F*ck God.

May 31, 2010 at 8:02 pm (By Amba)

It’s okay for me to say that because I’m Jewish.  We’re His chosen people and that means we have a privileged, intimate, familiarity-breeds-contempt relationship with the big guy.  We’re always giving Him a hard time.  And boy is it ever mutual.

What a load of crap.  The very C-4 plastique crap that’s getting ready to blow up the world.  The Abrahamic religions with their tripartite tribal god, the three-headed spawn of schism, brought at least as much insanity and evil as good onto this planet.  We can’t see how insane it is because we’re inside it.  It is some crazy, destructive holy shit.

Really, the crap going down in the Middle East, the inexplicable insanity that never ever stops swirling around the Jews, makes me feel uncharacteristically like a Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens religion-hater.  If the real God is this God, invoked by the brawling Abrahamic triplets, then He evidently intends to destroy the world and has created, with His Revelation, the perfect nuclear time bomb.  But the Biblical, Koranic God is a human projection, or misconception, if you ask me.  (I know.  You didn’t.)  The apocalyptic mindset is a raging mental illness.  At bottom it is a human tantrum over death, nothing more.  It’s all about how we can’t accept that we die.  Paradoxically, we’re likely to destroy this beautiful world simply because the price of entering it is having to leave it.  Dog in the manger.  If I can’t have her forever, nobody can have her ever.  So there.

I want to invite you to seriously consider the following conception of God, written by someone who I think was, is — he’s still alive — a real prophet.  (Jewish?  How’d you guess?)  Without honor, of course:  his “eccentric” vision was almost unnoticed and almost instantly forgotten.  A longer excerpt at the link, which I strongly commend to you; better yet, get a copy of the book for as little as 99 cents.  But here.  God, who has taken the form of a black man (for reasons explained in the longer excerpt), and Seth, the only white man (a Jew) working in a Southern Illinois coal mine, are talking in a chamber deep in the mine.  They discuss the recent death of a man in the community stabbed by the husband of his lover.

“It was terrible about Sam, wasn’t it?”

“Quite so.”

“Lord, did he have to die like that?”

“No, awful waste,” replies God.

“But Lord, why didn’t you do something about it?”

“To breed, Seth, is not the simplicity that humankind believes it to be. Men and women had to be rewarded with storms of delight if they are to create destiny. I must have sand hurricanes of men to fulfill my universe . . . Seth, let’s play a hand, cut the cards.”

“I don’t play pinochle.”

“But you play gin rummy.”

“Sure. Grandpa and I did all the time . . .”

[after the game]

“I miss grandpa, is he happy in heaven?”

“There is no heaven, Seth.”

The engineer stills in his chair, the deck of unshuffled cards inert in his hands. He ventures a numb reply, “But Lord, if you are real there has to be a heaven, doesn’t there?””

“No logic to that, Seth. No heaven, no hell, no purgatory, just Earth for men until they learn to sail off into the vacuum seas of my stars. Fellow like your grandpa dies and he sweetens the earth with his decay. Those were contented grubs that ingested grandpa’s flesh.”

Seth weeps, “Please, Lord, don’t.”

“The sensibiities of humankind,” muses God. “They kill one another without remorse yet deny the gift of the corpses to redeem new life as do my mute worms beneath the leaf mold. If you slay your brother should you not eat him? The cannibals understood.”

“Lord, the grubs, the worms, they don’t love one another. People love people,” the man states.

“That’s right, Seth, how silly of me to forget.”

“You forget nothing, Father.”

A God with a sly sense of humor, who wants us to accept death, stop killing one another, and sail out into the stars?

This Jew won’t settle for less.

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Buzzy Thanks You.

May 29, 2010 at 10:26 pm (By Amba)

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Stuffit. [UPDATED]

May 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm (By Amba)

New bookcases were built and painted out on the porch, much sooner than I thought.  I could not have afforded them, but our friend Nathan, the karate teacher, paid for most of it in partial trade for my editing of his memoir.

Yesterday the bookcases were installed, and the unpacking of boxes commenced.  (Let me hasten to add for the cat fans that a cat tree awaits assembly to replace Box Mountain:  the cats have become addicted to napping near the ceiling.)  My reaction is surprising, or maybe not:  I recoiled from how much stuff we have — although I am helpless to effect a sweeping purge — and recoiled, especially, from the commitment implied by planting it all here.  I’d been feeling like “OK, this is home, for now,” and now I’m all “Hey, not so fast!”  (Fast?  The boxes have been piled against the dining-alcove wall for six months.)  The simple inertia of all that stuff makes moving again overwhelmingly aversive and unlikely.  Not that it was any likelier before yesterday — but the asceticism of having our stuff packed up and out of sight must have created a pleasant illusion of spareness and transiency.  Of being able to travel light, if one could travel.

And worse than the material inertia of it all is the weight of the past.  I made the mistake of opening a box I hadn’t opened before, one of the ones my parents sent me when they dismantled their Chicago apartment and gave me first pick of their library, including first editions and Paris-published banned books collected by my father’s bold bookseller mother.  That’s all wonderful, but the box I opened was warningly labeled “Non-Books.”  It was memorabilia that had moldered in my parents’ storage locker for decades:  waterskiing badges from summer camp, a spelling-bee plaque, Communist propaganda pamphlets in English picked up with horrified fascination in East Berlin in 1962, bluebooks from Harvard science exams (interesting only that it’s the science ones I saved), clippings of articles I’d forgotten writing . . . stuff of no conceivable interest to anyone but me, and of only tenuous interest to me.  I have no children to mock and cherish this archive of their own backstory.  If I don’t throw this stuff out, it will just have to be shoveled out of my digs by strangers after I die.

My past is unusually dead to me.  I feel almost no connection to the 30- and 31-year-old who wrote the neurotic and pretentious journals that were also in the box:  an Anaïs Ninny who wasted vast stretches of healthy youth in anguished introspection.  Maybe 5 percent of it is either observant or funny.  An astringent sense of humor begins to surface here and there, cutting the gunk like dispersant.  For the sake of one good joke would you save the city?

Moral:  don’t look back.  Your life may not add up.

Meanwhile, as the books come out of storage, I go in.  Every one I place in the shelf is another nail in my crate.  I feel like a Strasbourg goose having my feet nailed to the plank.

UPDATE: Now I’ve flipped and the books are making me feel rich.

Also, found these quotes in the old notebook/commonplace books.

And this mysterious body, this body whose transience we try to vainly to feel as a fact, is loved with a special reverence for continuing, miraculously, to live, and hated with a special loathing for promising, incredibly, to die.

*     *     *

The sinking sense of falling — loss of maternal support — is the permanent archetype of catastrophe.

Both are from The Mermaid and the Minotaur by Dorothy Dinnerstein, which relates to the Jimmy Buffett lyric, “Some people claim/ that there’s a woman to blame . . .” From Amazon reviews:

I read this book twenty years ago when I was in college. I found (and still find) Dinnerstein’s feminist argument for shared parenting to be one of those books that has the potential to change lives. . . . The kernel of her argument is that so long as we all are raised (exclusively or predominantly) by our mothers or by female caregivers, children will grow up with a deep-seated resentment of the feminine (since no parent can perfectly anticipate a child’s needs, and all children, in growing up, will be conditioned by our infantile rage at our parent’s imperfections). . . . At the age of twenty, I was persuaded by Dinnerstein to be (when I did have kids) an active and equal participant in the raising of my children, from changing diapers to feeding and everything else. I was so convinced of the importance of her analysis, and of its potential to change lives, that I have, in the past few decades, bought and given away as gifts eighty-eight copies to male and female friends. (I figured that if I just told people what a great book it was, few would follow up, but that if I actually bought it and thrust it into their hands, they might be moved to actually read it.) I’m not sure how many of these were actually read by the recipients. But I can report that out of 88 copies given away, eight people came to me afterward and said something to the effect of, “This book changed my life.”

*      *      *
Dinnerstein also relates the fear of death to how women rule the infant’s world and men the adult’s world. Seem unrelated? Phrase “womb to tomb” captures it best perhaps.

*       *       *

it is not “just another” “feminist ” title. Indeed quite a few feminists have objected mightily to it over the years. The big problem, though, it that it has been roundly ignored over the years!

I agree.  The book made enormous sense to me, especially in explaining the cruel control of women in so many traditional cultures.  Its influence still lingers.  (Matter of fact, I’ll cross-post this last part at Cloven Not Crested.)

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Hot Town, Summer in the City

May 27, 2010 at 11:40 pm (By Amba)

. . . back o’ my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty . . .

grab the scissors and chop without pity!

(Couldn’t find a pitchfork, Ron.)

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Blue Skies

May 27, 2010 at 11:35 am (By Amba)

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What I Learned from The Learning Channel

May 24, 2010 at 8:33 pm (By Amba)

At least, that was what it was originally called.  Now it’s just TLC, leaving you to wonder what that stands for:  Tender Loving Care?  Or Transgressive Looking Club?  Quoth Wikipedia:

In 1998 the channel officially began to distance itself from its original name “The Learning Channel”, and instead began to advertise itself only as “TLC”. It is possible the new audience may have held the common misconception that TLC stood for “Tender Loving Care”, a common initialism.[dubiousdiscuss] The marketing maneuver to use only “TLC” may have been intended to encourage this misconception, as the station moved more towards reality-based personal-story programming that would engage a wider, more mainstream audience.[dubiousdiscuss]

(So learning isn’t “mainstream”!)  All that is quite euphemistic, as the “reality-based personal-story programming,” at least in the evenings when we notice it, is almost entirely devoted to the “half-ton mom,” the “man with half a body,” the “baby with 8 limbs,” the world’s tallest woman and man, the mother with 19 children and counting, the “little people” (midgets and dwarves), and so on and on.  It’s the video equivalent of that farthest-out supermarket tabloid, the Weekly World News.  Superficially, at least, it ought to be called the Freakshow Channel.  This seems to have been a winning play for TLC:  people with genuinely kinky tastes may be a small niche market, but who doesn’t have morbid curiosity?

Jacques, no sylph himself, is jaw-droppingly fascinated by the phenomenon of American obesity as manifest in shopping malls, swimming pools, and other public places; we joke that the tagline for his movie could be, “I . . . see . . . fat people!”  So when he wasn’t sleepy yet after The Tailor of Panama last night and in all the 600-whatever channels I couldn’t find another movie to his taste, in desperation I asked him if he wanted to watch the story of “The World’s Fattest Man,” a Brit who was considering gastric-bypass surgery to save his life.

It was mesmerizing!  The body of 800-pound Paul Mason was fully on display (only genitalia blurred out, if one could even find them), and it was indeed . . . what?  far beyond mere obesity, a swollen starfish of blobby petals, prodigiously grotesque . . . but that was actually the least of it.  At one point I said to an absorbed J, “Look at that . . . monster,” and J said seriously, “He’s not a monster.  He’s Paul!” and damned if he hadn’t hit the nail on the head.  Paul was actually quite a charming, intelligent, well-spoken fellow, his nice-looking, witty head emerging from the boulder-puddles of fat like that of a man trapped in quicksand.  He talked about how he’d become addicted to food during a stressful period in his life; showed pictures of himself as a normal, lively little boy; allowed the camera to expose the sacramental act of his addiction, shoving buttered toast nonstop into his mouth; wept with self-pity and self-loathing at what he’d done to himself and to his late mum, whom he’d literally eaten out of house and home (spending mortgage money on food to the point of foreclosure); acknowledged to his doctor that he understood he might not survive surgery; and took total verbal responsibility for his condition while at the same time stating that he could not control the addiction, and while depending to an infantile degree on the British Health Service, which unquestioningly provided two caregivers to wash him four times a day and tend to all his needs.  You could only imagine what the care of this government ward was costing — even before his surgery and prolonged hospital stay.  In politically mixed company, the show would have been sure to provoke spirited philosophical debates on personal responsibility, socialized medicine, the nanny state, the question of free will, the victim mentality, etc. etc. etc.

The uncanny effect of the show, however, was to make Paul seem normal in his abnormality.  To be sure, the quandary he’d gotten himself into was unusually extreme, but you could relate.  The traps you’d gotten yourself into at one time or another might not have gone as far or been as visible, that’s all.  There but for the grace of God.  Worst of all, at the end of the hour Paul had only just had his surgery (also shown in unflinching full color).  He’d survived, but would he lose weight?  Would he relearn how to walk?  That’s not decided even now, because his surgery was just last December!  We’re very nearly seeing this in real time!  To my horror, I found that I needed to know. I had gotten to know Paul, and I cared what happened to him.

When the next show came on, we kept watching.

This one was “The Man with Half a Body.” Kenny Easterday, 35, was born with a rare developmental failure called “sacral agenesis,” which means that for all practical purposes his body stopped at the waist.  (He looks as if he has less than half a body — a thorax, but no abdomen.  It is hard to figure out where he keeps his guts.  But both he and his fiancée state on the show that his male organs are in good working order.)  His vestigial legs were amputated in infancy, so that the bones could be used to reinforce his spine, and his doctor gave him 21 years max to live.  But his father had taught him to walk on his hands — which he does with oddly graceful motions, like a heron or a big cat — and he had had a remarkably normal, active childhood.  Kenny has actually had more than his 15 minutes of fame:  he starred in a TV movie about himself when he was 10, and appeared many times on the Jerry Springer show as “the Messenger.”  But now, osteoporosis is eating away his cobbled-together spine, and repeated urinary-tract infections (he has to catheterize himself to pee) are compromising his kidney function; his days seem numbered, and he wants more than anything to be a biological father, not just a stepfather figure to his fiancée’s two kids, the younger of whom, the girl, might be his.

There were two stunning emotional impacts in this show.  One was the immensely touching devotion of Kenny’s father.  His mother admits that when he was first born she was afraid to touch him; his father picked him up and held him, and never quit.  The show is actually worth seeing just for the humble wonder of that father’s love.

The second was that you expect a happy ending — that Kenny will find out from a DNA test that the little girl is his — but you don’t get it.  There is “zero chance” of that, the report says.  Right in front of the camera, Kenny’s fiancée tries to comfort him, and he slashes out at her and shoves her away.  “Leave me alone,” he says, and hops down from the bed and stalks out of the room.  Next scene, Kenny is saying that he’ll still always consider that little girl his little girl.  And then the show ends and you learn that he and his fiancée have split up.  It is shocking and even angering; of course you can’t know the whole story of the relationship, but having been let so deep into their business, you feel it’s your business.  How can Kenny abandon those two kids who have become so attached to him they already called him Dad?  How can a man who’s been so loved by his own father be so cruelly selfish in his disappointment (his fiancée was unable to have another child)?  It seems a lot to ask of someone who’s been through so much, and yet ask it of him you do — or I did — precisely because he’s so triumphantly claimed the status of a whole man who just happens to have half a body.

Once again, you are drawn in by uneasy curiosity about the physical difference and leave an hour later merely gripped by the same-old, ever-new human drama.  So does it deserve to be called The Learning Channel after all?

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Hero of the World?

May 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm (By Amba)

This is really funny — and scary — but there seems to be no way to embed it.  Once you’ve watched, make one for your favorite megalomaniac or self-effacing shy person.

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Is Conservatism More Advanced than Progressivism?

May 18, 2010 at 1:52 pm (By Amba)

Somewhere, someone must have looked at it precisely this way.  But I haven’t seen it.  If you have, please let me know where.

The tendency towards ever bigger government organizing everything, planning and controlling more and more of social and economic life, is being portrayed — isn’t it? — as a necessity and an inevitability, given the size and complexity of modern societies and their growing global entanglement.  Conservatism’s preference for smaller government, most of it local, is portrayed as nostalgia for bygone times when everything was smaller-scale, and societies were more homogeneous and organically tradition-driven.  It’s regarded as “progressive” — and compassionate — to plan and organize and energetically tackle the big systemic problems, because if you leave problems alone, trusting or forcing them to solve themselves, they may just fester, or more likely, may solve themselves at enormous cost in human suffering and waste of lives.

Yes, they may.  But assuming they will shows a lack of faith and trust, not in God, necessarily, but just in the extraordinary (yet quite ordinary) self-organizing and innovating capacity of complex systems.  A society, or a world, is not a dinosaur that has such a tiny brain in its head that it needs another one in its ass (the latter perhaps being a good working definition of government).  Even a single organism is not a Command Central run by a unified conscious brain, but a collection of semi-autonomous centers managing their own affairs quite nicely in balance with one another.  But a society is even more like an ecosystem than an organism, with a remarkable capacity to maintain homeostasis, to right itself when thrown off balance by change, and to innovate towards a new balance when change tips it beyond righting.  Central control cannot possibly match the complex inherent intelligence of these processes.

This is not to say that human ingenuity has no place in these processes.  It is a part and a manifestation of these processes!  It’s simply that no single large entity, like a central government, can possibly see and wisely regulate every part of a large, complex system.  It works only when semiautonomous parts are free to regulate themselves and work things out with each other.

What am I saying?  That the conservative view may actually be more advanced than the progressive view.  It may not be consciously more advanced.  Conservatives may speak the traditional language of religious faith rather than that of cybernetics, systems theory, or chaos theory.  But the effect can be much the same:  a trust in people’s innate creative capacity to cope, to innovate, and to work things out for themselves, from the bottom up.  There is certainly a need to protect vulnerable people from the harshest consequences of change, and a place for government as well as religion to do so.  But there is not a need to convince people (as both government and religion have at times tried to do) that they are more vulnerable and helpless than they really are, and that they should cede their share of life’s creative force to some distant entity that knows better.  If God helps those who help themselves, government should not hinder those who govern themselves.

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Yes Minister – Part II

May 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm (By Randy)

The Sunday Telegraph obtained a copy of an unintentionally hilarious confidential British civil service internal memo about the incoming Conservative government.  If the BBC is considering an updated version of the ’80’s satirical political comedy Yes Minister, the memo’s author ought to have a fair shot as script writer.

Some gems from the article:

The documents … give a checklist of what are called “hot button”, Tory-friendly words, to be dropped into conversation whenever possible. These include “families,” “radical,” “neighbourhoods” and “progressive.”

The briefing – to be kept strictly from ministers – shows that DCLG officials are worried about their new bosses. “Do they like us? Want to work with us?” it asks, adding: “There may be challenge over our part in what they see as failed policies/ delivery.”

To overcome this, civil servants are told to “talk of efficiencies / value for money without prompting” and advised to deploy blatant flattery, with suggested phrases including: “Congratulations! I had so much confidence in you, I might get complacent!”

The documents order mandarins to “smile!… Lean forward!… Be interesting!” They are told to engage in “supportive listening,” and “take cues from the Secretary of State.” Officials are advised that “eye contact [is] the real currency.”

The document suggests civil servants tell their new bosses “how Policy X puts the department and the Secretary of State at the centre of Whitehall….”

The document reveals that civil servants have been conducting “role-play” sessions to work out how to build rapport.

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Alaskan Adventure

May 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm (By Randy)

It’s getting too warm here, so an old friend and I are cruising to and around Alaska for the next two weeks before being kicked off the ship in one of my favorite cities on earth, Vancouver, British Columbia. As internet access aboard ship is both very expensive and excruciatingly slow, I won’t be blogging this trip. If we happen to run into any ex-governors, we’ll be sure to get a picture and post it when we get back.

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