Sunday, December 31, 2006

Justice? Revenge? Diminishment?

John Donne wrote: "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Saddam Hussein's execution has diminished us all. There is no disagreement with the various arguments for his death--justice, revenge, deserved. The point is that ultimately his death is evidence of the sad state of human social development.

Any time any person dies at the hands of another, acting alone or in concert with social mores, we have an example of social failure.

At some point, decisions are made which lead to the murder, the execution. What we need to do is to construct more just societies so that these decisions are never made.

It won't be easy.

It will take a determined effort, but the bells continue to toll. We may be justified in our eyes, but we are still diminished.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

#6, as Well as Heather, Has Two Mommies

The AP has a story related to the Cheney's 6th grandchild. It's pretty much the standard happy grandmother info.

There's only one thing missing. While the article, "Cheney Happy About Daughter's Pregnancy," mentions Heather Poe, Mary's partner, Granny Lynne doesn't mention her daughter's partner of 15 years in the quoted text.

Heather goes from having Two Mommies, to being one of two mommies; literary Lynne seems to have missed a golden opportunity.

"Mary and Heather will be great moms," should've been the operative quote.

Maybe next year.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wars and Battles Fought Therein

The right wing nut punditry is having a field day trying to talk the American public into acknowledging a "loss" of the Iraqi conflict.

Take, for instance, Emmett Terrell's piece in, "Bust the joint up." It's little bit of puffery for the ovines who read Townhall for solace.

While casting usual aspersions upon Senator Ted Kennedy (what would they do without him?), Terrell writes, "The Democrats' abandonment of this war..."

Um, Em, baby, non, non, mon petit choufleur. No Democratic Party member has ever said this "war" is lost.

The common cant of the right is that the "war" is in Iraq. The Iraqi element of this "war" on terrorists is but a "theater of operations."

Like so many of the United States' wars in the past, this one, too, has had missteps in its beginnings. This particular battle has been a tragic miscalculation from its inception--ersatz cowboys playing cinematic heroes.

The war itself, however, is far from lost, and, in total agreement with President Bush, it is a war which we must win.

We just need someone with the smarts and the leadership to accomplish that victory.

It's time for the right wingers to acknowledge their misplaced trust (after all, it was for a tax cut in the first place--no one ever expected him to wage a war!), and work with knowledgeable people--people who have a wide perspective of the entire situation, societal make-up included--and help America gird the loins for the long struggle.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Apt or Inapt--What's a Metaphor to Do?

I often chide my English teacher acquaintances (and myself, after some 35 years of doing just that) about the thought processes of the general public. At times I worry about that.

For instance, how many people really understand the concept of metaphor? How many people stop to think about a metaphor which has become a cliche?

As a quickie posting, let me discuss two: 1) the good shepherd, and 2) waving a red flag at a bull.

The religious shepherd has long since been a favorite of mine as a truly inapt metaphor for a community of believers. The shepherd protects the herd from the ravages of the world, right? Right. If one were to ponder the idea just a bit beyond the cuddly lamb in the shepherd's arms, though, mustn't one ask what the shepherd gets and what the sheep really get?

The sheep get shorn, to start. Finally, one asks how many sheep, exactly, die of old age? Whence lamb chops? Mutton? Hmmm.

Actually, the shepherd is "protecting" the sheep from the wolf for his own benefit; anything accruing to the sheep is, in the long run, minimal.

Someone recently said that certain statements made by Islamic extremists were similar to these people waving a red flag at Mr. Bush, and that he might be justified in taking military action against them. Before we jump into the fray, however, let's also look at that metaphor a bit more closely.

What is the purpose of the red flag? We get the metaphor from the bull fights of our Hispanic neighbors, and the flag, cape, in their instance, is used to distract the bull by focusing his attention on the cape's movement. The bull theoretically doesn't notice the sword cleverly hidden behind the flag/cape, much to his eventual sorrow.

The one who waves that red cloth usually ends up finishing off the bull. Very seldom is the bull successful. Metaphorically, then, it is a mistake to encourage Mr. Bush to "charge" at a red flag of vituperation. It could well not turn out well for the U.S. for whom Mr. Bush, metaphorically, substitutes.

Wolf 0, Sheep 0, Shepherd 100
Bull 0 (most of the time), Flag/cape waver 100 (most of the time)

Shepherds seem to get the better deal.

Rather than being a bull or even a bull fighter, we should aspire to be metaphorical shepherds, keeping the wolf away and keeping the spoils for ourselves.

By the way, the next time a preacher speaks of loving shepherds, look to your wallets, my ovine compatriots. It's shearing time.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Remember the "Oral Sex" lamentations of the late 90's?

During the Clinton impeachment brouhaha, Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs, lamented, "What will I tell my children?" And that's when we were all sniggering about oral sex being in the news.

Now led me to this link where a Washington Post writer, Alan Cooperman, pens this line: "But a third answer allows same-sex ceremonies and ordination of gay men and lesbians, while maintaining a ban on anal sex."

Catch that? Anal sex is now a fit topic for discussion in the nation's newspapers.

It's contained in a story about how "A panel of rabbis gave permission Wednesday for same-sex commitment ceremonies and ordination of gays within Conservative Judaism..." Conservative Jews, it seems, have decided to enter the 21st century.

Bono must really be in a pickle. Except her son is now at U.S.C., and her daughter is in high school. Maybe she won't have to have to worry about that discussion, after all.

I heard the phrase on NPR this morning; I wonder if mothers leapt to turn off radios playing in the kitchen.

Relax, parents. Your kids will find out somewhere else. Or maybe they'll grow up anyway and go to U.S.C.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Religion and Metaphors and the 21st Century

World-wide, language teachers have failed to be thorough in the uses, benefits, and, most importantly, the dangers of metaphor—that comparison between two unlike items--”His fist is a hammer.” A fist is not a hammer, but the metaphor implies a fist with strengths similar to those of a hammer.

In country after country, too many people not adequately trained to recognize metaphor are easily misled into “truths” which they otherwise would not logically assume; and most dangerous of these are those which deal with the metaphors of religion.

All “Holy” writings come from lore, evolved from the effort to make secure a specific tribe at a specific time in history. Are tribal members falling ill and dying from eating pork or shellfish? Then invent fearsome, all-knowing, yet unknowable, powers to regulate diet. Create anthropomorphized, all-powerful entities with all the positive and negative emotions of a human; and the tribal leader, thus a mere tool immunized from scrutiny, has a good, strong, never-to-be-questioned educational and regulatory tool.

Does the eventual presence of multiple, competing powers/gods threaten the stability of the tribe? Designate a single, jealous “god.”

It was reasonable for leaders thousands of years ago to use metaphor to teach people how to live safely and thrive in an unforgiving environment.

Today, parents use metaphor to concoct a “bogeyman” to teach a child caution or to give a vague, but all-powerful, reason not to do something. There does come a point when the child's bogeyman is set aside--until that child becomes an adult and, in turn, resurrects the fearsome bogeyman in order to help teach the next generation.

It is neither nor legitimate to continue structuring religious ethics and morals around an anthropomorphic metaphor. We understand natural laws; we know to kill the toxic parasites in pork through thorough cooking; we know to avoid shellfish during certain tidal episodes.

Religious terrorism, physical and psychological, stems from those negative human characteristics that have been attributed to deities. Logic and policy cannot any longer accept those negatives.

It is arrogance to claim that a deity can be jealous. Pettiness in such power? Anger? In a perfect entity? Such posturing is not only illogical, it shows a lack of trust in the congregants. Worse, it condemns thousands to ignorance and imperils everyone.

Thomas Aquinas, when pressed, used Aristotle’s definition of “God”-- “the Prime Mover”--whatever force gave impetus to the universe. By implication, this Christian theologian tells us all else is metaphor.“God” is not dead, having never “lived” in the human sense of the word. “God” is vaster than the deities of earth. “God” is beyond our ken, but not beyond our daily experiences.

The time has come to honor the religious metaphors of the past as once useful tools, but in these dangerous times we must find a new metaphor that is able to deal with the realities of the moment. These realities necessarily mean developing a metaphor for a sense of oneness with the universe, which is strongly akin to the metaphor of the past but which also demands recognition of, and responsibility for, the place of each individual in the panoply of the universe; and, especially, a oneness with others.

Coupled with the need for this new metaphor is the more general urgency to integrate into education an understanding of the importance of anthropology, sociology, and history; giving us more complete comprehension of this complicated world and enabling all to lead more secure lives.

The basic wisdom of the centuries is immutable; the metaphors used to teach that wisdom are not immutable. Teachers of reading and ministers of the soul must learn to trust a well-educated population.

There will be people who will read this as an attack on their religious beliefs. It is not; the metaphor is not the belief; the truth within the metaphor is the belief. The metaphor is the “handle” we use to express our innate spirituality.We need teachers to be more thorough and spiritual leaders to be more honest. The metaphor is not the message.

With the world teetering on an internal religious war between two factions of the Islamic religion, not to mention a possible bloody struggle between Islamists and religionists of the two other religions of "the Book," it's time for all leaders, secular and sectarian, to come clean about their particular religious metaphors.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Conservation or Prestige--Guess Which Wins

Jeff Melnychuk of Wheelbase Communications has an article in the December 2, 2006, edition of the Riverside, CA, Press-Enterprise, titled "Power Assist." (Sorry, the link is unavailable.)

Melnychuk is writing about the new gas-electric auto models which are not "about green frugality." Here's a wonderful couple of quotes:

"The idea of buying a hybrid for fuel savings...has become obsolete....a new incentive: straight-line performance. And don't forget that performance sells. It always has and most likely always will, not just on the basis of sheer acceleration, but as it's linked to prestige."

Um...prestige. Unh-huh.

Melnychuk then goes on to describe a luxury sedan which, according to a picture caption, has a V-8 hybrid engine with the performance of a V-12. It does have lower emissions, but it doesn't save gas.

What does it take for the auto industry, and the American buying public, for that matter, to remember we are in a struggle against a deadly foe who receives a share of the gasoline costs? Doesn't each gallon of gas somehow go to fund an i.e.d. or a bullet?

Or have I been misinterpreting the President's dire warnings?

Is there not a war on terror? Are we on a war footing here in the U.S.?

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