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The best of war games?

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — this may be the most expensive single chess set ever, but let’s wait for part two ]



From the catalogue description:

Lavishly decorated and large in size, this extraordinary, elaborate chess set is the only one of its kind, and is perhaps the best ever made. Crafted by the hand of a master jeweler, the exquisite quality of its manufacture is showcased in each and every detail. Every 14k gold game piece is different, encrusted with semiprecious stones and brightly hued enamel, and each is endowed with mechanical movement. This ancient game of war truly comes to life on the breathtaking board, which is itself a spectacular sight to behold. This incredible chess set rests atop its custom-crafted mahogany and leather-topped table, and is accopanied by a pair of handsome 19th-century leather upholstered chairs.

The ancient Battle of Issus is the subject of this extraordinary set and an apt reference to the military-like strategy of the game. What was one of the most important battles of the ancient world is beautifully retold here through pieces representing gods and goddesses, ancient structures, and creatures of both Greek and Persian origin. Alexander the Great and King Darius III take their places on the board as kings. At Alexander’s side is Queen Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, while the winged Persian god of war stands as Darius’ queen piece. War ships sailing over waves and massive elephants covered in elaborate trappings take the place of bishops, while the castles have been transformed into the columned temples of ancient Greece and the impressive Persepolis. Horsemen and footmen face off as well, each with their own sword, javelin, or bow.

I don’t think there’s any doubt of the intricate quality of the workmanship, nor the costliness of the materials, in this chess set based on Alexander‘s victory at Issus..


With any luck, the Go set I hope to describe in part two will be even more beautiful.

Sectarian geopolitics in two easy tweets just yesterday

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — you could start from this polarity and build out to cover the tensions of the world ]


is an instance of this:


And if these two don’t suffice, there’s always Charles Mortimer:

And so it’s all explained at last,
There’s nothing more to know.
Chameleons are pink and fast
Because they’re green and slow.

Net gains in Turkey and Iran?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — when two data points contradict a trend, what’s up? ]

Gotta love the graphic of “Twitter being written into the ancient Persian Cyrus Cylinder in an animation film for Farsi Twitter, highlighting the platforms importance for communications in Iran” (upper panel, below):

Tablet DQ internet saved

— and there’s something faintly Escherian about the screengrab of Turkish President Erdogen in, what, a hall of screens? (lower panel, above).

I’ve said before that single data-points mean little, but two of them — outliers from a general trend — may consitute an eddy in the stream, a knot in the wood, a disturbance in the force worth noting, worth looking into.

Thus far, our interest in social media in the Middle East has largely focused on terrorist uses [eg Berger 1, 2] and counter-terrorism & CVE measures [eg Aistrope], with a sidelong glance at authorities blocking the net {eg Kerr]..


Here’s the video:


  • Zeynep Tufekci / NYT, How the Internet Saved Turkey’s Internet-Hating President
  • Global Voices, Iranian Hardliners Want to Stop Blocking Twitter — to Defeat Saudi Propaganda
  • Food for thought:

    Note that knots in wood are generally indicative of a third-dimensional force, oblique to the wood’s surface plane. In considering any situation analogous to a knt in wood or eddy in a river, it’s worth asking: is there an oblique force at work disturbing the current, and if so, what is it, why here, and what does it portend?

    Rumi One: the poet and his poems

    Sunday, June 12th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — first of four posts on the poet Jalal al-Din Rumi, hugely popular, perhaps soon to be the pivot of a blockbuster movie ]

    Rumi has been in the news recently and in Rumi Three I’ll say a bit about why. But first, in this post, Rumi One, I’ll say something about the poet and his poems — leaving his ineffable spiritual attainments ineffable, since if they’re anything, they’re ineffable — and in Rumi Two I’ll consider a current attack on Rumi and “Rumism” in Turkey, little observed in the western press, which may be of interest to the poet’s many followers here. Rumi Four will contain some recommended readings.


    Let’s start with some praise of Rumi from Will McCants:

    It’s a powerful poet who turns a scholar to the study of his language, the better to read him.


    I’ve been reading Rumi at least since the first Arberry translations of his Mystical Poems came out in 1968, and in the mid-eighties between then and now had the delight and privilege of doing a joint poetry reading with his more recent translator / popularizer, Coleman Barks, at Lake Tahoe.

    I’m in no way surprised — but yes, delighted — that a scholar of McCants’ stature should appreciate Rumi so warmly, and envious of his ability to read the Divan, the Masnavi, the Discourses in the original. Did not the great poet Jami write of Rumi’s Masnavi that it is “the Qur’an in the Persian tongue”?


    Here’s the poem with which Chicago University Press introduces Arberry’s Mystical Poems of Rumi:

    My verse resembles the bread of Egypt—night passes over it, and you cannot eat it any more.
    Devour it the moment it is fresh, before the dust settles upon it.
    Its place is the warm climate of the heart; in this world it dies of cold.
    Like a fish it quivered for an instant on dry land, another moment and you see it is cold.
    Even if you eat it imagining it is fresh, it is necessary to conjure up many images.
    What you drink is really your own imagination; it is no old tale, my good man.

    Set beside this, another comment of Rumi’s, considering his poetry:

    I am affectionate to such a degree that when these friends come to me, for fear that they may be wearied I speak poetry so that they may be occupied with that. Otherwise, what have I to do with poetry? By Allah, I care nothing for poetry, and there is nothing worse in my eyes than that. It has become incumbent upon me, as when a man plunges his hands into tripe and washes it out for the sake of a guest’s appetite, because the guest’s appetite is for tripe.

    The secular mind may think of that second quote as something of a pose, imagining the poetry of a great poet to be the poet’s own primary concern — but the poems of Rumi themselves, like the poems of St John of the Cross, speak of a love of the divine of which the poetry itself can be but an offshoot, a byproduct.


    There are none so happy, I would suggest, as those who keep company with the lovers of the divine beloved, and it is that companionship that I see depicted in the poem of Rumi’s I most treasure:

    Little by little the drunkards congregate, little by little the wine-worshippers arrive.
    The heart-cherishers coquettishly come along the way, the rosy-cheeked ones are arriving from the garden.
    Little by little from the world of being and not-being the not-beings have departed and the beings are arriving.
    All with skirts full of gold as a mine are arriving for the sake of the destitute.
    The lean and sick from the pasturage of love are arriving fat and hale.
    The souls of the pure ones like the rays of the sun are arriving from such a height to the lowly ones.
    Blessed is that garden, where, for the sake of the Mary’s, new fruits are arriving even in winter.
    Their origin is grace, and their return is grace; even from the garden to the garden they are coming.

    Indeed, that grace, that garden is woven throughout Rumi’s poetry:

    The springtide of lovers has come, that this dust bowl may become a garden; the proclamation of heaven has come, that the bird of the soul may rise in flight.

    And where is that garden, when is that springtide of lovers?

    Alfred North Whitehead was thinking of education as a stepped-down version of that same garden when he wrote:

    The present contains all that there is. It is holy ground; for it is the past, and it is the future. … The communion of saints is a great and inspiring assemblage, but it has only one possible hall of meeting, and that is, the present, and the mere lapse of time through which any particular group of saints must travel to reach that meeting-place, makes very little difference.

    Given my propensity for seeing conflicts in sectarian terms

    Sunday, June 12th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — delicious irony in the twitter stream as a teaching tool re middle east ]

    Given my propensity for seeing conflicts in sectarian terms, it’s a breath of fresh air / splash of wet water for me to read Hayder al-Khoei, scion of the eminent al-Khoei family and Chatham House Fellow, tweeting on the subject of the English football hooliganism in Marseille over the last three days, which has included both bottle-throwing against French riot police and a running battle with a pack of Russian supporters brandishing knives:















    Al-Khoei‘s observations offer us a brilliant parody of the way western analysts, myself included, all too often write about events in the Middle East, and I admire his skill in delivering his reproof — but it’s also worth remarking that England as I understand it seems less and less interested in attendance at its established Protestant church, while France is notable for it’s official laïcité. Indeed, of the three nations involved in this circus, only the Russians appear to be experiencing quite a resurgence of Orthodoxy, coming after decades of official atheism.


    The England v Russia match was a 1-1 draw. Game theorists would presumably call the event a zero-sum game, since the two sides do seem to have cancelled each other out — but in the larger context of sectarian rivalry, the entire three days have surely been lose-lose, while al-Khoei‘s wit is a win for us all.

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