Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Assassination of William the Silent

Four hundred and ninety-three years ago this month a German monk sent a letter to the Bishop of Mainz complaining about the Church practice of selling "indulgences"; that is, the forgiveness of earthly sins in return for hard, cold cash.

The result, eventually, was a series of rebellions, revolts, massacres, and wars that harrowed Europe from the gray coast of Dunnet Head to the sunny sands of the Côte d'Azur, from the dark headlands of Brittany to the dark forests of central Silesia. We will never know how many lives were taken amid what horrors of murder and rape and ruin and merciless hatred.

All because many people of the day couldn't agree whose church was Church and whose god was God.

Catholics and Protestants, and those who wanted to use Catholicism and Protestantism to advance their less-elevated ambitions, butchered and harried each other for over a century, from the "Peasant's War" in 1524 to the final bloody brutalities of the Thirty Years War in 1648 and the subjugation of Ireland in 1651. The hatreds bred bone-deep still linger along today; ask anyone in Belfast or, for that matter, in the stands at Ibrox or Celtic Park.
By and large the peoples of Europe - and here I exclude the turbulent breeds in the Balkans, which have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from the fucking Battle of Kosovo in fucking 1389 - no longer fight over religion.

The peoples of North America, having sprung largely from refugees of those fights or from fugitives from the very idea of such fighting, did not take their religions to the bayonet point before the modern nations of Canada and the United States were founded.

And, given that despite the lies you will often hear from those whose collection plates and political wherewithal grow from the ignorance of those lies both nations were founded largely by men with little or no use for a formal coupling of religion and the state, since the founding North America has largely been a place where religion, as Mark Twain described it, has become like dandruff; something that many people have "...and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it."

But not to the point of killing other people over.

And that, to my mind, is a very good thing.

Religion, and its quiet companion, faith, can produce great things from the mind and the hands; art, music, and literature, love, forgiveness, and kindness, comfort and mercy.

But those same can - and only can - produce the blackest of human cruelty and pitiless destruction.

A good man or woman can do good from the heart within them; an evil man or woman can do evil from their heartlessness. Only belief that doing death and giving out pain is pleasing to a God can cause a good man or woman to do great evil.
Now bloodyhanded death is being reaped in the name of another religion, and it is even alike in that it has split into sects the better to hate and struggle against itself to kill, and maim, and rape, and hate, and destroy .

I'm going to suggest that we are seeing the Peasant's Revolt of the umma, the first violent spasms of the Islamic Eighty Years War; that the Muslim world has embarked on its own Wars of Religion, and for the next decades - and only decades, if we are lucky - we will see this war fought out amongst, and between, groups and nations wherever those professing one sort of Islam or another butt up against themselves.

Unfortunately, this will also mean that some of us living in the unchurched lands outside the Muslim world, the peoples and places that outgrew our infantile religious wars will be killed by the violent spray of this religious warfare.

Collateral damage, as it were, of the Islamic Wars of Religion.
We cannot "win" this war for the Islamic lands; there are not enough bullets cast to kill every living Muslim, which is what we in the Enlightenment West would have to do to "win" such a war.

Only those living within the places where the Muslim faith is practiced can, by doing what the West did and rejecting religion itself as temporal government, rejecting religious "law" as temporal law and religious mores as social strictures, do that. And that is what must happen - there is no middle ground. There can be no theocracy lite, no half-measures of an "Islamic State" any more than there could be compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire in 1558.

Simply stated, Islam cannot stand half wahhabi and half free. The wahhabis, the jihadis, the rapists of unveiled women, the killers of unbelieving men, will not let it. It must become all one, or all the other.

We, the West, can help those who stand against these unholy holy men that kill for Allah as we stood - eventually, too late, far too late, but finally - against those who killed for Christ.

But if we respond to the barbarism of the jihadis by becoming ourselves Arnaud-Amalric we will lose even if we win. If we respond with panic, with fear, by sacrificing our laws and our liberties, we will defeat ourselves.

So we will simply have to learn to live with, and accept, that we will lose our lives, some of us, even the highest among us, in this war that is neither ours to fight nor to win. To accept those losses and go on without sacrificing ourselves to our panic fear.

On the evening of July 10, 1584 the then-leader of the Protestant revolt in the Low Countries of what is today's Belgium and the Netherlands was the Prince of Orange, William, first of that name and often called de Zwijger or "The Silent". He seems to have been a man of few words.

But of deeds, many. He was a leader in the Protestant rebellion against Catholic Spain and is still today revered in the Netherlands as a good ruler and a founder of the nation. But to a Catholic named Balthasar Gérard he was just a traitor to his Spanish king and a heretic to his Catholic religion.

So Gérard picked up a couple of wheel-lock pistols, the Desert Eagles of his day, infiltrated Delft, and met William as the Prince was leaving his house where he had just enjoyed a quiet dinner with a guy named Rombertus van Uylenburgh.

William got to the bottom of the stairs and Van Uylenburgh heard Gérard shoot William twice in the chest at close range. The Prince died on the pavement.

The Dutch set up a monument to the dead man and carried on.


As should we.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Jukebox: Does It Feel Hot In Here To You? Edition



As described in the Wiki entry,
"In 1936, the Harlem Hamfats recorded "The Weed Smoker's Dream". Band member (Joseph) McCoy later rewrote the song, refining the composition and lyrics. The new tune, titled "Why Don't You Do Right?", was recorded by Lil Green in 1941, with guitar by William "Big Bill" Broonzy. The recording was an early jazz and blues hit.

The song has its roots in blues music and originally dealt with a marijuana smoker reminiscing about lost financial opportunities. As it was rewritten, it takes on the perspective of the female partner, who chastises her man for his irresponsible ways and admonishes him to:

Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too..."
This cover of the classic is by Amy Irving for the 1988 comic film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and is, in my opinion, the definitive version, succeeding the Peggy Lee rendition that was considered one of her signature tunes and the "standard" for this song.

If you're interested, the Lee cover is here. It's a fairly straight-ahead big-band swing piece, and lacks the smoky insinuation that makes the Irving cover so tasty.

So...why don't you do right?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Woolgathering

No real agenda today. Slow at work so I'm stealing company time to just idle around this shebeen without any actual purpose other than maundering, so please excuse my disorganization.

One thing I completely failed to post about was that the Bride and I had a very muted (Muted? Nonexistent, more like...) acknowledgment of our twelfth anniversary Monday week; it was back in October of 2002 that we wrested legal sanction out of the State of Oregon for our mutual concupiscence.

She was utterly whacked from yet another day tangling with The Boy and I was working late and still trying to get my hands on her anniversary gift. I did get it, a couple of days later, and we had a quiet moment last Friday remembering why we then, and still, long(ed) for one another. Along with her soft green scarf and handmade necklace I gave her this:

Mistress of mistresses, mother of memories,
O you my every pleasure, you my every duty!
You shall recall our pleasures and ecstasies,
The warm peace of our hearth, the evening's placid beauty.
Mistress of mistresses, mother of memories!


Legal sanction is all well and good. But there must also be ecstasies.

Did I mention how I so don't have anything to say about politics because my growing conviction that between the idiot "news" media and the idiot 27% (and you have that pin-up of Cheney in your cubicle so you know who you are...) that we've pretty much achieved Peak Stupid, and that whatever I could say would either be superfluous or ignored?


Yep.

I'm not sure which disgusts me more, the whole "To arms, to arms, the Sunni militia is coming!" nonsense, or the headless panic over a blood-borne pathogen that has a total U.S. morbidity of three and mortality of one.

On the former that fat bastard Brecher has been right all along, and on the latter...well, I don't know how to put it better than Pierce, so I won't:
"There evidently is going to be a strong constituency on the committee for some kind of travel ban on the countries in Africa on which the disease is laying waste, even though every expert in the world is saying that this is a terrible idea. (Governor Rick Perry, whose state is ground zero for Ebola in America, apparently believes there already is a travel ban on flights from Europe, to which he has brought the Spectacles Of Wisdom to "burnish his foreign-policy credentials," which is putting a shine on a sneaker, but never mind. This is leadership? Has anyone told Ron Fournier?) There also is going to be a lot of election-year posturing and political bloviation. Fear will be mongered. Distrust will be sown. And the statistics will tell us that, throughout last year, we lost 30 people a day. No, wait. That was due to firearms. My bad."
My pal Lisa over at RAW had a good point about one of the real problems these fucking idiots should be worried about; that after thirty-some years of treating medicine as a commodity the for-profit medical community has internalized the profit-first-"customer"( i.e. patient)-service-whenever rationale of the rest of the "market". Take it away again, Pierce:
"In case you joined American democracy already in progress, this is the way it is going to work. The private, for-profit hospital in Texas completely screws the pooch. (They sent the tubes containing blood from the late Thomas Duncan through the hospital's general delivery system? This is moronic.) The CDC comes in -- admittedly, after it should have, but there are regulations, beloved of our private-sector fetishists, that got in the way -- and the privatizers and anti-government types set up the CDC to take the fall for the hospital.

(The hospital isn't a terrific place to work at the best of times, as a nurse named Patricia Lawson found out to her sorrow.)

In prepared testimony, Daniel Varga, the Chief Clinical Officer for the Texas company that includes Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, apologized to the House committee. "Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr. Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes. We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. We are deeply sorry," Varga said.

Gee, that's awfully nice of you. Anybody get fired yet?"
As my old pal Struthers would have said, what a fuckin' fucked-up fuckstory.

But are We the People going to act with deliberate care, in light of the best information we can glean from scientific medicine?

Fuck, no, why would we want to do that when we can run around shrieking whatever nonsense Laura Fucking Ingraham, the Tammy Faye Baker of CNN, vomits into her lapel mike?

Gah. I say it's nonsense and I say to hell with it.


Speaking of insanely crazy things, how about this: Iceland - yes, Iceland, famed for herring and...well, herring - defeated the Dutch soccer team - the Oranje, the dreaded Clockwork Orange, World Cup quarterfinalists just half a year ago - 2-nil in Iceland.

Iceland! Sure, the goalscorer plays in Europe but I think the Icelandic keeper is the boxroom guy at the Rekjavik Safeway or something like that. These guys are minnows in the soccer ocean.

This was every underdog story come true. My only regret is that there was no Icelandic announcer to go utterly spastic after the victory: "Queen Juliana! Jan de Hartog! Famke Janssen! Eddie Van Halen! Hans Brinker! We have beaten them all! We have beaten them all!"


Don't get me wrong; I have always been partial to the Oranje ever since the disgrace of Argentina in 1978, when the original Clockwork Orange - Cruyff (who refused to play in the bloodyhanded Argentina of the Dirty War), Neeskens, Rep - was disgracefully robbed of the title. But I love to see these little teams upset the big, rich nations, and in soccer, Holland is very much a have and Iceland very much a have-not.

Except for this once. Wish I'd had the under on THAT bet...
There's a million tales in the naked Facebook; this one is mine.

Back when I was in college, and then later for a while when I was in the service, I had a sort-of-girlfriend.
(BTW, in case you aren't familiar with GFT conventions, people whose likeness I am neither at liberty blue to nor desire to seen blued all over the Internet are always shown from the ankles down, if possible. So this is her, over to the right there, and I should add that whilst I yield to no one in my appreciation for my Bride's attributes my old sort-of-girlfriend still rocks the black slippers...)
I say "sort-of" because I could never quite figure out where I stood with her, or what we were doing. I liked her. We were definitely friends. But we were never lovers, and I'm not sure that we were, either of us, really sure what "love" was, or how to love each other.

I know that I wasn't, and while she was, and is, a very beautiful, dear, sweet, kind, and loving woman I'm glad we didn't end up together back then for, as my first wife found out to our mutual grief, I was not then fit company for any woman of worth.

Still, we seemed to have some sort of very-close-but-not-quite relationship for quite some time that finally, as such relationships often do, drifted away when we were separated by time and space. We never even had a "breakup" in any real sense. Our association just kind of...stopped.

Decades later, while searching a completely different subject, I came across a short video clip of my not-quite-inamorata singing (and she had, and has, a lovely voice) that led me to suspect that she had moved to the Midwest and married. Several years later, motivated by a sort of vague nostalgia and curiosity, I looked her up on the dreaded Facebook and there she was. Using her maiden name, so, apparently, divorced or separated. Living in Missouri, and now an ordained minister in one of the UCC congregations there. We then resumed our friendship in the modern electronic-epistolary form of Facebook.

And from what I've seen as she was then she is still today a very good person; full of love and kindness, the very sorts of things that it seems to me to be very good for a cleric to be given the responsibilities of the job; caring for the sick and the distraught, guiding the afflicted, celebrating with the joyous and comforting the dying. She seems to me to be very likely to be a terrific pastor.

It is when I think of her that it occurs to me that one of the things that sickens me most heartily about many "religions" and those that preach them is the often-outspoken belief that having breasts and a vagina and ovaries somehow makes a person less...spiritual, less fitted for the business of contemplating, or interceding - if it is your nature to want to and try to so intercede - with the Infinite.

"Let your women keep silence in the churches..."

Fucking Paul of Tarsus really has a lot to answer for in my book.

My former-almost-girlfriend is too gentle to do that good work, but give me the Wayback set to 42AD and a good sturdy baulk of dimension lumber, and old Mister Road-to-Damascus would have been getting a solid two-by-four upside the head.
Asshole.

Speaking of soccer and patriarchal religions, I finally got to watch the Portland Pilots-Brigham Young University women's match from last week.


The game was utterly one-sided. BYU is for real; those gals are solid from front to back, and UP is gonna have trouble making the NCAA Finals with this year's young squad.

But my real thought as I was watching the play was that "Cougars" is an utterly lame name for teams from a school named for a scarey Victorian theocrat with high double-digit wives. Cougars? When the heck was the last cougar exterminated from around Provo, anyway, something like 1888? And, besides, you and I both know that cougars are not what Utah and BYU are all about, right?

It's all about the Mormons, baby.
So. The BYU men's teams really need to play as something like the "Patriarchs". "The Mormon Battalion" would be fine, as well as historical. Or how about "The Sword of the Lord"? Can you imagine the headlines in the sports section: "Sword of the Lord slays Pepperdine"? "Sword of the Lord beheads St. Mary's"? "Sword of the Lord eviscerates Bulldogs"?

Fucking stone cold awesome.

Then the women's teams, seeing how the Mormon Church feels about women in churches and all, could play as the "Handmaidens" or maybe the "Helpmeets" or the "Yeah, We're The Ones Being Fucking Silent in the Churches, You Happy Now, Asshole?"

Either that or both should play as the "Jackmormons". Except I think there's already a band named that.

Whatever. But "Cougars"? Sorry. WAY lame.


And while we're on the subject of "White People That Colonized Places" along with "Lame Stuff In General" I note in passing that the annual Columbus Day contretemps reminds me of the thing about the Admiral of the Ocean Sea that drives me more wild than anything else; his math.

Because, you see, in order to sell his expedition to the Spanish Crown he had to make the idea of sailing west to reach Japan, China, and the East Indies plausible. The farrago about the world being flat in 1492? Bullshit. Learned people knew that as early as Eratosthenes a couple of thousand years before Greek (and Arabic) scientists had figured out that 1) the Earth was a globe, and 2) that it was about 20,000 miles around, give or take a Roman mile or three.

But our boy Chris had to know that short of a ginormous expedition that Reconquista Spain didn't have the cash, the naval technology, or the inclination to outfit a fleet to sail across some 7,000 or so miles of open ocean. And he had to know that even if they had that there was no way in Hell that Ferdinand and Isabella were going to equip some sketchy Italian adventurer with that sort of fleet.

So - through a combination of ignorance, wishful thinking, and plain damn stupidity, Columbus came up with a figure of about 16,000 miles for the equatorial circumference of the Earth and a completely ridiculous distance of 3,000 miles to Sumatra. Here's a good little summary of the sort of bone-headed mathematical and navigational errors that the cack-handed spaghetti-bender had to commit to manage that.

Samuel Eliot Morison wrote of Columbus: “His calculation is not logical, but Columbus’s mind was not logical. He knew he could make it, and the figures had to fit.” Morison seems to find that admirable. I find it as moronic as panic over a bunch of raggedy-assed Arab guerrillas or a West African disease.

But maybe that's just me.

Okay. Enough meandering. I'll leave you with a couple of images:


You sleep in public in this house at your peril. This is "Drachma the Merkitty"; the thing on his head is supposed to be one of those seashall-bra things that mermaids are supposed to wear, but it wouldn't fit over his head, so its a crown. Little guy didn't wake up during the whole dress-up process, so he was pranked for hours whilst he slept.

I tried to explain that this was Cruelty to Sleeping Pets, but the small people merely laughed and continued to prank the little possum. He was quite the surprised kitty when he woke up, too.

I should add that our housecats have a long tradition of that kind of thing. When Maxine was a toddler she would announce a cat-sighting with a noise we called her "cat-scream", a loud squawk that was Maxine-speak for "Aha! Strange furry creature unlike anything ever seen in my orphanage, I shall pat you now!" and would precede a round of violent head-slapping that was her version of "petting the cat".

The calico, Lily, was smart enough to grab a hat at the sound, but Nitty (a.k.a Few Kibbles Shy Of A Full Bowl) would hunker down on the principle of "if I make myself REALLY small she can't see me". Which worked about as well as you'd think it would.

And this:


...is a mural from Honolulu. Naiad sporting with vicious aquatic pandas? Wahine frolicking in the surf with hairy racoon-like menehunes?

Your guess is as good as mine - I got nothin'. But I liked the image, so there you are.

I should really finish up my Panama stories. Soon. Promise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Life in the Dream House

Things have been so busy I didn't even get a post up for my birthday back on the 4th of October.


Well, there you have it; 57 trips around the sun. No wonder I feel tired.

Other than the embarassing tiara the best moment of the day was the cake; my Bride gave me a classic every-verging-on-passe'-man's-dream-gift; a nubile blonde popping out of his birthday cake:


Mind you, she was legless and only 6 inches tall, but then I'm not exactly Cary Grant myself.


But I had it from my child that her plastic conical breasts tasted just like vanilla frosting.

Happy Birthday to me, then.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday Jukebox: Secret Edition!



Perfectly fucking adorable. (h/t to Scalzi for this..)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Pаспу́тица!

From the delightful artwork of "Waldemar-Kazak" at deviantart:


Hard to say what I love best about this? The Russian faces? Vatushka, the hard-core old Soviet mounted on the BMW-75 that his pop captured from the Fascist Beasts back in '44 and has been kept running with spit and bailing wire since then, going to town, goddamnit, bottomless quagmire or no? Mama clinging desperately to the produce with one hand and Papa's greatcoat with the other, knowing that the old bastard's always made it before but not real sure whether this time won't be the last? Or крошка, the cute little daughter all dolled up to meet her girlfriends (and maybe even a boy or two...), wondering why the sidecar seems so...sideways?

Anyway, I was just noodling around the 'net and found this and loved it. More good stuff at Comrade Waldemar's page; Chief sez check 'em out...

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Gods and mud bricks

I was helping the Boy with his homework last night and it got me thinking.


His sixth-grade class is studying ancient Mesopotamia, and the question for discussion last night was "learn about monotheism and polytheism and their effects on society" in the context of the early irrigation civilizations of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys. The "book solution" was that a) the early Sumerians and Akkadians had a pantsload of gods that b) affected every aspect of their civilization, from architecture to social organization.

The kids' textbook didn't continue, but being who I am I had to follow the trail a little further. What I found based on a cursory look over the Internet was that c) the actual documentary evidence for early Mesopotamian religions is pretty skimpy - most of what we "know" is inferred from fairly fragmentary sources - and d) what consensus there is suggests that the "Sumerian" civilizations were solidly polytheistic - that is, that the peoples of the earlier inhabitants of the region centered around Sumer had a God of Bunions and another god for wheat and another for oral sex or whatever and they were all pretty much equals - but that as the "Akkadians" took over (that is, Babylon became the Big Ziggurat) a handful of the "bigger" deities tended to become, well, bigger. The various secondary sources seem uncertain as to how much this actually approached "monotheism" but agree that the result was somewhat different in both form and function from the earlier godly free-for-all.

The implication in the Boys' text was that this change in religion caused a change in society; gods first, people after.

But being the godless heathen I am I wonder; wouldn't it make just as much sense the other way around? If gods are - as I suspect they are - more a reflection of the people who imagine them why shouldn't the changes in civilizations result in a change in gods?


My brief understanding of the difference between the "Sumerian" and "Babylonian" (or "Akkadian") civilizations is that the latter was more centralized, and that the Akkadian rulers were more god-like god-kings than the earlier Sumerian versions; that Sumer was a bunch of city-states and that Babylon was Babylon and a bunch of tributary cities.

So why wouldn't it make sense for someone who looked at his or her society and saw that kind of heirarchy all around imagine the heavens as similarly organized? If your little city is just one among many it'd make sense that your city's gods were, too. If your city was the Big Pomegranate why shouldn't your god be the boss of the other cities' gods?

Makes sense to me, anyway, but I know from Mesopotamia what I know about Croatian poetry. Well, other than the Great Whore of Babylon because...well, because. It took everything I had in me not to sing the Boy the Crocodile Hotel Blues. I'm a Bad Dad that way.


Anyone with a bigger brain and more knowledge have ideas on the subject?