Saturday, September 29, 2012
Friday, September 28, 2012
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Margaret and I are leaving this morning for Eastern Europe. We'll get on a river ship near the Parliament Building in Budapest... After a couple of days there, we'll head downriver toward the Black Sea. I took this photograph a couple of years ago. BLOG posts will be spotty for the next couple of weeks.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
One of Clyde's latest hummingbird paintings.
You can see this one and several others
at Toma Sol Cafe at 301 West Washington Street
Nobody doubts the value of Bible stories and poetry as literature. Some stories and poetry of the Old Testament can’t be dated precisely, but like all ancient literature there are clues that help with the dating. The oldest stories were written around a thousand years before the beginning of what is now referred to as the common era (BCE). For comparison, we know that the story poems attributed to a Greek poet named Homer were composed around 800 BCE and finally written down around 450 BCE; so the Old Testament Bible stories and the Greek myths were composed in the same part of the world at about the same time, and were passed along orally for a long time before they were written.
The themes of both sets of stories are remarkably similar . First, both traditions begin with stories which explain how the world began. Both contain well defined explanations for the creation of all things including humans. The Greeks stories are built around the activities of a panoply of gods and demigods who interact with mortals. The Judeo-Christian stories introduce one all-powerful good god and some lesser not-quite-god angels with one eternal “fallen” personality who is the explanation for all the evil in the created world. One huge difference is that the Greek stories are considered by just about everybody to be myths. There is no embarrassment or risk in declaring Greek stories to be myths. Even Greek stories that have verifiable connections to historical people and places can be safely relegated to the literary classification of myth. After the Roman literary world adopted the Greek stories and gave many of the characters Latinate names, the stories in Latin were declared to belong in the mythology category. Not so with the Judeo-Christian stories. Even the most preposterous of those stories are considered by fundamentalist Christians to have literally happened just the way they are described in “holy” scripture.
Considering their traditional stories to be myths has always been unacceptable to the majority of practicing Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Fundamentalist traditions have developed in all three groups; and to suggest that a story, any part of a story, is myth in either of these three traditions is enough to get a person shunned, excommunicated or even killed. Recently when the Prophet Mohammad was portrayed in a cheap, clumsily written and unconvincingly produced film as being an ordinary man with pedestrian flaws, fundamentalist Islamist groups in several countries exploded into uncontrolled rage. People were killed in the riots, including the American ambassador in Libya. Christians and Jews around the world were quick to condemn the violent outbursts. There is obvious hypocrisy in the responses of some Christian and Jewish groups.Fundamentalists Christians and fundamentalist Jews have been known to foment into vigilante mobs when someone in their group becomes hysterical and begins screaming that their holy traditions or holy prophets or holy god has been defamed.
It’s interesting that Santa Claus and Tinker Bell and anybody else’s religious icons are fair game for mythologizing, but it’s not O.K. to suggest that any of the stories, however fantastical, of “our” group could possibly be myths and therefore open to ridicule or comical skepticism.
America is a country where it is possible to make fun of any religion, even the religion of one’s family and community, without having the action declared to be out of legal bounds. Bill Maher can turn anybody’s religious beliefs and piety into a comedy routine on stage or on his TV program, and he won’t get into legal trouble. He may outrage fundamentalists in all religions, and he may even make nominal Christians uncomfortable, but he is allowed under the law to say whatever he wants to say as long as what he says isn’t declared by the courts to be hate speech that incites others to violent action. Freedom of speech is a very good thing. We are a nation of laws. Our system of laws is a good one. Today I celebrate the integrity of our nation and especially the integrity and wisdom of our President. I reread again today his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations yesterday. He is a good man and a good leader. He obviously has my support and my vote.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Barack Obama, the President of the United States, made me proud today when he spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. He represented me and all Americans who value the freedoms, including freedom of speech, that we enjoy in our country. He made it clear to the world that America had no part whatsoever in the production of the notorious film that fundamentalist Muslims have used in several countries as an excuse for shameless rioting and murder. I am grateful that this brilliant, articulate man is my President. It is my hope and my expectation that enough thoughtful, reasoning American citizens will validate his presidency by electing him to represent us in a troubled world for another four years.
I am including in this BLOG writing part of the text of his speech. You may read the entire address at the following WEB address:
...from the President Obama’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations.
We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture.
These are not simply American values or Western values; they are universal values. And even as there will be huge challenges to come with the transition to democracy, I am convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people, and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.
So let us remember that this is a season of progress. For the first time in decades, Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans voted for new leaders in elections that were credible, competitive and fair.
The democratic spirit has not been restricted to the Arab world. Over the past year, we've seen peaceful transitions of power in Malawi and Senegal and a new president in Somalia. In Burma, a president has freed political prisoners and opened a closed society. A courageous dissident has been elected to parliament, and people look forward to further reform.
Around the globe, people are making their voices heard, insisting on their innate dignity and the right to determine their future. And yet the turmoil of recent weeks reminds us that the path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot. Nelson Mandela once said, ``To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.''
True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and that businesses can be open without paying a bribe. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear, and on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.
In other words, true democracy, real freedom is hard work.
Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents. In hard economic times, countries must be tempted -- may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.
Moreover, there will always be those that reject human progress, dictators who cling to power, corrupt interests that depend on the status quo, and extremists who fan the flames of hate and division. From Northern Ireland to South Asia, from Africa to the Americas, from the Balkans to the Pacific Rim, we've witnesses convulsions that can accompany transitions to a new political order.
At time, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they're willing to tolerate freedom for others.
And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.
For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.
We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them. I know there are some who ask why don't we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.
Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.
Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views -- even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.
We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities. We do so because, given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech -- the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.
(Still playing around with the fisheye lens attached to my iPhone)
The Central Waiting Room at Santa Fe Station in San Diego
Monday, September 24, 2012
On Friday, October 12th, The Museum of Photographic Arts will celebrate with a reception the opening of an exhibition of Ruud van Empel’s Strange Beauty photographs. There is definitely something compelling about images that are a combination of strangeness and beauty, presumably in equal parts.
At the end of this day, I looked closely at the images I captured close to home; and I did indeed find strangeness and beauty combined in a couple of them. Using the little fisheye lens on my iPhone, I turned the stairs leading to the street from my house into something strangely beautiful. I hadn’t seen them as anything but utilitarian before today. They had been just stairs. Now I shall always think of them as special when I go up and come down. An orchid blooming on my back porch is an alien being when seen from an unexpected angle. The roots of a ficus tree seem otherworldly and grotesquely spiritual. Irene’s dessert for an afternoon tea is not ordinary in any way. Its negative form is strange and unsettling with no hint of the luscious positive image of the pudding before I ate it.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Sometimes on a Sunday evening I start thinking about the time when I was a young teacher determined to get my students ready for college. On Sunday evenings coming up to Monday when I required my senior college preparatory English students to write a five-hundred-word essay from a prompt they found written on the chalk board, I would try to develop something they could actually do if they put their best thinking to it... something that could be planned and written in the fifty-minute class time... and could be ready to hand in to me at the end of class. My goal was to have the papers read and evaluated and marked by Tuesday. I wanted them to learn to think and plan and write under the pressure of time, and I thought they would get more out of the experience if I had the papers ready to hand back to them the day after they were written. I didn’t tell them, but they surely figured out that I actually hated Mondays, especially Monday evenings because I sometimes wouldn’t finish evaluating the papers until one o’clock or even two o’clock in the morning.
Tonight, just for the heck of it, I came up with a prompt I would use if I were still teaching. Here’s what my students would find tomorrow if they were filing into my classroom:
Bark is like truth... absolutely essential... rough sometimes... some would say ugly... almost always interesting.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
I went today to participate in an effort to help young people who were brought to the United States when they were children, some as young as six months, whose sense of themselves as Americans is the same as mine has always been... except that they live in fear of being plucked out of the only country they have ever known because they lack the same passport that I can carry because I was born in the country that we, they and I, think of as ours. They are unquestionably loyal to this country. They are dreamers. They are the dreamers who are putting themselves at risk to participate in DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I am part of DAN, Dreamer Assistance Network.
The Song Some Sing at Tea Time in Arizona...
And a few where I live join in...
And a few where I live join in...
‘Tis of thee I sing,
Sweet land of liberty...
Not your country... mine, mine...
Don’t try to take it for your own.
It’s mine! It’s mine!
Hands off if you’re thinking
I can spare some of it for youor your kind who were not
to the manor born
and never did anything
at all to earn it.
I myself was born here
I’ve got rights...
First dibs, you might say.
You’ve got nothing.
If you’re thinking
I’ll give up any part of it it
you can think again.
are all right for beaners.
Not for all of us
whom God really
and wants us
to have chic-fil-A.
If I had time
away from my business
of patriotic citizenship
perhaps I could
give a damn
at least for foreigners
whose skin is more like mine
and speak God’s language...
the kind of English Jesus spoke.
Once more with feeling!
God bless America...
At least my part of it.
Friday, September 21, 2012
For another couple of weeks important paintings and a few small sculptures from the San Diego Museum's collection of German expressionist art can be seen in an exhibition called "The Human Beast." If you live in San Diego and you haven't seen this show, get over there right away... before the paintings are shuffled back to the archives perhaps not to be seen again for a long time. What I like most about the art is that it disturbs me. Without exception the artists were people who challenged notions about truth and reality in pre-World War II Europe... especially Germany. Nazi madness spread through the population and tainted the culture. Hitler declared that expressionist art was degenerate and ordered it destroyed. Even Egon Shiele’s painting of his town by the river would have been destroyed if Hitler’s people could have got their hands on it. Ernst Kirchner’s paintings were declared detenerate. My palm bark probably would not have survived because it fits the Nazi description of degenerate art.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
When the sky is bluer than yesterday
and Boston seduces Schenectedy
on a day when thunder and lightening
rush into South Georgia from Alabama
before noon on the first day of Autumn,
whatever happens in Addis Ababa
before sundown the day after tomorrow
will probably get reported in Cairo
and blamed on the the USA and NATO
especially if Westboro Baptist Church
has been too busy protesting everything
to notice that God has apparently retired
and doesn't really have an objection to
the marriage of Bill and Jim in St. Louis.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
My friend Clyde Yoshida, the artist, has been working for sometime now on a series of paintings of hummingbirds. We talked this morning about the significance of the humingbirds, to him and in his work. The birds are Clyde. That bit of information opened up for me a whole new way of seeing him and of seeing his work and of thinking about... well, everybody including me.
Even before preChristian times birds and other winged creatures... especially mythical gods and mortals who could fly, were important metaphors for something at the very center of living things, especially of humans. For two thousand years since the beginning of the First Century, Christian theologians and just ordinary believers who try to make sense of things have tried to figure out what to do... what they should believe about angels. Some people with way too much time on their hands even argued about how many of them could stand on the head of a pin. I’ve never been tempted even for a moment to be drawn into that argument or into any argument about the size or shapes or even the existence of extraterrestrial angels, but I am easily coaxed into discussions about the something that is in us, in all persons, that doesn’t have material substance but that most of us recognize in ourselves as being sacred.
In Christian dogma God is often described as being three persons in one: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Ghost. In Christian art the Holy Spirit is often represented by a bird, usually a dove. Clyde says he is not trying to describe God with his paintings... but he is clearly making a statement about the sacred something (perhaps I should type Sacred) in himself, something that represents the very essence of his being. My friend Ben Christensen probably would suggest that it represents the “Good” in himself. I’ll ask Clyde about that when I see him again.
The painting that I own by Clyde Yoshida is not of a hummingbird but of a dragonfly. I happen to like dragon flies... the mystery of them. If you follow this blog you may remember that I managed to get a picture of a male dragonfly and a female dragonfly mating while hovering over a small pool in the Davids’ backyard. I am intrigued by the dragon part of the name dragonfly. I happen to like the name hummingbird. I like the idea of that secret sacred part of me humming in my heart. Clyde has chosen exactly the right bird to represent the mystery and magic of the sacred something that is humming eternally in us.
You can see some of Clyde’s hummingbird paintings at: http://cyoshidaart.blogspot.com
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Monday, September 17, 2012
Jeremy is leaving later this week to begin his freshman year at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I shall miss him. Watching him grow up has been one of the great pleasures of my life. Now he is a man, a very fine man. He is a diligent student, an honest scholar, so he will soon have little time for anything but his studies. I am confident that he will get education as well as certification for his life’s work. I look forward to his sharing with me new and interesting ideas as he is introduced to them.
Today he sent me a paper by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright which they subtitled “An Introduction to Visual Culture.” The title of the piece is “Practices of Looking.” Jeremy is an artist, and in my retirement I like thinking of myself as a photographer; so we have common interests besides family. The pictures I post on the BLOG today were taken after I read the section of the paper that deals with the myth of photographic truth. All of the pictures were shot with my iPhone using a new attachment that the Davids gave me for my birthday. The device fits neatly over the phone’s camera lens. Turned one way it becomes a fisheye lens. Turned the other way it is a macro lens. Amazing technology.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Saturday, September 15, 2012
So Here’s the Deal:
Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino owner who has pledged already up to $100 million dollars to the Mitt Romney campaign for president, was doing the arithmetic long before President Bill Clinton urged us to figure it out. If Mitt Romney wins the election, Adelson will realize $2 billion dollars in tax savings. Adelson is a multi-billionaire already. One wonders why someone with such resources worries about giving up some of his vast wealth to support his country. If President Obama is reelected, Adelson and all other millionaires and billionaires will be required to pay their fair share to help their country meet the needs of all people. Amazing what Greed does to people.
On another subject... It’s also amazing what war does to people. I was wondering through the San Diego Museum of Art’s exhibition or German Existentialist art in the permanent collection when I came across the startling painting by Otto Dix called Kanonier Lowe. Dix was a soldier in the German army during World War II. He tried to show in the face of a gunner what killing does to the person who kills in war. It’s a disturbing picture. I suppose the explosion of violence against America by Islamist fundamentalists this week has made me worry that more wars in the world are not only possible but altogether likely to happen.
In the debate season coming up let's listen carefully to what Mitt Romney and President Obama say about funding war.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Sometime when the world seems about to explode, I go over to the San Diego Zoo to check in with a couple of old friends to see how they are doing. Things are fine at the zoo. I had an interesting few minutes with an orangutan who was hanging from some ropes near the glass wall that kept us apart. Her face and mine were less than a foot apart. We looked directly into each other’s eyes for a few minutes, and she smiled... or I think that’s what the expression meant. I smiled, too. I moved my hand to her hand separated by only and inch of glass. When I finally moved away but stayed close to the glass, she moved with me... face to face. It was clear that some meaningful contact had been made between us. When I stopped, she stopped. When I moved, she moved with me. It was an amazing few minutes. I don’t have a picture because I knew it wouldn’t have been polite to hold my camera up to the class and point it at her. My picture here is one I snapped earlier of the big male who sat nearby obviously disinterested. As I was taking his picture, he glanced at me; but he obviously had no interest in anything more than acknowledgment that he had seen me and that I had seen him. He went back to eating a payapa.
On another matter, I’ve decided to try not to anticipate what harm the fresh troubles in North Africa and the Middle East may bring to innocent people. I wish it could all have been resolved peacefully before tomorrow, but that isn’t going to happen. Steve Klein, an ex-marine who founded an organization called Courageous Christians United and lives up in Hemet, California, says he was a script consultant for the movie that is causing all the trouble. He stages protests outside mosques and abortion clinics. In 2007, Klein sued the city of San Clemente after it ordered him to stop planting anti-illegal immigration fliers on cars. I don’t know the status of the law suit. He is host of a weekly program on an Arabic Christian outlet called “The Way TV.” Klein is well known to the Southern Poverty Law Center folks who monitor activities of right-wing extremists. When he was interviewed by reporters today, he said the whole affair was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s fault for not protecting the embassy staff better in Libya. He said Secretary Clinton is to blame for the death of the American ambassador and three others. He went on to say about the Islamists who rioted in Libya and Egypt, “I’m not responsible for the actions that they go out and do. Why would I be bothered.” Why indeed? I wonder if he will sleep well tonight.
It was a hot day here in San Diego, so I went over to check on the polar bears. They didn't seem to be comfortable. A tree up the road from their enclosure has in its bark an amazing likeness of an owl.
...and not far from the owl in the tree an ivy frond was unfolding. Life is good... here where I am... and where that guy Klein will sleep tonight. I hope it will soon be good for the people in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and the other troubled places in the world.