Archive for January, 2010

Hear The Word Of The Lord

I have been given to you by God, as a sort of gadfly attached to the state,” Socrates said to the jurors in his defense on that day of his trial. “And I am not going to argue for my sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against God by condemning me. I am his gift to you. And if you kill me, you will not easily find a successor.” All his life, he informed them, he had been private audience to a personal supernatural voice whose enjoining instructions it would be sinful for him to ignore. “Men of Athens, I honor and love you, but I shall obey God rather than you.”

It was too late to talk him out of this conviction that would have led to his being burned as a heretic in those enlightened Dark Ages to come, in which Plato was embraced and absorbed and Aristotle was rediscovered and acclaimed “the Philosopher” by such as Aquinas.

And it was too soon to tell him of the lunatic schoolteacher in Amsterdam with the serrated bread knife, who believed he had been commanded by God to go to the painting of The Nightwatch in the Rijksmuseum directly from the restaurant in which he had eaten his lunch.

“I was ordered to do it,” the schoolteacher is quoted as saying. “I had to do it.”

To this day, there are superstitious covens in abandoned small churches in Amsterdam convinced the vandal was the reincarnation of one of the discontented musketeers who paid one hundred guilders to be memorialized with dignity and found himself reduced to a detail in oil paint in a garish illustration that could have served as a poster for a comic operetta.

There are others who say it was Rembrandt.

—Joseph Heller, Picture This

Banned In Boston

The Boston Globe is reporting that Massachusetts law-enforcement officers are using a state wiretapping statute to confiscate cellphones from people who use them to record outbursts of police violence. The footage is commonly destroyed, and those who captured it are arrested.

In 1968 Massachusetts became one of 12 “two-party consent” states, in which all parties to a conversation must agree to be recorded when speaking into a telephone or other audio device. Otherwise, any recording is illegal. In recent years, rogue Massachusetts law jockeys have begun using this law to snatch cellphones from people who have the temerity to use them to document police lawlessness.

“Police are not used to ceding power, and these tools are forcing them to cede power,” observes David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

“The police apparently do not want witnesses to what they do in public,” adds Sarah Wunsch, a staff attorney with the Massachusetts wing of the American Civil Liberties Union.


For Just One Day

(Alexa posted this on her Never In Our Names blog for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday last year. I think it’s worth reposting every year.)

For Just One Day

“And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, the whole world is doomed.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop.”

For just one day, let there be no progress. Let us not find a new way to convert seemingly worthless pieces of earth into technological slaves that fulfill our every whim. Let us not alter the chemical composition of this substance to turn it into something new, something nature never thought of, that will come back in the fish as a poison lasting millions of years. Let us not bring the fossil fuels up from the ground so that we can burn them, their particles rising into the air to return back to us in rain water. Let us not re-engineer the rice so that we get three crops a year instead of two, but are forever dependent on the manufacturers of the rice seed, because it is a sterile, patented product now. Let us leave Mars to the science fiction writers and give up thoughts of permanent homes on the Moon.

For just one day, let us be something less than what we could be. Let us have something less than what we could have. Let us look at what is possible and say, “no thanks,” in favor of what is preferable. Let the moon be for poets who make meaning out of its reflection on a lake. Let all things be as they are born and enjoyed just for that. And may you too be loved and embraced just as you were born, needing no embellishment or proof of your worth. Let how we treat the least among us reveal a societal identity we are proud to claim, one that leaves each of us feeling safe and secure even as we rest in the pure essence of our being.

For just one day, let us not earn our keep. Let us instead be still and listen to the birds sing in the trees, watch the wind blow in the leaves, feel that same breeze against our skin, and smile at how lucky we are to be living on Earth.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Today marks the holiday for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who dedicated his life to the freedom and dignity of all people, just as they were born. He was slain by an assasin’s bullet, but you still live. There remains a hope that if you dare, if you have the courage and the conviction, you may claim your life as your own and set yourself free.

This is an invitation. Be still and know that you are God, that God is all there is, and that that is good enough.

Sky Seed

He was the other kind of Yorkshireman. His forebears were not miners but handloom weavers, which meant that they had owned their lives instead of being vassals in a corporate endeavor. The blackened sandstone village where he had grown to manhood was built onto a south-facing hillside, with each house looking at the sun and each attic window stretched to cast the most of it. In their solitary lofts, his forefathers had woven all alone and all day long. The men led lives of monotony in communion with the sky. And while their hands mechanically performed the daily drudgery, their minds took off in all sorts of startling directions. In that one small town, there are tales to fill a book about the poets, chess players, and mathematicians whose brains grew to fruition in the long daylight of their attic eyries. And he was the inheritor of their collective thrift, their virtue, and their mysticism.

—John le Carre, The Night Manager

“This Never Happened”

The Lithuanian government, having completed an investigation of itself, has determined that, yes, Virginia, Lithuania did indeed agree to site on its soil two CIA “black prisons” for the detention and interrogation of War on Terra prisoners.

ABC News reported in August that Lithuania supplied the CIA with facilities for imprisoning eight War on Terra prisoners, a report I wrote about here. Lithuania at the time denounced ABC as a peddler of bollocks.

However, an inquiry by Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament, concluded in late December that the CIA ran two secret prisons in Lithuania: one in 2002, the other from 2004 through 2006. (The latter, a converted riding school, is pictured here.)

“The sites existed,” stated Arvydas Anusauskas, head of the parliamentary committee investigating the matter. “And planes landed.”

Seimas determined that Lithuanian intelligence agents cooperated with the CIA without the knowledge of senior government officials. One of those officials, former Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus, continues to defy reality, telling the Baltic News Service, “I am certain this never happened, and nobody proved me wrong.”

Wednesday, Lithuania’s current president, Dalia Grybauskaite, called on prosecutors to further investigate the black sites, noting that parliament had “recommended [prosecutors] investigate possible abuse of office.”


Yet Shall We Be Merry

Dark wizard Albert Grossman deliberately assembled the folk-singing trio Peter, Paul, and Mary to rake in coin amid the urban folk-revival of the early 1960s. He wanted “a tall blonde, a funny guy, and a good looking guy”: that’s what he got.

But Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers proved to be something more than a quick milk of the cash cow. They introduced millions of young people, including myself, to significant forms of American roots music. Their smooth and engaging arrangements allowed us to enter them, as through a door, and out the other side we encountered lifetimes of music that, without them, we might never have known.

I had not thought much about the group for many years until the “tall blonde,” Mary Travers, passed away last fall, on September 16, of leukemia, at age 72. Just as Peter, Paul, and Mary became more than what Grossman had intended, so too did Travers. “This was not,” recalled producer Phil Ramone to Rolling Stone, “a girl who was just going to be cutesy like lead singers had been in bands. She created a much bigger role. She took no prisoners when it was what she believed in.”

In the weeks following Travers’ death, the tubes rang with reprises of the group’s music. But nobody seemed much moved to post or discuss the Peter, Paul, and Mary song that had long most entranced me. So I guess I’ll gas on about it myself, there beyond the “furthur.”


The Nine Billion Names Of God

Christian missionaries are making a mess in Malaysia by insisting upon the right to use the word “Allah” to refer to their particular variant of the Abrahamic deity.

A two-year legal battle by the publishers of the Catholic Herald resulted December 31 in a ruling by the Malaysian High Court permitting the paper to use the word “Allah” in its Malay-language edition to refer to that fellow commonly known in the English language as “God,” “Lord,” “Jehovah,” “Heavenly Father,” and “The Rat Bastard Who Tortured and Tormented Job On A Bet.”

Ratzinger’s people claim that the word “Allah” was used in Malay to refer to a grumpy sky king long before Islam ever arrived in the islands, and that there is simply no other word in the language to refer to their version of The Big Dude.

Muslims contend that the people of the primates are nothing but a mendacious pack of sneak-thieves stealthily working to convert Muslims to Christianity through distraction and confusion. It is against the law in Malaysia for those of rival faiths to proselytize to Muslims.

Some Muslims were exercised enough about the court’s decision to commence burning churches. Wednesday the court suspended its ruling, after the government, which has filed an appeal, argued that it was inciting racial conflict. “While the appeal process is going on, it is our responsibility not to do anything that can jeopardise the interest and well-being of the people,” intoned Prime Minister Najib Razak. Malaysia is a majority Muslim country, but about 40 percent of its citizens are Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian, with substantial Indian and Chinese populations.


This Is Your Brain On Hold

Cranks like me have been Cassandraing for years that cellphones are brain-frying devices. The last time I wrote about this, a couple years ago for the now-departed Never In Our Names, doctors were beginning to get nervous about the blooming of brain tumors caused by chronic cellphone use. Today, according to the New York Times, some large health organizations are moving towards acknowledging cellphones as tumor-producers, and legislators from Maine to San Francisco are considering the same sort of warning labels on cellphones as are emblazoned on cigarettes.

Maine Representative Andrea Boland introduced last October a bill that would require cellphone manufacturers to place warnings on their devices; her bill will be debated in the state legislature this month. Out in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom plans to introduce a measure that would force cellphones to display the amount of radiation they produce. “The mayor believes that cellphone safety is the next frontier,” says Brian Purchia, a Newsom spokespeak.

The World Health Organization decreed in 2005 that studies had found “no convincing evidence of an increased cancer risk.” But a more extensive study, encompassing thirteen different countries and overseen by WHO, is expected to conclude that a “significantly increased risk” of some brain tumors is “related to use of mobile phones for a period of ten years or more.”

An estimated 276. 6 million Americans currently melt their minds with cellphones.


New Year’s Resolution

The ollave in ancient Ireland had to be master of one hundred and fifty Oghams, or verbal ciphers, which allowed him to converse with his fellow-poets over the heads of unlearned bystanders; to be able to repeat at a moment’s notice any one of three hundred and fifty long traditional histories and romances, together with the incidental poems they contained, with appropriate harp accompaniment; to have memorized an immense number of other poems of different sorts; to be learned in philosophy; to be a doctor of civil law; to understand the history of modern, middle and ancient Irish with the derivations and changes of meaning of every word; to be skilled in music, augury, divination, medicine, mathematics, geography, universal history, astronomy, rhetoric and foreign languages; and to be able to extemporize poetry in fifty or more complicated metres.

—Robert Graves, The White Goddess

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January 2010