Monday, July 31, 2006

Did You Know?

That the fruitloop who attacked five people at the Jewish Federation of Seattle last Friday was a recent convert from Islam to Christianity. At the risk of diminishing the seriousness of the incident, it only proves that crazies are crazies regardless of which religious hat they wear.

Or that Israel actively helped Hamas get its start in Palestinian politics? Nations and people always reap what they sow.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Scenes From The Bus & Train

Racing down the carpool lane, gripping one of the overhead bars for balance, I stared out the window at the city blanketed in the eerie haze of the marine layer. Reading, holding a book with one hand, is not ideal and, in any event, it is nice to be still and stare out a window sometimes.

A small white economy car paralleled us for as long as it could before it got ensnared by the traffic. Through the windows, I could see a woman in the drivers seat and a baby strapped into the car seat in the back. The windows of the car were rolled up except for a rear window that was slightly cracked.

Before our bus proceeded along the unimpeded lane reserved for those willing to share transportation in this lone ranger society, the woman in the small white economy car lit a cigarette.

I wondered what would become of that child.


Sitting in an empty seat, leaving an empty seat next to you, is an invitation for a crazy to sit next to you and yackety yack. A rough looking white guy in dark shades sat next to me on the train today and was feeling chatty. By the time 10 minutes had elapsed and we arrived at his stop, I learned he used to be in the military, was discharged because he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is hooked on meth, was still trying to understand why his wife left him and was hoping the GI bill would help him pull his way out of the morass.

War is hell.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Book Review: What Jesus Meant

Gary Wills, a devout believer in Jesus, uses this book as his chance to set the record straight. Jesus was not and is not the kitchy, dimestore charicature to which modern day American Christians have reduced him. Jesus was a radical who died because he challenged everything considered sacred at the time and, if he was alive today, he would be a radical challenging precisely those hypocrites who purport to speak in his name.

The provocative nature of this book begins in the Forward, which is captioned "Christ Not A Christian." Mocking the trivialization of Christ into catch phrases like "what would Jesus do", Wills inquires whether anyone can aspire to do what Jesus did.

Would we praise a twelve-year-old who slips away from his parents in a big city and lets them leave town without telling them he is staying behind?

Or if relatives seek access to a Christian, should he say that he has no relatives but his followers (Mk 3:33-35)?

Other Christians lay great emphasis on family values - should they, like Jesus, forbid a man from attending his own father's funeral (Mt 8:22) or tell others to hate their parents (Mt 8:22, Lk 14:26)?

Or should they say I come not imposing peace, I impose not peace but the sword (Mt 10:34)

The abuse of Jesus' name as the rallying call for the Republican party is quite shocking given Jesus' unwavering disdain for the political establishment and the upper classes.

Happy are you who are poor, for heaven's reign is yours...But dire your plight, you who are rich, for your time of comfort is over (Lk 6:20, 24).

No servant can obey two lords. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or pamper the one and scant the other. You cannot serve both God and Greed (Lk 16:13).

If you ask Gary Wills what Jesus meant, he will tell you that Jesus was a radical, he was unequivocally anti-establishment and neither promoted a political program nor created a church. Jesus came from the lower class, the working class, and he spoke to and for that class.

This book is a quick read, straight to the point and a sobering reminder of the vast gulf that exists between the teachings of Jesus and the conduct of those in America who claim a monopoly on his memory.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Eternal Dishonesty

That the corporate media in this country are dishonest and disingenuous is cliche at this stage of our political evolution, but sometimes the spin doctors sink to depths I had no idea were reachable by man.

MSNBC headlined its news webpage today with an article about the tragedy unfolding in Lebanon. Read it and you'll learn the body count, what the various parties have to say about who is to blame and what will come next if the offending parties do not surrender. Buried in all the well-crafted soundbites is the following paragraph that probably went unnoticed by the average reader:

Arab foreign ministers, meeting in Cairo, adopted a resolution calling for U.N. Security Council intervention. But moderates led by Saudi Arabia, bickering with Syria and other backers of Hezbollah, denounced the Lebanese guerrilla group’s actions in provoking the latest conflict.

Hold the phone people. Saudi Arabia is moderate?

Saudi Arabia? The same Saudi Arabia that has public beheadings every Friday? The same Saudi Arabia that enforces the most extreme version of Islam -- Wahhabism -- on its citizenry? The same Saudi Arabia that forces its women to wear black head-to-toe tents and forbids them from driving, voting or going out in public unaccompanied by a man? The same Saudi Arabia from which the majority of alleged 9/11 hijackers came?

So, if I understand it correctly, it is okay to be a nation of tyrannical, mysogenistic, oppressive, limb-chopping, religious fanatics, but as long as you say that Hizballah is to blame for the current war with Israel, you are a moderate. No wonder American foreign policy is so pschizophrenic. If Saudi Arabia is moderate, then the word extremist truly has no meaning.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Kurt Vonnegut, American Genius

"Vonnegut is George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer" is the description that adorns most of Vonnegut's novels. Although I have no idea who Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon are, the description is at least somewhat true with regard to the Orwell comparison. Each tome from this masterful author exposes the absurdities of society in troubling, yet uniquely humorous, ways.

Many have already discovered all that his books have to offer, but I am a bit of a late comer to the game since I so rarely read fiction. A few years ago, a friend of mine gave me the book Galapagos to read during my vacation to the Galapagos Islands. It is one of the most bizarre stories I have ever read and, to this day, I cannot definitively say whether I liked it or not. The only thing I am certain of after reading the book is that Vonnegut must have done a lot of drugs in his lifetime.

When I went to Egypt last January, one of my cousins asked me to bring her some Vonnegut novels since they were hard to come by in Egypt. It was a pleasant surprise that anyone in Egypt had ever heard of Vonnegut, let alone wanted to read his stuff. When I stopped in Paris for my layover on the way, my friend from law school who lives there kept one of the books and, within days, sent me a rave review of God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.

Perhaps it was time to give Vonnegut another chance.

Slaughterhouse Five jumped off the shelf at the used book store a few months later and gave me a new appreciation for the literary legend. The story follows an American soldier fighting in World War II who finds himself in an abandoned slaughterhouse during the firebombing of Dresden. Zig-zagging through the soldier's past, present and future, Vonnegut develops his characters in a way that brings you into their minds for a birds-eye view.

God Bless You Mr. Rosewater is a satire about inheritance. Elliot Rosewater, the rich son of a senator, controls a family trust that becomes the subject of a family feud. Mr. Rosewater, however, is off his rocker so his chances of defeating the corrupt lawyer representing the other wing of the Rosewater family are slim. The ending is too good to give away and this book is a must read. It is entertaining from beginning to end.

A few weeks ago, Cat's Cradle kept me company on the train. It has an end-of-the-world theme like Galapagos and shows how the road to the end is paved with endless human stupidity. In contrast to most American tripe, there is no judgment as to whether the end is good or bad or whether some hero could have made any difference. Throughout the book, you get the sense that Vonnegut views humanity as a bunch of actors in a really bad play, who are simply playing the characters they were born to be.

It is in this book that Vonnegut coins the term "granfalloon", which is a proud and meaningless association of human beings. Granfalloons include alumni associations, patriotism and the like. This word is both humorous and relevant to so much of the stupidity peddled in our media that I intend to appropriate it in future posts.

Currently, I am working on a non-fiction collection of speeches and observations, entitled Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons. This is Vonnegut as himself and only confirms how insightful and enduringly satirical he is. So much is worth sharing, but a few reflections are particularly relevant -

If I were a visitor from another planet, radioing home about Earth, I wouldn't call Americans Americans. I would give them a name that told a lot about them immediately: I would call them Realtors.

I would call the Republicans Super Realtors. I would call the Democrats Inferior Realtors.

The Super Realtors, with Dr. Kissinger as their representative, have worked out crude agreements with the few other truly terrifying powers of the planet as to what can be done and what must not be done with the real estate of the meek.


The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people do not acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.

Both imaginary parties are bossed by Winners. When Republicans battle Democrats, this much is certain: Winners will win.

The Democrats have been the larger party in the past -- because their leaders have not been as openly contemptous of Losers as the Republicans have been.

Losers can join imaginary parties. Losers can vote.

Losers have thousands of religions, often of the bleeding heart variety. The single religion of the Winners is a harsh interpretation of Darwinism, which argues that it is the will of the universe that only the fittest should survive. The most pitiless Darwinists are attracted to the Republican party.

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a
life that
made sense from things she found in gift shops.

Slaughterhouse Five
How nice - to feel nothing and still get full credit for being alive.
Slaughterhouse Five

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Self-Evident Truths

Today, bloated, gluttonous America consumes 150 million hot dogs, gulps down oceans of beer and oohs and aahs over neat sparkly things. This is how the fiercest nation in the world celebrates its birth -- by eating like fat pigs, blowing up things and waving flags that represent our freedom to choose between pork rinds and hamburgers.

One must wonder if Americans even remember the meaning of the holiday and what it is we are supposed to celebrate.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

230 Years ago, the Founding Fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence, the guiding framework of the American government. The Declaration was revolutionary in so many regards, not the least of which was its recognition of the fundamental principle that it is the rulers who owe allegiance to the people -- not the other way around.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

To justify and legally legitimize "throwing off" the English king, John Hamilton declared the rights to life, liberty and happiness as absolutes and enumerated several offenses by the King of England that intruded upon such rights. Among the offending conduct was,

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.

As we reflect upon the birth of this nation, we should listen to these wise voices of the past. One must question why it was not acceptable for the King of England to establish new offices and send officers to harass the people, while today we have the Department of Homeland Security and wiretaps from the National Security Administration. It was tyranny for King George to make his military independent of and superior to the civil power, but our Senate confirmed a military leader to head the CIA. It is tyranny to deny people a trial by jury, but the Attorney General has fought with vigor to deny so-called "enemy combatants" that inalienable right. It is tyranny to fundamentally alter our forms of government, but those who hate America applaud federal efforts to usurp control of education, marriage, abortion and criminal laws.

Did we simply trade King George for, hmmm, King George?

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana