Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Even If I See It, I Won’t Believe It

And just like that, an object lesson in social media: This got enough attention on Twitter to merit an article on Raw Story.   The original tweet also garnered a number of responses.  But honestly, if it hadn’t started on Twitter, who would have noticed?  This isn’t exactly the kind of story that gets the attention of the media if it had only been a press release from a former Texas legislator nobody’s otherwise heard of.

Mike Lindell promises to allow all manner of cranks and crazies to post on his platform, and swears he’ll have the servers to support it.  He’s also famously and publicly delusional, so who knows?  But the real issue is:  who cares?  If a pin drops on Twitter it echoes ‘round the world (unless it’s Amazon execs taking on U.S. Senators over unions?); but if a tree falls on Parler, who hears it?  And then Lindell’s “Frank”?
He told Steve Bannon all of his evidence will go before the Supreme Court. Based on that, Trump will be back in office by August.

Yeah.  That’s how this works.  That’s how any of this works.

Wednesday of Holy Week 2021

Luke's version of the anointing is the reason I got interested in this story in all four gospels in the first place.  There are few other stories all four gospels have in common; and three of the four gospels tell this story in pretty much the same manner.  Except John's version shows knowledge of Luke's version; and Luke's version turns this little story completely upside down.

Let's start with Luke:

One of the Pharisees invited him to dinner; he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. A local woman, one who was a sinner, found out that he was having dinner at the Pharisee's house. She suddenly showed up with an alabaster jar of myrrh, and stood there behind him weeping at his feet. Her tears wet his feet, and she wiped them dry with her hair; she kissed his feet, and anointed them with the myrrh.

The Pharisee who had invited him saw this and said to himself, "if this man were a prophet, he would know who this is and what kind of woman is touching him, since she is a sinner."

And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

"Teacher," he said, "Speak up."

"This moneylender had two debtors; one owed five hundred silver coins, the other fifty. Since neither one of them could pay, he wrote off both debts. Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon answered, "I would imagine the one for whom he wrote off the larger debt."

And he said to him, "You're right." Then turning to the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I walked into your house and you didn't offer me water for my feet; yet she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn't offer me a kiss, but she hasn't stopped kissing my feet since I arrived. You didn't anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with myrrh. For this reason, I tell you, her sins, many as they are, have been forgiven, as this outpouring of her love shows. But the one who is forgiven little shows little love."

And he said to her "Your sins have been forgiven."

Then those having dinner with him began to mutter to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"

And he said to the woman, "Your trust has saved you; go in peace."

Luke 7:36-50, SV

Is grace a quid pro quo?  "...the one who is forgiven little shows little love."  Is that about grace; or about acknowledgement of grace?  If I don't think I need to be forgiven for anything, am I forgiven anyway?  Is that fair?

That's the central question this story, as Luke tells it, raises.  But let's put it in the context of Luke's narrative.  This story actually ends chapter 7 (not Luke's doing, the chapters, but it's convenient for us).  How does Luke 7 start?

After he had completed all he had to say to his audience, he went into Capernaum.

Luke 7:1, SV

So this comes immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, the one that includes the Beatitudes of Luke:

Then he would look squarely at his disciples and say:

Congratulations, you poor!

God's domain belongs to you!

Congratulations, you hungry!

You will have a feast.

Congratulations, you who weep now!

You will laugh.

Congratulations to you when people hate you, and when they ostracize you and denounce you and scorn your name as evil, because of the son of Adam! Rejoice on that day, and jump for joy! Just remember, your compensation is great in heaven.  Recall that their ancestors treated the prophets the same way.

Damn you rich!

You already have your consolation!

Damn you who are well-fed now!

You will know hunger.

Damn you who laugh now!

You will learn to weep and grieve.

Damn you when everybody speaks well of you!  Recall that their ancestors treated the phony prophets the same way.

Luke 6:20-26, SV

And Luke 8 begins:

And it so happened that he traveled through towns and villages, preaching and announcing the good news of God's imperial rule.  The twelve were with him, and also some women whom he had cured of evil spirits and diseases:  Mary, the one from Magdala, from whom seven demons had taken their leave, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for him out of their resources.

Luke 8:1-3, SV

This is the passage that led to the tradition that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, reformed by Jesus.  It's also worth noting Mary Magdalene appears in all four gospels; but in the other three she doesn't appear until the crucifixion, until the women are actually at the foot of the cross.  She is mentioned in Mark, so Matthew and Luke both take her from that gospel, and she returns in Luke's crucifixion story.  But this anointing story is not a crucifixion story; in Luke it takes place long before that fateful Passover week.  And the reason Mary Magdalene was tagged as a prostitute is entirely because of this version of the anointing story.

But let's go back and walk through the story:  Jesus is at the house of Simon, who is now a Pharisee, not a leper.  We'll see there's more than a bit of humor in this story, in this narrative, and it starts there, with Luke making Simon no longer an outcast leper, but a respectable member of Palestinian society.  Who just happens to have the same name as the leper from the other stories in circulation about Jesus of Nazareth.  And, at this house, Jesus is reclining at table, with his feet out beside him.  And a local woman, "one who was a sinner," enters the room.  How is she known to be a sinner?  Well, walking into a room full of men is one clue.  Even Simon's wife wouldn't dare enter that gathering.  But there is another, as we'll learn in the next sentences.

She is, as in the anointing stories of Matthew and Mark, anonymous.  She is also carrying an alabaster jar of myrrh, the kind Mark first described.  But she doesn't pour it on Jesus' head; she pours it on his feet.  Now, we might think anointing his feet is not really an anointment; and we'd be right.  Anointment is a ritual recognizing the king in Hebraic custom; or a ritual used for events of great merit, at least.  The anointing in Mark and Matthew is just that:  a recognition of the authority of this son of peasants from a backwater on the fringe of the Empire.  It is also a symbolic preparation for burial, as Jesus points out in those stories.  But the feet?  Isn't that an act of great humility, the humility Jesus shows in John's gospel when he washes the feet of his disciples?

No; because the actor here is a woman, not another man.  And because feet carry, in this culture, the euphemistic connection to genitals.  (You might be thinking of the sexual fetish of feet; that doesn't really apply here.) In the Hebrew scriptures there are a few stories of men "covering their feet," meaning they dropped their robes in order to relive themselves.  It's practical, but it's also a delicate way of speaking of something, shall we way, indelicate?  Movie language of the '40's was just as discrete: the couple embraced in a passionate way, and the camera moved away, leaving them locked together.  We all knew they didn't just "hug it out."  We knew (or should have known) what was implied (which is now more or less explicit, but that's another matter). In the erotic literature of the time, mostly Greek eroticism, feet were themselves an erogenous zone, or at least one used to represent erotic acts.  Strange as it may sound today, a lover washing her beloved's feet with her tears, and drying those feet with her hair, was considered both an act of great intimacy (easy to see why) and great eroticism (a bit harder to grasp; but the there are cliches in porn and TV/movie sex, too, which aren't all that erotic in real life).  Now we know, as Luke's audience did, why this woman is known to be a sinner.  She's clearly a prostitute soliticing business.

This happened in the 1st century during dinner parties.  And Simon's discomfort underscores the point.  This woman is giving his guest of honor the 21st century equivalent of a lap dance, and Simon is too above her (and too moral himself) to send her away.  If you like, imagine this happening at a restaurant where you've taken your pastor in order to ingratiate him to you and your church friends.  Then a woman comes up and starts giving him a lap dance, for obvious reasons of commerce; and your pastor, rather than shoo her away, actually enjoys it!  And then he uses the event as an excuse to get a dig in on you!

The parable Luke tells is unique in the gospels.  Mark, Matthew, and John all raise the "but what about the poor!" objection (which is funny, considering how little John follows the narratives of the synoptics, even in the events of the crucifixion).  Luke turns that part of the tale inside out with the parable of the debtors.  It's pretty clear that parable puts Simon and the woman on the same level, and doesn't leave Simon with any reason to feel superior, morally or otherwise.  Jesus has already committed, in Simon's eyes, a social (if not moral) faux pas by not sending the woman away, relieving Simon of the shame of this happening in his home.  For Simon to send her away is for Simon to take some responsibility for her being in his home in the first place; far better for him if Jesus does it, and keeps all the shame on her, and none on the men at table.  Jesus doesn't do that.  Instead, after telling the parable, he asks Simon the very question Simon doesn't want asked:  "Do you see this woman?"

That, of course, is precisely what Simon has been trying not to do.  Now, rather than dismiss her and turn to the host and say "There's no shame on you, these things happen, I've already forgotten it," Jesus makes a lesson of it, a lesson with the clear point:  she's shown more gratitude than you have, because frankly, she's got more to be grateful for.  And worse, he goes step-by-step through the entire exercise:  she is kissing his feet, she's pouring myrrh on his feet, she's washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (you should recall here Paul's admonition to his church in Corinth about women keeping their hair bound).  Jesus not only doesn't remove the shame, he shamelessly recounts the events himself.  See this woman?  Now Jesus is narrating this woman's actions!

And then he draws a line under the whole thing, with the action that seems most to bedevil Jesus' critics in the gospels (all four of them):  "Who is this who even forgives sins?"  But the real question is:  what did she do to deserve a forgiveness of her sins?

And he said to the woman, "Your trust has saved you; go in peace."

Luke 7:50, SV

And that's it.  The chapter ends there.  But the question hangs in the air:  what trust?  What has she done to earn this forgiveness?

It seems impossible, but the answer is:  nothing.  She is not among the company of the disciples.  She is probably not one of the women catalogued by Luke in the opening of chapter 8.  She is never named, in keeping with the stories from Mark and Matthew.  She doesn't do this just before Passover, so there's no connection to the crucifixion, to death, to burial.  The myrrh is just perfume.  And her actions don't mimic an anointing; they mimic 1st century Greek pornography.  What has she done that shows an "outpouring of love"?  At least the love we commonly associate with being among the forgiven of Christianity?  Jesus even plays with the cause and effect here:  because of what she's done (feet, hair, tears, myrrh) her sins are forgiven, he says.  Because her sins are forgiven, she has performed this grateful act of love.  Here, read it again:

"I walked into your house and you didn't offer me water for my feet; yet she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn't offer me a kiss, but she hasn't stopped kissing my feet since I arrived. You didn't anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with myrrh. For this reason, I tell you, her sins, many as they are, have been forgiven, as this outpouring of her love shows. But the one who is forgiven little shows little love."

So she came in because her sins were forgiven, and she was so grateful; but because she walked in, and washed his feet and poured out the myrrh, her sins are forgiven and therefor she's....grateful?  Has Jesus already had a little too much wine?  Or is he purposefully evading a cause-and-effect analysis of forgiveness, of grace?

What Jesus does here is reframe, reinterpret, redefine (choose your term) what this woman has done.  She thought she was soliciting business.  He told her, and Simon, she was showing great love (and again, Jesus's sly wit goes unappreciated, even unnoticed.  "Love" has so many interpretations, and the one he means is clearly not the one she meant, or that Simon understood.)  He casts her actions not as a cause for further shaming and even damning ("if this man were a prophet, he would know who this is and what kind of woman is touching him, since she is a sinner") but as a reason to forgive her shame (sins; same difference to Simon) and give her peace:  "Your trust has saved you; go in peace."  She might still leave the room wondering "What trust?  The trust I wouldn't get kicked in the face?"  And if she did join Jesus' entourage out of sheer gratitude ("I don't know how to love him/I don't know why he moves me" sings Mary Magdalene in "JCS"), who could blame her?  But if she did that, did that "buy" her grace, her forgiveness?

Jesus doesn't give us an answer to that question, because he doesn't want us to think grace and forgiveness are transactional, are some kind of cosmic (or divine, or even human) quid pro quo. In the parable, Simon is a debtor, just like the unnamed woman.  His debt is smaller, but he still owes a debt.  Does owing less debt really still put you above someone who owes more?  Is that a measuring stick worth living by?  Is any measuring stick to evaluate such status really worth living by?  Isn't the lesson here that we should take care of each other, show consideration equally to each other, rather than drawing boundaries around who is worthy of shame, and who is worthy of recognition?

"Do you see this woman?"  If anything is done in remembrance of her, it should be the repitition of that question.  Over and over and over again; as much as it takes.  Because the question is not:  what did she do?  The question is:  what did you do?  Do you see this woman?

“Love Ain’t Nothin’ But Sex Misspelled”

Or love is just pheromones.  That’s the “hook” in “The One,” a Netflix series based on a novel I’ve never heard of (so how faithfully or not it follow the novel I can’t say).  The premise is that, with enough DNA information on enough people, you can be “matched” to the person genetically predisposed to love you; at least at first sight.  Is that what love is?  Is that what makes a long-term, even lifetime, relationship?  The story doesn’t stretch that far, at least in this one season.  All the characters are below 50; they aren’t married or involved with their “match” long enough to know how permanent, or not, it is.

The premise of the “match” within the world of the story, is that the attraction:  physical, emotional, spiritual, what-have-you, is immediate.  Immediate and, presumably, permanent. Characters who are “matched” think, at first sight, that they’ve known each other for life.  Is that reasonable?  Who cares?  It’s a science fiction premise, not a philosophical conundrum. Is there choice involved?  

Well, if there wasn’t, the characters would all be robots; or no more than “particles and fields” causing and being caused upon because of Aristotle’s Unmoved mover or the Big Bang or some seminal event which wasn’t caused but caused all because....well, that’s a pseudo-philosophical conundrum.  Leave it.  The idea of the company that markets this “matching” service is that it is infallible and inescapable; that when you meet your match, there’s no going back.  Which would make for dull story-telling if it worked that way in this simulacrum of reality.

So it doesn’t.  Which makes the story intriguing, and having at least a bit of verisimilitude.  The company does begin with two clever people who realize ants recognize each other by pheromones, which somehow has something to do with people (else how does the premise begin?) and all that’s needed is enough of a database to start making “matches.”  How that blithely works into a world-wide phenomena (think Google plus Facebook plus Twitter turned into the ultimate app that can match any human being with any other human being on the planet) by getting enough data to fulfill its  promise of perfection, is not explained.  Maybe an unmoved mover is involved; or a Big Bang.  Or a miracle just happens because the interesting part of the story is not how, but:  what happens next.  An insight Margaret Atwood had, it occurs to me; in a short story I used to teach.  If I remember the title I’ll plug it in (maybe), but the story is a series of plot conjectures with two base characters who meet, marry, live together, and suffer the consequences until they die. As the stories gain more characters, old characters disappear in the new iterations, but the result is always the same:  the story ends when the characters die.  That’s how stories are, she explains:  just a who and a who and a what and a what.  That’s all plots are.  “Now ask why,” she concludes; if memory serves.

The plot of this story is not important.  Part of it is a potboiler murder mystery related to the origins of the company.  No one who is rich earns their fantastic wealth by being humble and servile.  There is always some larceny involved.  It’s a mundane insight and an almost cliched storyline, but it’s what provides the main dramatic tension while other characters in ancillary stories meet their “match” and find themselves unable to resist the pairing off.  Which, yes, reduces “love” to pheromones or genetics (the two most popular forces of popular science today.) In Marvel Comics in the ‘60’s it was “radiation,” which did marvelous and magical things to human beings; rather than just give them cancer and very painful deaths.  I put the word in quotes because it wasn’t really radiation, it was the latest “scientific” concept, according to popular science, and it would provide magical resources for us. Ironically I’m old enough to remember when viruses were explained to us in school as not animal, vegetable, or mineral, and therefore maybe something falling off a passing comet or that came to earth with a meteor.  Genetic material, at least to popular science, was completely unknown.  Oh, Mendel’s peas and where blue eyes came from (or didn’t) was taught; but free-floating genetic material anxious to invade the DNA of a cell and replicate itself by re-writing that code?  It wasn’t the stuff of science fiction, it was literally incomprehensible unimaginable.

The interesting part of the “match” process in the show comes up when a woman is matched to another woman.  One lives in England (where the show is set), the other is from Spain.  The Spaniard comes to England to meet her “match” but is in a traffic accident and winds up in hospital, which eventually draws her brother across the Channel.  The English woman and the brother meet, of course, and the genetic match works with him, too.


So is love just genetics?  Is sex better with the “one”?  Science actually tells us the idea of soul-mate, an ideal partner, is a fiction.  We marry, or don’t, the people we grow up around.  People don’t marry people they don’t know, and most people don’t travel that far from home, or have meaningful relationships with people of wildly dissimilar backgrounds.  It isn’t impossible to marry someone from another country, it’s just so rare those who do marry people they met as adults, are the exceptions that prove the rule.  One couple in the story almost break up their marriage because the wife learns curiosity killed the cat.  She seeks the match for her husband, and it turns out to be a woman she’s friends with.  Tensions rise as she tries to keep them apart, convinced the myth of the “one” is true, and love at first sight trumps all.  In the end the fated couple do meet; but we see him returning to his wife, because life experiences mean more than pheremones or genetics.  It rings true.  Love in adolescence or at first meeting is a powerful force; but it’s rather like having an ecstatic religious experience in youth, and expecting to have that experience the rest of your life.  Some of us never have them; some of us do, only once.  Some of us garner a sense of reality from the experience that others don’t have.  Some struggle with the absence to the end of their days.  Some turn it into a deep religious commitment to others.  Some couples marry and divorce. Some couples marry and are together until death do them part, decades, even three-quarters of a century, later.  Because of pheremones?  Genetics?  It seems unlikely.

The premise of the “match” is interesting, and almost credible because its reach is global.  One character in London is matched with a woman in Somalia (how the database gets her DNA is not explained), a woman who is a refugee.  But if a “match” can’t be someone from the other side of the planet, then the “match” is just somebody you grew up with, went to university with, met through work.  How can you fail in love with someone you never meet?  But then, if there is “true love,” and so few people find it, doesn’t that mean you just never meet “the one” you were meant to be with?

Or is “The One” the myth, and “true love” something that involves a bit more effort than breathing or deciding what to have for breakfast?  Is the question of the story ultimately:  are we all wrong about the nature of love?  Is it more a force in human existence, which is to say, for us, in the universe, as fundamental as gravity or atomic bonds, as connected to us as time is connected to space?  The characters who are “matched” act like adolescents in the first throes of love.  There is a period when you can’t think about anything but your beloved; and there is a period when you can.  To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.  Is love really just adolescent infatuation attenuated by genetics, made permanent by science?  If that’s love, then love itself is as false as water.  If love is just as immutable as eye color, than we are just vessels for particles and fields; which is a helluva thing to tell your beloved.  For some people love is just fiction; or a skill they never master.  For others it is a force, as inscrutable and as undeniable as a religious experience; “as permanent as death, implacable as stone.”  And you learn to cultivate that reality, or you try your damndest to just be worthy of it.  Or you never have that experience; and you have no idea what it’s really all about.

We are not all Romeos and Juliets; and besides, they died young.  Had they lived long enough, would it have been happily ever after?  Even Shakespeare left his wife and mother of his children the “second-best bed.”  Then again, he left her in Stratford and spent almost all his marriage in London, until he retired and then, shortly after, died.  What are the lessons we are supposed to learn about love?

Is love just a way of making us responsible for the children that result?  Love in the story is primarily about sex; “matches” can’t physically resist each other.  Their passion is always expressed in the carnal embrace.  Thanks to modern science we already know that doesn’t have to mean procreation; but isn’t that the purpose of lust?  And isn’t love the bond, the power, the force, that makes us take care of the offspring when such passions have long cooled, or at least produced the after-effects of that physical action?  So is that what love is:  the way we keep the species going, not only in procreation but in the important years after?  Our entertainment and our science has taught us to divorce on from the other.  People copulate freely on our screens (or rather pretend to, for our entertainment) but the consequences are always emotional, never physical.  The few times there is a pregnancy the issue is always abortion and choice; and the children are easily separated from the equation, because children are so hard to present on a the screen, so hard to work into a story line. They are born; then they disappear. Adulthood is so much more entertaining than parenthood.

The main character in “The One” is matched, but not to the man she publicly identifies as her match.  There are reasons for this, but they don’t matter here.  Another character exposes the charade by seeing the couple on stage (deeply in love, for public view), but sees them off stage walking away from each other, dispassionately.  My wife and I would behave the same way, in the circumstances.  Are we not a “match”?  Again, in the mythology of the story, a “match” is permanent adolescence.  But in the words of Dorothy Parker:  “What fresh hell is this?”

There are characters in this story who are married, and stay married (so far) because of the history they have with each other, the knowledge (and love) they have for each other   Love is surely knowledge as much as pheremones, else why do we date for so long (some of us; there are exceptions to every rule) before marriage (my father proposed to my mother a few weeks after meeting her.  They met as adults, after he’d come home from the war. He met her through his best friend, who was dating my mother’s twin sister.  They were friends (and in-laws) for the rest of their lives.  My parents were married for almost 70 years; only death finally parted them.). And there are characters who love each other, but don’t know each other.  True love, apparently, prevails even in the face of lies.  Or does it?  If it does, it can be idiotic.  How do you love someone you don’t know?  Do you love someone you don’t know?  Linus once tells Lucy he loves everything in the world, in a bid to be truly open and accepting of all of creation, to emulate God.  Lucy tells him (wisely) that he doesn’t love Gila monsters.   “I don’t know what a Gila monster is,” he declares loudly, “but if I did, I’d love it!”  Is that what love is?  I don’t know who you are, but I love you anyway?  Is that even plausible?

Does it matter when we lie to each other?  Doesn’t it matter?  Aren’t lies the acid that dissolve the trust between two people that is the basis, as well as the result, of love?  But isn’t love just genetics, or pheromones? Iago dissolves the trust Othello has in Desdemona; but the tragedy is he doesn’t destroy the trust she has in him.  Othello is guilty, as surely as Oedipus is, because Othello believes Iago, and too late realizes he has been wrong.  But his love for his newlywed wife is destroyed; his love for her is lost.  Lies destroy the bonds that preserve love. Iago’s lies threaten to dissolve social order itself, the authority of government, the basis upon which we are social beings in a civilized, or just a socially ordered, world.  Murder mysteries (there is one at the heart of “The One”) expose the same danger:  who is the murderer?  Who is it we cannot trust, who would kill any one of us for their own selfish purposes?  Who is the one telling the lies about who they are?  Who is the one the rest of us can’t trust?

The power of lust, of sexual desire unrestrained, is that it dissolves the bonds of society, of social order. Just ask Ovid.  It can be rape (Zeus) or it can just be the disruptive and unrequited need (Apollo and Daphne).  It can be a powerful force that is too powerful, that turns the lives of everyone involved in the story upside down.  The murder mystery story revolves around power and money, the desire for something other than sex.  Murder is the ultimate disruption; at least in our fiction, at least when it’s part of the story.  But the stories of other characters in “The One” turn on questions of relationship, of trust, of human bonds and bondage. Lies turn those lives upside down, too.

Love is not about misery; but surely it isn’t also just about happiness.  Are people in love happy?  Always?  One character loses her “match” to murder, and tells a friend the idea of never being with him again, “hurts.  It really hurts.”  Love is about her; but what about him?  Isn’t love about the other, more than it is about you?  Is what hurts that you can’t be with them?  Or that they are gone forever, that they no longer know life itself?  Love in adolescence is about how I feel; love in maturity is about the beloved.

The character who markets this revolution, this technical marvel, admits to another, just one other character, that the whole process is a lie, that what she’s selling is “magic,” because genetics can create siblings so closely aligned that they create a “match” for one person with both of them.  So there is no “one,” not even in science.

And then there are the characters that “register” another for a “match,” without the person being matched knowing it’s being done. Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?  The company takes the hair follicle, fingernail clipping, what have you, and sends the “donor” a notice of his/her match.  That can be so disruptive it amounts to a tort.  It could certainly be a tool of revenge. But don’t we give technology that much power over us now?  There’s more than a touch of “Black Mirror” in this story, too.  Still, the interesting question is:  “What is love?”  Is it just genetics; a response to pheromones; what we need to keep humanity going? Or is it a fundamental force, at least in human existence (and what force outside of human existence is knowable or worth knowing?)

Is there one answer?

What Happened To That?

I remember when the GOP “controlled the narrative” by making us all think about the crisis on the border.

What happened to that?
Ain't it, though?

“She Looked 16!” ๐Ÿ‘€

They all told him they were 18? That’s his defense? Not the defense he thinks it is. In fact, much closer to a confession than he wants to get.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Since You Asked

Well, you didn't; but since I brought it up.

Miss him yet?  Yeah, neither do I.

"You'd Have To Ask The Local School District"

Plyler v. Doe, 1982.  That's where this starts: an uncontroversial Supreme Court decision that the 14th Amendment (equal protection of the law) does not allow states to discriminate between citizens and non-citizens when it comes to providing education to children.  I always remember that case because "Plyler" was Jim Plyler, superintendent of schools where I grew up.  I was out of that school district 9 years when that ruling came down, but I went to school with his children, and knew him outside his role as the superintendent.

And yes, the case stands, among other things, for the principle that this is not Rome, and we don't deny certain privileges (other than voting, basically) to non-citizens just because they are not citizens.  Citizens are not a more legally privileged class than non-citizens, which is the unstated assumption behind that stupid question.  Equal protection under the law, is equal protection under the law.  Still a difficult concept for xenophobia and racists, and those who think they aren’t, but still worry about how “non-citizens” are getting “privileges.”

The other stupid part of that question being:  education is a matter for the states, except where state law  conflicts with the Constitution (Plyler v. Doe).  If the schools in San Diego want to provide in-person education to undocumented children (who obviously don't have access to computers and the internet, at least on a regular basis), what's the problem?  People are trying to be decent to other people?  That's a scandal at FoxNews? Or are only white American citizens really "people"?

Jen Psaki is a gem, and a consummate professional.  Me, I'd have the White House Briefing Room rigged with ejector seats by now, and would use that power freely.

Tuesday of Holy Week 2021

Picking up on the anointing at Bethany, Matthew follows Mark very closely.  (This is the Q hypothesis in action; Matthew and Luke have passages taken almost verbatim from Mark.  It's also part of the reason Mark is considered the oldest of the canonical gospels.)

And so when Jesus had concluded his discourse, he told his disciples "You know in two days Passover comes, and the son of Adam will be turned over to be crucified."

Then the ranking priests and elders of the people gathered in the courtyard of the high priest, whose names was Caiaphas, and they conspired to seize Jesus by trickery and kill him.  Their slogan was "Not during the festival, so there won't be a riot among the people."

While Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, a woman who had an alabaster jar of very expensive myrrh came up to him and poured it over his head whil he was reclining (at table).  When they saw this, the disciples were annoyed, and said, "What good purpose is served by this waste?  After all, she could have sold it for a good price and given (the money) to the poor."

But Jesus saw through (their complaint) and said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman?  After all, she has done me a courtesy.  Remember, there will always be poor around; but I won't always be around.  After all, by pouring this myrrh on my body she has made me ready for burial.  So help me, wherever this good news is announced in all the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."

Matthew 26:1-13, SV

We'll start at the top, this time, and work our way down.  Little details about 1st century life in Palestine are important here; and not peculiar to this story, just to how times have changed.  So Jesus is reclining at table.  We think of chairs and tablecloths, or seats at least, and a long table raised to a position comfortable for seated diners, as in DaVinci's famous painting.  But that's a Renaissance table, not a first century one.  The Roman style, which is to say the common style, would be to sit on the floor, and lay on one's side, almost.  You would prop yourself on an elbow, or some cushions.  This is how the diners are seated in Plato's Symposium.  Chairs as we have them today were unknown and, like purple cloth, owned only by the richest.  Most people sat like we imagine traditional Japanese diners sit; on the floor, but not with legs crossed.  The legs would be out to one side.  That's a small detail that will mean a great deal tomorrow, when we get to Luke's version.

Now, the myrrh.  I've wondered, without any way to establish it, if Matthew decided myrrh was an appropriate gift for the Christchild because Mark mentions it first in his gospel, and associates it (as it would have been in Jesus' time) with death.  Myrrh is expensive (worth 300 denarii, Mark says.  My references tell me a laborer could hope to make 1 denari a day.  You do the math.).  It was used for burial by those who could afford it.  Dom Crossan argues the body of Jesus of Nazareth was dumped in a shallow grave, the repository of political criminals.  It's more likely true than the gospel accounts of tombs and rich benefactors (Joseph of Arimethea), for reasons I'll come to now.

Both Mark and Matthew make more of the priests and scribes (or Pharisees) than Luke does.  Why?  Because Mark and Matthew are self-hating Jews (yes, the term is an anachronism in 1st century Palestine; but go with it)?  Not likely.  More likely is that they dare not blame Rome for the death of Jesus.  After all, look what happened to Jesus. It's very likely Peter denied Jesus three times, to escape being crucified along with him.  That threat still existed in the 9th decade of the 1st century, when Matthew likely penned his gospel.  You can even see hints of the transition between Mark's version (circa 70 C.E.) and Matthew's (circa 85 C.E.).  Mark says the "chief priests and scribes" are looking for an excuse to arrest Jesus.  Matthew elaborates further, naming Caiaphas and putting him in a palace (the rich v. the poor is not a theme confined to Luke's gospel only).  This is the first time Caiphas is named in the gospels, and it probably comes from "Q," since Luke names him, too.  But Luke references Caiphas in his nativity stories:

In the fifteenth year of the rule of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wildnerness.

I have to stop at point out what a Lukan passage that is.  Imagine it in a movie, with a narrator, and the camera starts in the palace in Rome, moves across the empire to the Governor's palace in Jerusalem, then to the palaces referenced after Pilate, to the home of the priests, and finally out, into the desert, the wilderness, to find John ben Zechariah.  It is not the powerful who are important here.  You are probably thinking I'm indulging my fancy too much and should stick to the point.  But my endgame is Luke, and this is part of my point.  But we'll get there.

John, by the way, mentions Caiphas five times.

Why Caiphas? Verisimilitude, maybe.  More likely, to establish responsibility, and make sure that responsibility falls on the almost powerless scribes and priests.  As Caiphas says in "Jesus Christ Superstar:"  "We have no law/to put a man to death!"  The Romans did, however, and they weren't afraid to use it.  Blaming the priests and scribes (and later, the Jews) was the safe move in the 1st century.   The centuries of anti-semitism it would lead to, were unimaginable at the time.  The death penalties of Rome, were quite imaginable, and justly feared. 

In other words, there is a lot of tension around the events of this story, both in the narrative and in the mere re-telling of it.  And that tension explodes in the narrative with the complaint about the expense of the myrrh.  So, from the standpoint of the narrative, let's ask:  why is that here?

In modern story telling, long stories are commonly divided into chapters.  In the Harry Potter novels (for a common cultural touchstone today),  each chapter is itself a complete story, and each story is part of the whole story of the novel.  And each novel, in turn, is part of a still larger story:  the battle against Voldemort, and how it finally concluded.  But each chapter is something of a short story:  it has a plot which introduces the conflict for that chapter, initiates the action of that chapter, and moves the tension or rising action of the chapter forward until there is some resolution of the conflict of that chapter.  That conflict may well lead to the next chapter, but each chapter ends with some conflict that is resolved and serves to advance the greater story of the novel, just as each novel advances the still greater story of the battle against the evil sorcerer.

The gospels are not products of modern story telling, but there are enough similiarities in story-telling across the millenia to recognize the forms.  Episodes in the gospel narrative of Matthew (or Mark), for example, move the overall story forward, while providing their own situations of conflict and resolution.  So the woman appears in the house of Simon the leper, and pours expensive myrrh on the head of Jesus.  Then what?  Then the conflict occurs; and some interpretations of what follows turn that act of generosity into a McGuffin; because the act itself almost disappears in the wake of Jesus' rebuke of his disciples.

A McGuffin, if you don't know, is a device that sets a plot in motion, but itself is inconsequential and even disappears once it has done its job.  Hitchcock loved McGuffins.  In "Psycho," the McGuffin is the money Janet Leigh's character steals from her employer.  It's the reason she drives to the Bates Motel, but you forget all about it after the shower scene, and it only reappears in the denouement, and that just to wrap up a loose end.  In "The Birds" a cage with two love birds prompts Tippi Hedrin to drive to the coastal village where the bird attacks take place, and even prompts the first seagull attack on her.  But, again, the cage disappears only to reappear at the climax of the film, and then disappears again.  The money, the caged birds, do their job for the plot, and that's all they're needed for.  When interpreters focus on Jesus saying "The poor will always be with you," the anointing itself becomes a McGuffin.  I've even heard that verse quoted with no context for it whatsoever.  Who quotes "Eli, eli, lama sabachtani?" without noting it is said on the cross?  Or quotes the Beatitudes and forgets they are part of the most famous sermon in Christendom?  But this verse is usually divorced entirely the anointing; or treated almost as a sentiment grafted onto what has just occurred.

So let's look at the lines as organic, as a part, of this story, not as a misplaced grafting.  The woman pours the myrrh, and the expense (and "waste") of this offends them.  Well, it would, wouldn't it?  That's a year's salary to these men.  You don't spend that all at once and, if you do, you don't spend it on the person who teaches poverty and asceticism and how God provides all you need.  Seems reasonable, right?

But are the disciples concerned with the poor?  Or with their image?  As Judas says to Jesus in "JCS," objecting to this same act by Mary Magdalene:  "It doesn't help us if you're inconsistent.  They only need a small excuse to put us all away."  Tim Rice catches the tension of the story in those lines, even if he embellishes the scene for his purposes.  And is it really so wrong that somebody do something nice for Jesus, especially considering the week he's about to have?  They may not know what's coming, but Matthew and Mark make it clear Jesus does.  And frankly the gift is not a new house or a private plane; it is a gift that is used once it is given, that is gone once it is delivered.  It is, as Matthew has Jesus say, "a courtesy."  Why shouldn't Jesus receive some courtesy, especially at the beginning of Holy Week?

His words underscore that his time is coming to an end, his life and ministry are almost through.  It won't be long until he is praying and weeping in Gethsemane while is disciples sleep.  No, the anointing is not one event, the objection of the disciples another awkwardly mashed into it.  This story is the prelude to Holy Week.  It is the foreshadowing of what's to come.  For Matthew's narrative it's even a connection back to the nativity that begins his gospel:  that myrrh that was a gift to a two year old, is now a courtesy and a prophecy at the other end of that child's life.

And still, we're left with the fact that this woman is unknown and unnamed.  What she has done is told, but not in memory of her.  Well, not in the modern sense, when name is everything, and is the source of fame, where the most famous have only one name:  Cher, Beyonce, Madonna.  Although "when you talk about Dylan, he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas" was a good joke in the late '60's, we all know there is only one "Dylan."  But who are Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?  We don't know.  Perhaps they are the names of authors; perhaps they are only names certified by tradition.  We have animals as symbols for the four evangelists, but does that bring us any closer to remembering them?  Perhaps not in the way we mean now; but obviously we do remember them.  They are some of the most famous names in Western culture.  But knowing those names, do we remember them?

The woman with the jar gains a name; but only in John's gospel.  But then, we remember Thomas because of John's gospel, too.  It's probably worth noting that the three synoptics all list the 12 disciples by name; but in the story of the anointing, both Matthew and Mark mention only the whole, not the individuals.  And in Luke's version of the anointing, they play no role at all.

It Amazes Me

a) that “communism” is still a scare word.

b) “corporate communism”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? The antithesis of communism in the ‘50’s was the American corporation. Am I now a communist if I don’t want to go places where people gather? Because I don’t. Protecting customers and employees from disease strikes me as morally essential.

I’m in a hospital getting my second dose of vaccine, and everyone here is required to wear a mask and show ID. Is this corporate communism, or common sense health measures?

Honestly, every time I think our public discourse can’t get stupider...

Agree To Disagree

Because there's always another way of looking at it. I agree that repeating Trump’s statements is problematic. But here I am doing it anyway. Besides, it's almost newsworthy: Gotta say I have a hard time getting worked up about what Deborah Birx did or didn't do. Maybe she didn't "sound the alarm," but Trump's behavior was surely alarming enough. If his conjectures about bleach and UV light, his blithe denial of the seriousness of the pandemic, were not enough, what would be? I still haven't heard anything since November 3rd about how the pandemic was being handled before January 20th that really surprised me.

I don’t want to repeat and/or amplify everything Trump says; but without the trappings of power and the authority of the office, it becomes clearer and clearer what a buffoon Trump is, and always was. It’s more and more frightening how we managed to let this superannuated child into that position.  All the clamor of his “supporters” since then is simply to cover their own actions and preserve their own desire for power. And this desire to find a scapegoat maybe covers our own shame and anguish. We are, in the end, the sovereign. No matter who works in the White House, we are, in the end, responsible. Maybe that’s the fatal American attraction of the British royal family: who elected them?

It’s the ultimate escape from responsibility.

Why Is This Man Laughing?

Or do we laugh because the present is now disconnecting from the past? Disconnecting, not disconnected: And speaking of disconnected: What, it coulda been worse?

A Picture Is Worth....

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Crisis Next Time

For Holy Week 2021

Ancillary to the analysis of the anointing stories, some themes I think appropriate to those stories.

On what condition does goodness exist beyond all calculation? On the condition that goodness forget itself, that the movement be a movement of the gift that renounces itself, hence a movement of infinite love. Only infinite love can renounce itself and, in order to become finite, become incarnated in order to love the other, to love the other as a finite other. This gift of infinite love comes from someone and is addressed to someone; responsibility demands irreplaceable singularity.

Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, tr. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 50-51.

These conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your own cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you now know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

James 4:1-6

I am reading (Simone Weil's) essays as a part of my Lenten reading...She says that we "...must experience every day, both in the spirit and the flesh, the pains and humiliations of poverty...and further we must do something which is harder than enduring in poverty, we must renounce all compensations: in our contacts with the people around us we must sincerely practice the humility of a naturalized citizen in the country which has received us."

I keep reminding the young people who come to work with us that they are not naturalized citizens...They are not really poor. We are always foreigners to the poor. So we have to make up for it by "renouncing all compensations..."

Dorothy Day, from The Dorothy Day Book, p. 11.

I've Actually Quit A Job

I quit because the boss was such an asshole.

It was not a redemptive experience.  I was not lauded for my "conscience."  I was unemployed for a very long time.

I really wonder how many people who think Dr. Birx should have quit have, themselves, quit over a principle.  Damned few, I'll warrant.  Even fewer would do it twice.

"Don't do as I do; do as I say!"

Adding, because I'm getting really tired of this:
Says the man whose job is to complain about how other people do their jobs. Nice work, if you can get it.

Monday of Holy Week 2021

I could spend the week here:

Mary brought in a pound of expensive lotion and anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair.  And the house was filled with the lotion's fragrance.--John 12:3, SV.

So I've decided I will.

This story is one of three found across all four gospels.  Literally, three.  All four gospels have this story; then some version of Jesus "cleansing" the Temple (John relegates it to two verses in chapter 2; but then the interesting thing about John's gospel is that almost the entire story takes place during "Holy Week."  I'l try to come back to the significance of the "cleansing" story before the week is out.), and then some version of the Crucifixion (those stories have common elements, such as Peter's denial; but they don't all have the same elements. Oddly; they do all include the soldier's ear being but off at the arrest, but I'd argue that shows the influence of Luke on John's narrative, more than anything.  We'll come to that argument eventually.  For now, when I say this is one of three stories, I mean to underline it's importance, not to make an absolute statement.  But if I frame it as an absolute, you'll better get my overall point about it.)

I think it so significant I want to present it across the four gospels.  Which means we'll start with Mark's version first, on the well-established theory that Mark is the oldest of the four, and provides much of the material for Matthew and Luke.  The theory goes on, if you aren't familiar with it, to posit a "Q" document (for the German "quelle" or "source."  This is a 19th century scholarly theory, not a 21st century conspiracy theory) that both Matthew and Luke used for stories and sayings not in Mark; and then there's "Special Luke" and "Special Matthew," conjectured sources for material peculiar to those gospels, respectively.  I'll explain those as we go along, because they play into the interpretation of these stories, too.

You may notice I've left John's gospel out.  That's only because it's understood not to be one of the "synoptics."  Long before the Q theory was formulated, scholars of the scriptures knew there were strong similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke that marked them off from John.  Those three were dubbed the "synoptics," for "seen together."  John's gospel is different, beginning with the fact his story centers almost exclusively on Holy Week.  There is no baptism by John in John's gospel, no "Last Supper" is instituted.  In fact, John's "final meal" story sets up the "sacrament that wasn't," when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, an act at once so humbling and intimate it's very difficult to enact in a church setting, for both the people taking their shoes off, and the person with the basin of water and the towel.  But I don't leave John's gospel out of my study; in fact, it's in some ways the linchpin to my theory about this story.  But we'll go in chronological order, so we'll start with Mark.

The Anointing at Bethany, as it is usually called, appears first in Mark's gospel during Holy Week (and yes, I know that term is an anachronism in speaking of the events of the gospel, but it's easier for us; we aren't Biblical scholars here).  It's in Mark 14:3-9.  But I'm going to start at the beginning of chapter 14, to put this in Mark's narrative context:

Now it was two days until Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread.  And the ranking priests and the scholars were looking for some way to arrest him by trickery and kill him.  For their slogan was "Not during the festival, otherwise the people will riot."

When he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, he was just reclining there, and a woman came in carrying an alabster jar of myrrh, of pure and expensive nard.  She broke the jar and poured (the myrrh) on his head.

Now some were annoyed (and thought) to themselves "What good purpose is served by this wast of myrrh?  For she coulid have sold the myrrh for more than three hundred silver coins and given (the money) to the poor.  And they were angry with her.

Then Jesus said, "Let her alone!  Whay are you bothering her?  She has done me a courtesy.  Remember, there will always be poor around, and whatever you want you can do for them, but I won't always be around.  She did what she could--she anticipates in anointing my body for burial.  So help me, wherever the good news is announced in all the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her."

Mark 14:1-9, SV

Modern scholars have pointed out the irony of verse 9:  the woman who does this is not named in Marke's gospel, or Matthew's, or Luke's.  She is named in John's, but we'll get to that.  Her anonymity, and her presence, are things we have to pay attention to.  But there is a truth in v. 9; all four gospels do tell this story; just not necessarily "in memory of her."

Let's start with the unnamed woman's presence.  Matthew and Mark don't make much of women being among the men in Jesus' entourage; Luke mentions it even less, except, ironically, in his version of this anointing story.  It's an odd lacunae we accept as sound practice, although literally for centuries women in the company of men was taboo.  I had neighbors who were Muslim, and wonderful people (I do not in any way speak against them; I'm still sorry they moved away).  She was American by birth, but dressed in traditional Muslim attire; and would not answer her own door if I knocked on it.  I barely even spoke to her outside, but she never made me feel threatening or like she was ashamed.  I have known church members whose memories went back to Sunday services where men sat on one side of the church, women and children on the other.  So we're not talking about the Middle Ages or the days of the Roman Empire to say that in Jesus' time, even wives did not enter the room when their husbands had guests.  To do so would be the greatest shame, and mark the woman (of course) as a prostitute.  The former Vice President reportedly did not want to be in the room alone with another woman, particularly without his wife present.  We find that odd behavior; much of human history would find it normal.  (And when I was in ministry, I was warned many times never to be alone in my office with a woman, especially with the door closed or no other people in the building.  Times have changed?)  We need to understand that in order to study this story and understand both this woman's actions, and the reactions to it.

As I said, the gospel writers don't make much of this, but arguably that more reflects the "bohemian" nature (as we would say today) of Jesus' entourage.  The gospel writers accept that as part of Jesus' radical challenge to society.  We have made it so anodyne that, even as we upheld the distinctions between the sexes and "protected" the "fairer sex" by exclusions and separations from males, we ignored the radical nature of the life of Jesus in the gospels.  Just because it's presented as normal in the gospels, in other words, doesn't mean that it was normal in 1st century Palestine.

And before you think it must have changed radically in Paul's day:  first, Paul's letters predate even the earliest of the canonical gospels by decades.  Second, Paul's churches were "house churches."  They were literally the family of one house, including relatives and slaves.  The most radical thing about Paul's teachings to them was that slaves and free were all on common footing before God and as believers in Christ.  He wasn't that radical about men and women being together (although he did have women who traveled and preached, with him).  Wealth and status had much to do with it, too.  Luke relates, in Acts, the story of Lydia, a "dealer in purple cloth."  Purple was exclusively the color of royalty.  Lydia was a person of high status, then, and great wealth.  As Fitzgerald told Hemingway, the rich are different; and it's not just because they have more money.  Wealthy women were at much less risk of being considered prostitutes than poor women.

There is also the matter that prostitutes were more likely women without husbands, or who had lost their husbands and had no access to society, no means to make money other than by prostitution.  But we'll come back to that; we're straying a bit far from our source story.

Moving back up into Mark, I would note that the idea this woman is a prostitute, and the tradition that Mary of Magdalene was a prostitute, are connected to this story (in Luke's version, but we'll get there).  My mind always echoes with "Jesus Christ Superstar" during Holy Week, and I hear Judas snearing at Jesus when I think about this story:

It seems to me a strange thing, mystifying,
Why a man like you would waste your time
On women of her kind!

Yes, I can understand that she amuses,
But to let her kiss you, stroke your hair,
Is hardly in your line.

It's not that I object to her profession!
But she doesn't fit in well, with what you teach and say.
It doesn't help us if you're inconsistent!
They only need a small excuse, to put us all away.
In the opera it's a moment of tension between Judas and Jesus, the first instance we see since Judas' opening song, that the relationship between them is rocky, and getting rockier.   But it also plays on the tradition that this woman was a prostitute.  And yet there' s no indication of that at all in this story.

Probably the biggest issue today with this passage is the reference to the poor being always with us.  I don't know how many times I've heard that quoted, wholly out of context, to justify doing nothing for the poor, rather than doing something for them because, after all, we can't exactly pour myrrh over Jesus any more, can we?  Suffice to say Jesus' remarks are specific to the event described here; but they show up in three of the four gospels, and find an echo in the fourth (Luke's, in this case).  So they need to be noted for our purposes.

We have only two points left, now:  time, and place.  Mark sets this story in the home of Simon, the leper. Maybe that excuses the presence of women.  Simon has been healed by Jesus, but "leprosy" was not necessarily the disease we know today.  The term was not so specific in Mark's day, and it denoted not just illness, but an outcast social status.  Even today a "leper" can be a social stigma as much as a medical diagnosis.  Indeed, the word "leper" is eschewed much as the term "Mongoloid" is no longer used to describe the genetic condition now called "Down's Syndrome."  "Leper" carries such disapproving connotations it can't be used because it connotes a pariah status.  That's much closer to the use of the word in the gospel's than to victims of Hansen's disease.  It may be no wonder, then, that women move freely among men in Jesus' group.  They're already in the house of a leper; how much lower than they descend?

And then there's the time:  two days before the feast of the Passover.  We can't overstate, or understand the events of the Crucifixion stories, if we don't recognize how significant Passover was to the children of Abraham under the rule of the Romans in the holy city of Jerusalem.  Rome was very tolerant of religion in the Empire, but even Rome got nervous about Passover in Jerusalem.  Pilate's palace stood right next to the Temple; "on top of it," we might say today. From the high walls of the palace Roman soldiers could look down into the courtyard, the outer precincts of the Temple, to keep an eye on things during Passover. This is one reason the "cleansing of the Temple" stories are so important to the gospel narratives of the Crucifixion.  But Passover itself was the great festival, feast, and remembrance of the events that had created the Hebrew (not yet Jewish, but soon) nation.  That remembrance was a challenge to Roman sovereignty, and a religious event unlike any other on the Hebrew calendar.  It brought throngs to Jerusalem, reminded them of their place before the God of Abraham, of their release from the captivity of Egypt in the city now captured by Rome; and generally just threatened to light a powder keg among the people gathered there.  So Pilate was on edge for seditious or even treasonous behavior.  It's no accident Rome stepped in to crucify the man from Nazareth during the observances of Passover.  But we'll return to that.  For now it's important to keep in mind three of these four anointing stories take place in the days before the celebration of Passover, the events that broke the power of another ruler over the children of Abraham.

We'll come back to this with Matthew's version.  But it doesn't differ that much from Mark's, so we won't have as much new ground to cover.  Still, each version deserves it's own attention, and we will give them that.

If You Dance With The Devil... have to pay the piper.

I’m A Little Surprised...

Georgia hasn’t repealed that law and declared the investigators, prosecutors, and grand jury members “enemies of the people.”

Or at least passed a new law making it illegal to investigate Donald Trump for any reason whatsoever.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Point Of “Voter ID” not to prevent fraud or even be in line with other countries. It’s to restrict voting. Because these laws are never accompanied by programs to provide photo ID to all registered voters. Nor to provide ID for people who want to register to vote.

Details, details...

If There’s A Natural Disaster In South Carolina

Lindsey will be in Washington. Or flying over in a helicopter with the President. Or demanding the police protect him first.

Did you see those gangs of hooligans rampaging through the wreckage in Alabama? Neither did I.

Media Matters

This is where that started: Watch the video to the end, you'll see where this started: Going back a step: Maybe because we're tired of everything being a "crisis"? Yeah, we're probably a little sensitive to that. Wonder why? Yeah, I can't imagine, either.

Deep Thoughts

Aren’t we all?


Or: So was it live? Or was it taped? Did he promise to go look at the wall he didn’t finish? Was it live when they cut off mid-rant, or was it Memorex? I ask because his party admits he didn’t: Anyway, isn’t this cancel culture? Or no?

Saturday, March 27, 2021

This Is Your Brain On GOP

So apparently CBP doesn't get in the river, so the intrepid Senators had to rely on...Texas Highway Patrol? The junior Senator from Alabama was also there. The ear-worm is just lagniappe.  You’re welcome.

“My Predecessor—O God, I Miss Him!”—-President Joe Biden

Yeah, we don't either.

And if that doesn’t convince you:

The "Texas Miracle" Is A Shell Game (Part Infinity)

Why is it a shell game, you ask? Follow the bouncing ball:

The Nebraska cavalry has been working the Texas Legislature for a week and a half, according to The Texas Tribune’s Cassandra Pollock and Erin Douglas. The company’s proposal is for a Texas Emergency Power Reserve that would build 10 new natural gas-fueled power plants in the state. Those would be idle unless they were needed for times of peak demand — or when other electrical generation failed, as some did last month.

It’s a slick presentation, complete with a poll and a slide deck that found Texans would pay $3 more every month to “significantly lower their risk of losing power during a winter storm.” As proposed, the new plants would be up and running by winter 2023.

There's the solution, and it sounds like a good one.  $3 a month extra?  Except for the poor among us, what's the problem? (Let's set aside the absolute lack of social justice in Texas for the moment.)  The price tag here, by the way, in round numbers, is $8.3 billion.

Those would be fixed bills, paid each month by customers for the assurance that outages would be less frequent and less severe. That would pay the cost of building the plants. The cost of fuel when the plants are turned on would be passed through to consumers. 

Just to be clear, because it gets less clear in a moment.  That "fixed cost" is the cost to residential customers (some of whom, yes, can't afford it.  But those who can't are also more likely to be among the dead right now, from hypothermia.  Like I said:  Texas.  It's friendly; but it's heartless.)

Put simply, lawmakers and regulators have been more sensitive to the business sector’s complaints about price increases than about those from residential customers. You can see it in the average rates for Texas, compared with other states. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas had the 10th-lowest average prices for electricity in the country in January 2021. But residential electric customers paid less in 22 other states. Just two states had lower prices for commercial and industrial electricity.

We’re 23rd for residential prices, third for commercial and for industrial prices. That’s where Texas is competitive, and it’s the root of the claim that prices here are low. They are — for business.

There's a reason Rick Perry is a rich man, although he's never held a non-government job in his adult life.  There's a reason Texas politicians brag about "bidness" in Texas, and about how un-regulated and free we are here.  They call it the Texas Miracle.  It ain't no such thing.  It's just a matter of shifting costs to someone else.  "Someone else" in this case pretty much means people, instead of business.  Things matter to Texas governance.  Ideas matter.  I saw a bumper sticker a few days ago:  "Ted Cruz.  Reliably conservative."  Something ilke that.  The driver of that car didn't care what Ted Cruz did or said.  Ted Cruz is "reliably" conservative.  That's all that matters.  People?  People are the goddamned problem!  Not me, and maybe not you; but them people over there!

So the Texas Miracle is a matter of being on the right side of the balance sheet.  As the article points out:

But the plan really lays out one of the reasons lawmakers balked at weather-proofing 10 years ago: It’s expensive. And it’s more expensive for commercial and industrial customers — the big plants known around the Legislature as the “heavy metals” — than for residential customers.

That also happens to be how the three sectors line up, in terms of lobbying power, at the Texas Capitol. The industrials and commercials don’t rule the roost, necessarily, but their constant presence and their sectors’ importance in economic development make them very persuasive.

I can already tell you how that's gonna shake out.  2 years ago people were up in arms about the way the state funds public education.  The Lege huffed and puffed and declared the problem solved; and everyone was satisfied.  Well, except the people who know the Lege didn't do jack shit to solve the problem.

History doesn't repeat itself; but it does rhyme.