I just happened upon this piece in Fried Green al-Qaedas, and I am so impressed that I need to do a long excerpt:
"I worked the locked wards, which meant that all of my patients were quite insane, at least upon admission. The patients didn't call you Doc, and they weren't happy to see you. Many would gladly kill you given half a chance. Nothing personal, you understand, but you might resemble a VC, and even if you didn't, you definitely had them locked up and under control. There was a definite POW mentality.
"You had to be raving mad to get into the hospital if you were coming from Vietnam; nobody got a ride home for an anxiety attack. And you're not going to get many depressives, either. They make such easy targets."
. . .
"At NRMC in Philadelphia, most of our patients were marines who had made a triumphant trip home, only to find they could no longer cope with the very concept of home anymore. When you're busy - in danger - on guard - on fire, your mind is preoccupied with survival. You're only one tiny step down on Maslow's sorry little pyramid than your peers. Don't matter. It probably doesn't even apply. But
"In Iraq, we are still in the early days, and the intensity is starting to crank up. April has been the deadliest month yet, and morale wavers as weeks turn to months turn to years. Psychosis is still seeding."
. . .
"And many of them were headed to the Veterans Hospitals, out of sight, because we only had so much time; the patients kept coming. The VA couldn't handle the hard core psychotics, which was about all we would have left after a three week span, so these were destined to be the droolers, either drugged into oblivion, or occasionally, erased via electro shock 'therapy'.
"Then they could be safely shipped to the VA, where after a respectable number of months they would be discharged and released, most of them moving on to a life upon the city streets, where you can see them today."
Read all of Triage II
30 April 2004
I just happened upon this piece in Fried Green al-Qaedas, and I am so impressed that I need to do a long excerpt:
Real Live Preacher links the art of storytelling with the vocation of a preacher, and also with the search for love, the poetry of Walt Whitman and the movie "The Big Fish". It is a beautiful piece of short, sharp writing with a beautiful vision of the centrality of storytelling to the human experience.
Posted by Deb at 22:39
Jeanne of Body and Soul taps into the British media to find answers in the growing scandal of the torture of Iraqi prisoners. She appreciates the Guardian's in-depth coverage of the issue, including the role of contractors in the interrogation of prisoners, and their non-accountable status. But she is totally freaked by a Daily Mirror front page. Bless you, Jeanne. If you lived here you would soon grow used to it, and used to seeing "respectable" people reading these appalling parodies of newspapers. It's just a British thing; this isn't even close to being the most tasteless cover I have seen on the Mirror.
Meanwhile, my Darling Hubby is disgusted to the point of blithering by the inarticulate reaction of George W. to America's part in the scandal. And I smile indulgently as Gen. Sir Michael Jackson perfectly impersonates an officer of the empire to say: "...if proven, the perpetrators are not fit to wear the Queen's uniform and they have besmirched the Army's good name and conduct." Bless them all and pray for this f*c*ed up world.
Posted by Deb at 21:55
Not in my usual range of topics, I know, but I was really taken by this post, a short but thorough tribute to the genius of 20th century American artist Edward Hopper, at Out of Range.
Posted by Deb at 19:56
Amy Sullivan receives and replies to hate mail in The Gadflyer: Mail Bag. For a more balanced view of the pro-choice movement, turn to Amy Sullivan, a feminist who wrestles with her conscience.
Posted by Deb at 06:48
29 April 2004
The New York Times has an almost blow-by-blow account of the arguments before the US Supreme Court on the question of the legality of "indefinite detention". This case is about US citizens, rather than non-citizens such as those held at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Supremes heard that case last week, but decisions have not been handed down at this point. It is striking how disingenuous and cynical some of the government's arguments are in this case. For example, when asked by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor why a "neutral decision maker" could not have been used to screen detainees before they were committed to detention, government attorney Paul D. Clement said 'the potential detainees' initial screening, sorting those to be held from those who need not be, met that requirement. "For all intents and purposes, that is a neutral decision maker," he said.' Excuse me? Then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked why the detainees were not given a forum to explain themselves, and Clement replied "The interrogation process itself provides an opportunity for an individual to explain that this has all been a mistake." (Note that in earlier cases the government's legal team saw no reason why torture in interrogation should not be permitted in certain cases. Hey it worked for centuries in the past - like the 12th through the 17th centuries. Why forsake a proven formula?) This government demonstrates over and over again that they hold most of the world and its institutions in contempt and clearly think they can and are entitled to get away with literally anything.
Posted by Deb at 18:17
27 April 2004
Tonight's headlines on UK Google News have not one US story amongst them. You may not think that's remarkable, but it's the first time I've seen that in about two years of reading it. You usually find one or two sneaking in with the World or Entertainment or at least Sci/Tech.
Posted by Deb at 22:19
It's the sound of chickens coming home to roost. Text of a letter from 52 former senior British diplomats to Tony Blair, objecting to his government's foreign policy moves. Bush faced similar criticism from diplomatic circles some months ago but it was more low-key, largely ignored by the press, and not taken very seriously by American pundits. They do take this sort of thing seriously here, though, despite the government's attempts to pin it all on "understandable frustration".
Posted by Deb at 22:13
25 April 2004
Nicole Goodwin and her daughter Shayla
The New York Times yesterday carried this shocking story of a female veteran, recently served in Iraq and honourably discharged, who is homeless in New York with a one-year old daughter. You can read the article for the explanation of how this can happen, but really, it doesn't need an explanation so much as an apology. This link came via American Samizdat.
Posted by Deb at 18:20
24 April 2004
I got a big charge out of this article in the Guardian: The big fat con story, an excerpt from Paul Campos's book, The Obesity Myth. Here's a good quote:
'The single most noxious line of argument in the literature about obesity is that black and Hispanic girls and women need to be "sensitised" to the "fact" that they have inappropriately positive feelings about their bodies. Readers may suspectthis is a bad joke: I wish it were. One University of Arizona study found that, while only 10% of the white teenage girls surveyed were happy with their bodies, 70% of the black teenage girls were happy with theirs (the black girls weighed more, on average, than the white girls).'
'In 1853, an upper-class Englishman could be quite unselfconscious about the fact that the mere sight of the urban proletariat disgusted him. In 2003, any upper-class white American liberal would be horrified to imagine that the sight of, say, a lower-class Mexican-American woman going into a Wal-Mart might somehow elicit feelings of disgust in his otherwise properly sensitised soul. But the sight of a fat woman - make that an "obese" - better yet a "morbidly [sic] obese" woman going into Wal-Mart... ah, that is something else again.'
Cross-posted at Deborama's Kitchen and on my LiveJournal.
Posted by Deb at 20:53
On the eve of tomorrow's huge pro-choice march in Washington, Jeanne of Body and Soul and Kevin of Lean Left both address the subject of Nigerian cardinal Arinze's ill-considered remark about denying communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians (e.g. Kerry). Jeanne has some good things to say about an idea I like (she is quoting Ono Ekeh in the National Catholic Reporter): the idea that Catholics (or other nominally pro-life believers) who are liberal politically take a "demand-side" position on reducing the number of abortions. As Jeanne says, this is far less cynical than the usual "I am politically pro-choice but find abortion morally repugnant" line that a lot of religious liberals take. "Supply-side" conservative abortion opponents seek to reduce abortions by making them illegal, of course, but the "demand-side" approach says to offer women more choices - it often comes down to money, which is the leading cause women cite for why they chose an abortion. And of course, this approach also addresses the horrendous hypocrisy of the official Republican position, that the right to life begins at conception and stops at birth.
In the comments to Jeanne's post there are more interesting points raised about collateral issues. One cites Sursum Coda, the blog of a Catholic political moderate:
"I’ve offered the following thought experiment before: imagine that there was a mysterious disease that caused more than one million women a year—most of them low-income and many of them women of color—to spontaneously miscarry halfway through their first trimester. Would we not see this as a national tragedy worthy of public attention? Would we not expect the Democratic Party, the historic defender of the health and welfare of working class people, to offer some solutions?"
My response to that is - what, you mean like the way they fell all over themselves to find a solution to AIDS in the 80s and 90s? I think this guy is just a little naive. However, the prize for naivete must go to Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, here cited in another comment in Body and Soul, in an opinion in Casey v. Planned Parenthood:
""Our law affords constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education." Does it indeed? I have to say, as a mother who raised two children under the laws of the US of A, that was never my experience. And it is less true today in some states, as this horrifying article in the Guardian illustrates:
"In the name of foetal rights, women across the US have been dragged bleeding from hospitals into prison cells hours after giving birth, charged with homicide following stillbirths, pinned to hospital beds and forced to have Caesareans against their will, or had their babies removed at birth after a single positive test for alcohol or drugs. Since the mid-70s around 300 women have been arrested for these transgressions, and 30 states now have foetal homicide laws."
All of which is a good reason to go to Washington tomorrow. I salute you and thank you if you will be there.
Posted by Deb at 20:20
The Memory Hole - Military Coffins: The Photos You're Not Supposed to See is the big buzz in blogland. The Memory Hole is dedicated to combatting government secrecy and filed a FOIA motion to get the photos of military coffins at Dover AFB. I found this link at Notes from Atlanta.
Posted by Deb at 12:18
23 April 2004
Here's the picture everyone's blogging about. And the latest story about it is that the young woman who took the picture has been fired by Maytag Aircraft, a company based in Kuwait and performing cargo services on contract to the US military. American Samizdat's Dr. Menlo has the story, including the weasel-y explanation of why it is against government policy to allow the media to show pictures like this.
Posted by Deb at 19:19
21 April 2004
The Guardian covers the car bombings in Basra, along with other bad news about the war. At least I will say this for the UK (although I still think they need to get out of the occupation business as soon as possible): a senior MoD official on the news tonight said something I don't think you will hear equivalent American leaders saying, something to the effect that if the Iraqi people begin to perceive coalition forces as the enemy, it doesn't matter how many troops they send in, there will never be a "victory." The question is - has that time come already, or is it imminent? Or is it coming soon, but too late to reverse it?
Posted by Deb at 22:57
'Let the battle be joined' was the headline greeting us this morning in most of the daily papers. In case the sweeping grandeur of the prose doesn't really communicate what it's about, it's about the PM doing a flip-flop and announcing a future referendum on the EU constitution or something like that. Gawd. Was TB always such a pretentious prat, or is it only lately?
Posted by Deb at 22:52
The case of Rasul v. Bush was heard by the Supreme Court yesterday. The Center for Constitutional Rights brought the legal challenge to the US's indefinite detention of foreign nationals by filing habeus corpus petitions over two years ago.
Posted by Deb at 22:26
Marketplace, a subsidiary of Minnesota Public Radio on the Spoils of War is an in-depth analysis of the corruption involved in what is straight-facedly called the reconstruction of Iraq.
"Who's watching the money as it streams through Baghdad? Just about no one, and bribes and black marketeering are rampant, witnesses say. A leading anti-corruption group claims that massive amounts of U.S. money spent in Iraq is being lost to corruption. From Halliburton subsidiaries charging double for gas, Iraqi officials and Arabic translators unrestrained from pocketing millions of dollars, or even members of the interim governing Council accusing each other of taking tens of millions in bribes. Trouble is, the root of the problem can't be found anywhere near the Green Zone. Try the White House, and Capitol Hill, where oversight of Iraqi construction crews and U.S. contractors like Halliburton has only just begun to be assigned… more than a year after the war began."
This link was found at Eschaton.
Posted by Deb at 21:35
Guardian story about the release today of Mordechai Vanunu after 18 years in prison for revealing Israeli nuclear secrets. The Independent has this story about Cheryl Hanin, the American-born Mossad agent who seduced Vanunu and lured him into his arrest.
The Madison (Wisconsin) Independent Media Center has a really in-depth story about the history of Vanunu's whistle-blowing, arrest and subsequent developments.
Posted by Deb at 21:29
20 April 2004
Robert Fisk, in an interview from ABC TV in Australia, has some very provocative things to say about Iraq. The June 30 handover is a fraud. He and others were wrong to predict a civil war in Iraq; Iraq has never had a civil war and the west exaggerates the enmity between Sunnis and Shi'ites. Instead they will more likely unite against the coalition. The most frightening historical parallel to US relations with Iraq, and not an unplausible one, is that of French relations with colonised Algeria. All in all, Fisk paints a very grim picture with not much hope for improvement.
Posted by Deb at 21:47
George Monbiot's latest is about the power and influence of the fundamentalist apocalyptic Christians, estimated to make up perhaps a third of Republican voters in the US. This small but powerful voting bloc is influencing US foreign policy in the middle east with the specific purpose of starting a world war and ending civilization as we know it. I know it sounds like a joke, but it so very isn't. Ready to immanentize the eschaton, anyone?
Posted by Deb at 18:59
19 April 2004
John Pilger's recent article in the New Statesman does not make comfortable reading, even for those of us firmly against the war in Iraq. Gathered together like this, the crimes and lies, not just of the US but of the west in general, are almost too much to bear. And these are crimes against its own people too (wasn't that what Saddam was accused of?) particularly against our ill-payed, ill-informed soldiers who bear the brunt of this insane policy. Thanks to Pete of Whole Wide World of Fat Buddha for this link.
Posted by Deb at 17:50
18 April 2004
Browsing my blogs, I visited A'Changin' Times and discovered a post about - Doonesbury. Here's what VeraLynne had to say, quoting from EP Rants:
When Howard Dean was first acknowledged in DOONESBURY, many of us were beaming ear-to-ear, knowing that someone with "real influence" (comic strip artists, comedians, musicians, etc....) actually understood what our guy was all about! 33 years ago, DOONESBURY acknowledged John Kerry with 3 comic strips. Here's a little blast from the past for those of you who weren't paying attention the first time, or didn't exist yet: Doonesbury@Slate - The Strip
Posted by Deb at 22:19
The latest post on the Bloggers Parliament House of Commons is an interesting story about Julian Dibbell, who made a small profit for the last two years by selling virtual assets in online game worlds. He sells on e-Bay a selection of houses, castles and fortunes that he makes by playing virtual reality games to other gamers who don't have the time or skill to amass these themselves.
Also see his own blog, Play Money, Diary of a Dubious Proposition.
Posted by Deb at 15:57
16 April 2004
14 April 2004
At the bitter shack of resentment, a harrowing story, an eyewitness account, of a British woman aid worker's sojourn into besieged Fallujah. You really do have to read this, but it may tear your heart out.
Posted by Deb at 21:05
Well, I guess I had better post something to the old blog if I don't want to lose the interest of my small but perfectly formed readership. It has been two days. I don't know why I didn't post anything on Easter Monday; mild depression, perhaps. I suffered a big disappointment at work and then the very next day I got a decent pay rise. Such things mess with my head, and then leave me emotionally drained. In a way I enjoyed creating the death of Christendom posts, but that also took something out of me. But I went back to work on Tuesday, rather grimly, just hanging in there, but the enthusiasm I had for the job is all gone and I am cynical and snappish.
This morning I saw a display of mass idiocy that was so stupid it was amusing. Nottingham has this lovely shiny new tram system. If you are unfamiliar with trams, they run on tracks embedded in the road surface, and with a few exceptions, they run alongside of traffic, and they cross traffic at the level, observing traffic lights just like buses and cars. There is a crossing near my office of the tramline with a heavily-used one-way street. As the tram came to the intersection, its way was blocked by a large delivery van parked in front of a pub, just inches from the track. Therefore, no clearance at all. The driver stopped and got out to ask the van driver to move away. As he got out of the tram, the traffic light changed, so that he was blocking four lanes of traffic. The trams are long and bendy, with four carriages, so it was the rear carriage blocking the road, and the driver and the van was just out of sight up the tramline. One old geezer got really incensed at the tram so he started blowing his horn, vigorously, and - here's the stupid part - gesticulating madly at the passengers in the back of the tram and shouting "Move" at them. And now here's the really stupid part - all the other drivers thought "What a great idea!" so they're all tooting and gesturing and shouting at the bemused passengers sitting innocently in the rear carriage of the tram. And me standing on the corner, almost up in this old geezer's face, and laughing so hard I couldn't go anywhere till I got over my fit of hysterics. Thanks, I needed that.
Posted by Deb at 20:49
11 April 2004
Love has come again like wheat that springeth green . . .
A summation, from a very liberal and yet theologically unchallenging point of view, of the points made in the last three posts, can be found in the article Easter's Hawks and Doves by Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser. As Dr. Fraser says: "The Easter of the hawks insists that sin always has to be balanced, or paid for, with pain. It's the theological equivalent of the refusal to be "soft on crime". From this perspective, Easter is the story of Jesus paying off the debt of human sin with his own suffering and death. . . What is remarkable about this theology of debt is that it is precisely what Jesus rejects when he invokes the spirit of the Jubilee at the outset of his ministry. The Jubilee tradition argues for the regular unilateral remission of debt so that people are not imprisoned by a liability they cannot ever meet. . . Jesus, however, takes up an alternative tradition found in the psalms and the writings of the prophets: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," Jesus repeats from the book of Hosea. He thus attacks the religious authorities and is murdered for so doing. Jesus does not oppose the brutality of his treatment by an equal and opposite show of force. And in not returning violence with violence he initiates a fragile and vulnerable community of non-retaliation known as the kingdom of God."
But that's all Good Friday material. I just wanted to re-state it, or perhaps to let someone else who states it rather better have a chance. Today is Easter Sunday, and I turn my attention to the Resurrection. And as I turn my attention to the story of the Resurrection, my attention is caught by Mary Magdalene. It would be a digression to get into all the stuff that has been written about "the Magdalene", what she was or wasn't, did or didn't do. This and this are only a very small sample of the material on that subject available just on the web. Today I am only concerned with the Resurrection, and I have three questions about that: first, did it really happen? is Christ truly risen? Second, assuming the belief that he is risen, and that Mary of Magdala was there and saw him, what did it mean to her, and what did it mean that it was her, and why are all the stories about her so conflicting? And finally (and I hope that the Magdalene will provide a key to answering this question) what does it mean to me? For this last post in the series, I am pulling out all the stops. I am putting words and images of some of the most powerful scenes in my own inner spiritual life up here and sharing them. You can get a clue from the painting and the line from a traditional Easter song that head this post.
So, to get right to it, what about the Resurrection - did it really happen? The kind of people who want to have "the historical Jesus" (who are not bad people in my book, but a bit misguided) have a lot of explanations: that Christ was in a coma, that another person died on the cross in his place, that his body was stolen for political reasons and in the mass hysteria of the times, people hallucinated seeing him. All perfectly plausible. And you could say similar things about Lazarus, who had been also raised from the dead a few weeks earlier, according to the Gospels. It all sort of misses the point, though. To a stubborn rationalist, you can never explain the difference between fact and Truth, between falsehoods and powerful myths, in any way that will mean a thing; such people simply cannot see such things, any more than a colour-blind person can see gradations of reds, for instance. But for the person who is open to faith, yet feels loyal to science, this wonderful article at Correction on the subject of Negative Capability provides an answer. Now, this is a 3000 word essay on historical biblical criticism, as the author apologetically notes at the beginning, so I will summarise it in his own words, because I know not one of my readers is going to read the whole thing, and my great spew of purple prose:
"And this is really the crux of the matter. We modern Christians want to have the world both ways: we want a life that is dominated by our faith, but we also want to live in a modern, scientific universe where the dictates of faith don't really apply. This is just too much to ask of ourselves. Once you deconstruct a Bach melody and express it in mathematical terms, you have strayed far, far from the experiential beauty that is its entire reason for existing in the first place. There's nothing wrong with your mathematical expressions per se, they just aren't the point. So it is with miracles and biblical minutiae; we can hold them up to the light and compare them and cross-reference them all day long, but in doing so we have already stepped out of the circle of light that they describe. There's nothing wrong with doing this, but it's not the intended experience. It was never meant to respond to such probing and so the results thereof are unsatisfying."
So, yes, my answer to the first question is yes. I will not say, necessarily, "I believe Jesus died and was raised up" but rather "I have faith in Jesus's resurrection and eternal life". To me there is a subtle and yet very important difference between those two. There is a difference between belief and faith for one thing. And the other thing is that focusing on whether Jesus died is very scientific and misses the point - the point being eternal life.
What is the difference between belief and faith? Like most English words, both "belief" and "faith" have a primary and a secondary meaning. The primary meaning of both words is the same, but the secondary meanings are vastly different. If you were a witness to a crime and you were testifying in court, and an attorney asked you "Did you see the accused carrying this gun?" you might answer "Well, I believe I did". It is thus a way of saying that your senses and your memory tell you so, but that you are aware that both senses and memory can be tricked or can fail. On the other hand, if you are involved in a political movement, you might give a speech and say "I have faith in the Labour party". (People do in fact say things like "I believe in the Labour party, but I think that's just lazy diction, because it could be construed that you believe in the existence of the Labour party.) Another way to approach this semantic dissection - "belief" can be conflated with "credulity", but "faith" is never treated that way. Because in "faith" there is a suggestion of will and choice and responsibility that is just not there in "belief". So I always refer to my religion as a "faith" and not a "belief". In fact, I have been known to say, in a multi-layered play on words that I am sad to say not one person has ever "got", that "I don't believe in belief".
There is a song on Roberta Flack's album "First Take" that I have never heard anywhere else, and I don't know much about it or where it comes from. I cannot even say what genre it is, jazz, I suppose, because it is not like any other song I know. It completely sums up the nature, the feeling, of my faith. The song is called "I told Jesus". I see from my search that it's listed as a Nina Simone song, but these lyrics, although clearly the same song, are not the ones Roberta Flack sang. Well, never mind. This is the kind of faith I have, although you wouldn't really know it to look at me. I rarely go to church. I never pray in public. I do not evangelise. But the inner relationship I have with Jesus is very powerful and personal, and at times I get a call from him, to do something difficult, like forgive someone, or let something go that I thought I could not live without. I can't say honestly that I always respond to these calls. I am, after all, a sinner, and sin means error. Sin, however, does not mean evil or bad, any more than faith means perfect. I may fail Christ's calls, but I don't hang up on them.
I think that Mary Magdalene must have had a relationship like that with Jesus, with the added factor that she saw him in the flesh. And indeed, the Gospels say that she, along with a few other women, "ministered to him" during his days of travelling and teaching. (That was just one of the very unconventional things about Jesus's life.) I recently found a really rich resource on all the relevant Mary Magdalene material - at the BBC website of all places. It has information about the Gnostic gospel accounts of Mary, including the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip. In Philip, there is the very controversial story about the other disciples jealousy of Mary, because "Jesus often kissed her on . . . " (Most scholars have accepted the learned guess that the key missing word here was "the mouth", but we will never know for sure, because there is a gaping hole in the manuscript.) "Like the books found at Nag Hammadi, the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene is also considered an apocryphal text. The story it contains begins some time after the resurrection. The disciples have just had a vision of Jesus. Jesus has encouraged his disciples to go out and preach his teachings to the world, but they are afraid to do so because he was killed for it, and they say if they killed him, they are going to kill us too. It's Mary who steps forward and says, don't be worried, he promised he would be with us to protect us. It says she turns their hearts toward the good and they begin to discuss the words of the Saviour. In texts like the Gospel of Philip, Mary was presented as a symbol of wisdom. However in the Gospel of Mary, she is the one in charge, telling the disciples about Jesus' teachings. "
I think the key and important thing about Mary Magdalene, the thing that distinguished her from the other disciples (aside from being female of course) was that she understood Jesus's message of love far better than any other contemporary person. I think she was meant to be the leader of the church, and that Jesus's acts in showing his special favour of her and also of appearing to her in the first moments of his resurrection, showed that he meant to do this. Unfortunately, it was all too easy for the men who surrounded Jesus in life to freeze her out and gradually over the years for the church, which strayed ever farther from its original message, to edit her out. In ways that we will probably never even know of, she was willing to suffer for love, and she remained faithful to the end and even beyond it.
So what does this mean to me? A lot of women say that a major stumbling block to being a Christian is its lack of female role models. I would find it very hard to live a life "in imitation of Christ". It would be beyond me. But to live a life in imitation of Mary Magdalene, this is something I can do. Mary was an outcast at times, but she was also a scholar and a leader of men. She was left alone to carry on, but when Jesus was with her, she loved him totally and understood him deeply. She may or may not have been a great sinner, or possessed by demons, and she may or may not have spent her last days as an ascetic penitent. She obviously troubles the Catholic church a lot, because two things they have done in regard to her are very strange. One is the recanting of the church's identification of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman who washed Jesus's feet. And the other was to make her a saint, despite the fact that there is no story of either martyrdom or miracles associated with her. (Does someone have a guilty conscience perhaps?)
So, this is my faith; this is my story (and I'm sticking to it.) Christ is risen. You are loved and you are forgiven. All that God requires of you are the three gifts of a simpleton: to love, to practice forgiveness and to know that you, and all of Creation, are free. Proclaim the Jubilee.
Posted by Deb at 22:28
I realised that I hadn't done a blogkeeping post for a while, even though there are a lot of little developments on the blog and associated websites. Deborama (this one) has a new PayPal button. I finally quit procrastinating and made a modest donation to the Haiti Group, which is supporting a struggling trade union in Haiti fighting for its survival, and the payment method used the new improved PayPal UK. So since I had an account already, I decided to put up a button. If you are moved to support my writing efforts in any way, just click - you can give very small amounts and it doesn't matter what currency your account is in, it will convert it. I also added a Google search window (it's way down at the end) with which you can search my website for past articles by keyword. There are a couple of new posts in that subject so dear to my heart, food politics, over at Deborama's Kitchen. They were both gleaned from the Health Supreme website of Josef, a fellow Bloggers Parliament member. Sometime in the near future I am undertaking a little volunteer project - teaching economical and healthful food shopping and cooking to the residents of a local hostel for homeless youth. I am planning to post the lesson plans (with recipes of course) at DK, so check that out.
Speaking of Bloggers Parliament, there has been a little activity over there, so drop by and read, including one I posted that links to an article from How to Save the World and one posted by VeraLynne that links to a blog called investigating the 'new' imperialism, a very interesting website.
There is not much happening at Deborama's Book Reviews and Store, but soon, today or tommorow I hope, I am going to post some reviews: the His Dark Materials trilogy, Carol Shield's Unless and an SF book I read ages ago, Kipper's Game, by Barbara Ehrenreich (a name that will be familiar in quite another context to any readers familiar with the DSA, The Nation or Mother Jones). My poor neglected "language maven's" site Wordkeeper is almost defunct. And yet, browising the referrer stats on SiteMeter, meagre as they are, puts me in mind to do some work to try to revive it. It is interesting what searches bring people there, and it has got a 4 Google rank, even though it also gets about 4 hits - a week!
Posted by Deb at 12:33
10 April 2004
Don't know if anyone else has been following the story of what would have been one of the largest dams ever built, on the Nu River in China, but it has possibly been cancelled, a cause for much rejoicing amongst environmental activists if it is true. An earlier super-dam project in China, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, has begun operating despite much global environmentalist and domestic opposition. But this time, the government seems to be prepared to at least listen to concerns.
Posted by Deb at 15:19
"We'll probably be OK! I'll email when I'm safe."
The last words, via e-mail, of a British security guard who died protecting a group of British engineers in Iraq, according to the Guardian Unlimited. Mike Bloss was an ex-paratrooper and a Welshman. "He managed to keep the assailants at bay long enough to enable the contractors he was protecting to escape. But he was killed in a gun battle - and with him a little more of what optimism is left in Iraq."
Posted by Deb at 15:12
09 April 2004
It's not just me, you know. In my Google-fueled "research" for this installment, I came across this dissertation for PhD candidate John Mabry at the California Institute of Integral Studies. It has this to say:
Our liturgies are in desperate need of reform, especially the Eucharist . . . Eucharist rites themselves contain sexist language, support spirit-over-body and heaven-over-earth dualities, and promote an ecclesiastical manifest destiny . . . One woman . . . wondered whether or not she could continue to call herself a Christian at all if she had to accept uncritically the teachings of her church. Many women remain silent during offensive parts of their church's liturgy, since they cannot speak the creeds or other sections in good conscience.
Well, I don't know what's so special about women. (I guess it's because this dissertation is about some aspect of feminist theology.) But the thing is, I am comforted to know that others feel the same as I do, and I know it's not confined to women.
It's not the sexism, or even the body-spirit duality, that I find offensive. It's the sado-masochism of it. No, not even that. I am not sure that a little sado-masochism isn't a healthy thing, although at first glance it's a weird thing to base a religion on. But then I realize what it really is, and I think maybe it's not so strange. It's the whole theology of punishment and pay-back. It's the antithesis of Jesus's message of unconditional forgiveness and unconditional love. Or as this quote from Carter Heywood in the above paper says:
Any theology that is promulgated on an assumption that followers of Jesus, Christians, must welcome pain and death as a sign of faith is constructed upon a faulty hermeneutic of what Jesus was doing and of why he died. This theological masochism is completely devoid of passion. This notion of welcoming, or submitting oneself gladly to, injustice flies in the face of Jesus's own refusal to make concession to unjust relation.
Ha! Take that, Mel Gibson.
I also stumbled upon some interesting writings by cult stud types and psychotherapist types about the punishment motifs and homoerotic masochism in protrayals of "the Passion" and other Christian martyrdoms. (And these were written before Mel's film, too.) Lisa Starks here quotes an article by Kaja Silverman:
[In Christian masochistic fantasy,] the external audience is a structural necessity, although it may be either earthly or heavenly . . . the body is centrally on display, whether it is being consumed by ants or roasting over a fire . . . [and] behind all these 'scenes' or 'exhibits' is the master tableau or group fantasy--Christ nailed to the cross, head wreathed in thorns and blood dripping from his impaled sides. What is being beaten here is not so much the body as the "flesh," and beyond that sin itself, and the whole fallen world.
Consider if you will, the two-thousand years of abuse and punishment meted out to innocent children, by father or a Father of the church, or by mother standing in as a proxy, always with the image being fixed in their minds of the sad Saviour who had suffered and died to make them good, and now they were disappointing Him. Consider the violence of all the struggles for control of this engine of oppressive power that "Christ's" church had become, and all the punishment, slavery, wanton cruelty, exclusion and painful death that were visited on the losers in the struggle. (And all this in the name of one who allowed prostitutes to sit at his table, who forgave everyone he met, even those who tortured and killed him, and who made as plain a case as can be made that sacrifice was not what God wants, and that retaliation and punishment were the real root of all sin.)
So viewed from that angle, you can see why the focus on Jesus's gruesome death, and the expectation that Christians down through the ages would either re-live it, or "yearn for it" or feel guilty about it or at least struggle like mad to be "worthy of it" is actually an excellent basis for a religion. That is, if you see religion, not as its original meaning would imply, as a force that reconnects us to our most authentic selves and thus to God, (re-ligion, etymologically is "to re-tie") but rather as a hierarchical force for social control, that binds us to un-natural laws of thought and behaviour, and seeks our own cowed complicity in that binding. Well, I have made my case for which type of religion I choose and cherish.
So I celebrate Good Friday with chocolate and whisky and gratitude. Yes, Christ died on this day (although as DH says, "vat was two-fousand years ago, mate!") but not for my sins or the "sins of Mankind" (sic). Jesus died on this day to illustrate that death has no dominion, that we do not owe a sacrifice to an angry Father, that, indeed, there is no angry Father. He died as he lived, to teach a great lesson of love, forgiveness and freedom.
Posted by Deb at 23:18
Dave at Orcinus had an excellent post on Monday (yes, I'm a bit behind), musing philosophically about the violent death and mutilation of Americans in Iraq. He was one of at least two bloggers to note a similarity between the photo not widely circulated (for obvious reasons) and photos of patriotic white Americans and their mutilation victims, in this case the lynched "Negroes" of the Jim Crow south. I thought of this exquisitely depressing poem, one of my favourites of all time, which, unfortunately, I find myself trotting out from time to time as it again begins to describe my bleak worldview to a "t". An excerpt or two:
"I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again."
. . .
"Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good."
. . .
"All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die."
Posted by Deb at 19:15
Riverbend on conditions in Iraq today:
"Bremer has called for a truce and ceasefire in Falloojeh very recently and claimed that the bombing will stop, but the bombing continues as I write this. Over 300 are dead in Falloojeh and they have taken to burying the dead in the town football field because they aren't allowed near the cemetery. The bodies are decomposing in the heat and the people are struggling to bury them as quickly as they arrive. The football field that once supported running, youthful feet and cheering fans has turned into a mass grave holding men, women and children.
"The people in Falloojeh have been trying to get the women and children out of the town for the last 48 hours but all the roads out of the city are closed by the Americans and refugees are being shot at and bombed on a regular basis… we're watching the television and crying. The hospital is overflowing with victims… those who have lost arms and legs… those who have lost loved ones. There isn't enough medicine or bandages… what are the Americans doing?! This is collective punishment … is this the solution to the chaos we're living in? Is this the 'hearts and minds' part of the campaign?"
Posted by Deb at 15:39
07 April 2004
Yes, bombing mosques, that's a brilliant strategy and a logical next step in the War on Terra. Gen. Kimmit says it is permissible to attack a "holy site" if "there is a military necessity brought on by the fact that the enemy is storing weapons, using weapons, inciting violence and executing violence from its grounds." So I guess that's why they timed the air strike to coincide with afternoon prayers?
But there is always the silver lining to the cloud (or is it just the light at the end of a dark tunnel?) as the Guardian reports that the worsening situation in Iraq seems to be causing Republicans to turn on Bush. The war has effectively restarted, over 100 Iraqis and at least 30 Americans have died just since the weekend, and the White House responded by saying that "US resolve was 'unshakable'. Its spokesman Scott McClellan said: 'We will prevail. The president was told that our troops are performing well. The president is proud of our troops'." For God's sake, get your collective heads out of the sand!
Posted by Deb at 18:56
06 April 2004
Another poignant as well as informative post appeared yesterday at Baghdad Burning. I peruse all the Iraqi blogs I know about from time to time, but Riverbend's all-too-rare posts never fail to enlighten me. Mixed in with homely little details of life under the occupation are observations laced through with a mordant wit, such as:
"Today Bremer also announced the fact that we now have an official 'Ministry of Defense'. The irony of the situation wasn't lost on Iraqis- the head of the occupation announcing a 'Ministry of Defense'. To defend against what? Occupation? Ha, ha… or maybe it's to secure the borders from unwelcome foreigners carrying guns and riding tanks? Or perhaps the Ministry of Defense should be more concerned with the extremists coming in from neighboring countries and taking over. . . "
Posted by Deb at 23:06
I said we were being softened up and sure enough . . . This is an Israeli-style retaliation operation, all gussied up with veils of weasel words about "hunting down the bad guys" and a "precise operation" and "targeting the insurgents". There's that "insurgents" word again. Where did these evil insurgents insurge from? And if they really believed it was only insurgents, how would blowing up homes in Fallujah "target insurgents"? And people who have seen the TV footage (I have not, I can't bear to see it) say that a lot of the mob appeared to be young boys. As I said before, how can you tell in a mob situation who killed, who "only" mutilated a body, who "only" cheered the others on, and who was just caught in the wrong place, with a nervous grin, fearing for his life?
Frankly, I think the blogosphere brouhaha about mercenaries is missing the point. What matters is what the coalition are doing in our name. And the names they come up with for these little forays! Vigilant Resolve. Could anything be more sick-making?
Jeanne of Body and Soul also found Orwellian echoes in the response to Fallujah, but focuses on the action rather than the words, in her post called Orwell's Elephant.
Jeanne also links to a very good analytical article from the LA Times about the options (none of them good) facing the military now in the "Sunni Triangle" and how a more intelligent approach to pacifying the area early in the war could have prevented the present intractable problems.
Posted by Deb at 22:45
05 April 2004
I was reading the great comments on Skippy's post on the American Street about the still simmering blogevent where Kos refused to mourn the Blackwater boys and a bunch of wingnuts started a campaign against his linkers and advertisers. (The latest news being that the Kerry blog de-linked Kos). This one comment from "anymouse" was just so cogent, so brilliant, that I must quote her in her entirety:
"As soon as I saw the sh*train of abuse falling on Kos, I thought to myself, 'they're Wellstoning him.'
I understand why the Right would take this approach--they need to distract people from their own rapidly collapsing House of Cards, in which the Plumbing of Cards is ever-more backed up and noxious. Markos gave them an opening, and they took it--unfairly, but when have they ever fought fair?
I had thought until now, though, that the left had learned its lesson about circular firing squads. Guess not.
So here's a hint, boys and girls: when your enemies are flinging feces at one of your friends, DON'T HELP FLING. Your enemies don't need the help, and they won't appreciate the help, and it'll be your turn soon enough."
Posted by Deb at 22:01
04 April 2004
Today I again attended the services at The Great Meeting - the Unitarian Chapel in Hinckley. Today is, in case you don't know these things, Palm Sunday. For some reason, we sang the hymns from the older hymnal. I have a really bad habit in my church attendances: I cannot tear myself away from reading the lyrics of hymnals, looking for old favourites and discovering new gems, whether gems of beauty or of sheer horrible naffness. So my attention kept wandering during the sermon, and instead of following the thread of it, I wondered why all preachers, vicars and priests in this country preach with that peculiar sing-song intonation. (Another thing that drives DH crazy and keeps him out of churches, although I doubt that alone would be enough.) So I had another little talk with "Jim" afterwards in the coffee time. (His real name is not Jim, but I could have called him J, I suppose.) I told him about the Death of Christendom series, and I was a little nervous to bring it up, being in a church and all, and not knowing him that well. But to my slight surprise he quite enthusiastically agreed with me. The church as we know it is going to wither away, probably in a matter of mere decades, he said, and it must in order for something better to take its place. I have to say that this was a serendipitous thing for me to hear and gave me heart to carry on the series to the end.
Another serendipitous thing was that the sermon, the one I couldn't really focus my attention on, did mention the colt of an ass that Jesus rode. The scripture was even cited (and Unitarian sermons do not consistently relate to a Bible passage the way Methodist sermons do.) The passage is, so I learned, in Mark 11:1-7. The preacher interpreted the meaning of this choice of a mount as being Jesus's way of saying that he was lowly and not the militant, mighty Messiah-King that people were waiting for, although he was deliberately fulfilling prophecy that the Messiah would not only be of the royal house of David, which Jesus was, but also would ride an ass into Jerusalem. My interpretation is different. It has to do with a radical message of love, forgiveness and freedom. I believe this was Jesus's core message, and that it represents a quantum leap from the message of Micah, of caring, fairness and humility. Also, Micah and other late post-exilic prophets said God does not require sacrifices of animals (or humans, obviously). Jesus was saying "the only sacrifice acceptable to God is of yourself, and freely given". Viewed in this light, so many of the slightly mysterious actions and words of Jesus make perfect sense.
Here is the Bible text of the story of the unbroken colt:
'When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt? They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it.'
Ask yourself: what are the two unusual things about this story? The first is that Jesus knew where this colt was to be found. The second is that the colt allowed Jesus to ride upon him even though he was not "broken", and possibly not even old enough to be ridden. To my mind, the first one is not that remarkable. Jesus could have had a follower (he had thousands at this time) offer him the colt, or he could have sent someone ahead to find it. It was possibly tied outside the house specifically in waiting for Jesus's disciples to come for it. Yet like a magician setting up a scene, using a little mis-direction, the gospel's author lets this little mystery overshadow the true mystery following it. And yet maybe that is not so mysterious either. There are folk-tales of Jesus and his way with animals, how birds would alight in his hands and fish would leap into the boat with him. But to me the important thing, and this was an insight given to me in my meditations on ahimsa, is that a broken animal is a slave, which has no choice of whether to be ridden. The only way Jesus could ride any animal into Jerusalem, and not violate his own powerful message of non-harming, his message not merely of caring, justice and humility, but of love, forgiveness and freedom was to have a freely offered ride.
The 11th chapter of Mark goes on to relate the story of the clearing of the temple. It is widely accepted that the thing Jesus objected to was the "changing of money" in the temple. Yet I believe this too was a mis-direction. In the forecourt of the temple, small animals were sold to worshippers so they could sacrifice them inside. The animals had to be paid for with a special sacred temple currency, so the Jews would change their Roman coins for temple coins, buy the animals, and take them in to a priest. The priest would kill them, burn part, keep part, and give the rest back to the family to eat. Supposedly, Jesus overturned the tables and drove all of these businessmen out of the temple yard, either because he disapproved of filthy money in the vicinity of the temple, or because they were dealing dishonestly. But if the theologians of the vegetarian, pacifist, Essene-trained, hereditarily Nazorean Jesus are right, his more likely objection is to the sacrifice itself. The website Humane Religion has this to say:"It was the cult of sacrifice that Jesus tried to dismantle, not the system of monetary exchange. In all three gospel accounts of the event, those who provided the animals for sacrifice are mentioned first: they were the primary focus of Christ's outrage." And further: "It is ridiculous to claim that the religious leaders of Christ's time would have plotted his death because he undermined the function of the moneychangers. Nor would the crowd have been "amazed at his teachings" if Jesus was simply telling them to make sure they were not short-changed when they purchased Temple coins. What the people were amazed at was his condemnation of animal sacrifice; it had been hundreds of years since that kind of condemnation had been heard in Jerusalem."
Isaiah is often said to be the prophet who most foreshadowed Christ's coming and his message. It is in Isaiah that we read these challenging words, calling us to a much deeper understanding of love, forgiveness and freedom than we are able to comprehend, any more than the ancients in the Bible or the Jews of Jesus's time:
"They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain
For all the earth shall be in full knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea."
Posted by Deb at 17:36
Also covers the inside story on what happened (and didn't happen) to Markos of Daily Kos over his controversial post. And as Skippy points out:
"Funny we didn't hear any rightist hue and cry when little green footballs made fun of Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist killed by Israeli bulldozer drivers in the Palestinian territories. Why didn't Prof. Reynolds say that Charles does himself no credit gloating over Ms. Corrie's death?" Indeed. From the American Street.
Posted by Deb at 16:54
Troops prepare for Fallujah Battle, says the headline at Newsday.com but after reading the article, my thought was: News Media prepare decent people to accept the atrocity that is about to be committed in their names. Yes, we are being softened up to accept a ferocious attack on an entire town because of a crime that was committed there. Even in this I hear echoes of Nazis in France:
"U.S. officials have pressed Fallujah's clerics and city officials to condemn the attacks and help catch those who took part. An appeal to citizens for help in the case has yielded a few tips, Marine officials said. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. spokesman, said the city could avoid a crackdown if it handed over the attackers. "The question -- Is there going to be a fight? -- is one you should ask the insurgents ... and the mayor," he said."
Posted by Deb at 12:26
03 April 2004
Taking the time to follow some of the links in Jeanne's post, cited below, I visited Kathryn Cramer's blog. Her first post about the likelihood (now certainty) that the "civilian contractors" killed were in fact mercenaries was illustrated with the above graphic, the front page of the website of Blackwater USA. As she said, I could not have done a better satirical graphic if I tried.
Posted by Deb at 13:54
It all started when I came across this now well-nigh blogged-to-death post on mercenaries from The Agonist. I'm sure he wasn't the first blogger to use the term "mercenaries" to describe what the mainstream media are calling "contractors". Mere minutes later, on the UK version of the Yahoo news site, I read an AP standard mainstream coverage of the Fallujah story, which consistently referred to the killing mob as "insurgents". I hope you will understand that I am not taking their side when I splutter "Insurgents into where from where?"
It is now a very old idea that Orwell brought forth so fresh and new in Politics and the English Language that the enforced use of a narrow list of approved words can lead to a docile populace only capable of thinking a narrow list of approved thoughts. So this is very blatant. (If I need to spell it out for you, the difference is in "contractors killed and mutilated by insurgents in a war zone" vs. "mercenaries killed and mutilated by citizens of an occupied town". You can choose which describes Fallujah.) The abuse of the English language for political ends is now so far advanced that mere rhetoric cannot break through the fog. It takes works of imagination, like the SF novel Jennifer Government which I read about a month ago and just finally reviewed today. If you care to read the review, you will see that in the near-future society it describes, this mania for privatization has proceeded to its expected hideous-but-funny (in a sick kind of way) conclusion. I'll bet some eyewitnesses in Iraq (not least the Iraqis themselves) would not find this novel funny at all.
The Blogosphere is abuzz with discussions about the mercenaries and the insurgents and the words that left, right and centre use to express their feelings about this pivotal moment in America's empire building. Those I have read that are of particular interest, and I am sure there are a lot more, but not enough time to find them all, are this highly personal reaction from the Daily Kos, and this almost exhaustive summary from Jeanne of Body and Soul. My intention here is not necessarily to add any new insight, but to simplify and distill the issue.
Finally, in the arena of words, I have to say something about the response from CPA head Paul Bremer, or maybe I should call him Fuehrer Bremer, given the inevitable historical referents his choice of words brought to mind. "Their deaths will not go unpunished." Sounds pretty reasonable, until you start to think about what it could mean in practice. Sure, this was a crime. But a bloodthirsty mob is not the same thing as a gang of criminals. It is almost impossible to know, and it is impossible to prove, individual culpability in a mob incident. Fascists and their historical antecedents and descendants don't worry about such things. They fire into a crowd, mow down a demonstration with armoured vehicles, or destroy a neighbourhood or village as a reprisal.
Posted by Deb at 10:30
02 April 2004
Amy Goodman interviews Robert Fisk for democracynow.org shortly after the Fallujah killings. This is a fantastic interview, giving a lot of the kind of information you won't read or hear in the mainstream media. Fisk is very forthright about what he has actually witnessed and he tells a story of anarchy and brutality far beyond what the ruling authorities want anyone to know about. I got this link from The Whole Wide World of Fat Buddha.
Posted by Deb at 22:56
I have a bunch of things (well, two) that I have to say about Fallujah. They both have to do with words, and the words are "mercenaries" and "insurgents". I am too tired and stupid right now to find the links I have to put in the post, so I will do it (maybe) tomorrow. But I needed to at least mention this thing that has been simmering away in my brain, even though I am not up to being cogent and articulate about it just now. (Just so you know that I am not so absorbed in my own small world that I don't get that there are huge things, some of them quite horrible, going on in other people's lives and other people's countries.)
Posted by Deb at 22:41
Our Fridays are usually wasted. I am often quite lethargic after the hectic pace of the working week. DH has been working "funny" hours, and he doesn't take to that really well. So it's usually early to bed for him, staring zombie-like at the TV for me, with maybe the excitement of a cup of herbal tea and an hour or two of blogging before bed. Tonight DH, who had consumed a small amount of scotch already when I got home, came out with "I fancy going to the pub!" Usually I ignore these outbursts until they go away but tonight I fancied some chips, something we haven't had for many months, due to the nominal dieting. In my American naivete I thought chips might be available at or near a pub, but in fact this proved not to be the case. Anyway, I drove a very very short distance to a pub with the unpromising name of The Beaver, which I had always thought must be a dive, but my yoga teacher apparently goes there once in a while and there's a sign outside advertising something called the Guitar Club, a sort of amateur night. So we thought we'd try it. And lo and behold, they were having live music tonight, and not just any live music, but a David Bowie tribute band. Which turned out to be surprisingly good, from the little I heard of them. We arrived at the pub a little past 7 pm, the band started at about 8:10, and I left about 8:30. Not that I didn't like the music; I just don't like pubs a lot more than I do like almost any music. This one is also quite expensive for Hinckley - £2.50 for a pint of Guinness. I left Darling Hubby there with about £30 in his pocket and already feeling no pain, blissed out by the serendipity of it all, singing silly songs and generally being a bit of an embarassment in between the music. I hope he gets home in one piece.
Posted by Deb at 22:31