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Forget religion, it’s all politics!

Sunday, December 16th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Ukraine-Russia tensions reach Greece’s holy Mount Athos ]
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Holy Athos

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Forget religion, it’s all politics!

Thee title of the Guardian piece, which came to me via my admired scholar friend Michael Robinson, is Ukraine-Russia tensions reach Greece’s holy Mount Athos. Michael pointed it my way because “holy Mount Athos” — not because “Ukraine-Russia tensions”.

Nevertheless, forget religion, it’s all politics! (a popular refrain in our secular-dominant world)..

“Ukraine is an independent country and deserves its own church,” Makarios told the visiting Belarusians, who nodded dubiously. His view is not shared by all: a Ukrainian monk based at Makarios’s cell, Father Agafon, had a different opinion, calling those Ukrainians in favour of an independent church “splitters and heretics” and saying the Ukrainian church should remain under the control of Moscow.

and:

Although most of the monks on Athos are Greek, for many Russians, as well as Ukrainians and Belarusians, a pilgrimage to Mount Athos has become almost like an Orthodox version of the Islamic hajj, seen as a spiritual must for any true believer. Oligarchs and government elites particularly like the peninsula, with its difficult-to-obtain permits and air of a VIP club. In the weeks prior to the Guardian’s visit, Makarios said he had hosted a Belarusian army general, a number of Ukrainian MPs and several rich Russians at his austere cell.

Makarios’ austere breakfast, btw, is coffee and nuts — for the visiting generals, MPS and rich folk, too..

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Forget religion, it’s all violence and strategy!

With a meeting in Kiev on Saturday set to formally proclaim the church’s independence, some are predicting violence if Kiev tries to seize church property from the Moscow patriarchy.

Subtitle of the piece:

Orthodox church’s decision to make Ukrainian branch independent of Russia causes schism and predictions of violence

and:

M:alofeev blamed the Americans for the turmoil, claiming that “Pyatt is trying to stir up the same things he did in Ukraine” in Greece. He also claimed Bartholomew’s entourage was “infiltrated with CIA agents” and said the decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian church could lead to violence in Ukraine and Athos to split with the ecumenical patriarch.

**

Forget religion, it’s all money!

One Russian who has been particularly active on Athos is Konstantin Malofeev, a businessman known as the “Orthodox oligarch”, who is currently on EU and US sanctions lists for his alleged role in funding the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

and:

He insisted that most of Athos was united in its loyalty to the ecumenical patriarch, but conceded that the feeling was not unanimous. “There are some monks who just love Russian money,” he said with a sigh.

**

Forget religion, it’s quintessentially religion..

For centuries, Orthodox men have come to Mount Athos, a closed peninsula in northern Greece, to sequester themselves away from the everyday concerns of the outside world. The only entrance is by boat, and women are strictly forbidden to set foot on the territory. Male pilgrims, after receiving a special permit, can visit to confess and seek counsel from the 2,000 monks at the 20 monasteries and smaller “cells” dotted along the hilly shoreline. It is one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, the eastern form of Christianity that split with Catholicism in the 11th century.

Monks enter Athos “to sequester themselves away from the everyday concerns of the outside world,” okay?

Athos runs on Byzantine time, an archaic system in which the clocks are reset each day at sunset, and it uses the Julian calendar, rendering Athos 13 days behind the rest of the western world. At sunset the monasteries shut their gates and a stillness settles on the peninsula until the bells ring for morning liturgy.

“People come here to try to be saints, and leave the difficulties of the world behind,” said Father Porfirius, a 27-year-old Greek monk. “The hardest part is to kill your will. We try to destroy it, to get to the level of obedience of Jesus Christ.”

Patriarch vs Patriarch (with Putin Plus):

All is not well in Orthodoxy currently, with a split linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine causing a schism and dark talk of violence among the various Orthodox churches. Bartholomew of Constantinople, known as the ecumenical patriarch and the “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs, agreed in October to give autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox church, essentially making it an independent church. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian church, which regards Ukraine as its domain, responded furiously and announced a split from the ecumenical patriarch.

and:

Kirill has banned Russians from taking holy communion in the churches of Athos, calling any priests who bless the ecumenical patriarch schismatics, leading to a dilemma for those Russians who want to visit.

Schism is about as bad as it gets within Christianity. The Pope and the Patriarch are currently trying, with some little success, to heal a schism between Catholics and Orthodox which began as a dispute over a clause in the major credal statement — the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed — which broke the two major branches of the Church, east and west, apart in 1054. That’s more than a millennium of strife between brothers whose savior prayed at the end of his life [John 17.22-23]:

And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

**

Okay, kudos to Guardian writer Shaun Walker for knowing the importance of religious reporting of issues that also have economic, strategic, political aspects!

And let’s conclude with a link to this related Orthodox prayer page:

:Concerning the Orthodox Prayers for the Union of All and the Prayer in St. John 17
Excerpts from Ecumenism: A Movement for Union or a Syncretistic Heresy?
by Bishop Angelos of Avlona

A chess tactic and its Trump/Putin similar

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — companion to A soccer tactic and its parliamentary analog ]
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Trump and Putin are on their respective ways to a meet in Helsinki. This post offers a chess angle on the importance of symmetry as a technique Putin happily uses on Trump and others. Symmetry is already a keen interest of mine in the arts, where it is a prime key to beauty. In chess, too, and it would seem in diplomacy and strategy, symmetry matters.

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Here’s the game in which Bobby Fischer kills Robert Byrne in an astounding 21 moves:

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What’s of interest to us here is the symmetry at move 11, shown here in two diagrams:

where the blue lines annotate the symmetries in files a, b, c, d, g, and h

and here:

where the red center-line serves as a mirror for those symmetrical files, their positions highlighted in green.

And here’s the site’s comment on symmetry:

It’s quite often the case that in very symmetrical positions such as this one, things go about very slowly, it’s often a bit of a maneuvering game, not a lot of, let’s say, great tactics, or fireworks, things of course can change, but there’s a great amount of symmetry here..

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Well, chess is the game of strategy par eminence, isn’t it? Here’s a quote I just used in my metaphors collection:

Brian Williams: Putin does the most rudimentary things, like mirroring, which communications experts will tell you is a way to kind of endearing yourself to your guest.
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Clint Watts: [agreeing] Ingratiate and mirror.

President Trump openly says If you say to me that you like me, then I like you. He’s just opening the door for this. Putin has done this with other world leaders. .. You want to build rapport with President Bush, talk about religion and the Christian Orthodox church. you do these things to build and ingratiate and build a mirror relationship with the target.

I’m not saying there’s a direct parallel between the chess comment and the Brian Williams / Clint Watts conversation, which just scratches the surface of the communications stragegy of mirroring and similar techniques, and their relevance to the immadiate situation with Trump on his way to Helsinki to meet Putin

with only two translators in the room

— just that the emphasis on symmetry in the celebrated Fischer chess match gives us a clue to the possible importance of symmetry in crucial strategic situations in general — and thus to the coming week’s Trump / Putin situation.

Two new sports metaphor articles, or make that three

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — with my salutations to John Wilson, Garry Kasparov, Mike Sellers ]
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I asked the innocent-seeming question, Can one play chess on a checkers board? on FaceBook today, and the conversation veered to the topic of hierarchies of games — is chess inherently superior to checkers, for example, so that playing chess on a checkers board seems ok, but the idea of playing checkers on a chess board is mildly offensive?

And that led to the question of a hierarchy of games, which in turn sent me scurrying for ideas of the form x is playing tic tac toe while y is playing chess and similar. In the course of my research:

I’ve seen tweets that say “Mueller is playing chess; Trump is playing tic tac toe.” and “Putin is playing Chess. Trump is playing Hungry Hungry Hippo.” I’ve seen “Cruz is playing chess and Trump is playing tic tac toe”. I’ve seen “Trump is playing tic tac toe Kim playing chess.” I’ve seen “Trump is playing tic-tac-toe while his opponents are playing four-dimensional chess, and tic-tac-toe is what wins elections.” — I’ll have to come back to that. I’ve seen “What if Kim Jong-Un is the one playing chess while Trump is playing Chinese checkers?” I’ve even seen Ann Coulter saying “Just hang on to your hats, because while you’re all playing checkers, Trump is playing 3-D chess.”

Ouch!!

And the cake-topper — Garry Kasparov, world chess chamption and Russian opposition leader:

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I’ve also come across a popularity-based hierarchy of games, in a National Review article titled The Dominant-Sport Theory of American Politics:

I’ve seen a few cultural shifts in my day, and the first one came via early-1970s headlines proclaiming “Baseball No Longer the National Pastime,” after polls showed that football had become America’s most popular sport.

Then:

After brushing off the 1980s soccer scare, football remained unchallenged for decades.

Then:

But now football is losing fans for a number of reasons, and David French has written a splendid summary of why basketball, specifically the NBA, continues to rise in popularity.

Here’s where sports as a metaphor for politics clicks in:

A while back, Nelson George glorified basketball’s taunt-and-flaunt style as the “black athletic aesthetic,” and while Donald Trump is one of the whitest men on earth, he has clearly absorbed the essentials of this climate of thought. The chief factors of the black athletic aesthetic have been summarized as intimidation, humiliation, and improvisation, which together give a pretty good description of Trump’s style of governance.

The kicker

:I’ve said before that Trump is playing tic-tac-toe while his opponents are playing four-dimensional chess, and tic-tac-toe is what wins elections.

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There’s plenty more of you to enjoy, but I want to bring in another article with a strong sports correlation. It’s Ann Coulter‘s piece from 28 March this year, titled 3-D Chess — It Only *Looks* Like Trump Is Throwing Away His Presidency!. It starts off with her picture, here reduced yet still large —

— and under it a subhead:

I can’t wait to see Trump’s next move in his game of “3-D chess”!

Then, expanding:

He has now signed a spending bill that, if it actually did what it claims to do, prohibits him from building the wall, hiring any new ICE agents capable of making arrests, and building any new detention facilities for illegal aliens.

The strange thing is, as commander in chief, he doesn’t need congressional authority to do any of these things. But he obviously doesn’t know that.

Why? BECAUSE HE’S PLAYING 3-D CHESS!

There’s some irony involved — or isn’t there? I am unfaamiliar with Ms Coulter’s style. Then:

It’s all part of the act, you fools! Trump is making the Democrats think that, even though they don’t have the House, the Senate or the White House, he needs Chuck Schumer’s permission before moving a muscle.

Carefully observe the master. He gives up everything and — in exchange — gets NOTHING. See?

Yup, Irony:

This shows what a master strategist Trump is. He throws out the rulebook! You know what else, suckers? Now he can put out a paperback edition with a new chapter, How to Give Up Everything in Return for Nothing.

The wins are already rolling in. Guess who’s suddenly dying to negotiate with Trump? That’s right: Kim Jong Un. One look at how Trump negotiates and Kim couldn’t wait to sit down with him.

I can’t give you all the details, but:

Thanks to Trump’s 3-D chess, he may well be in line for an endorsement not only from Boeing, but also from the powerhouse Bush family. [ ..] 3-D chess, baby! Trump has lured Republicans right into his trap.

And finally:

I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Just hang on to your hats, because while you’re all playing checkers, Trump is playing 3-D chess.

**

At which point I need something of a palate cleanser, so I’ll introduce you to a third article I stumbled on while getting this far.. in the National Review again — Donald Hall and the Nature of Time in Baseball Country. This in turn references a George Plimpton piece from the NYT titled The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature. Aha, a hierarchy afoot! Here’s Plimpton’s opening salvo:

SOME years ago I evolved what I called the Small Ball Theory to assess the quality of literature about sports. This stated that there seems to be a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes — that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature. There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball and no good books at all about beach balls. I capped off the Small Ball Theory by citing Mark Twain’s “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” perhaps the most universally known of sports stories, in which bird shot (very small balls indeed!) is an important element in the plot.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t respresent my friends John Wilson and the late Bill Tunilla by suggesting that Roger Angell on baseball is as fine as anything written about golf.

ANyway, it’s the Plimpton piece I wanted to get you to, and that splendid opening paragraph. Birdshot, indeed!

Until next time..

Experts Fear Trump Will Give More Than He Gets, redux

Friday, June 29th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — history repeats itself, &c ]
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Here we go:

Is this some new strategy?

It would be nice to have a DoubleQuote to set beside this one, comparing the N Korean and Iran nuclear deals. Maybe I’ll find one.

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Sources:

  • New York Times, In Meeting With Putin, Experts Fear Trump Will Give More Than He Gets
  • Quartz, North Korea experts watching the summit will breathe a sigh of relief if…
  • For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 04

    Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — in thre “expansive” phase of this exploration ]
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    In her mysteriously beautiful detective procedural set in a Québécois monastery, The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, Louise Penny arrives, about midway through her tale, at this sentence:

    When Frère Mathieu brings out his bomb, the abbot brings out his pipe. One weapon is figurative, and the other isn’t.

    I’m riveted.

    **

    Because the phrase “One .. is figurative, and the other isn’t” is like a koan for me — a nut that if I could crack it would also explain such deep mysteries as:

  • “This is my body .. this is my blood” — one interpretation of “body & blood” is figurative, while the other isn’t? and:
  • “he died ..and on the third day he rose again” — one death is figurative, and the other isn’t?
  • Resurrection as myth, resurrection as history?

    **

    You might think I’m being fanciful, but just yesterday the Comey notes became accessible, and we find this exchange between the FBI Director and the President:

    The President then wrapped up our conversation by returning to the issue of finding leakers. I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. “They spend a few days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.” I laughed as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened.

    I trust Comey‘s “head on a pike” is figurative, and it sounds like the other — Trump‘s “putting reporters in jail” — isn’t.

    The thing about language is that it’s polyvalent, polysemous –and that inherent ambiguity is seldom more significant than when making or interpreting threats, scriptures, or poems.

    **

    So I could take this post in the direction of a discussion of the ruthless politics of Washingtom, the Kremlin, Pyongyang, Baghdad, and or Beijing..

    Or into the exegesis of the Eucharist, Resurrection, Adamic Creation stories. In matters Biblical, the question “one reading fictitious, while the other, literal, isn’t?” more or less covers the major theological division of our times..

    On this, see the Catholic Catechism (115-117) for a more Dantesque elucidation:

  • The senses of Scripture

  • According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
  • The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”
  • The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
  • The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.
  • The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.
  • The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
  • Two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual — one is figurative, like Frère Mathieu’s bomb in Ms Penny’s novel, while the other, like the abbot’s lead pipe, isn’t?

    The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith?

    Or all this might take another turn, with a morph into poetry..

    **

    Or history. Here’s another phrase that’s “riveting” for, I think, the same reason as that phrase “One weapon is figurative, and the other isn’t”:

    Pamphlets were both a cause and a tool of violence.

    A “cause .. of violence” — it t (a pamphlet) incites it. And “a tool of violence” — it’s (at least figuratively) a bludgeon in itself. Hm. I hope that makes sense.

    In any case, I’ve got my eye out for other examples that neatly juxtapose word and deed, as though words aren’t deeds — “speech acts” as the philosophers say. What I’m getting at, eventually, is the nature of sacrament — “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” — which is deeply tied up with simile, metaphor, and metamorphosis — “this is my body .. this is my blood”.

    And that quote about pamphlets? Its from a fascinating New Yorker piece, How We Solved Fake News the First Time by Stephen March, which compares fake news on the internet today with fake news in the time of the pamphleteers, and contains this remarkably “ancient and modern” observation:

    There is nothing more congruent to the nourishment of division in a State or Commonwealth, then diversity of Rumours mixt with Falsity and Scandalisme; nothing more prejudicial to a Kingdome, then to have the divisions thereof known to an enemy.

    So, -ismes were already infesting the language like kudzu grass — mixed simile? — back in 1642. And an enemy? Think Putin, ne?

    On which playful note, drawn from seven years before the martyrdom of King Charles I at the hands of the Puritans, I’ll leave you.

    For now.


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