July 2011

On Tweaking Mankind.

I’ve thought about the nature of God quite a bit over the years. I regularly read on the subject particularly as it pertains to my interest in Western Civilization. The mechanics/structure of religion is always of interest because it reflects, perhaps, even clearer than the dogma the essential character of the human “God.” As Marshall McLuhan suggested, “The medium is the message.”

Nowhere does the “medium” so transcend the “message” than in the history of the Catholic Church. It is the longest running successful corporation in history. I’m reading a delightful new book by John Julius Norwich titled, “Absolute Monarchs – A History of the Papacy.” He writes about the Catholic Church not from the perspective of its religious beliefs but what it took for this institution (corporation) to succeed in the rough and tumble world of secular man. Tough sledding it has been. Yet 2000+ years later, it survives.

“Chris, you cannot exclude the message. That is why the Church prevailed.” I am not so inclined to “believe” that but for the sake of this discussion, let us say, “Perhaps.”

To “get on message,” there are two considerations that continue to perplex me specifically about the Christian God. Small things for sure. But if any reader has an explanation please give us your revelation.

What kind of “God” is it that, right out of the blocks, insists in the Ten Commandments that the number one commandment is, “Thou shalt have no other god before me.” Now, of course, “other gods” would include the literal definition of “god” but accordingly we also mustn’t make power or possessions our god either. This has always struck me as insanely funny.

You are the most powerful “entity” there is. You know absolutely everything that will ever be and your foremost concern is worrying about whether your little dirtball creation, man, and his heavenly spare rib, woman, whether they idolize something other than you? This is a tough sell to me. My amazement is best summed-up by Exodus 34:14 (New International Version) “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” What kind of “entity,” peerless by the way, is so insecurely (insanely?) jealous? I welcome your observations.

Extrapolating what we understand about God, I make the following assertion, “There cannot be a Godly unintended consequence.”

Unless we change the definition of God, unless omniscient—to know everything—is omitted from the definition, we must conclude that God’s actions have no unintended consequences. Because it is inherently impossible. You know, can God create a mountain “He” cannot lift?

This “reality” begs a question. It became fashionable, once upon a time, to compare God to a clockmaker who set time (and space) in motion, created the universe, toiled in the soil creating man, da, da, da. Thought it was good, blah, blah, blah. You know the story.

Okay, fast forward. 20th century Asia. The bomb bay doors open and napalm bombs cascade (Apocalypse Now-like) onto sleeping Vietnamese villages and the burning, screaming innocent children run from their thatch huts with skin melting like butter from their arms.

Knowing this from the get-go, why wouldn’t you, God, ol’ Holy Geppetto, tweak your puppet (man)? Ever so slightly. Just a subtle improvement or two. Surely you could have. Oh, free will?

Explain how those sleeping “non-Christian” children exercised their free will. Uh, uh, uh. . . enough with the message.

Et tu, John Mica?

Do you wake-up one day and decide to sell out? Is that how it works? Or, is it a gradual descent into equivocations and half-truths? We’re all born unvarnished, so to speak. We come into the world clean and real life either works its magic or casts its spell. Arguably, life is one accommodation after another. It is. We accept (we must) in ourselves and others that we are not perfect but that acknowledgment is leavened with/by some sort of internal “line” that will not be crossed; that short of doing whatever it takes, for example, to “save” one’s child, no pressures or enticements could ever get you to cross that “line.” That said . . .

Crooks, grifters, shysters, frauds, Ponzi scheme operators as well as corporate malefactors, vultures, hacks and lobbyists are entitled, by law, to congressional representation. Both angels and sinners alike, soccer moms and environmental desecrators have, theoretically speaking, equal access to their congressman’s door. But we intuitively understand that is not reality.

What makes a congressman due the bidding of a corporation? Corporations have legitimate concerns that government regulations/oversight will adversely affect their profitability. I get that. But when does corporate profitability trump public interest? Rather, when does corporate profitability not trump pubic interest? Time and time again we witness the public interest, our welfare compromised by congressional quislings. A congressman by any other name.

I address this question to Republican John Mica and Democrat Nick Rahall of West Virginia. Congressmen Mica and Rahall recently introduced H.R. Bill 2018 - Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, whose goal is “To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of each State to make determinations relating to the State’s water quality standards, and for other purposes.”

This bill is little more than a gutting of the 1972 Clean Water Act. Rahall represents the interests of coal companies who want a “blank check” in order to continue mountaintop mining that poisons West Virginia’s rivers and environment. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency wants to check this ecological tragedy. Mica’s bill would, for all intents and purposes, prevent that.

Congressman Mica, according to a July 15, New York Times’ editorial wrote that Mica is “angry at the E.P.A.’s recent crackdown on the agricultural pollutants that are destroying the Everglades.” Mica, in other words, wants to gut the E.P.A.’s ability to protect Florida’s Everglades? Why? Whose interests are being promoted? Florida agricultural corporations should be allowed an unfettered license to continue destroying our water, our environment? That is your values, Congressman Mica? He’ll argue the trampling of state’s rights.

I called and talked with Justin Harclerode, Communications director for Mica’s House committee overseeing this bill. I asked him point blank the morality of such actions. He clearly and patiently (and politely) explained his boss’s position. This is not about gutting the E.P.A. It’s about returning to the states power over their water resources. The reality? Poisoned water, land and air.

This isn’t about states rights. That’s a cop. This is a sellout to corporate paymasters.

Chris, you’re too idealistic. Governing is compromise. But are there not lines not to be crossed? I am reminded of the famous question from the 1954 McCarthy hearings, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Et tu, John Mica?

Good And Hard.

I said of Casey Anthony that “She’s not very smart, yet she got away with murder.” Casey Anthony is soon free not because she’s particularly smart, or even innocent, but because she couldn’t be proven guilty. And this upsets folks.

This is somewhat humorous to me. Justice is incidental to life. It is. We try to make sure justice is a societal value but like everything else in modern life, justice is a subjective value. I find crimes against large numbers of people, crimes that affect society-at-large more egregious than the rare crime of an infantile mother murdering her child. That may not sit well with some but that’s my take on what it is we as a society should get “excited” about.

For example, I would have tried the former CEO of Countrywide, Angelo Mozilo for corruption or fraud or just general crimes against humanity. If I were “Emperor” I would suggest he be hung if guilty. He and all the other corporate leaders who participated in business practices antithetical to the nation’s greater good. I would see them swing and say “Good riddance to bad trash.”

We’re in the worst economic downturn in 70 years, with identifiable corporate malfeasance yet no one responsible swings from the yardarms. Is that a coincidence? Not in the least. Our laws (government) and our justice system are both tucked, so comfortably, in the back pocket—thank you very much—of corporate special interests. It encircles, too, our nation’s highest court.

I don’t fault corporations for wanting their “own sweet way.” If I were a corporate cheese and could increase/secure my wealth by inserting “special” clauses in federal/state laws or through judicial decree, hell, I’d do it in a nanosecond. If that were my value system and, oh, I’d patriotically wrap it all up nicely in the American flag of corporate capitalism. You know, “What’s good for General Motors is . . .” JOBS! Please, all genuflect now.

The American public plays its part nicely, too. While being repeatedly marginalized by special interests, we collectively sigh, assume the position and say, please, could you do that j..us..t one more time. Only harder. Not only that but we freely elect scoundrels to public office. Witness, Florida’s last gubernatorial election. We elected either a complete boob who did not know how his corporation was profiting (corruptly/illegally) or he was complicit. Put that to a jury.

So Casey Anthony murdering Caley, while undeniably tragic doesn’t especially trip my button when she walks. I wrote in my chapbook on September 12, 2009: “All it was, was that Casey couldn’t be bothered and the Little Darling’s death was an accident, don’t-cha see.” She wanted to go out and parteee and sometimes it’s hard to get a baby sitter and all, and, well, you know, imagine the rest. We do. We instinctively “feel” how it was sadly resolved.

America’s recent economic crimes are no accident. And to the degree that government policy (laws/legislators/ethics) and corporate malfeasance contributed to our nation’s economic setbacks, well, when those are vigorously investigated, with perp-walks and prosecutions, maybe then I’ll have a different take on America’s justice system.

Who is it that is getting away with “murder” in America? And who is it that isn’t particularly smart? Hmmm? Not so good. Yet . . .

chuckle-chuckle, chuckle

Good and hard is how H.L. Mencken said we Americans deserve it.

Ya think?

What’s Your Line?

“There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them.” Closing line from the 1950s ABC TV series The Naked City.

I am an unrepentant eavesdropper. I make no bones about it, offer no apologies; I have no shame in this regard. I find our stories immensely interesting but some days I am discouraged by the lack of originality in the everyday lives of my fellow man. My sister describes us—humanity—as “nasty little monkeys.” But even our nastiness, pettiness, myopia and selfishness can seem rather ordinary. Some daze.

I have spent the better part of three weeks in New York City. Perhaps I am experiencing sensory overload which is easy to do but I so enjoy the cultural amenities of the world’s capital (which New York is). For an Iowa boy, NYC still leaves me in “aw-shucks” awe of what we are capable. From art to architecture New York is Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Garden, Pericles’ Athens or Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris. So much culture, so little time.

Yet. You walk out of a Whitney retrospective and some gorgeous tanned young thing saunters ahead, goddess-like, in an incredibly oh-sooo-provocative flouncy-bouncy summer dress all the while loudly chastising whomever on her cell phone for not texting about tonight’s parteee. And, my GAWD what should she wear? And was Bradley bringing you-know-who? Fortunately I didn’t and crossed Madison Avenue.

Or, I walk out of Brooklyn’s Green Point subway station and two Polish chaps are having a heated exchange over, from what I decipher, garbage pick-up. Garbage.

And then you die. I understand why those with a religious need crave a life hereafter. I do. Hanging around as an eternal holy bootlicker, singing hosannas, has to be preferable to a lifetime of arguing over garbage collection schedules or whether Bradley is shtupping, you know, her!

I distinctly recall once sitting in an Orlando Denny’s Restaurant and in floats a woman so beautiful time stops. So exquisitely striking that you’d be left (as a man) a mumbling jumble of a fool. So stunning you actually could not look at her. As did I, and my eyes quickly returned to the book I was reading. She joined a nearby table and I observed her from afar.

And then? And then? She opened her mouth. And she may as well have fallen off a rural Arkansas turnip truck, so shrill, so coarsely ignorant her voice and language. And her all-consuming beauty evaporated as quickly as the Orlando Magic in the NBA playoffs. I laughed out loud. At myself. Christopher, you superficial fool.

We all want our story to be different. It is said of humanity that we have but one theme—that all our stories revolve around one over-arching theme, that of conflict. Depending on which literary “school” you subscribe that “conflict” is told (revealed) in either three or seven or 20 or 36 different plots. Pick any plot device. There may be eight million stories yet they are all but variations on a theme.

Actually we are nasty little monkeys. But we are so much more (see our art). We’re born. We die. And all life in-between, a struggle.

Any of our stories on any given day may be tedious, trite and boring. Pick the day and believe you me, I’ll talk trash. Literally or figuratively.

What’s your story? I’ll listen. I do.