Saturday, November 29, 2008

Advent 2008... Waiting



The Advent journey is an invitation to climb the mountain of the Lord. The journey consists of a slow, gradual ascending up the mountain path. As with all uphill climbing, there are certain dangers along the way, but also the joyful expectation of one day reaching the mountaintop that is the house of the Lord.
-- Brother Victor Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette

We welcome you, small child of Bethlehem, whose coming we await with quiet attention. Shield us from the shouts, the screams, the empty promises of the season, and encourage us to turn our hopes to your coming. We know that the promise is hidden in the stable in Bethlehem and rooted in the offspring of Jesse; Let us look for our salvation there. Amen.
--Judy Bauer

Friday, November 28, 2008

La Vie en Rose



No real reason for this one.... I've just been listening to Tony Bennett and K. D. Lang's A Wonderful World lately.

Judging him as a singer, I've always considered Tony Bennett to be more gimmick than talent, but you know what? He sure seems like a heck of a nice guy. He has a real generous spirit about him, doesn't take himself too seriously, and apparently he's taken pretty good care of himself over the years too. He's been a good ambassador, mentor, and consummate professional.

As for K.D. Lang, now that gal can flat out sing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving 2008

Wild Turkeys in Our Yard



First, came the solitary hen.

This was a few years ago. We made the same mistake that a lot of the neighbors did. We fed her.

Next, "Pinky" started showing up with a bunch of her friends. Eventually, the toms showed up too, and that was a problem, because the toms are territorial, protective of the hens, and very aggressive. They started chasing kids around the neighborhood.

Eventually, the police and the Animal Control Department had to step in. Oh, how I wish I could find the news video out there on the web somewhere, Lord knows I've tried, but it was hilarious watching them running around and falling all over each other like Keystone Kops trying to fire their nets over these birds and capture them. It was great footage, accompanied by the sound of frantic gobbling and the great "woosh-woosh" of turkey wings beating the air like helicopter blades.

Eventually they were all successfully gathered up and transported down to Plymouth Plantation for display, although I'm not sure of their long term fate...

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Commodification of Human Flesh

The Return of Slavery: Sweatshops, Maquiladoras, and Human Trafficking


The Procuress, by by Johannes Vermeer (1656)

Vermeer is one of my favorite painters, and I thought he did a really good job with this one, which was a little bit out of character for him... It was a take on an age-old problem, presumably the world’s oldest profession. I think he summed it up quite well, from the malevolent cupidity of the “punter” to the bemused indifference of the madam, with her eyes fixed on the coin, jaded beyond mere insensitivity alone to the grope she’s receiving.

I noticed last week that piracy is back on the high seas and in the news. It’s another sign of the unexpected and unwelcome return of practices that we’ve long considered relegated to the trash heap history, like slavery.

Globalization (and the accompanying breakdown of the sovereignty of nation states) has an ugly underbelly to it. If we examine the effects of the unrestricted free flow of capital wedded to an indifference towards the rights of labor according to international law, along with the emergence of trans-national crime syndicates, the exploitation of workers (primarily of women and children) and the prevalence of human trafficking (primarily of women and children) has exploded.

Several weeks ago, Paula on Receiving Light put up an interesting and thought-provoking post post called Bordertown. It was about the hundreds of Mexican women who’ve disappeared from the border city of Juarez. These women, lured from the countryside to work in the maquiladoras, find themselves victims of rape and murder perpetrated by bored drug-cartel members for apparently nothing more than bloodsport entertainment. These men have too much time and money on their hands, and are accountable to no one. Hence, the blood on their hands.



The powerless in sweatshops around the world have very little protection, and very few advocates. In additon, the worldwide sex industry is a maw that increasingly chews up women and children from Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. I recall reading a story about how the traffickers on the US border would allow the kidnapped women to briefly kneel down and offer a prayer to St. Jude (Patron of Hopeless Causes) before smuggling them across.

The Maryknolls recently made a documentary called Lives for Sale, calling for awareness and action on the problem of human trafficking.



In the Tablet last Friday was a story called From 13 clients a night to freedom, about nuns in Italy battling human trafficking by way of Africa. Some excerpts:

"Sister, please help me, help me." The black woman's fervent, tearful appeal made Sr Eugenia Bonetti uncomfortable. She had been about to leave the Caritas centre where she worked in Turin, Italy, when Maria accosted her. The Italian sister could tell by the way she was dressed that Maria was a woman "who sold her body on our streets".

Somewhat at a loss and anxious to get to Mass on time, Sr Eugenia told Maria to return the following day. "Maria wanted to come with me to church," she recalls. "I noticed how surprised people were to see a Consolata missionary walking alongside a prostitute. In church, Maria knelt in the last pew and sobbed."

The chance encounter in 1993 transformed the life of Sr Eugenia, who had just reluctantly returned to Italy after 24 years of mission in Kenya. Unable to forget Maria, she vowed to rescue her and others like her: trafficked women forced to sell their bodies for the gain of others.

"Her cry remained strong in me; I felt we had to do something," she said. Maria, a Nigerian mother of three, courageously left the streets and started a new life. She would prove invaluable to Sr Eugenia: "She became my teacher, helping me to understand what was going on."

Today, Sr Eugenia is an expert on one of the world's most lucrative, illicit trades; it is estimated that between 500,000 to two million people are trafficked per year, mostly women, often for sexual exploitation. International mafia-style organisations recruit in poor countries, using the lure of false promises of work or study abroad, or of "boyfriends" promising the earth.

Sr Eugenia is eloquent in her description of the "terrible slavery" of women and girls trafficked for prostitution: "They are victims, promised a better life and instead exploited, abused and controlled. I remember a 19-year-old girl who said: ‘Sister, in one night, I had 13 clients. This destroyed me.'" Sr Eugenia pauses to repeat explosively: "Thirteen!"

Compassion and indignation give her words compelling force as she goes on to say that between 30 and 40 per cent of those trafficked to Italy are minors, "much sought after by demand", some as young as 14. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 women and girls - many from West Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America - work in Italy's streets and nightclubs; most of their earnings are grabbed by their "owners".

Since 2000, Sr Eugenia has run the counter-trafficking office of the Union of Major Superiors of Italy (USMI) in Rome, spearheading a nationwide ministry of outreach, shelter and reintegration offered by 70 Catholic women's congregations with communities in Italy. The sisters run more than 100 shelters for trafficked women where they find respect, love and healing.

"When they come to our shelters, we must start from scratch," says Sr Eugenia. "Only deep, deep wounds remain, fear, humiliation, tiredness. It is easier to rebuild a cathedral than one who has gone through such an experience. They are so vulnerable, and it is hard to help them regain their dignity, rights and self-esteem. They think the only thing they can do is to sell their body."

"When a girl wants to escape, we have to be so careful. If someone reports her to the madam, who controls the girls, she will be moved. If one manages to run away, the rest must take on her debt. So they guard each other." The "debt" is what the Nigerian women must pay to win back their stolen freedom: anything between 40,000 and 70,000 euros.

The sisters listen to the girls' stories and, whenever possible, try to help them start anew.
Persuading them to quit the streets is tough. "They need time to realise there is a way out to rebuild their life, no matter how hard," says Sr Eugenia. The way out is paved by what she calls "beautiful legislation" in Italy, which since 1998 has granted residence permits to more than 5,000 women who agreed to join a shelter and reintegration programme. The sisters, who lobbied for this law, help many to benefit from its provisions, usually in collaboration with the Catholic development agency Caritas.

Sr Eugenia explains that once the girls have been persuaded to relate what happened to them, the sisters can prove they were enslaved and get them legal documents. Then they are ready to join the normal working world. Sr Eugenia is effusive about the success stories, the girls who "blossom into new human beings with a future and a hope".

The sisters recently opened a centre in Benin City; an estimated 90 per cent of women recruited in Nigeria leave from there. The fruit of collaboration between NCWR, USMI and the Italian bishops' conference among others, the centre highlights the value of linking across countries of origin, transit and destination, especially to raise awareness among girls at risk and to help victims wishing to return home.

When the United States Embassy to the Holy See offered to fund a counter-trafficking project, USMI proposed a conference to gather sisters from around the world. Entitled "Building a network: the prophetic role of women Religious in the fight against trafficking in persons", the conference took place in October 2007 and was a great success with 26 countries and 25 congregations represented.

Sr Cathy Minhoto RSHM, a member of an inter-congregational anti-trafficking group in Rome, attended the conference. What impressed her was "the conviction of these women that this is the place where we need to be". Theirs is a certainty based on the essential spirit of who they are: "I feel that the original intentions of the founders of our congregations were to respond to poor, desperate people. This opportunity is a way to get back to that initial vision today."

Religious sisters worldwide are embracing the opportunity. The conference participants announced the setting up of the first international network of women Religious against trafficking in persons, issuing a strong statement directed at victims, consumers, traffickers, governments, church leaders and people of goodwill.

Addressing the last, the sisters summed up the ethos underlying their unstinting commitment:
"Our hope rests in a vision of humanity that honours the principle that no woman, child or man is a commodity for sale ... we ask you to join us in our prayers and our actions to eradicate this social and moral evil."


Resources:

Not For Sale: The Campaign to end Slavery in Our Lifetime
http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/

The Academy for Educational Development
humantrafficking.org

Anti-Slavery International
antislavery.org

Arizona League to End Regional Trafficking (ALERT)
traffickingaz.org

Catholic Bishops' Call for ComprehensiveImmigation Reform
Parish Kit (PDF)

Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking
castla.org

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
catwinternational.org

End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT)
ecpat.net

ECPAT USA
ecpatusa.org

Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking
stophumantrafficking.org

Freedom Network
freedomnetworkusa.org

Human Trafficking.org
humantrafficking.org

The Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University
protectionproject.org

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Band, Elwood, the Band!

My Debut Album Didn't Turn Out As Well As Meg's



Not exactly what I hoped for, but it has sort of a Manhattan Transfer quality to it. Maybe it's supposed to be a capella or cool jazz...

The band is 'Greece in the 1952 Summer Olympics', and our debut album is Responsible for a Son.

Hat tip goes out to Meg O'Dea by way of Cura Animarum.

How to Play

1) Go to Wikipedia and click on the 'random article' button (left hand side, navigation box, last choice) and snag the title to the first random article that pops up. This is your band name.

2) Go to Random Quotes. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. Click on the button that says 'New Random Quotations'. Scroll down to the bottom of the page (again) and snag the last four words of the very last quotation. This is your album title.

3) Finally, go to flickr's "explore the last seven days". The third photo on the page, no matter what, is your debut album cover. Save it.

4) Add text with Paint or some other kind of imaging software.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The 40 Hours Devotion 2008


Corpus Domini at Viterbo, from "An Artist in Italy" by Walter Tyndale, (1913)

The Exhortation to the Praises of God

Let the whole of humanity tremble, the whole world shake and the heavens exult when our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!
O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread!
Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves as well, that you may be exalted by Him.
Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.
-- St Francis of Assisi

We had the 40 Hours Devotion this week at out parish. The deacon was in conversation with Anne not too long ago – they're both involved in religious education – and he related his observation that out of his 10th grade CCD class, at least 80% of the students claimed not to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Now there is something to work on… If that’s the case, it is not only a shame but a tragedy, because the Eucharist is the cornerstone of our faith. God's people had manna in the desert to sustain them when they were wandering in the desert in Exodus from Egypt, searching for the Promised Land, and we also need bread for the journey as we make out way through our own forms of exodus today, whatever they might be.

A few weeks ago, Fr. Ron Rolheiser wrote a column called The Many Faces of the Eucharist. I’ll close with some excerpts…

Christians argue a lot about the Eucharist. What does it mean? What should it be called? How often should it be celebrated? Who should be allowed to fully participate?

There are lots of views on the Eucharist:

For some it is a meal, for others it is a sacrifice

For some it is a ritual act, sacred and set apart, for others it is a community gathering, the more mess and kids there the better.

For some it is a deep personal prayer, for others it is a communal worship for the world.

For some it is a celebration of sorrow, a making present of Christ’s suffering and thus the place where we can break down, for others it is the place to celebrate joy and sing alleluia.

For some it is a ritual remembrance, a making present of the historical events of Jesus’ dying, rising, ascending, and sending the Holy Spirit, for others it is a celebration of God’s presence with us today.

For some it is a vigil act, a gathering that is essentially about waiting for something else or someone else to appear, for others it is a celebration of something that is already present that is asking to be received and recognized.

For some it is understood to make present the real, physical body of Christ, for others it is understood to make Christ present in a real but spiritual way.

Who’s right? In truth, the Eucharist is all of these things, and more. It is like a finely-cut diamond twirling in the sun, every turn giving off a different sparkle. It carries different layers of meaning, some of them in paradoxical tension with others. There is, even in scripture, no one theology of the Eucharist, but instead there are various complementary theologies of the Eucharist.

In the end, it defies not just theology professors, but metaphysics, phenomenology, and language itself. There is no adequate explanation of the Eucharist for the same reason that, in the end, there is no adequate explanation for love, for embrace, and for the reception of life and spirit through touch. Certain realities take us beyond language because that is their very purpose. They do what words cannot do. They also are beyond what we can neatly nail down in our understanding.

And that is true of the Eucharist. Any attempt to nail down its full meaning will forever come up short because it will always eventually get up and walk away with the nail!

My Concession to Conspicuous Consumption

Car traffic is still better than human traffic

Despite global warming and the energy crisis.

Even if we’re talking about gas-guzzling bling that costs more than the combined GNP of several small nations.

More on human trafficking in an upcoming post, but…

One of the things about having kids is that you pick up on some of their interests... I was never much of a automobile buff myself, but our boys are crazy about sports cars and luxury supercars. It’s one thing that all three of them have in common.

I haven’t seen the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace yet, but I hear that it opens up with an amazing car chase sequence featuring an Aston Martin DBS. After it gets smashed up, the new left-wing James Bond switches to an assortment of whiffier, greener, PC hybrid vehicles…. The thing is, in association with the opening scene, a real DBS, with a hefty price tag of $233,000, really did get totalled.
Back in April, the £134,000 ($233,000) Aston Martin DBS used for filming the most recent James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, plunged into Lake Garda, in Italy, when Fraser Dunn, an Aston Martin technician who was driving the car to the set lost control, piled thorugh an iron railing and plunged into the lake... The car was completely destroyed, but the driver got away with only minor injuries.
Hey Fraser... Nice going, leadfoot. You're lucky to be alive... On top of all that, some collector paid over $350,000 for the wreck.

Speaking of car collectors… As far as the web is concerned, my sons are constant denizens of Jay Leno’s Garage. Shown below, the host of The Tonight Show gives you the low-down on the new 2009 Aston Martin DBS.



If a $233,000 crash seems a like a wasteful extravagance on a film set, at least it was an accident. In the making of Batman: The Dark Knight, they claim to have wrecked a $400,000 Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 on purpose.



Although, I’m a bit skeptical. I’m suspecting that was a kit body on top of a cheaper chassis.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Brazilian Whacks

Ronaldinho and Kaká show how the "Jogo Bonito" is done

I hesitate a little to put this one up, because Cristina reads here now and then, and I know that she's an Inter Milan fan. Sorry Cristina...

:-)

I was curious to find out how the Brazilian fútbol superstar Ronaldinho was doing after leaving FC Barcelona for AC Milan in Italy's Serie A, so I looked him up on Youtube and elsewhere.

Shown below is a clip from the most recent Derby della Madonnina (Milan Derby), which is a contest between archrivals AC Milan and FC Internazionale Milano.


AC Milan - Inter Milano - 1-0 Ronaldinho - The best home videos are here

What a feed from Ronaldinho over to fellow Brazilian star Kaká, back to Ronaldinho again. That's about as pretty a goal as you are ever going to see, even if Kaká may have been slightly offside. There was nothing my boy "Matrix" Materazzi could do about that one...

Brendan and I went to an international match between Brazil and Venezuela at Gillette Stadium back in June. It was quite an experience. Drums, bullhorns, singing, dancing, massive green and gold flags everywhere, and maybe 10 Venezuelan fans in the whole rockin' place. Neither Ronaldinho nor Kaká were there for Brazil's squad that night. The Brazilian fans were a fun and friendly bunch until they started losing (Venezuela won in a stunner, 2-0). We left at half-time, when the fights started breaking out. It may be one of the most ridiculous sights you can imagine... two pudgy guys in identical Ronaldinho jerseys slinging beer at each other and trying to punch each other's lights out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

American Exceptionalism: Sarah Vowell's Wordy Shipmates


John Winthrop, 12-time governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

It is by a mutual consent, through a special overvaluing providence and a more than an ordinary approbation of the churches of Christ, to seek out a place of cohabitation and consortship under a due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical. In such cases as this, the care of the public must oversway all private respects, by which, not only conscience, but mere civil policy, doth bind us. For it is a true rule that particular estates cannot subsist in the ruin of the public...

That which the most in their churches maintain as truth in profession only, we must bring into familiar and constant practice; as in this duty of love, we must love brotherly without dissimulation, we must love one another with a pure heart fervently. We must bear one another’s burdens. We must not look only on our own things, but also on the things of our brethren...

When God gives a special commission He looks to have it strictly observed in every article; When He gave Saul a commission to destroy Amaleck, He indented with him upon certain articles, and because he failed in one of the least, and that upon a fair pretense, it lost him the kingdom, which should have been his reward, if he had observed his commission.

Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into covenant with Him for this work. We have taken out a commission...

The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.
-- From John Winthrop's sermon A Model of Christian Charity, delivered upon the ship Arbella.

"The eyes of all people are upon us. And all they see is a mash-up of naked prisoners and an American girl in fatigues standing there giving a thumbs-up. As I write this, the United States of America is still a city on a hill; and it's still shining -- because we never turn off the lights in our torture prisons. That's how we carry out the sleep deprivation."
-- Sarah Vowell, from Wordy Shipmates


As we head towards Thanksgiving, I'm reminded of an intererview I heard on NPR last month with essayist, commentator, and "historical humorist" Sarah Vowell (frequent host of This American Life and author of Assassination Vacation). Click the following link to listen to: Sarah Vowell Finds Humor In Puritan History. Even though she's 38 year old and is obviously quite bright, she sounded to me like she was about 15 years old. I guess there's a reason for that and for why that seemed familiar to me somehow. She was the voice of Violet in the animated film The Incredibles.

In this interview, she discusses her new book The Wordy Shipmates. It's important for me to note here at this juncture (on account of the Thanksgiving reference) that the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock were Separatists who were different from the Puritans who settled in Boston and later ran Massachusetts, although eventually, the two movements converged and the Pilgrims were absorbed. I haven't read this book yet, but from what I can gather, Vowell's intention is not to ridicule the Puritans. On the contrary, she dispels myths about them being drab and colorless, and she has great respect for their universal literacy and intellectualism, right down to their assiduous study of Classical Greek. She does make note of the fact that their theology was imbued with a sense of wrath and fear of failure; fear of failing God in particular. While this helped us to develop a healthy American sense of personal responsibility, it also bequeathed to us another legacy - a connection to our persistent sense of being a specially blessed and chosen nation on earth. This has been a double-edged sword for us over time. At times this "American Exceptionalism" has led us to run roughshod over other peoples and to lead us into messianic ventures overseas that over-reach.


Anne Hutchinson Preaching in Her House in Boston, 1637, by Howard Pyle (1901)

Here are excerpts from a review of Vowell's book that I enjoyed:

The Puritan settlers of America are often blamed for the more irritating aspects of its modern society. Their tightly-wound moralism is blamed for America’s fidgety, repressed sexuality while references to the “Puritan work ethic” imply that an aversion to fun and relaxation is somehow embedded in its cultural genetics. Their penchant for religious hysteria and supernatural beliefs, as dramatically demonstrated in the Salem Witch Trials, is often used to highlight and mock those who lose reason and rationality. The idea is that had we been settled by French libertines instead of English churchgoers, the United States would be a nonstop, epicurean party. Instead, it’s, well, puritanical, deeply rigid and averse to change.

To believe that the Puritans of Boston poisoned the well for the whole United States of America right from the start, you’d have to ignore the fact that their sphere of influence in the 17th Century hardly extended beyond the Connecticut River, and that their colonial domain of Boston and its environs is today a bastion of liberalism and Papist religious observance the likes of which would have driven them absolutely crazy. Salem, scene of the epic battle between the righteous forces of Puritanism and the imagined legions of Satan, has surrendered entirely to witchcraft and has become a Mecca to those looking for novelty broomsticks and family-friendly occult experiences. If the very heart of Puritan America has evolved into something radically different, it’s hard to believe that the whole of America has been tainted by their social mores.

The common image of the stern, stentorian Puritan in his drab, black ensemble, preaching fire and brimstone, is largely an exaggeration that elides the fascinating nature of these devoted, adventurous, flawed, and yes, influential people. In The Wordy Shipmates, NPR fixture and historical humorist Sarah Vowell argues that misunderstanding of the Puritans obscures the roots of America’s national character and clouds their true contribution to our culture, which even today informs its political and social attitudes: American Exceptionalism.

The term ‘American Exceptionalism’ is a euphemistic cover for that old bugbear, nationalism, which you may remember from the prologue to every chapter about disastrous war and conflict in your high school history textbook. Nationalism differs from patriotism in that it not only declares that its own culture, government, and society is great, it (whether implicitly or explicitly) casts all others as terrible. It’s a sentiment planted by Puritan John Winthrop, who first cast their New World home as a “city on a hill”, and later employed to different ends by politicians like John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and in a faint echo of the “Great Communicator” during her 2008 Vice Presidential Debate, Governor Sarah Palin.

The “city on a hill”, a beacon of rightness in the world, is a noble and laudable sentiment, one that Vowell feels particularly fond of, though as she demonstrates throughout her book, the well-meaning ideals of Winthrop and his brethren are a double-edged sword. American Exceptionalism has the potential to spur great innovation and bring about profound change, yet it can also be a destructive, insular force that pits the country against those who dare question its authority. The road to Puritan Boston was paved with good intentions, and Vowell is quick to draw obvious parallels to the current situation in Iraq. Much as the American involvement in Iraq was expected to be greeted as liberation, the emigrants to Boston saw themselves on a mission to aid the Natives who knew nothing of Christ. The crest which represented the voyage of these well-meaning Puritans, Vowell notes with exasperation, depicted an American Indian explicitly asking “Come over and help us”.

Still, even in the face of such questionable thinking, Vowell can’t help but have a soft spot for these early Americans because, well, they’re too much like the current Americans to look down upon. She takes great steps toward sweeping away the caricature of Puritans that’s continually reinforced by pop culture and sloppy, lazy history. The portrait she paints of these hearty settlers is both endearing and tragic, as they set out in search of a better, more perfect life and occasionally stumble into wrong-headedness and conflict.


Pilgrims Going to Church, by George Henry Boughton (1867)

Here are some excerpts from Vowell's book from the NPR site.

The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don't mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.

Take the Reverend John Cotton. In 1630, he goes down to the port of Southampton to preach a farewell sermon to the seven hundred or so colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Led by Governor John Winthrop, a gentleman farmer and lawyer, these mostly Puritan dissenters are about to sail from England to New England on the flagship Arbella and ten other vessels in the Winthrop fleet...

Cotton's sermon is titled "God's Promise to His Plantation." He begins with one of the loveliest passages from the book of Second Samuel, an otherwise R-rated chronicle of King David's serial-killer years. Chapter 7, verse 10: "I will appoint a place for my people in Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more." Sounds so homey, like that column in the real estate section of the New York Times about how people found their apartments. Until I remember that talk like this is the match still lighting the fuse of a thousand car bombs.

What Cotton is telling these about-to-be-Americans is that they are God's new chosen people. This they like to hear. In fact, they have been telling themselves just that. The Old Testament Israelites are to the Puritans what the blues was to the Rolling Stones—a source of inspiration, a renewable resource of riffs. What Cotton is telling them is that, like the Old Testament Jews, they are men of destiny. And, like the Old Testament Jews, God has given them a new home, a promised land. And, like the Old Testament Jews, God has printed up eviction notices for them to tack up on the homes of the nothing-special, just-folks folks who are squatting there.
It's fine, according to Cotton, to move into "a country not altogether void of inhabitants" if said country is really big. After all, he continues, "Abraham and Isaac, when they sojourned amongst the Philistines, they did not buy that land to feed their cattle, because they said 'There is room enough.' "

This is God's plantation, remember? Cotton says, "If God be the gardener, who shall pluck up what he sets down?" Hear that, Indians? No weeding of the white people allowed. Unless they're Catholic. Or one of those Satan-worshiping Virginians.

These people listening to this man are scared. There's a boat in the harbor that just might sail them to their deaths. They may never see their friends again until heaven (or hell, depending how this dumb plan goes). For years they've grumbled that England is a cesspool governed by an immoral king under the spell of the Whore of Babylon, which is their cute nickname for the pope. But now that it's time to light out, their dear old mother country seems so cozy, all warm beds and warm beer and days of auld lang syne.

Yet here is the smartest man in England, maybe the smartest man in the world, telling them, little old them, that they have been picked by God. They are Israelites is what they are. They are fleeing Egypt. Good riddance! Next stop, land of milk/honey.

Now they know. They can do this. They can vomit their way across the sea. They can spend ten years digging up tree stumps to plow frozen fields. They can even learn to love corn. For the first time in months, they can breathe.

Bob Dylan's Grandma

Jimi Hendrix in 1970, Noel Redding in 2003...

...and now Mitch Mitchell has passed away at the age of 62. The Experience is no more.

"Bob Dylan's Grandma" was Hendrix's affectionate nickname for his drummer Mitch Mitchell. Here's a drum solo from Mitchell...

The Jimi Hendrix Experience in Sweden, January 1969... Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)



The Dirty Mac (Mitch Mitchell, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards) on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, 1968... Yer Blues




File under the "Gee, that's cold" category

I used to work with a guy from Syracuse who came of age in the sixties. Huge Jimi Hendrix fan. Went to Woodstock, was sweating out the draft, the whole bit... One September day he was hanging around the house with a buddy of his listening to records. His father stopped in, a square straight-shooter who'd put in his 30 years or so at the Carrier air-conditioner company, and dropped a newspaper in his lap. "Here, look at this... Your hero just choked to death on his own vomit."

While I'm here reporting the news on sixties icons...

Andrew Greeley on the mend? He's in "critical but stable" condition

I carry a link to Father Andrew Greeley's columns over on the right. He's pretty liberal in a predictable sense, but he's always enjoyable to read. I hadn't heard until today that he was badly injured last week in a freak accident. He was getting out of a cab and got his coat caught in the door. When the cab pulled away he fell and fractured his skull. He's been in critical condition since Friday of last week. Prayers go out to him.
The Rev. Andrew Greeley remains in critical condition Thursday morning, six days after falling and fracturing his skull during a cab accident.

He was taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, where he remained in critical condition as of 4 a.m. Thursday, according to a hospital nursing supervisor, who said his condition had not changed.

Earlier, his niece Laura Durkin said he was in critical but "very stable" condition and doctors were pleased with Greeley's progress from Friday to Saturday.

Although he was swollen and bruised, Greeley's color looked good Saturday morning and he was "resting comfortably" after a restless night, Goggin said.

"You know, he's a fighter and a tough guy," Goggin said. "He's got everything they want in a patient. All the signs are very positive."
File under the "Gee, that's cold" category

I happened to notice in the reactions on one blog some examples of the milk of human kindness you often see offered up in comboxes nowadays..
Andrew Greeley is finally going to meet his maker. I hope he is judged well for the many evil things that he has done in this life. I hope he has asked for forgiveness of his many sins. May God have mercy on Rev Andrew Greeley. May God turn him away from his evil ways of devout socialism...

This wolf in the fold's heresy has destroyed the faith of many. May he beg for mercy.

Nice.

Ah, the blogosphere. It warms the cockles of the heart, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Evolutionary Pyschology and Original Sin II

The Human Need for Both Revenge and Forgiveness


Interior of the Catholic Church at Ntarama, Rwanda, where thousands of Tutsis were massacred by their Hutu neighbors

As Anne and I progress further and deeper into middle age (and watch our children enter puberty), we could both tell you that hormones have a lot to do with who we are. The effects they have on our moods, our feeling of physical well-being, our brains, and how we interact with others are astonishing.

I find evolutionary psychology to be a fascinating field because its arguments and constructs explaining the various aspects and motivations for human behavior make eminently good common sense to me... Evolutionary psychologists recognize that the capacity for good and evil is built into every one of us from our ancestral past. We have proclivities towards both altruism and selfishness. Humankind is not totally depraved. Neither is human nature a neutral blank slate which can only express evil if evil is learned from others. As the bible (properly interpreted) indicates, humankind is essentially good but is tilted towards sin. What we call Original Sin is coded into our DNA.

Years ago in school, I remember reading critiques from naturalists and zoologists claiming that homo sapiens is the only species that murders its own kind. That was crap. Intra-species murder happens in nature quite frequently. In fact, cooperative and organized tribal murder, a sort of warfare, has been observed and filmed in chimpanzees (our closest relatives) in recent years.

Understanding is one thing. Whether or not evolutionary psychologists can come up with the solution to the problem of human evil, is a different, and potentially dangerous matter.

The internet is a fascinating laboratory in which to observe transactional behavior in human beings. Without face-to-face contact; without the ability to look others in the eye and read facial cues, activities like blogging tend to emphasize and magnify transactions that either establish or rupture trust between people. It came as a surprise to me, after about 4 years of posting on the web for one reason or another, that I've made almost as many adversaries online as friends, with absolutely no intention of doing so going in. It seems that all you need to do to make enemies (beside having really bad "trolling" manners) is to hold onto your beliefs strongly among a group in which not everyone is in agreement, or to switch your beliefs to a view contrary to those of a group that has been monolithic. Blogging is a microcosm of the isolated village of olden times, full of everything you would find there - alliances, mutual support, bargains, "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours", gossip, betrayals, re-alignments, and ostracism.

Recently, I've been reading John Dear's book A Persistent Peace. He described how in his spiritual journey he struggled with the meaning and full implications of Jesus' admonition to "love your enemies." It's funny how the magnification of internet communication can present you smack in the face with this challenge as well. What does it really mean to love our enemies? We all say we're willing to do it, as Christians, but I suspect that what most of us mean when we say it is, "I won't act in a way that will earn me enmity from anyone else." Well, then... enemies will come regardless, and then what? Do we really wish our enemies well? Truly?

It's this exhortation to undetachedly love enemies which makes Christianity unique. Without it, you really couldn't say that it's much different, or superior to, any other religious tradition... Is is impossible, however, for everyone to do this except saints? Is it impossible, due to it being completely unsuited to our human nature?

As I was driving my son out to Hopkinton for his soccer game last Sunday, I happened to have the radio on and I heard an interesting program on Speaking of Faith. It was called Getting Revenge and Forgiveness, and host Krista Tippet was interviewing the social and clinical psychologist Michael McCullough. Interesting interview. Here are some excerpts cut from the transcript:

Ms. Tippett: This hour, "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness." My guest, Michael McCullough, describes science that helps us comprehend how revenge came to have a purpose in human life. But he also stresses that forgiveness is more instinctive than we realize. We explore ways to calm the revenge instinct in ourselves and embolden our capacity to forgive.

Science…. helps us comprehend how revenge came to have a purpose in human life. Taking that seriously could help us react more effectively to crises from school shootings to terrorism to partisan divides. At the same time, science is also revealing that human beings are more instinctively equipped for forgiveness than we've perhaps given ourselves credit for. Knowing this suggests ways to calm the revenge instinct in ourselves and others and embolden the forgiveness intuition. We explore how...

Michael McCullough is a professor of psychology at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, where he directs the Laboratory for Social and Clinical Psychology and also teaches in the Department of Religious Studies. For his recent book, Beyond Revenge, he analyzed extensive data from social scientific studies on humans and animals as well as biology and brain chemistry.

Western religious and therapeutic mindsets have come to imagine revenge as a disease that can be cured by civilization. It hasn't been seen as a natural, biologically driven impulse to which we all remain prone under certain circumstances. And at the same time, the seemingly colder eye of evolutionary biology has analyzed ruthlessness as an advantage in the relentless arc of the survival of the fittest. Forgiveness in both of these scenarios is a rare transcendent quality, a cure for revenge albeit one that would never help human beings really triumph.

Michael McCullough says this view of the world is based on simplistic understandings of both human nature and evolution.

Mr. McCullough: One study that really got my attention was a study on chimpanzees, which showed that if a chimpanzee is harmed by an individual that it's living with, it has the ability to remember who that individual is and target aggression back at that individual in the 10 minutes, 20 minutes, hour later. And for most people, and certainly for me when I started working on this, I was surprised to know that chimpanzees had these kinds of mental abilities, right? I had to learn more. I wanted to know where else do you see this in the animal kingdom. You see it in other kinds of primates, such as one type of monkey that I like a lot, a monkey called the Japanese macaque. They're very intimidated by power. So if you're a high-ranking Japanese macaque and you harm a lower ranking Japanese macaque, that low ranking individual is not going to harm you back, right? It's just too intimidating. It's too anxiety provoking. But what they do instead, and this still astonishes me, is they will find a relative of that high-ranking individual and go seek that low-ranking cousin out or nephew and harm him in retaliation…. So it's as if they're saying, 'You know, I'm not powerful enough to get you back, but what I'm going to do is I'm going to go harm your nephew.'

Ms. Tippett: Now that does sound like human behavior, doesn't it?

Mr. McCullough: Right. And here's the kicker, is when they're harming this nephew, most of the time they're doing it while the high-ranking individual is watching. They want the high-ranking individual to know that, you know, you can harm me. I know you can harm me. I know you're more powerful than I am. But rest assured, I know how to get at what you care about and what you value…

Ms. Tippett: And I think you're also saying in your research that — and also in terms of what we know about the brain — that the emotions, the reactions, that arise in response to grievance are also — we are hard-wired to have those reactions, that they serve a purpose. I mean, I remember St. Helen Prejean saying to me when we did that work on the death penalty, you know, she's a great opponent of the death penalty — she said, "Anger is a moral response," you know?

Mr. McCullough: That's right. It certainly is. Anger in response to injustice is as reliable a human emotional response as happiness is to winning the lottery, or grief is to losing a loved one. And if you look at the brain of somebody who has just been harmed by someone — they've been ridiculed or harassed or insulted — we can put those people into technology that allows us to see what their brains are doing, right? So we can look at sort of what your brain looks like on revenge. It looks exactly like the brain of somebody who is thirsty and is just about to get a sweet drink to drink or somebody who's hungry who's about to get a piece of chocolate to eat.

Ms. Tippett: It's like the satisfaction of a craving?

Mr. McCullough: It is exactly like that. It is literally a craving. What you see is high activation in the brain's reward system. So, again, this is one of the messages it's important for me to try to get across. The desire for revenge does not come from some sick dark part of how our minds operate. It is a craving to solve a problem and accomplish a goal.

Ms. Tippett: And then I guess what is especially intriguing about your work as well, and perhaps even more surprising, even kind of takes us out of our boxes, than the fact that revenge is natural is that you are really suggesting also from a scientific perspective that we have a forgiveness instinct, an aptitude for forgiveness, and that has been crafted by natural selection just like revenge.

Mr. McCullough: I expected to find, frankly, less research as I dug through hundreds of scientific articles on the naturalness of forgiveness but, boy, was I wrong. As it turns out, a lot of biologists have been trying to figure out what allows human beings to be the cooperative creatures that we are. We're cooperative with each other in a way that really makes us pretty unique among mammals for sure. You know, we cooperate with our relatives, but lots of animals do that. But we go further and we cooperate with people we've never met. We cooperate with people that we're not related to. And by virtue of our ability to cooperate with each other, we can build magnificent cities and radio stations and do all kinds of wonderful things. But one of the ingredients you have to have to get individuals to cooperate with each other is a tolerance for mistakes.

You know, we think of forgiveness as these heroic acts and there are always these heroic examples of forgiveness. But you said we think of it as this balm for great wounds. But you said, "Yet, in daily life, forgiveness is more often like a Band-Aid on a scrape and at first glance perhaps only slightly more interesting. But, of course, uninteresting doesn't mean unimportant."


Ms. Tippett: One of the most high-profile figures of public forgiveness in the U.S. in recent years was Bud Welch. His 23-year-old daughter Julie died in the bombing of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. Here's a statement Bud Welch made prior to the 2001 execution of Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist responsible for the bombing.

Mr. Bud Welch: The first month after the bombing, I didn't even want Tim McVeigh and Terry McNichols to even have trials. I simply wanted them fried. And then I finally come to realize that the reason that Julie and 167 others were dead is because of vengeance and rage. And when we take him out of his cage to kill him, it's going to be the same thing. We will keep the circle of violence going. Number 169 dead is not going to help the family members of the first 168.

Ms. Tippett: You do talk about some amazing examples of forgiveness, of public forgiveness, one of them being Bud Welch. But I sometimes think that those kinds of examples that do make the news, like the bombing, also exalt forgiveness as something that's really beyond the reach of most of us most of the time. You know, we hope that we would be that gracious, perhaps, but it almost feels superhuman.

Mr. McCullough: Right. And if you look at Bud Welch and you look at that story from the outside and you ask yourself how can this man whose daughter was killed in this terrible explosion ever get over his rage, from the outside we have a really hard time imagining that. But if you look at the story of Bud Welch, actually what you find is he had a lot of help along the way. And if you look at the story very carefully, you can actually learn a lot about how the human mind evolved to forgive and what kind of conditions activate that instinct in human minds, because a lot of those conditions ended up falling into place for Bud. In fact, he doesn't talk about forgiveness even for himself in that case as having been some massive struggle.

Ms. Tippett: Well, it was incremental, also, wasn't it? I mean, it gets reported as an act, but in fact it was a process.

Mr. McCullough: Yeah, that's right. And along the way, there were events that he actually made happen for himself that turned forgiveness into one of these things that can be easier. For example, he actually sought out Timothy McVeigh's father and visited him one day at the McVeigh home and had this moment he describes when he saw Timothy's picture on the mantle. It was a high school graduation picture. And they were just making small talk and Bud said to McVeigh's father, he said, "God, that's a good-looking kid." And the tears just began pouring out of the elder McVeigh. And what he realized then was that here was another father on the verge of losing a son, of losing a child. And that immediate experience of sympathy and compassion went a tremendous way in facilitating the forgiveness process for Bud.

So right off the bat, this real human interaction starts to turn forgiveness from something difficult to do to something that's easier to do, because this compassion has happened naturally in the course of real human interaction and then suddenly forgiveness is a little easier.

Ms. Tippett: So this is getting to one of the really important points I think you make with your work, that if we can understand this forgiveness instinct and how, that even understanding in terms of evolution, that we can start to create conditions where it can be empowered.

Mr. McCullough: Right. The first is safety. Human beings are naturally prone to forgive individuals that they feel safe around. So if we have an offender that is apologizing in a way that seems heartfelt and convincing and has really convinced us that they can't and won't harm us in the same way again, OK, that's a point for forgiveness. Point on the forgiveness side. Again, the human mind evolved for forgiveness to be something worth its while, and any successful organism is unlikely to have a mechanism in it that says, you know, 'Just keep stepping on my neck. It's OK.'

Ms. Tippett: Right. Right. Right.

Mr. McCullough: Right. 'But if you can convince me that you're safe, that I don't have to worry about being harmed in the same way a second time, maybe I'm willing to move a little bit forward.'

Ms. Tippett: Well, yeah, we'll get there. So what's the second after safety?

Mr. McCullough: Value. We are inclined to forgive individuals who are likely to have benefit for us in the future. So we find it really easy, as I was saying, to forgive our loved ones or forgive our friends or forgive our neighbors or our business partners because there's something in it for us in the future. And the costs sometimes of destroying a relationship that's been damaged are just too high, because establishing a new one is so difficult to do. So relationships that have value in them are ones in which we're naturally prone to forgive... We tend to view other people who have positions different from ours as having much more similarity to each other than we do. We can see the great variety in our own positions.

Ms. Tippett: Oh, but we can't see the variety in other people's positions.

Mr. McCullough: No, that's right.

Ms. Tippett: That's interesting.

Mr. McCullough: Yeah. We tend to paint them with the same brush. And so we tend to really simplify positions that other groups have or people on other sides of positions. So we have a simplified view. We tend to actually view them as more partisan and more extreme on average than the average really seems to be. And so there's something about how the mind works and how it processes groups, right, when we think about people from over there, that other group…

And so the conclusion I've come to is in many, many cases if you want forgiveness, if you want to forgive or if you want to be forgiven, you need to go out there and get it for yourself. And the way you go out and get it for yourself is by trying to have the kind of conversation with the person you hurt that you want to have. In my family we apologize about a lot.

Ms. Tippett: Apology is an important concept for you. You say that it really, even biologically, is important for us.

Mr. McCullough: Apology is really important, because when I apologize to you for something I've done, you see me squirming. You see me uncomfortable. You see me trying to reassure you that I'm not going to harm you in the same way again. You see me giving you respect as a human being with feelings. And all of a sudden, I've turned on a lot of the slider switches that make forgiveness happen in your head.

Ms. Tippett: You say also that you've made it the next best thing to revenge.

Mr. McCullough: That's right. That's right.

Ms. Tippett: It's fulfilled some of those needs we have.

Mr. McCullough: Oh, there are so many people who, once they see someone who's harmed them cry and experience shame and experience humiliation for the way they've behaved, suddenly it's the forgiver who's doing the healing, who's reaching out to the perpetrator. This happens so many times. All people often need is this kind of vigorous conversation about the past. Now, if this were so easy, people would be doing it all day.

Ms. Tippett: You kind of touch on this in your book, of what religion can do in terms of forgiveness. When I look at all your research and have this conversation with you, it seems to me that in terms of where religion can play a constructive role in this, and religion is often implicated in places where there's terrible violence going on, but perhaps not in the first instance, teaching forgiveness, but some of the teachings that come out of religious traditions about caring for the other, about caring for the stranger.

Mr. McCullough: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the best things we can do with religious faith is give people an appetite for difference. And the major world religions all have the resources for doing this, for getting people excited about people who are different from them…. It's not every brand right that exercises that prerogative, but in the scriptures and traditions of every world religion that has been successful on a grand scale, there is a story there about the love of difference.

Ms. Tippett: Compassion towards difference.

Mr. McCullough: Right. Compassion towards difference. Caring for the strangers in your midst. Being able to see beyond superficial differences toward the essential commonalities.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

November is Klaus Kinski Month II

The Emperor of New Spain in the Court of Monkeys

Consider it The Heart of Darness, or Apocalypse Now, set in the Amazon... The story of an expedition based on the diary of the Dominican friar Gaspar de Carvajal.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

As with Apocalypse Now, the cast and crew of this film nearly went as insane as the characters themselves.

Don Lope de Aguirre (Kinski) and a band of Spanish conquistadores descend from the Andean mountains of the Incan empire and head up the Amazon River in search of the mythical city of gold, El Dorado.

Of course, it all goes horribly wrong. Like all megomaniacal quests for riches, fame, power and empire, it descends into betrayal, madness, and destruction.

The final scene on the raft when all is lost, and Aguirre's daughter Florés has just taken an arrow...



When we reach the sea
We will build a bigger ship
Sail north and take Trinidad
from the Spanish crown
From there we'll sail on
and take Mexico from Cortez
What great treachery this will be!
Then, all of New Spain will be in our hands
and we'll stage history like others stage plays
I, the Wrath of God
will marry my own daughter
and with her I will found
the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen
Together we shall rule this entire continent
We will endure
I am the Wrath of God!
Who else is with me?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fr. John P. Meier on the Historical Jesus

Jesus the Jew - But What Sort of Jew?



About a month ago, I worked my way through the book A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1, by the Catholic biblical scholar and Professor of the New Testament in the Department of Theology at Notre Dame, Father John P. Meier.

It was kind a of a hard slog. It was meticulously researched, and full of notes and references. The style wasn't bad, but there were times when I found his disparagement of certain other scholars who disagree with his conclusions to be annoying. I was, however, very interested in reading a scholarly historical Jesus account from a Catholic exegete who was known for being honest with where the texts take him, yet at the same time hews to Catholic orthodoxy. Having gotten through it, I'm not entirely sure that I'm up to working my way through the subsequent volumes he's written. The fourth and final volume, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 4: Law and Love, will be published in 2009.

In any case, I found this lone Notre Dame lecture of Father Meier's on Youtube, "Jesus the Jew - But What Sort of Jew?" If you have the bandwidth, I urge you to stick with it, even though it runs about an hour and twenty-one minutes. I think he does a pretty good job of contrasting Jesus as a "marginal Jew" who is similar to, but distinct in very important ways, from the others who can be found in the main strands of Judaism within the Second Temple period - namely, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. He points out that the sayings of Jesus were not always light sayings of sweetness, but often presented unforgettably "violent" challenges. They were sayings that could cut like like sharp stones.

I thought Father Meier had a pretty funny line at about 43-44 minutes in, pointing out how the Pharisees had considered Jesus to be a glutton and a wine-bibber - "He was a party animal... the strange combination of being celibate and being a bon vivant... at least in there, bishops and priests can claim at least some apostolic succession."

Jesus the Supreme Lawgiver


Christ Carrying the Cross, by Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1505-10)

A case in point about Jesus' teachings being like sharp stones... The case of divorce. Rather than doing away with the Law and the Prophets, Jesus deepened their meaning and extended them. "You have heard it said.... but I say..." This rabbinic method of doing midrash was common of teachers, and has often been described as "building a fence around the Torah."

Just before the birth of Jesus, there were two competing "houses", or "schools" of Pharisaic Judaism. Named after their founders, they were Bet Hillel, which was considered the more liberal house, and Bet Shammai, which was considered the more conservative.

Have you ever read the story of how a pagan approached Shammai and told him that he would convert to Judaism if Shammai could explain the whole Torah while standing on one foot? Shammai was offended. He went upside the pagan's head with his walking stick and sent him packing. The same man then approached Hillel with the same proposition. Hillel said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it". The pagan subsequently converted.

Some people like to draw parallels between Hillel and Jesus in that Hillel's response sounds a lot like the Golden Rule (with Jesus' teaching stressing a more positive, active role). What they usually don't mention is that Hillel also said that it was acceptable for a man to divorce his wife if she burned his dinner. On divorce, Jesus was more strict than both Hillel and Shammai.

Jesus, speaking with authority, unlike the scribes, extended and deepened the understanding of the law. That is why he is the Teacher and Supreme Legislator. Look at his teaching on adultery and divorce, and how it granted women greater dignity.... I hesitate a little here to bring it up and to presume to be a historian, because I've learned from writers like Paula Fredriksen and Amy-Jill Levine that it's important not to misrepresent Judaism with straw man cutouts and in unfavorable terms when comparing it to Christianity. After checking the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Adultery, though, the analysis confirming patriarchal bias seems to hold up.

To the Pharisees of Jesus' day, the commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery" had different implications for husbands than it did for wives. For the husband, only intercourse with someone else's wife was considered adultery. Intercourse with an unmarried woman was not. For the wife, intercourse with anyone but her husband was considered adultery. In essence, the wife was a possession, not a partner with fully equal rights. A man couldn't violate his own marriage, only the wife could. The wife belonged to him, he didn't belong to her. If a married woman committed adultery, she was cheapening her husband's possession. If a man committed adultery with a married woman, he was cheapening another man's possession.

Jesus put a stop to all this in his teaching:
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.' But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
--Matthew 5: 27-32

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?" He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." They said to him, "Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?" He said to them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery."
--Matthew 19: 3-9
Jesus turns his listener's understanding of these things upside-down. No wonder his disciples said to him, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry."

In his statements about adultery, Jesus isn't talking about spontaneous arousal. He's talking to men who think they can do anything they like with a woman; to exploit them any way they wish as a sexual plaything. Jesus is emphasizing how the two become one flesh. Women are being granted dignity here. They are to be treated as full partners and not possessions. When Jesus spoke of these things, it wasn't just trading midrash with the Pharisees. It was legislation for us.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

He Even Won Virginia



Congratulations Mr Obama. You have your work cut out for you.

Govern wisely.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

November is Klaus Kinski Month...

And Sunday Night is Spaghetti Night!


Klaus Kinski (1926 -1991)

Still just fooling around for the time being...

The Hunchback and the Smoker - For A Few Dollars More (1965)

Klaus Kinski Month begins with one of his early appearances outside of Germany, in the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars More, which was a sequel to A Fistful of Dollars. Both films were directed by Sergio Leone and scored by Ennio Morricone.

In For a Few Dollars More, The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) teams up with the mysterious Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) to collect a bounty on a Mexican bandit known as "El Indio" (Gian Maria Volontè). Eastwood's character is in it for the money. Unknown to everyone until the end, Mortimer is in it for revenge. Years ago, El Indio had violated and murdered Mortimer's sister. El Indio is in the habit of playing a musical pocketwatch when he intends to kill someone. When the chimes end, he shoots his victim.

The pocketwatch belonged to Mortimer's sister.

Klaus Kinski plays a hunchback called "Wild" - a vicious member of El Indio's gang. When the gunslinging bounty hunters first run into each other, it's in El Paso, where El Indio is planning to rob the bank. El Indio's gang members are told to be on their best behavior and to make no trouble.

Colonel Mortimer accepts a light graciously from Wild in El Paso...



Later, in a border town, they are happily re-acquainted over dinner

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Match Race - 70 Years Ago Today

Seabiscuit vs War Admiral - November 1, 1938



Clem McCarthy making the call.

"He made a rear admiral out of the War Admiral."
--Jockey Red Pollard

Forget about the presidential horse race for a moment. The 1938 Match Race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral is still widely regarded by people-in-the-know as the greatest horse race in history.

Last Summer I'd noticed that Crystal and William were both talking about the book Seabiscuit: An American Legend. I gave it a read too. Very good book.

Charley Kurtsinger was the jockey on the swift, sleek, regal, elegant, highly regarded but ornery and wildly flaky War Admiral. The perpetually hard-luck storied Red Pollard was the usual jockey on the small, knock-kneed, square-bodied Seabiscuit. He was injured before the race, so the jockey on this day was the more highly regarded Georgie Woolf.

Actually seeing this race is really interesting, because Biscuit was a notoriously slow starter, a horse who loved to come from behind in the closing stages of a race and to kick in with his fierce competitive spirit and devastating closing speed. As for War Admiral, he was equally well-known for his fast starts, and for never wanting another horse in front of him. As you can see in the video, Seabiscuit (the lighter-colored horse) got off to a great jump from the standing start, and led War Admiral for almost the entire race, just letting the Admiral catch up and pass him briefly at the 3/4 mark, just so Biscuit could look him in the eye and reach down for that extra kick.

A humorous anecdote from the book... The race was on and off several times, as each side looked for the most favorable terms. At one point, the injured Red Pollard was interviewed on national radio before the race and was asked to express his thoughts on it. In his usual irreverent fashion, he went off script...

That night David Alexander and a host of radio technicians arrived at Pollard's hospital room. NBC had asked Alexander to host a nationally aired, live interview with Woolf and Pollard, conducted from Pollard's hospital room. Woolf would be on a hookup from a Boston broadcasting studio. Alexander found Pollard lying supine with his leg up in traction, his misery greatly assuaged by a leggy private nurse named Agnes. The technicians set up a makeshift radio studio around his bed. Concerned that Pollard's famously mischievous ad-libs might get them kicked off the air, Alexander had come prepared. He presented Pollard with a complete script for the interview, leaving nothing to the jockey's rich imagination or questionable vocabulary. At the studio, Woolf was given the same script.

At first the interview went as planned. Woolf read his lines, and Pollard read his responses. When they reached the section devoted to race tactics, Woolf dutifully recited his line asking Pollard how he should ride the race. Just then, Pollard's script spilled to the floor. The pages fluttered everywhere. Alexander hurriedly tried to gather them up. He looked up, a mess of papers in hand, just as Pollard opened his mouth. In the jockey's eyes, Alexander saw "an evil gleam."

"Why, Georgie boy," said Pollard to the eager ears of the entire nation; "get on the horse-face to the front-put one leg on each side of him, get someone to lead you into the gate, and then f__ it up like you usually do."

For a moment the only sound reaching the NBC radio audience was a brief swish! as the radio technicians lunged for their controls. Woolf collapsed into peals of laughter. Alexander forged on with the interview, but the discussion he had planned so carefully had broken down completely. Woolf couldn't stop laughing and was barely able to grunt out his responses.

NBC didn't think it was so funny. The quip was a national scandal. The network, horrified at Pollard, wrote up a sanitized transcript of the interview.