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Mosquitoes of the mind

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — or should that be Uber über alles?]

Forget billboards — motorists now have ads buzzing a few feet above their windshields — MIT Technology Review


There is an endless variety of possible starting points for a critique of oneself and the world. One might start from:

  • the message in a fortune cookie
  • whatever one’s parents imparted
  • whatever one rejected of what they imparted
  • Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates
  • a return to the Green Line
  • Palestine from the river to the sea
  • the sweet humility of the Magnificat
  • the fierce doctrine of Original Sin
  • the Cloud of Unknowing
  • the uncontaminated Unity of Godhead
  • the Buddha’s Noble Truth of suffering
  • the shining suchness of the Tathagata
  • something Karl Marx said, or Darwin
  • a tall tale from Chuang-Tzu
  • Lao Tzu’s unspeakable truth, unmappable path..
  • or the way someone reacted when one trod on their foot in the subway
  • Myself, I tend to go from either:

  • the Bene Gesserit adage, Fear is the mind-killer
  • or its obverse in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Yoga is the cessation of waves in the mind.
  • **

    Which brings me to advertising.

  • Yoga is the cessation of waves in the mind.
  • Advertising is the paid attempt to capture my attention regardless of my wishes in the matter.

    In terms of the Yoga Sutras‘s goal of an unruffled mind, advertising attempts to stir up trouble — not in Syria or Afghanistan, or even in my kitchen, but within my consciousness.

    And I’m not alone in detesting this invasive behavior. “Nearly 90% of people watching timeshifted shows fast-forward the ads,” the Guardian reported in a piece titled TV advertising skipped by 86% of viewers, and while Victoria may have a secret ingredient which makes her ads memorable — I’m referring here, of course, to a recent Nobel Prizewinner — most ads are simply irritants.

    The benefit of advertising, to those whom it speaks, is that it acts as a road-sign to what we may want. It’s adverse effect is to clutter up our lives with road-signs to irrelevant and possibly offensive destinations. Apples don’t need little stickers on them proclaiming “apples by the Creator” but a discreet mention of “All purpose disinfecting cleaner by Bright Green” was quite helpful to me the other day, as I was wandering the aisles of Safeway in search of a brand they no longer carry..

    And yes. Advertising drives sales drives manufacturing drives employment drives a roof over the head for many who might otherwise find themselves in the rain. Granted.


    But here come the mosquitoes.

    The image at the head of this post comes from an article titled Uber’s Ad-Toting Drones Are Heckling Drivers Stuck in Traffic.

    The unfortunate drivers in traffic jams in Mexico City are close to ground zero of an epidemic; Beelzebub, remember, is Lord of the Flies.

    Heart Line — a response to Bill Benzon

    Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — design fascination — including a Mimbres rabbit with a supernova at its feet ]

    Bill Benzon has been blogging a remarkable series of posts on Jamie Bérubé‘s drawings as recorded in the online illustrations to Michael Bérubé‘s book, Life As Jamie Knows It: An Exceptional Child Grows Up.


    I wanted to respond to Bill’s latest, Jamie’s Investigations, Part 5: Biomorphs, Geometry and Topology, which included this illustration:


    and these comments, which I’ve edited lightly for clarity and simplicity:

    I emailed Mark Changizi, a theoretical neuroscientist who has done work on letterforms. He has been making a general argument that culture re-purposes, harnesses (his term), perceptual capacities our ancestors developed for living in the natural world. One of his arguments is that the forms used in writing systems, whether Latinate or Chinese (for example), are those that happened to be useful in perceiving creatures in the natural world, such as plant and animal forms. I told him that Jamie’s forms looked like “tree branches and such.” He replied that they looked like people. His wife, an artist, thought so as well, and also: “This is like early human art.”

    You’ll see why that-all interests me — letters and life forms — below.

    And then:

    Yes, each is a convex polygon; each has several ‘limbs’. And each has a single interior line that goes from one side, through the interior space, to another side. The line never goes outside the polygon .. Why those lines? I don’t know what’s on Jamie’s mind as he draws those lines, but I’m guessing that he’s interested in the fact that, given the relative complexity of these figures and the variety among them, in every case he can draw such a line.


    Two thoughts cross my mind.

    The first is that one of these forms, Benzon’s Biomorphic Objects 6a, bears a striking resemblance to the letter aleph, with which the Hebrew alphabet — or better, alephbeth — begins:


    There may be some connection there, I’m not sure — though Jamie also has a keen interest in alphabetic forms, as illustrated here:



    But it’s my second point that interests me more.

    These “biomorphic objects” with “single interior line that goes from one side, through the interior space, to another side” remind me of nothing so much as the Native American style of representing animals with a “heart line” — best illustrated, perhaps, by this Acoma Pueblo Polychrome Olla with Heartline Deer:

    The image comment notes:

    One generally associates the use of heartline deer with pottery from Zuni Pueblo and that is most likely the origin. The fact that it appears on Acoma Pueblo pottery has been explained in a number of fashions by a number of contemporary Acoma potters. Deer designs have been documented on Acoma pottery as early as 1880, but those deer do not feature heartline elements. Some potters at Acoma have indicated that Lucy Lewis was the first Acoma potter to produce heartline deer on Acoma pottery. She did this around 1950 at the encouragement of Gallup, New Mexico Indian art dealer Katie Noe. Lewis did not use it until gaining permission from Zuni to do so. Other potters at Acoma have stated that the heartline deer is a traditional Acoma design; however, there is no documented example to prove this. Even if the heartline deer motif is not of Acoma origin, potters at Acoma have expressed that it does have meaning for them. It is said to represent life and it has a spiritual connection to deer and going hunting for deer.

    Here’s a “heartline bear” from David and Jean Villasenor‘s book, Indian Designs:


    And here’s an equivalent Mimbres design for a rabbit with heartline, in which the line passes completely through the body from one side to the other, as in Jamie’s biomorphs:


    Again, the comment is interesting — it cites a 1990 New York Times article, Star Explosion of 1054 Is Seen in Indian Bowl:

    When the prehistoric Mimbres Indians of New Mexico looked at the moon, they saw in its surface shading not the “man in the moon” but a “rabbit in the moon.” For them, as for other early Meso-American people, the rabbit came to symbolize the moon in their religion and art.

    On the morning of July 5, 1054, the Mimbres Indians arose to find a bright new object shining in the Eastern sky, close to the crescent moon. The object remained visible in daylight for many days. One observer recorded the strange apparition with a black and white painting of a rabbit curled into a crescent shape with a small sunburst at the tip of one foot.

    And so the Indians of the Southwestern United States left what archeologists and astronomers call the most unambiguous evidence ever found that people in the Western Hemisphere observed with awe and some sophistication the exploding star, or supernova, that created the Crab nebula.

    That would be the sunburst right at the rabbit’s feet!


    Posts in Bill’s series thus far:

  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 1: Emergence
  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 2: On Discovering Jamie’s Principle
  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 3: Towers of Color
  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 4: Concentrics, Letters, and the Problem of Composition
  • Jamie’s Investigations, Part 5: Biomorphs, Geometry and Topology
  • My previous comment on #1 in the series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine
  • 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.

    The positively Abrahamic game of Chess

    Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — interfaith rivalry on the checkered board ]

    Many of you will be familiar with the Christian and Muslim playing chess in this illustration from El Libro de los Juegos or Book of Games of Alfonso X of Castile:

    — but let’s not forget that Andalusia was also home to learned Jews, including the great Maimonides. In this illustration to the same work, we see a match-up between Muslim and Jew:

    Divinely appointed killing in Gita and Summa

    Saturday, August 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — two focal texts for Landmines in the Garden plus the matters of just war / peace ]

    Herewith two quotes, one (upper oanel) from the Bhagavad Gita, the other from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas — each of which expemplifies the notion that someone, in the first case Arjuna, in the second, Abraham — has divine authorization to kill:

    SPEC DQ Summa and Gita

    It is noteworthy that Arjuna does in fact kill those he has been ordered to kill, and that in contrast Abraham is reprieved from the necessity of killing his son by the same divine authority which had first demanded that extraordinary sacrifice — but God (the Father) in the Christian narrative goes on to kill his own Son in what is both the perfection and completion of sacrifice..

    And from the perspective of military chaplains blessing members of the armed forces on their way into battle in a just war, the same divine approval presumably holds.

    But are wars ever just?


    Further Readings:

  • Foreign Policy, What Happens When You Replace a Just War With a Just Peace?
  • National Catholic Repoorter, Pope considering global peace as topic of next Synod of Bishops
  • Rome Conference, An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence
  • United States Institute of Peace, Abrahamic Alternatives to War
  • It is worth noting that a sometime commenter on this blog, William Benzon of New Savanna, has a new, small & handy book out:

  • Bill Benzon, We Need a Department of Peace: Everybody’s Business, Nobody’s Job

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