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Today’s twitterstreaming comes from Ibn Siqilli

Friday, June 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a strong series of tweets on various aspects & implications of ISIS in Iraq ]
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Ibn Siqilli, aka Christopher Anzalone, is a PhD student in the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. Today he was tweeting on religious aspects of the situation in Iraq, beginning with the “quiestist” and certainly cautious Grand Ayatollah Sistani‘s call to arms:

Sistani’s words, as reported by the (Lebanese) Daily Star:

In a rare intervention at Friday prayers in the holy city of Karbala, a message from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the highest religious authority for Shiites in Iraq, said people should unite to fight back against a lightning advance by militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. [ ... ]

“People who are capable of carrying arms and fighting the terrorists in defence of their country … should volunteer to join the security forces to achieve this sacred goal,” said Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai, delivering Sistani’s message.

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From here on, I’ll avoid commenting and let Ibn Siqilli speak for himself until the very end:

Chris’ next tweet is too long for twitter, so he posted it via TwitLonger. It reads:

Keeping Sistani's call in perspective, he did not even issue such a call after the multiple bombings of the ‘Askariyya Shrine or years of targeting of Iraqi Shi’i civilians by Sunni militants.

He continues:

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There’s much to ponder in all this, and I have a minor qualm or two regarding emphasis, but I’ll reserve my comments for the last tweet in the series:

That last tweet is of particular interest, extending the “ecumenicity” of Kerbala as it does beyond the Sunni / Shia divide to include those of other faiths. Thus Hashim Razvi writes under the title Commemoration of Musharram in India by non-Muslims:

The observance of Muharram ceremonies in India in particular has attracted the deep reverence and devotion for the performance of its rituals and customs by the Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Thus, the observance of Muharram ceremonies has introduced Islam as the harbinger for interfaith understanding in India.

Imam Husain’s great sacrifice is commemorated by Muslims everywhere in the world, but it is observed with great emotional intensity in India. What is particularly striking about the observances of the month of Muharram in India is the prominent participation of Hindus in these rituals. This has been a feature of Hinduism for centuries in large parts of India, and continues even today. In towns and villages all over the country, Hindus join Muslims in lamenting the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (A.S.), by sponsoring or taking part in lamentation rituals and tazia (replica of the mausoleum of Imam Husain in Karbala) processions.

The commemoration of Imam Husain’s sacrifice every year creates the most dramatic impact in India. The majority of the population in India is non-Muslim. It is curious to see these non-Muslims participating in the many colorful and devotional ceremonies during the month of Muharram. Also, it has affected the rich and the poor alike.

In India the non-Muslims like Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Christians observe Muharram ceremonies with great devotion.

On a historical note, the Chapati Mystery blog has an fascinating post titled Muharram in Bombay, c. 1893-1912, which opens with this paragraph:

Muharram rituals associated with Shi’a communities in the Middle East and commemorating Ashura signify the division of Shi’a from Sunni communities. However, Muharram rituals metamorphosed into non-Shi’i rituals in India. As Kidambi (2007) remarks, even Hindus participated in the rituals in Mumbai during the nineteenth century. In fact, observing Ashura day was an inter-community/inter-religion event and the procession on Ashura day was the greatest festival of Mumbai during the nineteenth century, often called the taboot procession. Birdwood (1915) described the procession as the most picturesque event of South Asia.

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On the confounded confusion of religions!

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Ireland and Israel are more Muslim than Saudi Arabia, while Gandhi was more Christian than Billy Graham -- non-obvious, but arguable? ]
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The Irish Times yesterday ranked Ireland ‘the most truly Muslim country in the world’:

The country in the world most faithful to the values of the Koran is Ireland according to an Iranian-born academic at George Washingon University in the US. Next are Denmark, Sweden and the UK.

In a BBC interview, Hossein Askari, Professor of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University said a study by himself and colleague Dr Scheherazde S Rehman, also rates Israel (27) as being more compliant with the ideals of the Koran than any predominantly Muslim country.

If Ireland is Muslim, which I’ve never been entirely sure of, maybe it’s because Gandhi was so very Christian. In 2001, Christianity Today reported a poll of “931 self-designated Christians in Britain” in a piece somewhat titled Survey Silliness:

NOP Research Group (company slogan: “Knowledge Is Power”) conducted the poll for the religious division of British publisher Hodder & Stoughton. [ ... ]

The poll asked respondents to rank the Christian qualities of five world figures.

Undoubtedly to the great relief of her Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa won in a landslide of 53 percent. But then the results turn strange: George Carey (the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Mahatma Gandhi tie at 10 percent, singer Cliff Richard snags 6 percent, and evangelist Billy Graham wins only 3 percent.

I think you may need to be British to appreciate the religious importance of rocker Cliff Richards, and even then it’s not compulsory.

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In any case, all this religious mixology led me to search on Google for Chrislam, which in turn led me to Theodore Shoebat and my next post

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Krishna, Oppie and the Bomb

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- following a lead from Adam Elkus, a little more on the (Hindu) theological side of the Trinity test ]
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WHen Oppenheimer saw the first nuclear fireball — apart from those supposedly recorded in legend, the sun in the sky, and presumably a whole heavenly host of stars — at the Trinity test in Alamogordo, July 16, 1945, he famously quoted the Indian scripture, Bhagavad Gita, either in his head or out loud:
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This post is to give those who may be interested a brief update on the relevance of that quotation.

I am grateful to Adam Elkus for pointing us to this post on Restricted Data, Oppenheimer and the Gita, which in turn led me to Dr Hijaya‘s paper, The Gita of J. Robert Oppenheimer in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society.

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I have a side note of caution here. Dr Hijaya notes in the Acknowledgments at the end of his paper:

Sanskrit is Greek to me, and Hinduism a mystery. Therefore I am immensely indebted to two scholars who provided me not only with translations of the language but also with innumerable insights into the philosophy: Peter M. Scharf, classics department, Brown University, Providence, R.I.; and Roy W. Perrett, philosophy department, Massey University, Palmerston North, N.Z.

Drs Scharf and Perrett both appear to be well qualified to have advised Dr Hijaya in matters Sanskrit, which seems si=gnificant since — among other things — Oppie himself had studied Sanskrit seriously, and was not simply quoting a line he’d picked up on a cursory reading of the text in some English translation.

Like Dr Hijaya, I have no knowledge of Sanskrit, and like him I relied on the help of other scholars, and particularly Chandra Das, in writing my own commentary on Oppie, various scriptures and the bomb, What Sacred Games? My post for a bloggers’ roundtable on nuclear weapondry in different religious contexts may also be of interest — The religious and apocalyptic background to nuclear policy making.

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Put into a nutshell, Dr Hijaya notes that the warrior Arjuna is unwilling at first to partake in the battle of Kurukshetra against an army that includes family, friends, and mentors. Krishna, who speaks with divine authority as the avatar of Vishnu, instructs him that it is his dharma or vocation as a warrior to fight, that he should perform actions because they are his to perform, without concern for their results, and that all those who will die in the battle are effectively already dead, since that is the divine will.

From a mortal perspective this is a hard truth to bear, but from the perspective of Vishnu it is appointed, necessary, all part of the divine lila or play — a concept the western Neoplatonist Plotinus expressed thus:

Men directing their weapons against each other- under doom of death yet neatly lined up to fight as in the pyrrhic sword-dances of their sport – this is enough to tell us that all human intentions are but play, that death is nothing terrible, that to die in a war or in a fight is but to taste a little beforehand what old age has in store, to go away earlier and come back the sooner. … Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing.

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One of the topics that should have been mentioned in that 7,000 word post and (irresponsibly?) wasn’t, is the first Indian nuclear test, which if I recall was officially termed “the Buddha’s smile” — an irony both devastating and delicious!

In a follow up post to be completed as time allows, I hope to address that issue.

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March 17th: Holi Festival “of colors”

Monday, March 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- my favorite Indian festival -- and also Modi, the Indian PM candidate whose visitor's visa for the US was revoked by State a decade ago on the grounds of "violating religious freedom" ]
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It may be the world’s most playful festival — Holi, the Festival of Colors, is celebrated today, March 17, in India and around the world.

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The equipment required for play is simple enough: colored powders.

These powders can be thrown at people dry, watered down and tossed at them in balloons, or sprayed from squirt-guns…

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In each case, the result it the same — brightly-colored people.

And why?

The symbolism of the colors of Holi Festival is that the devotees are “drenched in the colors of devotion” to God, in memory of the brother and sister devotees Holika and Prahlad, who refused to worship their father King Hiranyakashipu as God, although ordered to do so on pain of death.

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And then there’s Narendra Modi.

Modi is currently running for Lok Sabha on the BJP ticket from Varanasi — the holiest city in India — and will become PM in the event of a BJP win. The elections, in the world’s largest democracy, are scheduled to run for 36 days starting April 5th.

Blog-friend Patricia Lee Sharpe offers some background on Whirledview:

Raze Mosques, Ban Books, Exile Artists

Although some of Modi’s predecessors have played down the religious angle and stressed free market economics to broaden the party’s appeal, the B.J.P. nevertheless adheres to a militantly nationalist ideology based on a (this part is almost funny) Victorian re-interpretation of Hinduism known as Hindutva, and the party belongs to the same political family (aka parivar) as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S.). As the Hindustan Times says, “Few are convinced that the R.S.S. has no role in B.J.P. politics.”

In its early days R.S.S. members donned khaki, marched around and provided intimidation services for the Hindu Mahasabha and other Hindu nationalists in the manner of coeval Brown and Black Shirts in pre-World War II Europe. It was banned in 1948, after an over-zealous member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi for being too tolerant of Muslims and too reformist visà-vis Hinduism, as in treating “untouchables” like fellow human beings. Reactivated as a “cultural” organization, with a leadership overlapping that of the superficially benign B.J.P., the R.S.S. in 1992 recruited a mob to raze the centuries-old Babri mosque in Ayodya, alleging it had been built over the ruins of a temple to the Hindu man-god Rama. Eventually, the courts intervened, dispatching teams of archaeologists to excavate for evidence of Ram’s temple. In the end, with the mosque destroyed and lacking the least sign of a temple, the judges split the difference: Hindus and Muslims get to use court-allocated portions of the disputed site. Naturally, neither side is happy.

Moving forward to 2013, Hindutva sympathizers have been responsible for the Indian High Court’s decision to ban a book by an eminent American Sanskrit scholar on the grounds that its erudite version of a polycentric Hinduism shaped by a multitude of Vedic and non-Vedic traditions might hurt the feelings of some Hindus. As a result, naturally, sales of the ebook version have soared, but fears of violence, if not a justification for the decision, were also not totally unfounded. There were angry demonstrations over attempts to sell Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, which was banned to spare Muslim sensibilities.

And here’s a truly sad case of triumphal, puritanical Hindu communalism: death threats forced M.H. Hussein, India’s most acclaimed modern painter—if you want a Hussein, think in terms of seven figures in U.S. dollars at Sotheby’s—to spend his last days in exile. His “crime”? He, a secular, perhaps even heretical Muslim, had dared to paint some Hindu goddesses veiled (at best) diaphanously. Anyone familiar with the buxom, bare-bosomed devis on Indian temples would have to ask: how else would anyone paint a Hindu goddess? But no one has ever accused religious fundamentalists, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian, of sophisticated cultural criticism.

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Modi himself invites you to send e-greetings for Holi Festival on his website:

The joyful occasion of Holi can also be celebrated by sending an egreeting to your near and dear ones. You may do this by visiting the official website of Shri Narendra Modi and sending a personalized e-greeting, along with an audio message by Shri Narendra Modi.

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On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers

Friday, March 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- completing a post that began with On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries ]
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Having shown you a variety of (node-and-edge) graphs in the previous part of this post

— I’d now like to turn to the issue of board game design, in particular as it applies to the HipBone and Sembl games with which I’m associated.

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Since the basic idea of these games is to see the links between one idea and another, graphs of this kind are the simplest and most elegant boards on which to represent game moves. Accordingly our games boards, from the simplest Hop, skip and a jump board that I’d use to introduce kids to the games –

— via my standard HipBone WaterBird board –

— to the complex and still only part-played Said Symphony board –

— and indeed beyond, to Cath Styles‘ elegant Lotus Board for the Australian Museum Game

— all our boards are graphs — and any graphs that catch my eye are potential boards, waiting for me to figure out whether they’d actually work in play, or might suggest any new ideas for board design.

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I therefore felt very lucky indeed one day this week, when I ran across two striking, indeed dazzling graphs in quick succession.

Artist Ellen van der Molen makes a speciality of mandalas — those circular and often highly symmetrical images, common in Hindu and Tibetan art, that Carl Jung viewed as “the psychological expression of the totality of the self” — but it was this particular one featuring “graph” imagery, which she titles Lotus Grid, that dazzled me:

There’s an interesting and delicately balanced asymmetry to the graph in this mandala, and it makes me think of board design in less tightly controlled, more flowing ways.

More of Ellen’s work can be found here [link]: my “next favorite” of her works features simple, elegant calligraphy in an unknown language — here.

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So that’s from the art side of the house — while on the science side I ran across this graph at about the same time.

I have snagged it from an academic paper by Andrew D. Foote et al, titled Ancient DNA reveals that bowhead whale lineages survived Late Pleistocene climate change and habitat shifts, in Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1677, doi:10.1038/ncomms2714, Figure 3: Survival of bowhead whale lineages during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition. I have removed only the words Late Pleistocene and early Holocene, which were relevant in the graph’s scientific context, but would only have been confusing in terms of my game design discussion here:

And that, my friends, is stunning for a whole other set of reasons — it suggests what a three-dimensional HipBone or Sembl game board might be like, and frankly it leaves me fumbling for ideas.

  • What might the upper (blue) and lower (green) levels signifiy, in terms of play?
  • What affordances would a 3-D board offer, that one of our simple 2-boards can’t?
  • Where can I take my thinking about graphical board design, once I have seen this, and allowed it to sink into my generative unconscious?
  • I don’t know the answers, of course. I don’t know what either of these two images will do to my own thought processes — but they’re like two pebbles dropped fortuitiously and almost simultaneously into my mirroring pool, and their ripples are surely spreading.

    My grateful thanks to both Ellen van der Molen and Andrew D. Foote and his co-authors.

    One idea leaps to another, and so the games proceed.

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