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Do nothing — just don’t do, eh?

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Trump — Lao and Chuang on their way to the New Year — & Iran ]

It’s quizzically amusing for someone with basic meditative or comparative religious eyes to read Philip Gordon‘s NYT piece yesterday, How Can Trump Help Iran’s Protesters? Be Quiet.

I, too, want to see the government in Tehran weakened, moderated or even removed. So let me offer Mr. Trump some unsolicited advice: Keep quiet and do nothing.

Ah, quiet. Ah, nothing.


Wu-wei, not-doing, is a basic principle of Taoism, the religion or school of philosophy which gave us Lao Tsu, author of the Tao Te Ching, and Chuang Tsu, the master humorist of Chinese philosophy.

Lao Tsu:

  • Thirty spokes share a single hub; grasp the nothingness at its center to get the use of the wheel.
  • Clay is fashioned to make a vessel; grasp the nothingness at the center to get the use of the vessel.
  • Bore windows and doors to create a room; grasp the nothingness of the interior to get the use of the room.
  • Thus that which is constitutes what is valuable, but that which is not constitutes what is of use
  • Ah, nothing.

    But as that fourth aphorism indicates, wu-wei, nothing doing, is nothing without wei wu-wei, doing-nothing-doing — doing that springs effortlessly from the way of things. What results is true excellence.

    Chuang Tsu:

    Cook Ding was cutting up an ox for Lord Wenhui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – whop! whish! He wielded his knife with a whoosh, and always in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the Dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Jingshou music.

    “Ah, marvelous!” said Lord Wenhui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

    Cook Ding laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Dao, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I meet it with my spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

    “A good cook changes his knife once a year – because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month – because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough leeway for the blade to play about. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

    “However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until … flop! – the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand with my knife raised and turn to look all around, prancing in place with complete satisfaction. Then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

    “Excellent!” said Lord Wenhui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ding and learned how to nurture life!

    Aha! Nothing, doing!


    And now back to that original question:

    How Can Trump Help Iran’s Protesters?

    And the resply?

    Be Quiet.

    Be quiet! And listen, listen. Let the CIA in place just listen.

    Hey, Happy New Year!

    Catchall post for comments with form

    Saturday, December 30th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — ouroboric and boustrophedonic news aggregated for yr edification ]

    this is certainly tne essential Ouroboros, no?


    Okay, first, several examples of serpent-bites-own-tail comments:

    How a Liberal Scholar of Conspiracy Theories Became the Subject of a Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory

    That’s pretty straightforward — and this:

    A sample headline in the Netherlands: “The new Trump Ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, lies about his own lies.”


    Then there are Mueller-specific ouroboroi:

    One of Trump’s lawyers said the president’s legal team wants a second special counsel — one to investigate the investigators..


    Trump’s lawyers want a special counsel to investigate special counsel Robert Mueller:

    Donald Trump’s legal team has suggested appointing another special counsel to investigate the existing special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is probing the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia.

    One commenter went a level farther, opining:

    there should be a Special Counsel to investigate the Special Counsel which is investigating the Special Counsel. When concluded, the Special Counsel investigating the Special Counsel, which is investigating the Special Counsel should deliver their report to a newly formed unbiased Special Counsel, which in turn should be investigated to ensure that all the investigative legalities have been adhered to.



    Okay, enough ouroboroi — let’s approach zen from the side, with this:

    President Trump is quoted in a clip in Ari Melber‘s The Beat (MSNBC) at 2.34, “I don’t want to talk about pardon for Michael Flynn yet, we’ll see what happens.” This is followed by a Rachel Maddow clip, in which RM says, “I have a Tree Falls in the Forest question for you: “If the President issues a pardon, do we have to know about it?”

    That’s about as close to an overt koan as we are liable to find on mainstream political TV.

    Go, Rachel! But what exactly do you mean?


    And ah! — we are so fotunate that Rachel is not alone in thinking thoughts of this kind.. Kaveh Akbar has a New Yorker poem, What Use Is Knowing Anything If No One Is Around:

    What use is knowing anything if no one is around
    to watch you know it? Plants reinvent sugar daily
    and hardly anyone applauds. Once as a boy I sat
    in a corner covering my ears, singing Quranic verse

    after Quranic verse. Each syllable was perfect, but only
    the lonely rumble in my head gave praise. This is why
    we put mirrors in birdcages, why we turn on lamps

    to double our shadows.

    and so forth. Thank you, Kaveh Akbar, I hear you, I hear your silent, recited Quranic verses.


    I’ll add further instances of posts and comments with the formal properties I’m so fond of in the comments section as they catch my eye..

    Year’s End Musings

    Saturday, December 30th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — wry thoughts at the year’s turning ]

    The best of prophetic moments of the past twelve months according to Propheccy News Watch, and a glimpse of the Atlantic’s this and that..


    Prophecy News Watch:

    Obvs. the right place to go for a go-to report on the year in prophetic signage, Prophecy News Watch gives us a detailed breakdown of the past year, noting:

    Pieces of the eschatological puzzle continue to manifest daily. Even signs that are primarily Tribulation events are casting a shadow today. As I perused news stories of the year, I selected 15 items that tell us time is short. The King is coming soon. Don’t ever doubt that.

    Zechariah 12.3 isn’t the most commonly quoted of end times verses, and it’s a bit obscure at first sight:

    And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.

    Still, that’s PNW’s first and foremost of 15 notable signs of the times for the past year, and PNW signals it in context:

    Jerusalem became a greater “burdensome stone” with Donald Trump’s acknowledgement that this is truly Israel’s capital and holy city. See Zechariah 12:3. Greater controversy will surround her in the year ahead.

    It looks like Zechariah (who?) had a point. And whether Zechariah (yes!) was thinking of Trump’s declaration “it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” on December 6th as the “that day” which PMW’s Zechariah quotation implies, or maybe December 21st when, as the Guardian put it, the UN “delivered a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, voting by a huge majority to reject his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” — well, that’s an open question — perhaps both..


    Here’s a Christian point of view. According to al-Jazeera in a piece entitled Palestinian Christian leaders denounce Trump’s decision:

    The US move is offensive to “Christians and Muslims around the world who consider Jerusalem as an incubator of their most sacred, spiritual and national heritage”, Atallah Hanna, the archbishop of Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox church, said in a statement on Saturday.

    “We, Palestinians, Christians and Muslims reject the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he added.

    “The US gave the occupation what it does not deserve.”

    Pastor Hagee sees it differently, attributing “biblical timing of absolute precision” not just to the President’s December 6th proclamation, but to the actual movement of the embassy, which should occur in the next couple of days, or miss the once-in-fifty-years nark:

    He [Hagee] also talked with the president about the significance of moving the embassy in this “Jubilee Year.”

    “…I told him that God measures everything in modules of 50 years,” Hagee explained to CBN News. “And I said this is a principle that’s carried out in Leviticus, the 25th chapter.”

    “I said, ‘If you look at 1917, it was a Jubilee Year, and the Balfour Amendment came, and then in 50 years, it was 1967, and Jerusalem was reconnected to Israel,'” he continued.

    “‘And you add 50 to 1967, and you’re in 2017.’ I said, ‘This is the year to move the embassy and make that declaration because it is a biblical timing of absolute precision,'” Hagee said. “Thank God, he’s going to do exactly that.”

    If 2017 is tthe Jubilee Year, we have two Jubilee Days remaining to us for moving the embassy, today included!


    Ah, yes — the Atlantic!

    The Atlantic has also been recapping past events and articles at year’s end. It struck me as wryly amusing that they made The Case for Humility in 1918, just before the end of WW I — with some surprisingly prescient commentary:

    Before our educational system can furnish us the help that it should, the Humanist must learn … to abandon his faith in the mechanical and quantitative methods which belong to science, and to set about the task of reinstating the past in the present.

    And again:

    Examine the record of the nineteenth century, of the epoch which closed three years ago, and you will find that it is a record of increasing absent-mindedness on the part of men and nations who imagined that they were doing one thing but who were actually engaged in doing something else. They imagined that they were making the future secure by their feverish activity; they imagined that they had only to devote themselves to science and to industry in order to be happy. But, as a matter of fact, the whole tendency of their activity was to make the future insecure; and their blind faith in science and industry is being repaid by the unspeakable misery of war.

    The Atlantic then brought us up to speed in 2014 with The Case for Corruption: Why Washington needs more honest graft:

    Once upon a time, the budget process was reasonably regular. In fact, it was conducted under what was called regular order. The budget-committee chairmen would do some horse trading to build a consensus within each chamber, the House and Senate would then pass those budgets without too much ado, and the two chambers would work out their differences in a conference committee. Then the appropriations committees would do more or less the same thing, making sure to spread around enough pork-barrel goodies to get their friends paid off and the budget passed. The president and the congressional leaders would be involved throughout the process, every now and then calling a budget summit, but most of the real work would go on behind the scenes.

    In the past few years, by contrast, regular order has been replaced by regular chaos. Public ultimatums supplanted private negotiations, games of chicken replaced mutual back-scratching, and bumptious Republican House members took to dictating terms to their putative leadership. Last fall, after one tantrum too many, Congress seemed exhausted. As part of a deal to reopen the government, it returned the task of setting the next fiscal year’s budget to the budget and appropriations committees, sending them off to a smoke-free smoke-filled room to cut a deal.

    Sigh — one can’t help smiling at that phrase, “a smoke-free smoke-filled room” — beautifully, concisely, evocatively boustrophedonic!


    Boustrophedon — to and fro, as the ox ploughs — oh joy!

    Happy New Year to all!

    Christ born again, wishing you each & every blessing this holy tide

    Monday, December 25th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — wishing to avoid the excesses of piety and secularism, to get once more to the heart of the Christmas message, refreshed ]

    How shall we get past the tired commerical imagery of 80% off, the pious religiosity of religious hucksters, and cleanse our image of the Christ-Mass to seee him afresh?

    One way I have found is to travel abroad:

    Mughal Madonna and child attributed to Manohar or Basawan

    Seen with fresh eyes, the ancient image of the sacred, royal child and pure mother shines anew.

    Or take this Ethiopic image of the flight into Egypt — unusual to our eyes, yet utterly appropriate for the flight to Egypt to be represented to us by a Ethiopic artist..

    Ethiopic, flight into Egypt

    And how gently, with a finger’s touch, this angel from Autun cathedral wakes the three wise men (magi), here shown as three kings:


    Ah, music!

    Perhaps JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 can carry conviction where a statement of faith, constructed entirely in words and lacking the flourishes of trumpets, must always fail to push past our secular sensibilities into glory:

    Or a very different voice, declaring the humble birth in a stable outside an inn — yet with its own indubitable trumpets:



    Hell — heaven! I personally wish all those who read this post on Zenpundit a happy / blessed Christmas..

    I’m thinking of you Jim Gant, Tim Furnish, J Scott Shipman, Mark ZP, Grurray, PR Beckman, David Ronfeldt, Howard Rheingold, Mark Osiecki, Kate Gilpin, Anne and Tom Merino, David and Emlyn Cameron, Susan Uskudarli — so many of you..

    Game and other metaphors

    Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — chess, billiards, dominoes and roulette — one horse, but no cats ]

    I’m always fascinated by chess and other game metaphors, but they’re generally verbal, so this one is a treat:

    That’s from a War on the Rocks / US Institute of Peace piece, Harnessing Iraq’s deadly array of armed groups after ISIL, by Sarhang Hamasaeed — the first in a series.


    War is the continuation of games by other means. Everyone and her donkey has an “x is the continuation of y by other means” formulation, and they’re mostly a bit lame — this is mine.


    Some recent game metaphors I’ve caught while my computer has been in the shop:

    Chris Matthews had a rather neat billiards insight: “you always want to place the ball after the shot..

    Somewhere — it’s probably a cliche by now — “the first domino to fall”.

    “Nasser is playing roulette with the stability of the whole world” — in the TV series, Crown. second season, episode 1.


    Okay, non-game metaphors, of particular interest when they’re religious:

    Al Franken was identified as a sacrificial lamb after his fellow Dems turned on him en masse by Kevin Nealon, a metaphor disputed by Stephanie Ruhle.

    Scapegoats, sacrificial lambs amd martyrs are about as heady a set of transcendental metaphors as one might hope for — Franken is in heady conceptual company here.

    And here’s a newly-minted Franken-word:

    There’s a new word which has registered on the media’s radar, and that is “unresign” — or “un-resign,” depending on the news organization.

    Aah, aah.

    Okay, back to religion. Church MilitantSteve Bannon apparently used the phrase at a Vaticaan conference in 2014:

    In his presentation, Mr. Bannon, then the head of the hard-right website Breitbart News and now Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, called on the “church militant” to fight a global war against a “new barbarity” of “Islamic fascism” and international financial elites, with 2,500 years of Western civilization at risk.

    Samuel Freedman commented in the NYT:

    While most listeners probably overlooked the term “church militant,” knowledgeable Catholics would have recognized it as a concept deeply embedded in the church’s teaching. Moreover, they would have noticed that Mr. Bannon had taken the term out of context, invoking it in a call for cultural and military conflict rather than for spiritual warfare, particularly within one’s soul, its longstanding connotation.

    Metaphor? The Church as an army? Salvation Army? Or a direct reference to the Church, factually, actually, Militant?


    Well-turned phrases:

    “The cost of doing nothing is not nothing.” John Delaney, (D-MD)

    “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” quoted in The Jerusalem Post, November 2002.

    Well, that’s a bit ancient. How about:

    This is what hell looks like: a country where people talk about morals and wave bibles, defending someone who’s accused of pedophilia. .. and what we need is redmption.

    That’s Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer — founder of L’Abri and the conservative right movement — on JoyAM. Fierce.

    And cruel, but decidedly witty — this amazing headline:


    Then there are the ouroboroi — the self-referential phrasings:

    Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA):

    You call it the Trump privilege. I call it the privilege privilege.

    Also: “To spy on the spies.”

    And somewhere: “investigating the investigators..”


    Mercifully, no cute cats nor kitties.

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