Libra by Don DeLillo (1988)

It was the mid-nineties, and I was in high school. I had to choose a book for a book review, so I began roaming the library, scanning the bookshelves, both of them. What can I say? It was a very small library in a very small school. The book that caught my attention was Case Closed by Gerald Posner. The book was new, a bestseller, and it argued the case that there was no conspiracy. Zip, zero, nada. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

Over the years I keep coming back to the JFK assassination. It seems to be a pivotal moment for America, ushering in the 1960s an era of change, rebellion, and chaos, ending in disillusion.   Read more

The violence on both sides

The kinds of violence that we are seeing in protests, on campuses and in Charlottesville will likely only continue to escalate. I’m surprised that it hasn’t been worse, frankly, but I’m grateful that we’ve been able to hold it together — but the kinds of violence we are seeing are symptoms of a social sickness, and hence the answer is not to condemn the violence itself, despite how affirming it may feel. President Trump does what he always does: heap as much blame for the violence on liberals and the left as is humanly possible (hence “violence on both sides”). The left justifies itself and condemns fascist violence. But condemning violence completely misses the point of what is happening in our society. Read more

Humpday Homily #5 – Repentance

I’m finally watching Game of Thrones. Better late than never. It’s an epic series, as most will tell you, seemingly on pace to hit the level of a true “classic,” like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or who knows, maybe it will gain the moment and cult following that will give it the kind of scope that the Star Wars franchise has. We’ll see.

Game of Thrones also represents the latest in the explosion of a relatively new film genre: TV episodes that form a series. HBO pioneered the genre with The Sopranos, using the medium of television to tell a story, something that feels almost readable, something that goes deep and wide, just like a good novel. And the time commitment required to watching a season of Game of Thrones or The Sopranos is about the same as reading a novel. Read more

Bar Stool Politics, on North Korea

Dude I’m talking to says: “Okay okay but what’s wrong with talking tough? It’s refreshing, for me it’s refreshing to see that there’s someone finally willing to stand up to North Korea. And what’s wrong with that?”

Me: Look man, I’m old enough to remember the last time America did the tough guy song and dance. It led us into Iraq and Afghanistan, two unwinnable wars that we paid for with borrowed money. It made the Middle East situating worse and led to the rise of ISIS.

Dude I’m talking to: Well okay, maybe, but ISIS? That’s a stretch.

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away. ~ Matthew 11:12

The Violent Bear It Away is one of the less-hyped works of Flannery O’Connor, but this is easily my favorite work of the great Southern Gothic writer.

A young boy was raised by his great Uncle, a former inmate at a mental asylum and self-anointed “prophet.” The Uncle raises him to be a prophet, but when the great Uncle dies, the boy is in his teens and must decide the course of his life. While drawn to the exotic and dramatic elements of a prophetic calling (e.g., calling fire down from heaven, etc.), he greatly fears prophetic poverty, most notably the hunger he senses from his Uncle, who longs for the Bread of Life to satiate his spiritual deprivation.

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Trump’s DOJ gears up for crackdown on marijuana | TheHill

Geez. That’s invasive. Yo, I thought the Republicans were the party of small government! Of individual rights! Let a man own a basement full of guns, but he can’t have a gram of weed? I think Jefferson is not so much rolling over in his grave as thinking, “the fuck, man?!”

But I jest.

Let’s put Republican hypocrisy aside for a moment, because there’s something even more ridiculous to what the debunked Trump administration is doing. This is what the 70-year-old Jeff Sessions (Trump’s Attorney General) says about the marijuana crackdown he’s so anxious to initiate:

“Task Force subcommittees will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities…” 

“Reducing violent crime”? If you want to reduce violent crime, dude, like, don’t take weed off the market. Alcohol, for example, leads to far more violence than weed, which from my experience only gives you the munchies, a good night’s sleep, and makes you feel slow and stoney…and may more or may not be the solution to writer’s block. 😉

Dear Jeff Sessions,

Dude, like, chill. Try smoking a bowl and watching the Big Lebowski. Then let’s talk about the link between marijuana and violent crime. Maybe we can save a few government bucks and/or use it for something that matters.

 

Source: http://thehill.com/regulation/administration/343218-trumps-doj-gears-up-for-crackdown-on-marijuana

Bond v. Bourne: Two American Stories

Yesterday an article of mine went up at Cinema Faith, comparing the James Bond and Jason Bourne films and the various versions of America that they present. The films are intertwined into American culture, spanning decades (29 films total, between the two of them), so I’ve planned it as a series of three articles.

Bourne’s journey mirrored my own, and many others. It mirrored our own spiritual and national amnesia. Like many of my peers, I was taught a sanitized, glorified version of American history, a Christian ideology of “one nation, under God.” Sure we had our messy periods — what with slavery and that nasty bit with killing all of those Indians — but we fixed all that, didn’t we? The America of today is a land of opportunity, opportunity for all, isn’t it?

http://cinemafaith.com/articles/bourne-vs-bond/

U.S. Sold $40 Billion in Weapons in 2015, Topping Global Market

The United States is a Christian nation, and we are the greatest nation on earth…at least if measured in terms of how much gross revenue made from the sales of weapons. In all seriousness, though, most of these sales of weapons go to “developing nations,” which means that 1) the weapons do great harm, landing in the hands of tyrants and war lords in unstable countries and 2) these weapons can more easily find their way into the hands of terrorists. Karma, though, what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. We create the terrorists that we so greatly fear and that cause us to enter ill-advised, unwinnable wars that divide us, cause us to go into great debt, and further destabilize the world.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/26/us/politics/united-states-global-weapons-sales.html?smid=fb-share&_r=2

The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars

What I liked: It was a thrill ride, a thinkers thrill ride, but a thriller nonetheless. It’s a bit creepy to contemplate the reach of the government in the post-9/11 world. Even creepier, I submit, when a skilled author brings characters to life who have to grapple with the issues in real time, on the run. 

Plot Summary: A clean up by the NSA leads to a cover up, and cover ups lead to more cover ups. The body count and loose ends lead an analyst inside the agency to start to ask questions, questions that she knows she isn’t ready to answer, questions that peel back the curtain on the NSA’s power and god-like reach.

“Something about all that power seemed to make the assholes who wielded it believe they were invulnerable.”

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Peace on Earth: Live and Let Live

To get along with each other, we must respect one another. There is not shortcut. In this era of “nationalist” enthusiasm, in this Trump-world where people are viewed with suspicion because they are of a different religion or nationality, of a different gender or race — it’s important to remember that surrounding yourself with people who look and think and act just like you is no guarantee that you will be more safe, more secure, or free from conflict. Peace is not won through purging ourselves of those who are different, it comes through a maxim that I saw on display most notably in my travels through Alaska: live and let live. It’s simple. It’s basic. It’s respect.

I was reminded of this reading a bit of wisdom from Zadie Smith:

Racial homogeneity is no guarantor of peace, any more than racial heterogeneity is fated to fail

Here’s an extended quote from the New York Review (Dec 22):

“I don’t think I ever was quite naive enough to believe, even at twenty-one, that racially homogeneous societies were necessarily happier or more peaceful than ours simply by virtue of their homogeneity. After all, even a kid half my age knew what the ancient Greeks did to each other, and the Romans, and the seventeenth-century British, and the nineteenth-century Americans. My best friend during my youth—now my husband—is himself from Northern Ireland, an area where people who look absolutely identical to each other, eat the same food, pray to the same God, read the same holy book, wear the same clothes, and celebrate the same holidays have yet spent four hundred years at war over a relatively minor doctrinal difference they later allowed to morph into an all-encompassing argument over land, government, and national identity. Racial homogeneity is no guarantor of peace, any more than racial heterogeneity is fated to fail.” (emphasis added)

Keith Scott shooting: no charges to be filed against Charlotte police officer 

Scott, 43, never raised or pointed the gun, according to the prosecutor, but Vinson felt he posed an imminent threat because he ignored orders to drop it and stared at them in a “trance-like state”.

Is this really the kind of nation we want to live in? Where officers have a license to kill with no accountability or repercussions?
Source: The Guardian 

Amidst the abuse of the protesters, it’s heartening to see veterns self-deploying to Standing Rock. As these events unfold, however, I am reminded that it takes a lot of violence to sustain our way of life. Usually the troops and police officers are fighting on the side of the wealthy and powerful, geared up to the teeth to beat back anyone who stands in the way of “progress.” Our ever-expanding economy must be sustained by heavy energy use. Few question whether or not we need the economy to continue to expand, so we just keep building pipelines that will leak, we keep drilling offshore, we keep pouring poisons into the ground to frack up the shale, and we keep blowing off the tops of the Appalachian Mountains to get at every last bit of coal, even when this means destroying our beautiful, green landscapes and leaching toxins into rivers and creeks. This is the price we all agree to pay, to live as we do, though we often do not acknowledge it. After all, most of us don’t have to live with a pipeline in our backyard.

http://abc13.com/news/veterans-stand-for-standing-rock/1625443/