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Christmas blessings — or Bonnie Prince Charlie…

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — a carol for the faithful, a paean to the Bonnie Prince for the unbelievers — and a Happy Christmas to Zen, Scott and all our readers ]


First the carol, because I think it’s only fitting at Christmas, with Bonnie Prince Charlie to follow for those who’d like to enjoy the music without subscribing to the belief…


Okay, that was the Latin which, being something of a cultural snob, I prefer — the English version goes as follows:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, born the King of angels; O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.


And for disbelievers, agnostic and otherwise, here’s an alternative interpretation of the carol that doesn’t require a credal affirmation…

According to Professor Bennett Zon, Head of the Department of Music at Durham University:

Adeste Fideles, the song which became O Come All Ye Faithful, is recognised as being the work of the 18th century music scribe, John Francis Wade, but there’s far more to this beloved song than meets the eye. The lyrics written by John Wade have clear Jacobite references to the restoration to the British throne of Charles Edward Stuart – the exiled King also known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’.

In its earliest forms, from the 1740s to 70s, Adeste Fideles is often found in English Roman Catholic liturgical books next to, or physically very near, prayers for the exiled monarch. In John Francis Wade’s books it and other liturgical texts with ‘hidden’ Jacobite meaning are often strewn – even laden – with Jacobite floral imagery.

One important book including Adeste Fideles, to be shown on The Truth About Carols, reveals a wealth of Jacobite imagery. Amongst other things, it portrays a colourful image of Bonnie Prince Charlie, set over the image of a diagonal cross, imitating the text on the opposite page, the great Battle Hymn, Vexilla Regis Prodeunt – ‘Behold the Royal Ensigns Fly, Now Shines the Cross’s Mystery! The same book has a Jacobite cryptogram in Latin on its title page, which when deciphered gives a very clear sense of its Jacobite connections.

The meaning of the Christmas carol is clear: ‘Come and Behold Him, Born the King of Angels’ really means, Come and Behold Him, Born the King of the English – Bonnie Prince Charlie! “Fideles is Faithful Catholic Jacobites. Bethlehem is a common Jacobite cipher for England, and Regem Angelorum is a well-known pun on Angelorum (angels)/Anglorum (English).

Adeste Fideles seems to have lost its Jacobite meanings not long after Wade’s last published book in 1773, perhaps as Jacobitism ebbed in popular consciousness and as Roman Catholics neared religious freedom in the late 1770s. The real meaning of the Carol, remains, however, although whose birth we choose to celebrate in it remains a matter of personal decision.

As a Scotsman, I can raise a wee dram tae that.

Professor Zon’s reasoning can be viewed (by non-subscribers) in The Musical Quarterly, Volume XXIV, Issue 2 Pp. 279-289 for a mere $25 per day.

The choice is yours.


Happy Christmas, Season’s Greetings!

Iconic: compare and contrast III

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron – Iraq war, beginning and ending, analytic power of similarity ]


I’ve thanked Zen for his Iconic Compare and Contrast post already, but I’d like to run with his juxtaposition of images from the end of the Iraq war, and book-end it with an early DoubleQuote of mine from the beginning, thus:

That’s the beginning of the war, as I saw it “binocularly” — and here’s its ending, as Zen captured it:

Different though they are — one verbal, one visual — I think they go well together. I think they belong together.

But that’s essentially an aesthetic intuition.


And — apart from thanking Zen — that’s the thing I want to talk about.

The two quotes, eighty-six years apart, about an (anglophone) army in Baghdad coming there to liberate, not to conquer, are similar enough that they should give us pause for thought. They challenge us to think long and hard about the similarities between the two situations — and they challenge us to think no less hard and long about their differences.

Likewise, it’s the similarities between the two images Zen chose — of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the US exit from Iraq — that give that juxtaposition its power.  And Zen has chosen very carefully:

Not only are there two lines of vehicles stretching back from the foreground away into the distance in each image, but the angle from which the two columns are seen is about the same — and there are even two “tracks” in each photo reinforcing the vanishing point — two tracks to the right of the vehicles in the Afghan photo, the edge of the road and a what looks like the shadow of an overhead cable in the photo from Iraq.


But let’s take this a bit further. The following juxtaposition is every bit as much a juxtaposition of the Soviet and American withdrawals as the pair of images Zen picked, but this time we have an aerial view of the US convoy — so the visual “rhyme” between the two images is no longer there — and even though the aerial shot is an intriguing one, what a difference that makes!

There’s nothing in that juxtaposition to make you go, yes!

On the level of what’s being referred to, the troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq,  this pair of images has the same properties as the two images that Zen selected.  But it doesn’t capture our attention in nearly the same way.

And the same would have been true if I’d picked a different sentence from Rumsfeld‘s speech to juxtapose with General Maude‘s “not as conquerors or enemies but as liberators” — such as, “You’ve unleashed events that will unquestionably shape the course of this country, the fate of the people, and very likely affect the future of this entire region.” I’d still be comparing and contrasting two speeches from the beginnings of two occupations of Baghdad.  But there’d be no oomph to the comparison.


Because — and this is what I am trying to get at, the basic principle of HipBone analysis and what distinguishes it from otherwise similar modes of brainstorming and mind-mapping — the recognition of pattern, of salient sameness, of close parallelism or opposition is the criterion for success or failure in a HipBone-style juxtaposition.

Zen’s graphic example has that closeness — even down to those two parallel tracks beside and to the right of the vehicles.  My two quotes from Maude and Rumsfeld have that.  And it’s that closeness of match that makes a juxtaposition powerful.

Analogy works this way, rhyme works this way, fugue works this way, graphic match (in cinematography) works this way — it’s basic to the arts, basic to rhetoric, and basic to the way our analogically-disposed minds think.

It is not a method for arriving at conclusions, it’s a method for posing questions. And it sits right at the juncture where analysis admits it is not a science but an art.

Zen’s Iconic Compare and Contrast: Nine Years

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

I would like to depart from my usual style and take a leaf out of Charles Cameron’s playbook – notably his last post. Consider this a “Part II”.

Here are my selections:

Friendship Bridge, Afghanistan – February 16, 1989

….Many troops wondered how the Iraqis, whom they had worked closely with and trained over the past year, would react when they awakened on Sunday to find that the remaining American troops on the base had left without saying anything.

“The Iraqis are going to wake up in the morning, and nobody will be there,” said a soldier who identified himself only as Specialist Joseph. He said he had emigrated to the United States from Iraq in 2009 and enlisted a year later, and refused to give his full name because he worried for his family’s safety…..

Tampa Highway, Iraq – December 18, 2011

War without a strategy is like driving without a map – and in both cases you may not like your destination.

Iconic: compare and contrast

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — iconic images, riot police, compare and contrast, repetition with variation ]

First, let’s be clear that both these images have been widely considered iconic.

Thus NPR reported of the first photo:

There have been countless accounts of violence recorded during the uprisings in Egypt but the image that perhaps has captured the most attention is the most recent. The image has been widely referred to as the “girl in the blue bra.”

While Real Clear Politics quotes Michael Moore on the second:

“The images have resonated around the world in the same way that the lone man standing in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square resonated. It is an iconic movement in Occupy Wall Street history,” Michael Moore declared on MSNBC’s “Last Word” program.

Moore was referring to police pepper spraying students at an “Occupy” protest at UC Davis.

So we have two similarities between the two images: they both show police in riot gear taking action against demonstrators, and they have both caught the public eye as somehow being representations that can “stand in” for the events they seek to portray.

Beyond that, it’s all compare and contrast territory — or variations on a theme, perhaps — and different people will find different reasons to attack or defend the demonstrators or the police in one, the other, or both cases.


These are, for many of us, “home” and “away” incidents, to borrow from sports terminology, and some of our reactions may reflect our opinions in general of what’s going on in Egypt, or in the United States.

We may or may not know the rules of engagement in effect in either case, on either side.

In a way, then, what the photos tell us about those two events, in Tahrir Square and on the UC Davis campus, may tell us much about ourselves and our inclinations, too.


As I’ve indicated before, I am very interested in the process of comparison and contrast that the juxtaposition of two images — or two quotes — seems to generate. And I’ve quoted my friend Cath Styles, too:

A general principle can be distilled from this. Perhaps: In the very moment we identify a similarity between two objects, we recognise their difference. In other words, the process of drawing two things together creates an equal opposite force that draws attention to their natural distance. So the act of seeking resemblance – consistency, or patterns – simultaneously renders visible the inconsistencies, the structures and textures of our social world. And the greater the conceptual distance between the two likened objects, the more interesting the likening – and the greater the understanding to be found.

I’d like to examine these two particular photographs, then, not as images of behaviors we approve or disapprove of, but as examples of juxtaposition, of similarity and difference — and see what we might learn from reading them in a “neutral” light.


What I am really trying to see is whether we can use analogy — a very powerful mental tool — with something of the same rigor we customarily apply to questions of causality and proof, and thus turn it into a method of insight that draws on our aha! pattern recognition and analogy-finding intuitions, rather than the application of inductive and deductive reason.

And that requires that we should know more about how the mind perceives likenesses — a topic that is often obscured by our strong emotional responses — you’re making a false moral equivalence there! or look, one’s as bad as the oither, and it’s sheer hypocrisy to suggest otherwise!

So among other things, we’re up against the phenomenon I call “sibling pea rivalry” — where two things, places, institutions, whatever, that are about as similar as two peas in a pod, have intense antagonism between them, real or playful — Oxford and Cambridge, say, and I’m thinking here of the Boat Race, or West Point and Annapolis in the US, and the Army-Navy game.

Oxford is far more “like” Cambridge than it is “like” a mechanic’s wrench, more like Cambridge than it is a Volkswagen or even a high school, more like it even than Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford — more like it than any of the so-called “redbrick universities” in the UK — so like it, in fact, that the term “Oxbridge” has been coined to refer to the two of them together, in contrast to any other schools or colleges.

And yet on the day of the Boat Race, feelings run high — and the two places couldn’t seem more different. Or let me put that another way — an individual might be ill-advised to walk into a pub overflowing with partisans of the “dark blue” of Oxford wearing the “light blue” of Cambridge, or vice versa.  Not quite at the level of the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, perhaps, but getting there…


So one of the things I’ve thought a bunch about is the kind of analogy that says a : A :: b : B.

As in: Egyptian cop is to Egyptian protester as UC Davis cop is to UC Davis protester.

Which you may think is absolutely right — or cause for impeachment — or just plain old kufr!

And I’ve figured out that the reason people often have different “takes” on that kind of analogy — takes so different that they can get extremely steamed about it, and whistle like kettles and bubble over like pots — has to do with the perceptual phenomenon of parallax, whereby some distances get foreshortened in a way that others don’t.


So my thought experiment sets up a sunken garden — always a pleasure, with two video cameras observing it, as in this diagram:

And from the two cameras, the respective views look like this:

In this scheme of things, Aa (Oxford) seems very close to Bb (Cambridge) seen from the viewpoint of camera 1 — but from camera 2’s standpoint, Aa (Oxford) and Bb (Cambridge) are at opposite ends of the garden, and simply couldn’t be father apart.


Now, my thinking here is either so obvious and simple as to be a platitude verging on tautology — or one of those subtle places where the closer examination of what looks tautological and obvious leads to the emergence of a new insight, a new “difference that makes a difference” in Bateson’s classic phrase.

And clearly, I hope that the latter will prove to be the case here.


What can we learn from juxtapositions? What can we learn from our agreements about specific juxtapositions — and what can we learn from our specific disagreements?

Because it’s my sense that samenesses and differences both jump out at us, as Cath Styles suggested — and that both have a part to play in understanding a given juxtaposition or proposed likeness.

Each juxtaposition will, in my view, suggest both a “sameness” and a “difference” — in much the same way that an arithmetic division of integers, a = qd + r, gives both quotient and dividend.

And then we have two or more observers of the juxtaposition, who may bring their own parallax to the situation, and have their own differences.


Tahrir is to Tienanmen as Qutb is to Mao?

Or is pepper spray just a food additive?

And how do icons become iconic anyway? Are they always juxtapositions, cops against college kids, girl vs napalm, man against line of tanks?  Even in the iconic photo of Kennedy from the Zapruder film, the sudden eruption of violence into the stateliness of a presidential parade is there — a morality play in miniature.

Any thoughts?

Two Great Early Cyberneticists

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — Ashby, the Law of Requisite Variety, Bateson, the arts and sciences ]

Mapping from complexity to complexity. Access to a set of relationships … that we are not usually conscious of in ourselves.  The depth and riches of imagination, of the arts and sciences, of the listening heart / mind, of the world around us, of the models we need to make to navigate that world successfully… of the wisdom our steersmen need, and all too often lack.

Zen‘s post Ruminating on Strategic thinking had me thinking a bit, and I guess I felt some of his bullet points,

  • Assessment of the relationships among the variables
  • Assessment of the relationship between the variables and their strategic environment
  • Assessment of current “trajectory” or trend lines of variables
  • Assessment of costs to effect a change in the position or nature of each variable
  • Assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the variables as a functioning system

and particularly

  • Recognition of systemic “choke points”, “tipping points” and feedback loops.

are separable as components one might learn, but need to fuse into a single intuition if the result is to be fully system-responsive.

And I think the two comments above by Ashby and Bateson are in their own ways both “about” that — about the need for a gestalt understanding rather than a list of separate and disparate parts…


And of course, those two quotes can also be used to pitch for cybernetics, or for poetry, or both… much to my delight!

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