Saturday, May 27, 2006

God Bless the Forward Air Controller

God bless the Forward Air Controller,
With his target marker and his extra set of balls.
(The sky pilot said it
And you’ve got to give him credit,
For a son-of-a-gun-of-a-gunner was he:
“Praise the Lord and laser-paint the target
And we’ll all stay free.”)

God bless the riflemen and the field cooks,
The assistant gunners and loaders,
The quartermasters and the combat engineers.
(Shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom.
Springing to the call
Of their brothers gone before,
Shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom).

God bless the Drill Instructors and the Tops,
The Lances and the Specs,
The Pettys and the Command Master Chiefs.
(For the heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone,
But non-commissioned men
Will live and die among their own.)

God bless the screwballs, the misfits,
The shitbirds and the FNGs.
(Death where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling,
Oh Grave, thy victory?
The bells of Hell go ding-a-ling-a-ling
For them and not for thee.)
God bless the Fire Control System Specialist.
(For in despair I bowed my head,
“There is no peace on earth,” I said.
Then I heard the Sig Op say,
“Rounds are out and on their way.”)

God bless the dragoons, the powder monkeys
And the little drummer boys.
(May we fill their vacant ranks
With a thousand free men more,
Shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom.)

God bless those who shoot, move, and communicate.
God bless those who triumphed,
God bless those who tried.
God bless the quick and the dead.
God bless those who pray,
God bless those who stand and wait.
(And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
True hearts to stand before us.)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mary and the Pharisees

O my Teacher and my Savior,
What would have been my destiny,
Had not eternity expected
My acquiescence every night,
With each fresh customer enticed
Into the web of my profession?

The Magdalene by Doctor Yuri Zhivago (Boris Pasternak)

Listen up, fresh customers. Ron Howard, facing a disappointing critical reception to his film The Da Vinci Code, has fallen back on the less-than-brave tactic of claiming that the film’s offensive qualities (which he obviously underestimated) are intended only to provoke discussion. If you haven’t heard that one before, you slept through Fahrenheit 911.

But if they want some discussion, I’ve got it on tap, and all at their expense. The subject of this discussion is the Mary called Magdalene; a Mary very extraordinary, the freed captive of seven demons who wept at the foot of the cross; a seer of angels and first witness to the Resurrection. Mentioned in all four of the gospels (but ignored by the trendy bogus gospels of Thomas and Judas) the few chords that she touches there have reverberated through two thousand years of history.

Hollywood can’t understand a woman like Mary, just as they can’t understand Joan of Arc or Shakespeare’s Ophelia. This is because Hollywood is heavily informed by feminism. Feminists don’t know dick about women, even if they happen to be women.

How Many Marys Can We Put You Down For?

Mary Magdalene is a sort of miniature trinity, being sometimes one woman and sometimes two or three (or even four) depending on interpretation. Besides the passages where she is named as Mary Magdalene, three other women mentioned in the gospels are thought by some to be Mary Magdalene:

- Mary, the sister of Jesus’ good friends Martha and Lazarus, who left home to become a disciple. Also called Mary of Bethany. [Luke 10:38-42, John 11]

- A woman in Capernaum who anointed Jesus’ feet, much to the annoyance of Simon the Pharisee, who told Jesus he ought to send her away because she was a sinner (probably a prostitute). [Luke 7:36-50]

- An adulteress who was saved from stoning by Jesus. [John 8:7]

In Roman Catholic tradition, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the unnamed sinner of Capernaum are thought to be the same person. In Greek Orthodox tradition, they are thought to be three separate women and each has a separate feast day dedicated to her. Protestants tend to fall somewhere in between, generally holding that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany, at least, were separate individuals. Some popular traditions associate Mary Magdalene with the adulteress of John 8:7, but most scholars don’t. In my opinion they were all separate women – Jesus had lots of female followers, including more than one Mary.

It’s a matter of opinion, anyway, not of doctrine or faith. Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine both refused to take sides on this issue.

Regardless of this, we know several things about Mary Magdalene from the passages where she is unmistakably identified: She had seven devils cast out of her by Jesus, she was present at the crucifixion, she discovered Jesus’ tomb empty and spoke to the angels who were there, and she was the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Throwing in the other women just adds some background to Mary; in particular, the idea that she was a prostitute.

Mary and the Feminist Vice Squad

“That, my dear,” Teabing replied, “is Mary Magdalene.”

Sophie turned. “The prostitute?”

Teabing drew a short breath, as if the word had injured him personally. “Magdalene was no such thing. That unfortunate misconception is the legacy of a smear campaign launched by the early Church.”
So says the Gospel according to Dan Brown. Brown doesn’t stop to consider the fact that Mary Magdalene is a Catholic saint. (She’s a saint in the Orthodox and Anglican churches, too.) Making someone a saint is a funny way of smearing them. Dan Brown doesn’t bother drawing logical conclusions from his ideas, probably because he has no original ideas.

The depth of the confusion can be seen in this Time article about The Da Vinci Code: Mary Magdalene, Saint or Sinner? Even the title ought to give Christians pause at the fundamental ignorance being displayed here. Saint and Sinner are not two mutually exclusive things – in fact, every saint is both at once. Even the saints sin and fall short of the glory of God.

Treating the conflation of Mary Magdalene with the “sinner” as an underhanded conspiracy that has been covered up for centuries (“Three decades ago, the Roman Catholic Church quietly admitted what critics had been saying for centuries: Magdalene's standard image as a reformed prostitute is not supported by the text of the Bible.”) the article goes on to lament: “Whatever the motivation, the effect of the process was drastic and, from a feminist perspective, tragic.”

Of course, from a feminist perspective, everything is tragic – from simple organic chemistry on up to God Himself. It’s all so unfair. And they can’t understand Mary Magdalene except in terms of status and power (which are matter and energy in the feminist universe) so they must stumble the moment they set foot on her trail:
"The pattern is a common one," writes Jane Schaberg, a professor of religious and women's studies at the University of Detroit Mercy and author of last year's The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: "the powerful woman disempowered, remembered as a whore or whorish." As shorthand, Schaberg coined the term "harlotization."
If I’m laying it too heavily on the feminists here, it needs to be pointed out that feminism has no unique content of its own. It is only a minor subspecies of parochial modernism, that despises history and refuses to understand anything except by its own narrow, contemporary values. So they are shocked that Mary Magdalene, whom they have chosen to picture as the Hillary Clinton of Galilee, is mixed up with “less distinguished” women like simple Mary of Bethany and the whore of Capernaum.

A simple examination of the canonical gospels, rather than a rummage through the dumpsters of Gnosticism and neo-paganism, allows us to look at Mary Magdalene the way Jesus Christ saw her, which is quite a different perspective.

Jesus Among the Whores and Sinners

“Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” So said Jesus to the chief priests and elders of Bethany, who questioned how he could forgive the sins of such people. “For John [the Baptist] came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him.” [Matthew 21:31-32]

It was no small part of the scandal that Jesus made among the scribes and Pharisees, that he consistently refused to turn his back on the whores and tax collectors, let alone recognize their right to put such sinners to death under Mosaic Law. “Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” [Luke 5:30-32]

But the clearest answer is given when Jesus meets the whore at the house of Simon the Pharisee [Luke 7]:

SIMON (muttering to himself): This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.

JESUS: Simon, I have something to tell thee.

SIMON: Master, say on.

JESUS: There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

SIMON: I suppose the one to whom he forgave the larger debt.

JESUS: Thou hast rightly judged. Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

It is this woman that Catholic tradition identifies as Mary Magdalene, to the outrage of the feminists who call it “harlotization”. They couldn’t miss the point by a wider margin if they tried, though I suspect they try very hard to miss the point. They must likewise miss the point of “the last shall be first”, “blessed are the poor in spirit”, and “the meek shall inherit the earth.”

They want to “elevate” Mary Magdalene by turning her into Simon the Pharisee, but Jesus was on the side of the poor powerless whores.

Pope Gregory and the Legend of Mattress Mary

In his “Homily 33”, Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) made a number of conjectures about Mary Magdalene: That she was the sinner that met Jesus at the home of Simon the Pharisee, that her sin was prostitution, and that the ointment she put on Jesus’ feet was -so to speak - formerly used as a sexual aid.

None of these ideas were new, but they planted the identification of Mary as a whore firmly into Catholic tradition. So the modern Pharisees all hit the roof. But even if Gregory’s speculation was off base, Jesus Christ would have had no trouble seeing his point.

To Gregory, the notion of a whore’s perfume being put on Christ’s feet was a vivid example of how sin is transformed by redemption. He further imagines that the seven devils that Jesus cast out of Mary (an event mentioned in two of the gospels, but never described) represented the Seven Deadly Sins – so Mary Magdalene was a regular Smorgasbord of Sin.

People who cannot understand how Gregory is praising Mary Magdalene cannot understand Jesus or Christianity, period. The more degraded Mary the Sinner was, the more exalted was Mary the Saint. Having been forgiven so much, she was great in repentance and great in love – great in spiritual virtue, not power, status, or respectability. That’s why Jesus refused to be repelled by her, and why he praised her above the “good” Pharisees.

Hamlet told his mother, “Assume a virtue, if you have it not.” Mary Magdalene had the virtue, and doesn’t need our modern assumptions. Again, it is those who want to dress her up as a Pharisee who insult and diminish her. Call it the Mary Magdalene Code. There’s nothing secret, esoteric, or difficult about it, yet some people will be eternally stumped by it.

Mary Magdalene, Superstar

For hundreds of years before the feminist neo-pagans and the best-selling philistines discovered our poor Mary, millions of Christians followed her through the familiar Easter recitation of John Chapter 20.

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

Simon Peter and another disciple went into the tomb first and saw nothing, after which they went home. It was Mary Magdalene to whom all the visions were given that morning – Mary the sinner, the whore, the weeping maudlin woman. Not the Pharisees or priests, or even the apostles. Just her, who loved him most.

No small thing, for those who can understand it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith, RIP

My great-uncle was a cowboy, and during the New Deal he drove a herd of cattle 40 miles to sell them to the United States government.

To his horror, the government agents immediately shot the cattle – literally right before his eyes – and bulldozed the carcasses into a ditch. He’d thought they were going to use them to feed the poor. Fifty years later he was still outraged: “They wouldn’t even let me take some of that meat for my dog.” Another life-long Republican was born.

[I’ve always wondered if one of the agents my great-uncle met that day could have been Edgar Dick, the father of science fiction legend Philip K. Dick. Edgar Dick worked for the Department of Agriculture and went around the country in the 30s, killing cows for Uncle Sam – exactly like a character in a Philip K. Dick novel. Possible, but not likely, I guess.]

His brother, my maternal grandfather, was a shopkeeper. He likewise harbored a life-long grudge against the New Deal. The thing that made him angry was the pamphlet that periodically arrived in the mail from the Office of Price Administration, listing the prices that merchants were required to charge for all items. That little book was the personal work of the Deputy Director of the OPA, John Kenneth Galbraith. The price of everything was whatever Mr. Galbraith said it was.

The liberal fetish for price-fixing probably helped cause the shortages that forced rationing during World War II, though the country had managed to avoid rationing during World War I. Most people figured out that price controls were bad when Nixon took a page from Galbraith and imposed them during the 70s. Galbraith never figured it out as long as he lived. If it had been up to him, some clever fellow in Washington would still be pulling numbers out of his butt and mailing them to every business in the country.

Galbraith was the king of American liberal economics, the biggest deal since Professor Thorstein Veblen. He typified the heroic pose of the liberal oligarch: elitist, dictatorial, utterly divorced from mathematics and methodology, and smugly convinced of the moral superiority of socialism.

Any kind of socialism. Galbraith believed that the country should be run by a triumvirate of Government, Business, and Labor. When Lee Iacocca adopted that program for his abortive presidential bid, somebody from The New Republic finally had the courage to say it: that system had already been tried; it was the essence of Mussolini-style fascism. That’s FASCISM, Boys and Girls. Iacocca was a dim-witted lightweight who faded away fast, but someone should have challenged Galbraith directly on that point. It was his idea, after all.

The parallels between fascism and liberal economic thinking will someday astound historians, but today we can’t talk about that without giving Compassion Freaks the stutter-fits. But they share the notion that freedom produces chaos and injustice, which the State can fix by wise micro-management and strict control. Liberals mostly confine this theory to the economic sphere. Mussolini applied the same logic to politics, culture, information, and education. Why not? All of those spheres are likewise full of chaos and dissent, which intellectual oligarchs are just itching to jump in and fix. Galbraith wandered down that path, too, proposing that the government force-feed government-approved culture to the masses.

So was Galbraith a fascist? Not really. Galbraith was a poser, not an economist, and his brand of “liberal” economics is a mess of smug prejudices, not a real theory. Like so many others, Galbraith took his liberal intellectual superiority for granted, and felt no need to prove it by actually doing any thinking.

Too bad. He was a pretty good writer, though. So was Mussolini.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cell Phones, Privacy, and Your Big Fat Mouth

USA Today says:
A majority of Americans disapprove of a massive Pentagon database containing the records of billions of phone calls made by ordinary citizens, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. About two-thirds are concerned that the program may signal other, not-yet-disclosed efforts to gather information on the general public.
Oh, I'm sorry, were you concerned about your telephone privacy? Are you afraid that strangers are listening in on your conversations? Then read the following sentence carefully: LEAVE YOUR BLASTED CELL PHONE AT HOME, MOTOR MOUTH.

I've been listening in on people's phone conversations every day for years now, and I'm frankly getting sick of it. It started about ten years ago. I had an old television set that picked up frequencies that have since been reserved for cell phones. So right in the middle of Masterpiece Theater, I get a voice-over by Suzy Creamcheese who can't stand the unbearable loneliness of a fifteen-minute drive to the grocery store without calling her sub-mental boyfriend. After having many such cell phone calls broadcast into my personal space without my permission, I realized that 95% of them were about nothing at all. No information was communicated, no important instructions were given, no important questions were answered, no rational purpose was served. Just blah, blah - hold on, I've got another call - blah blah blah.

I admit that this is partly a personal problem. I've got a thing about telephones. I've never liked them very much. I hate the way they allow old girlfriends, over-talkative relatives, and complete strangers to just ambush you right in your own home. Of course I have a telephone and of course I talk on it, but I regard it as an occasional convenience at best. I get uncomfortable talking to people that I can't see. What the hell are they doing while they tell me all this crap I don't want to hear? Are they even wearing clothes?

But what annoys me most about telephones is the tyrannical regime they impose everywhere. The phone rings, so the television or the Bach concerto has to be turned down, children have to be silenced, and everybody has to sit quietly while someone talks on the phone. EXCUSE ME, I'M TRYING TO TALK ON THE PHONE. Any idiot who picks up a phone and dials it immediately shuts down whatever is going on at the targeted location (or wakes it up, if it's 3:00 AM) and nobody questions this power. The telephone is the wall console from Orwell's 1984: it speaks and you obey.

This would be bearable to me if people used telephones in a reasonable manner, but they don't. They use them as substitute brains. If they have a problem, they don't stop to think about it, they grab the phone and call somebody. If they have a moment of solitude, in which they might ponder the meaning of their existence or enjoy a sunset or make up their minds about immigration issues, they grab the phone. If they haven't talked to Suzy Creamcheese for two whole hours, they grab the phone. If they have nothing worthwhile to say to anybody, they grab the phone.

My television problem was solved long ago by a new television, but the cell phone problem gets worse every day. They make them the size of matchboxes now, apparently so nudists can carry them around in their asses. Everybody has one. I can't enjoy a moment's peace in public without someone suddenly shouting, right in my ear, HELLO or DUDE, DUDE!

There are no more quiet back rooms in America where you can drink a cup of coffee in silence. Everybody goes in there to use their f--king cell phones. HI, IT'S ME AGAIN! WHAT? HE DID? OH MY GAAAAAAWWD!

So don't tell me about the NSA listening to your phone calls. I have to do it all the time. If they could bother you one fraction as much as you bother me, there might almost be some justice in the world. What they ought to do is identify the people who make more than six calls a day and knock them unconscious with ultrasonic feedback signals. Unless they happen to be driving, in which case local law enforcement should be alerted so they can pull them over and pistol-whip them.

The Mossad killed the Palestinian terrorist known as "The Engineer" in 1996 by packing his cell phone with plastic explosive. Then they called him and blew his head off. The Mossad sure does have some great ideas.

Suppose the NSA had a science fiction device that could read people's brain waves and eavesdrop on their thoughts. What would they hear?

Nothing. Nothing but white noise and cell phone calls.