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Showing posts from 2016

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 concerning Israeli settlement activity

On Dec. 23, 2016, the UN Security Council voted 14-0 on its Resolution 2334 concerning Israeli settlement activity. The vote was in favor of demanding that Israeli cease building settlements in disputed areas. The reason for condemning these settlements is that they are being built on disputed land that will likely have to be given to the future State of Palestine as part of any realistic peace agreement. The United States abstained from the vote, while some had hoped that it would use its veto power to stop the resolution. After the vote, the Obama administration gave a 40-minute, on-the-record press call. On the call, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, explained that President Obama had had "several rounds of discussions with Ambassador Rice, Ambassador Power, Secretary Kerry, and members of his national security team" before deciding not to veto the resolution. There is concern that accelerated settlement construction in disputed a

Rick Perry's support for outlawing gay sex

This article was written for Helium Network in 2011. It was updated in 2014 and had minor updates in 2016. Regarding the looming threat of openly gay Boy Scout leaders in his 2008 book On My Honor,  longtime Texas Gov. Rick Perry claims that the Boy Scouts as an organization tolerate gay people but don't want a leader "whose personal agenda is to make an open issue of his sexual orientation." Within the book, he claims that he supports an individual's right to be gay — just not within the Boy Scouts! — but his record does not show that he has actually supported even that much. Why Perry's approach to the topic is severely flawed First, in focusing the argument in "On My Honor" only on those who are openly gay, Perry neglects to address the entire Scouting policy that excluded "known or avowed homosexuals" — that is, people who are merely discovered to be gay as well as those who openly acknowledge it. Second, in trying to demon

Things you don't know you know about love

Adam Phillips: "All love stories are frustration stories. As are all stories about parents and children, which are also love stories, in Freud’s view, the formative love stories. To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn’t know you had (of one’s formative frustrations, and of one’s attempted self-cures for them); you wanted someone, you felt deprived of something, and then it seems to be there. And what is renewed in that experience is an intensity of frustration, and an intensity of satisfaction. It is as if, oddly, you were waiting for someone but you didn’t know who they were until they arrived. Whether or not you were aware that there was something missing in your life, you will be when you meet the person you want." Kathleen Dean Moore: "The love of a mother for her infant is inevitable, unsurprising, Frank says. Take goats, for example. Whatever a mother goat smells right after she gives birth, that becomes the object of its goofy mothe

Quotes: Talking oneself into fear

"Anxiety is continual death." Nicolas Berdyaev. The Divine and the Human. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949. p 61. "In the actual victim, according to various Gothic Tales, this glorying in impenetrability takes the form of admiration, even love of the cruel one while he is coiled to strike. And in the spectator there is a sense of identify [sic] or empathy with both the sufferer and the agent of that suffering. This double identity is the ‘terrible and indefinite curiosity of despair’ we call ‘horror.’" Philip P. Hallie. The Paradox of Cruelty. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969. p. 73. "[The wise do] not put a wrong construction upon everything." Seneca, quoted by Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy, New York: Vintage Press, 2000. p 103. "Then I realized that we [Jews] have something better [than Christmas traditions]. We have fire. Think about it. The whole shpiel of Hanukkah is lighting the menorah to commemorate

Quotes: 'There is no time...'

"If the situation is to be different, then the moment in time must have such decisive significance that for no moment will I be able to forget it, neither in time nor in eternity, because the eternal, previously nonexistent, came into existence in that moment.
" Johannes Climacus (Soren Kierkegaard). Philosophical Fragments. ed. and trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1985. p 13. "I shall use the term presence to denote the point of intersection in man's existence; and the term flow of presence to denote the dimension of existence that is, and is not, time.
" Eric Voegelin, "Immortality: Experience and Symbol," 1967 "Memory is not just the imprint of the past time upon us; it is the keeper of what is meaningful for our deepest hopes and fears. As such, memory is another evidence that we have a flexible and creative relation to time, the guiding principle being not the clock but the qualitative significan

What evil looks like

People who perpetrate cruelty do not look any different outwardly than anyone else. "We can all become beasts," said Chris Hedges. Deborah Feldman: "'Hitler had chicken feet, you know,' Bubby remarks. 'That's why he never took off his shoes. So they wouldn't see he was a sheid, a ghost.' She scrubs at the burned remains of chicken fricassee on the bottom of a cast-iron skillet, her calloused fingers marked by years of housework. I don't think this world is such a simple place, in which bad people have deformities that mark them as evil. That's not how it works. Evil people look just like us. You can't take off their shoes and know the truth." Their problems are inside. They may be immature, naïve, not in possession of knowledge of any civil way to deal with their traumas. If they run the state, the state will be cruel. Clive James: "In the long run, the Banality of Evil interpretation of human frightfulness is not

Inconsistencies in crediting success and suffering to God

On the inconsistency of crediting success and suffering to God: Some people credit mainly good things to God. In his memoir, Donald Miller wrote of his immature concept of a "slot-machine God:" "If something nice happened to me, I thought it was God, and if something nice didn't, I went back to the slot machine, knelt down in prayer, and pulled the lever a few more times." Christopher Hitchens wrote in God is not Great: "But the human wish to credit good things as miraculous and to charge bad things to another account is apparently universal. In England the monarch is the hereditary head of the church as well as the hereditary head of the state: William Cobbett once pointed out that the English themselves colluded in this servile absurdity by referring to “The Royal Mint” but “The National Debt.” Religion plays the same trick, and in the same way, and before our very eyes. On my first visit to the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, a church that was buil

Moving from cursing others to assisting them

One stage of grief, in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's famous schema, is bargaining. One type of bargain a person may try to strike — if only in the imagination, as such bargains usually are anyway — is that someone else could have been taken in place of the one who is grieved. This is not necessarily because they relish the suffering of others. (Some people certainly do. The character of the princess Pari said in Anita Amirrezvani’s novel Equal of the Sun: “People love to dwell on the pain of others; they love to stick their fingers in it and suck on it as if it were honey. But I won’t allow them to feed at my hive.”) They may say this in the height of emotion even if, at a more lucid and sober moment, they would not claim that one life is worth more than another. A character in Sjón's novel From the Mouth of the Whale describes it this way: Alas, why does God allow the candle of worthless old hags to flicker, year in, year out, for nine times nine years, while abruptly and withou

What is Jewish mysticism?

What do mystics believe? If there is any underlying belief to mysticism, it is the assumption that God is connected to humans and present near us. Scholem said that mysticism arises when religion is in a "romantic period," recognizing an "abyss" and launching a "quest for the secret that will close it in, the hidden path that will span it. It strives to piece together the fragments broken by the religious cataclysm, to bring back the old unity which religion has destroyed, but on a new plane, where the world of mythology and that of revelation meet in the soul of man." Similarly, Dedopulos described mysticism as the "most advanced stage of religion" that reconciles the animist/immanent view of the world (in which the world itself is alive or divine) with the idea of a distant creator by providing techniques for direct connection with God: "God's created are able to uncover the paths by which they can make their way back to God. They ca

Quotes: Stability of personal identity

C. J. Ducasse: "A mind, then, is a set of capacities of the three generic kinds mentioned, qua interrelated in the systematic manner which constitutes them a more or less thoroughly integrated personality; and the mind, of which we say that it "has" those capacities, is not something existentially independent of them, but "has" them in the sense in which a week has days or an automobile has a motor. That a mind exists during a certain period means that, during that period, ones or others of the capacities, which together define the particular sort of mind it is, function. That is, the existing of a mind of a particular description is the series of actual occurrences which, as causally related one to another, constitute exercisings of that mind's capacities. A mind's existing thus consists not just of its having a particular nature, but of its having in addition a history. "
 Mircea Eliade: "The world (that is, our world) is a univer

On perception and the unconscious

R. W. Fevre: "Well, perhaps we can make use of this awareness [of ourselves and our world and how our actions affect the world], but this is not going to be easy because human beings do a lot more things than make sense, and some of these things — pursuing power, money, status, security and so on; or simply taking our ease — can get in the way of making sense.
" Calvin Luther Martin: "The words of the magician snaked in and out of my consciousness: 'It has become clear to me that perception has to be understood and recognized as a reciprocal exchange. When we see things we are also being seen by them. When we hear things we are also being heard. Perception is a type of communication that precedes language.'" Alan Watts: "There may be no reason to believe that a return to the lost feeling will cost us the sacrifice of the individualized consciousness, for the two are not incompatible. We can see an individual leaf in all its clarity without losing

Eunuchs in the 'Percheron Saga' by Fiona McIntosh

Fiona McIntosh's trilogy The Percheron Saga contains the novels Odalisque, Emissary, and Goddess. I used to have an article here that discussed the character of Salmeo in the Percheron Saga. I incorporated that material in my book Painting Dragons (2018), and so I have taken down the article here. Please check out Painting Dragons ( paperback and Kindle eBook ).

Quotes: A mythic interpretation of relationships

Mircea Eliade: "Speaking for myself, the definition that seems least inadequate because most embracing is this: Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the ‘beginnings.’ ... Myth, then, is always an account of a ‘creation’... * * * Myth teaches him the primordial ‘stories’ that have constituted him existentially; and everything connected with his existence and his legitimate mode of existence in the Cosmos concerns him directly." Allan Bloom: "A father must prefer his child to other children, a citizen his country to others. That is why there are myths — to justify these attachments." Lawrence Kushner: "I'll let you in on a trade secret: After you do enough weddings, you realize that every bride and groom are the same. Don't misunderstand me, of course each one is unique. But in a broader context, every bride and every groom are Adam and Eve. They are players in an eternal dra

Writing what you don't know

"There are only two or three human stories," said Willa Cather, "and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." When a story is told enough, it becomes a "ritual of truth," to use Thomas Dumm's phrase. He wrote that "democracy itself depends upon the continuing and autonomous iteration and reiteration of the meaning of words, sentences, paragraphs, and fragments. Instead of reaching final conclusions, perhaps we would do better to think in terms of the rituals of truth that govern our lives together and apart, truths that are radically historical in character." Why isn't a truth-ritual a final conclusion? Because a truth-ritual is a story, and stories contain unresolved ideas. Joan Didion wrote: "The idea that fiction has certain irreducible ambiguities seemed never to occur to these women, nor should it have, for fiction is in most ways hostile to ideology." Those unresolved ideas are why

Quotes: Feeling a change in one's life

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: ”If you are in a state of painful thirst, then a bottle of water increase your well-being significantly. More water means more pleasure. But what if I gave you a cistern of water? Clearly your well-being becomes rapidly insensitive to further quantities. As a matter of fact, if I gave you the choice between a bottle or a cistern you would prefer the bottle – so your enjoyment declines with additional quantities. These nonlinear relationships are ubiquitous in life. Linear relationships are truly the exception; we only focus on them in classrooms and textbooks because they are easier to understand.” J. B. MacKinnon: "I have a rule of thumb for when a lifestyle change will be meaningful: When it feels like an adventure." Robert A. Burton: ”Though not necessarily aware of when we feel purpose and meaning, we are nearly always aware of the sickening feeling when we don't possess them.” Norman Boucher: “‘If you lack empathy,’ Presiden

Quotes: What is happiness?

Gary Zukav: ”The word "happiness" is the label, or symbol, which we pin on this indescribable state. "Happiness" belongs to the realm of abstractions, or concepts. A state of being is an experience. A description of a state of being is a symbol. Symbols and experience do not follow the same rules. ” Nassim Nicholas Taleb: "Let me distill the main idea behind what researchers call hedonic happiness. Making $1 million in one year, but nothing in the preceding nine, does not bring the same pleasure as having the total evenly distributed over the same period, that is, $100,000 every year for ten years in a row. The same applies to the inverse order--making a bundle in the first year, then nothing for the remaining period. Somehow, your pleasure system will be saturated rather quickly, and it will not carry forward the hedonic balance like a sum on a tax return. As a matter of fact, your happiness depends far more on the number of instances of posit