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Archive for March, 2012

Unravelling

What you see depends upon how you see.

The sad case of the death of Treyvon Martin has become only the latest template upon which the warring factions in our fractured culture write their narratives.

I was listening to Sean Hannity yesterday; I know, this is like admitting that I glance at the tabloids in the checkout line, a shameful thing. And I listen to right wing talk radio for much the same reason: it’s always a good chance to be appalled.

Mr Hannity loves to find two clashing ideologues and let them duke it out, while he occasionally interjects, volume button in hand, ready to turn down whatever side he disagrees with. I call it “Rock  ‘Em Sock ‘Em Radio”. So yesterday he set it up: on the one hand a white liberal reporter, on the other a black woman, a conservative prolife activist, a Republican. She was, I suppose, meant to defend the man who killed young Martin, but to Hannity’s consternation the two women were not in conflict about the shooting of the young man. The woman may have been a conservative, but she is also a black person in America and had firsthand knowledge of the indifference with which local police treat the lives of young black men. Why, she asked cogently, when there was a 17 year old dead in the street, was the shooter not arrested, or even taken downtown to the police station for questioning?

Why, indeed.

But what you see depends upon how you see. First reports spoke of a decent young black man, an athlete and good student, with hopes of college, walking home from a convenience store after buying candy for his younger brother. Later, someone dug up the apparent fact that he had been suspended from school (but not arrested) for possession of traces of marijuana. A photo appeared, claiming to be Treyvon, wearing a sideways ball cap and holding his hands in a gangsta sign.

I’m sorry, traces of marijuana and gangsta hand signs do not a thug make. I suggest that some of those trying to make that case check out their own sons’ Facebook pages. To suggest otherwise is like finding a photo of someone from the 60s with a hand held up in the “V” peace sign and saying “Look! A leftist!”

Sometimes such things may be fad or fashion, not necessarily conviction or criminality.

But the other narrative, that George Zimmerman, the shooter, was simply a racist, also bears scrutiny: black neighbors speak of him warmly, he evidently tutored minority students.

We may never know the details of what transpired that Florida night; after all, one of the main witnesses is dead. The survivor has his own tale of self defense, and claims that young Martin attacked him. This may be so, but in a cell phone call to his girlfriend, Trayvon speaks of a man stalking him. A 911 call from Mr Zimmerman bears this out, though he says that when the operator told him to stop following Treyvon he did so. True or not, it seems evident that both young Martin and Mr Zimmerman were in the grips of fear and suspicion. If Treyvon did attack Zimmerman, he may have thought that he was acting in self defense as well.

Fear and suspicion led Zimmerman to stalk Treyvon. Fear and suspicion led the black lad to be wary. No doubt fear and suspicion led to whatever confrontation that followed.

And fear and suspicion are driving the competing narratives that surround his death.

It’s heartbreaking when some tragedy like this appears and makes apparent the chasm that lurks just beneath the normal facade of American public life. We are in reaction mode at this point; the truth has become secondary to tribal conflict, fueled by warring stereotypes. Blacks are reacting to long experience of injustice and oppression. Whites are reacting to perceptions about young black men and, not least, to what they see as opportunistic civil rights leaders.

It is likely that however this pans out, no one will be satisfied, that this will prove to be just one more fraying  thread in the  unravelling of our nation.

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Fairytale Houses

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Again! Reality Alert! This is not satire!

Look, I am no fan of Obama’s, but this Santorum ad is sheer demagoguery. If Iran, contrary to the fatwa of its Supreme Leader, really is working on developing nuclear weapons in two years it may possess one bomb . Israel has a couple hundred, the US has how many? Would you believe roughly 9600? This ad scares me, all right, but that’s because Santorum scares me, especially given the fact that he presents himself as Mr Catholic. If only he would pay attention to his pope and the teaching Church about something above the groin!

 But see for yourself:

On his website, under “American Exceptionalism” (he’s for it) is this gem of fearmongering and belligerence:

“Rick Santorum understands that the events of September 11, 2001 brought to our front door the uncomfortable truth that attacks on our soil are not merely a distant possibility, but a harsh reality.To combat this threat, Rick refused to back down from those who wish to destroy America.  Rick Santorum understands that those who wish to destroy America do so because they hate everything we are – a land of freedom, a land of prosperity, a land of equality.  Rick knows that backing down to the Jihadists means that we are only putting our foundational principles at greater risk.  As an elected representative, Rick knew that his greatest responsibility was to protect the freedoms we enjoy – and we should not apologize for holding true to these principles.That is why Rick refuses to call this a War on Terror, because, like Blitzkrieg, terror is a tactic.  Rick believes our nation’s leaders must be honest with the American people and call this war what it is, a War with Radical Islam.”

Sheesh. Even George W Bush had the sense not to give the impression that we are at war with Islam…

And check this out, again from his website, a recipe for war if ever I saw one:

Santorum Administration’s Response To Iran:

  • Reinstate full funding authorized under the Iran Freedom and Support Act to assist pro-democracy groups within Iran
  • Bring greater attention to human rights violations of the Iranian regime against democracy protestors and minority religious groups
  • Would work with Israel to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat immediately; and developing a potential plan for military action if needed
  • Would work with Israel to determine the proper military response needed to stabilize the region, protect our allies and protect this country – including the authorization of targeted airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
  • Any nuclear scientist proven to be working for Iran’s nuclear program would be treated as an enemy combatant.
  • Help create Strike Funds to help organizers on the ground publicly protest and overthrow the regime
  • Economically target Iran by sanctioning Iran’s central bank coupled with opening all forms of energy production in the U.S effectively devastating Iran’s only economy
  • Ensure Iranian officials cannot access any of their funds by freezing bank accounts and significantly limit their travel by revoking visas
  • Refuse to negotiate on any level with the terrorist state of Iran
  • Neutralize Iran’s relationships with their primary allies in The Middle East by increasing pressure on Hezbollah and Syria
  • Eliminate the post of U.S. Ambassador to Syria
  • Stand with Israel as an ally and in any efforts Israel may take to defend themselves from Iranian aggression
  • Would push for, fully fund and build a comprehensive missile defense system, and reevaluate the ramifications of the Start Treaty
  • Authorize more research on the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Threat
  • Develop a National Prevention Plan to prevent a severe terrestrial and space emergencies that would take down our information systems or electrical grids

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This Just In

(Click to enbiggen)

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Finished

I finished the icon of the Mother of God of the Sign. After  completing the painting it was time to gild, the gold leaf being the final touch; after working from dark to light the gold represents the final stage of  transforming light. Some iconography schools begin with the gold, and they have their symbolic reasons for doing so, but laying down gold first means a high risk of dripping paint or water on it, or scratching the soft surface, all of which are hard to repair. This, again leads me to think that the practical preceeds the symbolic. After applying the gold leaf, the halo lines are drawn, using a compass and a ruling pen. Then the Greek inscriptions are made, the abbreviations of MP OY on either side of Mary, standing for Theotokos, “God-bearer” or “Mother of God”. On Christ’s halo are the Greek letters WON, representing the words “I AM”, the name of God in the Old Testament. On either side of his figure are the Greek abbreviations IC XC, “Jesus Christ”. The inscriptions are always the last steps to completing an icon; it can now be said to have been “written”

As often happens, I ran into a lot problems in the very final steps, the gilding and varnishing. I fixed it all, not to my satisfaction, but from experience I know when further fussing is going to just make things worse. Part of being an iconographer is learning the humility of knowing that your work will never be perfect. And no, I am not going to point out what is wrong. Again, from experience I know that most people will not notice what I see as mistakes, unless I point it out. Why ruin it for them?

About the Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign:

This icon represents the mystery of the Incarnation. The Virgin is seen with hands uplifted in prayer, and in the place of her womb is Christ. Another name of this icon is “More Spacious than the Heavens”, which denotes the mystery of a created being holding within her womb the Uncreated One, the Maker of the Universe. He is shown within a  mandorla, a series of three- sometimes four- concentric circles. These represent the Trinity, or when there is a fourth, the Trinity plus the godhead beyond all understanding. The circle in the center is the darkest, and the ones surrounding it grow lighter. This represents the unknowable Mystery of God, and reflects the apophatic way, the emphasis on what we cannot know about God. This is typical of Eastern Christian mystical thought, but it is well known in the West as well, in writings of St John of the Cross, in Dominican mysticism, in the anonymous work The Cloud of Unknowing, and elsewhere.

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The Anointed One Speaks

Reality Alert Again: This is not satire!

This is a hoot. I have to get me the ultimate in dork apparel, a sweater vest with my name on it! And Santorum makes a big deal about never using a teleprompter. Watching this, can anyone believe him? Anyway, let the Insufferable One speak for himself:

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Icon by Mother Anastasia

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Heroes and Villains

I cannot be accused of a lack of sympathy for American service men and women.  I have posted numerous times about the folly of sending them on multiple combat deployments, of the many ways soldiers are abused and neglected by the Armed Forces, “chewed up and spit out by the Empire” is, I believe, the way I described it once.

That said, I am bothered by the habit of referring to anyone who dons a uniform as “a hero”. I thought of this today I as heard on the radio that a group has formed to raise money for the family of Robert Bales, the alleged assailant in the recent  Afghanistan atrocity, which took the lives of 16 civilians, most of them children. I wondered about this; would the group had formed if instead of killing Afghans, Sgt Bales had waited until he returned to the United States and killed a bunch of American children? Shouldn’t money be raised, instead, for the families of the victims (most of whom were the children of one man? I am not trying to be hard here; Sgt Bales had served four deployments, and had suffered brain injuries on one. And no one who has not been in combat should speak too quickly to condemn those who, in fear and the chaos of combat, make quick and regrettable decisions. But this was not in combat. He was not in immediate danger. He went into a sleeping village. He killed little children. I have read that other veterans, similarly traumatized and dealing with the trauma without violence, are insulted when well-meaning people make excuses for his actions. Maybe he was insane, totally out of it, but it is strange that this could be hidden in the crowded conditions of a military encampment.

In fact, not everyone who enlists in the military is a hero. I know, even opponents of the empire speak habitually as if this were the case, afraid of being tarred with the dread accusation of hostility to the troops. This can be directly related to the aftermath of Vietnam, when antiwar activists were accused of spitting on returning soldiers. This is almost certainly a myth; there are no contemporary accounts of such things, and a 1971 poll showed that 94% of returning vets reported a friendly reception from their peers. I certainly, as a very young participant in the antiwar movement in those days, did not see any hostility toward veterans; quite the contrary. But George  Bush Sr used this myth to stir up support for the first Gulf War, when Americans engaged in a cathartic orgy of watching the bombing campaign on TV, often cheering at the destruction while munching on popcorn. Any dissent was drowned out with the mind-numbing mantra of “support the troops support the troops”. It made me so crazy that I joked about making a bumper sticker that said “fuck the troops”. NOT REALLY! THAT”S OFFEENSIVE AND NOT FUNNY AND I DIDN”T MEAN IT! Plus, whoever killed me would get off, claiming justifiable homicide. But it made me that crazy.

In truth, people join the military for any number of reasons.

True, some join because they want to serve in what they view as a noble cause. I think of Pat Tillman, the football star who walked away from a 3 million dollar NFL contract to join the Army Rangers right after 9/11; I may think him misguided, and indeed he came to see this himself, but that was heroic (killed by” friendly fire” the government attempted to lie about the circumstances of his death and milk it for propaganda value). And I for one can appreciate courage and sacrifice, even if I see the cause as unjust.

Those who join for patriotic reasons solely are no doubt a minority. Many more join for more personal reasons: jobs are scarce, the recruiter promises a lot of benefits, or maybe they hope that the military will give their life some direction, or their parents are pressuring them to get out of the house, or  whatever.

But it would be naive not to realize that some join so they can, as Rush Limbaugh describes the purpose of the military, “kill people and break things”.  All with social approval. Like the police force, the military may draw those who wish to serve the community or the nation. But by its nature, the job also attracts bullies.

And of course, many no doubt enlist with mixed motives, part patriotic, part selfish, part bully.

But it is strange to in one breath decry contemporary youth culture, with its violent rap and metal and video games, and then speak in the next as if its denizens are automatically transformed into chivalrous warriors, all by the magic of enlistment. And I have read enough first hand accounts from Iraq and Afghanistan to know that on the ground a lot of soldiers have little sympathy for what is to them a strange culture, that they often sound like a particularly rude bunch of frat boys.

I don’t know what kind of person Sgt Robert Bales is; I do know that when my children ask me “Are (fill in racial or ethnic  or religious type here) good or bad?” I always answer “Some of them are good and some of them are bad.”

And so it is with the troops: some of them are good, and some of them are bad. Some of them are heroes.

And some of them are villains.

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The Bumblebee

I was carrying mail today (my day job). It was July weather, another record-breaking day in what has been a scary hot spell, in the wake of the warmest winter since such things have been recorded.

I was just setting out on a walking swing when I felt something on my hand. Looking down, I saw a bumblebee and panicked, brushing him off roughly. And immediately felt bad. The little guy fell to the street and buzzed around, unable to fly. I bent down, and using a letter, scooped him up and walked him over to a patch of dandelions, apologizing all the while. At least if he needed some nourishment he would have the pollen from the flowers, I reasoned. I set him down, talking all the while, and then left to complete the loop.

As I walked the swing I thought about what I had done. We are all taught to be afraid of stinging insects when very young, but I had known from late adolescence that honeybees and bumblebees are gentle creatures, apt to sting only if imperiled. Even wasps are not aggressive, and I have painted around their nests with them flying around many times, and never been stung (hornets and yellow jackets are another matter, aggressive and mean). I know the gentleness of bees well, and when young I would let them land on me and watch them crawl around. But in that instance, startled by the bumblebee on my hand, what I call Primitive Mind had been spontaneously triggered, and before I had time to reflect I had struck out and wounded the little fellow. I thought about Primitive Mind’s other manifestations: I don’t know about you, but my first reaction to almost anything is sinful. Anger, fear, lust, resentment, these are my first reactions. The great thing about Lent is that it gives you a chance to work up Second Reactions: I want that barbecue I smell (in March!) but I can’t have it, so I might as well desire God.  But here I was, as the end of Lent draws near, and my first reaction to a benevolent bumblebee is a swat. Primitive Mind runs strong in my heart.

I felt terrible. I hate to harm anything needlessly, and I love bumblebees. I felt as if I had hurt a bluebird, or a baby bunny.

When I finished the swing, about 15 minutes later, I went back to the dandelions. I thought I would encounter either a dead bee, or one just sitting there, or maybe one wandering in the grass nearby. Or maybe, just maybe, he would have flown away, his wing healed.

As I bent down over the patch I didn’t see my bee on the dandelions. Nor was he in the grass. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a blur, flying around. It was my bumblebee, and I talked to him. I told him how sorry I was that I had hit him, and told him I had prayed for him (for I had) and that I was so happy that he was okay. As I spoke he hovered around at eye level, buzzing loudly. I know some may doubt it, but I am sure he knew who I was and was listening to me. But whether he was buzzing his gratitude for lifting him off the street and setting him down among the flowers, or whether he was buzzing around debating whether or not to give  me a well-deserved sting, I don’t know. (Indeed, I held out my arm and said “Go ahead, sting me; I deserve it”). I am not that fluent in the tongue of bumblebees, but he didn’t sting me.

After I had said what I needed to say to him he flew up and then away, over the house I was standing in front of.

I know there are cynics who would see this whole event as a bit of hippie whimsy. So be it, and for that matter such encounters with created beings, ie, with reality, occurred a lot more frequently in my hippie youth, when I spent a lot of time sleeping on the ground and living in the woods. They have been pretty rare in the 13 years since I “temporarily” moved to town, but I was profoundly grateful for the whole experience, and not least because that little bee lives to enjoy the flowers of this warm strange spring.

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Returning to our usual satirical mode:

After giving a huge gift to Mitt Romney’s rivals by saying that the candidacy was “like an Etch-A-Sketch”, that it could be shook up and started over after the nomination to bank more to the center, Romney aide  Eric Fehrnstrom clarified things: “I misspoke; I mistakenly cited the wrong vintage toy. I didn’t mean Etch-A-Sketch, I meant Sit and Spin.”

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