Saturday, April 2, 2016


A reindeer with Nazi bombers over Russia, 1941 — humanity at its worst versus the purity of nature


On the bottom the ocean
lays a salt star
air distills shiny pebbles
and flawed memory
draws the city map

the starfish of streets
the planets of squares
green galaxies
of parks and gardens

emigrés in ruined hats
complain of diminished substance
their coffers full of holes
weep precious stones
even though they are still in their prime

in a dream I’m walking to school
after all
I know the way

on the left Pandasza’s shop
gymnasium number three
the bookstores
through the window I can even see
the head of old Bodek

I want to turn toward the cathedral
suddenly the view breaks off
the rest is gone
I can’t walk any farther
though I know that this street
is not a dead end

the ocean of fickle memory
crumbles images
in the end only the stone
upon which I was born

every night I stand
barefoot before the slammed
shut gate of my hometown

~ Zbigniew Herbert, tr. Oriana Ivy

A cemetery angel in Lvov, Herbert’s hometown (Lviv in Ukrainian)

I happen to be fascinated by this poem by Zbigniew Herbert — it reminds me of my similar dreams about Warsaw, the city suddenly breaking off. I don’t mean gently blurring, tapering off into fog, but simply breaking off, a blank abyss a block away — the city devoured by nothingness, flawed memory providing only so much but no more.


“I’ve argued in the past that mixing religion and violence is not new. Every religion has done it and will continue to do it. This begs the question—for what reason?

Well, humans, when organizing and maintaining power gather in groups to control territory. A philosophy that motivates humans to defend and take territory is highly valuable, and religion, which calls people to an ultimate commitment, is incredibly efficient and effective.

Scott Appleby, a University of Notre Dame theorist on war and peace, calls this “ecstatic asceticism.” It is a powerful pitch to push humans to give everything for a cause. We see this in many of the great speeches in wartime: Pope Urban II’s speech for the first crusade resounds with this desire to give one’s life for the ultimate reward. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying. And it is a motivation that every successful religious leader has used to get their armies to do their business.

We see this in the ISIS army today. Abu Bakr al-Berghadi, the leader of ISIS, uses religion to motivate his army to do his bidding. Suicide bombings are a particular type of this kind of action. We saw this in the 911 attacks, the instructions given to the suicide attackers were filled with religious rhetoric devoted to indoctrinating the suicide bombers so that every action was sanctified and supported by the Quran and by religious law. They are terrifying, you can find the text in the appendix in Bruce Lincoln’s Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion After September 11.

ISIS, like al-Qaeda, is defending against “the Crusaders” who either threaten their territory or occupy their territory. Pape, who is a political conservative by the way, has said many times that the Iraq War and the US occupation was one of the single greatest “disasters” in the history of US foreign policy. It was “exactly” what Osama bin Laden wanted, and it became the core rationale for recruiting the more than 2,000 suicide bombings that followed in the Middle East and elsewhere. For Pape, occupying the territory of a group motivates individuals to do violence and more particularly forms of suicide terrorism.

As Pape has estimated, ISIS has recently lost nearly twenty percent of its territory. Their ability to motivate and produce their suicide attacks has plummeted. The Western allied bombings on local militias are making progress. And the fighters on the ground opposing ISIS are Shia and now some Sunni. Westerners are not the ground warriors, so it is much harder for ISIS to argue and recruit fighters to do suicide terrorism against fellow Islamic soldiers. ISIS’s leadership is panicking and its new strategy is to target the allies of the US led coalition. ISIS’s attacks on Paris, Belgium, Russia and Turkey are its way to tempt these countries into sending in ground soldiers.

ISIS is desperate and Obama and his allies will not bite; their bombing strategy, and their partnership with Islamic groups to fight ISIS are working.
So, is religion the problem? Yes and no. Religion, as I’ve argued, is highly motivating, especially by a young aggressive male leader who knows how to use the ultimate rewards of religion (whether blessings by a god or a trip to heaven) as a reward for giving one’s life. Religion is of strategic value to leaders who are trying to protect or take territory—think Crusaders, who by the way failed to keep their territory in the end. Indeed, the Crusades ended in disaster for everyone involved.

What is the real problem? Don’t occupy other peoples’ territory! We are slowly learning that outside attempts to control the fate and fortunes of the Middle East have ended in one tragedy after another. We can bolster those who ask for help but otherwise, I would argue, we have no business intervening in that region of the world.

But again, for now, Obama’s strategy to avoid putting soldiers in the Middle East and partnering with Muslims to fight ISIS is smart and is working. We are winning. It just doesn’t feel that way.

Religion, fundamentally, is not THE problem, occupying the land of others is. How to adjudicate what land belongs to whom is the critical issue of this century and how that is worked out will make all the difference in the future of war and peace in our time.


We must beware of candidates calling for "boots on the ground": that's precisely what ISIS wants to provoke. When Saddam warned that invading Iraq would mean "opening the gates of hell," he was right.


~ "There is a long history of fundamentalist Islamic groups destroying cultural treasures. The Buddhas of Bamiyan. The “end of the world” gate in the ancient city of Timbuktu. Over 95 percent of ancient Mecca. Countless thousands of ancient manuscripts. Groups from ISIS to the Taliban to Wahabist Saudi clerics have made it clear: everything must be obliterated.

They claim, of course, that these things must be destroyed because they are idolatrous in themselves or might inspire idolatrous thinking in others. But I think it is far more likely that ISIS wants them destroyed because these objects prove the falseness of their version of history.

From the 8th to the 14th centuries, the flourishing, trading, creative, scientific, philosophic, artistic, and intellectual marvel that was the Islamic Golden Age produced a ringing argument against the ISIS narrative that their way – the way of extremism and the sword – is the only path to success.

Golden Age science, mathematics, and medicine were the envy of the world. The tolerance and intellectual curiosity modeled by thinkers like Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, and Ibn Rushd created a civilization where, more than anywhere else, Muslims, Jews, and Christians were able to study, trade, and live in unprecedented peace and productivity. And this Golden Age died when people who would have been very much at home in ISIS began to gain power.

It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve come to see the Enlightenment as potentially analogous to the Golden Age of Islam: it may not be here to stay. If we and future generations are not vigilant, we may yet lose it, over the next century or two, slowly yielding to silliness and superstition, to hogwash and horsefeathers, to censors and scolds.

For ISIS to continue to spread their evil, they must destroy the history that gives evidence against them – by destroying the museums and libraries that protect it – just as they must destroy the living humans who fight them.

Are the arts and humanities important? Do they accomplish anything we should care about?

Look at those who want to destroy them. Consider what their ends are. Then tell me." ~

Assyrian Flood Tablet, Epic of Gilgamesh


This is such an obvious riposte -- and yet, while the same has often been said in a more wordy way, the power of brevity makes this one fabulous.

Also, this is psychologically interesting. There must exist at least a few Christians who have thought, "But what if it's the Koran that's correct?" or "What if it's the Orthodox Jews who got it right?" I don't suppose there is any worry about the Bhgavad Gita, but surely the thought about either Islam or Orthodox Judaism being the only true doctrine is plausible and could be a source of anxiety — I mean, here you are, eating pork and shellfish — or, worse I suppose, if a woman, wearing make-up instead of a face veil!


 “[Dostoyevski] was never able to resolve the contradiction contained in his statement on the choice between Christ and truth,” Milosz writes in “The Land of Ulro.” Milosz is referring here to the startling sentence in one of D’s letters: “If I had to choose between Christ and the truth, I would let go of the truth.”

And D never provided an adequate counter-response to Ivan’s arguments. In fact D boasted that no one had presented the case for atheism as eloquently as he did through the mouth of Ivan Karamazov. True, there were supposed to be two additional volumes of the trilogy. Only the first volume was meant to belong to Ivan. The last one was meant to belong to the saintly Alyosha — though D was too great a writer to create one-dimensional characters, and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Aloysha became a revolutionary and ended up in Siberia for some time — a writer can’t escape his central themes.

Ultimately that first volume is all we have, and the scene between the proto-Communist Grand Inquisitor and the silent, non-interfering Christ (and, in the background, an absent god) remains one of the great scenes in all of literature.

I guess it was too early in the history of ideas for D to see that there is no need to believe in Christ (by which I mean a historical Jesus who was also the second person of the Trinity) in order to preserve both moral values and some significant degree of freedom from oppression by state and/or church. The term “Christ Consciousness” wasn’t yet in the air. To me that phrase implies the ethics of compassion, non-judgment, and non-revenge.

But we could also call it the “Buddha Consciousness,” or “Higher Self” or, best of all, “Loving Kindness.” There is simply no need to invoke Christ.

Belief in the supernatural need not enter here at all. To me a kind person who believes in the value of kindness is more admirable than someone who is motivated by the supernatural carrot and stick of heaven and hell.

In fact it is sad to remember a minister’s objection to the idea of doing away with hell: “That would take away anyone’s motivation to follow Christ.” I think it’s precisely the threat of hell that weakens the appeal of Christianity.

By the way, I can't get over that article, "Christianity is not about being a good person." Obviously you don't need to be a Christian to be good, but somehow I always thought that Christianity WAS about being a good person. But the good minister explained with blazing clarity that Christianity is about sin and salvation; our duty is to god, not to fellow men. The essence of Christianity is the belief that “Jesus died for your sins.”

The readers’ comments revealed that he shocked more people than just me! But the article helped me get over any incipient nostalgia over the decline of Christianity. If it's not about being a kind person, if it’s all about “Jesus died for your sins,” then good riddance.
By the way, I can’t think of a single “sin” I ever committed that would merit death penalty. Perhaps community service. And not even that when I think of my trivial “sins” when I was a child — precisely the years when I was being brainwashed to believe that “Jesus died for your sins.”


“Now that the Easter Bunny is caged for another year, here's my question: If God raised Jesus from the dead, why not make it public so everyone could see and believe? If the empty tomb is a deal breaker -- all that gnashing of teeth and eternal damnation -- why be so secretive? What kind of God plays games like that?

I think it's more likely that it never happened. It's likely that our annual Easter hoopla was never supposed to be about raising Jesus from the dead. There's no call to remember it in the bible. In fact, the bible sets aside all kinds of days as religious holidays for believers, but no mention of Easter.

But what we do know is that ancient civilizations have been celebrating Easter for at least 5,000 years — long before Jesus and long before Judaism.

In fact, we can say that the driving theme of the entire human story has always been the "dawn of new day” — the resurrection of the earth, and the call to new life. Hence, every culture of antiquity found unique ways to celebrate the triumph of spring. And they called it by similar names — Ishtar, Eostre, Easter. You get the point.

We know that, in the 4th century, the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, hijacked yet another popular festival (winter solstice comes to mind) and "repurposed" the old Easter holiday for their religious holy day. They made Easter a religious day for Christians only.

But the question remains: If Jesus wanted everyone in the world to know that he resurrected from the tomb, why didn't he make at least a one public appearance for history's sake? Why only to a handful of biased believers who didn't even know how to read or write?

Why not appear to the people who killed him — like say, Pontius Pilate, or Judas Iscariot, or the Sanhedrin Council who'd been plotting his death for years? If all these were too scary, then why not at least show up for Pilate's wife who, according to the bible, told her husband to leave the poor guy alone! That's honorable mention stuff right there.

Or better yet, why not go back to the vulgar crowds in Jerusalem -- the fickle folks who supposedly threw palms at his feet before they turned against him? These were the people who needed convincing, for crying out loud, not his mom and his best friends.

So now we've got a problem. All these lack of appearances in town mean that no legitimate historian, and not even a disinterested bystander, could ever report that they saw Jesus — even from a distance — after he was dead and buried.

Lets face it: Since the future of the world depended on it — not to mention the billions of people about to go to hell for lack of even a shred of evidence or logic — we're looking at a totally unfair and unjust religious belief system. This makes no sense. None. Nada. Zip. Zero.

We could argue that, “Jesus wanted to reward his disciples for their faithfulness, so thats why he didn’t let anyone else see him.”

But that means he put the whole burden on his disciples to go forth and convince the world. That makes no sense because they had no credibility — people knew they were already believers. And besides, they were not only illiterate, but they'd likely be dead before anyone else started to write about the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.

In fact, it would be 40 more years before the anonymous "Mark" wrote about the death of Jesus, and guess what? Mark never mentioned a single sighting of Jesus, or the name of anyone who claimed he or she had ever SEEN Jesus after he died.

And then there's this: The tomb of Jesus was located at the thriving city of Jerusalem — the historic and religious center of the whole Jewish religion. Wait. Weren't these the same Jewish people whom Jesus said he came to save? So why did Jesus not at least go into Jerusalem after the resurrection, and shake a few hands?

Why would God not want the Jews of Jerusalem to see and hear for themselves that Jesus was alive and well? This makes absolutely no sense.

UNLESS ... there was no resurrection. Unless Jesus was actually a Jewish rabbi — and a revolutionary who turned the tables on the status quo. In that case, it all makes sense. The mission of Jesus was to bust down the doors of the encrusted, established religion of the day -- and bust the whole crowd of rich, religious hypocrites for the ways in which they oppressed the poor and the outcast. His mission was to call them out for their lack of love, compassion, grace, and basic decency. He busted them for failing to be human.

Their privilege had corrupted their humanity, and they didn't like being exposed and busted.

In that case, there was no need for a resurrection. Only a crucifixion.” ~ Noah Einstein


The larger question here is Yahweh's secretiveness. If he is the only true god and all the other gods are false -- why not be more public? Why not reveal yourself to everyone in the world? A voice from the whirlwind, maybe, pillars of light, public announcements from above? Appearances in front of large gatherings in many different locations? Why let the Egyptians persist in their error of worshipping the cat goddess, for instance? Worse, why the progressive withdrawal —less and less communication as history marches on? Like so many scholars, Ehrman focuses on the contradictions between the four gospels, but Noah Einstein, simply an intelligent layman, addresses the even more bothersome issue of secretiveness, hiding, and silence (the silence being of course perfectly understandable if there is no one there).

Likewise I always wondered at the idea that Jesus spoke in parables because he did not want his message to be understood — at least not by many. If salvation depends on correct understanding, then this attitude seems uncharitable, to put it mildly. Of course a better explanation is that parables can have several meanings, so you don’t have to commit yourself — and you can always claim that the other person simply didn’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong: I like parables. They are excellent library games. And yet, wouldn’t some clarity and simplicity be appropriate when your whole eternity is at stake?

But that of course would reveal the lack of compelling answers. 

Suring off Santa Cruz; photo: Rob Sean Wilson


“How did you cross the flood?
— Without delaying, friend, and without struggling did I cross the flood.
But how could you do so?
— When delaying, friend, I sank, and when struggling, I was swept away. So it is by not delaying and not struggling that I have crossed the flood.”

Not delaying and not struggling. Above all: not delaying. After all, the greater the delay, the greater the agony, since the undone is a thorn in the mind.


Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K (also found in spinach and other greens), vitamin C, and rich in calcium. Kale is a source of two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. Kale, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Boiling decreases the level of sulforaphane; however, steaming, microwaving, or stir frying does not result in significant loss.

Along with other brassica vegetables, kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Kale has been found to contain a group of resins known as bile acid sequestrants, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and decrease absorption of dietary fat. Steaming significantly increases these bile acid binding properties.

Vitamin K2 Protects Your Heart and Helps Prevent Osteoporosis

Vitamin K2 helps to prevent hardening of the arteries, which is a common factor in coronary artery disease and heart failure. Research suggests vitamin K2 may help to keep calcium out of your artery linings and other body tissues, where it can cause damage. The latest studies show it's vitamin K2, rather than K1, in concert with vitamin D, that prevents calcification in your coronary arteries, thereby preventing cardiovascular disease.

(But the real reason for this post is the purplish tinge of the rose-like kale in the image.)

 ending on beauty

The cure for this
raucous world:
late cherry blossoms.

~ Issa

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