“. . . illumine the world with your image . . .” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

You like to think about synergy and coincidence and “a god thing” and other spookinesses. That is, you like the logical fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc, assuming that if ‘A’ occurred after ‘B’ then ‘B’ must have caused ‘A.’

In 1456, the Ottomans laid siege to Belgrade in Serbia. They were repelled, and the Christian world of Europe rejoiced. News reached Pope Callixtus III on August 6, and he declared the date The Feast of the Transfiguration, the liturgical remembrance of Jesus’ appearing in light to the disciples (Protestant liturgical churches recently moved the Transfiguration to the Last Sunday in Epiphany).

In 1945, the United States and Japan were locked in the last stages of WW II. President Truman ordered the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities to end the war and “save lives.” Hiroshima was bombed on August 6.

Synergy, coincidence, a “god thing.” The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrating the end of the siege of Belgrade and the bombing of Hiroshima come together on the same day. Does this convergence mean anything?

This convergence was pointed out to me by the widow of Admiral Robert A. Theobald, a commander in the Pacific fleet who accused the Roosevelt administration of knowing the attack on Pearl Harbor was immanent and doing nothing about it in order to bring the U.S. into WWII. Betty Theobald, a cellist of some renown and a member of the altar guild of my (Episcopal) church in Salem, MA, gave me a history lesson from personal experience, her understanding of many coincidences and ironies of WWII.

On August 6, 1787, the U.S. constitutional convention began. On August 6, 1806, Francis II renounced the title “Holy Roman Emperor” ending the empire. On August 6, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and Serbia beginning WWI. On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Unrelated (or are they?) events on August 6, starting with the defeat of the Ottomans who were besieging Belgrade, giving the Christians of Europe reason to rejoice and proclaim a Feast of the Church to mark the day.

This year on August 6 the world was in turmoil: Putin getting ready to invade Ukrainia. Landslides at Mt. Baldy. Ted Cruz running the House of Representatives. Fugitive children massed on the southern border of the US. A lull in the murderous siege of Gaza by Israel. And so on.

We need a victory as decisive as the end of the Siege of Belgrade or the bombing of Hiroshima to lead us out of this morass of bad news, of gruesome events over which we apparently have no control.

We need to figure out how to change the bizarre and dangerous coincidences of our lives, both personal and national.

We need a victory we can mark with a national or religious holiday and move on in the assurance that God’s in her heaven, and all’s right in the world.

We need to learn to accept all of the “coincidences” of our lives or to change the horrendous situations we can change. We need to begin to understand the difference between accepting and changing.

For several days I have been immobilized by a thought I’ve not been able to write.

It’s a simple thought. In our admirable attempt to be “charitable” and “diplomatic” and “equitable” we (all of us, but especially “educated” and “liberal-minded” folks) work hard at trying to “understand” in order to find “fair” solutions to any and all problems. We know every conflict has two sides. Accept or change?

The brightest man made light

The brightest man made light

However, the simple act of saying “there are two sides” means almost certainly we have accepted one side of the argument. Should LGBTQ folks marry or not? Was “Hobby Lobby” the right Supreme Court ruling? Has Edward Snowden helped or hurt Americans? There are two sides to all of these arguments.

I’ll bet everyone has an opinion about each of them. Does anyone really think there are two equally correct sides to those questions?

Is Israel justified in bombing Gaza to rubble?

Of course you have an opinion. If you think Israel has a “right” to bomb Gaza, you a priori think the Gazans have no “right” to fight back against the blockade that has kept their children hungry and their society imprisoned for seven years.

I can hear the most liberal, the most thoughtful, the most fair-minded folks saying, “Well, yes, it’s horrible, it’s gruesome, it’s disastrous, but Israel has a right.” I wish those people—particularly those who make some claim to having a sense of morality—would play that back in their minds. If it’s horrible, if it’s gruesome, if it’s disastrous, then Israel has no right. Period. Whatever the attempt at justification, it is not “right.” Period.

We love synergy, coincidence, strange concurrences. We love the heavenly light of the Transfiguration of Jesus juxtaposed with the brightest light ever created by mankind in the bombing of Hiroshima.

We—especially we liberals and wanna-be intellectuals—love to think we can be reasonable and hold murder and destruction in our minds along with righteousness and light.

I’m not that clever. I think bombing innocent civilians of Hiroshima was an act of violence that haunts our nation 69 years later. And bombing innocent civilians of Gaza will haunt not only Israel but also the United States—which provides the munitions of destruction—for at least 69 years.

gaza bombThe prayer Lutherans read on the Feast of the Transfiguration says,

Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Whether one is a Lutheran or not, or a Christian or not, or an atheist or not, “The resplendent light of truth” is not the light from bombs exploding. Some synergies simply aren’t.

“When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter. . .” (W. H. Auden)

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

With even a modest ability to consider objectively the barrage of “information” overwhelming us hour by hour by hour by minute, one can see that any media—any format—presenting information about the current attempt of Israel to obliterate Palestinian Gaza assumes a priori that Israel’s actions are justified.

The common—no the absolute overwhelming majority—wisdom is that “Israel has the right to protect itself.”

This is a “truth” so often repeated that it sounds as if it came from, Oh, I don’t know, perhaps the Holy Bible. Or the United States Constitution. Or the United Nations Charter. Or the Bhagavad Gita. Or the Qur’an. Or Shakespeare. Or SNL. It is simple truth, not to be questioned. It is as universal belief as the made-up science of economics.

Belief in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is no less pervasive than that “Israel has a right to protect itself.”

Hardly anyone (at least hardly anyone in public) thinks about whether or not the proposition is true. And almost no one wants to hear any information that might contradict the received wisdom.

The wisdom began to be received, I would guess, during and immediately after the 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I have, in fact, read about the process whereby the Israeli Cabinet decided to use Madison Avenue tactics, if not a Madison Avenue firm, to begin to persuade the American people that the belief, “Israel has a right to defend itself,” is simply true, is simply to be accepted without thought. I will plow through the stuff I have and find that article (or reread the book, whatever it takes).

Until then, trust me. OK, don’t trust me. There’s no reason for you to do so until I have located the evidence that I am correct.

So in lieu of trusting me, trust yourself.

Ask yourself why the massive destruction of cities, the horrifying murder of civilians Israel is perpetrating right now is in any way an expression of the “right to self-defense.”

Do you think Russia’s annexation of Crimea was an act of self-defense?
Do you think Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 was an act of self-defense?
Do you think the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutus of Rwanda in 1994 was an act of self-defense?
Which side in the Bosnian war of the 1990s, the Serbs or the Croats was exercising its “right of self-defense?”

Think. Simply think about it.

Defense against a child

Defense against a child

My guess is that anyone who might be reading this can quote the last sentence of

Perhaps someone might say, “Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?” Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. Socrates speaking Plato’s Apology [37 (e) to 38 (a)].

The unexamined life is not worth living.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people,” [President] Obama said.

What on earth does that phrase mean—and what are its implications? Its implications are that Israel has a right to continue the ethnic cleansing of all “Arabs” (read “Palestinians”) from the territory Israel claims as its own—the ethnic cleansing that began during the war that led up to the declaration of the founding of Israel in 1948.

The constant repetition of an idea for decades does not make it true.

Ad populum: This is an emotional appeal that speaks to positive (such as patriotism, religion, democracy) or negative (such as terrorism or fascism) concepts rather than the real issue at hand.

Much writing is available to anyone who wants to think about the “received wisdom” that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” One might—after reading any or all of such writing—decide that the proposition is correct.

The question remains, however, where did the idea originate, and why was it first stated? Is it, in fact, the “truth,” or is it an Ad populum logical fallacy used to justify aggression and the subjugation of one people by another?
I said above there is much writing available. My project over the next few weeks is to gather a bibliography of such material and publish it on my other blog as a resource for anyone who believes that

talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man,

and that the unexamined life is not worth living includes questioning our received beliefs about atrocity. The link to the first installment of the bibliography is below Auden’s explanation of tyrannical speech.

“Epitaph on a Tyrant,” by W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.


Defense against a worker returning home

Defense against a worker returning home



“. . . religion . . . a matter . . . in which no other, & far less the public, [has] a right to intermeddle.”

A scary place?

A scary place?

Marlise Muñoz is the latest victim of an insane and deadly religious war in the United States.

“Conservatives” (that is, apparently, those terrified of science) are waging a war in this country that is every bit as sectarian and brutal, and—where they win the war—results in a despotism every bit as un-Democratic and cruel as any these same “conservatives” claim to hate in countries where “Islamists” are in control.

When I was in junior high school (1957-1960), we lived in the house at the corner of the northwest city limits of Scottsbluff, NE, the corner of Avenue I and 30th Street. All of the land between our house and that corner was vacant. The First Baptist Church was eventually built there. I don’t know where the city limit is now. There’s a shopping center to the west across Avenue I from there, and houses cover the hillside to the north, so I assume the city limit has succumbed to the Nebraska small city version of urban sprawl.

From our yard, we could see St. Mary’s Hospital (Roman Catholic) on the hillside north and east perhaps half a mile away (at an extension of Avenue B). We lived there for 5 years, and I never once was closer to St. Mary’s than our yard.

My brother and I had our tonsils removed at the Methodist Hospital downtown on Broadway. I remember that overnight stay well. And I remember being taken there many times to visit friends and acquaintances.

. . . in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle. . .

. . . in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle. . .

But St. Mary’s was a mystery—because it was Catholic, and we Baptists had no reason to associate with it. I remember a few times my father, the Baptist preacher, had to go there to visit a parishioner. When he came home, it almost felt as if Mom wanted to fumigate him.

Besides the obvious historic animosity of Baptists toward Catholics, Mom had a (fairly sound?) reason for not wanting anything to do with St. Mary’s Hospital. After all, she explained, if a woman was delivering a baby and there were compilations, the Catholics would let the mother die in order to save the baby if it came to that.

This was well before Rove v. Wade and before the Catholics and Baptists joined in their un-Holy Alliance to declare religious war on the rest of us.

The late Marlise Muñoz and her husband Erick Muñoz of Ft. Worth became casualties in that religious war. Her brain died from an apparent embolism last November, but—because she was pregnant—her body was kept alive on machines until two days ago, kept alive against her prior stated wishes and the wishes of her family. Kept alive by the religious laws of the State of Texas.

The political struggle over abortion is a religious war. The Catholics, most Baptists, and other “conservatives” are hell-bent on forcing their religious belief on the rest of us. A “conservative” victory in the religious war carried out in the Texas legislature made it illegal to discontinue life support on a pregnant woman—even if the woman was brain-dead. Saving an unviable fetus in a situation that could be described only as cruel and inhumane for the family of the mother is a victory in the religious war.

That a human being, Homo sapiens, has a soul is 100% a religious belief. One hundred percent. It does not matter whether or not I personally think I have a soul, but if I did, it would be 100% a religious belief.

100% religious.

The belief that the soul is somehow “created” the moment a human sperm enters a human ovum is also a religious belief. “Conservatives” can show us all the ultra-sound pictures of all the fetuses they want, and they have proven nothing. Nothing.

Except their 100% religious belief.

100% religious.

I do not mean in any way to say that reproductive rights are not a struggle for women’s rights (which “conservative” women seem to be willing to give up for the sake of the religious war). Reproductive rights are absolutely about women’s rights. But the basis of those rights is as much in the Constitutional declaration that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” as it is in the right to privacy or any other right.

It is 100% a religious right.

Every time the Congress or some state legislature passes another restriction on abortion, they are passing a law respecting an establishment of religion. They are using the power of the majority to force their religious belief on all of us.

As a matter of public policy—that is, an establishment of religion—those who believe in the human “soul” cannot constitutionally force their beliefs on the rest of us.

That they have done so is sectarian violence not unlike the sectarian violence that is tearing Syria apart, or the victory of one sect over all others in Iran, or the official and legal banning of religion in China. It is the same. It is forcing the view of one religion onto everyone else.

It is mindless, violent, and un-American.

Jacquielynn Floyd of the Dallas Morning News summed it up pretty well.

But the freakish, dystopian hell superimposed on [Marlise Muñoz’s family’s] loss was an inhumane synthesis of factors outside their control: obscure and misinterpreted law, cover-your-butt bureaucratic paranoia and hysteria surrounding reproductive politics (Floyd, Jacquielynn. “Marlise Muñoz case was about bureaucracy, politics — and cruelty.” dallasnews.com. 27 January 2014. Web.)

“Hysteria surrounding reproductive politics.” The Christianist majority’s war on the religious beliefs of the rest of us.

Which, for the time being, they have won. They have imposed their religious will on the nation as surely as His Eminence Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei imposes his religious will on Iran.

1813 May 31.  (Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush).  “…the subject of religion, a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his maker, in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle.”

George Mason, "father" of the Bill of Rights

George Mason, “father” of the Bill of Rights

What is an author (anyway)?

Still blowin' in the wind.

Still blowin’ in the wind.

Sometimes it’s fun to show off how much one knows—NO! what one has read, obviously not the same. When I was taking classes at the University of Texas at Dallas, I was in a seminar every semester in which we pursued ideas about language, rhetoric, and teaching. We read piles of books on the subject.

My background in topics such as linguistics and rhetoric and philosophy was limited (virtually nonexistent), so I had to struggle to understand any of it—even the assigned readings. The first semester we started with Michel Foucault’s “What Is an Author?”

Unlike everyone else in the seminar, I had never heard of Michel Foucault.

A lively discussion ensued debating the fine points of Foucault’s theories. All of us were graduate teaching assistants in the Rhetoric (first-year writing) program under the careful supervision of Professor Cynthia Haynes. For the most part, I had no idea what they were talking about (and, truth be told, don’t to this day).

The discussion had progressed only as far as the first paragraph of What Is an Author.”

The coming into being of the notion of “author” constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas. . .  Even today, when we reconstruct the history of a concept, literary genre, or school of philosophy, such categories seem relatively weak, secondary, and superimposed scansions in comparison with the solid and fundamental unit of the author and the work (1).

My only even oblique reference to any of this was the curious musicological fact that the first music composer whose name can be, with any certainty, attached to specific musical compositions is Léonin, one of the composers of the Notre Dame school of polyphony who lived about 1150-1200. Exactly why I have remembered that fact since university music history class I do not know.

In the 1995 seminar at UTD, I asked what I thought was a direct and simple enough question. “Is Foucault saying that knowing a piece of writing is ‘by’ a given author instead of its being ‘anonymous’ changed the position of writing in culture in the same way attributing a musical composition to one person changed music from an amorphous communal effort to a personal artistic expression, as happened with Léonin in the 12th century?”

What is an author?

What is an author?

All I had in mind was that, in the 60s when we sang “Blowin’ in the wind” by Bob Dylan, I think our purpose was different from singing “Good night Irene.” An overtly political statement by a single known composer was (is) much different from a song people have been singing around campfires for decades (centuries) just for the fun of it. Understanding that is not rocket science (you see, I know this is not a profound statement because I use a cliché to explain it).

But you would have thought I had just stated the Theory of Relativity for the first time. I immediately became the “authority” on rhetoric in music or music as rhetoric or some such absurdity. I want to quote that awful line from “Gone with the Wind,” I don’t know nuthin’ about rhetoric or music history.

I really don’t.

Whatever it may seem I know about anything is dilettantism.

In 1964 I met Joan Baez. I had no clue who she was. She had released perhaps three enormously popular albums by that time, but we serious music students couldn’t be bothered. She came to the University of Redlands to give a concert, and my organ teacher, Leslie P. Spelman, Director of the School of Music, made a fuss over her and planted me in the audience with a bouquet of flowers to rush up on the stage and hand her when the concert was over.

Her singing, of course, was spell-binding. She sang folk music I knew and “American folk” (not really “folk” music but composed songs), even songs she had written herself. I was duly and properly impressed and intimidated when Dr. Spelman introduced me to her after the concert.

OMG. You’d think this blog has become my memoirs, and I’m stuck in university days. I’ll get on with it soon.

A couple of years later I came to understand why Dr. Spelman was solicitous of this non-classical musician. He had known her all her life because her father was a professor at the university, and they were neighbors.  As a senior, I lived with nine other “honors” (which is not to say “honorable”) students in an off-campus “dorm,” which was a house where Baez had lived.

So I’m back where I began. Is this writing my memoirs? I don’t have a clue. I’ve never really gotten past that first paragraph of Foucault’s (I’ve read his History of Sexuality and Discipline and Punish without, I must hasten to say, understanding much of them). And I was aware of his death from AIDS in 1984.

All I mean to say here is that “when [I] reconstruct the history of a concept, literary genre, or school of philosophy, such categories seem relatively weak . . .  in comparison with the solid and fundamental unit of the author and the work.” Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have created any concept, literary genre, or school of philosophy.” Yikes! But I do know that if I ever have had an idea worth thinking about, it happened because I wrote it down.

I don’t write because I have an idea. I get ideas from my writing. Whether or not anything I’ve ever written is a “solid and fundamental unit,” all of my writing helps me understand this “author.” If you want to go along for the rocky ride, I’m honored and pleased.
(1) Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author.” The Foucault Reader. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1984 (101).

The most beautiful campus in America

The most beautiful campus in America

Acrophobia is a comfortable disease*

Watch out for kids from Sierra Leone

Watch out for kids from Sierra Leone

With apologies to e.e. cummings.* I’m not sure why that poem popped into my head. It has nothing to do with what I’m thinking about. Acrophobia is not a comfortable disease.

I am terrified of heights. I’d do almost anything to wiggle out of playing tour guide to a group of Lutheran kids from Sierra Leone who want nothing more than to go to the top of the JPMorgan Chase tower (55 floors) in Dallas. You can’t get to the top, but there’s a spectacular observation deck at the bottom of the “keyhole” on the 40th floor. About seven years ago I took those kids up there. We were almost chased away by the guards because the kids were taking pictures. Terrorists, you know.

Yes, I’m pretty much a wall-hugger by whatever definition you give the term.

Another wall I hugged was the stairway to the top of the steeple of the First Congregational Church of Nantucket in about 1979. I was there with the organ tuner. The tall ships were coming into the harbor. We left our work and scrambled up the tower. But when I got to the open space, I could go no further. The organ tuner yelled at me to come on up, or I’d miss the sight. I had every intention of missing it.

The first tall building (not that tall—only 34 floors) I was dragged to the top of was the Kansas City Power and Light Building, the Art Deco masterpiece that dominated the Kansas City skyline when I was a kid. Dragged there by my dad and an uncle when I was in elementary school. I remember my brother and cousins running around the observation deck and leaning over the balustrade as if they were on the ground floor while I hugged the wall.

About the time I hugged that wall, I had my scariest climbing experience. There was no wall to hug. My parents knew the Forest Ranger at the fire lookout tower near the top of Laramie Peak in Wyoming. We lived for the first six months of my life in Douglas, at the foot of the peak, and the ranger was a member of Dad’s Baptist Church (my brother and I were born in Douglas). One summer after we moved to Nebraska, we returned to Douglas and drove up the peak see the forest from the ranger’s perch. The family clambered up the open staircase while I sat in the car. A thunderstorm blew up. My terror of the stairs was not as great as my fear of the storm, and I managed to climb the tower alone in the rain.

There. Four examples of my acrophobia.

But (and I’m not getting all gooey and inspirational here—simply stating the facts) they are also examples of my overcoming my terror and having pretty wonderful experiences.

Art Deco from childhood

Art Deco from childhood

I know what Dallas looks like from above. I found my apartment, and I achieved some sense of how this city is laid out (John Neely Bryan or whoever set down the streets was, I am sure, drunk). I saw the Tall Ships in Nantucket harbor, even more magnificent than they had been at Boston in 1976. I had a real sense even as a kid how the Missouri river cuts between the two Kansas City’s.

And I saw the natural wonder near my birthplace. I don’t know how to explain that experience. In 2005 I tried to get there again and discovered that my dad had accomplished a remarkable feat simply to find the tower. I spent half a day driving around with the instructions of a park ranger at the base of the peak. But I didn’t find it on my own.

OK. So here’s the gooey inspirational part of this story. (Oh, puleeze!) In a very few instances I have overcome my fears and had important, exciting, lovely (you find the word) experiences as a result. And the fact is that, operationally at least, I am no longer acrophobic. That’s a lie. I never put my full weight down in an airplane, doing my part to keep it in the air. I still hate heights (you will never under any circumstance find me on the masochism machines at Six Flags).

I have demonstrated against the Viet Nam War. And against the unconscionable invasion of Iraq (see, we were right). And in support of the Holy Land Foundation five. I’ve stood in front of groups of people and talked about my beliefs. And I write here about myself in a way I shouldn’t.

Fear greater than lightening

Fear greater than lightening

I do quite a few things that belie my nature as a wall-hugger.

I’m not saying that climbing a fire lookout tower on Laramie Peak made me brave. It didn’t. But I’m going to die soon (oh, come on, even 50 years would be “soon” in the grand scheme of things) and I guess I’m beginning to understand that participating is the only thing that makes sense of my having been here in the first place. So I do it sometimes against my better judgment.

Perhaps cummings is appropriate.





*pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
—— electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born—— pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if — listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go
e. e. cummings

I loved 1967 (but this is not a senescent attempt at humor)

The Greek Theater, where life begins for all U of Redlands graduates

The Greek Theater, where life begins for all U of Redlands graduates

1967 was a very good year, for me. I graduated from the University of Redlands in California; I got married; I began the first of my graduate school programs; I had something of a psychological meltdown; and Israel “won” the 1967 War with its Arab/Muslim neighbors.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the 1967 War was a good thing. In 1967 I had the idea that it was good  that Israel could kick butt,  send its neighbors packing and reshape the borders the international community had established for it—for the first time violating a condition of its existence as defined by the United Nations.

Then came 1974.

I began my PhD program at the University of Iowa. My wife and I sold our house, packed up our most valuable belongings, and drove to Iowa in a rental truck. We had been in Iowa City about a month when on October 6 Egypt, Syria, and Jordan launched their attack on Israel on Yom Kippur. Israel not only rebuffed the attack but also conquered great swaths of Palestinian territory, once again unilaterally redrawing the international map. Well I remember a group of us in married students’ housing at the U of I toasting Gold Meier, Prime Minister of Israel, and her general, Moshe Dayan. We thought it was heady stuff that they had humiliated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, little Ole Israel playing David against Goliath. Of course, what we chose not to think about was that both sides in that war were proxies, Israel for the US and the others for the USSR. The Cold War came dangerously close to being a hot war.

Thirteen or so years later, I was finally finished with that PhD program and was teaching music at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. In the interim, I had read some material on the inhumane treatment of and horrible living conditions of Palestinian refugees in their own country. I did this reading at the encouragement of a friend, an Episcopal priest who had gone to Israel with a group but had left the group and investigated the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza on his own. He returned with a story that contradicted the official story we were given about what had happened during the Yom Kippur War a few years earlier. He had pictures of the Rafah camp to illustrate what he was saying.

I read what I could find. Then In 1989, a young man who was a “foreign student,” of whom we had many, enrolled in my music history course. He was from Palestine. He told me at the beginning of the semester he might not be able to finish because his student visa was about to expire.

The Yom Kippur Prime Minister and her General

The Yom Kippur Prime Minister and her General

How I wish I had written down his story at the time because I’m pretty sure I have at least some of the details wrong. The student’s family had fled Palestine and were living on the Island of Malta. His parents had Israeli passports because they were born in a part of Palestine within the original borders of Israel. He, however, did not have such a passport because he was born in Rafah. He did not have a passport from Malta. He had no internationally recognized passport, only the student visa from the US. He could not go back to Malta or Palestine or stay in the US. He was a man without a country. I may not have the details correct, but I know the end result is correct. He promised to keep in touch. The last time I heard from him was about six months after he was deported. He was with Palestinian expatriates in a North African country.  I will not speculate on what became of him.

I know what became of me. I continued to study the situation “on the ground” in Palestine. Finally in 2003, I had the great honor to go to Palestine with a delegation of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. We went to Gaza. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few people anyone who reads this knows who has seen the Rafah Refugee Camp in person. It remains one of the most densely populated cities in the world, the Palestinians still segregated and subjugated in apartheid virtually cut off from the rest of the world.

In 2008 I returned to Palestine/Israel with a group mainly of Lutherans from Texas led by Ann Hafften.

This little blog posting is obviously too short—and I am not enough of a scholar—to say much of importance about the plight of the Palestinians. I am rethinking all of this in vivid detail for two reasons. The first is that yesterday I came across an article I think every American should read that goes a long way toward explaining why the “conflict” (what a ridiculous word—“conflagration” would be better) between Palestine and Israel continues seemingly intractable.

The second is Secretary of State John Kerry’s laudable and timely attempt to restart the “peace process” between Palestine and Israel. He would be more honest to say he’s restarting the process to end Occupation and Apartheid. No matter. What is important is that his efforts are almost by definition doomed to failure.

My friend Samia Khoury, a native of Jerusalem, a Palestinian Christian who has lived there for almost all of her 70-plus years, asked her friends to read an article that she says explains why Mr. Kerry’s efforts are doomed.

I’d be far more inclined to think Mr. Kerry’s initiative would bear fruit if I knew what had happened to my Palestinian student and friend.

Thirty feet of concrete Apartheid

Thirty feet of concrete Apartheid

Pardon me, My Paranoia Is Showing (to the NSA?)

I'm running away

I’m running away

If memory serves me correctly, I first sent and received an email message in 1993. If I had known I’d want to write about it this morning, I would have documented at the time it happened.

My late partner had moved to Dallas, but I was still in Boston.  He told me I could almost certainly use email at Bunker Hill Community College where I taught. The chair of the Office Services Department set up my first email account. I think at that time email was available almost exclusively to colleges and certain companies. I taught. My partner worked for Hewlett Packard.

I remember the incredulity with which I read my first message from him, replied, and received his reply. I don’t recall when I first searched the Internet search, but by that time my life had already been irreversibly changed. I bought my first computer in 1987 to write my PhD dissertation. Sometimes I have great fun telling my students the microchip was invented in my lifetime (Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments in 1957). At other times I am shocked and pained when I tell them.

I experience the same ambivalence when I tell them commercial airplane flight, television, talking movies, and many other markers of the genetics of 21st–century life came to be in my father’s lifetime. The atomic bomb; commercially available cars with power steering—Chrysler Imperial, 1951; MacDonald’s—1948; and Nike shoes—1964— all came into being in my lifetime.  There, I am officially an old fart telling kids how good their lives are compared with mine.

Back to email. The omnivorous cookie monster (are those tiny bits of information we leave behind in every electronic place we go still called “cookies”?) has been compiling data on me since 1993. Not just me—all of us, of course. I stopped worrying about “identity theft” and such things long ago. Anyone who has ever “logged on” has entered the world of electronic tracking. “I never,” a friend said in an email recently, “buy anything online because I want to protect my credit card information.” My answer was that she better close her credit card account. It’s too late to cover her email tracks (and I’m not sure she can delete her credit card information).

It’s no accident we use the word “log” to mean “to enter an electronic database.” A log is “any of various records. . . concerning a trip. . . with particulars of navigation. . . and other pertinent details.” “Logging on” is a record of pertinent details of one’s electronic navigation. Of course, we never really “log on” because it is impossible ever to “log off.” The log keeps perpetuating itself even when we are not using our computers.

The great sadness of our keeping track of everyone’s “pertinent details” is not that our 4th Amendment rights are being violated (which they most

Twilight of the shoe salesman?

Twilight of the shoe salesman?

certainly are). The sadness is that the very act of snooping on each other’s “logs”—yes, if you own stock in any corporation, you are snooping on my emails and tracking my internet use and vice versa—tears at the fabric of our society. It’s not terrorists who create a climate of fear and “terror.” We’ve done it to ourselves.

You wanna make money? You gotta be part of the great end-of-privacy society. That’s it.

I don’t know if you personally can get the records of my online purchase of a couple of “occasional” tables from Target, but if you own shares in Target—which your 401(k) is likely to— you are profiting from the record of my purchase. And if you think my purchase by credit card of a pair of Brooks running shoes yesterday at the exclusive Dallas-based family-owned Luke’s Locker store has gone unnoticed for further reference, you are—I assume—living in la-la-land. Even if the manager of the shoe department did notice my t-shirt and ask if I have seen all four Wagner Ring operas in Seattle or only Götterdämmerung.

Some years ago I saw in an FBI report attained by a Freedom of Information Act request the names of people (one of whom filed the request) who were at an anti-Viet Nam War demonstration in the early ‘70s. I attended the rally with the person named. I’ve wondered from time to time if my name might be in such a report. I don’t give a hoot. I never broke the law.

But if my friends’ names are in an FBI report from more than 20 years before I first used email and the internet, whose names do you suppose might be in NSA reports today? Someone whose email and phone records include many communications with Mufid Abdulqader? Am I being paranoid? Of course I am.

The Artsy Lover

book rackMy guess is hardly anyone reading this has read The Art Lover by Carole Maso (New Directions, 1990).

In the 1950s travelers could arrive at Scottsbluff, Nebraska , by railroad or Trailways Bus. I think the Trailways depot was at the lower end of Broadway, across the street from the Lincoln Hotel (I’m sure my siblings will correct me if I’m wrong).

The depot was a dingy one-story brick building with a covered driveway where passengers could board buses sheltered from the weather. The waiting room comprised the rest of the building. I may, of course, be confusing this memory with one from—from God-knows-where.

The waiting room had a revolving wire book rack with books for sale. I clearly remember being with my father fetching someone from a bus. One of the books on the rack caught my attention, and I asked my father to buy it for me. His answer was, in essence, that any book one could buy in a bus station one ought not to read.

And so continued my education as a snob. One would hope merely an intellectual snob, but more likely simply “snob.”

That would not be a matter of concern if I possessed any quality, physical, mental, spiritual, or social, worthy of snobbery. But I don’t. And not buying books in bus stations (these days in airports) has deprived me of a great deal of pleasure without accomplishing much to improve my mind or my social standing.

Maintaining this questionable snobbery I’ve deprived myself of Mickey Spillane. Dashiell Hammett. Jonathan Latimer. Erle Stanley Gardner. Ross MacDonald. Michael Collins. Stephen King, Agatha Christie, and Danielle Steele. Hundreds of Westerns. Spy novels, detective novels, steamy sex novels, science fiction novels. J.K. Rowling. Much of what I have avoided is probably worthy of avoidance. But I have deprived myself of entertainment, of perfectly harmless but enjoyable means of passing the time. I have avoided “hidden pleasures” (or overt prurience).

As I reported here a couple of weeks ago, this spring I was introduced to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander novels (thank you, Jerome Sims). I am now 200 pages from the end of the last of the three. I have read them with pleasure, interest, and suspense—which is exactly their purpose. When I first began reading, I snobbishly thought Larsson did not have the artistic skills to write the number one best-selling work world-wide. And then I gave up my “attitude.”

I hadn’t read for pleasure since the summer reading program at the Scottsbluff Public Library in about 1955. Kids were in groups named after Western explorers. When one of us finished a book, our explorer went another mile along the Oregon Trail. Mine was the Jim Bridger group. We did not win—because my brother’s friend Delmar Coe was in another group, and he read a book a day.
I love The Art Lover. It’s a novel about art, and it morphs into an autobiographical narrative about a friend of Carole Maso’s who died of AIDS, a novelistic tour de force. I love the Wagner Ring operas. I love the El Greco St. Francis in Prayer I first saw at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha when I was in high school. I had no idea what made it great art or why it affected me so deeply.

We are all snobs in our own way. Some wouldn’t see a rock musical for anything. Some wouldn’t attend a concert of music by Stockhausen if it was the last music on earth. Some wouldn’t drive two miles to see a Norman Rockwell painting. Some would drive two miles to avoid seeing a Picasso.

I used to own Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste : Aesthetics in Religious Life by Frank Burch Brown. It’s an interesting book, but on the surface the idea is preposterous. I don’t know where my father learned what “good music” is (surely not at Immanuel Baptist Church in Kansas City in the ‘20s). But I knew from childhood until I was 50 or so, I thought “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” wasn’t “good music.”

I also knew—because his work didn’t hang in the Joslyn—Norman Rockwell wasn’t a great artist. Then I fell in love with the great-grandson of the old lady in his painting Freedom of Worship. Honest. My late partner.

The French philosopher Jacques Maritain wrote (I can’t quote it exactly) that one should not try to make art “Christian,” that the quality of love is what makes a work art.

So I’m hoping to give up being a snob, reverse or otherwise, in my old age and begin to experience what people make and do for the quality of love they put into it—not for my opinion if it’s great, or, for that matter, whether or not I like it.

In which I prove myself to be a spooky un-American kook

First, let me say—although you may not think this is true if you read to the end of this piece—I believe any killing of one person by another is immoral, despicable, and reprehensible. I include in “any” the killing of “any” other person by “any” law-abiding citizen with a permit to carry a lethal weapon in a “Stand-Your-Ground” shooting (or in any other situation). If one abhors murder and abortion and terrorist bombings, then it is only logically consistent that one abhors carrying any lethal weapon for the purpose of killing someone even in the noble act of “self-defense.” Do not, if you carry a gun, speak to me of your hatred or fear of “terrorism.” You are a terrorist—your purpose is to instill terror in the heart of another human being.

Military-Industrial-anti-Terrorism complex

Military-Industrial-anti-Terrorism complex

The Boston Marathon bombings were as despicable as any act can be. I spent day after day at the Boston Public Library when I was researching my dissertation in 1987. I stood virtually where the first bomb exploded day after day waiting for the bus. I love that place. I am horrified and distraught and weep for the victims. I cannot imagine the courage and selflessness of the people who ran toward the victims of the bombing.

That said, I offer the spooky kooky opinion that will make nearly everyone who might have stumbled onto my blog stop reading: The “lock-down” of Boston was totally unnecessary, an exercise in mind-control over the general public of Massachusetts and, by extension, the entire population of the United States.

Police chases (even police chases with “fire fights”) occur in this country every day. How could they not with the per capita ownership of guns in the US standing at .89. That is, for every 100 people, there are 89 guns. The only country that comes even close is Yemen (where the US is convinced the remnant of Al Qaeda is flourishing) with 55 guns per 100 people (1).

So we live in the most violence-prone society in the world. Murder and police chases after suspected murderers are popular in movies because they are absolutely believable. There is nothing fantastic about them. We thrive on the “news” of yet another police chase. (Oh, come on, don’t be holier-than-thou!)stand-your-ground-law1

If the two young men who are accused (probably correctly, but who knows at this point?) of detonating the bombs at the Boston Marathon did, in fact, perpetrate that unspeakable act of violence, injury, and death against totally innocent and unsuspecting persons, they (the remaining man) deserve the full force of the justice our society can bring to bear.

Professor John Mueller of Ohio State University, who holds the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, says in an article published by International Studies Perspectives it has been

. . . common, at least since 1945, for the United States to exaggerate foreign threats, and then to overreact to them, something that seems to be continuing with current concerns over international terrorism(2).

And overreact the FBI, the National Guard, the Massachusetts State Police, the Watertown Police, and the Boston Police did.

Now, this morning, the headline in the Dallas Morning News is, “FBI had talked to suspect: Kremlin asked U.S. about man in 2011 before his trip to Russia.” The entire story is innuendo. Congress members are frantically “express(ing) concern about the FBI’s handling of a request from Russia before [Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s] trip to examine the man’s possible links to extremist groups in the region.” There is not, in the DMN story, a single fact about the (alleged) Marathon Bomber except that the Russians—because he was an ethnic Chechnyan and a Muslim—were concerned that he went to Russia to renew his passport so he could stay in the United States. The Russians, one might point out, are concerned about Chechnyan Muslims in general. Because Russia maintains its control over Chechnya only by force.

. . . to exaggerate foreign threats. . .

. . . to exaggerate foreign threats. . .

Whatever the Tsarnaev brothers’ connection to Chechnya or its separatists, the US government will, if it finds any link at all, succeed in convincing Americans that we are about to be destroyed by Chechnyan separatists. Tsarnaev may well have been radicalized by going home to Russian (never, one might point out, to Chechnya). I have no way of knowing.

But if we are suddenly told, warned, bamboozled into believing that Chechnyan separatists are a threat to the United States and, for example, the minute relaxations by the NTSB of restrictions on what may be carried onto a plane are reversed, we will have made President Obama a liar. He said yesterday that, “Americans refuse to be terrorized.”

In 1961 President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans not to be taken over by the Military-Industrial Complex. Those are not the rantings of a delusional old man (he was only three years older at the time than I am now—perhaps all old men are delusional). I’m pretty sure he’d add the “anti-Terrorism Industry” to that today.

Were Watertown and Boston terrorized by one 19-year-old college boy or by the entire police apparatus of the Federal and State and City governments and the insatiable sensation-seeking media? Think about it.
(1) Please don’t tell my students that my source for this is “Number of guns per person by country.” Wikipedia. (2) Mueller, John. “Simplicity And Spook: Terrorism And The Dynamics Of Threat Exaggeration.” International Studies Perspectives 6.2 (2005): 208-234.

Let’s amend the Constitution

I propose a 28th Amendment to the Constitution reading:

“Neither Congress nor any State Legislature shall pass any law limiting any person’s right to be free from violence at the hands of those who bear arms.”

A book I know well says, “We will not regret the past, nor wish to close the door on it.” I have tried for years to come to terms with that concept. To make it part of my self-perception. Internalizing the idea is pretty difficult for me because much in my past I wish had been otherwise than it was.

I know, I know. Everyone can say that—and would if she were being unabashedly honest. But whether wishing it were not so is the same as regretting, I’ll let keener minds than mine decide. My distinction is that I can regret only those choices I made consciously and willingly, while I can wish experiences over which I had little or no control had not happened.