Friday, 31 August 2012

Home On the Farm, or, Away In the Manger, or, Bobbie the Dog Comes To Visit, or, Big Mama the Llama

New Year's Day Two Days Late

My oldest daughter, Christina, and I have not always had the smoothest of relationships. As the oldest child she seems to have born the brunt of the separation between her mother and I. Chris was only thirteen when her Mom and I split, a most difficult time in a child's life by itself without being complicated by the separation of their parents or a mother's avowed wish to alienate the children to their father. There have been times I have despaired we would ever have a relationship on any acceptable level but over the last year or so I am happy to say we have a better relationship than at any time since she was a child. Perhaps time can indeed heal all wounds.

I have written about the farm Chris, Ace and my grandchildren live on quite some ways from town and I have posted pictures of their 'Little House in the Wilderness.' There are many stories I could tell that are quite humorous. Most of them would be at Ace's expense. Some day I will share the humour with you all. I should get away with it. Even at my age I think I can run faster than Ace.

Christina invited me out to spend the day and night with her and her family on New Year's day. After tending to her family, Chris drove in from the boondocks to pick me up. I said goodbye to Tess and to civilization and drove back out with her. 

Now, I suppose, I should explain that when she said 'to spend the night with the family' what she meant was to spend the night with her, Ace, two grandchildren, four dogs, three cats, two horses, and a llama. She may have meant the chicken and rooster also as well as the rabbits. I, however, have omitted them. Perhaps I could omit the horses and llama also as they did not sleep inside with us even if they did peer in the window from time to time. The four dogs and three cats will have to be part of the story under these rules however. They did share the same roof as us.

The reason for this invitation was, I believe, some of the Christmas gifts I gave Chris and Ace. I kept the two of them quite busy on Christmas day opening a kazillion presents, each individually wrapped, that had nearly no value at all: a half dozen boxes of various teas, various biscuits, candies, biscottis, coffees, cookies, et cetera. There were at least two dozen little treats.

The impetus for this odd assortment of snacks was the nook they have in their little farmhouse. The kitchen and dining room, as is so often the case on farms, is the largest room in the house, and one corner of which forms a delightful little nook. A great picture window looks out across a snowy field to the woods beyond and, when they are walking by, provide a window into the human world for the horses and 'Big Mama' the Llama. Chris and Ace each have a chair and a lamp on either side of this window and the walls are lined with book cases. On Ace's side is also a writing desk and on Chris' a sewing machine. Close at hand is the wood stove which heats the home and which keeps this area warm and cozy. Chris and Ace often spend their evenings ensconced in this area reading their evenings away once the kids are in bed. There is no cable television this far from town and no reception by aerial. While television could be had with a satellite receiver they have opted not to get it. This is a decision I applaud as I also applaud their decision not to get Internet which also could be gotten by a broadband receiver off of Dragon Mountain. Now they do indeed have a television set and they have an extensive movie collection as well as a large DVD collection of children's television shows and movies but the truth is that television is, as far as I can tell, the least used television in British Columbia. The children play among themselves and Chris and Ace spend their evenings doing projects or reading in their nook.

The nook, prompted by the snacks, was the reason for my invite. I was invited out to spend the night enjoying the quiet, the solitude, the nook, dinner and an evening of reading in the nook. It was an offer I immediately accepted. 

Christina cooked one of the best meals I have eaten in a long time, a tremendous pork loin that was slow roasted and repeatedly basted with a peach jam that was absolutely delicious and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The pork was accompanied by a black, sweet rice, brussel sprouts, and a salad all of which was washed down with delightfully sweet and cold well water and, yes, good water is a wonderful accompaniment to a meal. I don't know where Chris learned to cook. I know it wasn't her mother. "It was a tremendous meal, Chris. Thank you."

Before dinner while Chris cooked and Ace worked in his shop on a project and after dinner while the two of them looked after farm chores I did indeed have an opportunity to read and in and enjoy the nook. Later, when the children were in bed, we moved to the living room to talk.

After dinner Bobbie, a neighbor's dog, came to visit. I have written about the dogs who come calling before. They show up for a visit at Chris' house just like humans do. A scratch at the door and they are welcomed in where they greet the human inhabitants and then play, or perhaps even nap, with Chris' dogs. Bobbie is a cute and good tempered Collie cross who came to visit that evening. Being a new acquaintances, Bobbie gave me a lot of attention through sniffs and looks. I must have passed inspection because she was soon leaping up to lick my face or trying to climb into my lap as I read. Bobbie politely ate the meal that was offered to her when Chris' dogs were fed and then joined them splayed out in the floor before the stove for a nap. Later, when Chris' dogs were put out for a while to do their business, Bobbie went out with them, hung out on the porch for a while and then, apparently, said her goodbyes in dog speak and went home for the rest of the night. I am told she is a regular visitor no different than the human friends and family that drop by.

At night in the winter sound travels great distances. Chris and her family are a long, long way from town but the Nazko Road is near by. There must have been no traffic out to Tibbles Creek or the Nazko Indian Reserve that New Year's night. I did not hear one car all night. In fact, I hear nothing all night except the lowing of the neighbor's cattle and the occasional 'thump' as the horses and llama made their way into their barn for the night. For once even the rooster had shut up and after we had gone to bed the only sound was the occasional report from the wood stove. It was a deliciously warm and quiet night.
The evening before I had slept wrong and pinched a nerve in my shoulder and was in complete agony. I nearly cancelled out from this visit but instead took my bottle of Tylenol 3's and Ibuprofen and went anyway. I was taking pain killers as much as allowed and I did not sleep a wink all night at Chris the pain was so great but none-the-less, I thoroughly enjoyed my night and if I could not drop off to sleep I could rest as much as I could and enjoy the night with my family which was what I did.

The next morning after we were up, coffeed, and breakfasted it was back to town as the kids had swimming lessons and my visit to the farm had come to an end. Or, rather come to an end for this time. I think my visits will become a regular event and I will look forward to them.

(Originally posted to Multiply January 3, 2009)

Book Review: I Don't Believe In Atheists



Genre: Religion & Spirituality   
Author: Chris Hedges   
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars  


The thrust of Chris Hedges' new book. Hedges' book is far less a defense of Christianity or any religion than it is an attack on the polemic of the new atheists who, in the end, rely as much on faith and are every bit as hateful as the religious that they condemn so soundly. It seems an odd book for Hedges to write following on the heels, as it were, of his American Fascists, his expose of the Christian Right.

As I read this book I was furiously underlining and bookmarking passages that were so good I knew I had to share them in a book review but then, when I had finished this amazing book, I realized there was simply no way I could transcribe all the passages I wanted to and that even if I could it would give a poor representation of this volume. Those who are interested will simply have to read this for themselves. Hedges is an intellectual of the highest calibre and he decimates the philosophy of Harris, Hitchings and Dawkins while, in the case of the later, saying little about his science other than to show that all three of these men are attempting to take the science of evolution into areas of the human experience that it was not meant to go. The result is a hatred and stridency that relies every bit as much of faith as the religion they condemn.

This was my book of the year and Hedges has become my new favorite author.

I am including, at length, a couple of reviews from the Internet for those who are interested in at least reading good reviews.

The first is from Truthdigs and appears at:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20070523_chris_hedges_i_dont_believe_in_atheists/

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday night, Chris Hedges and Sam Harris debated “Religion, Politics and the End of the World.” The following is Hedges’ opening statement, in which he argues that Harris and other critics of faith have mistakenly blamed religion for the ills of the world, when the true danger lies in the human heart and its capacity for evil. Click here for full debate coverage.
Sam Harris has conflated faith with tribalism. His book is an attack not on faith but on a system of being and believing that is dangerous and incompatible with the open society. He attacks superstition, a belief in magic and the childish notion of an anthropomorphic God that is characteristic of the tribe, of the closed society. He calls this religion. I do not.
What he fails to grasp is not simply the meaning of faith—something I will address later—but the supreme importance of the monotheistic traditions in creating the concept of the individual. This individualism—the belief that we can exist as distinct beings from the tribe, or the crowd, and that we are called on as individuals to make moral decisions that at times defy the clamor of the tribe or the nation—is a gift of the Abrahamic faiths. This sense of individual responsibility is coupled with the constant injunctions in Islam, Judaism and Christianity for a deep altruism. And this laid the foundations for the open society. This individualism is the central doctrine and most important contribution of monotheism. We are enjoined, after all, to love our neighbor, not our tribe. This empowerment of individual conscience is the starting point of the great ethical systems of our civilization. The prophets—and here I would include Jesus—helped institutionalize dissent and criticism. They initiated the separation of powers. They reminded us that culture and society were not the sole prerogative of the powerful, that freedom and indeed the religious life required us to often oppose and defy those in authority. This is a distinctly anti-tribal outlook. Immanuel Kant built his ethics upon this radical individualism. And Kant’s injunction to “always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as mere means” runs in a direct line from the Christian Gospels. Karl Popper rightly pointed out in the first volume of “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” when he writes about this creation of the individual as set against the crowd, that “There is no other thought which has been so powerful in the moral development of man” (P. 102, Vol. 1). These religions set free the critical powers of humankind. They broke with the older Greek and Roman traditions that gods and destiny ruled human fate—a belief that when challenged by Socrates saw him condemned to death. They offered up the possibility that human beings, although limited by circumstances and simple human weaknesses, could shape and give direction to society. And most important, individuals could give direction to their own lives.
Human communication directly shapes the quality of a culture. These believers were being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity. This deity could not be captured in pictures, statues or any concrete, iconographic form. God exists in the word and through the word, an unprecedented conception in the ancient world that required the highest order of abstract thinking. “In the beginning,” the Gospel of John reads, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is why the second of the Ten Commandments prohibits Israelites from making concrete images of God. “Iconography thus became blasphemy,” Neil Postman writes, “so that a new kind of God could enter a culture.”
God is a human concept. God is the name we give to our belief that life has meaning, one that transcends the world’s chaos, randomness and cruelty. To argue about whether God exists or does not exist is futile. The question is not whether God exists. The question is whether we concern ourselves with, or are utterly indifferent to, the sanctity and ultimate transcendence of human existence. God is that mysterious force—and you can give it many names as other religions do—which works upon us and through us to seek and achieve truth, beauty and goodness. God is perhaps best understood as our ultimate concern, that in which we should place our highest hopes, confidence and trust. In Exodus God says, by way of identification, “I am that I am.” It is probably more accurately translated: “I will be what I will be.” God is better understood as verb rather than a noun. God is not an asserted existence but a process accomplishing itself. And God is inescapable. It is the life force that sustains, transforms and defines all existence. The name of God is laden, thanks to our religious institutions and the numerous tyrants, charlatans and demagogues these institutions produced, with so much baggage and imagery that it is hard for us to see the intent behind the concept. All societies and cultures have struggled to give words to describe these forces. It is why Freud avoided writing about the phenomenon of love.
Faith allows us to trust, rather, in human compassion, even in a cruel and morally neutral universe. This is not faith in magic, not faith in church doctrine or church hierarchy, but faith in simple human kindness. It is only by holding on to the sanctity of each individual, each human life, only by placing our faith in the tiny, insignificant acts of compassion and kindness, that we survive as a community and as a human being. And these small acts of kindness are deeply feared and subversive to institutional religious and political authorities. The Russian novelist Vasily Grossman wrote in “Life and Fate”:

I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never be conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning.
Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.
It is by the seriousness of our commitments to compassion, indeed our ability to sacrifice for the other, especially for the outcast and the stranger, our commitment to justice—the very core of the message of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus—that we alone can measure the quality of faith. This is the meaning of true faith. As Matthew wrote. “By their fruits shall you know them.” Professed faith—what we say we believe—is not faith. It is an expression of loyalty to a community, to our tribe. Faith is what we do. This is real faith. Faith is the sister of justice. And the prophets reminded us that nothing is exempt from criticism. Revelation is continuous. It points beyond itself. And doubt, as well as a request for forgiveness, must be included in every act of faith, for we can never know or understand the will of God.
The problem is not religion but religious orthodoxy. Most moral thinkers—from Socrates to Christ to Francis of Assisi—eschewed the written word because they knew, I suspect, that once things were written down they became, in the wrong hands, codified and used not to promote morality but conformity, subservience and repression. Writing freezes speech. George Steiner calls this “the decay into writing.” Language is turned from a living and fluid form of moral inquiry to a tool of bondage.
The moment the writers of the Gospels set down the words of Jesus they began to kill the message. There is no room for prophets within religious institutions—indeed within any institutions—for as Paul Tillich knew, all human institutions, including the church, are inherently demonic. Tribal societies persecute and silence prophets. Open societies tolerate them at their fringes, and our prophets today come not from the church but from our artists, poets and writers who follow their inner authority. Samuel Beckett’s voice is one of modernity’s most authentically religious. Beckett, like the author of Ecclesiastes, was a realist. He saw the pathetic, empty monuments we spend a lifetime building to ourselves. He knew, as we read in Ecclesiastes, that nothing is certain or permanent, real or unreal, and that the secret of wisdom is detachment without withdrawal, that, since death awaits us all, all is vanity, that we must give up on the childish notion that one is rewarded for virtue or wisdom. In Ecclesiastes God has put ’olam into man’s mind. ’Olam usually means eternity, but it also means the sense of mystery or obscurity. We do not know what this mystery means. It teases us, as Keats wrote, out of thought. And once we recognize it and face it, simplistic answers no longer work. We are all born lost. Our vain belief in our own powers, in our reason, blinds us.
Those who silenced Jesus represented all human societies, not the Romans or the Jews. When Jesus attacks the chief priests, scribes, lawyers, Pharisees, Sadducees and other “blind guides” he is attacking forms of oppression as endemic to Christianity, as to all religions and all ideologies. If civil or religious authority enforces an iron and self-righteous conformity among members of a community, then faith loses its uncertainty, and the element of risk is removed from acts of faith. Faith is then transformed into ideology. Those who deform faith into creeds, who use it as a litmus test for institutional fidelity, root religion in a profane rather than a sacred context. They seek, like all who worship idols, to give the world a unity and coherency it does not possess. They ossify the message. And once ossified it can never reach an existential level, can never rise to ethical freedom—to faith. The more vast the gap between professed faith and acts of faith, the more vast our delusions about our own grandeur and importance, the more intolerant, aggressive and dangerous we become.
Faith is not in conflict with reason. Faith does not conflict with scientific truth, unless faith claims to express a scientific truth. Faith can neither be affirmed nor denied by scientific, historical or philosophical truth. Sam confuses the irrational—which he sees as part of faith—with the non-rational. There is a reality that is not a product of rational deduction. It is not accounted for by strict rational discourse. There is a spiritual dimension to human existence and the universe, but this is not irrational—it is non-rational. Faith allows us to transcend what Flaubert said was our “mania for conclusions,” a mania he described as “one of humanity’s most useless and sterile drives.”
Reason allows us to worship at the idol of our intrinsic moral superiority. It is a dangerous form of idolatry, a form of faith, certainly, but one the biblical writers knew led to evil and eventually self-immolation.
“We are at war with Islam,” Harris writes. “It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so. It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran, and further elaborated in the literature of the hadith, which recounts the sayings and teachings of the Prophet” (P. 110).
He assures us that “the Koran mandates such hatred” (P. 31 ), that “the problem is with Islam itself” (P. 28). He writes that “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death” (P. 123).
Now after studying 600 hours of Arabic, spending seven years of my life in the Middle East, most of that time as the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, I do not claim to be a scholar on Islam. But I do know the Koran is emphatic about the rights of other religions to practice their own beliefs and unequivocally condemns attacks on civilians as a violation of Islam. The Koran states that suicide, of any type, is an abomination. More important, the tactic of suicide bombing was pioneered as a weapon of choice by the Tamils, who are chiefly Hindu, in Sri Lanka long before it was adopted by Hezbollah, al-Qaida or Hamas. It is what you do when you do not have artillery or planes or missiles and you want to create maximum terror.
I also know from my time in the Muslim world that the vast majority of the some 1 billion Muslims on this planet—most of whom are not Arab—are moderate, detest the violence done in the name of their religion and look at the Pat Robertsons and Franklin Grahams, who demonize Muslims in the name of Christianity, with the same horror with which we look at Osama bin Laden or Hamas. The Palestinian resistance movement took on a radical Islam coloring in the 1990s only when conditions in Gaza and the West Bank deteriorated and thrust people into profound hopelessness, despair and poverty—conditions similar to those that empowered the Christian right in our own country. Before that the movement was decidedly secular. I know that Muslim societies are shaped far more by national characteristics—an Iraqi has a culture and outlook on life that are quite different from an Indonesian’s—just as a French citizen, although a Catholic, is influenced far more by the traits of his culture. Islam has within it tiny, marginal groups that worship death, but nearly all suicide bombers come from one language group within the Muslim world, Arabic, which represents only 20 percent of Muslims. I have seen the bodies—including the bodies of children—left in the wake of a suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem. But I have also seen the frail, thin bodies of boys shot to death for sport by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Tell me the moral difference. I fail to see one, especially as a father.
Finally, let us not forget that the worst genocides and slaughters of the last century were perpetrated not by Muslims but Christians. To someone who lived in Sarajevo during the Serbian siege of the city, Sam’s demonization of the Muslim world seems odd. It was the Muslim-led government in Bosnia that practiced tolerance. There were some 10,000 Serbs who remained in the city and fought alongside the Bosnia Muslims during the war. The city’s Jewish community, dating back to 1492, was also loyal to the government. And the worst atrocities of the war were blessed not by imams but Catholic and Serbian Orthodox priests. Sam’s argument that atheists have a higher moral code is as specious as his attacks on Islam. Does he forget Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot? These three alone filled the earth with more corpses in the last century than all of the world’s clerics combined.
The danger is not Islam or Christianity or any other religion. It is the human heart—the capacity we all have for evil. All human institutions with a lust for power give their utopian visions divine sanction, whether this comes through the worship of God, destiny, historical inevitability, the master race, a worker’s paradise, fraternite-egalite-liberte or the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Religion is often a convenient vehicle for this blood lust. Religious institutions often sanctify genocide, but this says more about us, about the nature of human institutions and the darkest human yearnings, than it does about religion. This is the greatest failing of Sam’s book. He externalizes evil. And when you externalize evil, all tools, including violence and torture, become legitimate to eradicate an evil that is outside of you. This worldview—one also adopted by the Christian right—is dangerous, for if we fail to acknowledge our own capacity for evil it will grow unchecked and unheeded. It is, in essence, the call to live the unexamined life.
This externalization of evil is what allows Sam to endorse torture. He, of course, deludes himself into believing that it is reason that requires us to waterboard detainees in the physical and moral black holes we have set up to make them disappear. He quotes Alan Dershowitz, not only to reassure us that the Israelis treat Palestinians—400 of whom they have killed in Gaza over the past few months—humanely, but to trot out the absurd notion of a ticking time bomb, the idea that we know a terrorist has planted a large bomb in the center of the city and we must torture him, or in the glib phrase of Harris, we must dust off “a strappado” and expose “this unpleasant fellow to a suasion of bygone times” (P. 193).
I guess this reference to torture is amusing if you have spent your life encased in the protected world of the university. As someone who was captured and held for over a week by the Iraqi Republican Guard during the 1991 Shiite uprising in Basra and then turned over for my final 24 hours to the Iraqi secret police—who my captors openly expected to execute me—I find this glib talk of physical abuse repugnant. Dershowitz and Harris cannot give us a legal or historical precedent where such a case as they describe actually happened. But this is not the point; the point is to endow themselves with the moral right to abuse others in the name of their particular version of goodness. This is done in the name of reason. It is done in the name of a false god, an idol. And this god—if you want it named—is the god of death, or as Freud stated, Thanatos, the death instinct, the impulse that works toward the annihilation of all living things, including ourselves. For once you torture, done in the name of reason, done to make us safe, you unleash sadists and killers. You consign some human beings to moral oblivion. You become no better than those you oppose.
The danger of Sam’s simplistic worldview is that it does what fundamentalists do: It creates the illusion of a binary world of us and them, of reason versus irrationality, of the forces of light battling the forces of darkness. And once you set up this world you are permitted to view as justified military intervention, brutal occupation and even torture, anything, in short, that will subdue what is defined as irrational and dangerous. All this is done in the name of reason, in the name of his god, which looks, like all idols, an awful lot like Sam Harris.
“Necessity,” William Pitt wrote, “is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.”
Sam ends his book with a chapter that can best be described as Buddhism light. His spirituality, which apparently includes life after death and telepathy, fuels our narcissistic obsession with our individual unconscious. I am not against solitude or meditation, but I support it only when it feeds the moral life rather than serves as an excuse to avoid moral commitment. The quest for personal fulfillment can become an excuse for the individual to negate his or her responsibilities as a citizen, as a member of a wider community. Sam’s religion—for Sam in an odd way tries at the end of his book to create one—is in tune with this narcissism. His idealized version of Buddhism is part of his inability to see that it too has been used to feed the lusts of warriors and killers, it too has been hijacked in the name of radical evil. Buddhist Shinto warrior cults justified and absolved those who carried out the worst atrocities committed by the Japanese in Nanjing. By the end of World War II Buddhist and Shinto priests recruited and indoctrinated kamikaze (divine wind) pilots in the name of another god. It is an old story. It is not the evil of religion, but the inherent capacity for evil of humankind.
The point of religion, authentic religion, is that it is not, in the end, about us. It is about the other, about the stranger lying beaten and robbed on the side of the road, about the poor, the outcasts, the marginalized, the sick, the destitute, about those who are being abused and beaten in cells in Guantanamo and a host of other secret locations, about what we do to gays and lesbians in this country, what we do to the 47 million Americans without health insurance, the illegal immigrants who live among us without rights or protection, their suffering as invisible as the suffering of the mentally ill we have relegated to heating grates or prison cells. It is about them.
We have forgotten who we were meant to be, who we were created to be, because we have forgotten that we find God not in ourselves, finally, but in our care for our neighbor, in the stranger, including those outside the nation and the faith. The religious life is not designed to make you happy, or safe or content; it is not designed to make you whole or complete, to free you from anxieties and fear; it is designed to save you from yourself, to make possible human community, to lead you to understand that the greatest force in life is not power or reason but love.
As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

The other is an interview with Hedges at Salon, 

http://www.salon.com/books/int/2008/03/13/chris_hedges/

Many charges have been leveled at foreign correspondent Chris Hedges over the years, but shrinking from conflict isn't one of them. Hedges spent nearly seven years as Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, covered the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was part of the New York Times team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of global terrorism. He took on the American military-industrial complex with his books "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" and "What Every Person Should Know About War," and provoked the rage of the Christian right by likening them to Nazis in last year's "American Fascists." Hedges now cements his reputation as an intellectual provocateur with the charmingly titled "I Don't Believe in Atheists."
While speaking out against the Christian fundamentalist movement and its political agenda, Hedges noticed another group -- this one on the left -- conspicuously allied with the neocons on the subject of America's role in world politics. The New Atheists, as they have been called, include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and bestselling author and journalist Christopher Hitchens -- outspoken secularists who depict religious structures and the belief in God as backward and anti-democratic.
Though Hedges, a Harvard seminary graduate and the son of a Presbyterian minister, considers himself a religious man, his quarrel with the New Atheists goes beyond theological concerns. In "I Don't Believe in Atheists," he accuses Hitchens and the others of preaching a fundamentalism as dangerous as the religious fundamentalist belief systems they attack. Strange bedfellows indeed -- according to Hedges, the New Atheists and the Christian right pose the greatest threat facing American democratic society today.
Hedges spoke to Salon by phone from his home in New Jersey.
You say that "I Don't Believe in Atheists" is a product of confrontations you had with Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. How did those debates inspire the book?
In May of 2007 I went to L.A. to debate Sam Harris, and then two days later I went to San Francisco to debate Christopher Hitchens. Up until that point, I hadn't paid much attention to the work of the New Atheists. After reading what they had written and walking away from these debates, I was appalled at how what they had done for the secular left was to embrace the same kind of bigotry and chauvinism and intolerance that marks the radical Christian right. I found that in many ways they were little more than secular fundamentalists.
Although I come out of a religious tradition -- I grew up in the church, my father was a Presbyterian minister, I graduated from seminary -- I've spent my life as a foreign correspondent, mostly for the New York Times, and I have a pretty hardheaded view of the world. I certainly understand that there is nothing intrinsically moral about being a believer or a nonbeliever, that many people of great moral probity and courage define themselves outside of religious structures, do not engage in religious ritual or use religious language, in the same way that many people who advocate intolerance, bigotry and even violence cloak themselves in the garb of religion and oftentimes have prominent positions within religious institutions. Unlike the religious fundamentalists or the New Atheists, I'm not willing to draw these kind of clean, institutional lines.
A lot of people would find it counterintuitive that you would go from your last book, "American Fascists," which was a scathing critique of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., to writing against atheism. Do you see these as connected projects?
I do. I didn't start out that way, because these guys were not on my radar screen. I think a lot of their popularity stems from a legitimate anger on the part of a lot of Americans toward the intolerance and chauvinism of the radical religious right in this country. Unfortunately, what they've done is offer a Utopian belief system that is as self-delusional as that offered by Christian fundamentalists. They adopt many of the foundational belief systems of fundamentalists. For example, they believe that the human species is marching forward, that there is an advancement toward some kind of collective moral progress -- that we are moving towards, if not a Utopian, certainly a better, more perfected human society. That's fundamental to the Christian right, and it's also fundamental to the New Atheists.
You know, there is nothing in human nature or in human history that points to the idea that we are moving anywhere. Technology and science, though they are cumulative and have improved, in many ways, the lives of people within the industrialized nations, have also unleashed the most horrific forms of violence and death, and let's not forget, environmental degradation, in human history. So, there's nothing intrinsically moral about science. Science is morally neutral. It serves the good and the bad. I mean, industrial killing is a product of technological advance, just as is penicillin and modern medicine. So I think that I find the faith that these people place in science and reason as a route toward human salvation to be as delusional as the faith the Christian right places in miracles and angels.
Don't you think that a belief in perfectibility or progress may be necessary for people who devote their lives to big endeavors, like, say, developing vaccines? Americans especially are known for big dreams. It seems like to lose the idea of progress would be a kind of defeatism.
Well in science, one does have progress, because science is based on what can be proved and disproved.
But you say in the book that the Holocaust, because it was framed as a modern project and an outgrowth of technological advance, was that kind of scientific progress, as well.
Well, I wouldn't quite say it that way. I would say that the fascist agenda was Utopian, and that it adopted the cult of science. That's what leads Hitler to try and breed humans and apes to try to create an oversized warrior or to send expeditions to Tibet to find a pure, Aryan race. I mean, that's not science. It's the cult of science, and I think the New Atheists also make that leap from science into the cult of science, and that's a problem.
The Enlightenment was both a curse and a blessing, because it was really a reaction to the kind of superstition, intolerance, bigotry, anti-intellectualism of the clerics, of the church. But it also ended up with the Jacobins, [who said] well, if we can't make certain segments of the society "civilized," as we define civilization, then they must be eradicated, in the same way that you eradicate a virus.
I write in the book that not believing in God is not dangerous. Not believing in sin is very dangerous. I think both the Christian right and the New Atheists in essence don't believe in their own sin, because they externalize evil. Evil is always something out there that can be eradicated. For the New Atheists, it's the irrational religious hordes. I mean, Sam Harris, at the end of his first book, asks us to consider a nuclear first strike on the Arab world. Both Hitchens and Harris defend the use of torture. Of course, they're great supporters of preemptive war, and I don't think this is accidental that their political agendas coalesce completely with the Christian right.
So you think that Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris are just shills for a neocon agenda? Well, Dawkins is a little different, because he's British. But looking at our own homegrown version of new atheism, yes. Hitchens and Harris do for the neocon agenda in a secular way what the religious right does in a so-called religious way. 

(Originally posted to Multiply Dece,ber 21, 2008)

Book Review: Iran Awakening



Genre: Biographies & Memoirs   
Author: Shirin Ebadi   
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars  



Shirin Ebadi (born 21 June 1947) is an Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and founder of Children's Rights Support Association in Iran. On October 10, 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women's, children's, and refugee rights. She is the first Iranian to receive the prize.

In her book Iran Awakening, Ebadi explains her political/religious views on Islam, democracy and gender equality

In the last 23 years, from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years of doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated one refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered. That belief, along with the conviction that change in Iran must come peacefully and from within, has underpinned my work." (From Wikipedia)

From Amazon: 

"The moving, inspiring memoir of one of the great women of our times, Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and advocate for the oppressed, whose spirit has remained strong in the face of political persecution and despite the challenges she has faced raising a family while pursuing her work. 
Best known in this country as the lawyer working tirelessly on behalf of Canadian photojournalist, Zara Kazemi – raped, tortured and murdered in Iran – Dr. Ebadi offers us a vivid picture of the struggles of one woman against the system. The book movingly chronicles her childhood in a loving, untraditional family, her upbringing before the Revolution in 1979 that toppled the Shah, her marriage and her religious faith, as well as her life as a mother and lawyer battling an oppressive regime in the courts while bringing up her girls at home.
Outspoken, controversial, Shirin Ebadi is one of the most fascinating women today. She rose quickly to become the first female judge in the country; but when the religious authorities declared women unfit to serve as judges she was demoted to clerk in the courtroom she had once presided over. She eventually fought her way back as a human rights lawyer, defending women and children in politically charged cases that most lawyers were afraid to represent. She has been arrested and been the target of assassination, but through it all has spoken out with quiet bravery on behalf of the victims of injustice and discrimination and become a powerful voice for change, almost universally embraced as a hero.
Her memoir is a gripping story – a must-read for anyone interested in Zara Kazemi’s case, in the life of a remarkable woman, or in understanding the political and religious upheaval in our world.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 31, 2008)




Book Review: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran



Genre: Nonfiction   
Author: Hooman Majd   
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars  

This was an excellent, one night, very enjoyable read and proves once again that the difference between the average Muslim in Iran and the radicals we see on television are vastly different.

Amazon says:

In this critical but affectionate portrait of Iranian politics and culture, Majd, the Western-educated grandson of an ayatollah, delves into the very core of Iranian society, closely examining social mores and Farsi phrases to identify the Persian sensibility, which, Majd determines, cherishes privacy, praise and poetry. Nothing is too small or too sweeping for Majd to consider, and although he announces his allegiance to the former president Khatami, he remains scrupulously even-handed in assessing his successor Ahmadinejad, shedding light on the Iranian president's obsession with the Holocaust and penchant for windbreakers and why the two are (surprisingly) intertwined. The author's brisk, conversational prose is appealing; his book reads as if he is chatting with a smart friend, while strolling around Tehran, engaged in ta'arouf (an exaggerated form of self-deprecation key to understanding Persian society). Although Majd seems to gloss too quickly over realities that don't engage his interest—women's voices are only intermittently included—this failing scarcely mars this remarkable ride through what is often uncharted territory.


(Originally posted to Multiply December 30, 2008)

Book Review: Planet Earth 2000



Genre: Religion & Spirituality   
Author: Hal Lindsey   
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars  

There are few who worry that the apocalyptic visions of Christianity and Islam might not lead to a Pygmalion effect more than I do.

Hal Lindsey wrote his monumental bestseller, The Late Great Planet Earth either in 1967 or 1969. I didn't manage to read it until the early 70's and I remember being electrified by the Bible exposition in this book along with the explanation of the ancient prophecies.

Many years later I had the opportunity to speak with one of Hal Lindsey's teachers, one of the most respected theologians in the world whose expertise was in eschatology or bible prophecy. He was quite disparaging of Lindsey which very much surprised me since they both presented the same theological view point. This person's concern, however, seemed to be with what he saw as 'date setting' by Lindsey and his propensity to postulate firm ideas from weak scripture.

Since those early years Lindsey seems to have mellowed and his writing and pronouncements are much more tempered while still presenting a pre-trib, pre-mil position that is widely held within Protestantism. Planet Earth was written in 1994. I found it in a box of books I had stored away.

It was interesting to note that 19 of 20 predictions Lindsey made in 1969 based on bible prophecy have come true. It is also interesting to note how these same prophecies continue to play out on the world stage. 

Whether one believes in God or in the bible or nor is not the point at all. What is the point are the dire warnings from wars to disease to pestilence to a world running out of resources. For the entire world to live at a level of the average citizen of Paris the world population would have to be reduced to 700,000,000 which is a far cry from where we are today.

As a species we go around with our heads in the clouds, optimistic that science will resolve the horrendous challenges facing us. Science, however, has no answers and the solutions become more and more difficult. The future, contrary to what many wish to believe, is not bright and it is not going to get better.

Make what you will of Lindsey and his writings and make your own decision about bible prophecy but say what you will, we are in for a rough ride as a species and things look grim and in the 14 years since this book was written things have gotten far worse.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 30, 2008)



Book Review: Epicenter



Genre: Religion & Spirituality   
Author: Joel C. Rosenberg   
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars  

Joel C. Rosenberg made quite a splash with his 'ripped from the headlines' first two books, The Last Jihad and The Last Days. Rosenberg's first book was written nine months before the 9/11 attacks (although not published until 2002). His second book was as equally prophetic with world events mirroring his fiction. All this naturally got people talking. Who was Rosenberg? What did he know? Why were his books mirroring world events so closely?

Rosenberg does not claim to be a prophet although he admits to being an evangelical Christian from an Orthodox Jewish background. His works of fiction are merely that - fiction although they are premised on the prophecies of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. It is these prophecies that Rosenberg and many Bible scholars and conservative theologians see coming to fruition before our very eyes.

Epicenter is Rosenberg's non-fiction account of world events in the light of the prophecies of Ezekiel, Danial, and Jeremiah. These prophecies point to the rise of Iran as a threat to regional and world peace and it's eventual destruction, an end-time alliance between Russia and Iran (and we see more and more evidence of this each day), the collapse and rise of the Russian nation and its eventual destruction. All of these Biblical prophecies are woven around events that we can see happening in our world each and every time we turn on our televisions. These are not nebulous prophecies where anything can be read into them but exact accounts of what we see happening today.

Well, of course, all that is huge, "Hmmmmm."  No thinking person with an open mind can deny that ancient prophecies written thousands of years ago appear to be coming true before our very eyes. What's up with that?

Amazon says: 

"In his first groundbreaking nonfiction book, now with updated content, New York Times best-selling author Joel C. Rosenberg takes readers on an unforgettable journey through prophecy and current events into the future of Iraq after Saddam, Russia after Communism, Israel after Arafat, and Christianity after radical Islam. You won't want to miss Joel's exclusive interviews with Israeli, Palestinian, and Russian leaders, along with previously classified CIA and White House documents. New content includes the most up-to-date information since the hardcover release in 2006, a new poll about American attitudes toward the Middle East and prophecy, and transcripts of interviews conducted during the interview process for the Epicenter DVD-video."

Inside the front flap says: 

From the author who predicted 'a kamikaze attack on the U.S.' a war with Saddam, the death of Yasser Arafat and Iran's nuclear threat against Israel come 10 new predictions that will change your world. Epicenter gives you the headlines before they happen. Epicenter explains what is happening in the Middle East and how it will impact you. Epicenter provides inside information found nowhere else, including: Exclusive interviews with top political, military, intelligence, business, and religious leaders in Israel, Iran, Iraq and Russia; Previously classified documents from the CIA, Pentagon, and White House; An exclusive poll of American attitudes towards biblical prophecy, Israel, and current events. Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times best-selling author of The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option and The Copper Scroll, with more than one million copies in print. Joel is a writer and communications strategist who has worked for some of the world's most influential and provocative leaders, including Steve Forbes, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and former Israeli deputy prime minister Natan Sharansky. A front-page Sunday New York Times profile called him a 'force in the capital.' A former political columnist for World magazine, he has been interviewed on over 300 radio and TV programs, including ABC's Nightline, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, The History Channel, MSNBC, The Rush Limbaugh Show, and The Sean Hannity Show.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 29, 2008)

Book Review: The Ezekiel Option



Genre: Mystery & Thrillers   
Author: Joel C. Rosenberg   
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars  


Some time ago a friend began telling me about a series of books by Joel Rosenberg. I had some trouble getting my head around it as I knew Joel Rosenberg and could not imagine him writing in this genre. Long story short: wrong Joel Rosenberg. I know the science fiction writer, not the political thriller writer.

None the less, I avoided the recommendation as uninteresting and too familiar. This past week, however, surrounded with so many Filipinos that English was seldom heard and needing something to read I picked up Joel "C" Rosenberg's The Ezekiel Option for a quick read.

Today, having finished the book I went to look at Amazon's review (see below) and found it most unfortunate. It is most misleading to compare Rosenberg's books with the Left Behind series. While the subject matter may be similar the approach is completely different. Amazon's comparison is like comparing a corner store with Microsoft. Both are businesses but that is where the comparison ends. So it is with comparing Rosenberg with LaHaye.

This is a fast paced, political action thriller woven around the prophecies found in the book of Ezekiel and before you write them off as absurdities, you might wish to have a quick study. It is quite eerie how much of our current world scene lines up with ancient Bible prophecies. 

One of those things that make you go, "Hmmmmm."

Amazon says: 

"Tyndale House hopes to repeat its megasuccess with Left Behind by signing Rosenberg, an evangelical Christian from an Orthodox Jewish background, for a third apocalyptic novel. Rosenberg sets his events several years after 9/11 and picks up the plot line from his The Last Days. A coup in Russia may have left beautiful CIA agent Erin McCoy dead, even as her fiancé, presidential adviser Jon Bennett, watches his "Oil for Peace" initiative fall apart. As Russia prepares for war, Israel faces annihilation and Babylon regains its original splendor, Dr. Eliezer Mordechai, former head of the Mossad and now a Christian, reflects, "The Scriptures were coming alive." He prepares a 37-page Bible-based brief known as "The Ezekiel Option," which postulates that supernatural powers will eliminate Israel's enemies. The number of exploding vehicles and dead bodies will have a "been there, done that" feel to readers of previous Rosenberg novels, but the story turns aggressively Christian, incorporating lengthy references to scriptural prophecy and the Antichrist, as well as conversion scenes. There's some heavy violence, including a beating, an elderly woman run over by a tank and a severed finger, but the book is better written and more complex than Left Behind, to which it will inevitably be compared."
(Originally posted to Multiply December 29, 2008)


Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Unblog For December 29, 2008

When I read and reviewed the atheist manifestos of Dawkins and Harris as well as Hitchins screed I didn't receive any hate mail from anyone identifying themselves as Christian while all three of those writers go to great length to assure readers of the never ending stream of hatred directed at them by Christians. But review one book from a Christian perspective and I have been inundated with hate mail. Wow.

There is always intolerance on all sides of an issue whether one claims a Christian banner or a secular one and one of my next book reviews will reveal hatred and intolerance by atheists that is every bit as vicious and prevalent as those they claim comes from those who claim the mantle of Christ. Probably even more so. I do not hear Christians calling for atheists to be put to death yet the 'rational' Sam Harris advocates exactly that for those who believe in God.

Intolerance and ill-will is intolerance and ill-will no matter who espouses it nor what their intellectual credentials are. A pox on all your houses. If your creed or intellectual belief lead you into the area of hatred and targeted intolerance than stay away from me. I don't associate with those who cannot get their head out of their rectum.

Christmas here was busy and challenging. Tess brother and nephew arrived on the 23rd requiring a trip to the next city to pick them up. Naturally it was a lousy day with heavy snow making the 75 mile trip up and back to the airport interesting to say the least. Our Christmas was divided between Tess`house, my parents house, and my sisters place with me sometimes trying to attend to several holiday events at once. Mario and Roy were scheduled to return to Vancouver on the 26th. Tess and her Mom set out with me to drive them the 75 miles north to the airport they had flown into. The weather began to deteriorate as soon as we hit the road and soon became acutely dangerous as a blizzard blew in and we were driving in a near whiteout. We called the airline and they insisted the flight would land and would be on time and with Mario needing to get back to work and to prepare for another flight out on vacation on the 30th, we struggled on. We had barely gotten past the halfway point when the airline sent a text advising the flight was cancelled.

As dangerous as the highway was it was better to go on at that point. After a nearly 3 hour drive for a 75 mile trip we made it to the city and got hotel rooms for the night at a resort casino. Fortunately the hotel was close to a bookstore that was open on Boxing Day and in the storm. I grabbed a couple of books and after we ate and while the Asian crowd hit the casino, I read.

The next morning we were up early and, with the weather cleared, we were off to the airport where we were told there were no seats available until January 1 as they were all booked. The Air Canada attendant was quite snooty and kept telling Roy and Mario it was their fault for not having re-booked as soon as the flight had been cancelled. At that point I stepped in and in my calm, rational manner screamed, "How could they re-book when Air Canada hasn`t answered a phone in 16 hours?" It wasn't helpful.

To be fair, the entire air baggage system had gone down across Canada and that, combined with extremely bad weather, had resulted in many, many flight cancellations. That did not excuse Air Canada from not answering their phones for hours, however. Since I was not flying they couldn`t threaten to ban me from flying and my temper finally brought a senior official who managed to find two seats the next day on a competitors airline and leaving from our own city so it was back in the car and back home.

The next day we finally got everyone on their way, cleaned the house, and have spent the last couple of days trying to simply rest and relax.
Sometimes Christmases are just too much work!

Daughter Christina is off for a couple of weeks. As a teacher she gets the same Christmas break as the kids. A well deserved one at that. Tomorrow night I have been invited to a `sleepover`at my daughters house out on the farm.
In their main room, a kitchen, dining room, and sitting area is a picture window and a nook. They have placed armchairs on both sides of this nook and a futon against the window. Bookshelves line the wall and the wood stove keeps everything at a cozy temperature. Among their real presents I got Ace and Chris a basket full of various teas, biscuits, cookies and treats to enjoy in the evening as they sit in their cozy little nook. They spend most of their evenings their as there is no television reception where they are and Chris refuses to get a satellite. So while the kids sit in the living room watching DVD`s, Chris and Ace sit in their cozy nook overlooking the snow covered fields and read their evenings away.

I have been invited out to a dinner and an evening enjoying their reading nook. I am looking forward to it!

(Originally posted to Multiply December 29, 2008)

      
 

Christmas 2008



(Originally posted to Multiply December 29, 2008)

Christmas Eve 2008

For 30 years or more my sister has had a Christmas Eve dinner and birthday party for me. This year she is doing Christmas dinner as Mom is just too old for that task now. Doing the Christmas dinner was enough and so for the first time in years I had no birthday 'party.'

Mom cooked a quick pot of chili and made a birthday cake for me and for my son-in-law Ace who has the same Christmas Eve birthday. It was a really nice evening.

After I went to Tess' house where a full scale Filpino party was in progress. Doesn't anyone stay home on Christmas Eve anymore?


(Originally posted to Multiply December 26, 2008)

A Charlie Brown Christmas



(Originally posted to Multiply December 24, 2008)

2008 Filipino Christmas Party



(Originally posted to Multiply December 22, 2008)

Book Review: The Nightmare Years

Genre: History
Author: William L. Shirer
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

There was a time, not so long ago, when being a journalist was considered reputable and journalists were diligent in being impartial and reporting just the facts. William L. Shirer was one of the greats along with Edward R. Murrow and many others.

Journalists are not historians, it is said, and Shirer's classic work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is often panned by historians themselves it was, for a very long time, the only in depth treatise of that turbulent period of history and there is little to fault it.

The Nightmare Years is Shirer's account of his years as a journalist in pre World War II Europe and the horrors he saw and reported in those early years of the Third Reich. It is also an account of his life at that time, often a personal memoir.

While developing my web site of the Einsatzgruppen I read thousands and thousands of pages of history books until the written word of the horrors of the holocaust literally made me weep. I eventually had to stop work on the site and have barely touched it in a long, long time. Such was the depth of the horror that touched my soul. I am a bit of a history nut and I love reading history but have not been able to do so since developing that site. Volumes purchased sit here unread.

Yet I have been able, once again, to read Shirer's account of the early years and perhaps it will allow me a gentle road back into reading a genre that I enjoy.

World War II history is not for everyone, I know, yet Shirer's account is an interesting one and one that is still worth reading, his 'voice' still worth hearing.

Amazon says,
"Shirer, who has witnessed much history in the making, rehashes too much of it in this graceless, humorless third and final installment of memoirs. More interesting is the personal material. His career as a radio commentator ended when CBS fired him in 1947, and he reveals the dark role played by Edward R. Murrow. His account of the affair begins, "I've waited a long time to do this." Shirer describes the struggle to support his family during the McCarthy years, then his dramatic success as a bestselling author with the 1960 publication of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich . But his memoir also becomes an occasion to get back at publishers and reviewers who were not enthusiastic over his books; at length he recalls frustrating conferences with Alfred Knopf and others, reprints negative reviews and quibbles over them. He also takes the opportunity to defend his work against the disdain of historians who, he maintains, cannot accept his popularity."
(Originally posted to Multiply December 18, 2008)

A Five Dog Night


My oldest daughter Christina has three dogs. The S.P.C.A. has an adopt-a-pet program during the Christmas holidays so that pets can be taken into a home for a few days relieving S.P.C.A. staff and volunteers the task of looking after a great many animals over the holidays. Chris brought Hayden home for the holidays a couple of years ago and Hayden just stayed. He had found a family. Earlier this year Hayden was joined by Copper. Copper was an S.P.C.A. rescue dog who had been badly, badly abused and was to be put down but the staff wished to give him a little time in a situation where he would know love. He came to live with Chris and Ace joining Hayden. Copper is not doing well these days and his time is short but he finally came to know the love and kindness he needed all his life. Hayden and Copper were joined by a non-de script, mongrel puppy named Buddy. Buddy is a mammoth thing, a one man, or, as the case may be, a one dog wrecking crew.

Because Copper is so old and feeble, he has slept in the house since coming to live with my daughter and her family while Hayden and Buddy have, until recently, slept outside. Now that the deep cold has come they are allowed in at night and all three dogs sleep in the living room together although Copper is prone to wake up in the middle of the night and wander into Chris and Ace's bedroom.
Hayden, Copper, and Buddy are part of the menagerie of cats and horses and a lama as well as chickens and turkeys who live on Chris' farm.

They live in a remote rural area with only a few other houses on their road. In the country most animals, even if well treated, are not 'house' pets. They are provided with adequate housing to withstand the cold and expected to stay out. This includes the two dogs belonging to one of Chris' neighbors. These two often wander over to Chris' to play with Hayden, Copper, and Buddy.

The other night Hayden, Copper and Buddy were brought in for the night, fed, and had bedded down in their usual spots when there came a scratching at the door. Opening it, Chris found the two neighbor dogs. It was a cold, cold, night and they clearly wanted in and, amused, she allowed them in "for a moment." They promptly went to the living room, layed down with Chris' dogs, and went to sleep. Chris and Ace found this funny so she allowed them to stay the night. In the morning they wanted out and went to their home. The next night, promptly at bedtime, they were back and again came in to visit Chris' dogs and to spend the night. They have been back every night since. It appears better to sleep in the neighbor's living room warmed by a wood stove than in a cold doghouse and this pair have learned that they are welcome on cold night's at Chris' house.

Now, while amusing, I am sure most of you are shaking your heads and thinking, "Oh brother." That was my initial reaction as well but you know what? Dogs have feelings and preferences as well as humans do and these two are clearly expressing their desire for a warm night's sleep over a cold one. I am kind of proud of Chris and Ace that they have gentle hearts and express love and kindness to four footed friends.

The visiting dogs have no desire to live with them. They know they have a home and they return to it. They just want the warmth and the company at night and Chris is prepared to give it. My daughter is a softy. Surely she is accumulating good karma.

Speaking of dogs, at the end of her life my dog Kitten had developed a bit of a breathing problem and she huffed and puffed when climbing stairs. With her arthritic hips she had a peculiar gate as she climbed stairs as well. The huffing and puffing and the ragged walk made a distinctive sound. It was easy to tell when Kitten was coming up the stairs quite apart from the clicking of her nails. My father tells me that Kitten paid a 'visit' last night. He woke up hearing her huffing and puffing, her nails clicking, and her odd gate on the stairs. He says it gave him quite a start.

Well, who knows. Many would say he just woke up from a dream that Kitten was in. But you never know. Kitten was as attached to us as we were to her and perhaps her spirit paid a visit last night. I would like to think so anyway.

I saw my psychiatrist this morning. We had a small discussion. He said my depression was quite normal. That was qualified by his saying after that it was quite normal for me, anyway. I had been off my medication all summer as I got healthy, winter was a traditional time of depression for many like me as were the shorter hours of daylight this time of year. In addition he allowed that is I had been exercising as heavily as I had been and then had to reduce it suddenly because of the weather then the sudden decrease in endorphins would upset my system as well.

I told him that I thought I had been cured and he just shook his head and said, "No.' There is, of course, no cure for bipolar disorder although their is hope it 'eases' as I get older.

I did not want medication that would put weight back on which sent him to his manuals while he looked up likely drugs that might work to lift my mood without putting on pounds. In the end he selected one that I immediately dismissed for various reasons and we finally settled on one we could both agree to. Anyone who thinks psychiatry is an exact science is mistaken. The selection of anti-depressants is a guessing game anyway based on what has worked in the past, presenting symptoms, and a careful look into the Magic 8 Ball.

I will begin a new medication tomorrow and try it for a few weeks to see if it helps. If not, we go onto another one to try until we find one that lifts my mood. Then, once we find one that works, I am to go back on my lithium which I haven't taken in several months so I will not become manic during the anti-depressant therapy or after I recover.

Mania sucks every bit as much as depression but right now I just want to feel better and not be seeing "grey skies from now on."
It is a temptation when depressed to think that one's thinking has caused the depression when in reality it is the depression that has caused the disturbed, or, disturbing thoughts. I struggle to remember that and to pay the thoughts little attention. It is hard and harder still when within these thoughts there are kernels of truth that have always been hard to deal with and with an episode of depression become harder yet.

I cherish and value all of you who have expressed your care and concern. You do not know how much I treasure your warm wishes as I hurtle into the abyss. The ride is rough and dark and painful and bleak. At times it is near unbearable. Logging in here to your prayers and encouragement really helps. Thank you all.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 17, 2008)

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Genre:  Health, Mind & Body
Author: Michael Pollan
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Emerson wrote, "You have just dined and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity."
This was a good, if very disturbing, read. I had to shut my mind off every time I ate after reading this. The following review by Lloyd Alter at Treehugger gets to the point.


"A joy of writing for TreeHugger is that one learns so much, about things we never thought much about before. This may make us a lousy book reviewer, because we are certainly not experts in the subjects of the books we are reading and tend to gush. We learned about peak oil from James Howard Kunstler; about global warming from Tim Flannery, and now about food from Michael Pollan, and true to form we gush again.

The Omnivore's dilemma is this: When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety. The Koala doesn't worry about food- he just chews eucalyptus leaves. Rats and humans have bigger issues. Pollan says that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. He is no vegan, but is a cook and appalled by modern industrial food production, and how it separates us from the sources of our food. Pollan looks at the three principal food chains : Industrial, Organic and Hunter/Gatherer and has a meal from each.

If you eat industrially, you are made of corn. It holds together your McNuggets, it sweetens your soda pop, it fattens your meat, it is everywhere. You are also partially fossil fuel- the corn needs a lot of nitrogen and gets it from fertilizer instead of the soil, which used to get it from rotating crops. The corn is fed to cows who are designed to eat grass and get sick from it, so they are pumped with antibiotics. It is fed to us in many forms, because it is cheap- a dollar buys you 875 calories in soda pop but only 170 in fruit juice. The meal was a McDonalds, and was analyzed as almost entirely corn. He does not seem to have enjoyed it very much. For this reader, this section was by far the most shocking- industrial agriculture exposed as nothing but a giant yellow matrix.

Section Two covers the Organic industry, and is far more bucolic. Here, all is grass. Much of the chapter is spent on Joe Salatin's very doctrinaire and remarkable farm. However you will not find his foods in your Whole Foods- he only sells locally. The larger organic industry covers many different interpretations of organic, some of which are pretty borderline but all are better than anything from the corn economy. However the organic food industry is huge; transportation is a major cost. Pollan thinks that industrial organic is a contradiction in terms and is unsustainable, “floating on a stinking sea of petroleum”. We may all be eating the 100 mile diet soon, whether we want to or not. The meal sounded good, but a little heavy on the diesel fuel.

We won't go into the hunting and gathering Section in detail; this TreeHugger has never held a gun and doesn't get it. I do have to say that the meal sounded absolutely fabulous.

This TreeHugger has started feeling really guilty every time meat passes our lips- Elisa's lessons on Veganism impressed us. However after reading this book it is clear that we all have to change our eating habits-. Buying organic asparagus flown in from Argentina is no more morally defensible than eating a locally and sustainably raised cow. Finding my nearest farmers market has never seemed more important.

Michael Pollan is a fabulous writer. The Omnivore's Dilemmna is entertaining, funny and easy to read. I have read few books where I had such a good time learning so much.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 16, 2008)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012