who would like to see less conflict and more resolution.

Back in 2005, I wrote our my “vision” of games, and included the following:

In the back of my mind there’s a sense that games of high risk are somehow of great importance -– that gambling is not the province solely of addicts (players) and mafiosi (“the house”) but of some archaic and primordial importance that was sensed by the native peoples of America when they made gambling and the playing of games and sports a feature of their spiritual life.

By way of example, I quoted this excerpt from The Creator’s Game:

The Game of lacrosse was given to our people by the Creator to play for his amusement. Just as a parent will gain much amusement at the sight of watching his child playing joyfully with a new gift, so it was intended that the Creator be similarly amused by viewing his “children” playing lacrosse in a manner which was so defiant of fatigue.

And concluded:

Iry to bear in mind the tale of early ganes of chess in which the player was his own King on the board, subject to death if the game was lost — and of the ball games of the Mayans, where a whole team would be sacrificed to the gods if they played so superbly as to win…

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And so to Lacrosse…

vennum cover

In The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries
in New France 1610—1791
, we read:

Of three kinds of games especially in use among these Peoples, — namely, the games of crosse, dish, and straw, — the first two are, they say, most healing. Is not this worthy of compassion? There is a poor sick man, fevered of body and almost dying, and a miserable Sorcerer will order for him, as a cooling remedy, a game of crosse. Or the sick man himself, sometimes, will have dreamed that he must die unless the whole country shall play crosse for his health; and, no matter how little may be his credit, you will see then in a beautiful field, Village contending against Village, as to who will play crosse the better, and betting against one another Beaver robes and Porcelain collars, so as to excite greater interest.

Sometimes, also, one of these jugglers will say that the whole Country is sick, and he asks a game of crosse to heal it; no more needs to be said, it is published immediately everywhere; and all the Captains of each Village give orders that all the young men do their duty in this respect, otherwise some great misfortune would befall the whole Country.

One account of the early game indicates that it had no boundaries, and only a single rule:

The Native American games were seen as major events, which took place over several days.They were played over huge open areas between villages and the goals, which might be trees or other natural features, were anything from 500 yards to several miles apart. Any number of players were involved. Some estimates have mentioned between 100 and 100,000 players participating in a game at any one time. The rules were very simple, the ball was not to be touched by a player’s hand and there were no boundaries. The ball was tossed into the air to indicate the start of the game and players raced to be the first to catch it.

Here’s Prof. Anthony Aveni‘s description of the game, in The Indian Origins of Lacrosse:

Originally, the lacrosse field lay on rough ground with opposing goal trees, or posts if vegetation was not convenient, as much as a mile apart. One game witnessed by a colonist tells of two villages engaging each other, hundreds of men on the field at once. The swiftest players usually would engage at the center of the field and the slower arranged themselves around the goal posts. The heavier players held the ground in between.

Once the sphere was tossed up, the player who caught it “immediately set out at full speed towards the opposite goal. If too closely pursued, he throws the ball in the direction of his own side, who takes up the race”—this from a description by a mid-nineteenth century witness. This account fits the present version of lacrosse, except that the old game was more violent. Often in striking the opponent’s stick to dislodge the ball, a player inflicted severe injury to an arm or leg. One chronicler tells us: “Legs and arms are broken, and it has even happened that a player has been killed. It is quite common to see someone crippled for the rest of his life who would not have had this misfortune but for his own obstinacy.” In this instance the player refused to give up the ball, which he had trapped on the ground between his feet.

Regarding the question of injury, Vennum (who wrote the book, see above) xplains:

Europeans were less impressed by the violence that they witnessed than by the lack of anger over injuries or losses. Almost all writers mention this “stoic” Indian characteristic.

Parkman‘s account of the “Pontiac Conspiracy” describes one such game in which the little brother of war deftly became its elder brother:

Bushing and striking, tripping their adversaries, or hurling them to the ground, they pursued the animating contest amid the laughter and applause of the spectators. Suddenly, from the midst of the multitude, the ball soared into the air and, descending in a wide curve, fell near the pickets of the fort. This was no chance stroke. It was part of a preconcerted scheme to insure the surprise and destruction of the garrison. As if in pursuit of the ball, the players turned and came rushing, a maddened and tumultuous throng, towards the gate. In a moment they had reached it. The amazed English had no time to think or act. The shrill cries of the ball-players were changed to the ferocious war-whoop. The warriors snatched from the squaws the hatchets which the latter, with this design, had concealed beneath their blankets. Some of the Indians assailed the spectators without, while others rushed into the fort, and all was carnage and confusion.

And little brother is still recognized as family into modern times. James Vennum writes:

During the Cherokee Fall Festival in North Carolina, I once watched the Wolftown Wolves beat the Wolftown Bears. Although the field was surrounded by carnival rides and food concession stands, little had changed in the Cherokee game since 1888, when it was described and photographed by James Mooney, who must have come by wagon on a dirt road to get there. Each team still marched abreast in line by degrees to midfield, letting out ritual war whoops and yells as they faced their opponents and laid down their sticks to be counted.

At the conclusion of the Cherokee game, in keeping with tradition, the teams were “taken to water,” an ancient ritual meant to cleanse and restore them from their warlike condition during the game.

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I’m writing this post, as always, for my own instruction and delight — but also to give context to the recent Kings of War post, Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure:

Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,” AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” There are currently nine core AT activities and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities.

The Joint Services Pamphlet 419: Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme can be downloaded here:

adventurous training

As you’ll see therein, the nine activities are..

Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.

Mark you, I still don’t entirely understand why they include, say, kayaking, but not parkour — surely a high risk game as close to what might afford helpsul skills in urban warfare as we’re likely to see:

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And quite incidentally, because I also ran across it today, because I’m interested in religion, because testosterone is the reductionist’s broad-strokes explanation for Rugby, Lacrosse, haka and war alike — and because I love El Greco above all other painters:

The blogger who has taken the pseudonym Archbishop Cranmer was writing about feminist theology today, and inter alia described Christ as..

a macho realist who deployed His divine testosterone on numerous occasions.

As in John 2.15:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

From the National Gallery in London, one of the later versions:

Greco

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Nina Paley’s OTSOG genius

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Nina Paley is as strong an argument as I know both for the idea that individual genius exists, and (not so paradoxically) that it arises OTSOG -- "On the shoulders of giants" as Robert Merton has it ]
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It’s always a delight to find the same rich insight in divergent cultures — in this case, from Airborne, Down to Earth: words of Wallace Black Elk, which I collected and arranged in The Greenfield Review, vol 9 ## 3-4, Winter 1981-82 (upper panel):

SPEC WBE Paley

and in the latest film offering from Nina Paley (lower panel).

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I have said before that I vastly and deeply admire Nina Paley’s animated feature based on Valmiki‘s Ramayana, Sita Sings the Blues. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the first six and a half enchanting minutes… and the whole film will be here for you when you have just under an hour and a half to spend:

Nina also is a paragon of the movement to make cultural works available without the current restrictions of copyright, as she explains, and has placed Sita Sings the Blues in the public domain..

You’ll hear all about her upcoming feature about and around Passover / Pesach — from which the corpse > become mummy > become flowers image is taken — when the time comes…

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h/t Bill Benzon at New Savanna

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Tables and the Mozart Requiem revisited

Monday, October 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Castoriadis brings in the Requiem (redux) as Eddington compares the physical table and the physics table -- plus a note on education, attn: Zen ]
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rustic elm kitchen table angle
French 19th century provincial kitchen table in elm, photo: Haunt Co NZ

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Philosopher of science Charlie Huenemann quotes Schopenhauer in the opening of his provocative piece Reality is Down the Hall on 3 Quarks Daily today:

It is therefore worth noting, and indeed wonderful to see, how man, besides his life in the concrete, always lives a second life in the abstract.

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In the course of his discussion, he quotes Sir Arthur Eddington‘s two descriptions of a table.

Eddington’s first description:

It is a commonplace object of that environment which I call the world. How shall I describe it? It has extension; it is comparatively permanent; it is coloured; above all it is substantial. By substantial I do not merely mean that it does not collapse when I lean upon it; I mean that it is constituted of “substance” and by that word I am trying to convey to you some conception of its intrinsic nature. It is a thing; not like space, which is a mere negation; nor like time, which is – Heaven knows what! But that will not help you to my meaning because it is the distinctive characteristic of a “thing” to have this substantiality, and I do not think substantiality can be described better than by saying that it is the kind of nature exemplified by an ordinary table.

Eddington’s second description:

It is part of a world which in more devious ways has forced itself on my attention. My scientific table is mostly emptiness. Sparsely scattered in that emptiness are numerous electric charges rushing about with great speed; but their combined bulk amounts to less than a billionth of the bulk of the table itself. Notwithstanding its strange construction it turns out to be an entirely efficient table. It supports my writing paper as satisfactorily as table No. 1; for when I lay the paper on it the little electric particles with their headlong speed keep on hitting the underside, so that the paper is maintained in shuttlecock fashion at a nearly steady level. If I lean upon this table I shall not go through; or, to be strictly accurate, the chance of my scientific elbow going through my scientific table is so excessively small that it can be neglected in practical life.

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Huenemann’s point is that, as he puts it:

Our official position on the matter, as educated beings, is that Eddington’s second table – the scientific one – is ultimately the real one. .. The concrete table turns out to be an illusion. It arises somehow from the abstract world as does a mirage from heat and the bending of light.

Hunh? But then again, as Howard Rheingold said back in 1990:

We habitually think of the world we see as “out there,” but what we are seeing is really a mental model, a perceptual simulation that exists only in our brains. …

Cognitive simulation — mental model-making — is what humans do best. We do it so well that we tend to become locked into our own models of the world by a seamless web of unconscious beliefs and subtly molded perceptions. And computers are model-making tools par excellence, although they are only beginning to approach the point where people might confuse simulations with reality.

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And I am reminded once again — how should I not be? — of that remarkable quote from Cornelius Castoriadis:

Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table. What does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night. What does this show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Mozart’s Requiem be a paradigm of being, let us start from that.” Why could we not start by positing a dream, a poem, a symphony as paradigmatic of the fullness of being and by seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way round, instead of seeing in the imaginary — that is, human — mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being?

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Also on 3QD today, and of likely interest to Zen: Emrys Westacott, How the “Culture of Assessment” fuels Academic Dishonesty

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Breaking the Tablets, Breaking the Vessels

Monday, October 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from Oklahoma via Moses in Egypt and Lurianic Kabbala in Safed to the contemporary understanding of tikkun olam ]
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Broken Commandment Tablets

A deranged man drove his car into a 6′ representation of the 10 Commandments near the Oklahoma state Capitol a day or two ago. He apparently said the devil made him do it, which might be taken to imply belief in God, no? Tom Ricks at FP commented, aptly enough:

I am getting tired of the suspects blaming Satan.

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It is not by any means the first time the Tablets of the Law have been broken, however: Moses himself broke them when he returned with them to the people of Israel and found them worshipping the golden calf, as Exodus 32.19 tells us [edited to use the new JPS version here]:

As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.

The motives in the two cases were entirely different, as were the contexts — but there’s a follow-up to the first breaking of the tablets, and it might be worth pondering now that we’ve been faced with the recent event in Oklahoma City. For myself, I find it more profitable to contemplate this follow-up and its implications than the furious political battle around public religious monuments here in the US — or the unhappy behavior of a man who stopped taking his meds and believed the devil possessed him, telling him to smash one such monument.

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A second version of the Tale of the Broken Tablets is found in Deuteronomy 9. 15-17, and it goes like this:

I started down the mountain, a mountain ablaze with fire, the two Tablets of the Covenant in my two hands. 16 I saw how you had sinned against the Lord your God: you had made yourselves a molten calf; you had been quick to stray from the path that the Lord had enjoined upon you. 17 Thereupon I gripped the two tablets and flung them away with both my hands, smashing them before your eyes.

Thus far the two narratives agree, the main point of interest being the Deuteronomic statement that the mountain was (still) “ablaze with fire” — a point which will find its resonances later in this post. But Deuteronomy 10. 1-5 also tells us what happened to the broken shards of the first tablets:

Thereupon the Lord said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain; and make an ark of wood. I will inscribe on the tablets the commandments that were on the first tablets that you smashed, and you shall deposit them in the ark.”

I made an ark of acacia wood and carved out two tablets of stone like the first; I took the two tablets with me and went up the mountain. The Lord inscribed on the tablets the same text as on the first, the Ten Commandments that He addressed to you on the mountain out of the fire on the day of the Assembly; and the Lord gave them to me. Then I left and went down from the mountain, and I deposited the tablets in the ark that I had made, where they still are, as the Lord had commanded me

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The rabbis have commented extensively on the eventual fate of the broken tablets, ie their placement in the ark. Thus R Natan of Nemirov, a student of the great R Nachman of Breslov — grandson of the Baal Shem Tov — writes:

And this is the meaning of the verse “Which you broke and place in the Ark”, about which our Sages said: “the Tablets and the Broken Tablets are placed in the Ark”. By means of the aspect of broken tablets, broken faith, by means of that brokenness itself the faith returns and amends itself, which is the second tablets. Because thanks to the existence of a shard of the broken faith, by keeping that shard he is fulfilling the advice of the faith itself which was broken – and he can return and repair that faith which is the aspect of receiving second tablets.

while the earlier Kabbalist, R Eliahu Devidash tells us:

The Zohar teaches that the human heart is the Ark. And it is known that in the Ark were stored both the Tablets and the Broken Tablets. Similarly, a person’s heart must be full of Torah… and similarly, a person’s heart must be a broken heart, a beaten heart, so that it can serve as a home for the Shekhina. For the Shekhina [divine presence] only dwells in broken vessels, which are the poor, whose heart is a broken and beaten heart. And whoever has a haughty heart propels the Shekhina from him, as it says “God detests those of haughty hearts”.

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This brings us to what Howard Schwartz writes in his How the Ari Created a Myth and Transformed Judaism::

For many modern Jews, the term tikkun olam (repairing the world) has become a code-phrase synonymous with social and environmental action. It is linked to a call for healing the ills of the world. Indeed, tikkun olam has become the defining purpose of much of modern Jewish life. What many of those who use this term do not know is that this idea is rooted in the last great myth infused into Jewish tradition, a cosmological myth created in the sixteenth century by the great Jewish mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed, known as the Ari (1534-1572). Here the term “myth” refers to a people’s sacred stories about origins, deities, ancestors and heroes.

What was this myth? Schwartz describes it thus:

At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring this world into being, to make room for creation, He first drew in His breath, contracting Himself. From that contraction darkness was created. And when God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), the light that came into being filled the darkness, and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light.

In this way God sent forth those ten vessels, like a fleet of ships, each carrying its cargo of light. Had they all arrived intact, the world would have been perfect. But the vessels were too fragile to contain such a powerful, divine light. They broke open, split asunder, and all the holy sparks were scattered like sand, like seeds, like stars. Those sparks fell everywhere, but more fell on the Holy Land than anywhere else.

Notice once again the motif of ten containers of the divine generosity which are shattered… a connection which Schwartz makes explicit:

The second stage, that of the shattering of the vessels, may have been inspired by the biblical account of Moses throwing down and breaking the first tablets of the law (Exod. 32:19), which, like the holy vessels, were crafted by God on high. So too is there a biblical passage about scattered sparks, found in Ezekiel 10:2, where fiery coals from the Temple altar are scattered by some angelic figures over the city of Jerusalem: “Fill your hands with glowing coals from among the cherubs, and scatter them over the city.” This passage manages to work in the scattering, the sparks, the concentration of sparks on the Holy Land (especially Jerusalem), and the holiness of the sparks, since they come from the altar.

Schwartz concludes with the imperative of Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world:

That is why we were created — to gather the sparks, no matter where they are hidden. God created the world so that the descendents of Jacob could raise up the holy sparks. That is why there have been so many exiles — to release the holy sparks from the servitude of captivity. In this way the Jewish people will sift all the holy sparks from the four corners of the earth.

And when enough holy sparks have been gathered, the broken vessels will be restored, and tikkun olam, the repair of the world, awaited so long, will finally be complete.

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I learn as I go, and I go as the world unfolds.

I am grateful, besides Howard Schwartz, to Rabbi Mishael Zion, Co-Director and Director of Education for the Bronfman Fellowships for his Broken Tablets: A Study Guide for Shavuot, and to Dr. Lawrence Fine for his Tikkun in Lurianic Kabbalah.

And I am more than grateful for the two volumes of Martin Buber‘s Tales of the Hasidim, without which I might know nothing of the Baal Shem Tov. His story too is a tale of the wondrous fire.

It seems to me that Tikkun Olam is the task before us, believers and unbelievers alike, in whatever way the works of love may be accomplished.

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