March 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
By now, everyone knows about the “pink slime” additive in ground meat. As near as I can tell, the reason the slime was most objectionable was its inherent grossness, not any actual health hazard. I’m fine with no more pink slime in my meat— don’t paint me as some kind of pink slime enthusiast — but I’m constantly amazed by the food issues that do get widespread action and those that don’t.
While pink-slime mania was in full force, there was also widelyreported research showing direct connections between the intake of red meat and cancer.
While I heard plenty of calls for the useless additive to be taken out of the meat, I didn’t encounter one calling for the banning of the actually harmful meat itself.
Cancer cells and tumors are grotesque, but unlike pink slime, also painful and deadly.
If you don’t die from them, you do go through endless horribleness in order to beat that. That didn’t get the public up in arms, though, and rarely seems to.
Just this past week, Starbucks made some headlines with some equally innocuous food news — it was now going to use crushed up bugs to color its strawberry frappaccinos. Cochineal extract has been used for 500 years as a red-dye and is considered natural, though the World Health Organization reports it can cause respiratory complications in some people, so proceed with caution.
If you’ve had strawberry yogurt or strawberry ice cream in your life, you’ve probably eaten pretty pink little crushed up bugs. I’m not trying to ruin your appetite; it’s a simple truth. Once again, people seem more upset about crushed up bugs — a great source of protein, I believe — than they are cancer-causing red meat.
What other kind of food doesn’t bother people?
Chicken McNuggets don’t seem to raise an eyebrows, so I guess chowing down on “anti-foaming” agent is a yummy proposition.
And then there’s the thing with human placentas.
It came out that actress January Jones — I have no idea, I freely admit, whether she eats bugs or pink slime, by the way — eats her own placenta, which immediately set off a frenzied debate mostly consisting of “What?” and “That’s gross!” as the arguments against. These are basically the same arguments against bugs and pink slime.
However, there are plenty of people in the pro-placenta munching corner, and that makes for a weird dichotomy between what some people consider disgusting and some people consider completely acceptable.
Actually, the placenta news isn’t as exciting as it seems. It turns out that Jones is only taking pill supplements containing placenta that are at the center of the current placenta craze. So relax. It’s OK to go to Jones’ house for a barbecue this summer.
Assuming that these pills actually do contain human placenta and not really pink slime, this makes the revelation just one more example of silly, natural medical treatments, like ground shark fin supplements to beat cancer, which you’ll admittedly need a lot of if you insist on eating red meat everyday.
Regardless, none of these new entries can beat the good old hot dog, the gold standard of “Eww, that’s gross” arguments against potential nourishment. I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed someone say, “Do you know what they put in those things?” as an argument against them.
Actually, I do, and that’s why I eat them. I was a vegetarian for eight years, but it was hot dogs that brought me back to the fold.
People older than me certainly remember a time when no part of an animal was wasted. I can still remember happily eating a scrambled egg-and-meat concoction my grandma would make when I would visit her as a kid in Georgia— until the day she told me it was pig’s brains.
Taste be damned, it was knowledge that ruined it for me.
I realized a couple years ago that hot dogs are a nod to those days, when waste was worse than anything else. I can’t think of anything that dishonors an animal more than the practice of slaughtering it only to eat the “good parts” and throw away the rest. We’ve become a society of entitlement and consumption.
If taking intestines and whatever else, grinding it all up and sticking it in a casing (and bun, preferably grilled outside, with mustard and ketchup applied after cooking) stands as a political argument against out-of-control consumerism and waste, I’m happy to take that stance, and I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to do the same.
To me, once you’ve married yourself to eating hot dogs, all the rest — pink slime, crushed up bugs, placentas — are just more weird stuff people ingest.
Just don’t expect me to eat sushi.
March 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The Bible goes deadpan in this retelling of the story that involves one over-sized guy and one small warrior boy generally remembered as being an inspiration for underdogs everywhere.
We all know the tale of David and Goliath fairly well. It takes place over a period of 40 days that has the giant calling out a challenge twice each day. In the Bible, it’s from the point of view of the Israelites, Yahweh’s chosen nation who are scared silly of the giant standing in the desert yelling at them. That’s until David shows up and begs for a chance to fight Goliath. One thing leads to another and Goliath is lying on the ground with David vigorously beheading him.
In this graphic novel version, it’s Goliath who has the odds stacked against him. More accustomed to clerical work for the Philistine Army, he’s unknowingly recruited by an industrious military man by way of an impatient king as part of a secret plan to end a war with a minimum of casualties — all he needs is a new get-up and weaponry and the right attitude, and the Philistines are sure the Israelites will surrender in fear. Goliath is a realist, though, and his manufactured confrontation leads him to the absurd situation of waiting out in the desert for the Israelites to be too afraid to send a champion out to face him and lead all their people into slavery. At least, that’s what Goliath hopes— the last thing he wants is a champion to emerge from the Israelites that he will have to face in combat. With only the companionship of his young shield-bearer, Goliath is prickly and put-off by the whole situation. He’s waiting for nothing and his entire army is watching him.
You already know how it ends, but the real pleasure of the book is witnessing Goliath face up to the inevitable with a tired sort of dignity. He tries to make the best of his situation even as fear and ennui swirl around him in the desert air, as do the legends about his gargantuan prowess among his own cohorts. Scottish cartoonist Gauld manages to find a point of hilarity within the coming gloom, a scenario in which feared giant Goliath is just like any of us — someone following orders, just a guy doing his dumb job and finding little fulfillment out of it.
If the Bible really celebrated the underdog, it would side with this lumbering foot soldier rather than the plucky brown-noser destined to become a king. Thanks to Gauld, we now have the opportunity to embrace Goliath as one of us — an every-man who faces his destiny even if it’s somewhat less illustrious.
March 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The self-described “chamber pop collective” Cuddle Magic was formed at the New England Conservatory in 2005. The legend goes that the band got its name from the audience’s need to huddle up close to hear them; they were allacoustic and shows began to resemble a group cuddle. The practice wasn’t just to be precious but was for technical reasons as much as any others.
“It’s the best sound that you’re ever going to get because if you’re hearing people playing and it’s real voices coming through the air and going into your ear,” said band co-founder Ben Davis. “I don’t think any thousand dollar microphone can ever sound that good.”
Any given Cuddle Magic composition might include not only guitar, bass and keyboards, but also ukulele, banjo, clarinet, harmonica, flute, glockenspiel, trumpet, toy piano and whatever else is required for that song.
The music is created through a combination of isolation and convergence that sees each member write music, but explore and expand in conjunction with bandmates in a multitude of configurations. The group has featured up to 10 players on a recording, though only six of those are considered the core unit of the band, and to work with this number of people, the band has a system of teams that function as working groups inclusive of the extra members.
“Generally, different people have different arrangement ideas,” Davis said. “We get together a lot in duos and trios and work out different aspects. Sometimes, like on the song ‘Disgrace Note,’ I had already come up with the drum part to that, and some of the different parts by myself, but in some cases all the arrangements come collectively.”
“Once we get an arrangement together, then we’ll take all the separate parts and put it all together and try it and make subtle adjustments, but a lot of how things come together are people being together in smaller groups and having ideas about what the separate instruments are going to do and then when we actually get together, we make subtle adjustments from there.”
Cuddle Magic’s creative goal might be expressed as “experimental, but accessible” in that the group employs some techniques that draw on its conservatory background in performance and concept, but it doesn’t want that to overshadow the sounds it creates. For the song “Disgrace Note,” a response to the suicide of musician Vic Chesnutt from their most recent album “Info Nympho,” Davis and his brother, Tim, created the song’s structure through math, dividing the number of beats in the song with various methods in order to create cycles within it, ranging from a section of 24 beats to a section of 128 beats. It’s a very technical process that underlies the building of the music, but as Davis points out, it doesn’t sound it.
“To my ears, I think that we’ve developed a sensibility that’s like a balance,” said Davis. “It’s not necessarily that we’re doing it because we want to balance it on purpose, but I think our sensibilities have been driven to this place where there’s a common ground.”
“It’s a place where complexity and simplicity are like a yin and yang sensibility that has come out, where it’s this unique, interesting, weird type of idea and grounded, beautiful, pretty, and functional, and understandable sounds — putting those two things together in a way that makes us happy. That’s what we’re shooting at: making music that we love, and hopefully other people will like it, too.”
For Davis, that compositional technique is just one of many that differentiates Cuddle Magic from other musical efforts, a manifestation of the very specific personalities that have gathered in the group and the ability for those members to allow the work of the band to take on a life of its own that follows its own definition, rather than any of the individual parts commandeering what results.
Part of the major effort of the group involves experimentation in arrangements and instrumentation. Though the band is thought of as an allacoustic effort, electronic sounds have entered into the songs. Davis says that the group gets a lot of inspiration from electronic music in general, and a drum machine has been utilized on the second and third parts. Prior to that, drum machines were influential to the group’s percussion. Most recently, Davis has been adding synthesizer bass to the arrangements. “There are some instruments that we’ve acquired that are exciting to us,” he said. “Like on the second record: I have an old drum machine from the ’70s; it’s a big thing, and we used that on one track, ‘Don’t Forget.’ When I acquired that drum machine, it was exciting, and I wrote a song based around that.
“The same way, there’s this Yamaha PS130, which is a toy keyboard that I had for a long time, and that’s also on that track and it’s also on the track ‘Moby Dickless’ on the new album. The drum machine beat is from that toy keyboard.”
This sort of endless experimentation is a continuation of the breeding ground that the band formed in. It was typical for conservatory students to make music together in various ways — orchestras, string quartets, jazz projects — but Davis found his era also had a subculture that was forming into more traditional and mainstream groupings that were, for lack of any better term, bands, at least on the surface.
“It’s funny, you get together and play music and call it a band, and it’s a fixed thing compared to a singer songwriter that is under one person’s name,” said Davis. “Sometimes I feel like there is a difference to what it’s called and to the process, but I’d say Cuddle Magic and a lot of these bands, it ends up like there’s a song and the music grows around the song, and in some ways, whether it’s called a band or a singer songwriter or whatever name you put on it, it’s all just making music.”
Cuddle Magic began to form when Davis and keyboard player Christopher McDonald had two songs they wanted to record — “Sandinista” and “Lonely Red” — so they gathered up friends and got together in the practice room. With a couple personnel changes, that’s exactly the same lineup that records as Cuddle Magic now. “We got together and put the music together with the songs,” Davis said, “and we had a lot of specific ideas for those songs and they were relatively simple, but there are elements of polyrhythmic complexities in both of those songs, and in a strange way those two songs, the rest of our albums have spun off of those songs, which are, in a way, simple folky songs but also have complexities that wouldn’t necessarily pop out at you.”
The band’s next project comes after the collaboration with toy keyboardist Phyllis Chen — she collaborated with the band on the song “Baby Girl” on their most recent record, and that experience was enough to convince them they wanted to pursue a larger project with her.
“We play some of our music and also some of her music and music written for us by outside classical composers,” said Davis. “On that we play a lot of toy instruments — toy drum, toy this, toy that — and sounds that we were inspired to use by Phyllis, who’s really interested in toy instruments. She mostly plays toy piano and music box and bowls and things that you wouldn’t think of as being serious instruments.”
The band also has material for another album — to be recorded in Brooklyn with producer Bryce Goggin sometime later this year — which will feature the results of all their explorations post “Info Nympho,” and sets the stage for works yet to come.
“One thing that seems different about what we’re doing is the way we’re coming at the music comparatively to our sound. I think the angle at which we’re coming toward our product is very different,” Davis said. “I don’t think that we’re attempting to write or arrange or record any particular style — or ‘I want to sound more like this’ on the next record. It just naturally grows.”
March 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
One of the strangest things about the age of the Internet is not how everything has changed in 25 years, but how this digital connection has made it more like it was before or better. I’ve certainly found this to be the case with music. When I was high school- and college-age, I was not just an avid music fan, but a ravenous record collector, and much of my spare cash and time was spent in record stores.
Back then, it wasn’t so easy to just find the music that interested you. Often geography could affect what was available to you — both in where the records came from and where they were going. Imports or regional indie labels could be very hard to find. Conversely, small towns and rural areas had less of a “off-the-beaten path” variety in their record stores. When I think about all the time I spent searching for things that weren’t actually there, or even remotely attainable, I begin to think of pre-digital music collecting as a self-imposed Sisyphean exercise.
The digital age has offered several ways to find music that are more efficient and wide-reaching, but seldom both. Then came Spotify, the streaming musical service that offers three tiers: pretty affordable, very affordable and free, along with a huge catalog of music to listen to. At first, I would occasionally go on to check out new music that I had heard about. But one day, it occurred to me to turn back the clock a bit.
Back in the old days, I swore by the Trouser Press Guides as maps for record-buying expeditions. There were several editions of this alphabetical-by-artist music encyclopedia for new wave, punk, alternative and weird. It still exists as a website – trouserpress.com – but a couple decades ago, I used to read these things cover to cover, page by page, rabid for reviews and descriptions of bands that seemed like something I’d find interesting maybe.
I found plenty of these bands, but many never crossed my path, and while the years passed, my desire to hear this music never left. At the same time, the ability to track it down didn’t get any better, though every once in awhile, someone might digitize their vinyl for something weird from the era and stick it on their blog.
How surprised was I when I pulled out a mid-80s edition Trouser Press Guide and began going page by page and searching for these obscure bands and finding them? Words cannot express, really. So many of the things that had hid from me way back when — almost like it was on purpose — were sitting patiently in Spotify, waiting for me to find them.
There was the Swedish dance pop band Hey Elastica, with their herky-jerky guitar work and gleeful vocal chants. I found more by the percussive sextet Electric Guitars and others who were spawned in the same rhythmic pool as Talking Heads and I think were much better musicians — just without the integral ingredient of David Byrne.
There’s also forgotten Stiff Records act Pookiesnackenburger and its before-its-time Balkan rock. There’s Family Fodder’s incredibly bizarre and funny album of Blondie covers and the complete works of quirky Swedish madwoman Virna Lindt. I discovered ex-Buzzcock Steve Diggle and the Flags of Convenience’s fun new wave pop, Nebraska should-have-superstars For Against, early British twee popsters The Brilliant Corners and the mysterious “multinational-styled” new wave funk of Albania.
Sardonic new wave by Shoes For Industry, including the funny non-hit “Invasion of the French Boyfriends,” great, energetic, scrappy old punk bands like The Boys and Dogmatics that somehow I missed the first time around, and songs that escaped my attention by people I did know, like Mick Farren’s “Let’s Loot the Supermarket Again Like We Did Last Summer.”
And I finally got to hear the Damned’s album of ‘60s covers recorded under the name Naz Nomad and the Nightmares.
Now I’ve got a pile of five Trouser Press Guides sitting at my desk and a mission — and I’m only up to the F section of the first one I picked up. I hate it when music is boring, and this exercise is going to guarantee that doesn’t happen for a long, long time.
Culture has always moved fast, and there are always corners of it that get spotted by very few. The shame isn’t that only a certain number of people at the time noticed it; the shame is that it becomes a repeating cycle over years. Some people are glued to the pop culture of today, but others love the archaeology of the past. Too often, though, something is buried so long that no amount of shoveling will reveal it again.
No longer. Spotify is one tool to change that, whatever your taste. Anyone up for some Big Balls and the Great White Idiot?
March 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
French filmmaker and novelist Marcel Pagnol is best known in our country for the movie couplet of “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of Spring,” which brought celebrated French actors Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil and Yves Montand together.
Those films, both released in 1986 and shot back-to-back, were historical dramas reminiscent of 19th century novels like “Tess d’Urbervilles” and “Jane Eyre” – romantic, suspenseful, sweeping.
They were, most importantly, not directed by Pagnol at all, but Claude Berri. Berri’s films were based on the 1964 novels of Pagnol’s titled “L’eau des collines,” which was itself based on Pagnol’s 1952 film, “Manon des Sources.”
“The Well-Digger’s Daughter (La Fille du Puisatier)” does not have such a complicated lineage – it’s based on Pagnol’s 1940 romantic comedy of the same name and it brings Auteuil back to the Pagnol fold, fulfilling multiple roles as actor, screenwriter and director. It’s a far cry from the 80s films in tone, but Auteuil works similar themes – how a young girl’s misfortunes in life affects an old man.
Patricia (Astrid Bergès Frisbey, who starred in last year’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) is the cultured daughter of a common well-digger, Pascal Amoretti (Auteuil).
The tale of her rise and fall in society involves a desperate house of girls and rich woman from Paris, who “borrows” the oldest daughter for a number of years to give her a better life. Returning home at age 14 after the death of her mother, Patricia’s lot in life is to become the keeper of the house and family, attending to her father’s needs and raising her sisters.
Of course, such a creature captures the attention of hopeful men in the village.
One, Félipe (Kad Merad), is the kind-hearted well-digging partner of Pascal, who hints at interest in Patricia’s hand in marriage. The other, Jacques Mazel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is the son of the local wealthy shopkeeper. The two men are casual friends and, rather than create animosity, their dual interest in Patricia creates a long-term compassion when World War I intrudes on all their lives and frames everyone’s futures in a way no one expects on deployment day.
At center of the action, though, is Pascal, the feisty father who has supported his family for years on his own and is constantly seeking some value for his tarnished ego. Girls, it is made note, do not pass on the father’s name, and Pascal’s shame is wrapped up in that notion – what has he actually passed onto the world without a son? In this situation, Patricia functions as a silent cypher for her father’s insecurity and rage, but also a healing angel – his words, not mine – who will eventually calm his soul, and also see that other men are not beaten down with the same, old world shame.
This is an old-fashioned story that does not try to retrofit the attitudes of the times or the gender roles it depicts for a modern audience. Though with some bursts, the male ego is at center, the women are catalysts to action that often take a seat to the histrionics of men, and this all gives Auteuil a palette not only for the an examination of male dominance over women’s lives, but a remarkably spirited performance of his own to illustrate the complications and scars of a patriarchal system.
March 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
To call Louis Mandrin the Robin Hood of France is not inaccurate – as a bonus, Mandrin actually existed – but that is only part of the story as conveyed in Rabah Ameur-ZaÏmeche’s “Smugglers’ Songs (Les Chants de Mandrin),” which turns its back on biography in the name of examining the meticulous effort involved in spontaneous legends.
Mandrin was a renowned highwayman who waged a war against the corrupt tax collectors of the royal government in the mid-18th century, who were allowed to exact any amount from citizens regardless of how much was going to the French government.
Wanted for murder, Mandrin began his legendary war following the executions of his friend and his brother, eventually joining a group of smugglers that he soon became the leader of.
His popularity displeased the French authorities – no surprise there – and it was only through betrayal that they captured and executed Mandrin. Like so many agents of oppression, they seemed to think that squashing the source of the stories was as good as ending the story itself, but “Smugglers’ Songs” traces the efforts of Mandrin’s compatriots and admirers in spreading word of his feats further, even after his body remain dead on a Catherine Wheel following public torture.
Ameur-ZaÏmeche’s film concerns itself with the spread of songs, stories and biography of Mandrin following that execution - what it meant for something to “go viral” in 1755. In order for that to happen, a network needed to forged, and Ameur-ZaÏmeche follows that in the form of soldiers deserting their posts, Marquises devoted to writing the biography of a thief and simple peddlers willing to sell dangerous literature with their other wares. It is the story of propaganda, true, but it’s propaganda against the state, in control of moneyed thieves – admirable, populist propaganda that boasts a direct line to current day dissent.
Whether Ameur-ZaÏmeche could have known it at the time he made the film, the efforts of the Mandrins, as the followers were called, evoke the Occupy movement, as well as the Arab Spring.
Certainly the wave of discontent and rebellion that sparked the beginning of that was in the air, the revolutionary efforts of old are always of interest, anyhow. It’s a timely exploration, and one that understands that an idea – equality – is really bigger than one man, one figurehead, but the result of collective and passionate effort.
What’s striking is that Ameur-ZaÏmeche’s effort is the opposite of the kinetic explosion that the protests last year provided, and that does well to illustrate just how hard rebellion was 250 years ago. It wasn’t just a matter of showing up to a rally, but of living as outlaws under the sky of tyranny, placing your tents, being a presence, infiltrating the localities of the norm in society – and the Mandrins did all that.
It’s still being done today in the name of the same issue – income equality and the unfair influence of money – and “Smugglers’ Songs” is a precise, evocative examination of what it takes to not only keep spirit alive, but nurture it to growth before it is stamped out.
March 16, 2012 § 2 Comments
I was actually hard at work on a piece that had absolutely nothing to do with any religious topic at all — that’s code for I wasn’t going to obsess about Christianity — but then a letter to the editor last week made me wonder about the truth.
Am I obsessed with Christianity?
The easiest way to find out, I thought, was to look over my columns.
Since 2012 began, there have been only a couple that focused exclusively on Christianity.
I wrote about legislating decency on television, about the dangers of consumer culture, about music and movie piracy, about some failures of the Democrats, about mass hysteria, about Apple and China, about Whitney Houston.
Looking over the past year, I would suggest my obsession is less with Christianity and more with the entertainment industry’s assault on our culture via anti-piracy efforts and tightening of copyright law. So far, no lawyers from Disney have written miffed letters to the editor about that.
When I did write about Christianity, it was almost entirely related political pull via its relationship with the Republican Party. This includes one last week about Mormonism, though I do note that plenty of Christians do not consider Mormonism a Christian religion, partly because it’s apparently just a made up religion and partly because its rituals are weird.
Feel free to insert a sarcastic comment here yourself.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that I am obsessed with Christianity. The real question is why that is, not whether I am.
Why would I be so vigorous in attacking those spiritual people, quietly being devotional in their houses of worship and living the dream of godly tolerance and kindness?
The quick answer is, I’m not — at least in regard to the Christians I just described.
They can do whatever they want and it doesn’t bother me. It only takes a casual follower of the news to notice that those Christians are not necessarily the problem.
The problem is the extremist Christians who have commandeered the Republican Party and control policy. That group’s purpose is to impose their religious views on the secular of us, as well as the moderate Christian, the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist or Wiccan of us.
You cannot talk about the Republican Party without including extremist Christian motivation in the discussion — it is at the center of the platform.
One thing I can say is that I am not the one who put his religious beliefs at the center of political rhetoric, and so I reserve the right to treat that religion as a central issue in my political dialogue so long as other people insist on doing the same. Christians do not get to have it both ways — they can’t push their belief as motivation for laws and then whine that anyone who touches it is out of line.
Since Republican talking points never seem to link to the doctrines of Shintoism or Buddhism or Hinduism, I’ve not felt it necessary to dissect those religious beliefs in a newspaper column.
In the last letter to the editor I saw on this topic, the writer claimed to not know any Christian who talked about the topic as much as I do. I can’t say I find that very encouraging. In fact, I think that might be part of the problem.
For me, one of the big disappointments of the last 12 years has been the lack of action on the part of moderate Christians against the extremists. Too often I see the issue brushed aside because the extremists are not representative of “real” Christian values.
But I don’t think ignoring it and waiting for to go away is enough. If the love, tolerance and charity of Christ is in your heart, then you’d best do something about the political pirates who have hijacked your spirituality for the purposes of control, because they are the ones defining doctrine these days.
I, and many others, would love to see a movement of non-extremist Christians, as organized and prominent in the culture as any of the conservative evangelicals, who see the core values of their faith as something really worth fighting for. I keep hearing about all the liberal Christians, but I’ve not noticed any major actions from them.
We atheists and agnostics and non-Christian believers can’t do it without your help.
And it’s only with your help that we can bring our country back to the place where discussion of the validity of the Bible is relegated to drunken late-night intellectual musings between like-minded people, and not the center of political discussion in our newspapers.
Believe me, I’d much rather devote more space to funny news items from Sweden — hopefully some day the political climate of our country will allow me to do that more often.
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
As an amused watcher of organized religion, one my of favorite spectacles is when the poor decisions in the past of whatever church made them are disavowed and everyone is expected not to think about the implications of the change.
It’s a simple thing to wonder about, but it’s not one that is answered very often. Better to just accept that the church has reversed an unfair policy and we can all go online, praising the Pollyannas we were meant to be.
But wait one second! Wasn’t the original policy from God? Does this mean that God is sometimes wrong and reverses decisions based on arguments from the very creations he’s been puppeteering for 5,000 years? Or does this mean the policy was created by man in the first place? If that’s the case, does that mean that man is allowed to make up a few rules based on what he thinks God would want? Or does this mean that any given church actually has no conduit to God at all?
Imagine such a scandal: to find out that holy men and their lucrative bodies of worship had never actually had any contact with the maker of the universe all this time, that they were just making everything up based on the best guesses possible. That’s been a sneaking suspicion about the Catholic Church ever since it decided to ape the Roman hierarchy and build themselves a system of worship, but it’s only recently that the Church of the Latter Day Saints has shown us all how to solve this problem.
That organization has a checkered past with due respect to African Americans that centrally illustrates this issue. It was only in 1978 that the church allowed black males into its priesthood and African Americans of both sexes to take part in ceremonies that made promises of certain access to heaven in the afterlife.
Such an institutional problem was this racism that the church almost lost its tax-exempt status, as if it deserved it in the first place, and the church actually changed the so-called word of God in one racist passage of their Bible to read “pure” instead of “white and delightsome.”
Once reversed, it was explained in God terms that blacks weren’t previously “spiritually mature” enough. Only in 1978, apparently, did they achieve this lofty status and gain rights in the eyes of God via divine revelation. Certainly no human being would ever overrule God on such a matter, right? It’s a little nudge-nudge-wink-wink thing we do in regard to all kinds of religious decisions.
Brigham Young professor Randy Bott recently explained on a television appearance that all the institutional racism was a good thing, because it saved black followers from descending into hell. It’s a rare talent to be able to cure racism with further racism, but the Mormon Church have managed to do just that.
But what do you expect out of a religion so smug that its most current claim to fame is a presidential candidate renowned for saying anything in order to be elected, and the postmortem baptisms of respected Jews, such as Simon Wiesenthal’s parents and reporter Daniel Pearl. This last item demonstrates the institutional smugness at work here, not to mention the total wackiness of the entire venture. The church has made noise that this is not official policy of the organization, but more a fundamentalist action, but gathering records of the dead for just this purpose has been central to the Church of the Latter Day Saints’ efforts in creating what has become the biggest record-keeping system for genealogy in our country?
And while presidential candidate Mitt Romney mumbled something about not taking part in such a thing “recently,” it’s the very word “recently” that suggests the practice might not be as fringe as we’re supposed to believe.
There’s been a lot of backtracking about the baptisms, but that’s the norm for Mormons. The most legendary faux pas of the church is polygamy, and the most vigorous defense of it has been “we don’t do that anymore,” and the claim that it’s a fringe practice. Where have we heard that before? The real question is why they did it in the first place — there goes God and his wishy washy policy making. Perhaps women weren’t “spiritually mature” enough to not be required to share a husband?
Once again Mitt Romney plays into the controversy — the great grandfather of that totally principled presidential candidate apparently made his way down to Mexico for his own Latter Day Love Nest sometime in the 1880s following an anti-polygamy act from Congress. The church itself disavowed the practice in 1890, only after losing a case in the Supreme Court challenging that law. In other words, while God originally vigorously condoned polygamy, he backed down somewhat in the face of a high profile court case.
It’s for these reasons that religion should never be taken into account in regard to any secular law — it claims to be eternal until such point that reason catches up with it and proves it’s not. God’s commands start out as infallible, but again and again they are proven as wishy-washy as anyone else’s. It’s bad enough to have the human version of that making decisions for us, no need to bring God into it — at least until he comes up with a few absolutes that we can properly make into law without fear of reversal down the road.
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Time to get up and tear into the Republicans. It seems so old, so tiring, so done, and yet I keep doing it every week.
I think to myself, why? Not why do I keep doing it — that’s obvious — but why they keep doing it. Keep being Republicans, I mean.
I’ve tried to dissect the psychology of a modern Republican, and I found that I can’t come to any conclusions that I understand.
In trying to figure out how so many Republicans got in my room, to paraphrase Sinatra, it all goes back to Carter, really. It was the first example of how the Republican Party could beat the Democrats by twisting reality. How else can you explain the triumph of Reagan and the Moral Majority, a Christian victory over a president who was, to me, at least, embarrassingly religious.
Not religious enough, apparently. Or not the right kind of Christianity, at the very least. Just like Obama.
That was the point where a controlling form of elitist Christianity began seeping into the pores of Americans — with money and free markets and all the things Jesus, had he really existed, would have opposed in the name of charity and mercy.
The great thing about fictional characters who inhabit poorly written works is that you can twist them into whatever you want. Books, to an American, are something you are forced to read in school, and so few people who base their lives around the Bible seem to have actually read it.
Oh, they’ve seen movies about it and we’ve all been raised on those bizarre children’s Bibles that forget to tell you things like Lot’s daughters wanting to have sex with him, but the real hard-core literature of the Bible — and the historical cross-referencing required to actually get anything out of it — not really.
For instance, do you think that most believers accompany their readings about Jesus with an actual history of the Roman Empire, in order to get a true sense of the intricate politics and rebellion inherent in that story? I say take a poll and find out how many people in the pews even know who Suetonius is.
Once that tactic was laid down, the rest went to work. Education system dismantled? Check. Higher education equated with snobbish elitism? Check. Talk radio personalities cloud people’s brains with outrage? Consider it done. Racial hate-mongering used to turn Muslims into something we can all rally against out of fear? Easily accomplished. Get Texas to spearhead a movement to change information in text books, so our kids actually learn wrong information? Brilliant! Mask assaults on women’s rights as moral issues involving fetuses? A no-brainer. Use name calling as your primary means of debate, calling moderates socialists and claiming that devout liberal Christians are waging a war against Christianity? Par for the course.
When I go over the last 30 years, it all seems like a brilliant conspiracy to harness a nation on misinformation and plunge it into our darkest hour. I wish I had confidence in the Republican Party such that I could believe they could accomplish something so brilliantly sinister. Unfortunately, I think it’s just dumb luck wrought from a vaguely similar goal by all the participants — control at any cost.
What we’re seeing now with all the Republican candidates mouthing off the craziest things I have ever heard politicians say is no blip — it’s part of a decades-long decline that is now gaining on that rock bottom point, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Even if it all stopped with this election, there’s still the residue of the brain washing that will take further generations to disappear. After all, it’s taken 2,000 years to get the point where a minority of the world doesn’t believe teachings built upon the parables of a fictional character should be at the center of our decision-making.
Brains deteriorate fast, but the tissue takes forever to be restored. And that’s why the Republicans keep being Republicans.