Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hoopla in the Heavens

I sat in my car, this morning, waiting on a certain work assignment, surrounded by welcome rain and enjoying Boorstin's "The Discoverers." I stopped short at a fascinating paragraph.

Somewhere in extant Babylonian literature that I somehow missed on my journey through it, is the story of how El, the great god, grew jealous of the bright lion that passed nightly across the sky, and smote it each day as the morning began.

The lion, of course, would be the planet Venus, the "morning star," which vanishes each day as the light returns.

Boorstin believes the Hebrews borrowed that myth, giving the smiting power to their own God and converting the sky-lion into The Light Bringer (Latin: Lucifer) who is made synonymous with Satan.

As in the famous Isaiah passage (chapter 14) from the Bible:

"How art thou fallen, O Lucifer,
son of the morning!
...For thou hast said in thine heart,
I will ascend into heaven ... "

I really don't want to get into a discussion about the reality or non-reality of The Evil One. But it is curious that in the Hebrew world, the aforementioned planet and associated sky-being, would be masculine and horribly evil; and if not so despicable in the alleged Babylonian original, still an affront to deity.

Whereas in the western world, the same celestial phenomenon was considered Feminine and delightful -- Venus/Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Fourth Wall

If real life were like the audience of a television sitcom, we’d have it a lot easier. The television audience gets to listen in to all the important conversations about the characters on the show, and so they know why Bob scowled at Sally or why George was two hours late picking up Susan from the airport or why Molly is furious with Henry but won’t say.

They get the whole picture. Whereas, sitcom characters and real life people have to make decisions based on hunches, suspicions, gleanings and sometimes absolute daring. Sometimes we soar like eagles, having guessed correctly. Sometimes we fall into a big, steaming, stinking pit of sh -- er, pig manure.

It is so difficult to go through life knowing that, while you are utterly unimportant to the majority of people outside of your house, office and local haunts, that people within those places are having discussions about you that you will never hear. Your life can go from normal to sheer hell based on those conversations to which you are not privy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Picture of the Day

Do you know this man?

Droplets today, an ocean tomorrow

First a trickle, then a torrent, soon a cataclysmic deluge.

For the last fifteen years or so, I have been reading the books of ancient Greece, the Middle East and Rome, in careful, chronological order. Today, I finished with Suetonius’ account of the first twelve Caesars. And when I closed that book, I closed an era.

Surely the last few authors whose works I have read, would never have imagined that the starveling Christians whom they mention only briefly – and that in derision, condescension or disgust, as a new, obscure, loathsome sect of half-wits – would soon become the leaders of the Western world, including Rome itself, capturing the political and religious allegiance of virtually its entire population.

Imagine, the Moonies or some even more obscure, despised modern cult, rising to lead the world in the lifetime of your grandchildren.

Having concluded Suetonius, I step ahead to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a late Caesar to whom one of those Christians, Justin Martyr, actually wrote a petition/book/apology. Justin is one of the earliest extant Christian writers, if not the first, outside of the new Testament canon and pseudepigraphical scriptural works. I know nothing about him beyond his name and that brief detail. That will soon change and I will come to know others as well.

“Pagan” Rome will soon be a memory and I will be firmly inside a new world of literature, a genre carrying me right up to the so-called Middle Ages. At some point, the literature of Islam will have to occupy my attention, too.

What a ride I am in for!

Monday, August 18, 2008

What privileges Caesar hath ...

Suetonius, writing circa 120 A.D. about the Caesars of Rome, had horrible material to work with. Drunk with absolute power, the men about whom he wrote were disgusting, bloody and often, downright insane.

And yet, I found this passage about Claudius Caesar (reigned 41 to 54 AD) downright funny:

"No matter where Claudius happened to be, he always felt ready for food and drink. One day, while he was judging a case in Augustus' Forum, the delicious smell of cooking assailed his nostrils. He descended from the Tribunal, closed the court, and went to the dining room of the Leaping Priests in the near-by Temple of Mars, where he immediately took his place at the meal he had scented."

Friday, August 15, 2008

A kindred spirit

"I'm not a liberal, a conservative, an evolutionist, a monk, or indifferent to the world. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love and the most absolute freedom -- freedom from violence and falsehood in whatever form they may be expressed." -- Anton Chekhov, Russian writer.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A shot at lunchtime

My first non-wildflower, non-insect, non-mammal photo, taken at lunchtime today:

Who draws the map?

A nation is an organism, a collection of human and other resources with some common link. Like any organism, it gives and it takes.

In nature, some organisms are small and survive by staying out of the way of their bigger neighbors. So it is with nations, though the big ones still often manage to eat or step on, or evict the little ones from their territory. Other times, as with a colony of ants, or a hermit crab who pairs up with a stinging anemone, small creatures may band together to protect themselves from larger beasts, but retain something of their individuality.

When humans form a nation, they may follow these patterns: small nations creating an alliance against larger nations – or they may, over time grow from their core into an empire, which may grow to vast size. Nature’s pattern for that is seen in the giant whale, the extinct dinosaurs and other beasts which began small, then evolved into massive size.

Russia began as a small Viking settlement. Today, it stretches from the edge of Europe to the eastern limits of Asia. Its 20th century rival, the United States, began as a few scattered English settlements in North America and today, encompasses Pacific Islands, Arctic tundra and rich “heartland” prairie.

Russia consumed/absorbed other nations to become what it is today, as did the United States.

In the 20th century, Russia's influence grew even larger, as it held the reins of the now-defunct Soviet Union. Some of that Union joined willingly; others were brought in by brute force. With the fall of communism, Russia's control shrank back to her old borders, her core nation -- but in a process still being worked out. Witness Chechnya.

Today, a huge international question is be the new superpower, China, whose proud and prospering Han Chinese core is augmented not altogether happily by control over Tibet, western Muslims and former European colonies such as Macao and Hong Kong.

I know enough of my own nation’s history to realize that not all of it was brought together peacefully, though we have freedoms here not yet allowed to the Chinese and currently being lost in Russia.

The danger of any empire is that unhappy elements may in time grow strong enough to break it apart.

That happened to every ancient empire, to Napoleon’s creation, to the Hapsburgs, to the Soviet Union.

It is not likely that Ohio or New Jersey will leave the United States in the next century. But other parts of my country might, if they feel their interests are not being served. There are movements for secession in Hawaii, for example, and there are still many in the South who might do so again, if they got the chance. Texas, the Lone Star State, was wrested by American expatriates from Mexico, enjoyed brief independence, joined the Union eagerly, then seceded just a few years later when the Civil War broke out.

This is on my mind because I have followed the news out of Georgia (Eurasian Georgia, not the US State.) There are multiple ironies at work there. Georgia was once a Soviet Republic. It actually produced Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader whose brutal fist in the Kremlin bloodied and conquered Eastern Europe. Today, Georgia is a small, weak, but nominally independent nation, with at least two regions within its own borders who seek independence from it.

The West supported Kosovo’s independence and thus finds itself in a quandary. It cannot now preach against independence for Ossetia in Georgia – can it? But Russia, championing such independence after fiercely opposing Kosovar secession from Serbia, has no moral authority. What of Chechnya, Mr. Putin? And if South Ossetia joins North Ossetia, which is part of your Russia, what will you say if North Ossetia then asks to separate from Russia for full Ossetian independence?

In this modern era when we pay lip service to human rights as well as to the often conflicting goals of national sovereignty and ethnic representation, we find ourselves in a great tangle.

Virtually every conflict remaining in our world revolves around this Gordian knot: from Basque bombs in Spain to strife in Palestine to the growing rage of the Uigher people in western China. Which uprising to support, which to ignore? Which empire to fault, which to praise? Should Kurdistan be independent? Taiwan? Scotland? Tibet? Gibraltar? The many “Indian reservations” in the United States?

Can the quandary be solved peacefully or will it be hammered out by force and blood, country by country, across the landscape of the 21st century?

Been away, again

A week and a half of administrative retreats, dragging on hour after hour, squirming in my chair, checking my watch on the sly, longing to be anywhere else, has finally ended. Back to my normal life.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

On the eve of the Great Socialist Olympics

You don't go into a bar,order a drink, swallow it down, then preach to the other drunks in the place the values of abstaining.

So what the hell does President Bush think he's doing planting his keister in Beijing to help celebrate the Great Socialist Olympics of 2008 while uttering words of chastisement to the dictators who have 1/6 of the world's population crushed under their boot? Rank hypocrisy or stupidity, methinks.

The blood of the dead in Burma, North Korea and Vietnam -- bastions of oppression whose governments were built up and remain heavily supported by the communist thugs of China -- cries from the ground.

I remember the newscasts of the horror of the murders in T. Square in 1989 and I wonder how many other innocent Chinese have died out of the view of the media since the cursed hell-child Mao usurped control of that long-suffering nation.

Someday China will be free and Mao's malevolent portrait will be ripped to the ground and stomped on, like other tyrants in history. How long, how long?

I take comfort in knowing that the foolish decision to award an Olympic venue to other bastions of tyranny (Nazi Germany, 1936, and Soviet Russia, 1980) presaged the downfall of those evil governments, however much they tried to exploit the games for their glory.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Post Number 600 -- of beans and wi-fi-and where to find seeds


Chase is a serious teacher who also loves hip-hop. Adena pours drinks by night but advances the frontiers of science by day. Kat knows both how to tend a table in the big city and to handle a grouchy snake back in Her rural acres.

I could go on. We are all of us a blend of talents and interests, we shift from role to role.

Today I helped several colleagues at work set up wi-fi connections and felt justifiably proud of myself -- me, a Generation-Xer who was fully an adult before I ever accessed the Internet, me, who just learned myself how to connect to Wi-fi a month ago, and two months ago didn't even know what it was.

Then I came home, changed clothes and got onto my hands and knees in the balmy 96 degree heat to harvest green beans from the garden. First time ever doing that, growing green beans, that is. Different role. Farmer ECD, minus a straw hat and a hay stalk to chew on.

Sweetie and I boiled them and seasoned them with butter, paired with yellow squash and fresh tomatoes.

I planted another row of carrots tonight, too, no thanks to the big box outlet stores that refuse to carry garden seeds except for a few weeks in spring. You know, the planting season does extend beyond April, at least in my neck of the woods. I had to find a specialty garden store and I bought their last two packets of carrot seeds.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Rest in Peace, Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn passed away this week. May he rest in peace.

His work helped to undermine one of the most pernicious and cruel systems of government since the days of the Assyrians, with perhaps the exception of Nazi Germany.

So long as his books are read, bearing testament to the horror of the Soviet gulags, apologists for communism must skulk away shamefaced and fools who find the hammer and sickle or its associated symbolism to be stylish, might as well be wearing swastikas.

Literally millions of people were killed as communism sought to conquer the world.

Solzhenitsyn tore the gilded cover off and exposed the squirming maggots within.

Rest in peace, brave Alexander. Russia has produced many great men and women. You are among them.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Chartres and the death of passion

When the great cathedral of Chartres, France, was erected in the 13th century, the people in their exuberance harnessed themselves to the carts to help transport the building stones.

What can be said of such passion in this our "modern" age? To us, piety is passe, the sacred is virtually extinct and zeal is reserved for sports arenas.

Is the death of such passion good or bad? After all, that same fire of faith lit the fatal flames that scorched heretics and "witches."

And yet, the secular trumpet knows not the tune to rouse the masses. Having torn down, it knows not what to rebuild in its place ... and the bloodshed from the Nazi death camps to the killing fields of Cambodia bears testimony to that.