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Decapitation — Variations on a theme by Vollmann

Monday, September 24th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — preliminary to a rave review, i suspect, with Helena Bonham Carter as Red Queen thrown in ]
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**

There’s an old English saying, presumably about the martyred King Charles I:

The King walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off..

Young boys, getting acquainted with rules and grammar, and somewhat literal minded as a result, find this statement a paradox, which, however, can easily be resolved by the addition of a comma or perhaps better, a semicolon:

The King walked and talked; half an hour after his head was cut off..

Older boys quickly learn the (semicolon) reason of the riddle, and eagerly apply the first version to younger boys, the better to perplex and torment them. And thus both versions, the beauty of the paradox, the ease of its resolution, and the cruelty thus made available are transmitted across the generations..

**

I have written this because the beheading of a king clearly marked my young soul, as I was yesterday reminded by three passages from an Atlantic review of Vollmann‘s latest Opus — Magnum III at least [I, II, and let us not forget, gods I would love to read this, Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater]..

Summits chopped off:

  • In West Virginia, mountains do not have their summits chopped off but are granted “removal of overburden.”
  • Decapitation:

  • His insatiable appetite for detail yields both irrelevant trivia (“Embarking on the Super Limited Hitachi Express, which was also known as the Super Hitachi 23 Limited Express”) and magisterial portraits of landscapes befouled by poking and prodding and, in the case of West Virginia’s mountains, decapitating.
  • Headless:

  • Vollmann breathes a cool wind “whose degree of particulate contamination was of course unknown,” hears on a silent street at night the grunting of a radioactive wild boar, and walks on broken glass through an abandoned clothing store advertising a 50 percent–off sale and peopled by headless mannequins.
  • Headless mannequins and radioactive wild boars — vivid metaphors, no? — we the humans have been brain-dead, and in all likelihood will continue so.

    **

    We’re all too familiar with images of ISIS executioners with their orange jump-suited prisoners, just prior to and after solo and group beheadings — as a corrective to the “it’s all Islam” narrative, here’s a para from an article titled Inside the Minds of Cartel Hitmen: Hannibal Lecters for Hire (which includes an interview with Robert Bunker that I will be taking a more extended look at now my review of JM Berger‘s new book. Extremism, is in):

    And the tactics employed in all that killing have become more and more gruesome over time. Maybe the rush felt by some murderers is like a drug itself, and they are junkies needing ever greater doses to get the same high. But how is it that ordinary people get hooked on activities like beheading, acid baths, and cannibalism?

    **

    Quoth the Red Queen: Off with their heads!

    Who would you trust more at CIA?

    Monday, May 7th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — seeking to emphasize what may be at base a spiritual / psychological question ]
    .

    First, the context, courtesy Washington Post:

    Trump had signaled as a presidential candidate that he would consider reestablishing agency prisons and resuming interrogation methods that President Barack Obama had banned. Trump never followed through on that plan, which was opposed by senior members of his administration including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was tortured while imprisoned in Vietnam, said Haspel’s Senate confirmation should be conditioned on securing a pledge to block any plan to reintroduce harsh interrogations. “Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program,” ­McCain said.

    Haspel ran one of the first CIA black sites, a compound in Thailand code-named “Cat’s Eye,” where al-Qaeda suspects Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were subjected to waterboarding and other techniques in 2002.

    An exhaustive Senate report on the program described the frightening toll inflicted. At one point, the report said, Zubaida was left “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

    Internal CIA memos cited in a Senate report on the agency’s interrogation program described agency officials who witnessed the treatment as distraught and concerned about its legality. “Several on the team [were] profoundly affected,” one agency employee wrote, “.?.?. some to the point of tears and choking up.”

    Haspel later served as chief of staff to the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, when he ordered the destruction of dozens of videotapes made at the Thailand site.

    Rodriguez wrote in his memoir that Haspel “drafted a cable” ordering the tapes’ destruction in 2005 as the program came under mounting public scrutiny and that he then “took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit Send.

    **

    In light of the above, who would you trust more?

    Someone who has overseen torture, deeply regretted / repented of it (metanoia), and wouldn’t repeat the crime / error / sin / shame / pick your word and its accompanying implications under any circumstances — or someone who was against torture from the first?

    As I understand it, Gina Haspel claims to fall in the former class, thought I’m not sure whether she views her earlier actions with regret and / or remorse — and these /// differences are important.

    There’s little doubt that as an administrator of Agency business, she’d more than qualified, so our “only remaining question” is whether someone who once oversaw a black site (and destroyed potentially incriminating evidence) can be trusted never to permit CIA to practice torture, under whatever name or cover it may hide, ever again.

    Does she regret / repent, or does she feign regret / repentance?

    And would you expect a newspaper reporter or cable news pundit — indeed, anyone short of her confessor or Haspel herself — would know?

    **

    Once again, mortals must decide, and quickly — our continuing koan or paradox — while the most relevant information of all is tangled up in the knots of human psychology / hidden deep in the heart of God..

    New category: Extremier than Extreme

    Monday, May 7th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — possibly simple-minded, but offered to our mentor JM Berger — includes a horseshoe & a neat paradox, too ]
    .

    Today’s example:

    Trumpier than Trump. Okay..

    **

    Let’s generalize from here, and diagam this:

    Extremier than the Extreme.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. I’m pretty sure ISIS was AQier than AQ in the day, and that even earlier, there was a splinter group within AQ that was “more extrem”. Might have been Zarqawi, in which case our two examples collapse into one..

    “Extremier than the Extreme” — within its own extreme context, it can be one helluva claim to make!

    **

    While we’re on the subject..

    There’s also the oft-noted Horseshoe effect, whereby opposite expremes come to resemble one another:

    This one, Revolutionary > Dictator > Dictator is well known because of the frequency with which Revolutionaries come to resemble the Dictators they overthrew.

    A concatenation of horseshoes of this sort would give you Revolution > Dictatorship > Dictatorship > Dictatorship ad nauseam, with a Dictatorship currently in power, and a Revolution constantly brewing.

    **

    Oh, and by the way, an intriguing paradox:

    Ouroboroi, mirrors, macro-micros, paradoxes &c

    Monday, April 30th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — continuing my habit of collecting language, images included, which catch my attention — various forms of self-eating & other alchemyteries, mythematics and magics — mathemystics, Pythagoras for one, Ramanujan too ]
    .

    <, >Ouroboros or the Mechanical Extension of Mankind by Garet Garrett

    ries and

    **

    Here’s a nice, succinct Trumpian self-reference:

    I’d give myself an A+.

    This one’s a particularly apt example of the ouroboros, as the phrase “comes back to bite him” is clearly derived from the verbal formulation “serpent bites tail”:

    Trump’s ‘Fox & Friends’ Interview Is Already Coming Back To Bite Him In Court

    Kanye, an admirer of Trump’s way fo doing things, Ari Melber, Fallback Friday, The Beat, 04/28/2018:

    Kanye West doesn’t really believe in anything except Kanya West

    ***

    That first allegation, btw, is either true of untrue, which is why it’s called an allegation, eh? Same with the second, butt it’s the first that’s orouboric.

    >>>

    The Fifth Amendment protects persons from self-incrimination in these words::

    nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself..

    Aha, further to this matter:

    The right against self-incrimination is rooted in the Puritans’ refusal to cooperate with interrogators in 17th century England. They often were coerced or tortured into confessing their religious affiliation and were considered guilty if they remained silent. English law granted its citizens the right against self-incrimination in the mid-1600s, when a revolution established greater parliamentary power.

    Puritans who fled religious persecution brought this idea with them to America

    That’s the Puritan side of the matter, but they were of the opposite mind when interrogating Cavalier children:, inquiring (name of painting)

    And When Did You Last See Your Father?

    Do you suppose the Puritans would have let that young man plead the Fifth?

    ***

    A headline from War on the Rocks, Monday 30 April 2018:

    CHINA’S BALLISTIC MISSILES THREATEN AUSTRALIA’S SELF-RELIANCE

    ***

    Continuing right here. Every ten additional examples or so, I’ll post & tweet a reminder.

    **

    Fox News’s Sean Hannity busted again by Fox News

    Were the Erik Wemple Blog anointed the chief scheduler for U.S. Journalism, we’d direct that all major scoops regarding President Trump hit the Internet between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on weeknights. Why? The better to uproot Sean Hannity’s nightly program, of course.

    Because when news intrudes, the Fox News host exudes irritation. “I am told by my sources tonight that the New York Times is full of crap, that those are not — a lot of those questions are not the questions that the special counsel is asking,” said Hannity on Monday night after the newspaper published its scoop of 49 questions that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has formulated for Trump.

    People might just remember another moment this past when Hannity dissed a breaking scoop from the New York Times, this time about how Trump in June 2017 had ordered Mueller’s firing. “At this hour, the New York Times is trying to distract you. They have a story that Trump wanted Mueller fired sometime last June, and our sources, and I’ve checked in with many of them, they’re not confirming that tonight.”

    Later that night, Hannity was forced to confirm the news. “All right, so we have sources tonight just confirming to Ed Henry that, yeah, maybe Donald Trump wanted to fire the special counsel for conflict,” said the host on his Jan. 25 show. “Does he not have the right to raise those questions? You know, we’ll deal with this tomorrow night.”

    [Sean Hannity cannot tweet his way out of journalistic corruption]

    Well. At noon on Tuesday, Fox News host Melissa Francis told viewers of the show “Outnumbered,” “President Trump is reacting to the leak of dozens of questions special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly wants to ask him. Fox News has now obtained those questions after the New York Times first reported on them. … The questions were reportedly read to the president’s lawyer by Mueller’s team in March,” said Francis.

    So: That makes two instances in which Hannity relied on his own sources to debunk the reporting of the New York Times, only to watch as his colleagues confirmed the paper’s findings. One more and we have a full-blown trend.

    **

    Two summits, one Korean peninsular

    Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — colloquially speakin’, there’s a whole lot of prayin’, partyin’ & paradoxin’ goin’ on]
    .

    War on the Rocks brings us a fascinating article by Ramon Pacheco Pardo of the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at King’s College London, titled The Korean Summit that Really Matters, and you guessed it, it’s not the one between Trump and Kim, its the one between North and South — and the WOTR piece has more (perhaps not unexpectedly) about the South than the North.

    For my purposes, the WOTR piece opened eye-catchingly with a Buddhist and Christian doublet:

    On Monday, South Korea’s Catholic Church held an unusual prayer: It prayed for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean summit. The following day, South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended a Buddhist service, also praying for the summit’s success.

    That much religion in two short sentences put me on the alert —

    — and only from there did the writer move to a comparison between the Moon and Trump summits:

    Clearly, the Moon administration is leaving nothing to chance to ensure that next week’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un redefines Korean geopolitics. Both Moon and, to a lesser extent, Kim have been preparing for this moment for years. This is why the upcoming inter-Korean summit, not the much-discussed summit between Kim and U.S President Donald Trump, is the one that really matters for the future of the peninsula.

    **

    For a detailed look at the entire Korean situation, look at or critique the whole WOTR piece:

  • WOTR, The Korean Summit that Really Matters
  • The two articles Pacheco Pardo links to regarding President Moon attending Catholic and Buddhist prayers are:

  • NK News, S. Korea’s Catholic Church prays for inter-Korean summit’s success
  • NK News, Moon vows efforts to establish peace between the two Koreas
  • **

    Digging around a bit farther afield from there brought rewards.

    We already knew that Junche — “usually left untranslated, or translated as ‘self-reliance'” is ideology of North Korea, and that it is effectively a cult of personality of the revolutionary (dynastic) leader — nothing much new to glean there — but the South Korean leader’s speech led me onwards:

    President Moon Jae-in has called on Buddhists to show their support for peace on the Korean Peninsula. “The Hwajaeng theory espoused by Wonhyo (617-686), one of the greatest masters in the history of Korean Buddhism, means a ‘cooperative resolution of conflict,’ and it will hopefully be fulfilled on the peninsula, as we resolve conflicts and division between the two Koreas,” he said.

    His remarks came during a Buddhist ceremony on April 17 to pray for security and peace on the peninsula, with chief monks and representatives from major temples across the country, and also some non-Korean Buddhists, in attendance.

    Aha!

    **

    Wonhyo seems to have been something of a blithe spirit, as well as a scholar, the author of voluminous works:

    [Wonhyo] tried to embody in his own life the ideal of a bodhisattva who works for the well-being of all sentient beings. Transcending the distinction of the sacred and the secular, he married a widower princess, visited villages and towns, and taught people with songs and dances.

    — as one of his commentators puts it. You can almost hear Wikipedia laugh or snort (your choice) as it says:

    While the Buddha discouraged such behaviors, his [Wonhyo’s] songs and dances were seen as upaya, or skillful means, meant to help save all sentient beings.

    **

    Get serious, please!

    The required reading would appear to be in:

  • Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Wonhyo: Selected Works, A Charles Miller, ed & tr
  • Defeating language at its own game by all available means, no wonder Wonhyo taught by dancing and singing!

    **

    That’s all very well, and may please the poet-theologian in me, but what about Hwajaeng and conflict resolution?

    As a methodological approach, hwajaeng refers to Wonhyo’s relentless pursuit of ostensibly variant or conflicting Buddhist doctrinal positions, investigating them exhaustively until identifying the precise point at which their variance occurs and then showing how differences in fundamental background, motivation, or sectarian bias on the part of the proponent of that particular doctrinal position led to the production of such apparent contradictions. He never judges any proposition to be ultimately correct: it is only determined to be valid or invalid from a given standpoint. Wonhyo then lays out his own argument in contradistinction to the attached views he has previously elaborated.

    It will be instructive to see how President Moon develops this approach vis-a-vis South-North dialog, and how the somewhat inscrutable Kim Jong Un receives and adapts to it..

    **

    The image in the top panel, above, shows President Park Geun-hye and Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung. President Moon succeeded President Park after her impeachment in the 2017 elections. He is shown praying, second left, in the lower panel, above,

    Image sources:

  • Korea.net, President meets Catholic leaders
  • Korea.net, President Moon asks Buddhists to join peacemaking on peninsula
  • Okay, my head is spinning.


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