Monday, January 31, 2011

Dictatus Papae

I hate to say this, but one thing that Facebook often lends itself to is a nattering lack of reflection.

I say this in a tone of rueful acceptance, mind you, not surprise or anguish.

It's a fucking "social network", after all.Generally I like to think that my selection of "friends" helps me avoid the "I'm picking out my toe jam! :-b" sorts of status updates; luckily I'm not bombarded with much of that sort of brain-destroying crap.Mostly the site does what it is supposed to do and provides me a sort of party line to check in with friends and chat about this and that. For all the handwringing about how the Evil Twitter, Facebook, and whatever other electronic media bete noir de jour are destroying civil society by substituting for "real human interaction", when you think about it these things are just replicating the slower means of distant communication humans have used since the beginning of literacy.

What is a "tweet" but a little postcard? What is a Facebook post but a short letter, a digital telegram, a typed-out phone call? "Having wonderful time, caught fish, weather fine. Come soon, Woosie."

I don't see how this happening in realtime, over a fiber cable, somehow makes the process dangerously antisocial. We've always enjoyed our long-distance relationships. Entire books have been published containing the epistolary friendships of pre-electronic times, when living a couple of tens of miles apart meant seeing each other once a year or so. People have always had ways of staying in touch with distant friends and lovers; these electronic means are just an adaptation of a very old gimmick, a quicker version of sending a house slave with a clay tablet to your brother and sister-in-law in Sumer.

But (and you knew there would be a but, didn't you?) to go with the advantages in celerity there is the disadvantage of brevity. If brevity is the soul of wit, it is the mother of inattention. A discussion limited to 420 characters isn't really much of a "discussion", and the one thing I find unlikeable about Facebook - I am not "on" Twitter and have no interest in doing so, since a tweet is even briefer than a Facebook post less informative, and thus more conducive to the ignorant-shouting sort of "communication" than Facebook - is that much conversation is necessarily brief and one-sided. A letter allows time and space for thought, and if two paragraphs are needed instead of one to dissect the issue they are there for the taking. The only limit is the paper and the patience of the writer, and reader.

Which may be the very heart of the matter. We as a culture are increasingly impatient; the notion of simply sitting and reading a letter - or a novel, or a long blog post - is becoming both difficult and challenging. Difficult because many of us are so busy, our days full of cascades of essential ephemera demanding our attention; challenging because our preferred style of prose is often simple and poorly suited to complex thought. While the text we read on paper or off the screen may be prolix the arguments are often crude, the exposition simplistic, and the argumentation circular or absent. So the quick declaratory statements of Facebook make us easier. We needn't marshal our overtasked intellectual reserve; the thinking is done for us.This has become a very roundabout introduction to a topic that emerged on Facebook the past week. Specifically, a friend of mine linked to this article in the New York Times discussing the falling out between the Roman Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, and a local formerly Catholic hospital.

It seems that the hospital in question performed an abortion on a woman who was in danger of injury or death if her pregnancy had progressed. The bishop, who had apparently warned the hospital that this sort of thing would put them outside Church law, used this surgery to sever the ties between the diocese and the hospital.

My friend was incensed. "Time to move into the 17th century, boys." is the way she put it. Another of her friends replied that the bishop had the right of it; that a "Catholic" hospital had the obligation to abide by church doctrine. Several more of us piled on and we had - especially for Facebook - quite a rousing little discussion. I don't think anyone's opinions were changed, but we at least got to hear a good bit from several sides on the matter.And the more I got to thinking about it, the more I found that I tend to believe in what I first said; that the bishop's job, if he were to be any sort of bishop and not a windsock for popular opinion, was to insist that the mother, as a Catholic or at least as the patient of a Catholic hospital, give her life for the life of her child in the same sense that a bishop would expect his priests to give their lives, if they had to, to ensure the lives, or the spiritual salvation, of those who depend on them.

His understanding of God's Will as expressed by his Holy Father should admit no less, and the tenets of his Church - an authoritarian organization whose fundamental nature is spelled out by the "Dictus Papae" (which includes such statements as "That of the pope alone all princes shall kiss the feet." and "That this (the Pope's) is the only name in the world.") - demand that those beneath him in the hierarchy submit to his interpretation of that Will.

That's cruelly hard. But religions in general ask us to put God first and ourselves afterwards; that's the nature of a religion, most religions. It's a feature, not a bug. Because of that demand religious faith can accomplish great things. Because of it faith can be the spark for horrible atrocities. The direction depends greatly on the nature of the person who "speaks" for the religion and the nature of those listening. But there is no promise that either the speaking or the reception will be beneficial and kind.

All we can only hope then is that our religions don't demand us to make choices that lead to suffering. But by their nature they can, and often do, and we can't really get one without the other, eh?

My bride, lovely woman that she is, is (if she only knew it) a classic American cafeteria Catholic. She has said that if she agrees with a doctrine, she would hew to it. If not, she would ignore it.

I can't do that or believe that.

To me the entire point of a religion - as opposed to a personal faith - is either accepting the doctrines of the religion or working to change them. But until they change, I don't thing that the adherent has an option to just ignore them.

Since I have yet to encounter a religion whose tenets I can accept without demur or disputation, I have no religion. Since I have yet to encounter a moment where my need to have an all-powerful Sky Daddy overpowers my skepticism of the entire notion, I have no personal faith, either. For good or ill, I am alone within my head when the moment for spiritual succor arrives.

And as ruthless as it is I wish that what happened to the hospital would happen more often. I wish that the Catholic Church, for example, would excommunicate people who use birth control, would stop granting annulments and force divorcees out of the laity. American Catholics haven't been forced to actually do what their church demands them to do for a long time. If they were, well, either the laity might change or the church might. Some people might find themselves alone as I do. Some may find that they can abandon themselves in order to have that Sky Daddy within them.

Either way, at least both sides would be consistent.

Because for me so long as a religion does not force itself into the public square and demand that people not its adherents adhere to its beliefs it should be true to itself. For some religions this is not a pretty or humane thing because by their nature they are not about the pretty and the humane but about the demands of a supernatural belief on a merely human soul.

This often makes them magnificent, grand, and terrible.

And it is perhaps the failure of my own soul that I would take the smallest common moment of human life; the sound of a sigh, the heat of a quarrel, the softness of a kiss, the breathless of lovemaking, the peace of a nap, the placid twilight of age, over all the magnificence and grandeur ever conceived.

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine Heart Wallpapers

Valentine's Day Wallpapers

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine Heart Wallpapers

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Army I Knew: Reception

(This is me, with my two best college buddies, on the eve of graduation, June 1980. Guess which is which and get the no-prize...)I was free, college-educated, and twenty-three. And I had done what my parents expected of me; I had gone to college and earned a degree. And now it was time to do what I wanted.

So I reported to the old Philadelphia MEPS station on the 29th of December, 1980 with a small bag containing a clutch of toiletries, two changes of shirt, an extra pair of pants and an assortment of white athletic socks. The bus let me off near the City Hall downtown and I walked the right or so blocks to the "Military Entrance and Processing Station".

The MEPS is the first stop for every hunk of new meat, whatever the service or the destination. Most of them are driven in by their recruiters; I was unusual in that I wanted to arrive alone and said so. My recruiter, probably figuring that a 23-year-old college kid could figure out a bus schedule and a map, and happy to have one less cherry to drive around, gave me directions and a time that my intake would be scheduled to report that day.

I understand that the Philly MEPS has been moved out to the suburbs, some place like Essington, no doubt, where there are trees, the streets are clean and empty, and recruiters can get the kids mocha frappuchinos at Starbucks or some such thing. The old MEPS was in downtown Philly, a grim brick pile redolent of generations of youthful bravado and fear. It looked like the sort of place you went to pass through the portal taking you away from casual civilian softness; ugly, dark, dirty with the sort of engrained filth that no amount of mopping and scrubbing can cleanse.I went through the door and followed the comet-trails of kids in civvies, each one led by their recruiter, noting sourly that I had chosen poorly if sartorial elegance was my goal. The Navy swabs looked sharp in their peacoats and white caps, even their junior enlisteds piss-cutter smart in crackerjack blues with the dixiecup caps tipped at a knowing angle. They looked like walking fonts of carnal knowledge - no doubt every one of them had been laid repeatedly by swooning squid-groupies knocked on their backs by the salty manliness of the sailor suits.

The Marines were even worse; their NCOs wore the Class C uniform that sported a trim khaki shirt over dress blue trousers and the white cover. Their black shoes glittered like obsidian, their bold green stripes and riot of ribbon-bar colors mocked the sorrowful dark green of the Army guys, the latter looking like remainders in the toy soldier bin in their sack-like dress greens and foolish stiffened overseas cap (loathed and dreaded by all soldiers, the awful "cunt cap" was perhaps the worst Army headgear ever invented other than...we'll get to that later). Only the Air Force recruiters, in their silly light blue bus-driver outfits, looked less military but then, they were, you know...Air Force.

Regardless of hue, navy, khaki, green, and cerulian, all of us straggled into the smallish room and were chivvied into lines by our sheepdogs. Someone shouted "Attention!" and we drew ourselves up into a semblance of rigidity as a rather preoccupied-looking officer bustled in and stood behind a podium. He wasted no time; we were instructed to raise our right hands and to repeat that we solemnly swore (or affirmed) that we would support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that we would bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that we would obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over us, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help us God.And we were the property of Uncle Sam.

I honestly don't remember much of the rest of the day. We must have been inspected physically, just in case, and we must have completed some paperwork. All I do remember is that by midafternoon a group of us were on a Greyhoundish sort of bus headed for our home for the next three months or so; Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Today the old post is a slip of itself, a reserve training post and mobilization center. But in the last days of 1980 it was still one of the Army's big BCT posts, home of two Training Brigades - the 5th, whose nickname I don't recall, and the 3rd, known on its signage and nowhere else as the "Pioneers". The place was overrun with soldiers. As we drove in and across the place they were running, or marching, or doing some incomprehensible things in orderly groups. You could hear the sound of chanted choruses that seemed right on the edge of our understanding. As we straggled off the bus at the newish Reception Station we were beginning to realize what we had done to ourselves.

But Army Basic hasn't changed all that much since the Forties; the first couple of days is spent teaching the poor fool simply how to stand in one place and move to another. Simple marching and rest positions, getting the trainees' heads readjusted to the idea that they can't just go where they want and do what they want anymore. The process wasn't very interesting, but it wasn't frightening or intimidating, either. We began to think that the war stories about Basic had been exaggerated just to spook us. We began to get organized, a little.

In 1980 this was still a little difficult. The Carter reforms of the "Volunteer Army" hadn't fully arrived. Several of the guys bunking in my bay in the REPO had been sent there as an alternative to jail; one, in fact, was congratulating himself for his business sense. The way he saw it, he was now supplier to the world's biggest customer base for weed.I don't remember a great, shocking transition between civilian life and Reception Station. Yes, we got up a little earlier than most of us were used to. The marching and standing at attention were a bit different but not unexpected; the REPO cadre were efficient and gruff but not frighteningly so. So by the time we were sorted out and bussed across post to our BT companies we had the beginnings, at least, the pocket change, of soldiering and thought we were well on the way to becoming salty old troopers.So when we arrived to the screaming, scrambling organized chaos of nightfall at Company A, 4th Battalion, Third (Basic Training) Brigade, we were unprepared for what would follow. We were still, in our heads, just civilians on an odd sort of employment, still thinking and moving at the casual pace and random direction of civilians. We really had no idea what soldiering entailed.

And that was about to change.

Catch up after weekend info. soiree.....


First the fun and then we get down to business!

I had an amazing time enjoying the Lunar New Year aka Tet Festival at Balboa Park San Diego. The people were lovely, the entertainment was great, and the food was fantastic! I almost didn't make it home I stuffed myself so much! (TMI LOL'S;) I also ditched my flip flops in the road because let's face it, festivals are yucky! Okay, truth is I had to pee and I was scared of the port a potty.. OCD much?

Other fun far fetched fare... I went and saw "The Rite" with Anthony Hopkins last night. We are just going to file this one under rental, and call it a day.

I also surfed eBay and bought TONS of cheapo rhinestone jewelry. Then I went to the Tet festival and saw all the same jewelry for a lot less. Who knew?

Plans for the week include;

Pretending to actually homeschool a headstrong 14 1/2 year old.
Watching other people's cats. (okay, they used to be mine so thanks for taking them;).
Jazz Class
Lots and lots of jazzercise.
Enjoying some rain.
And Jersey Shore b*tches!!!

Ooh, that reminds me! Jersey Shore commentary. I've decided that all the Situation does is not eat carbs and walk around lifting his shirt. There is something seriously narcissistic and wrong about that guy. He's like a closet wife beater waiting to happen. I'm continuing to love Sammi and even Ron. I think he's just too easily swayed by the stupid peanut galleries opinions. I mean c'mon, can you really listen to MVP for real relationship advice? Much less Snooki and JWow? Go grab Sammi now Ron before she runs off with an adult. Take her somewhere far away from this nonsense and I'm sure you guys will get along. I'm worn out from you guys breaking up, how about a wedding instead? Roll w/the bad, cherish the good;) Hey, my husband has stuck with me for 16 1/2 years and I make you guys look like nuns!

Now on to business...

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Give it to me Monday! 1/31

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The Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One

From Cairo, have to wonder; what will he choose, when the time comes?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Jukebox: Inexplicable Affection Edition

Two videos I dearly enjoy for no real reason. First, from the terrific-named "Titus Andronicus", "A More Perfect Union" which has somethign to do with the U.S., or New Jersey, or Springsteen, or something which, frankly, I have no fucking idea......and the second IS about New Jersey, and it's one of those goofy novelty songs that you hear played once on FM radio during the "morning zoo" and you never hear it again. But, having driven the Garden State Parkway at night, I have a real fondness for the truthiness of this sonofabitch.Terrible sound quality, but that's kind of a Jersey thing too, innit?

Have a great weekend.

Weekend Blog Hop 1/28-1/31

Welcome to my Weekend Blog Hop!
I would love if you could drop by and add yourself to all of my blogs this weekend (optional:)
In case I didn't say this before, if you don't have a blog you can link your site, Facebook, etc. Whatever you want, it's all in fun☺

It's simple to participate, here are the rules:
  1. Please place the "Weekend Blog Hop" button in a blog post and/or on your blog somewhere. This lets us all know where to find each other!
  2. Follow my blog.
  3. Visit at least 2 blogs on this list.
  4. Add your name to the linky list below so we can visit you back. I will be following everyone who posts.
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Thanks so much for participating!

Happy Lunar New Year!

Gonna get my Pho on this weekend at Balboa Park. Happy New Year Tet Festival!