Saturday, December 24, 2011

Beware word inflation

A cyberacquaintance who is a Trot, along with her comrades, say I am a "pedant" and a "warmonger." Why? I made the mistake of asking why she posted on Facebook a picture of Bill and Hillary Clinton with Madeleine Albright at the funeral of Vaclav Havel with the comment: "how ugly  war criminals become."

War Criminals?

As Dr. Scalper remarked to me, former President Bill Clinton may be "a corporate ass-licker." His wife Hillary, current secretary of state, and Albright, who served under Clinton, may be something less than Mother Teresa on a good day.

But "war criminal" has a very specific meaning. There must be a war. There must be a crime. And the criminal must have committed it. Right? Right!

Those who bombed Dresden and Hanoi when there was no military justification can be accused: there was a war, a crime, and persons who committed it. They were not accused (because they were on the side of the "good guys"), but we can discuss it.

So I asked her what war crime are you referring to? The Lewinsky matter was surely  irregular (if fun), but not a war crime. From January 1993 to January 2001 when Clinton was president, the United States was not at war.

Or am I crazy?

She refused to explain. Three of her partisan gang began to rain links to opinion pieces full of generalities how ugly the world is, but about the alleged crime ... nothing much.

So what does she do? She says she's going to de-friend me, block me ... in short, virtually disappear me. Exactly the kind of left-wing fascism that killed her idol, Leon.

War crime should be prosecuted. Better yet would be not to have wars. But any chance of all that is destroyed when one calls politicians one dislikes "war criminal" just for so.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Two days left for what?

Turned on my favorite music station in the car, only to find tastefully orchestrated, choired and tenored "classical" carols. Yes, the Berlin Philharmonic does a great Stille Nacht. On Monday it will all be gone, even though the 12 days will have just begun.

This is my uniquely American Christmas lesson this year: our distinctive malaise is ... drum roll, please ... anticipation. Feeling let down? Not the public debt or unemployment or "low-intensity warfare"?

Yes, anticipation.

We spend a month preparing shopping for Christmas and only one day opening presents and gorging. (And, yes, please let's not bother to debate whether there's a religious aspect of Christmas.) Then out goes the tree, the gift-wrapping and trimmings on the 26th.

Yet, remember the 12 days of Christmas and the partridge on the pear tree? What happened to them?

The same thing that happened to elections. It's not yet 2012, yet if I hear one more speech I'll scream! Yet I betcha on Nov. 7 they'll start talking about 2016!!!

The drugstore is out of Christmas junk and you can see the agenda books and the party hats at the ready (along with a few summer flip flops for the really, really early birds).

We're so busy anticipating the next great thing that we hardly get to taste the actual, maybe not-so-great, but real thing right in front of our nose.

Stop the clock, I want to relax. Sure, maybe to the sound Carol of the Bells sung by the Westminster Abbey Boys Choir; but on Monday, OK?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Maybe there's a messiah among us already

A new acquaintance of mine was waxing admiringly about a particular rabbi whose wisdom he reveres. Maybe, he wondered, that rabbi is the Messiah and we are just not ready to understand that. I was reminded of the branches of Buddhism whose devotees search in each age among the living for an Enlightened One.

Although, with all due respect, I doubt my new friend's rabbi is the one, I particularly like the notion of humanity just not being ready to recognize the Messiah, Enlightened One or Grand Whatever. Anyone familiar with the Christian story who looks around at Christmas or Good Friday knows amply that no one has ever really paid attention to, much less understood, the Galilean woodworker some of his day thought was the Messiah.

So maybe there is someone walking around among us today with a message to which it would behoove us to listen. Someone who, if we really listened to her or him, would change everything in all the ways that global enlightenment and the coming of a Messiah should.

Even though I get the feeling that whoever the one is, we're not going to listen any time soon ... what if we did?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Will the real God please stand up?

Nothing like dreading the deluge of treacly Christmas music on the radio to put a man off the anthropomorphized God of the Semitic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Let's face it: the only possible God is a specie of one who is nothing like us at all.

Traditionally, God is a He who supposedly cares whether you smoke, drink, eat pork or masturbate. This God is an egotist who wants lots of bowing and scraping, who picks winners and loser and demands invocations that use the particular human words chosen by the professionals of religion.

To my mind, God is an immaterial living being, perhaps a self-sustaining living energy (maybe she looks a bit like a multicolored flame), capable of bringing everything we know and everything we don't yet know into being. I doubt very much God speaks English or any human language, even though she intuitively knows everything that exists: she caused it to be.

My guess is that she is incredibly wise, having had sufficient forethought to produce history, from the big bang to the birth of the latest child ... and everything in between and beyond.

And, no, God doesn't really care whether you fornicate or fail to fast on certain days. Did you hear her yelp when Kennedy was shot or the planes crashed into the World Trade Center? I sure didn't.

Still, I am related to her as the one who, ultimately, made me be. To pray, all I need do is live. She has already spoken in reply everything for all time. Somewhere within what is around me is her "speech" to the universe, or at least they syllable of it I might just grasp, with a lot of luck.

When I do, I expect her to blow my socks off.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This Advent, I'm waiting for Godot

It takes going into a CVS drugstore, asking an employee where they have their Advent calendars and being met with a blank stare and a quizzical "an Advent calendar?" to realize that yes, Virginia, we live in a post-Christian era and there is no Santa Claus. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a conservative evangelical trying to "put Christ back in Christmas." I have other reasons for shopping for an Advent calendar (more on this later), but still, I am shocked.

It's as if I went up to a hot-dog stand and asked for a frankfurter and got "a frankfurter?" as a startled reply. The glue that holds a society together is a body of common knowledge that needs no explanation.

It wasn't that long ago that most people knew—as they had for about 1,500 years—that Advent is the season before Christmas. Named from the Latin adventus, meaning "coming," the season is observed by Christian churches in preparation for the feast of the birth of Jesus, traditionally celebrated by a Mass on that day, known in medieval England as Christesmas.

You knew at least some part of this, right?

Of course, there never was a Santa Claus, and one could debate whether there was a Jesus of Nazareth. If there was, he was certainly born one unknown day. In the second century of our era those in the know thought he had been born in the summer, say June. The celebration of Christmas, one of the lesser and most recent of the feasts in the Christian calendar, was purposely assigned a day in the middle of solstice debauchery associated with pagan and Roman gods.

Just as Lent was marked early on as a period of expectation for Easter—historically the first and most important of the Christian feasts—Advent came into being as a period of awaiting Christmas, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

The Advent calendar is a Lutheran tradition, mostly for children. Physically it is a large rectangular card with 25 "windows," one for each day of December leading up to Christmas and one for the feast itself. Some have little boxes with candy or trinkets behind each window.

Like the Christmas tree it is not, strictly speaking, a Christian artifact. It's just, as a Jewish friend of mine said, one more item in a "heavily accessorized religion."

Why does someone who vaguely believes in God, go out looking for an Advent calendar? Because the idea of awaiting the birth of some presence of God is pleasant, even if it is only in one's heart, and even if it is based on an unproven, largely mythical, story. So sue me.

Now, does anyone know where I can find an Advent calendar?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What heaven was, what it could be

Heaven was always to me the afterlife alternative to hell. Now comes Justin Moore's "If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away" to speak of heaven as the afterlife itself. Indeed, what kind of being would God be if she consigned anyone to hell?

Let's be clear. I know full well that the mature Christian understanding of heaven is of unimaginably joyful wonder in the presence of the God for whom we have yearned in every yen, want and lust; and hell as the prison of one's own unfulfilled obsessive anxieties.

Until recently, I always despised the twangy, syrupy sound and simplistic lyrics of country music. I still dislike the sneaky conservative and low-church evangelical agenda of some singers. I cannot be proud of where I was born, since I had nothing to do with that; and heaven deliver us from "bahble"-based values, such as hypocrisy, self-righteousness and hateful looking down on others.

In recent times, however, rediscovering God as wonderful beyond imagination, creed or philosophical system, I find the old theological categories I discarded years ago useless. I'm not convinced by Christian moral theology, much less its teleology's heaven.

Moore provides a more palatable image when he sings of packing up the kids and driving to heaven for a day to introduce them to their grandpa. (I once woke up with precisely that thought.)

He touches markers familiar to Baby Boomers: Vietnam and those who died too young. He also evokes the intimacies of Everyman, imagining meeting with his deceased bird dog Bo (a bow to the President Obama's daughters?) to go "huntin' one more time."

It's a heaven so close you can go there for the day and drive back. A heaven I could believe in, with healing and recovery and laugh and love. Amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Death Day" was 31 years ago

I remember it clearly. I was sleeping in southern California. I'd been to a farmworker camp the day before and planned to discuss my moving experience with my father when I got back to Washington. Persistent ringing. Who in hell ...? It's 6:30 am! I was awake. 

I had to go to the rectory ASAP. I was staying at a church facility in San Bernardino. Only nuns and priests would call me out of my slumber at six-effing-thirty. I was told to call home.

No answer. My wife was pregnant: had anything gone wrong? Because "wrong" was beginning to be the word rising up in my mind. Something was ... um ... askew. But it was six-effing-thirty, maybe 6:45 by then.

Called my mother-in-law. "Your father is dead."

The priest and a nun were looking at me as my face crumpled and I set down the phone. Everyone seemed to be speaking to me at once and I just ran out of the building and out to an avenue and lit a cigarette.

Nobody walks on sidewalks in California. Certainly not that early in the morning.

I returned, let me be sleepwalked to the airport and to an all-day cross-country odyssey to ... what? To confront the debris of my father's life, ended at 59 years of age and nearly 10 months. Five months older than my age today, 31 years later.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

No more stasis

There's a time for everything under the heavens, wrote the much-quoted and little-known Qoheleth. This time is the time to break out of stasis, to do something about the lingering global economic toothache, to speak up one's frustrations, act on needs, think of solutions.

I've been studiously avoiding saying a word about the Occupy movement and the various bits of startling economic news, in part for professional reasons, in part because I have so very little to say that others aren't already saying.

I don't think it's too sectarian to see in all of them signs that the reign of God is "at hand." Although I borrow from the New Testament, when I say "God," I mean the unimaginably wondrous one who is the ground of all being. Of whom I can say next to nothing otherwise. Similarly, her reign is as unfathomable as herself, except that it is exceptionally different from everything as we know it and would be as much of a surprise as meeting her face to face.

I think this is the message of the Occupy movement: the order of things wants changing. To what, ask the pundits?

We are slouching toward something that reaches out to all and in some way gathers us all in the folds of God's robe and the warmth of her breast. The new arrangement calls for a world of loving, caring, respecting, life giving, all flowing from us with abandon without thought for tomorrow, for efficiency or for gain.

We just need to begin to live in it, like OWS, ready to weather weather, cops, anything, all with the expectation that everyone will be provided for and fed.

Friday, November 04, 2011

I don't believe to get to Heaven

"Profit," probably "benefit" in the original French, is the most common reason given by Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century Carmelite, for living "in the presence of God" (or roughly in utter contemplation and obedience). It's a common theological transaction.

You believe in God to get saved or to get to heaven or experience blessings, or whatever -- all of it by and by, because everything here and now remains as nasty and brutish as ever, and you are no better. "Primitive" people (unlike those about to destroy the planet today) danced to the gods for rain and ate the flesh of others.

In my many years of religious belief I never believed for that reason. Nor do I now, when I find religion highly questionable and at heart ignorant of God's unimaginable wonder.

A believer I know says this is my, and her, arrogance. Probably it is.

I probably think myself above the salvation crap that satisfies the religious rabble. The hoi polloi can pray to get a parking space, a good grade, a good job, a spouse, a house with a white picket fence, a painless death and the 70 virgins in Islamic heaven. Not me.

I don't think God is a reality "for me," in the relativist sense that things can be true for me, but not others. This is the same as saying there are 7 billion unique universes with entirely different laws of gravity, each depending on the personality of the human being at its center.

Nor do I think that God wastes too much time on whether I get a convenient parking spot. I usually do ... people say I have "parking karma." Or maybe, to borrow from Justine Labalestier, I have a parking fairy.

One would think that's not God lavishing her bounty on me. God has better things to do, or not do (she hasn't told me which) ... that do not include monitoring whether I masturbate, lie, steal, cheat, etc., all of which I surely have done at one time or another.

The truth I find plausible isn't so because I find it convenient, indeed downright profitable. Just a right and wrong aren't determined by what I choose, or are biochemically impelled, to do.

To my mind the truth I posit as true and the good I propose as good is quite independent of where I "go" after death, other than, say, the crematorium. Or where I park my car.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I seek to honor the inexpressible

Everyone who has heard of my change of mind concerning God is waiting to see what church I will start attending. Yet accepting the idea of God is not, in all honesty, identical to induction into religion.

If I take a step toward religion, it will likely involve the Christian metaphors and stories with which I am familiar. But it might not involve a new baptism, a being "born again."

After all, God is a vastly incomprehensible being who propelled into existence, and conceivably sustains, a universe about which we know barely a smidgen.

If neutrinos can indeed travel faster than light, as recent scientific news seemed to propose, then perhaps Einstein is wrong and physicists, the philosophers of our day, face searing soul-searching about the fundamentals of their field. We scarcely know anything is the genuine scientific outlook.

The adherents and professionals of religion make a crass error when they think they've got God in their pockets, just as atheists who rely on science err in proposing that we know enough to put God in the dustbin of history.

God is someone so outside our experience, so profoundly unobservable that all we are ever likely to know about her* is an intuition of a light that shines through many, many veils.

It's not like even Christians know God through Jesus.

The Galilean woodworker of the gospels was not recognizably divine to all and sundry when he walked the Earth like you and me. People were surprised when he performed wonders that we think humans cannot do. And who knows what Jesus was thinking 2,000 years ago, much less what he might be thinking now, if he is thinking at all?

In a similar vein, Islam and Judaism are attempts at approximation. Mohammed's angel and Moses' burning bush are at best literary images of inexpressible and intuitive experiences in these men's psyches. Not false images necessarily, but not likely what an empirically minded modern would accept as factual.

Christians may think Christianity is better than either one, but do Christians know definitively? No, faith is not knowledge.

This is why I was struck several days ago by words attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite: "With a wise silence we do honor to the inexpressible."

* I do not contend that God has a sex, for reasons best discussed elsewhere. To offset the use of capitalized masculine pronouns for God for the past 20,000 years or so, I propose to use uncapitalized feminine ones for the next 20,000 years or so, just for balance.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Feeling, thinking and praying? There's an App for that!

A friend of mine who is a philosopher recently gave me an image that fits my present understanding of what traditionally has been called the "soul," that central part of us that animates our body and infuses life, self-understanding, a psyche: software.

The metaphor is an idea that Umberto Eco pioneered in his 1994 essay "The Holy War: Mac vs. DOS," in which he dubbed the Apple computer "Catholic" and the PC, then dominated by DOS "Protestant."

I'd go so far as to say that at the core of us is an human operating system that controls, without our even realizing it, our body and its peripherals, while running application programs such as personality, feelings, thinking and spirituality.

As users, we barely understand the HOS, which explains why marvels such as relatively new psychiatric medication, much less brain surgery, don't quite work as desired. Might they one day? Perhaps, perhaps not. I don't know.

I do realize, however, that there is something a bit beyond our biochemicals and our neurons that decidedly makes us who we are, integrating our inheritance with our experience and our learning, quite distinctly, yet not fully independently of our body.

Here's where matter vs. spirit dualisms collapse: our software and our hardware are inextricably linked. This is why some men engage in spiritual adoration of goddess figures they deem to be near-perfect and some women experience seemingly divine ecstasy in orgasm.

All of which is indicative of a non-material or metamaterial realm, what Aristotle called metaphysics.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My readers' top 10 are a complete puzzle

Who are these people reading my blog? A look at my stats shows that the top pageviews went to essentially humorous and (to my mind) largely trivial posts. I realize that to bloggers who get thousands of hits a day and tend or even hundreds of comments, my numbers are puny. But, still, they provide a sense of priorities.

Here they are, as follows:
  1. But She's a Commoner!, Nov 17, 2010: 3 comments; a whopping 5,838 page views!
  2. Dulce et Decorum Est?, Sept 11, 2005: 854 page views.
  3. The Elephant in the Blog, Sep 21, 2007: 115 comments; 502 page views.
  4. Who is an Anglo?, Aug 15, 2007: 11 comments; 480 page views.
  5. Why do the heathen rage, July 5, 2009: 4 comments; 346 page views.
  6. Felicitous? -- A True Fable, Sep 17, 2007: 254 comments, 293 page views.
  7. Values vs. Ethics, Sep 7, 2007: 9 comments; 215 page views.
  8. The Burqa and the Thong, Feb 12, 2010, 7 comments;182 page views.
  9. Predatory Men, Predatory Women, May 31, 2007: 15 comments; 155 page views.
  10. Goodbye, Uptown Cathay, Jul 9, 2010: 1 comment; 90 page views.
All right, I get no. 1: everybody was tuned into the royal wedding.

And no. 3 is the sequel to no. 6, both precipitated by an invading swarm of British trolls, scallawags and sundry other nether creatures (note the high number of comments).

No. 2 is one of my personal favorites (see under "Favorite Posts," left), yet it didn't garner any comment. I had no idea that many people were drawn to it.

But no. 4 got hits mostly from Britain before the horde. I guess Brits were experiencing an identity crisis that day.

Then no. 5 was a whimsical think piece that meandered through religion, literature, psychology and I tagged philosophy to cover them all. Didn't expect this.

Nos. 8 and 9: obvious.

No. 7 got many hits from India and the Middle East. Soul searching in distant lands?

Then there's no. 10, about a neighborhood restaurant. Who knew so many people cared?

You people are strange.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why are people so insincere in email?

I mean, there's signatures such as "In Christ," "Peace" and "Cheers" (and now someone has sent me an email from "[sender]lovesyou@[isp].com") after put downs and insults. Then there's the sarky oblique comment by someone who think's he's being veddy, veddy clever.

One person I have known for 37 years claims she was "offering an olive branch" after unfriending me on Facebook without the slightest leavetaking. Another claims not to be calling me obtuse in the phrase "I won't insult your intelligence by accepting that you're actually as obtuse as you pretend to be"

"This information could make you a celebrity among Biblical theologians; you will be in demand everywhere; and it will be a privilege I will remember all my life to say I was one of the first to hear it," writes another put-down artist, a clergyman I believe. He signs his missive, "In Christ," obviously because when one is "in Christ" one just loves to have a good laugh at other people's expense.

And, oh, if I had a nickle for every time I've received a furious, enraged rant, signed with the irenic (not "ironic," look it up), "Peace."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hard to forgive: those who will not apologize, even for the other September 11

It was a week or two after the event many people are fixated on today, that I witnessed an Irish priest, a visitor at what was then my parish, state from the pulpit that forgiveness was fine and dandy (my words), but that what had happened demanded retribution (his word).

No turning the other cheek for that allegedly Christian clergyman.

I understand this because, to tell the truth, I find it very difficult to forgive. The problem is that the people who injure me, mostly with haughtiness and a refusal to listen, don't do me the favor of abjectly recognizing they are at fault.

Surely, Osama bin Laden died with the certainty that he was right and that the United States had aggrieved the Muslim world in a way that deserved what happened and more.

Similarly, I doubt that any of the ITT executives who provided covert funds, the Nixon White House operatives and the CIA men have lost much sleep over aiding and abetting the destruction of democracy on another September 11, the one in Chile in 1973 that ended with an elected president dead and thousands of Chilean citizens from all walks of life kidnapped, tortured and killed.

The initial toll (people killed at the stadium in Santiago in the immediate aftermath of the violent overthrow of Salvador Allende) was similar in Chile to that on Manhattan island 28 years later: 3,000 people killed.

Gen. Augusto Cesar Pinochet had laid out in the military journal Estrategia in 1965 his plans for a "national security state" to struggle in defense of what the military regimes of South America came to call "Christian, Western civilization." He died without ever apologizing for his crimes.

Nor for the US$250 million paid to the Anaconda Copper Mining Company by the Pinochet regime to offset the loss of two-thirds of its copper production under Allende. Anaconda, ruled a major polluter by the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s, was bought by the Atlantic Richfield Company in 1997, which was in turn purchased by BP, the former British Petroleum, and the source of the recent environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

What a tangled web some weave ...

Still, today's gospel speaks of forgiving "seventy times seven," biblical talk for many, many times. I can sympathize with the silly Irish priest when I think of Sept. 11, 1973.

As for the one ten years ago, I wish that instead of talk of retribution there had been more room for understanding those who witnessed the pillage in their countries by U.S. and other Western interests with which most of us  feel no commonality whatsoever -- and how misdirected, grief-stricken rage was the real pilot of the four crashed planes.

Then they might have come to forgive us for unwittingly enjoying the living standard sustained by our society's plunder. And we could forgive them back.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Obama could have done better, but he could have done worse

I won't go into the economics, which I cover professionally. Nonetheless, after a few days I feel that politically the speech was brilliant; it threw the gauntlet to Republicans: "Come on, be obstructionist and make my day." They have to pass Obama's bill or get blamed for a double dip.

The numbers, which the White House took its sweet time to release (a clever idea: don't let the opposition nickel and dime you to death before you negotiate), look good in the aggregate. I still want to see details.

This demonstrates to me that Obama's political genius is still there. The Saturday previous to the speech, on the very humorous NPR radio program "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" one guest predicted we would all learn from Obama's jobs speech how he is planning to hold onto his own.

My guess is that he still has a few rabbits in that hat.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Help! I'm surrounded by assholes!

"Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes." -William Gibson
 The quote was passed on this morning and it summarizes my life perfectly. Upon conducting a mental census of the people I have known most of my life, I realize I omitted observing the Gibsonian rule before commending myself to antidepressants to help me swim up to the surface of occasional joy or even a pleasing numbness.

What was I thinking?

I can't go through the names and memories of anyone I knew from the ages of 1 to 10 without finding preening self-centeredness, projections of absurd ambitions onto me, bossiness, meanness, trickery.

If they weren't bad then, time has taken care of that: the silence when it became clear I wouldn't play banker says it all. If their idiocy wasn't evident then, it is now, by God.

If they weren't uncaring, the way they peeled off in stormy times has spoken volumes. If their occasional contacts out of the blue to ask for a favor didn't broadcast it, my silent telephone in grief would. If their busy-ness didn't always work to exclude me, I might see their true character in my presence.

It wasn't me, after all. I was surrounded by assholes for so long that I didn't realize they were assholes.

Stunning. How could I have been such a fool!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Suffering teaches us that we are not alone

Sounds odd to say that. After all, we find ourselves in the position of utter desolation, with no one caring, no one helping, no one really understanding. That is one of the forms that suffering takes. In suffering we occasionally find ourselves utterly alone. But we are not.

The great human tendency is to think of ourselves as the center of the universe.

We call it narcissism when others do it. Tell a story and have the other person respond with his or her story. Share a dream and watch the hearer say it was prompted by something he or she told you. Talk about a common human failing and get the response, "I'm not like that!"

The scientific speculation is that newborn infants perceive everything as an extension of themselves. Growing up involves painfully realizing that no, in fact, the world doesn't exist for you.

Enter suffering and its wisdom.

At the dark bottom of the well of sorrow, bereft of friend or foe, I realize that I can do nothing about my circumstances. At least not at the moment. I can get cancer, whether I like it or not; a storm can wash away my favorite spot; parents and relatives can die. I can't even choose when this will happen or when to feel better.

Why? Because I am not alone. Reality, the universe, my planet, my nation, my city, my home, the people I know and don't know, they all exist and will continue to go on their merry way with or without me.

Reality is not just a clever projection. If it were, I would be able to control it. But no, it behaves of its own without so much as a "by your leave." Such insolence to someone as important as me!

This we can learn from suffering: we are not alone, there is a wondrous and scary, glorious and tragic, disgusting and beautiful world of things and people outside of ourselves. They don't really care whether they inflict pain and we can't stop them from doing so if they are determined.

Gautama Buddha realized it at the foot of the tree thousands of years ago. Insofar as I know, however, and I do know very little, he didn't particularly draw a lesson from suffering, other than one antidote, detachment.

I assent to that, but because I am still attached to the idea of Truth with a capital T, I revel in the lesson of suffering. I am a part, a speck, of the universe.

I am not alone.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

God is not a happiness pill

I'm coming to see the problem with both religious and anti-religious people. They think that either God exists so they can get something (salvation, heaven, happiness, a quick parking space downtown) or they deny God because they fail to get that something or avoid something else they didn't want (cancer, boredom, pimples, parking fines). What if God's existence is not about you, for just a moment?

I never for a minute connected the truth or falsehood or even doubt about the existence of God to whether I was getting rewarded or punished suitably by The Big Guy. I never particularly thought God owed me anything.

You could have ten Holocausts, all of them directed against people whose name begins with a C, and whether God exists would be unaffected, as a matter of truth. God either is or isn't. It's got nothing to do with me.

I say (today) that God is. About a month ago I doubted so profoundly that God is, that for all practical purposes I believed God isn't. The change has nothing to do with feeling, nothing to do with thinking myself "saved," nothing to do with heaven and, frankly, I have had pretty good parking karma with and without belief in God.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Changing One's Mind About God

A friend from France writes to ask what changed my mind about God. I try to find an explanation. Belief is not a rational thing, otherwise everyone would believe. It's not knowledge, it's belief. Still, what changes profound, near-atheist agnosticism into faith in God?

To regular followers of this blog, I will make it simple: a reverse process. I am not alone in undergoing this, in either direction, which is why I now attempt to share this. Your mileage may vary; this is not to convert anyone, merely to inspire some thought.

You'll recall that the likely nonexistence of a god led me to a minimalist ethic of survival (see Godless Ethics and Godless Law) and an encounter with modern neurophamacopeia led me to deny, or profoundly doubt, the existence of a soul (see Save Our Souls and Biochemical Soul).

In the same way, I "discovered" the limits of biochemistry, therapy and philosophy. In particular, the inability of the many medications to make a functioning, but rationally sad person "happy" (see All Unhappy People) made me question my insights about the soul. The process of reversal (see How the Christian God came to clash with the Universal Echo and links therein) was, from that point, inevitable: the soul is the foundation of all spirituality and religion.

That's the how. Next come some of the whys and wherefores. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Time to call Allard K. Lowenstein back from the dead

Remember Congressman Lowenstein (D-NY) from Nassau County? OK, how about the architect of the "Dump Johnson" movement in 1968 that ended the political career of one Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was then the sitting 37th president of the United States. That's the guy we need now.

Some courageous liberal Democrat in conventional, professional politics has to start the "Dump Obama" movement. What am I saying? Courageous, liberal, Democratic, professional politician ... isn't that an extinct species?

Sure, there was hell to pay back then. In 1971, Lowenstein, who became head of Americans for Democratic Action started the less-successful "Dump Nixon" campaign. And Lowenstein was eventually killed at 51 by a deranged man. A tragedy.

Oh, and Nixon, I wouldn't have voted for him (was too young, anyway), but today he looks like a liberal firebrand. Of course, his Republican Party political operatives (who, according to one Donald Segretti, called their work "ratfucking") were the guys who wrote the playbook for the neocons of the 1980s and the stolen election of 2000.

But think about it: Barack Obama vs. Michele Bachmann. Aiiiiieeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There has to be a better reasonable, Democratic Party choice than Barack Obama. A candidate who has the guts and the talent to stand for what he believes in and occasionally win one. A choice of someone who is not running for in-house counsel at Goldman, Sachs.

First things first, however. Let's Dump Obama.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Tea Party" folks, I hear ya ...

Somewhere between 1959 and 1979, the world changed for people who kept their noses clean and did what they were told. They were going to be Daddies and Mommies, make a living in some way similar to old Dad, buy a house, have two kids, a dog, a white picket fence and two cars, hopefully send the kids to college. Then came 1968.

The year that Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy were killed, that the Tet Offensive proved the Vietnam war was unwinnable, that segregationist and Goldwater-sympathizing George Wallace lost and election alongside "Clean Gene" McCarthy's children's crusade, that Czechoslovakia showed Soviet Europe was faltering, that ... so on and so forth.

An emblematic year of much more than the year, containing developments that came before it and after. Those who lived through it were never the same, just as those who lived through 1945 weren't and perhaps those who lived through 2001 may have been irrevocably changed.

For many of us it was the gateway to experimentation with hallucinogens and sex and philosophies that the Jesuits didn't teach.

For others it was a hugely confusing and disappointing time. This latter group, which includes some of the nicest people I have ever met, found that the factory and the church closed and Mom ran off to find herself and with other men have children named Granola and Sunshine.

They got angry.

Nothing they had learned fit. Dating wasn't as expected. Marriage wasn't even common for a while, until eventually it became the place for a minority of children to be born. Forget about the white picket fence. And God sure didn't rain thunderbolts on the bad people!

Not even Reagan and the two Bushes could set things aright. So that's why they think they're the "Tea Party."

I don't blame them. I just wish they could accept my sincere sense of pained understanding. Nothing turned out quite the same for anyone else, either. Neither Carter, nor Clinton nor Obama could take us back to Camelot. I hear ya.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

We've seen the ideology of Norway´s shooter and it's right here at home

Upon reading 2083: a European Declaration of Independence, the online manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the July 22 Oslo murderer, I knew I had seen this movie before. I flashed back to my university research in the early 1970s on the political theory origins of Franco's Spain where — presto! — there were a whole series of connections that fit perfectly.

Essentially, Breivik's harkening to medieval Christian Europe — with his reinvention of the Knights Templar — ties back to a rather broad stream of European political thought last popular in the 1920s and 30s that looks back to a golden age of Christendom, of which a former Hitler Jugend, one Joseph Ratzinger (aka the pope), is also fond as a basis for a revised unified Europe.

In Spain, the movement that Generalissimo Francisco Franco used but discarded — Franco was always a pragmatic Franquist and little else — known as the Falange Española y de las JONS, combined three streams of thought common to the right-wing ideologies of the time.

First, there was authoritarianism, the notion that Spain (put Italy and Germany here and you'll see it fits with minor modifications) was traditionally a society of order that was ruled by one monarch and one faith and one social order.

Second, democracy was a newfangled, humanist, relativist idea that had put individual opinion above the capital-T dogmatic Truth handed down in holy writ and interpreted by the Holy Mother Church, who guarded it, and enshrined it in the upward gazing society of Gothic cathedrals.

Third, the history of the last 500 years is that of a silent siege by a vast, insidiously concealed army hankering to impose a progression of heresies and perversions leading to the money-changers' capitalism and its stepchild, communism.

Never mind the bad history and worse theology — nor the scapegoating of the usual suspects (heretics, Jews, Marxists) as well as laissez faire capitalists and bohemians of various stripes.

None of this was alien to Norway, any more than it was to Germany, Italy and Spain. Remember Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian politician who in 1940 helped Nazi Germany occupy his country without firing a shot so he could be top dog? His name has become synonymous with treason.

Nor, as Stieg Larsson's most entertaining fictional trilogy showed, was it alien to that other Scandinavian paradise, Sweden. Indeed, the whole Wikileaks episode, and now the Breivik affair, seem taken from one of his novels.

Nor, finally, is it that alien to the United States. We have a so-called "Tea Party" — largely an invention of K Street corridor corporate lobbying firms and Fox News — that stamps its boots in the Weimar Reichstag that the U.S. Congress has become, trying desperately to push the country economically off a cliff, so a popular clamor for order will usher in a Cromwellian regime.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Is it possible to be good and be right?

Today I came face to face with a paradox that has bedeviled me for years. There are two kinds of desirable or admirable people and it seems nearly impossible to be the best of both at the same time.

Good people are attentive to the needs of others, kind to their neighbors, hard workers, honest taxpayers, the whole bit. These people can rarely explain why one should be good. Often they don't understand what "good" means, if they even believe that their behavior is merely "normal." (Not!).

Principled people hold opinions and beliefs that they can cogently justify and explain. They distinguish between mere concurrence or sequence of situations and a causal relationship between one and the other. Most of the time, however, they are too clever by half and no one can really can get along with them, especially if they happen to be right.

The good and the principled are as oil and water. The good could stop do-gooding for a moment to enunciate why goodness is best. The principled could relax and do some good, instead of always insisting on knowing why something should be done. Neither does alter course for very long, if ever.

It's rare to find someone who embodies the best of both. If you do, let me know.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What if the USA defaults?

First I voted Republican in a municipal election, now I'm about to say "maybe Michele Bachmann is right." There. I've said it. OMG, what have I done? I've just sat back and accepted that the Republicans will hold their breath, stamp their feet and churlishly say, "No, Daddy, I don't wanna raise the debt ceiling!" And on August 2 ...

... what? At first, nothing.

On Tuesday, August 2, Uncle Sam won't be able pay all his bills and at some point that day, either President Obama or Secretary of the Treasury Geithner will make a statement concerning the plans of the U.S. government. I assume that someone in the White House or Treasury or Pentagon, or all three, is already developing plans of action.

Here are a few possibilities for that first week.

The stock markets will probably dip quite a bit: 500 to 1,000 points of the Dow index in the first morning. The face value of U.S. treasuries will likely drop dramatically. Investors will flee the U.S. dollar ... but to what in a world in which almost every currency in the world has some dollar in it? Any future borrowing by the USA will probably become very expensive -- deepening the national debt. Prices will begin to shoot up. Riots in the streets? Doubt it. Where have American rioters been these past three years?

Then there's the ripple effect. If the exports-driven German boom faces a U.S. market with devalued dollars that can't afford Mercedeses and BMWs and Braun shavers ... there goes Germany. Then France, then England. Then the rest of Europe and Japan. Most of the rest of the world is, unhappily, already there. Many countries have defaulted and quite a few are on the brink. Like us.

But let's not forget China, the prime holder of U.S. debt. What if China decides to come grab some collateral it has coming ... say, New York City or Los Angeles? China's standing army is somewhat larger than that of the USA. But grab a hold of this fact: China has 385 million men and 363 million women potentially available for military service. That's twice the U.S. population and then some. And they have nuclear weapons. But, OK, even China can't invade instantaneously.

So, what happens in a world in which the full faith and credit of the U.S. government no longer means much of anything certain?

It's a good time to pick up asceticism as a way of life, Franciscan or Buddhist or whatever flavor you like. Give all you have to your fellow poor. It's worthless, anyway.

Then fast and begin chanting your Hail Marys or merely "Ommmmm ..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What if Jesus had been a woman?

Responses to my blog yesterday hinged mostly on my use of the feminine pronoun for God. I can explain that1, but this is not the point of this post. Here I am using the magic wand of the imagination to propose that instead of Jesus, or Joshua, of Nazareth, there was once a Jocelyn of Nazareth.2

This fun experiment is suggested by one commenter who, unasked, offered apologetics about why Jesus was a man. The assertion that Jesus was male, assuming he was a historical person, which I often doubt, has not been seriously questioned insofar as I know. But let's question it.

Let's say that Myriam (Mary) had a girl whom she named Jocelyn.

Joss would not have been presented at the Temple, nor circumcised. She most certainly would not have had occasion to befuddle the rabbis one Passover in Jerusalem as a child; such men would not admit a girl into their presence.

The Lady (I'm going for a parallel for "Lord") would not have been trained in woodwork by Joseph. No sirree, Bob! She would have been taught to keep a kosher home by Mary.

Assuming she had been passed over, so to speak, by marriageable young men until she was 30, she would have deemed been a mature spinster woman in her society when she began her ministry. She would never have had the occasion of preaching in her synagogue in Nazareth. Women in traditional synagogues, which they all were then, were never asked to read from the scrolls of Scripture, much less allowed to comment on them.

However, Joss would have been accepted easily as a miracle worker, or healer, given the traditional nurturing role of women, and this role would have drawn a following.

It's the gospel discourses that are problematic. Would a Jewish woman be even allowed to speak in public in first century Palestine? Doubtful.

The passion and death, however, might be plausible. Instead of being crucified by Romans, she would have been stoned to death by (male) fellow Jews for breaking any one of the countless taboos within which women were imprisoned in her society. Her stopping the stoning of the adulteress would be seen as prefiguring her own stoning.

Instead of a cross on top of church spires, there would be a stone. There might not have been male priests at all, of course, until recent times. Christianity would have been a decidedly feminist matriarchal religion until these enlightened days.

The Eucharist elements of bread and wine (the latter, as a stand-in for blood, is far too problematic for words), might be replaced by latkes and water, symbolizing a woman's nurture and perhaps the breaking of a woman's waters before giving birth.Of course, the creed would go, "We believe in God the Mother ... and in Her only Daughter ..."

Hmm ... altogether a not unpleasant upending of the world as we know it.

1. God, if God exists, is obviously neither male nor female. However, for the past 5,000 to 10,000 years God has been anthropomorphized as male. In my small way, I'm attempting to balance that error. I promise I'll stop in about 10,000 years.

2. Some people suggest that in English Jocelyn might be the female for Joshua, which is likely the name of the woodworker from Nazareth, Yeshua in Hebrew, rather than the Latin Jesus. Spanish, of course, has Jesusa, a name I have only known to be given to women born in Spain.

Monday, July 11, 2011

How the Christian God came to clash with the Universal Echo

It takes going to a Sunday Eucharist after years of absence to notice with an unaccustomed clarity that the Christian God, by belief, is so particular so clearly "out there" and distinct from us, that this divinity could not easily fold into my admittedly diffuse notion of the Universal Echo (see here).

The Christian God does not easily submit to the idea of being a figment of our imagination. No, She insists on being triune, transcendent, incarnated, the giver of specified promises, the forger of everything. Her only Son insists on being a first-century Palestinian Jew from a small, nay insignificant, little town that was not even part of Judea, the then-existing vassal-kingdom of the Jews.

Jesus, or Joshua, as the name more likely was, insists on having been born of the Virgin Mary and executed by Pontius Pilate. This is by whom, in whom and to whom Christians pray.

I'm no longer sure this divinity can be conflated into the Universal Echo. The Christian God demands to be accepted on Her own terms.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What if we really did cut out the tax "loopholes"?

Republicans in the default or no-default negotiations are now making noises that they're willing to contemplate getting rid of "loopholes" in the tax code to achieve what they will accept as deficit reduction. Of course, my loophole is your sacred cow and there ain't no such thing as deficit reduction. But let's dream ... and consider a modest proposal.

I'll call it the Simple Tax Act, because that's what it is: a tax code that is nothing more than a schedule of tax rates and a few simple definitions. Ten pages, max.

No mortgage deductions, no housing tax credit, but no oil depletion allowance and no fancy depreciation. Just levy X taxes on Y income (or Z profit).

Keep progressivity: lower brackets should pay smaller proportions than higher brackets. Keep the grand givaway of taxing corporate profits rather than income (define allowable "expenses" only as cash and carry items, no fancy deeming of anything that is not an actual exchange of goods, services and money ... bye-bye, Ken Lay). Even keep low (but not zero) inheritance and capital gains taxes.

Because that's the little secret: if everyone pays a fair share, each one of us can get to pay little less to balance the budget and get our goodies, like the occasional chest-thumping war or three, Medicaid and Medicare, federal student loans, etc.

What's more: eliminate all the deductions, credits and allowances and you don't have to file a tax declaration at the end of the year. What gets deducted is what you owe! Period. Bye-bye April 15 deadline. Let's have a tax parade and cookout, instead ... I'll bring the hot dogs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

So a House is not a Home, what now ... ?

Stardate 64935.8

Am clearing out my place so it can be renovated. I was persuaded to post something I thought trite and self-referential on this matter by Carol of Carol's Vault, a fantastic blog site on freeware and open source software (plus occasional excursions to other regions of the mind). Blame her. But, heck, this is a web log, right?

Now that my home is virtually empty I realize that the old trope "a house is not a home" is true. I've lived 30 years there. Now I'm finally getting rid of the museum of a family that no longer exists, which has surrounded me for a about a decade, I realize that the real charm of the place lay in those absent people.

Two boys jumping on a trampoline (yes, a trampoline!) in the middle of a living room.

A Mom pasting a verse from Proverbs on the back of the cubpoard door.

Two boys reading, or playing or working (ha!) on their laptops, next to each other on a sofa, without speaking.

A Dad spending a reading vacation on the balcony, devouring neo-Father Brown detective novels set in Detroit.

One boy building a fort in the living room (the trampoline gone); another in their bedroom. playing "music" capable of drowning out street-repair drills.

And on and on and on ...

Now only the Dad lives here. It's not so spectacular a place without posters and books and bunk beds and religious images and all that gone. Still, he's committed to moving out in a pine box. Where else could he live?

Friday, June 10, 2011

What did Papa Heinz feel when he turned 59?

When my father turned 57, two years before he died, I composed a poem although there was no reason, other than my own inexperienced youth, to suppose his death was anywhere near. I laughed when people said "he died so young" two years later, yet surely he had no idea.

I said for years that I would welcome going at the same age. As I got closer, however, my tune began to change: I like being alive, warts and all.

Upon turning 59 today, I have already thought and rethought this. When I turn 60, next year, I'll heave a sigh of relief. Then keel over. Just kidding! (Or perhaps the joke will be on me.)

It would be worthwhile to know when one will die. A friend was diagnosed with a terminal disease, given a few years and spent all his savings before dragging on in poverty for a decade longer than predicted.

Doctors know nothing! My plan is to stay away from the medical money extraction machine as long as possible, to age in place to avoid feeding tubes and the like, and generally to go gently into that night. The plans of mice men men, right?

Still, if I die this year, say six months from now to match the exact life span of my father, I can't say I'll go with much too much fight. Barring some unforeseen development, of which life is admittedly chock full, I have done just about all I'm going to do and I'm plum out of new ideas.

Oh, last thing: I called my father Papa Heinz drawing on the fabled 57 varieties of ketchup in an old slogan. Thank your stars I speared you the poem.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Why change-hopers should join the GOP

Sarah Palin was right. That changey-hopey thing didn't really work out for us on the Left, after all. Of course not. To get the kind of destruction fierce enough to pull out capitalism by its very roots we needed a Republican, and not just any mild-mannered, Amtrak-hating former POW, but a Tea Partier.

After all, it takes a Republican to really ruin things, not just merely mess them up.

Herbert Hoover gave us the Great Depression. A little more Republican inaction could just have thrown capitalism overboard for good in the 1930s. If only that fast-talking Franklin Delano Roosevelt hadn't come along!

Indeed, in the mid-1930s as the economy began to sprout its first buds of recovery, the Republicans in Congress started rending their garments over deficit spending (sound familiar?). They put the brakes on the New Deal and prolonged the Depression by five years.

As Archie Bunker used to sing, we sure could a man like Herbert Hoover today.

Then there's Ronald Reagan, who gave us more national debt than all his predecessors combined, preached morality and dealt drugs (remember Iran-Contra?) and, for all his bravado, didn't stop a single solitary abortion. Now there's a man who understood the Vietnam War notion of destroying a village to save it!

And Dubya ... George W. Bush deserves a unique altar in the pantheon of Republican gods. He started two wars. Allowed a major U.S. city to be wiped out. Got the United States in the dock for torture. Plus he turned surpluses that ran as far as the eye could see into debt that made Reagan's look puny.

One more term of Dubya and there would be nothing left standing.

Think all that glorious maleficence is in the past? Think again. The Tea Party stands ready to get the United States to default on all its debts and get us all placed in the same deadbeat dock as Argentina.

So here's the choice, my fellow Good Lefties, are we just going to keep letting the Democrats take us for a ride? Or will we let the Republicans run this capitalist system into the ground as only they can do?

Lefties for Republicans, unite! We have nothing to lose but our votes.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Yayy! Champagne! Obama is selling Chrysler at a loss

We interrupt the planned blogging with a question ... 

What part of "buy low, sell high" does the Obama Administration not understand? An NPR "Morning Edition" announcer mused about White House cheering at the sale of the U.S. government's 8% stake in Chrysler. This is at a loss of $1.3 billion; or about 10%.

What are they celebrating?

If you'll recall, in March 2009 Obama announced that the U.S. government bought an 8% stake in Chrysler (in large, publicly held corporations a 5% stake usually gets you a seat on the board) as part of a deal involving the United Auto Workers, Canada, an "alliance" with Fiat, and writeoffs on the part of Chrysler creditors.

Now, Obama is selling that stake at a loss to Fiat — which already has plenty to lose if it walks away. What are "We, the People" getting for all of this subsidizing of U.S. and foreign megacorporations? Zip, zilch, zero, nada.

We're losing $1.3 billion. Rest assured that some politician will make up that by eliminating nutrition for infants or some such.

If this is such a great deal, why aren't the federal government of Canada and the Province of Ontario selling their combined 2% stake, acquired in 2009 as part of the same deal?

“We’ve never believed the government of Canada should be in the automotive business,” said Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at a news conference in Toronto. “But we have to look out for good value for Canadian taxpayers.”

Flaherty is a Tory, a cabinet member in a majority Progressive Conservative government. This is no flaming pinko member of the New Democratic Party, the socialist party that overtook the Liberals in the last election.

Why doesn't Obama care about "good value" for U.S. taxpayers?

Hello! The unemployment rate just went up this past month for the second month in a row. This is a smokescreen for predicted bad economic news. It's just as fake as "change you can believe in."

Here's the real Obama motto: soft, subsidized, all-expenses-paid socialism for corporations and the wealthy; hard-scrabble, you're-on-your-own capitalism for the rest of us.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

All good lefties should dump the Democratic Party

Yes, you read that right. I mean it. Presidential timidity in the face of an arrogant plutocracy convinces me that the only way to bring "change you can believe in" to capitalism is to destroy it. The Grand Old Party, not the Democratic Party, is the last best hope to achieve that goal, given that revolution has never happened in the United States and never will.

To be sure, Obama had many golden opportunities to show he meant his promises.

One handed to him on a silver platter was the collapse of the auto industry, the very emblem of U.S. capitalism's so-called "American Way." He was effectively asked to nationalize the industry -- everything but Ford. Indeed, the entire industry had behaved no better than a heroin dealer, addicting Americans to the car, its pollution, the garbage-producing waste of "planned obsolescence" and dependence on foreign oil.

In the name of capitalism, Obama decided to make government a silent partner.

Next came the much awaited health care reform. Yet universal health care was never even the avowed goal of Obama. Sure enough, the mafia of the American Medical Association, Big Pharmas and Slick Insurance -- everybody who wants to get their hands in the pockets of healthy and wealthy people in the name of "health care" -- made Swiss cheese of Obama's proposals.

They essentially won a continuation of the status quo, or even its worsening, for Citizen Average -- that's you and me.

Financial reform was the obvious next move, right? Anyone who watched policy from Reagan-era deregulation to the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, knows that what happened in 2008 was a planned heist by the titans of the financial industry. So far, they've resisted any significant change.

Then let's not forget never ending, always expanding war and Guantanamo. All of which Obama vowed to end.

Now I can hear Obama and his surrogates whining that none of this is this administration's fault and change just can't be done because of the present political circumstances. That's precisely my point.

The Democratic Party saved capitalism in the 1930s and saved it again and again, all the way to 2009 and beyond. Even the union hacks have woken up and are withholding their money at long last.

The Democrats are just not up to do the job. Next post: why the GOP is.

Monday, May 30, 2011

What did they mean by "Jesus Is Lord"?

The first Christian statement of faith was simply "Jesus is Lord." One modern hearer gathered from this the meaning that "Jesus will care for me," much in the vein of the 23rd Psalm's "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Perhaps. But what did the ancients, the first century Christians, mean?

Let's examine the three words.

Jesus. Not Christ (really a title, meaning Messiah). Not just anyone who occupies a particular office. Not some spiritual or celestial being. A particular person that some of them said they had met and talked to just like you and me in the flesh-and-blood here and now. Yeshua bar Josif, some postulate as his full historical name.

Is. Not was when he was alive. Not was long ago when the dinosaurs roamed. Not was at all. Is. Exists today.

"But how can that be? We saw him executed by the Romans!" The Roman officials themselves, asked who this "Chrestus" was, reported to superiors that he was an executed Jewish woodworker whose followers said he had risen from the dead. That was what spread like wildfire in the Roman Empire. This one, it was said, cheated the Emperor's executioner!!!

The Christians believed it.

Finally, Lord. In our Eurocentric conception, to us lords are medieval landowners, some of whom built castles. In some European countries, their heirs hold legal title to the lion's share of the land. But to the ancients an ordinary lord was a master or guardian, the head of household, the landowner, the king, the emperor -- all of whom had power of life and death over their subjects (by divine right, Paul wrote). "Lord" was also a substitute for "God" and in that world the Caesar was a god.

When Christians held "Jesus is Lord," the Romans knew they had to kill them.

All Christian statements of belief have always arisen by the "via negativa" or denial of an assertion of its time. Hail, Caesar! No, Jesus is Lord.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Closing a museum of a life that no longer exists

All the shelves are empty, as are the kitchen cupboards. I realize I've taken on something monumental. In short, I'm transforming the museum of a life that no longer exists into my own abode.

Redo the kitchen, floors, paint. The place is not for sale, but the process is almost as I were moving.

I tried emptying a desk on my own and a 30 minute job turned into three hours.

Did I really need that software game for DOS? Remember the day my son and a friend "played" a baseball game that was on the radio ... ? The computer version, set to play itself, came out pretty close to the real game being played by real human beings out in the stadium.

Then there's the anxiety about getting rid of furniture that is way past its prime. And the comic strip she left taped inside a cupboard door.

When all this comes at me I have to go lie down. Breathe deeply.

In the end, I gave in and hired someone to pack. I'm getting someone to take the old furniture away. I'm getting someone to store the boxes for the month or so work will be in progress.

As a result, I have only what I had at hand when the packing took place. Where is ...? I don't know. I had too many things, anyway.

This brings to mind Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, young man who in 1204 publicly disavowed his wealthy father, returning his money but also his clothes, down to his underwear, and walked off naked out of his native town of Assisi to start a new life.

I imagine that first day walking naked amid the brambles in the valley outside the town. Given that I am blogging, I am far from naked, light years away from that. I am getting a glimpse of the loss, but not the new life of Francis' marriage to Lady Poverty.

In any case, I am a much older and insecure 21st century agnostic. I am not sure there is a transcendent point to any of this travail.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Friendship-making epigram: "I voted for Obama and all I got was an American president like any other"

The beauty of the statement is its detachment. The author, my friend K, said he'd spent most elections voting for anyone but the two main parties' candidates: Nader, etc. Then he got drawn in by Obama.

But by now he's as disillusioned as so many of us (most of us?) who voted for change. And what did we get?

We didn't get, as some White House blowhard said recently, "universal health care." Far from it! We got, at most, a health insurance reform bill that the insurance lobby is busy bringing to a death of a thousand papercuts. In the end, nothing.

We didn't get finance reform. As my friend said, we paid the bank robbers and then let them write the rules from the government. Or don't you know that the Obama Administration's economic policy-making machine is a fully owned subsidiary of Goldman, Sachs?

And we surely didn't get an end to war, torture and illegal detention without trial in Guantanamo.

"Well," my friend said of the reforms, "you can't blame Obama. He did what he could and Congress stopped him."

That's what Obama wants you to think in November 2012. In reality, Obama went to the Republicans and the lobbyists hat in hand giving the candy store away from the get go. He wrestled with himself so much, that the disloyal opposition just had to sit back and watch with amusement. He fooled us into thinking he had more spine than Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. As if.

As to war, my friend agreed, "Obama could have ended that."

So here comes Obama, finally asserting something that has been bipartisan U.S. policy forever and a day: Israel should return to pre-1967 borders. Why couldn't he have done the same with health and finance reform and Guantanamo and war?

Because he's not about change. He's an American president just like all the others.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What if DSK didn't do it?

Since I've already offered a plausible scenario showing that Dominique Strauss-Kahn could have raped the maid in the hotel (see here), it's only fair to consider the opposite. Again, this is speculation: I have no "inside" information and I have read the story mainly in The New York Times and a few snippets elsewhere.

The odd thing here is that innocence is harder to imagine.

The only scenario that leaves DSK completely innocent would presume that the maid was actually attracted to an unknown, portly, late-middle-aged man of whom she must see dozens every day and actually asked to give him oral sex. There is one woman I know who finds DSK irresistible and, if the maid is from francophone Guinea, perhaps she recognized him from some French celebrity magazine and made a play to become a mistress — or wife no. 4. A maid can dream, no?

Not likely. See Maureen Dowd on that here.

I'm sure there are many inconsistencies in the police evidence, probably minor details, but the defense is prudently keeping its information until trial; or perhaps they are negotiating with what they have. We don't know.

In France, as I understand it, many suspect that Nicholas Sarkozy, or someone acting on his behalf, had something to do with this. However, that's a tough row to hoe. How did the Sarkozista conspirators know that DSK would go to New York? Was the mystery woman whom he wanted to impress with his suite (see my previous post) in on the conspiracy? How did they locate the precise maid who would clean the precise room and convince her?

Assuming unlimited resources and a few magic wands, yes, it could be a conspiracy. But it's not likely.

Everything we in the public know is that something of a sexual nature happened involving DSK and the maid. The only plausible exculpating story, with variant endings, is still a bit unsavory. Here goes.

Let's imagine that DSK asked the maid for oral sex in exchange of $1,000-plus, or some other sum impressive to us ordinary mortals. He probably had a roll of Benjamins with him. They agreed. This is still illegal sex for money, but in New York City it's probably not worth dragging someone off a plane, the perp walk, etc., and whatever one thinks of the practice — it's not legally rape.

This is plausible. The idea of a man forcing his penis into an unwilling woman's mouth — just one good bite away from serious, perhaps irreparable, damage — strikes me as highly implausible. That part has to have been legally consensual.

But then, as often happens among accomplices, a disagreement occurred. Perhaps she was not proficient at oral sex or perhaps she demanded more for continued sex in bed. "I will scream rape!" she threatened.

He laughed at her. "No one will believe a tramp like you." A scuffle ensued.

Or ... ending no. 2:

She felt humiliated, even with the money, and she decided play her trump card. We know from the NY Post, that Rupert Murdoch rag, that the maid may have AIDS. "I have AIDS and I have just passed it on to you with that little 'love bite' you liked so much," she says with a madwoman's laugh.

Faced with a death sentence that only could be called poetic justice, he was stunned, terrified, then angry and the Wrath of Strauss-Kahn (my phrase!) emerged. A scuffle ensued.

This could be plea-bargained out of court and prison. At least, I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why would Strauss-Kahn have done such a stupid thing? A plausible explanation for one man's folly

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest and arraignment for allegedly raping a hotel maid, if based on fact, raise the ultimate question: Why? Here's a fact-free, but plausible, scenario that may explain it all, based on having grown up around people like DSK.

The United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and many other organizations some of you may never have heard of, are multinational, taxpayer-supported bureaucracies that largely serve as repositories for cabinet ministers and presidents in waiting, such as DSK. They have their own country clubs, their own pension systems, their own little social and political tax-free bubble, distinct from the coarsely jostling rabble in Congress, Parliament or the National Assembly.

So now think, a crown prince from one of these bureaucratic principalities gets a $3,000-a-night suite at a top hotel in New York. What for? He's only staying one night. What does he need several rooms for? OK, so he has finagled to pay only $525 for the room, which isn't bad for New York City.

But still, why was he there at all? Enter the scenario.

Let's suppose that DSK had someone to impress. Given the man, let's imagine it was a woman. Again, given the kind of man, it was not a bimbo. He likes high-grade, spirited women of accomplishment. His affair of 2008 was with a 50-year-old economist who was unquestionably top notch; attractive, yes, but no Gennifer Flowers.

DSK goes to NYC, gets an impressive suite: the appropriate priapic accoutrement for his tryst. But then ... then, this woman of accomplishment calls saying that she has a meeting that she cannot miss for professional reasons.

"Sorry, mon cheri, kiss, kiss, kiss ... I shall miss you," she murmurs into the phone.

Then imagine the Wrath of Strauss-Kahn! Hear his internal rant: I am the Managing Director of the IMF, the future president France and (whatever else) ... ! How dare this bitch do this to me!

He goes about his business, just one more among a million lonely men in New York City. He doesn't want to pay for a prostitute. To pay? They should be paying him for sleeping with the great Strauss-Kahn!!!

Eventually, as he comes out of his bath, a deus ex machina character appears on the stage: a youngish, presumably attractive woman who is in a position of servitude with respect to the great DSK.

I'll show them all what the Great Strauss-Kahn can do when he is insulted by bitches (which to him all women are at this point).

From there it is a short step to grabbing his club and attempting to drag a woman to his cave.

This is all merely my imagination and I do not claim that any of it is factual or true. But wouldn't it just begin to make sense, assuming what I am assuming?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why $7,000 for a dog to be in an ICU is silly, wasteful and not at all principled

A Facebook "friend" I thought was a sensible good lefty, reacted with the most petty bourgeois matron's bogus sentimentality when I suggested a better solution than spending thousands on a very sick dog: a shotgun. Of course, the coterie of "good girls" who think commenting consists only of saying insipid niceties were outraged.

Let's think this through, shall we?

At a time that millions of people cannot get medical care for lack of money (leading to an overuse of intensive care units to make up for good preventive or palliative care), it is a rather bizarre use of resources to spend thousands on a dog.

Is that cruelty? Not, it's a sense of priorities. Humans should show kindness to individuals of their own species, before venturing to solve all of nature's problems.

Anyone who has spent more than a day in a farm will recognize that the slaughter of animals that are ill is a kindness.

Of course, I suppose all the animal lovers have never eaten hamburgers, hot dogs or steak, let alone chicken, kidneys, salmon, crab, etc. For those who will reply haughtily that they are vegetarians: don't you have to kill a plant or steal its eggs (fruit) to subsist on a vegetarian diet?

Finally, let's face it, having a slave animal cooped up in a city dwelling designed for humans may feel very sentimental and motherly and kind. But it isn't. As found in nature, animals run free, without collars or owners.

How is sentimentalizing one's "love" of a pet any different than Antebellum slaveowners saying they treated their slaves "like family"?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Does love come from above or Hollywood? Does it even exist?

In the 1970s there was an awful song "Caught Between Two Lovers" about a love triangle. More commonly there is a triangle, or many sided figure of loves that encompass the complex of feelings, thoughts, words and deeds between two people in a romantic couple.

From the time in which I genuinely believed that babies appeared miraculously when mommies and daddies loved (or felt gooey feelings toward) each other, I developed a view of love that was traditional among the celibate men and women who were my role models.

Love, as I came to conceive of it in my monastic and overeducated way, was the enmeshment of the physicality of sex into the gospel's agape of Teilhard de Chardin's Cosmic Omega.* It was a pseudo-trinitarian thing, in which the love of two persons was so real that it became an actual third person.

Hence procreation, meaning the human collaboration in the continuing divine act of creation, that is, the making of something from nothing. The carnal partnership in creation was always directed to a kind of love that had a moral and other-oriented dimension: an aspect of that oh, so difficult "love your neighbor as yourself."

One loved to see the other person happy on their own terms. If you truly loved someone else, you were happy for that person's happiness even if it came with someone other than you.

I only began to grasp what loving another as much as, or even more than, oneself was about when I had children, the first human beings for whom I would have given my life without question or hesitation. The human beings to whom I gave a sizable portion of my life and what I earned, without question or conditions, until I knew they could take care of themselves and lead their lives without giving much thought to Old Dad. The human beings who despite all I have given truly owe me nothing.

I haven't really loved that way in any other context. If I had, I might have done more for many others. Given more of myself and my belongings, and so forth.

When I fell in love there was always the dimension of caring and responsibility, of giving. I did not fool myself that I loved every woman to whom I was ever attracted; nor did I fool myself that I was the most unselfish of lovers in the real love. There was lust, pure and simple; even in marriage, especially in marriage up to the late 19th century, there has always been a measure of social pressure plus convenience mixed in with the dash of romantic, other-caring love.

All these get mixed up. Toward the end in Hermann Hesse's novel "Narcissus and Goldmund," two childhood friends are reunited after having spent, on one hand a life of prayer and total giving, and on the other one of pleasure-seeking wanderlust. The monk does not shrink back when he recognizes that his friend has carved a statue of the Virgin Mary in the likeness of the first girl with whom the wanderer fell in passionate love.

In the world outside the monastery it is different.

Absent gods or a moral structure from above, knowledge or trust in anything or anyone but myself, I am an animal seeking to survive. Sex is good: it makes the heart race, the circulation improve, the attitude rise, the species continue. I have been hungry for it from every flower that offered it to me.

Wandering this world one lives are amoral little animals to whom everything is possible if it feels good. Indeed, if it feels good, it must be love. Or perhaps love is a potion to draw spouses who fit shopping lists, so that they satisfy all wants and all self-seeking.

People have an entrenched love of coupling. They have second, third and fourth spouses if they live long enough or are rich enough. Yet perhaps there is a different kind of love possible.

One that goes through lust and glückenfreude into a kind of cinematic love that is carnal yet kind, polite, educated and capable of uniting reciprocally two little bubbles into one. A love that has its element of selfishness in its survival seeking with someone who at core grasps me, my sense of being lost, of not belonging anywhere, of wanting desperately someone to clutch and witness my life and pleasure and despair.

That's very fine and good, but it is not the love conceived of in the monastery. It can't be. Love dreamed of in Hollywood is mostly makeup and sets and special effects — such as fadeouts.

After the credit rolls and the score is reprised, real life begins in the full glare of sunlight, where love is so elusive you will be forgiven for thinking it doesn't exist at all.

* Google it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The unasked question: Why do they hate us?

What's truly amazing about the response to the death of Osama bin Laden in the USA is the total absence of even a wisp of American self-appraisal in the face of the reality that people abroad hate the United States and everything they think we stand for. There's a total lack of intellectual curiosity and a total lack of honesty from those who should know better.

Nowhere have I heard or seen a reporter ask -- and I say so as a journalist who knows what real reporters should ask -- "Why did Osama hate us?" or "Why do his followers, sympathizers and distant fellow travelers hate us?"

In Latin America, the entire Osama episode is a funny joke.

Seen from their perspective, ten years ago the invulnerable, all-powerful Pentagon let two people armed with box cutters cut a hole in the headquarters of the U.S. armed forces. Now our public is angry at Pakistan for not realizing that Osama was among them? As if our government hadn't sent approved student visas to the 9/11 suicide attackers weeks after the attacks!

Ever heard of incompetence, fellow Americans? And I mean our own.

But back to the central issue here: Why are we as a nation so stupidly, stubbornly, embarrassingly incapable of demonstrating the slightest capacity to look at things from any point of view other than our own? How can such a narcissistic nation possibly aspire to lead the world?

Honestly, I wonder if there is anyone out there -- it's not on the radio, TV, in the newspapers, or in the blogosphere -- wonders why they, people other than Americans, hate us so much. I do.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Let's not forget: Osama had a point

Before we bury the memory of Osama bin Laden, let's stop to recall that his 1996 and 1998 fatwas, or condemnatory curses, against America referred to grievances that had resonance. The average Arab and Muslim, from North Africa to Indonesia, has legitimate grievances against the rapacious West, its materialism and hedonism.

About a third of the public opinion in Turkey, the most Westernized and secularized nation in the Muslim orbit, still approves of suicide bombings even as it seeks entrance into the European Union.

This is not because they are all crazy out there.

Instead, it is because of the collective memory of all that happened to their region since the mid-19th century, when oil and the combustion engine made their appearance on the geopolitical map. Western control of key resources, first by the British Empire then by the United States, was maintained at the expense of many lives and livelihoods of the peoples of the Middle East.

Before our 9/11 were many 9/11s inflicted on the Arab and Muslim worlds. Massacres and torture and theft by Western forces and hired despots alike, events that never made it into our history books or our news reports because the dead and the losers were neither American nor European, inform the public opinion of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Those who died on September 11, 2001, were without doubt personally innocent of the chain of murder, cruelty, theft and corruption brought on by the West in the Middle East. Still, they as well as all of us who survived personally reaped the benefits in the form of comforts and ease of travel sold to us by those who have extracted the required resources at a high human cost.

In its original meaning, the principle of an eye for an eye was meant to curb revenge by justifying rightful restitution: you may take an eye, if an eye was taken, but not two limbs as well. Yet what may work for individuals is extremely difficult to apply to the behavior of entire societies over a century or so.

Thus, an eye for an eye is not a solution for resolving the problems of the West and the Middle East. This applies to the actions of 2001 by Osama and his associates as to those of 2011 by Obama and his associates.

Osama bin Laden should have been brought to justice and tried. His argument should have been given its day in court and alongside the prosecution's, both set forth side by side, in an honest and courageous search for truth, understanding and lasting peace.

The grotesque celebration of murder outside the White House last night failed to take note that the historical moral imbalance at the core of this conflict has not been set right by the taking of one more human life.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why I Voted Republican Yesterday

The words "I voted Republican" sputter from my fingers with trepidation. I killed my mother. I lost my virginity. I gave away my dog. That's how it feels. But I was driven to it by the Democrats' penchant for disaster when mere setbacks can be had -- and I feel I'm not alone. Watch out, Barack Obama, I may do it again in 2012.

The election I voted in was insignificant. In my Democratic-dominated city, there was a special election to fill a seat on the council and I was sick of voting for the same bunch of corrupt, unimaginative bumblers. "My" candidate lost, anyway.

Yet beware: Obama campaign analysts should see in my naughty yet harmless municipal voting the butterfly's wings aflutter that could set in motion an electoral tsunami in 2012.

I didn't expect too much better from the set of cronies who run City Hall. But I had developed dreams about Obama, with his seductive "yes we can" and his smooth palaver about "change you can believe in." Yet after a health bill without a public option, financial "reform" written in bank boardrooms, and the largest single-year set of cuts in federal spending in history along with the continuation of historic tax cuts, I feel like the voter who's woken up alone in a strange bedroom the morning after election night.

I won't say that Obama is corrupt -- although he got to the Oval Office with a suspiciously large amount of Wall Street money. But his White House could be mistaken for functioning unimaginatively, sometimes to the point that one thinks it's Bush still in charge. As for bumblers, what else should I call an administration that keeps bargaining against itself?

Even the unions, which are not the havens of the most saintly people ever known, have woken up. The International Association of Fire Fighters announced it was cutting off the campaign money spigot for Democrats given their failure to respond to the wave of labor policy rollbacks Republicans are pushing across the nation.

Hispanics and Asians sat out the 2010 elections, according to the latest news. As a Hispanic, I agree with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) that Obama's immigration policy failures have a lot to do with it. Obama didn't even dare put forth a reform bill, sat on his hands during the DREAM Act debacle and then, to cap insult with injury launched the most intensive deportation sweeps since the Palmer Raids of the 1920s.

For me, the path to convincing myself to vote Republican in 2012, win or lose, begins with the notion that Obama has turned out to be very little better than Bush, if that. Yes, we now have a president who can pronounce the word "nuclear" and who isn't a sheer embarrassment to me in front of my foreign friends.

As with John F. Kennedy in 1960, we broke a prejudice barrier at the ballot box. Although, take note, African-Americans: no Catholic was ever elected to the White House since.

Beyond that, those of us who enthusiastically voted for Obama, who put pro-Obama bumper-stickers on our car (and not the Obama logo one, either), those of us who would like an America that is progressively better, more generous and more kind, we got extremely little.

Would McCain have let the country go to the dogs? Perhaps. This is what scares me about the Libertarian-leaning Tea Party. They're willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater and just watch what happens. We already know what happens when there's nothing standing between ordinary people and those with money: it's called the Middle Ages.

But there's another path to voting Republican in 2012.

Who united the whole world against U.S. imperialism best but George W. Bush? Who convinced people who gave up on the Democrats 30 years ago to do anything to prevent more Republican economic misrule, but George W. Bush? Who convinced everyone most potently of the utter failure of savage, untaxed capitalism, but George W. Bush?

The answer is clear: to radically change the United States we need two, three or more George W. Bush presidencies, driving at least half the country to live in trailer parks and work in gated compounds as maids and security guards (if they're lucky enough to be spared the sweatshops and the unsafe mines). In the 1960s this approach was thought of as intensifying the contradictions of capitalism to create revolutionary conditions, or as others put it, breaking eggs to make an omelet.

Maybe when most Americans live in Brazilian favela-like slums they will wake up. And get out of the way when angry Americans arise.

It's up to Obama. Show me what you've done to earn my vote by November 2012. You haven't yet.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Great American Myth ... Is It False?

After all the debunking of the posts last week, perhaps it's time to take a good look at the spark that has set people dreaming for centuries: the myth of the United States, some call it the American Dream.

Myths, like dreams, are neither true nor false, but simply wishful thinking.

Some are necessary for sanity and survival. If we didn't have ways to mentally soothe our aches and worries or to assure us of a golden horizon somewhere ahead, we would surely commit suicide, cease our labors, give up the struggle of living, we'd lose hope.

Of course, the best-known myths are religious. The cavorting Greek and Roman gods, the powerful Egyptian goddess Isis, Noah and the flood, the Jehovah and Moses of Exodus are all mythical. In my opinion, even the Galilean woodworker the Romans called Jesus was a mythical figure.

These myths all attempt to answer primal archetypal questions of human beings: What am I here for? Who is in charge? What am I supposed to do? How do I seek help against disaster? Who's to thank for my good fortune? And so on.

The lore about these gods and prophets and heroes is all of our own making. We find ways to explain things to ourselves that are soothing and, at least at first blush, satisfying. The reality that God or gods are profoundly unobservable doesn't stand in the way of elaborate systems of thought based on one version or another of the cult of the divine.

I like the take of Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz: "If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia."

Much the same can be said about 'murrica. Most of what Americans learn as children about their country is patently false, as I have modestly shown. This is true of almost any country in the world.

The 19th and 20th century nationalist idea invented the myth that the Earth is populated by people who are distinct by virtue of somehow belonging to a certain territory, speaking a certain language, idolizing the colors of a certain piece of cloth and singing a certain ancient hymn that is almost always literally absurd. Americans, Frenchmen, Australians, Germans, Russians, Brazilians, Chinese.

The peculiarity of the American Myth is its the way the United States is cast in roles soaked in bibliolatry: Messiah and beacon of the world, Promised Land, Land of Milk and Honey. It's the dream image of wishful immigrants who braved a perilous journey and years of sacrifice to reach the American Dream, which most never saw.

In "Sail Away," Randy Newman has even composed a slaver's myth for Africans about to be enslaved:
In America you'll get food to eat
Won't have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet
You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
It's great to be an American
Isn't that just the way of that hussy Lady Liberty? She swings her hips seductively and with a wink she makes us think the fire in her torch is made of gold. Just like the cobblestones on the streets from California to Staten Island.

Sure it's all bunk. But why else would we get up every morning, rush through coffee, drive to a cubicle, then reverse it after 8 hours, if there wasn't a rainbow there somewhere?

Why would the least favored Americans leave their hollows and their slums to bleed and lose limbs for reasons no one since December 1941 has had the decency to explain in terms that make plain sense, if there wasn't the red, white and blue to cover up recruiters' lies?

When I read the august words of Thomas Jefferson, I don't read a slaveowners' yen to be his own king in a society where everything was trick-sprung to keep only his own ilk on top. No, when I read words, sometimes entire paragraphs, that he borrowed without attribution from John Locke, I don't see the work of a plagiarist.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ..."
Hear the brass and the flute and the cymbals? Hear Aaron Copland and Jerry Goldsmith's musical paean to America?

That's the beguiling myth of America calling.

Friday, April 15, 2011

English? Male? Christian?

See spot run. Run spot run. See the neighbors, store owners and policemen. They're all white, square jawed men, some have blue eyes, a few have freckles. They go to (Protestant-looking) church. They work. Let's parse this.

The archetypal image of significant Americans as transplanted English, Protestant men goes back to the Constitution (read the whole thing, Tea Party fans!), which defined nonwhites as a fraction of a person, even though whites at the time were the minority in the United States.

English was never adopted as an official language; indeed, no vote was taken — English likely would have lost to German. In fact, the notion that Americans come from English stock is a myth.

Even among the U.S. white settlers who were English speakers by family tradition, most flew that false-flag nationality known as "Scotch-Irish," that is to say, they were from Ulster —not English at all. They sure as hell weren't Irish (ask the IRA). They were the descendants of the Scots sent to vie for the English throne, then left there.

The ones who came to America were the ne'er-do-wells who hadn't made it a century or two after landing as conquerors. They won the Battle of the Boyne and nothing else. That's why they hated the Irish who came during the Potato Famine in the 1840s: the real Irish knew what riffraff they really were.

And men ... Haven't men, in almost all societies, been somewhat less than the majority of the population? Why, then, did laws and custom presume that only men could work for pay, lead, vote, own property and so forth?

Lastly, there's the claim to being Christian.

When in history has U.S. society prized the poor, those who mourn, those who thirst for justice and those who make peace? When have we, collectively or individually in some significant way, turned the other cheek: is that what was done at Fort McHenry, at the Alamo, Fort Sumter, on the Maine, in the fields of Flanders, at Iwo Jima, after 9/11?

Thomas Jefferson, believed in a Creator — more or less. George Washington told the truth (but not in his expense accounts to the Continental Congress). Benjamin Franklin was a decidedly avaricious and pleasure-seeking man.

The reality is that the United States believes in money, was built by Africans, Spaniards, the Dutch, Germans, Irish and Chinese of a variety of religions; most Americans were and are women. That's the real America.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Home of the Chumps Who Got Sent to War

Ever since the first propaganda films in the 1940s, we all learned that American GIs are originals who always win and their enemies, who often enough wore more finely tailored uniforms and had better manners, were stodgy and dull and dropped dead like flies.

The Germans could never hear an American approaching. The French all wore berets and brought their liberators wine. The Italians were cowardly. The Brits were whimsical. Dinkum Aussies and Kiwis cursed using colorful, but never profane, vocabulary. But the (white, Anglo) Yank got the girl.

In fact, proportionally very few Americans fought in the Second World War. Far fewer Americans died in that war than any other ally save France, which was defeated in less than a year. Several times more Americans died in the Civil War.

The myth of American invincibility — unchallenged until Vietnam — was so pervasive and the pride so misplaced that even a B-list actor who became president proudly told an Israeli foreign minister visiting the White House that he had liberated a Nazi concentration camp as a soldier. Which he had — in a fiction film.

To tell the truth, however, the United States didn't emerge as one of the victors of World War II, with unparalleled logistical power to deploy troops anywhere in the world, merely because the nation was, supposedly, the home of the free and the brave.

The USA won because while every German soldier was supported by three people in reserves, supply and manufacturing, every American soldier was supported by 32. The USA won because the nation was building 11 Liberty ships a day to supply Russia and Britain with war materiel.

Rosie the Riveter won the war.

Concentrated attacks on conventional installations and armies involving massive and overwhelming numbers of American soldiers, ships and warplanes won the war.

But the adversaries of the United States eventually figured out what mice know about terrifying elephants. None but the most lunatic of tin-pot dictators will ever challenge the U.S. armed forces to open battle again. The U.S. military is physically larger than the next 11 smaller armed forces combined.

World War II can never be won again.

The day of the big bomber, the giant aircraft carrier and even of the Marines is long gone. Nuclear and bacteriological weapons (which the United States has, despite all denials) are still worth keeping as deterrents. The rest of the war toys are useless against men with determination and simple tools.

That's why the flower of American youth refuse to fight. The Pentagon has to scour for dropouts and poor kids coming out of high school with skills two or three grades below their grade level. That's why Abu-Ghraib happened.

Want to wave the flag and talk about power? Slash military spending to the point that the nation has a reliable cadre of men (and women) determined to win with the simplest of tools in the roughest of conditions — without computers and PXs and the 1,001 toys that have kept U.S. armed forces from a decisive victory since World War II.

Better still. Give the Pentagon's budget to the U.S. Institute of Peace, to figure out how to avoid and defuse conflict in the first place.