Friday, December 31, 2010

If I were shallow

I would stop in my tracks here.

Zero sum

I wonder if the world really is a Zero Sum game.

What Does It Mean?
What Does Zero-Sum Game Mean?
A situation in which one participant's gains result only from another participant's equivalent losses.  

When I was a liberal, I took it for granted --that is, accepted it without really investigating-- that, to put it simply, everyone could have what they wanted and so injustice could be reduced, with no differently unjust side effects. With liberal change, things could only get better for everyone.

Not so sure anymore.

I can't think of any large human society that is not based on a structured combination of justice and injustice. The choice is probably restricted to which kinds you want because on this planet, available resources and access to them will always be scarcer than demand.

Take our own society. We have more access to more goods, more safety, more
security, etc than any other society in history. But some of us will always have more of these things than others and others will want more than they have.

This applies also to group status and societal power.

Sharing power may in fact be a myth. The struggle for dominance, given the Zero Sum rule, will be constant and there will be winners and losers, not colleagues.

I was thinking this morning that liberals, driven by envy --the covetousness against which the Tenth Commandment warns--, mistrust Big Business, which they hold is driven by greed, and promote Big Government to restrain and to redistribute. Conservatives mistrust Big Government, seeing it, rightly, as the agent of envy.

Is the real difference between greed and envy --both of which are immoderate desires for acquisition-- that the greedy are successful in acquiring what they want and the envious are not?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nazi glut

TimeLife.com is selling a four volume DVD set on Looking Into The Face of Evil. And of course it is about the Nazis.

No comparable set on The Communists.

Paper cuts

2010 will not go down in my history as a personal favorite. I got swine flu. I lost the man of my heart. I lost my car. My mother went through a several month health crisis that took a lot out of her and of the whole family. I lost my laptop and then had to do a complete restore on it when it got infected with a virus. I lost money. I lost my local grocery store. I've lost a sense of contentment and hopefulness and acquired a chronic sense of diminishment. 2010: Year of the papercuts. Adios. With few exceptions, good riddance.

Avatar


While checking out flat screen TVs the other day, I was subjected to sections of Avatar, with its overdone visuals and a cartoon plot of the noble savages versus the evil military-industrial demons.

Only the very kind of civilization that the movie demonizes (ours) could make possible the production of this very kind of movie. Paradigmatic.

New Year...yawn


Although I like Christmas...even if it occasionally provokes post-Christmas depression...I have never been a fan of New Years. New Year's Eve has always seemed to me the most pointless of holidays. I guess if you are an extravert and love parties and drinking and dressing up, it's great. But to me, since it was connected neither with an important historical event or a religious celebration, but merely marked the change of a number in the calendar, I have never bonded with it. Why anyone expects life or the world to improve because of that is beyond me. In fact, because of its disconnection with either event or belief, it has always been more than empty for me. Like one long cloudy boring Sunday afternoon. The pallid notion of Festivus really should be attached to January 1st.

When I lived on the East coast and in Canada, where they have real winter, the coming of the cold weather was tolerable...until January 1st. From September through late December there were holidays that gave some shape to the gathering dark: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas. But once the new year set it, if you except the superficiality and ambiguity of Valentine's day, there was no holiday for the worst part of winter. 

The Catholic Church, at least in the United States, made January 1 into a holy day of obligation, when Catholics are expected to attend Mass. Never understood why. In the old calendar, January 1st is the octave of Christmas and Jesus' circumcision was marked. In the new one, the rather generic day is now Mary the Mother of God.

I have a friend who classes these whines of mine as "paper cuts". Guilty as charged. But it's my bloody blog.

Holy Moses

I've found 29 of the 30.


Sola scriptura

I did my theological education after Vatican II, when Catholic enthusiasm for the Bible was at a peak probably never before matched in history. And I live in a historically Protestant country where Christianity consists of what is in the Bible. But I could never buy sola scriptura, the new-fangled belief of early modern North and Western Europeans that the Bible's text contained the knowledge of all things necessary to salvation and that its text was the ultimate regulator of Christian belief and practice.

And the more I read it and listened to it (for 20 years it was read out 3 times a day and every day for that time I joined in reciting or singing the Psalter) the less I could believe that it could ever serve that function.

In Greek, the dominant original language of Christianity, what we call "the Bible" is termed ta biblia...the books. I could never think of it as A book. In fact, it is a library. I wonder what effect would have been had on Christian history if somehow ta biblia would have found itself translated as The Library. Can you hear a new-born Baptist in Arkansas tell you, "Well, my Library says..."?

If ever there were a religion set up to believe in sola scriptura, it would be Islam. The Bible is an amalgam of the Hebrew scriptures with the 27 Christian scriptures added. Everyone knows that this library contains works by many different authors over a period of many centuries. But the Quran is the work of a single man, Muhammad. No "Old" Testament. A new book, spoken aloud by him and written down, so we are told, by others who heard him or who heard those who memorized what he said. All the material from the Hebrew or Christian scriptures comes in his own personal re-telling. (He understandably but erroneously thought that the Trinity was Father, Mother and Son.) Whatever I think of the content of the Quran, I have always admired the economy and simplicity of having one text totally replace all the others. No need for any other book. Or so you would think.

Even within the Quran, Muslims have had to deal with textual tensions by differentiating between earlier and later revelations, the Meccan and the Medinan suras. 

But aside from very minor heretics, Islam has been clear from very early on that the Quran is not the sole revelation of Islam. There is the example of the sinless and perfect prophet's life and the great mass of his other sayings. His sunna (habitual practice) and the hadith (narration). Which all together give birth to what really shapes Islam, the sacred law code of sharia (pathway).

The famous five daily prayers of Islam? Not in the Quran or even the hadith. Tradition. What the Muslims call ijma, the consensus of the Muslim community. So it seems that even having to hand an apparently self-contained ultra-authoritative book like the Quran does not make for sola scriptura.

Any religious text is interpreted when read. So authoritative interpreters will arise and will teach people how to read the book becoming, despite protestations, a kind of magisterium and Tradition. Certainly true even in Protestantism. Unavoidable everywhere.

Life is messy. So are actual religions.

Oracle debacle

Note this cover from Time in April 1977. I used to read Time religiously for years, --my first attempt at a letter to the editor was published in Time when I was a teenager--until a chance remark from a colleague made me realize what a particular and narrow point of view it took, and with what incredible seriousness it took itself. It was the oracle of conventional wisdom.

Note not only the headline about the coming ice age...this was before The Revelation of Anthropogenic Global Warming...which also causes global cooling, by the way...but the sub-headline in the middle up top: Beyond Detente: Why We Can't Beat The Soviets.


I'm aching to know what were the 51 things I could have done to make a difference.

HT to Powerline.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Worth repeating

In HBO's True Blood, the paranoid bigots are right about the vampires and all the open-minded liberals are being snookered.

Lights out

California is leading the nation by making 100 watt incandescent light bulbs, my personal favorites, illegal as of Jan 1. I was at Home Depot yesterday stocking up on 95 watters. I don't know how to express my appreciation for saving me and others from draining energy from Gaia. I bet that just a few of my bulbs would more than match Senator Pelosi's jet rides home to Mexifornia.

From Michelle Malkin's site:


Obama just signed the CALM Act...passed by unanimous Senate vote...forbidding commercials to have a volume level higher than the regular program. Who wouldn't want to be done with loud commercials? But why is this the job of the Feds? Oh, I forgot. Bliss is just one more regulation away.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Being and becoming

Over at Facebook, a friend of a friend opined that if a man tries to be an alpha male, it's a sure sign that he will never be one. Either you are or you're not. My FB friend disagreed. I agree. With his disagreement.

I have been a powerful male in organizations, but never really THE one. And although I am sure that my partners and boyfriends would all say that I have a strong personality, it is clear to me that prefer to connect with men who are somewhat stronger in personality than I am. I am not an alpha male. I would describe myself as a beta male with alpha traits. I am fine with that, but if I wanted to ramp it up, I don't think that would disqualify me.

Funny are the things that a culture or moment decides are just givens of nature, unchangeable, and which are capable of alteration. As I have noted before, we are asked to believe --nay, even cheer-- when born males or females try to change their gender. But someone who tried to change their race would be regarded with contempt and incredulity.

Our culture is constantly hectoring us to change and improve on a wide variety of fronts, but as irrationally as can be, decides that other parts of us are fixed and in fact ought not be tampered with.
The mixed message is: be who you are, you have nothing to prove, and while you're at it, pursue personal and global transformation. Oh, and heal the planet.

In discussions of manhood, it is frequently heard that if you have to prove your masculinity, then you are less of a man than a guy who never feels the need to. BS. Historically, has it not been essential to manhood that you have to achieve it? Why ought it now be a birthright just because you have a dick...or wish you did? Jack Donovan just wrote a piece called the Commodus Complex. It is about refusing to accept ideals and instead reshaping the definition of what you want to be by what you already are. In the LGBT world, it is commonplace to hear that a transman is a real man, along with drag queens. This kind of stuff is endemic to our society. As the Dodo says in Alice: Everybody has won and all must have prizes.

There are things I am naturally good at and things that always give me a hard time and at which I often fail. There are other things that I have not been naturally good and now am better at. Because I tried.

To be fair, it is not obvious which parts of us are fixed and which are not. But I resist our current culture's combination of therapy and narcissism about which is which.

More blood

Christmas, in Latin Christianity, turns out to be a bloody season. On the 26th, St Stephen is stoned to death. Upcoming on the 29th is St Thomas Becket, slaughtered at the altar during Vespers by an English king (not, for once, Henry VIII). Today another king has a tantrum and it is the feast of the Holy Innocents.

St Matthew notes that King Herod asked the Magi to stop in after they finished their pilgrimage to the new royal child and let him know where he was, so he could go and pay him homage. Warned by a dream, they went home by another route. However:
Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.


 My oldest friend emails from back East:  "Murderous day but great series of chants for the Holy Ones over whom Rachel keened."




Today would have been my dad's 87th birthday. We used to joke that he was born on the right day because despite his WWII experience and working in a tough industry in NYC, he always seemed to carry a certain innocence about the world, which his much wiser children (!) found endearing.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Just sayin'

Now that men and women are equal in the age of enlightenment, it's really astonishing to see on TV how often women hit men and now no one finds it unacceptable, questionable or even at all abnormal.

Just sayin'.

Hirsutitude

Last week I was visiting one of my favored porn sites --a kind of portal blog run by a former male escort and amateur novelist from Finland, with execrably predictable Europolitical attitudes and a generally fine taste in male images. His samplings run the gamut from bland twink to serious kink.

One of the pix was of two guys, both under thirty, in a dominance and submission play. The sub was shaved. Pubes included. One of the commentors complained that it would be sexy if not for the lack of hair "down there". A responder opined that in the drama of dominating and submitting, the bottom's having been shaved intensified his nakedness and ramped up the dominator's symbolic power at the same time.


The highly successful and extremely irritating Chris Rock now has a show on HBO about Black obsession with hair. With my long-term connection to a Black man, I had been introduced to some of the hairy mysteries of Black America. I once used the code phrase "good hair" in front of a Black colleague and she looked at me as if I had just divulged the secret of the Eleusynian mysteries. Rock reveals much more.

And although it is considered somewhat unmanly for a man who is not a hippy to be too concerned about his hair --except when the spectre of baldness arises-- a lot of men can get permission to care about it on the grounds that women care about men's hair. Hair Club for men, etc.

Tonsure --Latin for "shearing"-- is a religious rite in which all or part of the hair is shaved. Western monks have done it for a long time and it used to be part of initiation into the priesthood. It takes several forms and its history in the West is very conjectural but some say that a shaved head was characteristic of slaves, as opposed to free men.

Christian history is full of passionate opinions about beards. Clearly this is hot-button stuff.


Buddhist monks do a total head shave. It is clearly a kind of sacrifice of power or status for the sake of inclusion in a sacred group. Which, of course, gives you a new kind of status and power!

The other place that it occurs now is the military. My guess would be that it started, at least in America, during World War I. God knows that the generals in the Civil War were hairy as apes.
But nowadays, what image is more classically masculine than a tonsured Marine with the characteristic "high and tight"? 



There is something about the visible control of hair, especially on the head and face, which marks a man as being a certain kind of man, a man familiar with discipline, and one which includes freely chosen self-discipline.

For the soldier, this submission to authority, to a code and to a group, actually increases his masculine potency. When a raw kid joins the Marines, for example, and then comes home later on with his strict self-control and his polite treatment of elders as "sir" and "ma'am", no one takes this for weakness. It is a proud discipline that confidently contains lethality.

For the monk, it is more complex. He is opting out of the archetypal male tasks of sex and violence on the concrete plane and through discipline is  risking a more feminine style --affiliative-- in order to recreate the male task on a supposedly higher plane: his procreation, his protection and his provisioning are in the realm of the God. How he cuts his hair says something about that.

Back to my original image, I "get" the sexual energy created between a dominant furry man and submitting shaved man. It may be an echo of perhaps the fundamental form of homosexual connection, the erastes/eromenos bond. If the submitting male is, like the guy in the picture, clearly not a boy, the shaving is paradoxical...as it is nowadays in our culture for bodybuilders...that by divesting himself of his masculine fur, he both signals submission and makes it all the clearer, with the unobstructed view, that he is a powerful male. Men, as opposed to women, are supposed to be simple. That may be true, but they are not really as simple as we're led to believe.

For myself, I like a combo of tonsure and fur. If I may recall discreetly, it used to really ring my bell when B, a fella with some natural fur in the right places, would get a short haircut. To me, the best of both ends of the masculine archetype of hair.

________________________

Just for interest, a 90's porn star, also a professional body builder, in two versions:

Post partum

Well, I guess the Virgin did not experience post partum depression, so I am having some in her place, with a side of anxiety. Not uncommon after a concentrated holiday, or finishing a big project, etc. Or even old Aristotle's, post coitum. After Christmas' red and green, 2010's mostly grey returns.

The beloved disciple

December 27th is the feast of the protean Saint John, the Apostle, the Evangelist, the Divine, the Beloved. In images he is usually either the young beardless companion of Jesus who reclines on His breast at the Last Supper and is the only Apostle to stand by Him at the cross




 or the mature writer of his Gospel









who, in this 9th century engraving, combines the Evangelist with his signature animal, the eagle, so that he winds up looking like an Egyptian god

or the old greybeard exiled on Patmos and traditional author of the Book of Revelation.


There's a traditional blessing of wine on his feast day, so have a glass in his honor.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dumb Dumbledore


Although the books did not move me, the Harry Potter films are compulsively watchable for me. A fragment of The Half-Blood Prince has the trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione all involved in various kinds of the romantic confusions you'd expect at their age. After witnessing Ron unconsciously --quite literally-- breaking it off with a girlfriend, Dumbledore* says, "Oh, to be young again and to feel love's sweet pangs!"

Dumb.

We have found out, extra-scripturally, from author JK Rowling that Dumbledore is gay. Apparently he had a single great love when young and it ended sadly. He never tried again.

I was talking with another friend of mine who is, like myself, well into middle age (!) and who had/has fallen in love this past year. And like myself, the connection, while warm, will not turn out to be what was hoped for. Pangs there are. Sweet they are not.

I have been aware, while writing my posts on not keeping Christmas hostage to memory and on using historical experience to adapt to reality, that these things, when personal and acute, are easier said than done.

*I regret that Richard Harris did not live to complete the series. He was a far more formidable masculine character than the one played by Michael Gambon.

Memory and hope

Sounds like a theology book title from the 80's.

One difference between conservatives and progressives is that conservatives pay a lot of attention to memory and progressives to hope. A strength of conservatism is that while history is, even though contested, concrete, hope is always untried.

Conservatives can fall into the trap of romanticizing the past. I remember that big fat Baptist preacher from Virginia...what was his name?...Jerry Falwell...going on one day about how, until the 60's America was a wonderful and virtuous country. I recalled wondering how the slaves felt during that wonderful and virtuous time. You can overdo anything.

Progressives mostly use history to weave another narrative, the nightmare of the past. And so they create the dream of the future. Consider the recently defeated amnesty-by-increments Dream Act. The classic progressive line: Some men see things as they are and ask why? I see things that never were and ask why not? (Often there is a very good reason why not.) Progressives tend to demonize the past and romanticize the future. The untried.

Change always happens. Even in sclerotically traditional societies. Or it happens to them. One of my unPC attitudes toward the history of the New World is not to shake my head in shame over the misdeeds of my evil European ancestors --always exclusively The White Man, not the inclusive White Men and Women...funny how that works. What I see in the history of the New World is the fatal lack of adaptation on the part of the natives.

It would, to be fair, have taken an extraordinary vision on their part to have imagined the magnitude of what was happening to them. And recent history has shown the fatally devastating effect of epidemics on them, sapping them of vast numbers of people who might have resisted the invaders more successfully. But far too many of them carried on in the old way while the new situation engulfed them.

When I think of Darfur, I ask why no leader or leaders have arisen from within to alter the societies there which are subject to long-term predation by their Arab Muslim enemies? And this leads me to wonder, too, about the massive numbers of Africans taken as slaves by other Africans to be sold off to the Europeans or the Arabs. These patterns lasted for centuries. Why did they not adapt so as to prevent this?

So for this conservative, history is ambiguous. How could it not be, since it is the history of humans on planet Earth? But I prefer the analysis of things that have actually happened to the utopian dreams of things that never were, often, as I suspect, for good reason.

Good King Wenceslaus

looked down, on the feast of Stephen...which is December 26th. Saint Stephen the Deacon, the first Christian martyr, stoned to death. St Paul, still Saul of Tarsus, helped out by holding the coats of the guys who did the actual killing. Muslim Iran keeps up this fine tradition.


Christmas dinner was, as it turned out, kinda Southern, with the exception of the amuse-gueles. For that I sauteed chicken livers in bacon fat with chopped onions, added sage and cognac and then blended it into a pate, served on crostini, olive oiled toast. Hard not to make a whole meal of them.


Glazed and cloved baked ham with red gravy...a Southern concoction of ham drippings, raisins, brown sugar and black coffee: amazingly good...We had russet potatoes in the Dutch oven with bacon and onions, and white rice with black beans cooked with spicy Italian sausage bits. Cookies and ice cream for dessert. We even gave the wolfdog some of the ham. Nice.

This week I am going to be finding ways to use the remaining 9 pounds of the ham that's left! Ham and split pea soup for sure.

Speaking of cooking and martyrdom, here's a very Catholic image, combining sanctity, history, grotesquerie, realism, humor, incongruity and domestic usefulness: St Lawrence...another Deacon, this time from Rome and mid 3rd century.


He escaped stoning and went, er, out of the fire and into the frying pan. He was roasted to death on a gridiron. Part of his legend is that he called out to his tormentors at one point, "I'm done on this side, turn me over now and have a bite." He is, not surprisingly, the patron saint of cooks. I have this image in my kitchen.

Another side of the Christmas season!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Word made flesh


We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body;
consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin;
begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεὸν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas


When I was in eighth grade, I realized that the magical quality of Christmas that had always easily filled my childhood was no longer accessible. Astonishingly, I made a choice, one which has stood me in very good stead ever since. I decided that I would let go of the old magic of Christmas and enjoy the season and the day for whatever it brought, that I would let each Christmas be its own event and not hold it hostage to the memories of a five year old.

Consequently, I have always looked forward to Christmas because each one has brought its own joys and pleasures. Not the inaccessible world of the child, but the shifting worlds of my various adulthoods. Some years it has been wonderful, some years bittersweet. But I have never felt the temptation to adopt the attitude I see in so many people, --and for some I suspect it is a pose-- of fearing or hating this richest of our culture's common celebrations. Even, as now, I feel its power fading along with that culture. (A feeling that I hope is wrong.)

So I hope that whoever lets themselves be open to this holy/holi-day finds some merriment, peace, pleasure or joy in it. Cause there's nothing like Christmas.

Incarnation

At the risk of seeming disrespectful of the season of incarnation, this icon caught my attention.



And just in case you missed it...


(See, for me this is theological. Really. How can there not be a God?)

Ex Cathedra app

Blogger now has an app to make blogs more compatible with mobile phones. Easier to read my immortal wisdom and see pictures of naked men! Example:


I gotta say, Blogger is totally free and works extraordinarily well. Allows me to pollute the cybersphere with my troglodytic thoughts and fantasies very easily. Blowing off virtual steam...so I don't lose all my friends, every one of whom inexplicably voted for Barry Hussein O.

A Christmas miracle

 Otranto Cathedral
12th c.


Good for you guyz! Merry Christmas.

Bah, humbug


I have always liked Christmas.

There is one aspect that I do not like...and it's not the rampant commercialism, etc. blah blah...it's the music. Not the traditional music, --if you except Mele Kalikimaka--of which I am very fond, but the updated, cool and current music. All the groovy, rockin, hiphoppin or whatever stuff. Mariah Carrey's Christmas album, for example.

Or right now, playing on the Sounds of the Season station, an elevator quality orchestral version of what was even in its original form a small piece of groovy nada from Hispanic has been Jose Feliciano, I Want to Wish You A Merry Christmas Feliz Navidad.

Peace, out. Scrooge.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pluralism

Channel A: showing The Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis' brilliant reframing of the Christian narrative in another world and time. And Aslan, despite what addle-brained voicer Liam Neeson says, cannot be either Buddha or Muhammad. Only one savior fits the bill.

Channel B: RuPaul advertising his/her new 2011 season of derivative, repetitive and predictable drag queen embarrassments on LOGO, "fierce TV."

Huck Finn and Jim on multicultural sensitivity

Mickey Rooney and Rex Ingram as Huck and Jim in the 1939 film. On the raft, Huck tries to explain to Jim that the French are different from them and they don't speak like them, either. Jim, no Francophile, is scandalized. Great stuff.



From Twain's book itself:
So I went to talking about other kings, and let
Solomon slide. I told about Louis Sixteenth that got
his head cut off in France long time ago; and about
his little boy the dolphin, that would a been a king,
but they took and shut him up in jail, and some say he
died there.

"Po' little chap."

"But some says he got out and got away, and come
to America."

"Dat's good! But he'll be pooty lonesome -- dey
ain' no kings here, is dey, Huck?"

"No."

"Den he cain't git no situation. What he gwyne
to do?"

"Well, I don't know. Some of them gets on the
police, and some of them learns people how to talk
French."

"Why, Huck, doan' de French people talk de same
way we does?"

"NO, Jim; you couldn't understand a word they
said -- not a single word."

"Well, now, I be ding-busted! How do dat
come?"

"I don't know; but it's so. I got some of their
jabber out of a book. S'pose a man was to come to
you and say Polly-voo-franzy -- what would you
think?"

"I wouldn' think nuff'n; I'd take en bust him over
de head -- dat is, if he warn't white. I wouldn't 'low
no nigger to call me dat."

"Shucks, it ain't calling you anything. It's only
saying, do you know how to talk French?"

"Well, den, why couldn't he SAY it?"

"Why, he IS a-saying it. That's a Frenchman's
WAY of saying it."

"Well, it's a blame ridicklous way, en I doan' want
to hear no mo' 'bout it. Dey ain' no sense in it."

"Looky here, Jim; does a cat talk like we do?"

"No, a cat don't."

"Well, does a cow?"

"No, a cow don't, nuther."

"Does a cat talk like a cow, or a cow talk like a
cat?"

"No, dey don't."

"It's natural and right for 'em to talk different from
each other, ain't it?"

"Course."

"And ain't it natural and right for a cat and a cow
to talk different from US?"

"Why, mos' sholy it is."

"Well, then, why ain't it natural and right for a
FRENCHMAN to talk different from us? You answer me
that."

"Is a cat a man, Huck?"

"No."

"Well, den, dey ain't no sense in a cat talkin' like a
man. Is a cow a man? -- er is a cow a cat?"

"No, she ain't either of them."

"Well, den, she ain't got no business to talk like
either one er the yuther of 'em. Is a Frenchman a
man?"

"Yes."

"WELL, den! Dad blame it, why doan' he TALK like
a man? You answer me DAT!"

The Rules of the Game


I am one of those folks who have radar for rules. It is one of the first revelations I had when I began therapy. I have rarely encountered a situation where there were none. Most often they are unspoken and you only discover them by breaking them. But humans are, I believe, highly rule-bound creatures.

Richard Fernandez ruminates on the rules of the Open Minded. No surprise to me, they are as numerous and as inflexible as anyone else's.

When Lady Gaga spoke at a rally in support of repealing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy towards gays in the military, she said: “Our new law is called ‘If you don’t like it, go home!’” That kind of speech is described as a defense of tolerance.

Hate speech laws have been enacted by Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Council of Europe, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Jordan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Serbia, , Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. What you say and what you do, far from being your own business, is everywhere the public’s business. 

Morals legislation appears to be as pervasive as ever. Nothing in the current environment suggests there exist opinions on which you may not be lectured. The extent of what is out of bounds is growing all the time. What has changed is the contents of that proscribed area. It may now be a crime to quote the Bible. For example, in May of 2010 a British preacher was arrested for handing out leaflets saying that homosexuality was a sin... It is exactly the same process that might have occurred fifty years ago but with a policeman warning a homosexual he could not distribute leaflets advocating sodomy. What has changed isn’t that people are being warned off for their beliefs. What is different is which beliefs they are being warned against. The Ins and the Outs have changed places, but he door remains the same.
One of the drivers of the new public morality is who can fight back. British policemen do not go around telling Muslim imams not to preach against homosexuality because such preachers may take strenuous exception to their warnings. 

When I worked in the thickly PC world of AIDS services back in the 80's and early 90's, a group of gay men who had been involved in gay newspapers talked about learning the PC ropes. There was a woman they had met, her name was something like
Marly Wayan, who defined herself almost entirely by her oppressions: she was female, a dyke, and had some kind of disability. So the boyz decided that she would be the name for the Unit of Oppression. She herself had 3 Wayans. If you were a Jew, or an immigrant, or non-English-speaking, or poor, etc. you got another Wayan for each oppression.

Of course the point was that each Unit of Oppression, in the upside down world of PC, gave you...privilege. It was an inverted pyramid but it was rigidly pyramidal.
Whoever could claim the most Wayans in any given situation must be right.

The rules may change in content, but the game rarely does.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DADT RIP

I hope that the implementation of DADT's demise will be mostly a non-event for the military. I certainly don't want the victimist antics of gay activism to become an issue there. I hope that gay men and women who want to become part of the military will be able to do so without fear of censure for who they are, as long as they behave as everyone else is expected to behave.

It will be a pleasure especially to see homosexual men who, as themselves, become visible parts of the proud traditions of our military. To put it bluntly, I hope that this new situation will promote the masculinization of gay men, not the gaying of the military. Fingers crossed.


And it will be fascinating to see what the elite universities and highminded localities like SF do, who have rejected ROTC and military recruiting (supposedly) because of DADT. Ball's in your court. Of those places especially is the famous Orwellian saying apt: "Good people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

OBTW


The Ten Commandments end, not by forbidding greed, but envy.

Occasionally

I come across couples who make me think that maybe there's something to heterosexuality after all.

Jeff Bridges (at 35) and Rachel Ward (at 27) in Against All Odds (1984).

Merry Christmas


I had a very convivial dinner last night at a South San Francisco restaurant which feels very much to me like the Brooklyn restaurants of my younger years. Actual people go there and eat real food and have a good time.

While we were waiting for our table, I got into a conversation at the bar with a group of women about the holidays. We were all in agreement that the old custom of having either Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah as the greetings was better than the empty Happy Holidays we are supposed to do now. Maybe the Manhattans helped the bonding and agreeableness, but nevertheless...

Yesterday on TV, NPR's Nina Totenberg talked about a government fete which was, as she said, "pardon the phrase, a Christmas party."

Christmas has been for generations our culture's most prominent and powerful public holiday. Like America itself, it overtly and easily blended the religious and seasonal. Now it has become a matter for hesitation and, real or imagined, offense. This is not a sign of health, but of self-erasure. The homogenization that goes with "inclusion" really means the disappearance of the very reason there is an issue in the first place. PC in all its forms, polite on the surface, is eventually cancerous.

Can you imagine Jews in Israel's ceasing to wish each other traditional greetings on Rosh Hashana or Passover for fear of offending their Arabs or their atheists?


I have had the grim thought this morning that the banishment of Merry Christmas is as powerful a sign as any of the death of our culture.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Macedonia di Natale

A mix of local images for the week before Christmas


Lemons in my backyard on the way to ripening


A puritan in the Castro?


Tom and Jerry's tree. 23 years doing this. And the whole house is decked out far more grandly than my cameraphone can show. Jerry's Jewish, BTW. Inclusive.


Traditional theology in the window of Walgreen's drugstore.

Left and right and wrong


Someone just called Venezuelan populist dictator Hugo Chavez a CommuNazi. I am sure Sean Penn would like to have that person jailed. Penn's "model democrat" was just granted power to make law by decree...

CommuNazi. Good word.

Australian blogger John Ray points out that the Big Lie of the 20th century was that National Socialism was rightwing. (And rightwing means conservative, so conservative means Nazi.) He points out that it was only a bit to the right of Stalin's Communism, but very much in the socialist camp of the time.

And the more important point for me is that both of these forms of ideology are ruthlessly totalitarian. That's their heart and their meaning. Nazis focussed mostly on Jews as the enemy (but had a larger list at hand, of course, which it was also working on). Communists first focussed on the well-off and the intellectuals, but eventually it seems to me that everyone became an enemy of the State. What communism hates above all, as befits its totalitarian power drive, is the individual soul
and its freedom.

One of the continuing puzzles of leftism is that while it is supposedly a collectivist movement "for the people", it almost always winds up enthroning a single Tyrant and worshipping him. The supposedly most radically egalitarian politics usually creates what amounts to a tyrannical monarchy. North Korea is a logical result. Ironies of enantiodromia abound.

It amused me this past year to hear your standard-issue liberals call the conservative Tea Party "fascist." Because they want...less government.

Convergences, harmonic and rare


Last night, the night of the Winter Solstice, from my San Francisco back porch, despite the roiling clouds --which actually made the sight more magical-- I could see the moon slowly but totally eclipsed by the shadow of the earth.  Only the second time this has occurred in two thousand years.

Well....ok!



Is the age of the Renaissance popes returning? Not only the guys, but the girl! Very amusing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Profundity vs prolixity


When I was in the seminary, an eccentric German prof of New Testament asked us to take a saying that one of Jesus' parables culminates in and write our own parable, to culminate in the same saying. It was illuminating. Our efforts were all too long. No punch.

I find that with a lot of classical texts. Economy of expression and density of meaning.

Caught the end of Denzel Washington's Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic tale of good and evil. After many trials and struggles, on his deathbed he dictates the Bible to a scribe, from memory. His quiet declamation of the opening verses of Genesis --pausing to allow the writer to keep up with him-- was impressive. A text read and a text spoken from memory...quite different in impact. So much in so few words.
 1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
 2And the earth was without form, and void;
   and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
  And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
 3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

From my study of Hebrew many aeons ago, we had to memorize these verses in the original tongue.
I still recall some of it...fragments of rhythm, doubtless with errors, transliterated.
1 Bereshith bara Elohim et ha-shemayim v'et ha-aretz.

2 V'ha-aretz haya tohu va bohu v hoshek al pnei tehom.
V ruach Elohim mirahefeth al pnei ha mayim.

3 Vayomer Elohim Y'hi or: va yhi or.

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest, and likely the earliest, of the four canonical Gospels, written around the time that the Romans burnt the Temple in AD 70.  I recall seeing Mark performed and acted out as a one man show years back. Takes about an hour and a half or so. Seeing it spoken rather than read --and read in sections-- made for a compelling experience. Like a bard telling a story, without notes or book. You notice what is missing, how you fill in the blanks from the other Gospels. And you notice how different it is from the the other three: abrupt, almost manic, condensed and focused, heavy on action and less so on words. It begins with an adult Jesus meeting John the Baptist (no Christmas story). It is full of miracles and exorcisms. Its passion and cruxifixion story is violent and unbowdlerized. And the oldest manuscripts have the gospel end like this, with the reaction of the women to finding an empty tomb:  8And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Had only Mark survived or been canonized, what a different religion Christianity would have been.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The ideology of love

Christmas is a time when, in a post-Christian culture like ours, you hear a lot of talk about "the simple message of Christmas." Everybody seems to know that. That goes along with nostrums like "the simple message of Jesus", which is usually boiled down to one of the most ambiguous words in the English language, "love." They make the complex religion flowing from Jesus into a sentimental ideology.



And IMHO, it's just wrong. If the message of Jesus --or of any of the great religious founders-- could be handed out on a 3x5 card --or a Jack Chick pamphlet, which is not much different-- what are all those pages of the Bible about? To say nothing of those thousands of years of discussion and debate, of contest and accomplishment? It gives me some pleasure when I read of yellow dog Baptists whose compulsive search for the pure and original Gospel leads them to...Greek Orthodoxy. Lean and spare is not the same as original.

Maybe it's the Protestantism which, both very pro and somewhat con, has shaped so much of American culture. A lot of Protestantism operated under the illusion of the simple beginning which then devolved into the complicated recent. The heart of religion was to return to the uncorrupted, and therefore simple, origin.

Take these two images. The one above, a common sentimental manger scene. The one below, the Savior returning with blood in his eye. Simple message of love?

One of the repetitive faults of many Christians is to play the game and draw too strong a line between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. The Old Testament God is famously moody, to put it mildly, while the God of the New, and his simple loving Son, is supposed to be, well simple and loving. I think that these two images, one which begins Advent (below) nd the other which is its culmination in Christmas, lead one to suspect that the Son is a lot more like his Father than many of his followers...and his post-believing right-thinking sentimentalists...would like to believe.

So much for simple.

Local wag

is at it again. Promotion for my psychotherapy practice (via MadMenYourself.com)


Dr. ExCathedra 
has a lot of tricks up his sleeve 
including the Enneagram, 
and a personalized rendition of "Melancholy Baby" 
on the accordion.

You'll get better fast.

Cosmic Man

In thinking about the masculine archetype, I use the image of a constellation, a pattern of stars. And Orion seems appropriate for that. Here's an image of that image.

The grotesque image

is what fascinates, says James Hillman.

While looking for images for a post on Christmas and the Last Judgment, I ran across this site.

Problem

Despite my new antivirus program, my laptop got infected with malware from a site purportedly allowing the download of old out of print books. The screen that kept popping up was from pspacebrilligdotcom. It took three new antivirus scannings to find the stuff and remove it. Malwarebytes was the only program that dealt with it.

But, it has apparently infected Ex Cathedra itself. A friend in Canada can't open the blog because he gets the same kind of screens I got. But a local reader can open it with no problem.

Very odd, since the files are on the Blogger server, not my computer. I am working on finding out what is wrong.

UPDATE: Although the Norton site says it is safe, readers who have been attacked by it mentioned that IE8 blocked it. I tried that and it did. Told me to get the hell out of there. The site, btw, is on a Rumanian server and although its title is World of Books, its URL is: (in safe mode) www.woriddashofdashbooksdotcom.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christ returns too soon

Well, Christmas does. My sense of time is always one week off and Christmas thus always arrives a week earlier than it should. One week from today, actually.


Back when I was observant and monastic, following the four week season of Advent modified my otherwise always-off internal Christmas clock. I loved Advent; my favorite liturgical season, really.
Truth be told, I don't think I lived the resurrection life very often but I could certainly identify with a season dedicated to waiting for incarnation.

Advent is a strange season. The first Sunday is dominated by the image of the Return of Christ and the End of the World. Then it calms down and moves into Isaiah and John the Baptist and the Virgin. What starts out with a cosmic bang comes to completion not quite with a whimper but with the sounds of a newborn in a barn.



The spare old chants for Advent had a way of lingering, sung as they often were in chill and dark December evenings. It seemed to me the most Romanesque of times, the music and ceremonies both calm and peaceful while full of longing and awareness of absence.

Rorate caeli desuper et nubes pluant Justum:
Shower down, o heavens, from above and let clouds rain down The Just One.  

Aspiciens a longe et ecce video Dei potentiam venientem et nebulam totam terram tegentem. Ite obviam ei et dicite, Nuntia nobis si tu es ipse qui regnaturus es in populo Israel.
Gazing from afar off, behold I see the power of God coming and a cloud covering the whole earth. Go out to meet him and say: Tell us if you are He who is to reign among your people Israel.

And the wonderful O antiphons on the seven Vespers before Christmas, with these titles:  
O Sapientia. O Adonai. O Radix Jesse. O Clavis David. O Oriens. O Rex Gentium. O Emmanuel.


O Wisdom. O Lord. O Root of Jesse. O Key of David. O Sunrise. O King of Nations. O God-With-Us.

Very queer theory indeed

Although I am a natural teacher, I think that life in the current academy would have driven me stark raving mad. Even more than I am.


The Gendering of Men, 1600-1750
Author: By Thomas A. King
Pages: 583
The queer man’s mode of embodiment—his gestural and vocal style, his posture and gait, his occupation of space—remembers a political history. To gesture with the elbow held close to the body, to affect a courtly lisp, or to set an arm akimbo with the hand turned back on the hip is to cite a history in which the sovereign body became the effeminate and sodomitical and, finally, the homosexual body. In Queer Articulations, Thomas A. King argues that the Anglo-American queer body publicizes a history of resistance to the gendered terms whereby liberal subjectivities were secured in early modern England. Arguing that queer agency preceded and enabled the formulation of queer subjectivities, Queer Articulations investigates theatricality and sodomy as performance practices foreclosed in the formation of gendered privacy and consequently available for resistant uses by male-bodied persons who have been positioned, or who have located themselves, outside the universalized public sphere of citizen-subjects. By defining queerness as the lack or failure of private pleasures, rather than an alternative pleasure or substance in its own right, eighteenth-century discourses reconfigured publicness as the mark of difference from the naturalized, private bodies of liberal subjects. Inviting a performance-centered, interdisciplinary approach to queer/male identities, King develops a model of queerness as processual activity, situated in time and place but irreducible to the individual subject's identifications, desires, and motivations.

How many queers can dance on the head of a pin at the same time?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Too true


Bette Midler is going to have her Las Vegas show taped for an HBO special. Always liked her: full of fun, mischievous, inventive, playful.

Great tag line from her trailer: "Thirty years ago my audience was all on drugs. Now they're all on medication."

LOL.
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