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On the events in Paris, Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — contrasting the ideal with “this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world” ]

A few weeks back I read a piece by Rod Dreher around the concept of a Benedict Option recently, and liked it well enough that it sits in a special folder I have labeled 3 Major Papers, waiting for me to find the time to write it up in detail, offering my own suggested buttresses and side chapels to Dreher’s overall quasi-monastic structure. The Option itself derives from a paragraph in Alasdair MacIntyre‘s book, After Virtue:

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers? they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very different — St Benedict.


Here’s my koan, as of yesterday, hearing the news of the multiple attacks in Paris and following Twitter to peer and pierce as best I could through the immediate fog towards the kernel of the matter. It takes the form of two tweets, the second in response to the first:



My immediate reaction, dismayed at Dreher’s tweet, is to agree with Laura Seay‘s response. And I’m far from alone in this, as a glance at some other responses to Dreher easily confirms:



So that’s the koan, the paradox — and that’s the way I lean on it.

Except that Dreher in a piece titled Refugees & the Paris Attacks, wrote again, today, and made some points that tip me towards the other side of the koan / coin:

Hesepe, a village of 2,500 that comprises one district of the small town of Bramsche in the state of Lower Saxony, is now hosting some 4,000 asylumseekers, making it a symbol of Germany’s refugee crisis. Locals are still showing a great willingness to help, but the sheer number of refugees is testing them. The German states have reported some 409,000 new arrivals between Sept. 5 and Oct. 15 — more than ever before in a comparable time period — though it remains unclear how many of those include people who have been registered twice.

Six weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s historic decision to open Germany’s borders, there is a shortage of basic supplies in many places in this prosperous nation. Cots, portable housing containers and chemical toilets are largely sold out. There is a shortage of German teachers, social workers and administrative judges. Authorities in many towns are worried about the approaching winter, because thousands of asylum-seekers are still sleeping in tents.

The contrast between the ideal and the real couldn’t be greater: God’s in his heaven — and the devil is in the details.


As for that “pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world” — WB Yeats in his poem, Blood and the Moon is describing Bishop Berkeley:

                                                      that proved all things a dream,
That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its farrow that so solid seem,
Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme…

It amuses me that when I look the phrase “pragmatical pig” up to make sure I quote it accurately, Google wants to correct it to “pragmatic pig” — doesn’t that massive AI know its Yeats well enough at least to have caught on to his marvelous catch-phrase?


More on Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option as time permits and place allows..

Two serpent-eats-tail views of the Brennan email hack

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — spy vs spy as delicate moral balance ]

spy vs spy

There are two sentences in When The Hackers Become The Hacked: Why Reading John Brennan’s Emails Feels Wrong, Ali Watkins‘ HuffPo piece a couple of days ago, that feature a neat sense of paradox, and what’s most interesting about them is that they show us two different sides of the coin.

The first [upper panel, below] has a bit of an “ooh, look” feel to it, finding its turning point in the fact that the keeper of secrets has had his own secrets exposed:

SPEC Brennan

while the second [lower panel, above] centers on how it feels “from the inside“.


All of which reminds me of the Talmudic distinction between the Israelites’ view, watching as their enemies the Egyptians perish in the Red Sea, and God’s view, seeing the Egyptian plight from the inside as it were, encapsulated in R Johanan‘s phrase:

My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing songs!

Kudos to Ali Watkins.

Serpent bites tail, or Genesis revisited

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — serpent, dragon — take your pick ]

I’ve been interested in the form of the serpent that bites its own tail at least since I was in Oxford and wrote the poem:

dragon eats self reference bd

Putting it in a circle-with-tail like that, however, was a much later business, dating to a time when I was figuring out how to annotate recursion in a HipBone game move, and suddenly realized I’d tumbled on the smallest HipBone game board in the process..

Recursion is a key indicator, as Douglas Hofstadter explained in Godel Escher Bach, and as the Cretan philosopher Epimenides knew, with St Paul echoing him at Titus 1.12:

One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.


SPEC Westboro Baptist

The God Hates Fags church protesting Kim Davis, the Rowan (Kentucky) County Clerk who fasted, prayed, and then refused to issue licenses to gay couples who wished to marry, is surely a serpent bites tail moment..


Unless, perhaps, publicity is your god, your sole aim and glory.



  • HuffPo, Kentucky Clerk Says She ‘Prayed And Fasted’ Before Deciding To Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses
  • HuffPo, Westboro Baptist Church Picketed Kim Davis For ‘Enabling Fag Marriage’
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five

    Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Hofstadter Langdon Kim — for Gabi Nasemann, & in recognition of Gödel Escher Bach ]

    My friend the photographer Gabi Nasemann recently inquired whether I knew John Langdon‘s book, Wordplay, and I responded, DoubleQuote-style, with Scott Kim‘s Inversions:

    SPEC kim langdon

    I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Kim lo these many years past at the Computer Game Developers Conference, and he was kind enough to say of my HipBone Games:

    Your game does seem to really call to mind the Bead Game. Almost a divination system, much more metaphorical than most games.


    Scott Kim and his friend Doug Hofstadter both have a keen interest in Bach, so I thought it might be neat to see Scott’s treatment of the name — an ambigram, lower panel below — and how John Langdon might treat it — upper panel:

    SPEC bach

    Langdon’s Bach I assembled from his own typeface, Biform, which apparently seeped from his grasp into the wider world under the entirely irrelevant name Lampoon.


    Of all Langdon’s ambigrams, the one that’s no doubt best known — since Dan Brown used it in one of his execrable books — is his square of the four elements, upper panel, below:

    SPEC langdon oronce

    It was a nice touch, though, that Brown offered Langdon an hommage by naming his professor of symbiology after him. No doubt the fictional Robert Langdon would be familiar with the glorious diagram of the elements created by Oronce Fine, which he’d have run across in a 1549 Harvard Houghton Library volume, Le Sphere du Monde, and which I have elsewhere compared with Jewish and Christian diagrams:

    Sembl and HipBone gameboards are in the same genre.. being games of linkage that you play with your mind:

    games you play in your mind


    Sources and further readings:

  • John Langdon, Ambigrams
  • Scott Kim, Ambigrams on Google Search

  • Scientific American, Remembering Martin Gardner, with Douglas Hofstadter
  • Slate, Can You Really Be a Professor of Symbology?
  • The New Yorker, Harvard_ No Symbology Here
  • Wikipedia, Robert Langdon
  • Random House, The Official Website of Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon

  • John Langdon, Biform
  • John Langdon, Lampoon

  • Triple Canopy, This is your brain on paper
  • DoubleQuotes, DQs in the Wild, DQs @pmarca style

    Sunday, October 11th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — first post in a series, with brief intro to series on top ]

    Okay, a three-post series coming up, of which this is post one. To help you navigate:

  • This post reports a conversation between Adam Elkus, Marc Andreessen (briefly) and Daniel Griffin about “@pmarca style” DoubleQuotes
  • DoubleQuotes — origins discusses the seeds of my own DoubleQuotes practice in the form of a visualization game from 1994
  • DQs in the Wild and DQs @pmarca style offers links to a number of examples of “prior art” relating to all of the above.

  • Some readers may be interested in all three, which would delight me — for myself, they’re an attempt to corral a dispersed set of matching ideas, mostly for the record.


    So here’s the conversation, as far as I managed to track it. It opens with Adam quoting a paragraph from Jean-Marie Guéhenno‘s The Problem with Coalition Airstrikes in Syria, which he finds paradoxical, followed by his comment to that effect:


    It was in fact Adam who first drew my attention Andreessen’s style of “double-tweeting”, as we’ll see in the final post in this series.

    Next up: DoubleQuotes — origins, or what the HipBone Games looked like, shortly before I first considered playing them on a board.

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