Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ravnopolska's "Suite of Dances"

Moristotle recommends these short snippets on YouTube from his grandson's mother's "Suite of Dances," for solo harp.

Tango
 
Arabian Dance

Watch and listen soon, as they likely won't remain on YouTube long.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Culture comes of nature

Nature creates art, reflects Nature
(at the Honolulu Zoo, July 2010)
This morning I finished reading the concluding chapter of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio's 2010 book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. The chapter, titled "Living with Consciousness," sketches consciousness's contributions to the success of living organisms; that is, places it in evolutionary context.
    In earlier chapters, in which he lays out his theory of how the brain orchestrates consciousness and our sense of self—of being the felt protagonists of our lives—he frequently invoked evolutionary development, as, for example, in comparing the brains of mammals to identify the order in which the regions of the human brain developed and the order's implications for the role of the various regions in regulating homeostasis and conferring adaptive, or competititve advantage.
    The following passage jumped out at me as capturing my own developing sense of nature's creating not only biological organisms but in the course of time creating culture by virtue of having created organisms with brains capable of manifesting mind and eventually capable of devising repositories of collective learning. My personal sense is reflected, for example, in my caption for the July 2010 photograph from the Honolulu zoo.
    Damasio writes:
Nervous systems developed as managers of life and curators of biological value, assisted at first by unbrained dispositions but eventually by images, that is, minds. The emergence of mind produced spectacular improvements in life regulation for numerous species, even when images lacked fine detail and lasted only during the perceptual moment, entirely vanishing thereafter....
    Once self comes to mind, the game of life changes, albeit timidly at first. Images of the internal and external worlds can be organized in a cohesive way around the protoself [a theoretical entity in Damasio's theory of the sequence of brain/mind development] and become oriented by the homeostatic requirements of the organism....[pp. 286-287]

If nature can be regarded as indifferent, careless, and unconscionable, then human consciousness creates the possibility of questioning nature's ways. The emergence of human consciousness is associated with evolutionary developments in brain, behavior, and mind that ultimately lead to the creation of culture, a radical novelty in the sweep of natural history. The appearance of neurons, with its attending diversification of behavior and paving of the way into minds, constitutes a momentous event in the grand trajectory. But the appearance of conscious brains eventually capable of flexible self-reflection is the next momentous event. It is the opening of the way into a rebellious, albeit imperfect response to the dictates of a careless nature.
    ...The self that I envision as capable of rebelliousness is a recent development, on the order of thousands of years, a mere instant in evolutionary time. That self draws on features of the human brain acquired, in all likelihood, during the long period of the Pleistocene. It depends on the brain's capacity to hold expansive memory records not only of motor skills but also of facts and events—in particular, personal facts and events, those that make up the scaffolding of biography and personhood and individual identity...Last, it depends on the invention of external memory systems parallel to those held by each brain, by which I mean the pictorial representations offered by early painting, carvings, and sculpture, tools, jewelry, funerary architecture, and, long after the emergence of language, written records....[pp. 289-290]
Damasio's "Rebelliousness" (as in culture's rebelling against and trying to improve nature) I can't but read in the context of this blog's recent theme of a few individuals rebelling against certain aspects of popular (or majority) culture: religious beliefs and practices that rational people would think we could have outgrown, burdensome traditions that tether us to unprofitable pasts, adolescent politics that degrade our national business into playground bullying....
    It would seem that culture has a way yet to mature before the benefits of self's having come to mind can be realized by a collective majority of the organisms who possess a human brain.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Live, laugh, love

On our usual holiday sort of weekend outing to Costco this morning, we stopped by to see some friends' house and yard that we hadn't visited yet. The friends were away (as we knew), so we couldn't visit them, but everything was so inviting, it was as though they were there all the time.




House from the street side of our friends' picket fence
(all of the photos have been filtered artistically in Photoshop;
click to enlarge)

We guessed the cat was a member of our friends' household
(he or she seemed at home)



Don't fail to click on this one so you can read the words

I was just being myself at Costco, but maybe moreso because of the words.
    First stop was the optical shop, to get a new hard case for my glasses. The old case's lid no longer held to, and my glasses had slipped out onto the garage floor Friday evening (though I didn't notice it at the time and found them finally, after looking in all the usually suspected places, two or three times each, only as I was headed to my car to drive to the gym to look around the next-suspected place I might have left them).
    The optician looked out of sorts to me. "Why so glum, David? Having a bad day already?"
    He just shrugged. "So, what do you need?" he said, seeming not to want to dwell on whatever might be bothering him.
    I told him and he rummaged around in a drawer for a new hard case, finding three candidates. I selected the Van Heusen (Van Heusen? I thought they made dress shirts!) and turned in my Geoffrey Beene. He noticed that my glasses were a little crooked and offered to adjust them for me.
    I said, "I've tried to be very careful to always use both hands to take them off, but most of the time I'm unconscious." I told him what had happened in the garage and about looking all over for the glasses, about how my wife had said I'd probably just taken them off and put them down someplace, as usual not being aware of where.
    I laughed and told him what had happened almost first thing this morning. "Before my wife and Siegfried left for their walk, she told me they were going out by way of the garage and would I not lock the door into the house? I told her I wouldn't. But when I went out to the garage for something, I automatically locked the door when I came back in. Unconscious, you see."
    "That happens more and more," David said, "as we age."
    I thanked him and told him I hoped his day improved.
    "It already has," he said.

Since I had my camera, I'd brought it into Costco so I could take some pictures of their cut flowers. I took a few but there was barely enough light and the photos weren't nearly as beautiful as the flowers seemed to be (unlike photographs of living flowers, where the opposite often seems to be the case).
    As I was checking out (my wife had already gone back to the car), I hoped I'd see Jannine at customer service, which is by the exit.
    And there she was. I told her why I had my camera.
    "There's one more flower I'd like to take a picture of, Jannine, if I may?"
    She took my hand, which I'd laid on the counter. "Oh, I don't take good pictures," she said, looking even more fetching in her possibly false modesty.
    "I understand that you might not want your picture taken," I said. "Let me show you these." She was still holding my hand, so I operated the camera with my other one.
    "Oh, that's some friends' house," I said and explained what we'd done on the way to Costco. "Their cat...some shoes...Oh, and let me zoom in on that bench so you can read the words."
    "Live, laugh, love," she said.
    I squeezed her hand and said that I wasn't going to take her picture, I could see that she really didn't want me to, even if she were my favorite of Costco's flowers.
    "You've made my day," she said.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day of the lilies

Nothing like a flower to relieve your mind for a time.

These Day Lilies adorn the earthen platform where
our fountain would otherwise hold center stage.

These Day Lilies are at the corner of our garden shed patio,
right below one of our bird feeders.
The tall rock to the left in the background
is actually a light fixture (but it's real rock).

These yellow Day Lilies are in the south corner of
our yard, beyond the raised planter I constructed the
first summer we lived in Mebane.

These "pumpkin" (or orange) Day Lilies grow
alongside the fence on the northern side of our back yard.
 The Japanese beetle seems to like them.

A fuzzy bee also relieves your mind. This one was the main reason I took this photograph of a Butterfly Bush blossom.

The Butterfly Bush grows fifteen feet from the fountain,
right outside our screened back porch.
July 28. My friend Kat comments today: "Your “fuzzy bee” isn’t—it’s a type of sphinx (hawk) moths, such as this one or this one…most likely a hummingbird moth."
    Thanks, Kat. I think you're right.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Moral indignation

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) realized that population growth would have to end at some point, as its exponential tendency ran up against the linear growth of the food supply. Other factors were involved as well, like the amount of waste produced (including not only pig excrement fouling our drinking water, but also green-house gases raising global temperature).
    It occurred to me this morning that moral indignation might be another factor. Growing numbers of riled-up people are butting up against one another, their butting-up facilitated by 24/7 news.
    Of course, I've been feeling some moral indignation myself, to judge by some recent posts here—on al Qaeda, for example, or on eating animals. Not to mention a few on religion.

But my immediate provocations might have been a couple of items in local papers this morning. The first was a letter to the editor from a man indignant that he didn't make an "al-Qaida-linked" hit list:
Why didn't I make that list?
    Have my many letters to the editor expressing my contempt for the Islamists gone unnoticed? Does it count for nothing that I led the applause on our United flight when the pilot announced the killing of bin Laden?
    And he even tells "aspiring Muslim martyrs" where to find him and what inscription to look for on the "crusader T-shirt" he often wears. "I'll be expecting some loser yelling 'alla-hu akbar' or whatever," he says.
    A hit list was mentioned only in the third of three reports I found:
  1. The New York Times, "Al Qaeda Urges Attacks in West" (June 3);
  2. Kitat Konenut's New York blog, "Al Qaeda Urges American Muslims to Buy Guns for Terror Attacks" (June 6); and
  3. newsmax.com, "Al-Qaida Website's Hit List Targets US Leaders" (June 17).
A friend might have been alluding to such a hit list when he emailed me in response to an "amusing conjecture" of mine. He had written:
I'm afraid you'll be taken to a beating by persons who will misconstrue what you argue. You're walking on a mine field.
    I wondered, however, why I would need to be misconstrued.

The other provocation was the front-page photograph of three boyishly proud-looking male adults that illustrated the article, "Men snag possible world-record catfish." They're shown with a 143-pound blue catfish across their laps.
    The pride was front-page news, and the article revealed the important information that one of the men will "get to talk junk to my brother and dad all year long."
    But there was no mention that the bottom-feeding catfish will never get to feed again.
_______________
June 24. As a result of a comment on this article, I submitted a letter to The Chapel Hill News yesterday. It was published this morning; the third comment on this post provides the letter's text.
    July 3. Mr. Hurley's response was printed on July 1. And I submitted a follow-up question this morning; its text is provided in the first comment of yesterday's post, "'Daughters of thy uncles and aunts'."

Monday, June 20, 2011

A matter of conscience

My opposition to eating animals probably doesn't rest "on moral grounds" but might be more appropriately termed "a matter of conscience." Opposition on moral grounds seems to imply that I would condemn as immoral anyone who doesn't oppose eating animals, and I don't do that.
    Some weeks ago, a friend actually raised this point, although I didn't realize it at the time (March 24). He commented: "Jim eats meat, Jack doesn't. Is Jack justified in believing that he is morally superior to Jim?"
    Rather than face the issue, I danced around it: "Is that a trick question? What do you mean by 'morally superior'?"
    I'm ready to face the question now, and answer plainly: "Jack is not justified in believing that he is morally superior to Jim."

I think that my opposition is better termed "conscientious objection." Moral grounds seems to imply that the grounds are ones on which most people stand, which is obviously not the case in America, where the vast majority of people are meat-eaters and don't seem to feel guilty about it. Moral condemnation seems appropriate to majorities, or to a recognized authority, not to a small minority of wackos.
    Conscientious objectors to engaging in war opt out because of their personal beliefs; they don't usually condemn others for not objecting. (And conscientious objectors have generally been regarded as wackos.)

Today, most people feel that slavery is morally wrong, but not that long ago most people seemed to approve of it. God even seems to have approved of it, according to the Old Testament. Those who didn't approve of it, if they didn't object simply because they felt themselves vulnerable to be enslaved, may have objected as a matter of conscience for other vulnerable people, having imagined how enslavement might feel and coming to empathize with them.
    It took more time for the "moral grounds" to form on which most people would stand to condemn slavery.

Similarly, we're all against cannibalism, or the eating of other members of our own species. I think there's a moral basis for our opposition to cannibalism in terms of what's generally accepted.
    Back in March, I thought that the moral basis for not eating humans might also apply to not eating other animals; "the basis for condemning eating animals might be quite similar, given the fact that we and they have a common ancestor." In other words, let's not only refrain from eating our close relatives, let's not eat any of our relatives.
    I thought of it as extending to cannibalism Richard Dawkins's observation that even monotheists are atheists with respect to most gods (Zeus and the like), and atheists just add one more god to the list. We're all a-cannibalistic with respect to eating human animals; vegetarians on moral grounds are just a-cannibalistic with respect to other animals as well.
    Apparently, I might have been trying to establish a basis for Jack to be morally superior to Jim. If so, I was wrong to do so.

At this moment in the history of the world, the fact of a common ancestor might persuade a few conscientious objectors not to eat animals, but it's nowhere near establishing enough ground to support a majority. Besides, as my wife pointed out, animals have a common ancestor with plants also!
    I think my conscientious objection must flow from something more in the nature of a feeling than of an intellectual concept like "having a common ancestor."
    More pertinent is the fact (now well established) that other animals are also intelligent and capable of suffering. I strongly empathize with other intelligent, suffering animals. As I've said elsewhere, other animals deserve to live as much as we do. At least as much, seeing as how they are the innocent victims of hunting, fishing, and factory farming, killing activities committed by human beings. My conscience asks, What gives us the right?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day health quiz

"Hey, Morris," my wife called from the dining room. She was reading the Parade insert in the morning's Times-News. "Are you listening?"
    I was, I assured her.
    "True or false," she read, "Eating red meat increases a man's risk for heart disease and diabetes"?
    The question of course made me think of Jim the Directrix, who has been tutoring me in the health benefits of the starch-centered, vegan diet promulgated by Dr. John McDougall. No way could this be false, if Jim (and McDougall) are right. But I thought it was probably true, anyway: "Uh, well, I guess it's...true?"

Sorry; I'm not going to tell you the answer provided. You can take the quiz yourself (there are ten questions altogether). It's by Joe Kita and can be found on the web. (The site will probably try to fob ads on you; sorry about that.)

Happy Father's Day, Jim. Please take the quiz, then let us know what you think.
_______________

Of course, whether the first quiz question is true or false, I oppose eating animals, on moral grounds; see New Ten Commandments #6 (which I see I need to revise to make more explicit what is entailed by treating other animals humanely).
    June 20: questioning "moral grounds."

Friday, June 17, 2011

A "good" Muslim

Ayman al-Zawahri was barely mentioned in yesterday's post, but the point of the quoted New York Times article was that he had just been named to succeed Osama bin Laden. What can we say about him?
    Scary dude. He is possibly driven by a fiercer hatred of the United States than was Bin Laden himself, or than Sayyid Qutb.
    Zawahri helped Bin Laden plan the 9/11 attacks. The Miami Herald reports today (in "Zawahri succeeds bin Laden as al Qaeda leader" that
His fanaticism and the depth of his hatred for the United States and Israel are likely to define al Qaeda's actions under Zawahri's tutelage. In a 2001 treatise that offered a glimpse of his violent thoughts, Zawahri set down al Qaeda's strategy: to inflict "as many casualties as possible" on the Americans.
    "Pursuing the Americans and Jews is not an impossible task," he wrote. "Killing them is not impossible, whether by a bullet, a knife stab, a bomb, or a strike with an iron bar."
"One dark tale from Mr. Zawahri’s past" was reported by Scott Shane in yesterday's New York Times (in his article, "Qaeda Selection of Its Chief Is Said to Reflect Its Flaws"). The tale is
recounted in Growing Up Bin Laden, a 2008 memoir by Bin Laden’s son Omar bin Laden. He describes an episode in Afghanistan in the 1990s when a friend—a teenage boy—was raped by several men in the camp where they lived. The men snapped photos of the abuse and circulated them as a joke.
    Mr. Zawahri was incensed by the photos, believing that the young man was guilty of homosexual activity, Omar bin Laden wrote. Mr. Zawahri had the teenager put on trial and condemned to death.
    “My friend was dragged into a room with Zawahri, who shot him in the head,” he wrote. The episode was a factor, he said, in his decision to break with his father and leave Afghanistan.
    As a good Muslim, Zawahri might have had his own daughter stoned to death for dishonoring him by being raped. It's hard to discern what honor he might have fancied he was avenging in the case of the teenage boy.
    Shane reported that Zawahri said last week, in a videotaped eulogy to Osama bin Laden, that "Today, praise God, America is not facing an individual, a group, or a faction. It is facing a nation than is in revolt, having risen from its lethargy to a renaissance of jihad."
    "Praise God"? The lunacy manifest here (as in the act of executing the victim of a rape) is all but incomprehensible to, say, Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902), the author of Psychopathia Sexualis: With Special Reference to Contrary Sexual Instinct.
    Quaint phrase, "contrary sexual instinct." It might apply to Zawahri (and Qutb—remember his terror of teenage American girls?); Krafft-Ebing wrote:
While up to this time contrary sexual instinct has had but an anthropological, clinical, and forensic interest for science, now, as a result of the latest investigations, there is some thought of therapy in this incurable condition, which so heavily burdens its victims, socially, morally, and mentally. [Emphasis mine]
It occurs to me, though, that equally lunatic actions described in the Bible and the Qur'an (many of them attributed to God in the former and Allah in the latter) can be dismissed as merely "primitive" or "of an earlier time," before our race's average morality and cultural intelligence had advanced to its current state of almost being half-civilized.
    In other words, Zawahri is (as bin Laden and Qutb were) men planted firmly in a past the race hopes to have left behind.
    But it's not likely to be fully left behind until books like the Qur'an are no longer read believingly.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today's Islamist oxymoron

Al Qaeda, according to The New York Times today (in "Bin Laden’s No. 2, Zawahri, Takes Control of Al Qaeda," by David Jolly and J. David Goodman), has announced that it will “seek with the aid of God to call for the religion of truth and incite the ummah to prepare and fight.” (Ummah is an Arabic word, in this context meaning the global community of Muslims.)
    If you're waiting for me to reveal the oxymoron, you weren't paying attention. Go back three sentences: "...aid of God...religion of truth," as though God and religion had anything to do with truth.
    It isn't clear whether the statement is cheap rhetoric to hoodwink (i.e., incite) gullible people or its author himself actually believes the pairing.

Sayyid Qutb, Bin Laden’s favorite philosopher, who spent most of 1949 in Greeley, Colorado, apparently terrified of women and fantasizing about American girls, made a similarly flawed pairing. He saw the sexuality of western teenage women as evidence of a spiritual banality that demanded the destruction of western civilization.
    In his 1951 book, The America I Have Seen: In the Scale of Human Values, Qutb wrote that
The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs—and she shows all this and does not hide it.
    As Sam Harris noted Tuesday in his blog, in the entry "On Spiritual Truths, "What a relief it must have been [to Qutb] to know [from studying his holy book] that the Creator of the universe intended these terrifying creatures to live as slaves to men."
_______________
See sequel: "A 'good' Muslim."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bulgaria travelogue concluded

My wife looked at the first installment of my travelogue this morning and told me that I used to drive the same way I said our chauffeur drove, which is a real shame, given that, for rhetorical effect, I was exaggerating the way our chauffeur drove (we never actually got close enough for me to literally touch the vehicle we were passing; the vehicle would have had to slow down suddenly before we swerved to pass it in order for me to have had that opportunity).
    My wife told me that I used to drive that way in town, then, on the freeway, where the speed limit was of course much higher, I'd slow down.
    Well, you can never quite believe what a wife says about her husband's driving.

But she was right when she said that we'd told our son about our trip months before he started his Bulgaria blog. I was taking some license for the sake of the joke I was trying to concoct. In fact, our son is an extremely busy musician. What's amazing, actually, is that he was able to blog as much there for a few weeks as he did. We both hope that he'll soon find the time to continue.
    In fact, if he does, I'm sure that we'll find many more items to inspire us to visit Bulgaria again. As it is, we'll probably go back in 2014.

Anyway, here are the rest of the photographs of our trip that I plan to publish here, continuing with our stop in Nessebar on our drive from Balchik to Plovdiv on Friday, progressing to our visit to another botanical garden on Monday in Sofia, and concluding with our visit in Rila and Blagoevgrad on Tuesday.
    Of the places I've mentioned, either in the text or in captions, only Balchik, German, Nessebar, and Rila are so small that you may not be able to find them on the map I provided with the first installment. Balchik is on the coast north of Varna; German is a southern suburb of Sofia; Nessebar is a coastal island, or isthmus, south of Varna; and Rila is between Sofia and Blagoevgrad, a few miles north of the latter.

Thanks for their handy map
to whatever restaurant provided the flier

Nessebar's picturesque little harbor

I'm embarrassed not to be able to tell you what ancient ruin
this was (from quite a few hundred years ago),
on perhaps Nessebar's highest ground

A street in Nessebar, but not the one where the shop
was located from which my wife bought me a cap
(see later photo)

You know what a WC is; Nessebar was the best place we
visited for telling us where we could find one, except
that the local merchants seemed to use them as a decoy
to get you to walk by their store so they could accost you

A sign on the gate at the
University of Sofia Botanical Garden

More Tulips, not so brilliant as at Balchik,
but it was overcast in Sofia

We saw lots of wisteria in Bulgaria, none
finer than what was growing in the
University of Sofia Botanical Garden

Alexander Nevski Cathedral from the botanical garden
(see aerial photo below, though I didn't take it)

The University of Sofia Botanical Garden (upper left),
Alexander Nevski Cathedral (lower right)

A private garden in Rila; more Tulips!

A sheep herd in Rila
(i.e., sheep literally being herded along)

A goat herd in Rila

From the balcony of the suite we stayed in in Rila,
in a sort of private hotel belonging to a clothing designer
and manufacturer (and patron of the arts)

To the left of the photo above; the wooden structure
is a platform hanging over the river that runs
alongside the clothing factory and private hotel

My son photographed me standing on the platform;
I'm wearing the cap my wife bought me in Nessebar

My traveling companions to Rila and Blagoevgrad

To the right of the first photo of the garden below
our suite; we were too low, and the garden was too big
to capture in a single photograph


The side of the private hotel
and part of the garden from the ground
(possibly from the platform over the river; I can't remember)

The American University in Bulgaria, in Blagoevgrad;
 our son and daughter-in-law founded and sustain its
arts program; she plays solo harp for its commencements,
as she did most recently on May 15

The American University in Bulgaria, another view of
its main building, which belonged to the Communist Party
prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union
(the dog is asleep, not dead)

I would like to have taken many more photographs of our grandson, but I failed to plan ahead and carry along another battery for my wife's camera. I got one fairly good photo of him during our first visit, but the camera was being recharged each time after that.
    We were sorry to have to leave Bulgaria and return home so soon. What a lovely country, what striking contrasts of modern and ancient!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

[Other] animals' rights

I don't write many letters to editors. Or, if I do, I don't send them, but publish them here. The one I just wrote to the editor of the Durham Herald-Sun, I did send. It went like this:
High marks to Joe Moran for the additional restrictions he suggests for honoring and protecting the sacredness of life.
Background before I continue. Mr. Moran's letter, titled "Women's rights," appeared this morning, on p. A6. He was writing about state legislators who "were said to have 'wrestled with deep philosophical and political differences before coming up with new restrictions on women seeking abortions' (New abortion rules for N.C., June 9)."
    You know, restrictions like having the women view a film of an abortion, listen to the heartbeat of their fetus, that sort of thing.
    Mr. Moran continued:
If the issue is truly the sacredness of life, I suggest that similar restrictions...should also apply...in the following instances:
    1) For judges and law enforcement officers, prior to executing a person
    2) For intelligence and military officers prior to dropping guided missiles or bombs from Air Force drones [sic] on homes where there are also innocent people....
My own letter continued:
But Mr. Moran could and should have gone further. Appropriate information would also be useful in the following instances:
    1) For people hired to work at Chik-fil-A, McDonald's, KFC, Smithfield's, etc., tell them how intelligent (and capable of suffering) are the animals whose flesh they'll be required to cook and serve, and show them how those animals are inhumanely raised and slaughtered, some of them still conscious when they're being skinned and dismembered.
    2) For diners before they're served their hamburger, steak, barbecue, or fried chicken, the same.
    That is, Mr. Moran might have given a nod to the rights of animals as well. Or, to be more accurate, the rights of animals other than human ones.
    Suggested reading: Jonathan Safran Foer's 2009 book, Eating Animals, which is this summer's assigned reading for entering freshmen at Carolina and Duke.*
There, I feel better already. Or is it worse, for having thought about the suffering of other animals one more time?
_______________
* June 14: My letter, under the title "Consider animal rights, too" (and above the signature, Morris Dean, Mebane), was published in this morning's Herald-Sun, though without the editor's identifying when Mr. Moran's letter was published or which article he was commenting on.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Beatings will continue

Beatings will continue
until morale improves
I heard a good one yesterday: The theology of the Old Testament, like a cartoon, can be accurately captioned as the corporate dictum: "Beatings will continue until morale improves."
    I "heard" this from Bart D. Ehrman's 2008 book, which I'm currently reading, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer. He's surveying the so-called "major" and "minor" prophets of the Old Testament (the designations mean nothing more than the relative word counts of their prophetic books) to show how they tried to explain why the God of the ancient Israelites was treating them so horribly. That is, it was the prophets' answer to that "most important question."
    By the way, it's because the Bible fails to answer the question to Ehrman's satisfaction that he recanted his devout Christian faith and became an agnostic. He went to Moody Bible College in his teens, then to evangelical Wheaton College, and on to Princeton Theological Seminary, where he decided to become a Biblical scholar. He's now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
    Ehrman points out that those "prophecies" applied only to the times in which they were written, and to the people to whom they were written, so the jehovahs (as I familiarly term Jehovah's Witnesses), and everyone else, for that matter, have no basis for claiming that the Bible foretells what is happening today.
    Nevertheless, "the beatings will continue" made me think of the Holocaust. The Jews took quite a beating from the Nazis (and from many hypocrites around the world who silently approved the Nazis' attitude and actions to kill Jews). Is the Jews' God still trying to improve their morale by helping Muslim jihadists to wipe Israel off the map?

Of course not. But this does raise the question in my mind whether there might be something else going on to explain why the Jews have been persecuted continually down through the ages (besides their having been tagged Christ-killers, which I don't think explains why the Muslims hate them so much).
    It occurred to me to wonder whether it might be the fact that they invented monotheism? (Some credit Moses with the invention.)
    Sure, orthodox Christians and Muslims are proud to believe in the "one, true God," but consider that they might be proud only in the part of their mind that they're conscious of. A twentieth-century Jew by the name of Sigmund Freud taught us that our unconscious can be quite out of step with our conscious.
    The unconscious of a devout believer can have as many misgivings about a God who allows us to suffer (and may even cause us to suffer, to punish us or try to get us to shape up) as the conscious mind of Bart D. Ehrman can.
    What if even devout believers, in their unconscious, are sick at heart that they even believe in God in the first place? Might they not seek a scapegoat on whom to unleash their anger and otherwise self-disgust (all the while preserving their conscious belief, in which they're too invested to join Ehrman in recanting)?

An amusing conjecture, at any rate.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Vacation travelogues aren't my thing

Bulgaria Road Map
(click to enlarge)
My wife and I visited Bulgaria last month and I committed myself to providing photographic documentation of the trip (in a brief post featuring our lunch on the Black Sea).
    I apologize for the delay and any disappointment it may have caused you. But the sword hanging over my head has adversely affected me more than the delay has affected you. Every time (but two) that I've had the impulse to blog about something more congenial to myself than doing a trip report, I've suppressed it.
    The first exception led to a post dated May 22 ("Not to be completely mistaken") that I wouldn't have published in the first place if I hadn't been weak and delirious from having contracted whatever bug had traveled home with my wife. I took that ironically named post down a few days later, when I was capable of perceiving its delusiveness. The second was yesterday's, when I'd finally had enough and said the hell with it.

Not only had I contracted some bug or other (which may not have been a Bulgarian exclusive, given that I've talked to several people here who had also been sick, with similar symptoms—sore throat at first, sinus congestion five or six days later), but I was tired as usual from long-distance travel.
    And I was tired especially from the stress of being chauffeured at high speed on Bulgarian roads, seriously fearing impairment or death every time we came up close enough to a slower vehicle ahead of us to touch if we'd reached our hand out before we swerved left and rushed past the hapless vehicle, whose driver was probably wondering "What the hell!" even before we swerved back in ahead of it.
    Somehow, I couldn't relax entertaining the bloody image of being laid up in a hospital in some small town in Eastern Europe, or thinking of my mortal remains' being shipped back to the United States (my cremation insurance doesn't apply elsewhere).
    I was also set back by the daunting task of selecting and editing the large number of photographs from the trip (not to mention having to deal with my office in-box, overflowing with an unusually high number of transactions that had arrived while I was gone for more than a week and a half from my 40-hour-a-week job).
    Only last Saturday did I finally finish renaming the last few scores of photos and begin to re-size and select a few of the ones I might use. I was too tired and annoyed by the whole thing to publish anything Saturday or Sunday, then everyday life caught up with me again and here it is Wednesday (no, Thursday—I wrote the above yesterday). On Tuesday, I had decided, why couldn't I do a partial report, using a few of the photos I did re-size? Okay, sounded good.

I'm not going to attempt a running account to accompany the photos, but be content to provide a short caption for each (as I hope you will be content with the result).
    Travelogues aren't my thing. I didn't know what road we were on most of time, being focused as I was on trying to compose my thoughts before dying. I didn't take notes about this thing or that, or write down descriptions or impressions it might have made on me. I just took a photograph from time to time.
    I confess, travel itself is as little my thing as writing it up is. Leave me at home with my wife and Siegfried, and I'm content. If I want to know something about a place, I'll read someone else's account of it, especially (in the case of Bulgaria) the blog of an American musician there, which contributed to my wife's planning our trip.  The blog's January 10 post, "On the March: Keep Weapons Holstered," with its photograph of a park fence fashioned out of rifles, led to our visiting Sofia's Military Academy park with our grandson, who told us that the rifles had been used in the 1885 War of Bulgarian Reunification.
    I trust that the blog's role in motivating my wife to visit Bulgaria and take me with her isn't the reason our son hasn't posted anything to it after the day he learned that she had purchased our Lufthansa tickets.

All of the photos were made with my wife's Nikon Coolpix P-100. We left my heavier DSLR at home. (Times of the clock shown in some of the photos are according to Eastern Standard Time, seven hours earlier than local time; sorry I forgot to reset the camera. In fact, I hadn't noticed that the camera even put dates and times on its photographs. I might have been able to turn that feature off; I'll have to check this out.)
 
A Shop Salad, or salad in the style of the Shopska region
around Sofia (I ate many salads like this in
my nine days in Bulgaria, perhaps my favorite dish)

A private garden in the village of German
(pronounced with a hard g, as in "gerbil"),
near Sofia

A street in Shumen, which we visited on our way to Varna

In Shumen, we listened to two or three of the competing
violinists as they practiced with their piano accompanist

The small, family-run hotel we stayed in near Varna,
about a quarter-mile from the Black Sea


A donkey cart in a small town on the way from
Varna to Balchik (note the wooden wheels)

My ticket to the University Botanical Garden in Balchik

A poster map of the University Botanical Garden in Balchik

Hats off to the university
for this poster
(despite its English, reminiscent
of instructions for a Japanese
Mickey Mouse watch)

We saw many balls of mistletoe like this along the Black Sea;
these we spotted in the University Botanical Garden

Flower beds in the University Botanical Garden,
looking toward the Black Sea

The flower beds from the Black Sea

Tulips in the University Botanical Garden

More Tulips
(I took many more photos of them than I'm posting here)

A lizard our son spotted in the cactus garden

Front entrance of Restaurant Corona, where we had lunch

A poster describing Restaurant Corona
(or Crown Restaurant)

Down to Queen Marie's garden

A waterfall in the University Botanical Garden

A pregnant cat we came across in Queen Marie's garden

My wife squealed with delight
when she came upon this whimsy
in Queen Marie's garden

View from Queen Marie's palace

A Red Bud tree in Queen Marie's garden,
looking down from her palace

Another Red Bud tree
(or was it the same one?)

The Restaurant Corona from Queen Marie's palace
(brightened, near the center)

Religious icons and other objects
on sale near Queen Marie's Palace
(opportunities to buy icons
abound in Bulgaria)

A commercial icon as well
(read the small print in the image to the right);
our waiter let us take the glass home with us
The sequel is available under the title "Bulgaria travelogue concluded."