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Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

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Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

King Cnut rebukes N Carolina legislators, & Trump by extension

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a meditation on sea-level rise ]
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A thousand years later, the lesson King Cnut sought to teach his nobles still hasn’t altogether sunk in.

The North Carolina story is from 2012, and I haven’t been tracking to see if there have been any changes since then — but the attitude behind the gutting of the EPA under President Trump is simply “more of the same”..

Humility is the key word in the article on King Cnut.

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Sources:

  • ABC News, New Law in North Carolina Bans Latest Scientific Predictions of Sea-Level Rise
  • Wikipedia, King Canute and the waves
  • NSFW RIP — obituary for a friend, Heathcote Williams

    Monday, July 3rd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — Sunday sadness — for Julian West and Gabi Nasemann, each of whom loved Heathcote no doubt better than I ]
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    NSFW might well have been John Henley Heathcote Williams’ initials. There were few boundaries he did not push, he taught himself fire-breathing and burned himself breathing fire to impress his then girlfriend, the model Jean (or was it Chrissie?) Shrimpton, and breathed fiery words all the livelong day. Here’s his final tweet, containing a poem you may want to watch:

    **

    I’ve posted this before, but do so again today because I’m old enough find it very funny, and because it piercingly reminds me of my friend:

    Oh, and the beauties of his days loved his ugly mug — this I posted before, too:

    **

    As someone observed, Heathcote was a Ranter in the fine old tradition:

    Coppe went up and down London streets ‘with his hat cockt, his teeth gnashing, his eyes fixed, charging the great ones to obey his Majesty within him.’ Clarkson as ‘Captain of the Rant’ entertained women to his lodging house but made canny financial provision simultaneously for his wife. This was the ugly face of Protestantism. It was what countless opponents of the Reformation had inveighed against since Munster: antinomianism was the logical, if perverted, conclusion of dissent. Anabaptists attracted the opprobrium in sixteenth-century Europe; Quakers inherited this legacy in later seventeenth-century England. But it was the Ranters who were the enemy of orthodoxy in England in 1650.

    Myself, while I have Ranter sympathies, am also a Royalist and Cavalier.. Heathcote, no way: he’s an unabashed anti-monarchist through and through.

    **

    An Old Etonian and overlap-contemporary of mine at Christ Church, Oxford, Heathcote took language to the street:

    Believing the world to be a common treasure house to all
    I spray-painted this slogan almost everywhere,
    ‘USE YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE AS A CREDIT CARD’,
    Suggesting to be born entitles you to a share.

    I’d then keep an eye on the graffiti’s lifespan
    And would often find myself amazed
    By its lasting for years in the poorer districts
    But if they were gentrified, it’d be erased.

    And he meant it!

    **

    Heathcote, I’ve owed you a review of your book on Badshah Khan. I have been too fatigued to write it, but take it as a mark of your singular intelligence that you know, revere and celebrate the man!

    Badshah Khan: Islamic Peace Warrior by Heathcote Williams

    Thin Man Press is delighted to be publishing this timely and important ‘poetic investigation’ by Heathcote Williams (‘Whale nation’, ‘Falling for A Dolphin’, ‘Autogeddon’, ‘Royal Babylon’…).

    With the news full of Islamic extremism, terrorism and the steady rise of the ‘Islamic State’, Heathcote Williams brings us a different story – the amazing life of Afghan Pashtun leader, Badshah Abdel Gaffar Khan, a devout Moslem, revered spiritual guide and champion of world peace who was a close friend and companion of Gandhi. Gaffar Khan spent much of his life as a political prisoner, and was tortured by the British; but he remained committed to his ‘jihad’ of peace, kindness and gentleness, which Williams relays with clarity and passion.

    **

    But onwards, to death.

    Speaking of Van Gogh, in There has to be an afterlife, Heathcote wrote:

    He believed that the heavens were our future destination
    And he declared, “we take death to reach a star.”
    Now that there’s stardust in every single cell of our body
    More mystery is added to knowing who we are.

    But in bereavement it’s a very great comfort
    To those who are feeling dispossessed
    To consider that those they’ve known who’ve died
    Have simply changed their cosmic address.

    Heathcote, are you going soft?

    Or is the new address you address yourself to — and have now achieved — “among the stars, dissipated“?

    I’ll miss you, until I’m dissipated, too.

    Michael Yon on the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol

    Thursday, October 13th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron ]
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    king-bhumibol

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    Michael Yon on Facebook, and (illustrated) on his journal page under the heading Rivers of tears flow tonight:

    On one level, there is not much to say other than that one of the greatest leaders in history graced us for so long. He is the Father of Thailand. He was a champion of peace, freedom, and prosperity, and a good friend to America and to American people. His Majesty is loved by many Americans.

    Americans normally do not like Kings, but King Bhumibol is a great exception. Those who studied him grew to respect him, then to like him, and finally to share in the love for the King of Kings. The love for His Majesty is so immense that it could fill the Gulf of Thailand.

    Thais are among freest people on earth, thanks to His Majesty. He brought his millions of sons and daughters very far, and he taught lessons and brought inspiration to foreigners such as me.

    He was a musician, and good, and his photography was excellent. Highly educated, he visited every corner of this great country, into the deepest jungles to help villagers, into the mountains, out to the islands, down the rivers. He went everywhere. His Majesty was a man of the people. He wanted to see with his own eyes, and he did.

    Finally his body has worn out. We wish his body had lived to 110 but his body wore out. He spent it working for Thailand. But this is not the end. Only his body is gone. His Majesty is more alive now than ever before.

    Strangely perhaps, since I only knew of him from a smattering of press accounts, I too am moved to tears by the death of this man and monarch. May he rest in peace.

    Vladimir Putin and St Vladimir, Church and State in Russia

    Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Saint Vlad II? Tsar Vlad? Impaler Vlad? Ras(KGB)Putin? — my latest piece, posted today at LapidoMedia ]
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    Here’s the opening of my latest piece for LapidoMedia, exploring issues of Church and State — with an eye on Putin & Patriarch Kirill, and their join interest in the assassination / martydom of the Romanovs.

    Vladimir Putin and St Vladimir, Church and State in Russia

    THE Romanovs, the royal family of the Russian Tsars were killed, and some would say martyred, by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

    But now, almost a century later, President Vladimir Putin, appears to be slowly rehabilitating the royals.

    And the Romanovs’ reemergence has implications for Putin, a quasi-Tsar as Russian head of state, emphasizing renewed collaboration between Church and State, long estranged during Soviet rule.

    Here as in many other ways, Putin works in close association with his fellow ex-KGB hand, Patriarch Kirill II of Moscow. Forbes described him as more than a mere informer saying he was ‘an active officer’ of the spy organization.

    And Putin’s friend the Patriarch too has a keen interest in the rehabilitation of the Romanovs.

    In a 2013 television broadcast on the significance of the Romanov family, he said: ‘A solemn Divine Liturgy was celebrated on March 6 in Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, during which we commemorated all Romanovs, beginning with Mikhail Fedorovich, Aleksei Mikhailovich – the great gatherer of the Russian land, Peter I, and down to the Holy Passion-Bearer Nicholas II. We commemorated these people with thanks to God for their efforts and with prayers beseeching the Lord to grant rest to their souls in the abode of the righteous.’

    To read the rest, including the end of my tale, looking at ideas that Vladimir Putin must surely have entertained– Saint Vladimir II? Tsar Vlad? Impaler Vlad? Ras(KGB)Putin? — please go to the Lapido site.

    Enjoy.


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