No Rapes Please

A rape scene is not only too much for audiences, Ms. Zambello said, but it also overshadows everything else. “The point is fine,” she added, “but when it is so graphic it becomes the end rather than the means.”

Ms. Zambello is an opera director.  She is concerned here with offending the sensibilities of those educated, rich people who occasionally go out to the opera.

I would ask opera director Ms. Zambello if she plans to stage “Macbeth” or “Hamlet” or “Othello” or, well, just about anything, in the future, which might have a murder in it.   Or how about “Salome”, which features a decapitation?  If so, why would you refuse to stage a rape?  Why, indeed, would you stage anything at all, if you want your audiences to be shielded from the unpleasant realities of war and social dysfunction?

So substitute “murder” for “rape” in the quoted paragraph.  Well, it could be done.  It could be a Disney film.  No murders, no violence.  And it could be a serious film.  But it would never be a serious film involving a murder, because it would “overshadow” everything else in the story.  So get busy rewriting “Macbeth” and “Hamlet” and “The Pianist” and “Saving Private Ryan” and all the other works of art that have murders in them.

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Tony Blair’s Miraculous Self-Delusion

As everyone knows, former British Labour Prime-Minister Tony Blair has never apologized for urging the invasion of Iraq on what we now know were false pretences.  Never never never.  Never never never never never!  Tony Blair will go to his grave insisting to anyone who will listen that invading Iraq was such a good idea that it was worth sacrificing thousands of lives and spending over a trillion dollars of taxpayer money.  (He wouldn’t call the deaths, in the invasion itself, of 100,000 Iraqis a “cost”, of course.  Perhaps they were complicit in Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, some how.)

Most amazingly, he doesn’t look at Iraq today and see failure, even though the invasion has been a complete disaster in every single respect.  It did not bring democracy and prosperity.  It did not bring peace.  It did not open the door to democratic progress in the Middle East.  It did not improve the security of Israel.  It did not weaken Iran.

Blair must go to bed some nights weeping over the Nobel Peace Prize he should have won and imagining how great it would have looked hanging over the mantel, next to the pictures of him cuddling with George Bush or Cher, or kissing Bono, or schmoozing with Bill Gates.

If you think he might eventually succumb to facts and information, dream on.  The invasion of Iraq is what I call an “identity issue”.  If someone likes a movie that you think is garbage, and you say so, that is not an identity issue: everyone has different taste.   But if you say you are lousy father and you ruined your son’s life,  you have created an identity issue.  To concede that you are right is impossible because the issue goes right to core of a person’s self respect and identity.

Blair’s self-image, his identity, is tied up with this image of an enlightened, rational, successful, beneficent leader.  To admit to have helped cause a massive political and military disaster would be unbearable– it would be tantamount to admitting that you are a worthless human being.  He’ll never do it.

He cannot give quarter on this issue.  He cannot display one second of weakness on his major points: Saddam Hussein was an awful man who had to go.  The world is better off without Saddam Hussein.  Dick Cheney was right.  And if Iraq is now ten times worse off in terms of stability, law and order, prosperity, and hope, well, it’s not my bloody fault they wouldn’t do their share.

Now he bemoans the Labour Party’s interest in a far-left candidate, Jeremy Corbyn.  He’ll spoil everything, he thinks.  He’ll make it look like the rich have been ripping off the working classes all along, even while I was prime minister.  He’ll make the rich pay taxes.  He’ll invest in infrastructure.  He won’t go to war.  Worst of all, he’ll lose the election, and, for Tony Blair, that is the unforgivable  sin, the identity sin, the one that makes him want to flee politics altogether: if it’s not my party, I won’t come.

 

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Do Unjudge

I recently read a post on www.relevantmagazine.com that caught my eye: “Five bible verses that don’t mean what you think”.

Forgive your enemies?  No, no, no.  It may sound something like, “forgive your enemies”, but what Jesus is really saying is “drop large explosive devices on people who refuse to give you their oil”.

It’s not an uncommon approach.  Okay, I exaggerate the one above, but the website does argue that “do not judge, lest you be judged” doesn’t mean “don’t judge, because then you will be judged”, it means, when you judge, you’re right, but when other people judge you, they are wrong.  Now do you get it?  Good.

You had to be a member to read the rest.  But let me speculate:  the story about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven?  You might think it means that it’s really hard for someone who loves his possessions to have a genuine sense of spirituality, but what it really means is that you should only love all the possessions that God gave you because he wants you to prosper.

And that verse about the apostles owning “everything in common”?  You might think they had some kind of socialist arrangement going there, but you would be wrong.  We are quite sure that only the hard-working, entrepreneurial apostles got to have everything.

And what about forgiving the sins of the adulterous woman?  Does that mean that we should forgive adultery?  You have to read it in context: not if it’s between a same-sex couple.  She or he still has to pay.

 

 

 

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The Oil of Machines

We are not running out of oil.  We are inundated with the propaganda from the oil industry which simultaneously requires us to believe that there is so little oil left that we must pay dearly for it and that there is so much oil left that we don’t really need to pursue alternative energy sources seriously, but we are not running out of oil.  Yet.

We will, some day.  We are using a lot of it.  But there is a lot left, and a lot is being “discovered” at times convenient to the industry, at such a rate that even though we were literally, absolutely, indubitably, running out of oil in the 1970′s, during the first great oil crisis, we remain inundated with oil, everywhere.  The U.S., in fact, imports far less oil now than it did 20 years ago.  That would be very, very strange, if we had actually been running out of oil in the 1970′s, or 80′s, or 90′s.

Furthermore, there will not be a monumental crisis when we run out of oil.  The fact is that there are numerous potential replacements for oil, all of which already work quite well.  Why don’t we use them?  Because it is still cheaper to use oil, right now, and more convenient.  But if we every started running out of oil and the price per barrel began to soar, to $500, $750, $1200, $2000 a barrel, we would move rather quickly to electric cars, and we would begin to build more nuclear reactors, and windmills, and solar panels, which are quickly becoming cheaper and more efficient.   There is no great impediment to these technologies right now, except for the cheap cost of oil, and the massive existing infrastructure that supports it.

Soon or not so soon, we are not going to freeze in the dark.  We will use cleaner, more efficient forms of energy.  In the end, the world will probably be a better place.  Is that a tear I see on your cheek, for the passing of oil?

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Theology

Would God say, “I forgive you, but you still have to pay”?

Why do we say it?

Because we’re not up to it, are we?  Then why do we say we forgive, when we still want someone to pay?  Because we claim to be good people, following the example of Jesus, and other moral leaders.   We know we are all sinners and that we can only find salvation through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  So we are obliged to forgive others.  So we do so, with our lips.  And then we say,  “but you still have to pay”, because we don’t really mean the part about forgiveness. We’re not that good.  We want you to think we are, but we’re not.  We’re really… no better.

Jesus gave the example of a man who steals your cloak.  What if he steals from you seven times?  What if he steals from you 100 times?  Do I still have to forgive him?  Jesus says yes, absolutely.   He is now sly or ambiguous about it: yes, absolutely.   So we have rewritten this lesson to add, “and then have him arrested and sent to prison”.

It is quite possible that most people do not understand the real historical meaning of prison in Christ’s time.  Today, you receive a sentence of fixed duration for a crime.  When your sentence is over, you are released.

We’re even.

In first century Galilee, under Roman rule, you went to prison if you committed a crime, and stayed there until you made it good.   Your crime was to deprive someone of the benefits of a piece of property, or a person.   Justice was not about tribution– it was about making it good.  Setting things right.  Restoring what had been loss.

Until you made restitution….   Until you apologized and repented, to the satisfaction of the person you had wronged, you would be held in prison.  If no one brought you food, you starved.   But if the person you had wronged  said “I forgive you”, it meant something.  It meant you were released from obligation, and, therefore prison.  You owed nothing.

So when Christ told his followers to forgive those who wronged them, he meant, see that they are released from prison.  See that they no longer have to pay.  They are no longer under obligation to you.  They have been freed.  That is what Christians mean by being free in Christ.

So if you say, “I forgive you, but you still have to pay”, or “you need to get counseling”, or “I don’t think you’re sorry enough”, or “I just want to make sure this never happens to anyone else”,  you are a bald-faced liar, and you are really no better than the person you insist requires your “forgiveness”.   You are a bad Christian.

Possibly, some people will find this whacky.  What a strange idea.  People will simply commit crime after crime with impunity.  I think that probably some people will.  I think that probably a lot of people would rather be restored to the good faith and trust of the community they live in.  I think a lot of people would realize that a community works because of the desire to heal rather than wound, embrace rather than reject, welcome rather than accuse.

Could I do it myself?  Am I speaking in a general, abstract sense here?  No, I’m not.  I mean it.  And I know others who have done it.  I don’t think it’s as hard as you think it is.  But you won’t get a lot of encouragement from anybody.  As a society, we tend to cheer on the guy who shoots and kills the burglar he caught breaking into his house.

Yeah, that’s pretty hopeless.  And if you are looking for a church, and it’s members, to be exemplars of this model, then it really looks hopeless.  Utterly, completely, totally hopeless.

You’re welcome.

 

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The Book Cover

The media knows and understands that many of the Republican presidential candidates know very well that they do not have the slightest chance of becoming the nominee.  It doesn’t matter.  Most of them are businessmen and investors and owners and they understand the important thing in life is to make money.  And the real money is in the books and the speeches.  And the books and speeches sell for more if they come with this appendage on the cover: “presidential candidate and [whatever]“.   I’m not sure they even say “former”.  Look at all the free advertising they all get?  Millions and millions of dollars worth of free advertising.  The dumber the comments, or the more controversial, the more free advertising, and the more copies your book is going to sell and the more money you get from giving after-dinner speeches all over America.  You get your picture taken with the organizers of these festive occasions, shake their hands, give them something to talk about at the office the next day.  The dumber the comments the better, because then you can accuse the “establishment” and the “east coast media” and “eastern intellectuals” of all being against you.  They are against you because you are right and they are wrong.  The bible says so.

More amusement.

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Hollywoodizing Greek Debt

In almost every Hollywood movie, some characters will do bad things. They will be ill-mannered. They will be mean to a child or a pet. They will be sneaky and dishonest. The purpose of these incidents is so the viewer can enjoy seeing this character dismembered, tortured, or killed later, guilt-free. It’s not much fun to watch terrible things happen to people at random– they don’t deserve it. So first, we must establish that the character deserves it. Now we can enjoy the violence.

In the same way, the Greeks must be perceived as lazy, self-indulgent, greedy, reckless, and sneaky, before we get to enjoy watching their economy destroyed by the troika (the EU, the IMF, and various European governments). Otherwise, we will feel as though we should help them. That Greek pensioner crying on the sidewalk because he can’t get any cash from the ATM to buy food? He voted for a government that pays people not to work, that hires commissioners to take care of lakes that have dried up, that lets people retire at the age of 40, and so and so on.

I’m not inclined to join the brow-beating because I keep circling back to the same question over and over again: what idiot banker would lend money to an insolvent government?

We know that the banks in North America do not make loans so that they can be paid back. Where’s the fun, and profits, in that? They make loans to increase your indebtedness to the point where you cannot pay off your loan. Instead, you pay high interest rates, in perpetuity, on that loan. That is the banker’s wet dream. The fact that the average American owes about $8,000 on his credit card is proof that the strategy has been widely successful.  The fact that 50% of the population do not actually have any “wealth” (read Thomas Piketty) proves that most of us don’t understand how the economy really works.

So the banks were not lending money to Greece so they could improve their economy and then pay them back. They were lending insane amounts of money to Greece in the hope that they would not be able to pay the loans back, but would have to make large payments, year after year, for decades, generating enormous profits for the banks.

In Iceland, the bankers who developed this kind of strategy were fired, arrested, charged, convicted, and imprisoned. Iceland told the banks, this is a capitalist, free enterprise society. You made bad loans. Your customers can’t pay them back. You lose. Iceland declared bankruptcy and the banks were wiped out. Iceland started new banks to facilitate cash flow and started over.  The prison sentences were given because the bankers knew full well what they were doing.  Lending enormous sums of money to people or institutions that cannot pay it back is not the result of carelessness, but of careful, conscious planning.

Greece is not the same. But the result should have been the same. Banks, trying to make big money, loaned the Greek Government billions of Euros. Did they check to see if the Greek Government would be able to pay them back? Evidently not. But employees of the bank made millions of Euros in commissions by arranging these loans. In a capitalist system, when Greece could no longer make payments, the banks should have lost their money. The bankers would have been fired. And Greece would have had to start over. Maybe the banks would have collapsed. Well, that’s free enterprise.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the European governments led by Germany bailed out the shareholders of those banks. Now they want their money back. They did not require the banks to do their due diligence before making their loans, so they have just done an enormous favour to the banking industry.  They didn’t punish the bankers for making fraudulent loans and failing to perform due diligence: they rewarded them.

But they don’t tell you that the Greeks must pay them for this favor to the banks’ shareholders.

They say, you selfish, lazy Greeks. You took all our money and now you won’t pay it back. And they act like Alex Tsipras has been ruling the country for 20 years, creating all that debt.

The story continues.

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Mattress Wars

Is Emma Sulkowicz the new Oleanna? Or Joan of Mattress? When I first encountered the story, I assumed it was another tale of campus rape, mediated, probably, as usual, by drugs and booze, at a frat party or dorm room somewhere, with the usual cast of characters: young, naive woman out for a good time; young man dragging her off somewhere and forcing himself on her; young girl’s friends warning her, losing her, looking for her; young man’s friends laughing it all off and calling her a slut.

But this story didn’t work out that way. The alleged rape took place in Emma’s room, and was, in it’s initial stages– by her own account– consensual. But, she claims, he took it too far, and forced her into anal sex. But, then again, she didn’t seem to regard it as non-consensual for quite a few days afterwards, as she exchanged friendly Facebook messages with Paul Nungesser, the “perp” in this story. And then again, some of her messages seemed rather specifically expressive: wanna come over and have anal sex?

Emma didn’t file a complaint immediately. In fact, she exchanged friendly Facebook messages with him for sometime after the event. It appears that only after encountering other young women who had relationships with the young man– and the young man’s detachment from her– that she decided that the anal sex had been, after all, non-consensual.

She went to the University and explained her situation. The University, even after refusing to look at the Facebook messages, or to hear from Paul Nungesser, declined to suspend the alleged perpetrator. Emma then went to the police. The DA also declined. I haven’t read a good account of why both the University and the DA didn’t proceed with charges, but it seems likely that Emma was honest enough to admit to exchanging messages with the alleged perpetrator that, at the very least, made it difficult to press the case that the sex was “non-consensual”. I wish we could hear the conversation with the University officials: there must have been something remarkable there for them to decline to punish a student for an alleged rape.

What is remarkable is that Emma Sulkowicz, from her statements and actions, appears to have a different idea of “non-consensual” than even devoted feminists have held up til now. She seems to actually believe that no matter how consensual the act was at the time, bad behavior by the man afterwards can justify a retroactive assessment of the act as rape. This is intriguing to me because I don’t think she is unique in this regard. Some of her comments about Nungesser suggest that her accusation is based more on a judgement of his character than her memory of the incident. Something about her comments sounds familiar and disturbing, in the sense that I wonder just how reliable some allegations made by other women are– which is something one should not wonder.

If there was any doubt about the nature of Emma’s accusations, she has released a video of herself and a male actor recreating the “rape”, from several angles, with considerable authenticity. The sex is not simulated. This is quite possibly the strangest attempt to build credibility I have ever heard of. The experience was so awful that I will recreate it, as artistic expression? You could build a lot of aesthetic theory on the idea but in terms of how this furthers her demands for “justice”, I am mystified.

Is this all drama? All of it? The mattress, the allegations, the protests, the re-enactment? Is the relationship itself another drama, with the University and the District Attorney denying Emma her catharsis?

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The Look and the Sound of Silence

The ending of “The Graduate” is a legend now.  And I suspect it’s about time someone made the traditional attempt to “debunk” the mythological greatness of it and attack the whole strange sequence as mediocre, confusing, or trivial.

Personally, I think it holds up extremely well.  In fact, I dare say, it seems stronger and more allusive today to me than ever before, while the rest of the second half of the movie does, at times, seem aimless and rote.  The uncanny momentum of the first half, up to when Elaine learns about the affair, suddenly deflates and wanders, until it seems to gather itself up again into some kind of  raucous crescendo with the wedding.

But it can’t be denied that part of the marvelous impact of that last scene on the bus  is due to the expectation of the Hollywood ending, the happy music, the smiles, the suggestion that all is now well.  With expectations like that in place, the first encounter with that long, lingering, ambiguous take is rather stunning.  And it shifts the viewer’s perception from that empty, trivial, inauthentic kitsch to the rich complex authentic possibilities of their relationship– not all unicorns and hazy meadows.

Some commentators feel that the ending is therefore sad and pessimistic.  I don’t think it goes that far.  I don’t think we encounter a fateful, tragic mistake.  What we have is the real possibility that they will work things out but only after actually learning to cope with life beyond the magic hysteria of their escape from stultifying bourgeois conformity.  Maybe Benjamin becomes an environmental activist.  Maybe Elaine becomes a feminist.

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