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Israelitarian & Palestinitarian reasons for fury, human reasons for grief

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- peace as photo op, peace as common grief -- Tears of Gaza, poetry of Rumi -- second in a series ]

There are, it seems to me, Israelitarian reasons to be terrified by and / or furious with those who lob rockets at them, and most recently at their nuclear facility at Dimona. There are, it seems to me, Palestinitarian reasons to be terrified by and / or furious with those who rain down airstrikes on them, killing among others 4 kids playing on a beach — all from the same family, and aged 8 to 10 years old …

Grief, it seems to me, is the humanitanian — no, the human — response.


I have to admit the upper of these two images leaves me cold and uncomfortable: it seems so clearly posed, with the two flags conveniently present as props. Perhaps, even, it comes from the same studio in Southern California that was used to fake the moon landing, all those many years ago — the Studio of the Unreal?

The lower of the two images, however, strikes me as authentic — two men whose grief at the loss of a son and a nephew transcends the dividing wall across which their families’ lives were bandied like pingpong balls…

Grief, not propaganda, is the human response.


Israelitarian, Palestinitarian — these are ugly words, and I hope not to use them again. But they light up for me the ugliness of their sibling, humanitarian — a word that, it seems to me, distances us from human possibility.

Israelis, Palestinians, these — and so many others around the globe in what we term “conflict zones” — are humans.

It is humans who die or bleed, humans who feel, one by one, on these occasions of horrific personal loss, the grief.

Perhaps then we can set aside considerations of nationality and fury, and watch the trailer for Tears of Gaza, as we may watch Restrepo, for the humanity of the humans portrayed:


It was the soundtrack which brought me to the Tears of Gaza video:

The song is Jalaluddin Rumi‘s — the words, so strange to our ears in the context of Gaza, then and today — yet also transcendent, also deeply human:

Daylight, arise!
Since the atoms are dancing!
Out of joy,
are dancing.
That person–
because of whom
the celestial sphere
and the atmosphere
are dancing–
I whisper
into your ear
that one
is dancing.

Each atom
that is in the air
and the plains,
look well at it
because like us
it is enraptured.
Each atom,
whether happy
or sad,
is bewildered
the incomparable
sun of joy.

Translation courtesy of Dr Alan Godlas of the University of Georgia, who very kindly pointed me to the soundtrack, and thus also to the documentary itself.

Dr Godlas responded to my questions with these notes:

That person = probably a reference to the Prophet (pbuh), as in the hadith qudsi, where God says (addressing the Prophet “Were it not for you, were it not for you, I would not have created the universe.”

The reference to the sun is probably Shams-e Tabrizi and also the perfect human sun-like essence within us, which reflects God.

Shams — whose name means “the sun” — was Rumi’s teacher, to whom many of Rumi’s poems were addressed.


Next up: Human reasons for sympathy: a DQ in the Wild


Sunday surprise: doubles

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- at first glance, the idea of a body double in US politics seems strange -- until you consider Kurosawa, or Jonathan Swift ]

I found the above video clip, in which candidate Timothy Ray Murray accused his primary opponent Rep. Frank Lucas of having been executed in the Ukraine and replaced by a body double, in a WashPo piece titled The Manchurian candidate .. of Oklahoma?

Ridiculous. Or is it?


My only real problem here is that Akira Kurosawa‘s masterpiece, Kagemusha, would have been a better call than The Manchurian Candidate. But maybe Japanese film is a little far removed from Washington?


For those who don’t understand that dialog in either Japanese or French, here’s the low-down: the daimyo Takeda Shingen, center, is talking with his brother Nobukado, left, about a thief Nobukado has found and rescued, right, who bears a striking resemblance to Shingen. It is the opening scene of the film, in which the thief will serve as the “Kagemusha” or “shadow warrior” of Shingen for three years after his lord’s death — thus maintaining for his enemies the illusion of Takeda strength. At first, Shingen and Nobukado speak:

Shingen: He looks like me.
Shingen’s brother Nobukado: Exactly like you. I have impersonated you for a long time, but he is a miracle.
Shingen:Where did you find him?
Nobukado: At the execution grounds. He was about to be crucified. I thought he would be useful as a double for you.
Shingen:What was his crime?
Nobukado: Found him sneaking around the grounds. He’s a thief.
Shingen:A thief?
Nobukado: And a tough one. Torture failed to make him talk. Possibly aside from stealing, he’s also killed.
Shingen:What did the prosecutors say about his resemblance to me?
Nobukado: Nothing. Only I, your brother, could see it from the first. His hair, clothes, the way he talks .. all so different.

At a certain point, the thief breaks into the conversation, less than intimidated, having just recently escaped the death sentence:

Thief:I only stole a few coins. I’m a petty thief. A man who’s killed hundreds and robbed whole domains is hardly the one… is hardly the one… to call… to call me a scoundrel.

Nobukado tries to silence him, but Shingen responds:

Shingen: I am wicked, as you say. I am a scoundrel. I banished my own father and killed my own son. I will do anything to rule this country. War is everywhere. Unless somebody unifies the nation and reigns over us, we will see more rivers of blood and more mountains of the dead.

He might be of some use. Train him.


In a deft move, son Emlyn pointed me to Jonathan Swift and the hoax he played on one John Partridge, astrologer and almanac writer. Partridge’s spluttering reply reminds one of poor Frank Lucas finding himself obliged to point out that he is neither dead, nor a body double, nor indeed a robot.

I’ll let the Wikipedia entry for John Patridge tell the tale:

In the 1708 edition of the Merlinus Almanac, Partridge sarcastically referred to the Church of England as the “infallible Church”. This drew the attention of satirist and Church of Ireland cleric Jonathan Swift. Playing on Partridge’s own (generally inaccurate) yearly predictions of deaths of notable individuals, Swift, writing under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff, predicted in a letter published in January 1708 that Partridge himself would die an “infallible death” on March 29 of that year. On that date, Swift published another letter (purportedly by a “man employed in the Revenue”) confirming Partridge’s death.[1] The letter was reprinted by other writers and publishers along with its accompanying eulogy:

Here five foot deep lyes on his back
A cobbler, starmonger, and quack…
Who to the stars in pure good-will,
Does to his best look upward still.
Weep all you customers that use
His pills, his almanacks or shoes.

When Partridge published a letter proclaiming that he had not in fact died, Swift announced that his letter was false, as “they were sure no man alive ever to writ such damned stuff as this.” Partridge’s intense unpopularity among Church supporters, those whose deaths he had falsely predicted, anti-Whigs, and those who felt his “astrology” was in reality quackery kept the hoax going long after Swift finally dispensed with it. Partridge reportedly suffered from the effects of the hoax for the rest of his life.

Good stuff, Emlyn!


A nudge in the direction of a retraction

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- obsessive about rosaries hanging from rear view mirrors in movies ]

It’s one of the finer aspects of web culture that it encourages rethinking, with the posting of retractions and corrections a feature, not a bug..

I’m therefore happy to show the two screen-grabs above from the British version of Wallander (2nd series, episode 2), which have shown me that shots of rosaries hanging from the rearview mirrors in cars may not be quite as significant as I thought they were when I posted Manhunt: religion and the director’s eye.

So — not a retraction, but certainly a nudge in that direction.


The phrase in the subtitles, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, is drawn from the Catholic Confiteor – Anglicans would call it the General Confession — which runs in part as follows:

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatæ Mariæ semper Virgini, beato Michaeli Archangelo, beato Ioanni Baptistæ, sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo, omnibus Sanctis, et vobis, fratres: quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…

– that last phrase, accompanied by beating of the chest, being the best known outside Catholic circles.

The 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, in English, gives the opening section of the Confiteor thus:

I confess to Almighty God, to Blessed Mary ever Virgin, to Blessed Michael the Archangel, to Blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and to all the Saints, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed; (strike your breast thrice) through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

Compare the older version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders.

Even the New Yorker knows of that one! And while we’re about it, you might also like to read CS Lewis on the phrase “Miserable Offenders“.


In any case, I confess I may have overstated my case in that earlier post about the Islamic and Christian rosaries on rearview mirrors in Manhunt.


Guest Post: Stephanie Chenault Reviews Saving South Sudan

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Zen here – we would like to give a warm welcome to Stephanie Chenault, with her first guest post at ZP! :

[ by Stephanie Chenault]

“Violence and bloodshed can never have morally good results” – The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Saving South Sudan is an ambitious, multimedia event from “World’s Most Dangerous Places,” author Robert Young Pelton and master photographer/filmmaker Tim Freccia. VICE went big on Pelton’s quixotic journey with Nuer Lost Boy Machot Lap Thiep to “fix” South Sudan. The three enter the world’s newest nation, at a time of extreme crisis and bloodshed, creating a grand yarn with bold characters and high adventure set against sweeping, brutal savagery.

The story of South Sudan as viewed through a Western lens is unbelievably complex, but Pelton gives us an African perspective where the current crisis is demystified by those closest to it. South Sudan has plunged into another round of playground rivalry where the contested sandbox is the world’s newest country and the opponent’s bloody noses, busted lips and black eyes are dwarfed by the physical and emotional damage inflicted on its spectators.

Saving South Sudan gives us an intelligent summary of the history, religion, cultural anthropological aspects, militarism, oil economy and “baksheesh-ocracy” that makes South Sudan tick. Serious students of the subject are encouraged to consider all of these facets while reading / viewing this oeuvre: No actions are promoted, no outcomes are predicted- and this is how it should be. This is Africa.

Pelton’s 130 page print piece and 40 min documentary grants the viewer unparalleled access into an Africa where there are no orange sunsets framed by acacia trees. A place where war is irregular, ferocious and unpredictable. In THIS Africa even the “rebel leader” bristles at being identified as such. In an earnest conversation, ousted Vice President Dr Riek Machar relays his desire isn’t to incite violence but to have a seat at the table in order to discuss options and opportunities to end the conflict. Pelton takes the filter off: behind the rhetoric, the violence continues in real time and we know that securing a seat at the table and successful negotiations (see recent media reports) bear little impact on the battle for oil on the ground. If fighting has indeed ceased, most roving bands have yet to receive the memo.

I can’t exit this review without mentioning the main reason to take the time to get briefed on the region through Pelton’s Saving South Sudan. The human touch interviews with the rulers, rebels and raconteurs would be reason enough. So would Freccia’s breathtaking portraits of the people, landscape and conflict. But taking you along this expedition is Machot- an affable, handsome (still) young man and former lost boy. His story is one of sorrow, success, and optimism. His is perhaps the best lens of them all.

Finding the print issue of the magazine can be a challenge but distribution sites are posted at the Vice website. The entire article can be found here.

The “Saving South Sudan” world premiere documentary can be found on-demand here:


Stephanie Chenault is the COO of Venio Inc, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business which focus on plans, policy, architectures and problem-solving across the Department of Defense for multiple clients.


Sunday surprise 22: bring a gun to a steak dinner?

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- variations on a theme in The Untouchables ]

Duncan Kinder posted a pair of video clips to one of Zen’s FaceBook posts a day or two ago, and since they made a fine DoubleQuote, I thought I’d bring them here.


The “bringing a knife to a gunfight” idea seems to have spread from its origins in The Untouchables (upper video above) to multitudinous other moves. Movie site Subzin tracked at least some of these movies, and Movies & TV Stack Exchange lists these movies:

The Untouchables (1987)
The Target Shoots First (2000)
Shottas (2002)
Duplex (2003)
The Punisher (2004)
Waist Deep (2006)
Dod vid ankomst (2008)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (2009)
The Good Guy (2009)
Wonderful World (2009)
Death Hunter (2010)

with variants found in:

The Glimmer Man (1996) 00:16:59 It’s kind of like takin’ a screwdriver to a gunfight.
Black Cat Run (1998) 00:32:40 A crow bar to a gun fight? Drop the fucking crowbar.
BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007) 00:28:09 Ain’t it like an Irishman to bring a bottle to a gunfight.
Urban Justice (2007) 01:27:07 l know you ain’t dumb enough to bring a fist to a gunfight.
G-Force (2009) 01:12:27 [Speckles] Just like humans. Bringing guns to a space junk fight.
Unrivaled (2010) 00:28:46 you brought a knife to a bottle fight.
Cross (2011) 00:08:06 Genius. Brings sticks to a gunfight.

What’s intriguing about the Raiders of the Lost Ark episode (lower video, above) is that the reference is made without words. The Indiana Jones Wiki has the scoop on this… Apparently Harrison Ford had dysentery at the time, and was finding it difficult to act the longish duel scene, whip against sword, that was called for by the script — and finally suggested that Indy should just shoot the guy.


A couple of thoughts that occur to me:

  • Bringing a slingshot to a giant?
  • Bringing a lance to a windmill fight?
  • bringing a knife to the soup course?
  • It’s my good fortune, once again, that my fascinating with the details of one relatively innocuous matter — the “bringing a knife to a gunfight” meme in this case — leads me to another area of interest.

    — in this case to hastilude, the generic name for forms of mock-martial fighting that include tourneys and jousts along with others I hadn’t even heard of — behourds, tupinaires? — thus providing ample impetus for yet further wanderings across the web…

    But it’s time for me to wind up — let’s get back to Raiders of the Lost Ark

    It’s not every day that one can justifiably attribute the origins of a widespread, hilarious yet serious, and blockbusterish money-making meme — to dysentery.

    Freud, however, would have understood.


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