News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: May 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My Taste in Literature: Anglo Saxon Religious Poems

If you haven't guessed by now, my tastes in lit veer towards the surreal, though a lot of my recent writing has been realistic. I try to choose stories that evoke a sense of the weird, or unheimlich as Heidegger called it.

Anyway, this probably accounts for why I find the stranger Apocalypses interesting reading, though my appreciation for the genre quickly dissipates when reading gnostic gospels. As it is, this poem, Andreas, from the olde English, sounds like a real winner in my book.

There's a translation available (pdf). About the story, Michael Drout (he recorded the MP3 versions of the Anglo Saxon poem linked to above) @ Wormtalk and Slugspeak writes:

But in terms of content, Andreas is really interesting, and if you haven't read this poem, I recommend it, even in the S.A.J. Bradley prose translation: it contains all kinds of weird and interesting things, from cannibalism to drugs that drive people insane to rivers pouring out of marble and drowning the bad guys... God Himself makes a number of appearances, some of them in disguise. I have read Andreas many times since first reading it in grad school, but I still don't know what to make of it.
I don't know why cannibals and other such characters showed up in Anglo Saxon poetry (think Beowulf here), but there it is. At least God wins in the end. Read more!

Educing Information, ie How to Make Torture Sound Like You Went to Harvard

(via Psyche, Science, and Society) EDUCING INFORMATION, Interrogation: Science and Art, Foundations for the Future

Read It! It'll change your life. Read more!

But It's Just a Movie

With Cheney running on low batteries for his heart machine and wanting to take as many with him when he goes as possible, I am just imagining nightmare scenarios here.

I have a basic question about the ability of subversive elements within the government to undermine and in some way bypass law and the constitution.

Is it possible that the Cheneyites/neocons have burrowed so deeply and stealthily into the government infrastructure that they could carry out plans to bring on a war with Iran even without executive knowledge?

I am imagining something along the lines of Syriana where you have these very powerful groups with huge amounts of money outside the govt but who have tentacles deep inside the military/intelligence community.

I've sometimes thought how lucky America has been that it's never had military style coup. I grew up during the days when such a coup seemed a live possibility. I was 8 years old when the film came out, but Seven Days in May made an impression so great that I still remember it.

I know, it's just a movie. Read more!

What Is It That Will Solve Everything? Nothing

As Kierkegaard noted, it's not what in the past you appropriate but how you appropriate it. The history of philosophy and theology has been a quest for origins, seeking the source of the current problem, the pure self once established and somehow lost. The past must be chosen not as past but as preparation for a future.

Kierkegaard was concerned that Hegel continued the metaphysical tradition begun with Plato in seeking the source of identity and being in the pure past. Does modernity go in the opposite direction and pose a future without a past (Lockeanism)? We must find liberation in the nothingness of the present that acknowledges both the death of the past and its resurrection in a just future.

The notion of the blogosphere and the promise of infinite (impossible) identities is that nothingness that informs the basis of who we are. The play of potential selves is important but only as a tensioned antithesis to what must be. Without engaging the real world in its temporality, its finiteness, we end up being inauthentic selves.

Anyway, with my very limited understanding of these issues, I was looking for a common framework (I love that word--used it in my thesis several times) for Leftist religionists to use in voicing how they see a truly (what's that?) religious response to modern issues taking shape.

I came up with several tentative tracks ( I borrow the notion from a book I recently read on Kierkegaard and Repetition):

1) there's the Nietzsche track--here, positive and negative Nihilism duke it out, with the eventual victory of der Ubermensch, a religious type that spurns all religions and lives for eternal recurrence.

a) Under this track, I place Heidegger, probably unfairly, and his notion of the time of the god(s) and its relationship to the Problem of Technology, especially Dreyfus' contention that Heidegger is actually advocating a positive vision of technology in that essay.

2) Kierkegaard and Leveling--though K did not use the term Nihilism, it does seem there are parallels between what he calls leveling and Nihilism.

Again, K like N, sees a positive and negative aspect to this historical process. The negative for K is traditional Xtendom. The positive is a process whereby leveling leads to the gutting and evisceration of all traditional values, a state of nothingness which will actually form the starting point for a new form of religiousness.

The form of this new religiousness would follow the lines of a more radical Christianity verging on martyrdom.

a) Under this track, I'd mention George Pattison's work on agnosis. Pattison has worked on a non-Christological understanding of religion that emphasizes the nothingness of everyday life as the starting point for a revitalized religious life.

Okay, that's really generalized and poorly organized. I realize its deficiencies, most notably in alluding to specialized areas of thought that might not be generally known.

It's a start, or is it? Maybe it's just drivel and all this crap is just ivory tower wannabes doing the solitary nasty in a corner, as the future proletariat will no doubt judge.


There are two aspects to the problem, I think. The first is sociological. Since that fits the temper of the age, I'll go with that first. And since I'm so much a Kierkegaardian, I'll steal shamelessly from his critique, though I take full responsibility for my interpretation of K.

The early "church" witnessed some form of struggle between those who wished to maintain an itinerant existence and those who thought that the church should organize and institutionalize. Gerd Theissen has called the former, the prophetic movement. It seems to have been in some disagreement about the understanding of Jesus' message, specifically related to the saying about having no place to lay his head.

This movement was at loggerheads with the Pauline strain which believed that forming into churches and maintaining fellowship in this way was the right interpretation. The struggle continues for some time into the later centuries, and may be part fo the reason why some of the gnostic groups had difficulties with the established hierarchy. Though not a gnostic, Tertullian's association with the Montanists may also have been part of this. Various reform movements within Christianity, especially milinialist groups also represent this undercurrent within Christianity.

Anyway, as I say, Kierkegaard recognized much of this and criticizes the early church's cozying up to the status quo and political regimes. That forms the basis of his own so-called attack on Xtendom. In psychological terms, Kierkegaard's explanation for why Xtians buy into the status quo involves a form of false consciousness called despair. The two concepts can't be collapsed into each other, though, since despair also includes the Christian notion of sinfulness.

Despair is the desire to be God on one level--Sartre borrowed heavily from K's Concept of Anxiety--and the non-desire to be who one is on another level. With consciousness comes awareness of the absolute freedom that humans have to be who they are. In much the same way that Heidegger was later--he too borrowed heavily from K's work--to analyze the THEY, K says that in reaction to this freedom we tend to fall back into reliance on various socio-cultural apparatuses that shield me from the imperative to be who I am in freedom, ie, making authentic and conscious choices.

In this framework (there's that word I love so much), Xtians who buy into the capitalist ideology and thereby provide cover for its oppressive and exploitive undertaking do so because they are in despair and cannot live with the infinite demand to be who they are, which ultimately involves doing God's will, which itself involves living an ethico-religious life that opposes all forms of oppression and injustice.

There's some correspondence, I think, between the Lacanian understanding of the Nothing and interpretations of K that start from his analysis of freedom--which itself is awareness of the nothing. Read more!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Piece of Me

For those who've been waiting to get a piece of me, here's your chance. This little bit of doggerel and dystopic vision will no doubt delight the cynic in you.

PS If you're ever uploading stuff to UTube, do it somehwere where they are not w@ching. I tried uploading this thing @ my local Library and it failed once and I gave up once after 50 mins. Then I went to my job and uploaded it in 4 mins. THEY R indeed w@ching.

Read more!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dick Stepping Out Behind George's Back?

It looks like the passionate embrace and fond cuddling phase is over for the Bush-Cheney marriage. Rumor has it that Cheney is stepping out behind Georgie's back, committing what some might call infidelities of a highly criminal kind. And we thought this marriage was made in heaven.

Steve Clemons has the inside poop:

The zinger of this information is the admission by this Cheney aide that Cheney himself is frustrated with President Bush and believes, much like Richard Perle, that Bush is making a disastrous mistake by aligning himself with the policy course that Condoleezza Rice, Bob Gates, Michael Hayden and McConnell have sculpted.

According to this official, Cheney believes that Bush can not be counted on to make the "right decision" when it comes to dealing with Iran and thus Cheney believes that he must tie the President's hands.

On Tuesday evening, i spoke with a former top national intelligence official in this Bush administration who told me that what I was investigating and planned to report on regarding Cheney and the commentary of his aide was "potentially criminal insubordination" against the President.
Okay, so what else is new in Washington, where relationships are a dime a dozen and people swapping partners is about as common as a new penny. Read more!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Iran, Again

And you thought that the Bush admin had learned its lesson about unilateral invasions of sovereign countries. Iran is an abscess on Cheney's ass, it seems, that he's just itching to lance.

Col Lang has links to two articles with some comments. Lang notes:

This one is one of the more obvious propaganda efforts by the Cheney/Luti/Abrams/Addison wing of the Bush Administration to plant stories in the press that seek to demonize Iran enough to make war with that country seem desirable. According to this tale, Iran, AQ and the Taliban are all just one big happy Muslim family...
Then there's this little ditty from today's news:
The manoeuvre comes less than two weeks after US Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking aboard the Stennis during a tour of the Gulf, said Washington would stand with others to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapons and “dominating the region”.
It seems that the Bushite/neocon clan just can't wait to see the Mideast go up in flames. After all, gas is only at $3.30 and rising and the oil cronies are making record profits. When you're in business you have to plan for the future right? Read more!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sadr City: A Second Falluja?

They're kidding right? Anyone who knows what happened at Falluja will be horrified at the idea that the US military would consider this a serious option. By many accounts, Falluja set the Iraqi insurgency in motion. If they "shake and bake" Sadr City, the insurgency would enter a regional phase. Do you really want to see that happen?

There's no way to stop this insane person at the head of our government except impeachment. The Dems don't have the balls to do that and the Reps are cravenly denying the people the right to have a say in how their government conducts itself. Read more!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Would A Human Sound Like If It Could Speak Bird? Piraha

I wish some people would actually read Wittgenstein instead of just citing him as the greatest philosopher of the 20th cent. Chomsky, though I agree with his politics, is dead in the water when it comes to understanding language.

Anyway this is interesting. I wish they'd included a sound file.

The New Yorker writes:

Fitch’s experiments were based on the so-called Chomsky hierarchy, a system for classifying types of grammar, ranked in ascending order of complexity. To test the Pirahã’s ability to learn one of the simplest types of grammar, Fitch had written a program in which grammatically correct constructions were represented by a male voice uttering one nonsense syllable (mi or doh or ga, for instance), followed by a female voice uttering a different nonsense syllable (lee or ta or gee). Correct constructions would cause an animated monkey head at the bottom of the computer screen to float to a corner at the top of the screen after briefly disappearing; incorrect constructions (anytime one male syllable was followed by another male syllable or more than one female syllable) would make the monkey head float to the opposite corner. Fitch set up a small digital movie camera behind the laptop to film the Pirahã’s eye movements. In the few seconds’ delay before the monkey head floated to either corner of the screen, Fitch hoped that he would be able to determine, from the direction of the subjects’ unconscious glances, if they were learning the grammar. The experiment, using different stimuli, had been conducted with undergraduates and monkeys, all of whom passed the test. Fitch told me that he had little doubt that the Pirahã would pass. “My expectation coming in here is that they’re going to act just like my Harvard undergrads,” he said. “They’re going to do exactly what every other human has done and they’re going to get this basic pattern. The Pirahã are humans—humans can do this.”
LIke I said, read Wittgenstein. Read more!

This Is Your Brain on Torture

So why is the military/DEA paying tax dollars to study the effects of imagined pain on the brain? Psyche, Science, and Society says the following:

While this research appears to be benign in intention, having been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it sure is interesting that it is one of a very few research papers cited by the Air Force PSYOPS folks. After all, creating an anticipation of pain is a central element in the United States” psychological torture paradigm.

It also makes one wonder what the calls for increased neurobiological research into interrogation strategies may actually be about.
Are Kierkegaard and the other existentialists rolling over in their graves yet? Read more!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Immortal Technique - Land of The Gun

(via Lenin's Tomb) Powerful images, but to what effect? Isn't the peace movement a spectator sport these days, with a viewership closely approaching zero?

Read more!

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Madman and the Nun

ok now i am beginning to get paranoid. if Utube, the anti-anti-anti-christ incarnate, can imbibe witkiewicz and not upchuck then we are indeed--INDEED--in trouble. folks. where's the cyanide capsules?

Read more!


Okay, for all of you kulcha nudniks here's hamletmachine's surrogate video done by a simulacrum who obviously had a lot of money and a tad of talent to put this together, huh?

Read more!

A Change is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke

This is for the woman who fantasizes about mercury fulminate, believes in soulmates, and worms her way into my dreams... was that you with the who said "#11" last night when I asked her her name and whose light in the eyes said, "this is what [I]'ve been looking for all my life?"

Or was she just Lilith's #11 clone?

Read more!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

If They Can Shit and Piss Afterwards, It's Not Torture

British TV recreates the experience of what inmates at Guantanamo Bay undergo. I have had my only little awareness of that reality in my life in my graveyard shift where I have no human contact for eight hours. After this time, I am "softened" up and feel very disoriented at times, overly talkative, and paranoid.

But watch what the people who went through much more extreme situation in this BBC video (via Psyche, Science, and Society). Read more!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Why the Bees Are Dying

The reason why millions of bees are dying around the world has still not been discovered. At least until now. In talking with my downstairs neighbor, I noted a bee buzzing around the small garden in the backyard. She then informed me that "they" had just discovered why.

I'd just heard NPR interview a noted bee expert from an Illinois university say that she was as perplexed as others about why bees are dying. So, I was intrigued by my neighbor's information, to say the least.

According to her, she had read in her church's newsletter that scientists had just cracked another small part of the atom. This particle (she did not know what to call it, so I am inserting my own limited understanding of quantum physics here) is so small that it's a special particle (for some reason).

In cracking this particle, the scientists had unleashed (is that the right word?) the voice of God. Now that this voice is unleashed, it is permeating (?) resonating throughout creation. The presence of God's voice in nature is so distracting to the bees that they cannot find their ways back to their hives.

The implications of all this are to be later revealed. (I am not sure whether she actually said this, or this is my own somewhat sarcastic impression of her testimony.)

I mentioned that scientists are still perplexed as to why the bees are disappearing, and I mentioned the bee expert from Urbana. My neighbor said that the expert probably hadn't heard of the discovery and cracking of this particle.

I left the conversation at that, since I saw that she was very keen on this explanation. I saw that if I appeared skeptical she might become resentful and hurt. She was very certain that her church's newsletter was right.

She is a member of a Messianic Jewish church. I do not know whether this news has been widely disseminated, but I want to investigate the news further. So I will probably try to engage her in further discussion, hiding my skepticism and hopefully getting a look at the newsletter.

For one thing, I'd like to know what the subatomic particle is that scientists have lately discovered or "cracked." I haven't heard of any. I'd also like to read the biblical justification for interpreting any such discovery. Read more!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Satan Using Illegal Aliens to Set Stage for Final Attack

This is one of the stupidest things I've heard in a very, very long time. Yet, these are the kinds of things that so-called Xtians really think and believe.

Yes--you know what I mean. And this guy's a "Utah County Republican delegate." How far up the pecking order does thinking like this go in the Republican Party?

That is, how far does it go before it becomes something they secretly think but don't talk about because--you know--the Liberals run the media and make what real God-loving people believe look stupid.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune (via Codex: Biblical Studies):

"In order for Satan to establish his 'New World Order' and destroy the freedom of all people as predicted in the Scriptures, he must first destroy the U.S.," his resolution states. "The mostly quiet and unspectacular invasion of illegal immigrants does not focus the attention of the nations the way open warfare does, but is all the more insidious for its stealth and innocuousness."
Read more!