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The most interesting..

Friday, October 18th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron –a quick round ’em up, rawhide of news and views — read the first one, even if you skip the rest — some of which are frankly hilarious, and darkly sad too — and towards the end, there’s one mind-blower with gospel reference! ]
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Millennial mils debate Syria:

This, from WaPo‘s summary of the Democratic debate of 15 October 2019:

There was a point in the middle of the debate when South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) had an impassioned debate about whether the United States should be in Syria. Gabbard was the most noninterventionist candidate on the stage, while Buttigieg said Syria was perhaps the one place in the Middle East where we continue to need a presence. That disagreement aside, this was two millennial veterans of Middle East wars — the only two combat veterans among the leading candidates — having that debate on a presidential stage. That’s quite the moment.

That’s a debate within the debate, and the criterion for being on that stage is a lot stiffer than for the stage-of-twelve.

BTW, hey matryoshka! —

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Serpents I:

And then this, for a serpent-bites-tail moment, with the middle slytherin’ of the snake passing through time:

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) offers a lesser time-inflected serpent on Twitter:

Wow. We bombed our own base on purpose, because of the impulsive decision by @realDonaldTrump didn’t leave time to evacuate the right way. Is this the America you grew up believing in?

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Word choices I:

Inside that Giuliani serpent piece, there’s this exquisite word choice by a company pertinent to the investigation:

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Word choices II:

But it gets better, once you look at the Giuliani associate twins, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas:

Snap!!

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Serpents II:

Here’s a serpent formerly biting its tail attempting to unbite it:

It’s a microcosm of the same Trumpworld shamelessness that has suddenly converted Donald Trump Jr. into an outspoken opponent of nepotism.

**

Here’s a report of Bolton‘s grenade attack on Giuliani:

Giuliani’s growing headaches are political as well as legal. Yesterday Trump’s former top adviser on Russia and Europe, Fiona Hill, reportedly told congressional investigators that her boss, former national security adviser John Bolton, labeled Giuliani “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up” by meddling in Ukraine…

That’s six, just from my first scan — seven would be enough for me to close this and post!

**

Seventh:

Oh well, as you may know, my degree is in Theology from Christ Church, Oxford, and I’ve continued my interest in New Testament scholarship while broadening it to include Gnostic, Buddhist, shamanic and other sources..

Today’s haul [well, a day or two ago, but today at the time of writing!] contains a second matryoshka instance, this one from a piece about “Secret Mark” — the gospel fragment preserved by Clement of Alexandria and disclosed to the world by Morton Smith in 1973:

Since the Swine do not actually appear to have any overlap with the adjacent story of the possessed man, the story of the Swine appears to be another intercalation or at least addition. It seems like “Mark” had a collection of unconnected stories that he pasted together to create a single narrative. His literary techniques with intercalations and framing stories (i.e. putting some of his stores inside other stories instead of pasting them one after another) give us an idea of how freely he worked with his material.

What’s really interesting about the fragment of a letter from Saint Clement containing a previously unknown section of Mark’s gospel is that it suggests that Jesus taught some form of initiation into :

And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there. And coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and said to him, ?Son of David, have mercy on me.‘ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth came to him, wearing a linen cloth over [his] naked [body.] And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.

The mystery of the kingdom of God?

Some second form of baptism? In the spirit? With an entheogen, as (arguably) in other “mysteries” such as that of Eleusis? A sexual, tantric mystery (the young man is instructed to be naked)? Or an initiation into meditation techniques? Who knows. All we can say is that according to this fragment, Jesus seems to have had some deeper teaching that he revealed after seven days to the young man..

More:

  • Shawn Eyer, The Strange Case of the Secret Gospel According to Mark
  • Richard Hooper, The Naked Man in the Garden and The Secret Gospel of Mark
  • There, number seven, and it’s a humdinger! — and every one of them featuring some sort of formal interest!

    **

    Boom! Bonus:

    Hobby Lobby and a Bible fragment controversy

    I ran across this while searching for a link to Morton Smith‘s book — or was it the other way around? Anyway, this is about a different Mark gospel fragment, indeed possibly the earliest New Testament manuscript of all:

    From today’s Guardian:

    An Oxford University professor has been accused of selling ancient Bible fragments to a controversial US company that has been involved in several high-profile scandals related to its aggressive purchases of biblical artefacts.

    Dirk Obbink, one of the world’s most celebrated classics professors, has been named after an investigation by staff associated with Oxford’s Oxyrhynchus Papyri project.

    He is accused of selling without permission a number of ancient fragments to the US arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby. Its owners, the Green family, are prominent Christian evangelicals and, under the guidance of the Hobby Lobby president, Steve Green, were behind the founding of Washington’s $400m Museum of the Bible in 2017. [ .. ]

    The lecturer in papyrology and Greek literature has previously denied some of the allegations, telling the Daily Beast in 2018 that the claim he sold a fragment of the first chapter of the gospel of Mark to Hobby Lobby was not true.

    Previous reports:

  • Gospel Coalition, 2015, How Should We Respond to Reports that a Fragment of Mark Dates to c1 ?

    It was reported yesterday that a three-dozen member team of scientists and scholars—apparently including the well-respected New Testament historian Craig Evans—is working on a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark, discovered as part of an ancient Egyptian funeral mask.

    Due to the expense of securing clean papyri sheets in the ancient world, the papier-mâché of these masks was made from recycled papyri that already contained writing. Evans explains, “We’re recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters.”

    Amazing, eh? Metacognitive reading: think about it, what’s hidden in our masks?

  • Christianity Today 2018, Despite Disappointing Some, New Mark Manuscript Is Earliest Yet

    The Egypt Exploration Society has recently published a Greek papyrus that is likely the earliest fragment of the Gospel of Mark, dating it from between A.D. 150–250. One might expect happiness at such a publication, but this important fragment actually disappointed many observers. The reason stems from the unusual way that this manuscript became famous before it became available.

    I’m afraid that’s the story of its questionable sale..

    Oh dammit, Professor Obbink is a tutor at Christ Church — my own college.

  • Okay, Covington Scissoring the Overton Window?

    Sunday, June 30th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — different people have different insights, and if they’re any good, they may be worth bringing together to see how they intersect, overlap, intertwine, refute one another, or pass each other by unscathed ]
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    Two concepts from political science that deserve to be interlaced:

    The Overton Window:

    The Overton Window is a model for understanding how ideas in society change over time and influence politics. The core concept is that politicians are limited in what policy ideas they can support — they generally only pursue policies that are widely accepted throughout society as legitimate policy options. These policies lie inside the Overton Window. Other policy ideas exist, but politicians risk losing popular support if they champion these ideas. These policies lie outside the Overton Window.

    But the Overton Window can both shift and expand, either increasing or shrinking the number of ideas politicians can support without unduly risking their electoral support. Sometimes politicians can move the Overton Window themselves by courageously endorsing a policy lying outside the window, but this is rare. More often, the window moves based on a much more complex and dynamic phenomenon, one that is not easily controlled from on high: the slow evolution of societal values and norms.

    Source:

  • Mackinac Center, A brief explanation of the Overton Window
  • **

    And The Covington Scissor:

    In a short story published last October, “Sort by ntroversial,” Scott Alexander imagines a Silicon Valley company that accidentally comes up with an algorithm to generate what it calls a “Scissor.” The scissor is a statement, an idea or a scenario that’s somehow perfectly calibrated to tear people apart — not just by generating disagreement, but by generating total incredulity that somebody could possibly disagree with your interpretation of the controversy, followed by escalating fury and paranoia and polarization, until the debate seems like a completely existential, win-or-perish fight.

    When you start arguing with someone over a Scissor statement, “at first you just think they’re an imbecile. Then they call you an imbecile, and you want to defend yourself. … You notice all the little ways they’re lying to you and themselves and their audience every time they open their mouth to defend their imbecilic opinion. Then you notice how all the lies are connected, that in order to keep getting the little things like the Scissor statement wrong, they have to drag in everything else. Eventually even that doesn’t work; they’ve just got to make everybody hate you so that nobody will even listen to your argument no matter how obviously true it is.”

    Source:

  • Ross Douthat, The Covington Scissor
  • **

    What happens when you Covington Scissor the Overton Window all the way open?

    One half of the answer can be found in this title and sub-title by Amy Davidson Sorkin:

    The Democratic Primary’s Moving Margins:
    In the first debates, radical ideas were as much at the center of the action as at the fringes.

    The other half is even more obvious, IMO — the Republican margin has been shifting to the further and far right, or at least that’s the view of political scientist Keith Poole of the University of Georgia:

    The short version would be since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It’s been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furtherest to the right that they’ve been in 100 years

    And the result, Overton-Window-wise?

    Getting there..

    Achtung!

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    If you were reading the New Yorker after the Dem debate..

    Friday, June 28th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — on excellence in writing with insight — Katy Waldman ]
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    If you were reading the New Yorker after the Dem debate, you might have read [a], with [b] as a chaser, then worried that [c] —

  • John Cassidy, Joe Biden’s Faltering Debate Performance Raises Big Doubts
  • Jelani Cobb, Democratic Debate 2019: Kamala Harris Exposed the Biden Weaknesses
  • Susan Glasser, Kamala Harris Won in Miami, but Vladimir Putin Won in Osaka
  • But I hope you’ll conclude with [d], because I think it gets to the heart of the matter:

  • Katy Waldman, Democratic Debate 2019: Kamala Harris Is the Best Storyteller
  • It’s a much smaller piece, but right on the money. Consider:

    Onstage, Harris, the former prosecutor, distinguishes herself as a storyteller, who conjures up images as well as arguments in ways the other contenders do not. Answering a question about health care, she spoke of parents looking through the glass door of the hospital as they calculated the costs of treating their sick child. Answering a question about detainment camps for undocumented immigrants, she hypothesized about a mother enlisting the services of a coyote, desperate to secure a better chance for her kid. “We need to think about this situation in terms of real people,” Harris insisted. She certainly demonstrated her ability to do so—to imagine policy as embodied in actual American lives. That narrative instinct framed the most powerful moment of the debate. Criticizing Biden for his past lack of support for busing, Harris began telling another story. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”

    The New Yorker is celebrated for excellent writing with insight: Katy Waldman has insight — nicely done!

    Turchin on Human Sacrifice and Society

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Last week I posted on Human Sacrifice and State-Building, which focused on research findings published in Nature regarding the role of human sacrifice in establishing hierarchical societies. My interest was primarily in the way the gory practices of ISIS today seem to mirror this dynamic from prehistoric, ancient and chiefdom societies. Bogfriend T. Greer helpfully alerted me to the fact that noted scholar and cultural evolutionist, Peter Turchin also blogged regarding this research and took a critical posture.  Turchin, also addressed human sacrifice to some degree in his latest book, Ultrasociety, which has been on my list to read for his take on the role of warfare but which I have yet to do.

    Turchin’s reasons for blogging this article are different from mine, so I suggest that you read him in full as I intend to comment only on selected excerpts:

    Is Human Sacrifice Functional at the Society Level?

    An article published this week by Nature is generating a lot of press. Using a sample of 93 Austronesian cultures Watts et al. explore the possible relationship between human sacrifice (HS) and the evolution of hierarchical societies. Specifically, they test the “social control” hypothesis, according to which human sacrifice legitimizes, and thus stabilizes political authority in stratified class societies.

    Their statistical analyses suggest that human sacrifice stabilizes mild (non-hereditary) forms of social stratification, and promotes a shift to strict (hereditary) forms of stratification. They conclude that “ritual killing helped humans transition from the small egalitarian groups of our ancestors to the large stratified societies we live in today.” In other words, while HS obviously creates winners (rulers and elites) and losers (sacrifice victims and, more generally, commoners), Watts et all argue that it is a functional feature—in the evolutionary sense of the word—at the level of whole societies, because it makes them more durable.

    There are two problems with this conclusion. First, Watts et al. do not test their hypothesis against an explicit theoretical alternative (which I will provide in a moment). Second, and more important, their data span a very narrow range of societies, omitting the great majority of complex societies—indeed all truly large-scale societies. Let’s take these two points in order.

    Turchin is correct that study focuses on Austronesian islanders in clan and tribal settings and that’s a pretty narrow of a base from which to extrapolate. OTOH, the pre-Cortez estimated population of the Aztec empire begins at five million on the low end. Estimates of the population of Carthage proper, range from 150,000 to 700,000. That’s sufficiently complex that the Mexica and Carthaginians each established sophisticated imperial polities and yet both societies remained extremely robust practitioners of human sacrifice at the time they were conquered and destroyed.

    Maybe a more useful approach than simply expanding the data set would be to ask why human sacrifice disappears earlier in some societies than in others or continues to be retained at high levels of complexity?

    An alternative theory on the rise of human sacrifice and other extreme forms of structural inequality is explained in my recent book Ultrasociety ….

    ….Briefly, my argument in Ultrasociety is that large and complex human societies evolved under the selection pressures of war. To win in military competition societies had to become large (so that they could bring a lot of warriors to battle) and to be organized hierarchically (because chains of command help to win battles). Unfortunately, hierarchical organization gave too much power to military leaders and their warrior retinues, who abused it (“power corrupts”). The result was that early centralized societies (chiefdoms and archaic states) were  hugely unequal. As I say in Ultrasociety, alpha males set themselves up as god-kings.

    Again, I have not read Ultrasociety, but the idea that war would be a major driver of human cultural evolution is one to which I’m inclined to be strongly sympathetic. I’m not familiar enough with Turchin to know if he means war is”the driver” or “a major driver among several” in the evolution of human society.

    Human sacrifice was perhaps instrumental for the god-kings and the nobles in keeping the lower orders down, as Watts et al. (and social control hypothesis) argue. But I disagree with them that it was functional in making early centralized societies more stable and durable. In fact, any inequality is corrosive of cooperation, and its extreme forms doubly so. Lack of cooperation between the rulers and ruled made early archaic states highly unstable, and liable to collapse as a result of internal rebellion or conquest by external enemies. Thus, according to this “God-Kings hypothesis,” HS was a dysfunctional side-effect of the early phases of the evolution of hierarchical societies. As warfare continued to push societies to ever larger sizes, extreme forms of structural inequality became an ever greater liability and were selected out. Simply put, societies that evolved less inegalitarian social norms and institutions won over and replaced archaic despotisms.

    The question here is if human sacrifice was primarily functional – as a cynically wielded political weapon of terror by elites – or if that solidification of hierarchical stratification was a long term byproduct of religious drivers. It also depends on what evidence you count as “human sacrifice”. In the upper Paleolithic period, burial practices involving grave goods shifted to include additional human remains along with the primary corpse. Whether these additional remains, likely slaves, concubines or prisoners slain in the burial ritual count as human sacrifices in the same sense as on Aztec or Sumerian altars tens of thousands of years later may be reasonably disputed. What is not disputed is that humans being killed by other humans not by random violence or war but purposefully for the larger needs of a community goes back to the earliest and most primitive reckoning of what we call “society” and endured in (ever diminishing) places even into the modern period.

    This also begs the question if burial sacrifices, public executions of prisoners and other ritualistic killings on other pretexts conducted by societies of all levels of complexity are fundamentally different in nature from human sacrifices or if they are all subsets of the same atavistic phenomena binding a group through shared participation in violence.

    ….The most complex society in their sample is Hawaii, which is not complex at all when looked in the global context. I am, right now, analyzing the Seshat Databank for social complexity (finally, we have the data! I will be reporting on our progress soon, and manuscripts are being prepared for publication). And Hawaii is way down on the scale of social complexity. Just to give one measure (out of >50 that I am analyzing), polity population. The social scale of Hawaiian chiefdoms measures in the 10,000s of population, at most 100,000 (and that achieved after the arrival of the Europeans). In Afroeurasia (the Old World), you don’t count as a megaempire unless you have tens of millions of subjects—that’s three orders of magnitude larger than Hawaii!

    Why is this important? Because it is only by tracing the trajectories of societies that go beyond the social scale seen in Austronesia that we can test the social control hypothesis against the God-Kings theory. If HS helps to stabilize hierarchical societies, it should do so for societies of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions, and so on. So we should see it persist as societies grow in size.

    Well, human sacrifice persisted into the classical period of Greece and Rome, though becoming infrequent and eventually outlawed, though only during the last century of the Roman republic. That’s a significant level of complexity, Rome having become the dominant power in the Mediterranean world a century earlier. Certainly human sacrifice did not destabilize the Greeks and Romans, though the argument could be made that it did harm Sparta, if we count Spartan practices of infanticide for eugenic reasons as human sacrifice.

    What muddies the waters here is the prevalence of available substitutes for human sacrifice – usually animal sacrifice initially – that competed and co-existed with human sacrifice in many early societies for extremely long periods of time. Sometimes this readily available alternative was sufficient to eventually extinguish human sacrifice, as happened with the Romans but other times it was not, as with the Aztecs. The latter kept their maniacal pace of human sacrifice up to the end, sacrificing captured Spanish conquistadors and their horses to the bloody Sun god. Human sacrifice did not destabilize the Aztecs and it weakened their tributary vassals but the religious primacy they placed on human sacrifice and the need to capture prisoners in large numbers rather than kill them in battle hobbled the Aztec response to Spanish military assaults.

    Comments? Questions?

    Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

    Friday, December 12th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
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    Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

    Let’s begin here:

    **

    There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

    Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

    **

    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?


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