"He who dislikes the cat, was in his former life, a rat."
(Note: I am bringing this six year old post to the front in view of the recent events that are unfolding in Egypt, Libya and now Yemen.)
Anna posted her sensible thoughts on the brouhaha over the Danish cartoons which have inflamed passions in the Muslim world. The result has been protests in several Islamic countries, some of them violent. Danish embassies have been attacked, burnt and Danes and Norwegians (and the EU) have been threatened with kidnappings and other bodily harm. I categorically condemn all violent protests. Muslims are justified in expressing disgust and outrage at these silly cartoons but they are not justified in burning buildings and threatening violence. Having said that, there is an issue here that has not been adequately addressed in this context. PZ Myers of the immensely popular science blog "Pharyngula", an unswerving proponent of free speech and unapologetic opponent of religious fundamentalism of all stripes, had two very good posts on this matter. He asked a subtler question than most have asked. He wondered whether the outrage on both sides (Muslim and non-Muslim, especially in Europe) had only to do with free speech and Muslim overreaction. Or did it to a fair extent, also result from racism and socio economic deprivation of Muslims in Europe and the generally impoverished condition of Muslims in Islamic nations . The comments on both posts ran fast and furious and I would guess that opinions were equally divided on this issue. There was some commentary that I interpreted as self serving explanations of European sensiblities, openness and secular democratic values clashing with the backward mentality of European Muslims. I posted a comment there regarding this matter - my own take on why European racism is indeed a player in this latest conflagration. My comment addressed primarily the opinions of a Danish reader who in my view, was somewhat disingenuous in his insistence that the Danish society is bending over backwards to accomodate the Muslims among them while also protecting freedom of speech and secular values and that racism had nothing to do with the latest uproar. I am publishing my comments for the readers here. I was a bit angrier in my tone than is my usual style in public.
Ruchira Paul said:
"Freedom of expression is paramount in democratic societies, including the right to criticize, vilify and mock religion - all religions. No contest there. Having said that, so is the wisdom to not waste this freedom in making trivial and predictable points. What did the Danish cartoons accomplish in establishing? That medieval religious fundamentalism permeates Muslim societies much more deeply than any other religious group? That Muslims consider themselves under siege almost to the level of paranoia and are likely to resort to violence for real or perceived threat/insults to their faith? That most Islamic nations curtail freedom of speech in their own countries and want to do the same in others, in the name of religion? Ho hum. Which one of these came as a surprise to anyone? To all the freedom of speech purists here, PZ Myers and Nullifidian have it right this time. Their nuanced take on the issue is not a zero sum game - it is neither anti-free speech nor pro religion. To prove an intellectual point, when the adversary is operating on a purely emotional level, is not only unwise, it is a waste of energy. Islamic fundamentalism (like all others) has to be resisted, attenuated and eventually eliminated. But it will not happen by engaging in juvenile displays of provocation through theological football as Jyllands-Posten was attempting to do. The resistance will have to take place in the realm of universal human rights, rationality and common decency. "My democracy can beat up your prophet" is hardly a strategy that is likely to work. Mr. Lund, don't waste your breath.
While we are discussing fundamentalism, let us not ignore the context of racism which PZ Myers alludes to. It is perhaps worthwhile for most Americans to recognize the prevalent zeitgeist in Europe. Mr. Lund's erudite sophistry notwithstanding, Europeans as a whole, are much more racist and xenophobic than the average American. I say this as a brown skinned person (not Muslim, not uneducated) who has lived in both continents. European secularism and pacifism are results of exhaustion from four hundred years of oppressive colonialism (the Bible in one hand and a riding crop or gun in the other) and two great wars which nearly annihilated the continent. All the calls for assimilation - "you are here - you must be like us" is BS. The non-Europeans are marginalized, ghettoized and the implicit message to them is "stay in your place." In spite of all overt racism in the US, an immigrant can hope to realize professional and social ambitions in the US - not in Europe. Mr. Lund would argue that the Scandinavian countries were not involved in either colonization or warfare. True. But the mindset of these homogeneous countries is not very different when faced with people who are "different". In fact, George Bush's disastrous action in Iraq and the middle east, is at some level, more honest than what the Europeans are up to vis-a-vis their immigrants. Kill a hundred thousand Iraqis to impose your values? Why not? How is that worse than treating minorities within your borders like s--t with the vestigial hauteur of ex-colonists? A much more honest course of action will be to deport all those whom you are not going to assimilate anyway -ever, and go back to the idyllic existence of Hans Christian Andersen, milk, cheese, football and Lego. Why the pretense? Only to feel holier than thou - especially, holier than those unsophisticated cowboy Americans? Mr. Lund's casual crack about dating one of the last ten Parsis notwithstanding, his "secular" countrymen are much less likely to date a Parsi, a Hindu, a Buddhist and god forbid a Muslim than the average "religious" American. 'Nuff said."
Once again, I can do no better than post links to a few interesting stories I came across.
A terrible political "documentary" by a delusional desi.
Can a doctor do this? Apparently yes, according to the AMA's guidelines.
Not exactly a Marathon Man.
This was bound to happen sooner or later - it is after all, an independent art form! (the winner below)
Didn't Mitt Romney know that if he ran for the highest office of the nation, his personal taxes were going to be of some interest to voters and the media? Of course he did. But for some reason Romney has decided that it may do less harm to his candidacy if he were to brazen it out by not disclosing but a minuscule portion of his past tax returns than allow Americans to get a glimpse of his finances. His secretiveness has naturally given rise to much speculation as it deviates from the norm set by most past presidential candidates, including Romney's own father, of disclosing several years worth of tax documents. One thought is that the Romneys, despite their enormous wealth, may have paid very low taxes over the years compared to the average wage earner with far less income. It has also been suggested that there may have been some years when Romney paid no taxes.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada dropped a bombshell recently by declaring publicly that he has learnt from a reliable source that indeed Romney paid zero taxes for ten years during a period from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Romney challenged Reid to reveal his source ("put up or shut up") and some Republican congressmen have called the Democratic Senate Majority Leader a liar. But as of yesterday, Reid was sticking by his assertions, adding that his source is a Republican with inside knowledge of Bain Capital, Romney's company. Now there is speculation about the identity of Reid's "source." The Daily Kos is reporting that it may be one of the two Huntsmans - father & son, both Jon, both ex-governors of Utah and Junior a past rival of Romney for the GOP presidential ticket. (If true, this may turn out to be a high power Mormon conspiracy / grudge fest. Reid, the Huntsmans and Romney are all Mormons. The Huntsmans are said to be friendly with Democrat Reid but can't stand Romney, their own party's candidate)
Whatever we find out (or don't) about Romney's tax returns between now and November, may be up to how much pressure the media and the Obama campaign can bring to bear on the Romney camp and the latter's ability to withstand it. But for now, it doesn't look like Romney has made a coherent or convincing case as to why he should not make more of his tax returns public. Here is a report in the Washington Post.
The man who once said “corporations are people” apparently doesn’t believe the inverse.
When pressed on why he’s not releasing more tax returns in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Mitt Romney justified it by saying: “I’m not a business.”
Bloomberg asked Romney whether, if he was investing in a company, he would want to see more than two years of financial reports, likening that process to the American people electing a president. But Romney suggested the standards aren’t the same for people and businesses.
“I’m not a business,” he said. “We have a process in this country, which was established by law, which provides for the transparency which candidates are required to meet. I have met with that requirement with full financial disclosure of all my investments, but in addition have provided and will provide a full two years of tax returns.”
This is the candidate who, almost exactly one year ago, got into a somewhat-heated exchange with a heckler in Iowa in which Romney made that case that “corporations are people” — that is, what happens to corporations affects the people who work for them.
“Of course they are,” Romney said at the time. “Everything corporations earn
also goes to people.”
So according to Romney, a person is not a business but a business is a person for tax purposes. Ah well. I guess that can be defined as opportunistic logic. I have been wondering about something else. During this time when hot words are being exchanged between Reid, Romney and some GOP politicians, one prominent Republican who may know more about this matter than anyone outside Bain Capital's accounting office, has maintained total silence. John McCain had vetted Romney as a possible running mate in 2008 at which time he examined twenty three years worth of Romney's tax returns. McCain has not said a word against Reid or in favor of Romney.
Sanjukta Paul on the exploitative business practice of classifying workers as independent contractors -over at the Frying Pan blog. (This is part I of a three part article; part II and III will be added as they appear)
Matthew Yglesias at Slate makes the case that Romney should simply shrug and say offshoring is a Good Thing, instead of making silly claims about "retroactive retirement." He says basically that it is good for jobs to be located where it's most efficient, that in terms of wealth creation this is positive sum, that the problems it causes in the US are distributional, and that the preferred way of handling these is via taxation, welfare and job training. It's a good article (I'm not convinced it's good politics, another reason to support this :) ), in the 'lets infuriate the NAFTA-bashing portions of the electorate' genre. I do agree with most of what's said, but what provokes this post is the following:
A couple of hundred of years of catastrophic misgovernment and imperialist exploitation left billions of Asians languishing in dire poverty. When Asian governance started improving, Asian workers’ productive capacity and earnings potential skyrocketed. This has been a triumph for human welfare but a disaster for Americans whose skills have been radically devalued in the process.
The reason I like this is that captures a certain zero-sum logic, and I want to write about the ethics of that situation. Far too many on the American left act as if globalization and trade hurt everyone instead of just first-world workers as workers, and it is important (if rhetorically inconvenient) to mark the distinction. As I see it, anti-outsourcing rhetoric from the left is basically anti-humanitarian for reasons of patriotism. Patriotism here might well be acceptable - no doubt most Americans want their president to benefit fellow Americans, not the globe at large. What's not right is not even acknowledging, or thinking about the tradeoffs. Some examples of the unexamined patriotic view follow:
1. The patriotic argument against globalization is unthinkingly extended to a sort of amorphous first-world solidarity. I've had plenty of well-meaning American friends speak with casual dismay of Canadian or French or UK jobs going to China or India or Vietnam. Few have managed to explain (to their own satisfaction, forget mine) why jobs going from rich French people to poor Vietnamese should make Americans sad instead of happy, or why this isn't a huge increase in global utility. Mind you, none of these people actually believe whites/Christians/Westerners count more, it's just they've never really made themselves consider, you know, the rest of the globe in their thoughts about globalization. Most people I've made this argument to have managed to see the point that Americans should rejoice in Canadian or Australian jobs going to raise third world standards , reducing global inequality, even if they as Americans, they have a patriotic reason not to want American jobs to do the same. I am not quite sure if that argument works, but they've typically never even thought about it before.
2. Especially with the increased outsourcing of white-collar jobs (where it's hard to say believably that your customer service guy with a thick accent is being exploited) some of the rottenness that's always been at the heart of the anti-sweatshop movement is made clear: to a substantially under-acknowledged extent, anti-sweatshop is about labor protectionism, not humanitarian concern for the world's poor. Globalization and sweatshops have been basically good for China, not bad. And don't pretend to me that American labor unions are motivated principally about giving the Chinese good jobs, and not to 'keep American jobs American.' The recent media interest in Apple and Foxconn (never mind that the suicide rate at Foxconn is actually lower than even that for the US) similarly was carried out, for the most part, without mentioning that the Chinese benefit from their iJobs, and that "bringing the jobs back home" would help Americans workers and hurt the Chinese. Which is fine, if that's what you want, but remains a pretty sketchy thing to sell as humanitarian benevolence.
3. Even if it's defensible for a private American citizen (or company) to care more about Americans, it's not obviously ethically obligatory. It seems morally permissible to lack the patriotic jobs preference. To give an intuition jogger, few, even those who're very patriotic, would say Bill Gates is being wicked to spend his foundation money fighting malaria in Africa instead of trying to improve American high school education. The idea that firms moving jobs offshore are being immoral is actually rather harder to justify than the claim that they are merely not immoral not to. Indeed, leftist ideologies tend to value in-group preference less, which is to my mind as unambiguous a reason for preferring them as any.
Again, I don't really think trade-with-redistribution (or even trade-without-redistribution, it's just worse that what might be) is zero-sum. But it's useful to think about what kinds of moral arguments follow, at least if you're uncomfortable with explicitly parochial perspectives. Hell, considering the existence of absolute poverty, or even just the decreasing marginal utility of money, trade could be substantially negative sum and still be a net moral positive for humanity.
Explain Yourself Before You Breed (Norman Costa)
From Christine Overall in her article, "Think Before You Breed." NY times Opinionator, June 17, 2012:
"In fact, people are still expected to provide reasons not to have children, but no reasons are required to have them. It’s assumed that if individuals do not have children it is because they are infertile, too selfish or have just not yet gotten around to it. In any case, they owe their interlocutor an explanation. On the other hand, no one says to the proud parents of a newborn, Why did you choose to have that child? What are your reasons? The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification."
There is a "Peanuts" cartoon with Charley Brown at his school desk taking an exam. He doesn't know the answer to the essay question on the test. So he proceeds to write an answer, not to the test question, but to his own question for which he has a ready made answer.
So I am wondering as to what, or to whom, Christine Overall is directing her analysis. Who or what is asking a childless female to answer for her lack of progeny? Who or what enforces an expectation upon a woman without kids for an explanation, and one that better be good? If the answer is her mother who can't wait to have grandchildren, or nosy people at work, does this justify a NY Times Opinionator piece to expose such an outrage and biased imposition upon personal choice and freedom. Is this a reason to uncover the real crime that all those folks with babies get off Scot free and owe a very good explanation to the rest of us.
Could it be that the choice to procreate, or even the non-choice of an unintended pregnancy, goes without the slightest curiosity and querying from family, friends, partner, OBGYN, therapist, conselor, or spiritual advisor? Is it true that everyone else in the woman's life is completely incurious and silent as to "Why a baby?" or "Why a baby now?" or "Why a baby later?" or "Why not a baby?" or "Why not a baby now?" or "Why not a baby later?"
I suppose all women who want to have a child, or are thinking about having a child, or are with child NEVER engage in any serious heart to heart talk with anyone of the consequences about wanting, or thinking about wanting, or the fact that they are already pregnant with child. I would have to believe that these discussions and responses to the counsel of others do not actually take place. Such women never have to think about what they are doing, nor consider the counsel of those who care or are interested. They just want to have babies without the slightest thought about what they are doing, and nobody else cares to ask either.
Christine Overall: "The burden of proof — or at least the burden of justification — should therefore rest primarily on those who choose to have children, not on those who choose to be childless."
I really have to ask as to whom the proof is to be rendered, and by what authority the burden is required.
I wonder if Christine Overall is simply too sensitive or too anticipatory about unthinking words and intrusive inquiries from friends and family. Certainly, no organization or institution or government agency is asking, let alone requiring, a full and complete disclosure as to why not. Imposition, rudeness, careless questions, and thoughtlessness can cause anxiety, embarrassment, anger, or outrage at the violation of personal matters. This is understandable. What is not understandable, in my personal opinion, is why the matter transforms into the most grave of ethical questions and the entire burden of any explanation falls on THEM, not ME.
As I suggested at the beginning, she is answering her own question, not the actual question about what is really being deliberated by most people when it comes to having children.
I mean, couldn't this guy have been whisked out beforehand or even during the raid in one of the Blackhawk helicopters? Didn't the US intelligence know that Al Qaida sympathizers in the Pakistani army and government, who were probably harboring bin Laden, were going to punish this guy for embarrassing them?
Jonathan Haidt is a moral psychologist best known for his work on moral foundations, the basic dimensions along which peoples' moral intuitions vary. These include care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. Interestingly, Haidt's research suggests that while conservatives bring all these dimensions to bear upon moral deliberation, liberals and libertarians use only the first three. His ''money'' plot shows how much people with different politics care about a given moral concern. Much of Haidt's new book, ''The Righteous Mind'' is devoted to explaining these dimensions and findings.
Haidt worries about acrimony between liberals and conservatives in contemporary America (his book is subtitled ''Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion''), and thinks his work elucidates this disagreement. We simply have different moral "taste-buds", he says. It is not just disagreement he is interested in however, but moral incomprehension, failing to understand someone on the opposite side, or why he isn't a moral monster despite his views. Here he places more blame on the liberal side. One reason is that the overwhelmingly liberal academy and cultural elite participate in group-think and ignore insights from the other side. In his last chapter calling for political understanding, Haidt brings up people like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Robert Putnam, also insisting on the value of market libertarianism and spontaneous order. He notes that science itself can suffer from political considerations, a star witness being the sociobiology wars of the 1970s. One can push back here - shall we stock Biology Departments with creationists, mightn't conservatives have ''differing interests'' as they suggest with gender representation, etc. Nevertheless, I do think he has a point, and won't pursue this argument further.
Haidt's more interesting claim is that while conservatives deploy all the liberal moral criteria, liberals lack access to key conservative intuitions pertaining to loyalty, authority and sanctity. People from ''Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic'' backgrounds are disproportionately likely not to possess the full human moral palate. Hence, when asked to predict other peoples' moral responses, conservatives and moderates typically model liberals well. Liberals instead might be describing sweet-and-sour chicken while lacking sourness tastebuds. The left does often display cluelessness about rightwing motivations - consider only the post-2004 view that Americans were being 'duped' into voting for Bush, as if Kansans couldn't have non-economic, illiberal concerns of their own. Mind you, I suspect cultural Balkanization and homogeneity matter more here than any "palate" differences.
Haidt also reviews evidence that the mind principally responds quickly and intuitively , not via rational deliberation. The image presented is of an elephant (intuition and emotion) and a rider (the consciously reasoning mind) where the elephant is largely in control. I do not have much to say here, and will direct the review to the rest of the book, focusing on a few points. First, the question of ''moral tastes'' and possible ways in which this model loads the die. I then suggest some fairly obvious political questions Haidt might address with his framework. Then I get to ''the evolution stuff.'' This is the bulk of my criticism, so I quickly summarize it by saying that I don't understand why Haidt needs a biological framework, much less a group selectional one, that his conclusions acquire only Science-y luster from it, and that he's just pretending to obtain this framework from biology anyway.
A word on ''emotional'' matters: Haidt intends to challenge liberal complacency, so some liberal irritation is unavoidable. This is exacerbated by Haidt's unfortunate tendency to conflate psychological and philosophical claims where convenient. Much of the book implicitly suggests conservatives are ''right'', but backs away from direct argument (but note his opponents are everywhere called WEIRD!) Then at the end, Haidt switches open-faced to saying that his findings lead him to conclude conservatives are actually right, about happiness, community, welfare and diversity. I found myself shaking my head at the conversion narrative tone here.
The usefulness of Haidt-the-evangelist to your thinking will likely depend on your openness to his conservative heroes. People who think conservatives are monsters with no brains and smaller hearts, will learn to think better by persevering through their heartburn. Those instead, who're sympathetically acquainted with some of his great heroes (Hume and Durkheim everywhere, some Burke, Hayek and Smith), might find his presentation uncritical, bordering on cheerleading. Doubtless this dichotomy is fraught; practically speaking, the first group has a predominantly third person existence! Anyway, while Haidt's biases are significant, he is valuable for liberals looking to scrutinize their moral presuppositions. In reading, one does well to watch out for the irritation, consciously deciding case-by-case whether to follow or swallow it. Contra Haidt, an ''emotional'' reading of the book probably will be inferior to a ''rational'' one! Despite my positive rating (I end up with 3.5/5), the following content frequently won't be. Whether this is valid counterpoint or residual irritation, I cannot say. But let's begin.
Given that this pretty little speech was delivered at the NRA convention in front of an audience that already believes it is losing money and freedom to an "enemy" government, does it amount to crying fire in a crowded theater or at the very least, come close? How much vileness can be excused for the sake of the First Amendment and because an aging performer has to live up to his public image of a crazy?
Just what is the crime here?
Dharun Ravi, 20, formerly of Rutgers University, NJ, was convicted on all 15 counts brought against him: invasion of privacy, bias intimidation,lying to investigators, trying to influence a witness and tampering with evidence. From the NYTimes article:
"The case was a rare one in which almost none of the facts were in dispute. Mr. Ravi’s lawyers agreed that he had set up a webcam on his computer, and had then gone into a friend’s room and viewed Mr. Clementi kissing a man he met a few weeks earlier on a Web site for gay men. He sent Twitter and text messages urging others to watch when Mr. Clementi invited the man again two nights later, then deleted messages after Mr. Clementi killed himself."
"Mr. Ravi, 20, wearing a dark suit over his slight frame, sat expressionless as the jury forewoman read the verdict on the first count, of invasion of privacy. But he seemed surprised when she pronounced him guilty on the next charge, of bias intimidation. His eyes popped and he quickly turned his head from the jury."
"Mr. Ravi had rejected plea deals, because prosecutors would have required him to admit to bias intimidation. His lawyers said he simply did not believe he had committed a hate crime. They argued that he was “a kid” with little experience of homosexuality who had stumbled into a situation that scared him."
"Mr. Kaplan, the county prosecutor, rejected suggestions that Mr. Ravi would not have been on trial if Mr. Clementi had not killed himself. Even if he had not, he said, “under these facts, under this evidence, we would prosecute this case.”
I remember thinking "What a horrific case! What kind of values did the kid who spied grow up with?" when I first read about the suicide of Tyler Clementi a couple of years ago. Then, as I read this article in the New Yorker, I felt more ambivalent about the charges. Is this a hate crime?
What must have gone through Clementi's mind over the whole incident, that prompted him to commit suicide? He appears to have been at a most vulnerable stage, the start of 'coming out' to the world, having informed his parents just shortly before joining college, and starting to explore his sexuality. Was he punishing only Dharun for harassing him, or trying to punish his mother, whose initial rejection he sensed. From the New Yorker article by Iain Parker:
"When he described that experience to Cruz, Clementi reported that his father was “very accepting” of his news, but added, “Its a good thing dad is ok w/it or I would be in serious trouble / mom has basically completely rejected me.” He later added that she had been “very dismissive.”
Jane Clementi told me recently that Tyler announced his sexuality to her in a private, late-night conversation, which “snowballed” to cover his perceived shortage of friends and the uncertainty he had about his faith. At the end of their talk, she recalled, “he cried, I cried, we hugged.” They said that they loved each other. But, Jane Clementi said, “I must admit, other than being surprised, I felt betrayed.”
And, finally, after the whole sordid saga unravels, in digital footprints and reconstruction of the sequence of events leading to the discovery of Tyler Clementi's body in the Hudson, a sad footnote from his mother.
"On the night Jane Clementi learned that Tyler was gay, she said, “I told him not to hurt himself.” Not long before, a girl from his school had committed suicide. “We had talked about it briefly that summer, and for some reason that thought came to mind. And all I said was ‘Don’t hurt yourself,’ and he looked me right in the eye and he laughed, and said, ‘I would never do anything like that.’ ”
Michael Sandel has written a long, thoughtful, but frustrating article that raises questions about the intrusion of markets and market values into new domains. He begins with a long list of problematic goods and services that can now be bought and sold, then explains why we might worry about such things being sell-able. He has some things to say about deregulation and how the market has given free rein to greed. He worries too about inequality and its impact upon consumption, so that the more we do with markets the more inequality "matters."
The meat of his argument, however, is about "corruption." By corruption he means not bribery or nepotism, but rather the more "religious" cluster of debasement/pollution/impurity:
Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged. Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but might also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction. Hiring foreign mercenaries to fight our wars might spare the lives of our citizens, but might also corrupt the meaning of citizenship.
Economists often assume that markets are inert, that they do not affect the goods being exchanged. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark. Sometimes, market values crowd out nonmarket values worth caring about.
We don’t allow children to be bought and sold, no matter how difficult the process of adoption can be or how willing impatient prospective parents might be. Even if the prospective buyers would treat the child responsibly, we worry that a market in children would express and promote the wrong way of valuing them. Children are properly regarded not as consumer goods but as beings worthy of love and care. Or consider the rights and obligations of citizenship. If you are called to jury duty, you can’t hire a substitute to take your place. Nor do we allow citizens to sell their votes, even though others might be eager to buy them. Why not? Because we believe that civic duties are not private property but public responsibilities. To outsource them is to demean them, to value them in the wrong way.
This seems fair - not that many people believe the market should control everything, and I don't think anyone believes children should be sold to the highest bidder. However, Sandel's arguments, and especially his examples of inappropriate goods, are not persuasive (to me at any rate).
The Death and Burial of Peter Russo's Father – Part 1 (Norman Costa)
Death Is Near
Ellie Russo called me at 4 AM. Peter, her husband, just got a call from his brother, Rob. His father's condition took a sudden change for the worse. Tony Russo was near death, and was not expected to live more than half the day. Ellie asked if I would drive Peter to be with his father at the hospice center.
Peter and Ellie had returned from his father's bedside, only 90 minutes earlier, and barely got one hour of sleep. It's a two and a half hour drive to Glastonbury, CT, and there was no possibility either of them could drive and be safe. In 35 minutes I was at their house. Peter answered the door, hugged me, and said, “Thank you.” He went straight to my car and got in.
Ellie grabbed my arm as I was turning to follow her husband. “Listen,” she said. “Drive safely. No speeding. Peter's father is the one who is supposed to die. Not you and not Peter.” I patted her hand that held my arm and told her I would deliver both of us, safely, to his father's bedside. I gave her a hug, and left.
I thought Peter would sleep in the car. Not a chance. He was wide awake. I stopped at a diner, and picked up coffee and sandwiches. Ellie's admonition stayed with me the entire trip. I was never so conscious of posted speed limits, and staying alert. I was trying hard to ignore how much time had elapsed since Peter got the call from his brother. He didn't want to call ahead to check on his father. Life and death were out of his control. He would find out what happened when he got there.
We talked, not about Peter's father, but about my father. He died more than a year earlier. Peter kept me company, a few times, on the drive from Poughkeepsie to my Dad's nursing home in Catskill, NY. Peter and my father got to know each other in the last two years of his life. They enjoyed the company of each other, and their conversations.
Peter talked a lot about my Dad's wake, the Catholic funeral Mass, the eulogy I gave him, and the grave-side ceremony. Peter was raised a Catholic, but, for the past 15 years, he has been a Wiccan and active with his small circle. His father, though, would have a proper Catholic service. Tony, a Korean War veteran, would be buried in a military cemetery in Saratoga, NY, not with Peter's deceased mother and deceased older sister in a family plot in Fall River, MA.
Not even Islam or for that matter, any other major Indian religions which "officially" do not subscribe to social stratification by virtue of one's birth. Therefore it is not unusual to hear of "Brahmin" Christians, "Kshatriya "Sikhs and "Rajput" Muslims of high birth.The effects of the Hindu caste system go beyond the grotesque practices of exploitation and brutality for which it is notorious. Most social interactions from matrimony to business dealings are largely dictated by caste considerations. Indian politics are rife with loyalties and rivalries based on caste and religion. There are layers upon layers of cultural/ social / religious dimensions to regional and national politics in India, and the candidates for public office rely heavily upon identity politics. Communities in India irrespective of wealth and status, quietly practice their own individual forms of the caste system in private as well as public life, frequently giving shape to the political leadership. These differences are particularly sharp during communal unrest. In more placid times, people tend to think more of their own economic interests and the voting pattern of a particular religious group or caste cannot be taken for granted. It is not uncommon for unethical politicians to instigate riots and disturbances close to elections in order to divide communities and then pander to one side or the other. Right now elections are being held in several north Indian states with sizable Muslim populations. Politicians are predictably watching the "Muslim vote bloc." But some are warning that to count the vastly diverse and complex Indian Muslim communities as a monolitic entity may prove to be a miscalculation. Shahid Siddiqui, a Muslim member of the Indian Parliament from UP explains why.
The myth of the Muslim vote bank, though denied by sociologists and debunked by psephologists, refuses to die. It reasserts itself with new vigour at every election. Even those well aware of the diversity within the community cannot resist building their arguments on this spurious claim.
The vote bank theory has been convenient for labelling Muslims and shoving them into handy brackets. It was done in India to explain the political behaviour of Muslims across regional, linguistic, caste, class and social barriers. Today it is done globally to gloss over inconvenient and inconsistent behaviour: it is a one-size fits all formula that cuts across regions and rides over locational differences and circumstances. Whether they are Thai, Chechen, Palestinian or European, Muslims are judged unfailingly by their faith and so-called beliefs. In this foretold story, everything is pre-decided: the crime, the culprit, the cause, the evidence and the punishment.
The vote bank
The idea that there is something called a “Muslim vote bank,” which behaves uniformly across the board, suits equally the Muslim leadership and its right wing Hindu counterpart. Muslim leaders and middlemen can bargain with political parties on behalf of this “collective” vote, as if individual Muslims have no opinion of their own and can be herded together in a pre-determined direction for a price decided mutually between the politicians and the community's self-appointed spokespersons. The Muslim vote bank helps communal Hindu organisations to manufacture their own “Hindu vote bank,” and use the whipped up Muslim threat to achieve their ultimate objective: a Hindu-Muslim electoral polarisation. The secular sections too have become unwitting participants in this game. Their intention is presumably to lift Muslims out of their sense of insecurity but the constant focus has only served to perpetuate the fear and victimhood that have been the bane of the community. Experts on 24x7 TV channels habitually use the vote bank theory to offer pat explanations for Muslim behaviour and to reach pre-fabricated conclusions.
I know I will be roundly attacked for these assertions for they question the very basis on which sectarian elements on both sides have built their arguments. The Muslim Ulema refuse to accept the ground reality of Islam in India which is as much mired in caste politics as any other Indian religion. The plain truth is that Muslim society is as divided as Hindu society and along the same caste and regional lines. Caste is such a formidable Indian/Hindu institution that no ideology can escape it: Islam, Christianity, Marxism, rationalism, modernism have all floundered on the bedrock of this hard reality. Islam became acceptable in medieval Indian society as a caste group and not as a religious group. Mughals, Pathans, Turks, Sheikhs and Syeds were regarded as sub-castes, so much so that other Indian converts to Islam came to be conveniently regarded as outcasts.
Then there is this story which points out the ways in which caste politics is now being exploited with Muslim voters by pandering politicians. What I found interesting in this article is what I had suspected all along. A community votes as a bloc when their existence or identity is threatened in some way. With right wing Hindu parties like the BJP mostly in a waning phase in Indian politics, Muslims in India are voting for pocket book issues and not cultural ones. More interesting is the Congress Party's shameless pandering to the community by awarding Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe status to "low caste" Muslims. As I pointed out earelier, it is an open secret that in India, there is "always" a caste system, irrespective of the faith of a community and that there are indeed rich and poor Muslims in India whose livelihoods and status fall across social lines based on traditional occupations which mirror the Hindu caste system. But isn't it somewhat cynical and ironic to introduce this kind of stratification as policy for a religious group which at least on paper, doesn't recognize such classifications? The third interesting item in this news report is that the Muslim special groups which may benefit from the government quota are anxious not to anger the large and powerful Yadav community (a designated SC / ST Hindu community) of UP with whom the Muslims had in the past joined hands to break the upper caste Hindu monopoly in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. This is identity politics at its best - making strange bedfellows, creating and disrupting unlikely alliances and fostering atavistic tendencies.
Travel to tribal portions of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is fairly restricted, and access to particular local tribes is (in theory) hard to accomplish. Rationales for isolating these peoples are probably varied - lack of disease resistance, the desire to protect unusual cultures blending into Rousseau-style noble savage stuff, the interesting genetic structure of the people, pretext for possible naval strategic concerns, etc. Of the lot, only the first seems ethically clean to me, but in any case much of this is fig-leaf stuff anyway, since Indian and foreign tourists visit quite routinely to gawk at the tribesmen.
Rights campaigners and politicians on Wednesday condemned a video showing women from a protected and primitive tribe dancing for tourists in exchange for food on India's far-flung Andaman Islands.
British newspaper The Observer released the video showing Jarawa tribal women -- some of them naked -- being lured to dance and sing after a bribe was allegedly paid to a policeman to produce them.
Under Indian laws designed to protect ancient tribal groups susceptible to outside influence and disease, photographing or coming into contact with the Jarawa is illegal.
The tribe, thought to have been among the first people to migrate successfully from Africa to Asia, lives a nomadic existence in the lush, tropical forests of the Andamans in the Bay of Bengal.
India's tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo promised to take action over the incident, terming it "disgusting" on Wednesday, and the home ministry has sought a report.
Survival International, which lobbies on behalf of tribal groups worldwide, said the video showed tourists apparently enjoying "human zoos."
"Quite clearly, some people's attitudes towards tribal peoples haven't moved on a jot. The Jarawa are not circus ponies bound to dance at anyone's bidding," said Stephen Corry, the group's director, in a press release.
In June last year, Survival International accused eight Indian travel companies of running "human safari tours" so tourists could see and photograph the Jarawa. [emph added]
I think this 'Survival International' group is grandstanding to some extent in drawing the zoo analogy, but clearly this is pretty unsanitary stuff. Still, my own view is that this wouldn't ethically be that different from people visiting Amish country, if these people were treated like human beings to begin with and not fetishized, by people across the political spectrum, including foremost the government. People - all people - like gratifying their curiosity about strange people, and channeling that interest in ordinary ways (modulo health impact) would be on the whole harmless, doing little more than diluting cultural heritage, and might even create economic and other benefits. But with things as they are, such visits have an illicit character, and people tend to behave rather worse than is strictly necessary.
The Daily Mail [NSFW] has a video and additional details making the thing more vivid, including a picture showing a long line of cars that looks quite a bit like a safari. What particularly stood out to me is this:
The 403 tribe members should, in theory, be protected by strict laws on the Indian-run island. A sign at the gate to the 'enclosure' states: 'Don’t give any eatables to the Jarawas.
'Don’t indulge in photography, videography. Otherwise you will be liable for legal action including seizure of camera.' [emph added]
I can think of reasons to bar outsiders from entering this enclosure. [Although I hope - without having much expectation of being right - that such finickiness doesn't extend to medical care or education. Jarawa cancer patients should not be expected to die wholesomely just because they have done so for thousands of years...] Given whatever limited entry right there is though, with at least some people being allowed to walk, talk, sneeze and drive on tar roads, what possessed the government to put up signs warning those people off giving tribal children snickers bars? Are they monkeys or ducks that visitors must be barred from feeding them? If this is a zoo, who's the real zoo-keeper?
Catholic Cardinal Francis George: Gay Pride = Klan Rally? (Norman Costa)
FutureNews Network (FNN) - June 2012, Chicago, IL, USA
A record 850,000 people came to Chicago today to watch or take part in the Annual Gay Pride Parade. By all accounts, it was loud, fun, quirky, colorful, at times bordering on the ourrageous and risque, and a great success, according to parade organizers. 'It's all about pride,' said the President of the organizing committee for this year's event. 'It's about pride in ourselves, our friends, our community, and in Chicago for being a great city of tolerance and inclusion.'
Only six months ago, there was concern about the reaction of the Catholic Church. Our own Cardinal Francis George likened the rhetoric of some members of the GLBT to that of the KKK. The Cardinal said that to them, the Catholic Church is the enemy.
The Cardinal was prompted to make his remarks, because the parade route was changed and would pass right in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, RC Church, on West Belmont Avenue. The local pastor was very concerned because Sunday morning church goers would find it very difficult to get through the crowds and cross the parade route to get to Sunday Mass.
Predictably, there was an outcry over Cardinal George's remarks. What seemed like an inevitable confrontation between the Catholic Church and the parade organizers, was transformed into a cooperative display of community spirit. It began when the Cardinal apologized for what he described as intemperate and uncharitable remarks.
The Cardinal, himself, negotiated with the city and the parade organizers. Local parishioners organized themselves as escorts and path makers through the crowds, and crossing guards to get church goers safely across the street. The whole thing was supervised by the police so that there would be a minimum of interruptions for church goers and the parade.
The real news was not the agreement on escorts and crossing guards, but a large sign put up by Cardinal George, in front of the Church. It had the schedule of Masses.
'SUNDAY - 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
AGLO Mass - Sunday 7:00 p.m. - Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach'
In addition, the sign read, 'After the parade, come back for Mass, or for private prayer and meditation in our Church. All are welcome.'
We learned that both Cardinal George, and pastor Father Thomas Srenn officiated at the 7:00 pm AGLO Mass. No one expected the overflow crowd for the AGLO Mass. The only problems were two people who tried to disrupt the Mass, but they were quickly excorted out by plain clothes police.
The Cardinal was asked if the Church would do the same for next year. 'Of course,' he said. 'That is why the Church is here.' When asked if he would do anything different, he was quick to say, 'Yes. Next year we will have two AGLO Masses, and sufficient time and priests to hear confessions beforehand.'
A CNN reporter asked if there was anything else he would like to say. He said, 'Bless all gay Catholics, all gay people, and all children of God!' The reporter was heard to say, 'Amen.'
So much for the concept of Gross National Happiness, a concept developed and promoted as an index of well-being by the Royal Government of Bhutan in 2005. While efforts to quantify it were widely publicized and discussed, nobody seemed to take the Bhutan government to task for its treatment of the ethnically Nepali Lhotshampas and their being forced out of the country. There is an entire population of them resettled or waiting to be resettled in other countries.
"Over 105,000 Bhutanese have spent more than 15 years living in refugee camps established in Nepal by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Thousands more are living outside the camps in Nepal and India, and some in North America, Europe and Australia."
I came across one of those Bhutanese Nepali refugees a few weeks ago, as I mention in my personal blog post" Threaded"
For some refugees, the change of location has led to a hope for a new life, for example, a group settled in Pittsburgh, PA. (Article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
"They arrive, for the most part, at Pittsburgh International Airport with little more than the clothes they are wearing. They must quickly learn to navigate an unfamiliar city, speak English, adjust to American practices and organizations, find work and send their children to school.
Their journey here and the acculturation process after they arrive involve layers of international groups, U.S. government agencies, a resettlement organization and social services."
But for some it is too much to handle, with tragic results.
"He was found dead hanging in a laundry room Friday morning,” Bhanu Phuyel, another refugee resettled in the same city, told ekantipur.com from the US….Six members of the family were sharing a two-bed room apartment along with another family with four people. They had not received any other facility except food card.
[Jit Bahadur Pradhan] was annoyed with the circumstances, and used to complain with his two sons that the situation there was no better than in the camp in Nepal."
Will these dispossessed ever have their questionnaires added to those back home in Bhutan? What will happen to its much-vaunted high GNH quotient then?
Gross National Happiness does equal Gross National Irony, in this case.
"Sunday Morning" on Sunday Night (Norman Costa)
Last night, Sunday, I spent an evening with friends. I convinced myself that I provide an indispensable service by encouraging the cook and her dinner-in-progress. "What are you chopping up? Is that parsnip? It tastes like celery. Oh! It's celery root. That explains it. Terrific!" Toward the end of dinner, before dessert, I seconded her motion that adding capers and black oil cured olives would be even better, next time.
Of course, Roberta doesn't need my culinary advice and cheering, but sitting on a kitchen stool in the proximity of gastronomic events is an opportunity to paint a picture of my life events since the last time we gabbed and ate. Sergio was finishing his laundry so he could garb himself, confidently, for work the next morning. Sitting amid these very domestic of chores I announced that I wanted to tell them about my recent encounters with poetry.
Poetry is a big deal for me. It is only in recent years that I have been able to read and enjoy good poetry. Roberta writes poetry, herself, and can reach to her book shelf and pull out a poem that is apropos to any topic of discussion. I was telling her and Sergio about my earlier posting on Accidental Blogger, "To Hint of Religion, Or Not to Hint of Religion." HERE. In the comments, Dean Rowan mentioned Wallace Stevens' poem, "Sunday Morning," and we exchanged a few thoughts about it.
I found the poem so alluring that I couldn't get myself away from it. Each time I read it, I enjoyed it that much more, but seemed to understand it less and less. Perhaps I should rephrase. I was less and less certain of what Stevens was trying to do, to say, to get across. I think it is a religious poem, a Christian one at that, but he seems unsure about what he believes. No matter. I still enjoyed reading it.
With Sergio's and Roberta's agreement and attention, I read the first two of eight stanzas, intending to go no further. Upon completion of my quarter way around the track, Sergio said, "Wow! That's very Pagan." "Yes," agreed Roberta, "it's a very Pagan poem." I was surprised and asked as to what made it Pagan. They said it was rife with nature symbols from beginning to end - of the first two stanzas. [You should know that they are both Pagans, and among an entire coven whom I count as friends.] "Would you like me to read the rest it?" I asked. "YES! Go on. But slower, this time."
And so I did. Now the poem is even more curious, intriguing, and mysterious. I enjoy it even more. Maybe you will, too.
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measure destined for her soul.
Without additional commentary on the nature of the GOP presidential candidates, here is just one "idea" proposed by the current front runner Newt Gingrich whom some are calling the Newtron Bomb.
It's a fact, because he has told us so, that Republican primary candidate Newt Gingrich is first and foremost a historian, so it's no surprise when he buttresses his views with historical precedents. But in his recent plans for lifting poor children out of poverty, we were alarmed that he chose to follow the Dickensian model of child labor practices.
A few weeks ago, at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he talked about his "extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America."
Calling child labor laws "truly stupid," he said that people who became successful in one generation "all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age." He proposed that schools in poor neighborhoods "get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school."
Where does one begin? Child labor laws exist to protect children from just such crackpot ideas. But then he went even further in a campaign speech in Iowa last week: "Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash' unless it's illegal."
We could splutter all day at the offensiveness of these assertions, but our time is better spent in thanking Charles Blow, (link here) the visual Op-Ed columnist of the New York Times, who last Saturday used his gift for information graphics to present a column that succinctly demolished Gingrich's careless, cruel stereotypes, showing them to have no factual basis.
Blow presented an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which showed that three-quarters of poor adults ages 18 to 64 work - half of them full-time. Most poor children live in a household with at least one employed parent, and among children in extreme poverty, nearly one in three lives with at least one working parent.
And as for the most egregious, irresponsible claim - that poor children have no habit of performing tasks for money "unless it's illegal" - Blow wrote that Gingrich "vastly overreaches by suggesting that a lack of money universally correlates to a lack of morals."
Poverty is indeed a factor in crime increase, but Blow's data show that even though the number of Americans living in poverty has grown recently, the crime rate has dropped overall, specifically among juveniles.
But, given his historical leanings, we can at least be thankful that Gingrich has never been accused of modesty, so odds are that we'll be spared a revival of that famous "Modest Proposal," put forward by Jonathan Swift in 1729, "For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country."
More on the same from Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post.
To Hint Of Religion, Or Not To Hint Of Religion (Norman Costa)
For the non-believer, should a hint of religion in a poem, or even an obvious reference, detract from the appreciation of the poetry? The issue came up regarding a poem by Jim Culleny, “Caresses and Cuffs.” He posted it on 3Quarks Daily.
Here's the poem:
Caresses and Cuffs
Silence thick as her stews sometimes
filled my grandmother’s house
but for the cars on 15
hissing toward Picatinny
on a wet night
big black Packards or Buicks
heavy as a hard life,
Chevy’s wide whitewalls
spinning over asphalt on a two-lane
before the interstate sliced through
a table in her living room
cluttered with snaps of Jim and Jack
Howard Frank Velma Ruth
Gladys Leo Leroy Pat; the lot of them
in by-gone black and white
mugging hugging beaming being
young as they’d been for the ages
for their tiny taste of time
their vitality a temporal joke
their smooth skin taut as the sky
on a blue blue daya pillow-piled day-bed
against the front wall under a window
kitty-corner from the brown coal stove
radiating from October
till the geometry of earth and sun
more befitted blood & breath
fat chairs stuffed as her turkeys
on big Thanksgivings
all in this mist of imagination
as real as a pin prick, as
bright and huge as a moon,
crisp as frost
—memory’s a terrible and tender thing
the way it claws and cradles the day
its shadows and light shifting
like shapes of an optical illusion
filled with mercies and accusations
—the caresses and cuffs ofthe lord.
by Jim Culleny11/27/11
A reader commented, “"Tiny taste of time" is good. Not too keen on the last line. One of your best....I just don't like the hint of religion there. But overall, a very tight and rhythmic poem. I prefer it to a lot of the poems in the New Yorker.” I liked it too, and enjoyed reading it aloud to myself.
The Warburg Method teaches us that devotional art is not only not always beautiful, but rarely beautiful -- because it is deeply coded and the untutored eye doesn't always get it. Is not intended to get it. This is true across civilizations, not just true in the Western painting tradition.
As the blogger knows, his stock represents about 400 years of devotional painting, in the Byzantine as well as Western traditions. This is interesting not because it makes his blog title inaccurate but because it's a crash course in how observation-based painting changes things, and in how it doesn't.
Does it matter if the painter is going for naturalism? This is something no Byzantine painter ever heard of doing. A Virgin enthroned on a huge wall 30 feet up from where the viewer stands is not meant to look like a sweet British mom wondering at the miracle of her rosy child. The heavy dark lines describing the faces are meant to suggest modeling and somberness from a great distance, in candlelight. The wall painter of any era knows -- the image must read. If you look at what the painter has done up close, in a book or in a photo blog, you miss that point and see only a coarse, hirsute appearance, one that seems inexplicable and uglified. The somberness and linear quality of Byzantine images is present in hand held icons too, but these are more delicately painted. What you will never see is a Byzantine genre scene -- painting was for depicting holiness. To be holy is to be set apart, and to look it. If you notice, the Buddha is never represented as a conventionally handsome South Asian man -- other stuff is going on in those representations, as it is in the way Byzantine painters represented holy men, women and babies.
There are eras in painting where you would find only Madonna and Child images that speak of what an agonizing fate it is, to be the Son of God, and how grave and sorrowful His mother must be. There are other eras wherein the cult of the Holy Infant took a different turn, the art focusing on the deep joys of Christianity, on the life the Christian is given that is as new and as disburdened as an infant's life. Virgin and child are emblematic of perfect trust, even in the presence of great foreboding. If, as a painter, you mean The Awful never to be very far away, you will have your ways of demonstrating that. Christ is not "a guy like you," and the most strangely powerful images of Christ are intended to show the viewer the aspect of Christ that he can empathize with -- the Christ who is set apart, and bears about himself even in infancy the traces of an unendurable but splendidly meaningful life. What woman can be sadder than the Madonna, yet more convinced of her unique significance? Should she not occasionally look the part? A huge if not often explicated purpose of devotional art is to give courage to the devotee; images of extreme conventionality may fail in this aim.
Well, I am NOT an authority, only a lifelong student and reader, with a (very) distant degree in Art History. But! The observation of children _as_ children, not as trainee adults who need to be fit to enter the labor force ASAP, is a moder...n phenomenon, in art and in literature. With that shift in focus comes all kinds of romanticizing: the savage, the angel, the superb victim, the young hero, and so on, with many of these categories overlapping or morphing into one another. Restricting myself to art, I want to point out that observation based painting and drawing is modern, as in Renaissance and Post-Ren., the Greeks and Romans being another subject. It was against Church and other laws to learn anatomy via dissection, and even Michelangelo risked much when he learned anatomy from corpses, so this left the art of the Middle Ages, and Byzantine art, as well as the art of the Early Renaissance, at a certain powerful disadvantage, IF good art is supposed to look like what you see with your eyes, not your inner eye. An important part of learning about art, of having the full experience of art, is to allow your own inner eye to magnify what is deep and true in many forms of expression, over many stylistic conventions. I am not the world's biggest fan of Byzantine holy images, for instance, but not liking them on the grounds of their being stylized, static, and a failure at resembling human beings is like thinking Haiku might be better if it were longer. And, yes! In any era, if an artist needed to take a wife away from her labors to "sit in" for a missing Madonna, or to borrow a toddler for John the Baptist or an infant for Christ, you may be sure it was over very quickly!
Afghan rape victim sentence reduced, stays in jail (Norman Costa)
Watch video and read article HERE.
Few Americans know that statutes of limitations in the U.S. have related effects upon victims of child sex abuse.
"The Mystery I'm Thankful For" - Me Too! (Norman Costa)
by Adam Frank
I once participated in a public debate with another scientist on issues surrounding science and religion. I was an atheist with sympathies for the sacred character of human experience and he was an atheist without such sympathies. At one point in the discussion I tried to convince him that inclinations to "spirituality" or a sense of "sacredness" (with or without an institutional religion) was a response to the essential mystery that came with being human. He paused for long moment and then replied.
"There is no mystery"
It took me a while to pick my jaw off the floor and find an appropriate response.
I had made it pretty clear that, being an atheist, I was not arguing for a "God" of the gaps. Neither was I arguing that limits to knowledge (if they exist) imply we should be worshiping before some choice of deity.
Instead I was simply pointing to that fundamental weirdness, that "stranger-in-a-strange land" quality of being human. I was pointing to that mystery because I think its best part of the whole trip.
We just find ourselves here. With our individual birth we just "wake-up" and discover ourselves in the midst of an extraordinary world of beauty and sorrow. All around us we see exquisite and exquisitely subtle orders played out effortlessly. From the lazy descent of fall leaves to the slow unfolding of cloudscapes in empty blue skies, it is all just here and we are just here to see it.
Day after day we wake again to find the world still here, waiting for us as we play out our own small dramas with their small triumphs and terrible heartbreaks. And then, remarkably, astonishingly, just here just ends.
For me that is the mystery. No amount of explanation, be it a "Theory of Everything" or a religious theology, will reduce the power of its experience. The primitive quality of feeling, the presence of life and its luminosity, is the mystery and I am damn thankful for it.
It is the essential and unalterable question mark saturating the verb "to be" that makes science worth pursuing and gives art its potency. It sets our loves and loss into a context that has no context and somehow makes it all bearable.
I will feel that mystery again as my family converges from across the state and across the continent to gather at the Thanksgiving table. I will feel it, knowing how deeply I love them all and how bound I am to lose them all. I will feel the mystery and be thankful to it, to them and to the world entire.
What else, after all, is there to do?