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 gl├╝ckenfreude 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.