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One of England’s Freedoms

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — an amused defense of sacred measures such as the foot, yard, and acre — against the atheistic and idolatrous metric system ]
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You can trudge uphill, you can run up hill and down dale as the saying goes, you may march from pillar to post, church spire to spire, you may follow ancient foot- or bridle-paths or ley lines — all these, if pursued on foot, are covered by the word rambling, and in England, if you follow well-trodden or half forgotten paths, it’s your right. It is one of England’s freedoms.

**

Sam Knight, in the New Yorker a couple of days ago, The Search for England’s Forgotten Footpaths:

Nineteen years ago, the British government passed one of its periodic laws to manage how people move through the countryside. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act created a new “right to roam” on common land, opening up three million acres of mountains and moor, heath and down, to cyclists, climbers, and dog walkers. It also set an ambitious goal: to record every public path crisscrossing England and Wales… [ .. ]

Between them, England and Wales have around a hundred and forty thousand miles of footpaths, of which around ten per cent are impassable at any time, with another ten thousand miles that are thought to have dropped off maps or otherwise misplaced. Finding them all again is like reconstructing the roots of a tree.

Now that’s all numbers, and numbers are, d’oh, quantitative. The thing is, walks in the English countryside are primarily qualitative affairs, with mud, styles to clamber across, flash thunderstorms and after-storm greenery, oaks with mistletoe or a thousand rooks high in their branches, willows, snails, birdsong, conversation with a friend or two.. Plato, Brahms, Ann Patchett, Feynmann, Hitchcock, .. with picnics and sandwiches along the way..

Freedom!

Qualitative beats quantitative all to smithereens.

**

If you look at the photo that accompanies Sam Knight‘s New Yorker piece [above], it belies the “unremarkable walk in the English countryside” mentioned in its caption — clear on the horizon is Glastonbury Tor, hardly an unremarkable location for English walkers.

Ever since my friend the late British hedgerow philosopher John Michell [above] — hedgerow and British Museum Reading Room philosopher, that is — wrote his startling best-seller The View Over Atlantis [below] —

— ever since that book appeared, new-agers and ramblers have rambled along ley lines and in search of standing stones — I was one such rambler, along with Michell himself and our mutual friend, the photographer Gabi Nasemann, though I fear I was the slowest and most complaining in our small party — where was I? — Glastonbury Tor has been a sort of seekers’ central for those whose imaginations project ley lines — equivalent to Chinese dragon-paths — across the actual lay of the land.

Another friend, Lex Neale, penned this piece, Glastonbury: King Arthur’s Field, giving an overview of Glastonbury and the supposed zodiac spread out around it —

for my then guru’s in-house magazine, lo these many years ago. By then I was in America. And we were young.

**

Why do I so love my memories of John Michell?

He was a William Blake returned, wrong by the mechanical standards of the age, right in imaginative reach.

It was in the Spring 1978 issue of CoEvolution Quarterly that I first read the text of John‘s A Defence of Sacred Measures. He’d published it as a pamphlet — the first in a series of “Radical Traditionalist Papers” to which our mutual friend the recently deceased Heathcote Willians also contributed — Heathcote {below] —

do watch this clip, it’ll only take three minutes of your lifetime, and they’ll be three minutes well-spent! —

— and Stewart Brand must have snagged it for CoEQ. Anyway, you can get the gist from the full title, in the format the pamphlet gave it, as you may have seen at the head of this post:

I’m deeply grateful to Zenpundit friend Grurray for pointing me to that cover and the full text of John‘s essay, which my own web searching hadn’t turned up. Grurray took particular pleasure in this excerpt:

the use of the foot locates the centre of the world within each individual, and encourages him to arrange his kingdom after the best possible model, the cosmic order. The ancient method of acquiring this model was not astronomy but initiation

For myself, it’s John‘s description of the cubit and sundry other measures — and their rationale — that gets me:

Cloth is sold by the cubit, the distance from elbow to finger tip, and other such units as the span and handbreadth were formerly used which have now generally become obsolete. Of course no two people have the same bodily dimensions, and the canonical man has never existed save as an idea or archetype. These traditional units are not, however, imprecise or inaccurate. Ancient societies regarded their standards of measure as their most sacred possessions and they have been preserved with extreme accuracy from the earliest times. A craftsman soon learns to what extent the parts of his own body deviate from the conventional standard and adjusts accordingly.

**

Oh, you may think this all a pretentious, anachronistic attempt to revive a moribund system. But consider this, from the LA Times in 1999:

NASA lost its $125-million Mars Climate Orbiter because spacecraft engineers failed to convert from English to metric measurements when exchanging vital data before the craft was launched, space agency officials said Thursday.

A navigation team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used the metric system of millimeters and meters in its calculations, while Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, which designed and built the spacecraft, provided crucial acceleration data in the English system of inches, feet and pounds.

As a result, JPL engineers mistook acceleration readings measured in English units of pound-seconds for a metric measure of force called newton-seconds.

In a sense, the spacecraft was lost in translation.

The Times assumes the correct procedure would have been “to convert from English to metric measurements” — but who says? One might equally argue the translation should have gone from metric to English.. the mother tongue, so to speak.

John Michell would lead us along that path..

Sunday surprise — mourning, a global view

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — starts with an anthro DoubleQuote inspired by this morning’s readings & a Steve Martin tweet — though in sensitive times it might be best not to chuckle, let alone guffaw, at strangers’ strange ways ]
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One: The tearless eye of a NASA camera on the occasion of the Challenger blow-up:

One of our reporters, who happened to be at a distant nasa base at the time, tells us that afterward a television monitor for nasa’s own internal satellite service kept on its screen a view from a camera on the beach at Cape Canaveral which had been following the spacecraft’s ascent. Now that camera simply stared searchingly out over the blue-gray sea to where it met the blue-gray sky, like a sailor’s widow gazing endlessly at the horizon. Twenty-eight years into the space age, the sea is as much a symbol of eternity as the sky. Both have swallowed up the Challenger and its crew, leaving behind a double emptiness of sea and space.

Two: The professional Ghanaian substitute for tearless eyes:

Here’s an account in the news:

Ami Dokli is the leader of one of the several groups of professional mourners in Ghana. In a recent interview with BBC Africa, she said that some people cannot cry at their relatives’ funerals, so they rely on her and her team to do the wailing. Dokli and the other women in her team are all widows who, after their husbands died, decided to come together to help others give their loved-ones a proper send-off to the afterlife. But crying for strangers is not the easiest thing in the world, so professional mourners charge a fee for their services, the size of which is in direct relation to the size of the funeral. If it’s a big funeral, their tears cost more.

And here’s an American FB version of the ad Steve Martin’s tweet captured:

Do you want to boost your funeral? Hire me….the professional mourner to come and cry at the funeral. Below are the “Summer Special” prices:
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1. Normal crying $50,
2. Bahamian hollering $100,
3. Crying and rolling on the ground $150,
4. Crying and threatening to jump into the grave $200,
5. Crying and actually jumping in the grave $1000

That’s my DoubleQuote for the day.

**

A clutch of videos:

Ghanaian Professional Wailing mourners:

Promotional — funerala with a white lady mourner, extra:

Ghanaian troupe of Dancing Pallbarers:

Chinese professional mourning performer:

N’Orleans Second Line:

My scope, first draft

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — footprints on earth and moon — introducing callum flack — mapping the mississippi ]
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Here’s a neat illustration of the extent of my interests, at least along one of my continua —

The upper footprint above is that of Buddha. I have tweaked the image a bit, rotating, flipping it and resizing it to fit my DoubleQuotes format, and you can take thgat as analogous to the way we tweak the Buddha’s teachings to fit our expectations — and the lower footprint, a bootprint actually, is man’s mark on the moon, courtesy of NASA, whose comment is:

These footprints on the moon will last forever, but the nature of who can be an astronaut is changing

So, the oppositions:

  • ancient and modern
  • spiritual and technical
  • earth and moon
  • barefoot and booted
  • eternal and eternal
  • What have I missed?

    **

    So: why do I title this post My scope, first draft?

    Scope, to honor Callum Flack, friend of Cath Styles and Sembl, whose blog-post today, THE BRIEF, THE SCOPE AND THE DANCE I read, as I now read anytbing Callum writes.

    Callum and I have strongly overlapping interests, and The Brief, the Scope and the Dance is, amongst other things, a paean to flexibility in the context of planning a business website — flexibility and mutuality in planning. And in pursuit of that flexibility in both brief and scope, Callum uses one of my own favorite illustrations

    :

    — along with these comments:

    Objectives defined in the brief are quantifiable. But constraints, which are defined in the scope, are not. Constraints change, and opportunities are created when that happens.

    and:

    We logically understand that the least surprising thing about scope is that what is documented as The Scope is not what will actually happen. Like a map, scope is a proxy for reality. The scope is like a river, and as the map of the Mississippi above shows, rivers change.. Anytime a project doesn’t expect the scope to change, it is unrealistic.

    And first draft, to honor that flexibikity in the riverine nature of things.

    **

    My idea and use of scope naturally differs from Callum’s, if for no other reason then because he’s thinking of the scope of a projected commercially effective web-page, while I’m taking the same word (Witty Wittgenstein, I’m saving this space for your chuckle here) to refer to the height, depth, breadth and other parameters of my life as it is currently taking its shape..

    No matter, Callum’s post prodded me, and I wanted to give Zenpundit readers a brief into to Callum’s work anyway — and his blog-post today as both an excellent introduction to and example of that work.

    And when Callum writes,”Objectives defined in the brief are quantifiable. But constraints, which are defined in the scope, are not” he’s showing his own scope (in my sense of the term) to reach across that (to me) all-important divide between quantity and quality, a divide that has at its heart a koan — the imponderable way in which a world can contain both qualit and quant, leaving us to ponder (!!) how to “value” one (quality) in terms of the other, and how to maximize that more elusive of the pair in a world seemingly dedicated to the more obvious and blatant (quantity) of the two.

    **

    Sources

  • Wikipedia, Buddha footprint
  • Washington Post, The unsung astronauts
  • **

    That Mississippi map, also, is a footprint.

    Hunger, in the closing lines of a poem

    Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — of the space race and children unborn, hungry ]
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    Here are the closing lines of the poem, The Earth is a Satellite of the Moon, by Leonel Rugama:

    The children of the people of Acahaulinca, because of hunger,
    are not born
    they hunger to be born, only to die of hunger.
    Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the moon.

    I find these lines quite striking.

    Rugama’s moon is a bleak moon, but that’s a function of Rugama’s comparison of the cost of moon shots with the fate of generations hungry in Acahaulinca, wherever that is. I can point you to the moon, though — with the mandatory zen caution.

    Ouroboros, btw.

    I’m trying to figure it out

    Saturday, August 26th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — oh, i mean, the whole ball of wax, kit & kaboodle ]
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    I’m trying to figure it out by catching glimpses in other people’s work, finding somethat are part of their pretty obvious ideas that are assumptions for tuthem and indicative of the state of affairs for me. I suppose I’m always on the lookout for such things, but today I’m going to shoot for the big picture.

    Item #1 comes from David Ronfeldt, friend of this blog, who posted at TIMN:

    It is no longer possible to think of corruption as just the iniquitous doings of individuals, be they street-level bribe payers, government officials, or business executives. In the five dozen or so countries of which Honduras is emblematic, corruption is the operating system of sophisticated networks that link together public and private sectors and out-and-out criminals — including killers — and whose main objective is maximizing returns for network members.

    Boom! The main objective is to maximize returns, returns. Nobody says what retiurns are, everybody knows: returns are cash, money, moolah is what everyone is after, “follow the money” is equalled in popularity only by “cherchez la femme” — although “follow the dead Russians” has a temporary place in the sun if you follow John Schindler. Money, sex, that’s about it.

    Sex. I’ll need an item for sex, eh?

    **

    Item #2 is prestige. I ound it at Tom Whipple‘s post, Starman, whichb describes a Norwegian jazz player’s rooftop searches for items of stardust.

    So began the journey that would end with an autodidact gypsy-jazz musician publishing a scientific paper in a prestigious American geology journal,

    The item here is prestige, yes, in the words “prestigious journal” — and the thing here is that anm autodidact made it into some prestigious pages, a jazz musician, imagine that!

    Oh, and BTW, we are stardust:

    I suppose you could call Joni Mitchell a jazz musician too, but she’s not — as far as I know — Norwegian,

    **

    Money, prestige, stardust.

    Those are my findings so far, that’s what it’s all about. And I’m guessing, sex too, once I find an appopriate reference — oh, totally inappropriate, I’m afraid, not suited to office viewing. .

    Sorry about that, I should have used a title-srolling clip from Sex and the City. I mean, good-looking means do it, plain and simple. Those guys who make films know what they’re doing.

    I know, I know, I wemt from fishing phrases out of articles into fishing songs out of YouTube — but I’m still after “it” — and now we have money, prestige, stardust, sex..

    I am beginning to see a glimmer of the human condition, la condition humaine. I mean, wars — civil and uncivil, compromise, film makers knowing who to film in filmy nightgowns, tight short skirts, and so on, and frankly, Trump, who epitomizes Sex and the City, has moola and no tax returns, and is made of greater stardust than the rest of us, I mean, he Trumps!

    **

    What else? I ask you, what else are we?

    Frankly, there’s transcendence. We are golden. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. This one’s from my memory trove — it’s from Thomas Traherne‘s little book, Centuries of Meditations:

    You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.


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