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Dylan’s 1980 apocalyptic

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — delighted at his Nobel — with a quick note on antinomianism ]

So Bob Dylan has at last won the Nobel Prize, which has been — forgive me — a slow train coming.

David Remnick of the New Yorker suggests we “Celebrate Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature the obvious way: by listening” — and among his suggested selections I found this apocalyptic jewel:

It contains quite a bit of low-key Daniel and Revelation. Dylan recalls being booed for suggesting that Russia would intervene in the Middle East just a few months before Russia invaded Afghanistan.

I read the Bible a lot, you know, it just happens I do, and .. so it says certain things in the Bible that I wasn’t really aware of until just recently.. anyway, in the Bible it tells you specific things. In the books iof Daniel and in the Book of Revelation which just might apply to these times here, and is says there are certain wars that are soon, about to happen, I can’t say exactly when, you know, but.. pretty soon anyway..

He goes on to mention two countries, which he identifies as Russia and China, and with regard to Russia, says:

So anyway, I was telling this story to these people. I shouldn’t have been telling it to them, I just got carried away. I mentioned to them “well you know, watch now, because Russia is going to come down and attack the Middle East. It says this in the Bible. .. These things in the Bible, they seem to uplift me and tell me the truth. I said “Russia’s gpoing to attack the Middle East” and they just booed. They couldn’t hear that, they didn’t believe it. And a month later, Russia moved their troops into Afghanistan it was, and that whole situation changed, you know. And I’m not saying this to tell you they were wrong and I was right or anything like that, but these things that it mentions in the Bible I pay mighty close attention to.

This is pretty much straightforward from a Hal Lindsey era Dispensationalist point of view, though the bit about Russia interfering in the Middle East fits Russia’s campaign in Syria today, thirty-seven years later, better than its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan did back then.

Dylan then follows up with a discussion of the Antichrist, mentions Jim Jones and Hitler along the way.. and closes with a rendition of his gospel song, Slow Train Coming.


So just one technical note here on that apocalyptic aspect.

Antinomianism is the name given to a common feature of apocalyptic rhetoric — the doctrine that the law (to include the moral law) no longer applies — so that both theft from the rich and sexual anarchism are permitted to “the pure”. Norman Cohn documents this doctrine extensively in The Pursuit of the Millennium, see particularly his chapters VII and VIII on “An Élite of Amoral Supermen” — ie the 12th century “heresy of the Free Spirit“.

Listening to Dylan’s Slow Train with that in mind, these lyrics take on a new significance:

Man’s ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don’t apply no more
You can’t rely no more to be standin’ around waitin’


To end on a lighter note..

Some critics of the Nobel award seem to feel that “song” is not a category that sits easily within the scope of “literature”. To put it bluntly:

If only he’d thrown away that damn guitar, written his stuff down, and read it out loud as poetry, we might have given Orpheus the prize sooner..

On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: ten

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a long, lazy Sunday post, packed with quirky interest and neat maps ]

Ten? What’s so special about ten, hunh? Just because you have ten fingers, you suppose that makes ten special?



As simple as a map can get:

Simon Kirby, The Worry Line


As complex as one can get:

Eric Jaffe, The World’s 15 Most Complex Subway Maps

And I mean complex, cognitively complex:

When it comes to information processing, an average person’s “cognitive threshold” is about 250 connections, or the equivalent of roughly eight bits of data, according to the researchers. New York’s system neared that limit, with 161 total connections, and the most complicated two-transfer trip a person could make on the subway exceeded it—clocking in at 8.1 bits. Maps for the Paris Metro (with 78 total connections), Tokyo Metro (56), and London Tube (48) clustered around six bits of information.



Nick van Mead, Can you identify the world cities from their ‘naked’ metro maps?

The Guardian wanted to know if you could recognize various cities if shown their metro maps without the stations markings.. and i could manage Chicago (above).



Chris Ward, Coffee Stops

Sadly, the map is not the territory, or I could get my Java from South Ken while sitting at my desk just outside Sacramento.

The London Coffee Map, “Coffee Stops,” was designed by Chris Ward, who calls himself “the boss who works from coffee shops.” He recently published Out of Office: Work Where You Like and Achieve More, a best-selling guide to leading a successful working life outside an office building. Apparently, being properly caffeinated is one of his biggest tips. Now you can grab your joe at local London cafes with quaint names like Scooter and Electric Elephant.



I could then quaff it from an appropriately poetical Map Mug:

Royal Shakespeare Company, Greater Shakespeare Map Mug

The map here representing affinities between characters in the Bard’s various plays:




— and we’re half way to ten, let’s imagine ourselves at Shakespeare and Co‘s bookstore and cafe in Paris





While we’re on a literary streak, here’s a thumbnail of one of artist Rod McLaren‘s illuminations of Italo Calvino‘s Invisible Cities:

Rod McLaren, Invisible Cities Illustrated #2: Trude/Ersilia

The detail here is fantastic, as befits Calvino’s work:

The diagram, a network of curved lines connecting to every other node on a 6 x 5 grid, has two configurations: if the picture is hung one way up, it shows the “Ersilia configuration” (where the lines are like the threads strung between the buildings of Ersilia); if hung the other way up, it shows that of Trude (where the lines are like a complicated airline route map).

Ersilia (Trading Cities 4, p78):

In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, or authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.

Thus, when travelling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.

Trude (Continuous Cities 2, p128):

If on arriving at Trude I had not read the city’s name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off. The suburbs they drove me through were no different from the others, with the same greenish and yellowish houses. Following the same signs we swung around the same flower beds in the same squares. The downtown streets displayed goods, packages,signs that had not changed at all. This was the first time I had come to Trude, but I already knew the hotel where I happened to be lodged; I had already heard andspoken my dialogues with the buyers and sellers of hardware; I had ended other days identically,looking through the same goblets at the same swaying navels.

Why come to Trude? I asked myself. And I already wanted to leave.

“You can resume your flight whenever you like,” they said to me, “but you will arrive at another Trude, absolutely the same, detail by detail. The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end. Only the name of the airport changes.”

All of which reminds me of nothing so much as Antonio Gaudi‘s model — made of hanging chains — catenaries —


which when turned upside down provide the structure for his Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona:




Meanwhile, back in London, we have maps of the ghost (ie abandoned) London tube stops:

Dylan Maryk, Ghost Stations On The London Underground


That’s one way to de-clutter the Tube map — show what ain’t there any more.

Here’s another —

Matt Thomason, 150 years of The London Underground

Don’t ask me what it means — seeing as Hugh Grant gets a station, it’s either gentlemanly or ungentlemanly, I’m not sure which.



I simply didn’t know you’d have to travel this far to get from Dylan to the Beatles:

Dorian Lynskey, in Tufte, Response to London Underground maps

I mean —

Michelle Geslani, The Beatles and Bob Dylan met 50 years ago today


I’ve kept this one for last because in some ways it’s the subtlest:


It’s the work of architect Jug Cerovic., and on his page In Borders We Trust he offers this conceptual comment:

Borders are primarily a mental construct.

Just like a deity, they exist only insofar as People believe in them. Question is however how necessary our belief in their existence is and when exactly does that belief start harming us?

At which point do borders cease to be a convenient orientation marker, a helpful tool for the comprehension of the land we inhabit, a common identifier for the construction of a shared identity? At which point do borders become a dogmatic limitation to imagination, a terrifying prison for the body and mind, a symbol and support of hatred?

Borders do not possess an inherent bad or good character, on the contrary they are a malleable concept subject to appropriation and interpretation.

“In borders we trust” examines the perception, physical manifestation and enforcement of the couple formed by People and Borders focusing on three key areas of the contemporary migration routes:

  • Gibraltar
  • Serbia
  • Levant
  • For this purpose the peculiar relationship between Borders and People is illustrated with a sequence of three distinct maps:

  • Borders without People
  • Borders with People
  • People without Borders
  • This novel perspective of a seemingly familiar representation, with each component of the couple shown separately and juxtaposed to their combined illustration, questions the articulation and pertinence of our present predicament.

    Happily, this is an area that I’ve delved into at some length myself in my earlier post, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream? — with specific reference to ISIS’ bulldozing of the border between Iraq and Syria, and the Basque country, Euskadi, saddling the French / Spanish border.

    Cerovic has achieved an eminently practical limited version of one of my own grandiose castle-in-air schemes — building a universal graphical mapping system. Cerovic’s version offers us a universal graphical underground / tube / metro mapping system, in the form of his book One Metro World — you still have a couple of weeks to support it on Kickstarter!



    Earlier in this series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: three
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: four
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: seven
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eight
  • And hey, and we’re back at maps — where we started in

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine
  • Three self-references already, and its only 8am

    Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — with an eye for form, paradox, self-reference ]

    I’ve found three self-references already today, and its only 8am.

    Unless of course you count architect Matteo Pericoli‘s building design to illustrate the structure of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s mystery novel The Judge and His Hangman:


    — in which case, I’ve found four. Pericoli comments:

    As in the novel — with its surprise ending that flips everything upside down, transforming the structure we had taken for granted into a profound moral and existential dilemma — in the building, what seemed to obscure now illuminates, what once concealed now is hidden, what seemed to give support is now nothing but a weight to bear and understand.

    Now tell me, is that self-referential and ouroboric, or merely boustrophedonic or enantiodromic?

    For Greek fun, wait till the end of this post*.


    On firmer self-referential ground, my first self-referential account has to do with a Nobel Prize, just awarded. Gina Kolata and Seawell Chan in the New York Times explain:

    Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for his discoveries on how cells recycle their content, a process known as autophagy, a Greek term for “self-eating.” It is a crucial process.

    Self-eating: even the ouroboros can’t say it plainer than that.


    The second comes from an article on artist Jennifer Trask titled Death and Decay Lurks Within These Stunning Works of Art in the Smithsonian magazine. The description of Jennifer and her work begins:

    Those who encounter a piece by Jennifer Trask are likely first struck by its elegance: a baroque gold-coated necklace or an intricate floral broach. But a closer look reveals much more happening below the gilt surface: antlers woven into the necklace; snake vertebrae used as the “petals” of the broach’s flower, giraffe femurs…

    Death, here, as in earlier artistic tradition, is a reminder of the fickleness of life. The article gives us the self-referential paradox as it explains:

    Trask draws on the tradition of vanitas — moralistic paintings that were popular in 16th- and 17th-century Netherlands. She says her interest is now focused on the “symbolism and the ironic nature” of the paintings, and “how the vanitas itself ultimately became another of the luxurious objects they were meant to warn against.”


    And the third might even count as two recursions — one analogous to the other.

    You may have read the New Yorker‘s profile, Sam Altman’s Manifest Destiny: Is the head of Y Combinator fixing the world, or trying to take over Silicon Valley?, and you may just be cooler than I, and either way you may already know that the Y Combinator is the startup starter-upper par excellence.

    Here’s the self-ref, from their FAQ:

    Why did you choose the name “Y Combinator?”

    The Y combinator is one of the coolest ideas in computer science. It’s also a metaphor for what we do. It’s a program that runs programs; we’re a company that helps start companies.

    A hat-tip here to Steven H. Cullinane, whose Log 24 blog today pointed me to this particular quote.


    *It’s all Greek to me:

  • ouroboros, a snake or dragon devouring its tail, standing for infinity or wholeness
  • boustrophedon, written from right to left then left to right, as in ploughing with oxen
  • enantiodromia, tendency of things to change into their opposites, as a natural principle
  • **

    Well, it’s past 9am now, but I haven’t been scouting around for further examples since I began this post.

    Brutal Times 02

    Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — on Kakutani, Hitler, Trump, Duterte, Aesop — and was Don Quixote a converso Jew? ]

    You don’t have to be an aging Kremlinologist to read between the lines, you don’t have to be a member of the target audience to be alert for dog-whistles, you don’t need a decoder ring to catch what the Washington Post calls “a thinly veiled Trump comparison” in Michiko Kakutani‘s New York Times review of Volker Ullrich‘s new biography, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939.




    In his essay Persecution and the Art of Writing, Leo Strauss suggests that..

    Persecution gives rise to a peculiar technique of writing and therewith to a peculiar type of literature, in which the truth about all crucial things is presented exclusively between the lines.

    Such a style may or may not be evident in Michiko Kakutani’s review, but if it is there it is skilfully done — and not, I’d guess, in fear of persecution.

    There’s a blunt equivalent now in use of social media in which, to quote but one example (others, equally or more distasteful, here):

    “skittles” has come to refer to Muslims, an obvious reference to Donald Trump Jr.’s comparing of refugees with candy that “would kill you.”

    Here, the purpose is to avoid algorithms that hunt down racist and other hateful comments on social media and expunge them — so the code words used include google, skype, yahoo and bing.


    But wait. If you lob the h-word at Donald Trump, what ammunition will you have left for Rodrigo Duterte? Duterte is quite open about his admiration for Hitler.

    But Trump?

    David Duke wouldn’t mind:

    The truth is, by the way, they might be rehabilitating that fellow with the mustache back there in Germany, because I saw a commercial against Donald Trump, a really vicious commercial, comparing what Donald Trump said about preserving America and making America great again to Hitler in Germany preserving Germany and making Germany great again and free again and not beholden to these Communists on one side, politically who were trying to destroy their land and their freedom, and the Jewish capitalists on the other, who were ripping off the nation through the banking system,

    And Trump himself? From that 1990 Vanity Fair interview:

    Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed. Kennedy now guards a copy of My New Order in a closet at his office, as if it were a grenade. Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist.

    It’s worth noting that a few lines later, Trump declares:

    If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.

    and that the interviewer, Marie Brenner, concedes:

    Trump is no reader or history buff. Perhaps his possession of Hitler’s speeches merely indicates an interest in Hitler’s genius at propaganda.


    So. Why Trump?

    Mightn’t Kakutani simply be writing about Hitler and the new biography?

    Oh, and if you insist on her having a second target, Trump may be nearer to hand, but Duterte is, well, more overt about his leanings..

    Have you considered the Duterte possibility?


    The range of uses to which “Aesopian language” — defined as:

    conveying an innocent meaning to an outsider but a hidden meaning to a member of a conspiracy or underground movement

    — can be put is enormous.

    Here, to take your mind off contemporary politics and point it towards the higher levels of literary and religious thought, is Dominique Aubier’s comment on the Quixote, from Michael McGaha, Is There a Hidden Jewish Meaning in Don Quixote?

    if one accepts that Cervantes’ thought proceeds from a dynamic engagement with the concepts of the Zohar, themselves resulting from a dialectic dependence on Talmudic concepts, which in turn sprang from an active engagement with the text of Moses’s book, it is then on the totality of Hebrew thought — in all its uniqueness, its unity of spirit, its inner faithfulness to principles clarified by a slow and prodigious exegesis — that the attentive reader of Don Quixote must rely in order at last to be free to release Cervantes’ meaning from the profound signs in which it is encoded.

    You want to read the Quixote? How about spending a few decades in the Judaica section of your local university library first?

    But then, those were brutal times.

    Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

    Monday, July 11th, 2016

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    Storm of Creativity2017



    white horsewashington


    The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

    2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

    The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

    Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

    Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

    Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

    The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

    Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

    This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

    I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

    2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

    David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

    Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

    Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

    Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

    White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

    Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

    This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?

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