Friday, May 21, 2010


Is it just me or does everyone think that their house is not clean enough?

I hate housekeeping. I really do. So I avoid it. So my house probably isn't clean enough, but even when I feel that I really clean, I sit down only to look over and see dust on some surface that I missed.

Part of it is not maintaining. Part of it is living in an old house where there are uneven surfaces and cracks and crevices where dust can hide. I have white stairs--well, they were white when I moved in. Even getting down on my hands and knees with a bucket doesn't seem to make a difference. Part of it is having a dog and a cat and the slow detritus of hair and skin that makes up dust--but other people have children AND a dog and a cat and seem to keep up.

Part of it is simply having too much stuff--too many books, too many figurines with tiny nooks and crannies. I can't dust them all every week, let alone take the books out and dust behind them, so the dust remains and contaminates my clean house.

My therapist says that it is the worry that does me in. The comparisons with imaginary Joneses that are more worrisome than a little (or a lot) of dust. That some very horrible and unhappy people live in pristine houses while some very happy people live in dusty chaos.

Don't get me wrong, I'm relatively tidy and organized. I can find almost anything I'm looking for within a few minutes, from old photos to tea lights. In terms of tidy I could have a tidy house for people coming over in less than an hour with my husband's help (as the untidy is mostly his)--except for our shared desk which is an overrun melting pot of scraps of paper, notepads and electronic cables.

But clean? Not really.

I think part of the fear comes with the desire not to be my mother. My mother is one object away from being on that show about Hoarders. How she would hate my publishing that here. Throwing things away is painful to her. I'm a collector, but I can throw away with impunity. I may have clothes from when I was thirteen, but only because they still fit and are in decent shape. If they don't fit and I can't alter or remake them they're gone. Shoes, which I am very hard on due to clumsiness and foot rolling, are gone after a season no matter how much I loved them. But I do remake things and keep things that might be useful--am I in danger?

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

Also watched “Fraility” a disturbing little film about faith and families—don’t know what else to say about it.

And finished “The Family…” Is it paranoid? Conspiracy theorist? It seems well-researched and has certainly taken on great meaning in light of recent events to pundits of the left such as Rachel Maddow whom I respect (and—full disclosure--kind of lust after because I love smart nerds).

According to the book, there is a quiet, not-quite hidden or secret, but shadowy nevertheless, organization, known now as the Family who works behind the scenes of Washington politics and from there the world. In it’s guise of innocent prayer groups it places “influential men in key places” thereby spreading JESUS throughout the world. But theirs is a Jesus unrecognizable to me or to most Christians whether they be holiday Christians or Evangelicals.

Theirs is Jesus unfettered by scipture, focused on the 'global picture' and therefore unconcerned about the tiny players (read you and me, the poor, the victims of dictators) and unhindered it seems by common sense. I didn't realize as I started this, but perhaps that is why I was thinking of World Citizen by Sylvian:
We raise the men
Who run the fascist states
And we sell them arms
So they maintain their place

We turn our backs
On the things they've done
Their human rights record
And the guns they run

Their concern is with "key men" in high places. That is, their belief is that God has "chosen" some men to have power (they must be chosen by God, right? Else why would they have power?) and that those chosen should be prayed over and with to spread Christianity, or rather complete loyalty to Jesus as they avoic the "Christian" label as they find it "off-putting." This is not proselytizing in the traditional sense, this is a new world order.

They take as their inspiration the story of King David, chosen by God despite what we would consider evil and sinful behavior. In fact, Governor Sanford (a member of The Family) referenced King David in his strange, rambling apology for his infidelity and deception of his family and his constituents.

I have always had a problem with the story of King David. Why should this sinful and proud man be so beloved by God. I try to rationalize it as C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist does by saying that an all-powerful God is beyond our comprehension, so his actions cannot be limited by human sensibilities.

But it falls kind of flat. This is one of the cenral tenants of The Family. That these petty sins of minor men are unimportant for the 'great men' who are 'loyal' to God.

This means that they celebrate Hitler, Lenin and Stalin as men who 'got it'--the uniting and leading of men. They befriend and supposedly pray with dictators such as Suharto of Indonesia. The crimes against humanity are nothing compared with power. That's why men like Sanford or John Ensign seem to have so little real remorse and do not resign. After all they have a greater good to do.

But The Family is not limited by party lines. It's members are Democrats as well as Republicans. Independents as well as party-liners. All united by their sense of being chosen. It is Ayn Randism with the face of God. Even Hilary Clinton has participated in The Family's prayer breakfasts although she is not one of the elite.

At its very mildest it is an old boy network providing a ladder for those hoping to rise in politics. The author, Jeff Sharlet, begins his story in one of the family's houses, Ivanwald, with other young men, some Christian some just looking for a leg up.

American Actresses vs. the Brits

Past weekend, watched “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.” I had read the novel ages ago, and the screenplay even further back.

Must say that I was disappointed. I found it very flat with the exception of Jeremy Iron’s rformance. I love Irons (Brideshead, of course, and in Reversal of Fortune) but have found him passionate only in this Elizabeth I.

It was amusing to see British actors who went on to bigger and better or at least more amusing roles--Leo McKern, Richard Griffiths, and Penelope Wilton known to Doctor Who fans as Harriet Jones. But I was very disappointed in Meryl Streep. For all her fame in accents, I found hers uneven and unconvincing in this.

Which brings up the question, why, when Hollywood is perfectly willing to cast British actors as Brits (and often as Americans) is it so reluctant to cast British actresses as Brits??? Particularly iconic British roles—like this one or Bridget Jones for example. Australians as Americans thrive in Hollywood, and it does not turn around and cast Americans as Australians—Cate Blanchett gets to play an Australian although Nicole Kidman played a Brit in Australia. If it is name recognition then why did Collin Firth get to be in Bridget Jones?

But then, why ask why—Hollywood has been doing it to Asians forever, from “The Good Earth” to the Chinese as Japanese in the excruciating “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Japanese actresses should actually be glad that they weren’t associated with that travesty.

Oh, and speaking of travesties, Uma Thurman as Emma Peel. Not to mention it remains a touchstone for me of terrible films--as in, at least it wasn't as bad as The Avengers.

Even More on Social Media and Human Behavior

Do you casually put up anything that comes to mind on Facebook/Twitter, Twitter being designed for this, or do you put some thought into provocative, humorous or controversial statements, hoping for comments or re-Tweets?

I prefer Facebook because a) more of my friends are on it, and b) because it invites lengthier and more diverse conversation, sometimes between friends who don’t otherwise know each other from different parts of one’s life, between high school friends, college friends and Boston friends for example. I prefer the conversation. And find myself irrationally unhappy when I don’t get it.

Do you also worry about when to stop commenting? If you have the last word have you been selfish, or so dull that you are conversation ending? If you do not leave the last comment, then have you been rude and abrupt?

If no one comments then are you unpopular, dull or simply lost in the rush. Which leads to my own low-self esteem general question, “Do my friends really like me?”

I find it humorous that posts that where I expect many comments get none, and toss away, random posts especially if concerned with the domestic get multiple responses. I suppose it is commonality. Not having children I tend to refrain from commenting on those posts, and I find it limits my engagement somewhat, to my regret. A friend in blogging once commented that parents have infinite sources for blog posts, while we childless have somewhat less. I could post Guinness’ antics and Mephisto’s foibles, I suppose, but they are rather repetitive.

Do other people worry about such things, or is it just me?

A Musical Hierarchy

Do other people have a music hierarchy? When listening to the radio in the car and you are faced with the choices of two acceptable songs or even two songs in general, what determines which one you stop on?

For instance, for me from this past week, Muse trumps Red Hot Chili Peppers but loses to Death Cab for Cutie, particularly if it’s from the new album of both, but Red Hot Chili Peppers would come before Oasis, for example. Alternative 80’s (Cure, Depeche, Duran (of course), Human League (except for Human—God, I hate that song), etc. wins out much of the time except for really new songs that I adore.

Between “Sometime Around Midnight” by The Airborne Toxic Event and “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons, both songs that just slay me, the later would probably win because it is newer and I haven’t heard it as much.

There are artists who, if they are the only choice, lose to commercials or even to silence. Coldplay, for example, or James Taylor or (shudder) John Mayer. And this isn’t even counting artists that I don’t even know, or simply dislike as a type—country, country lite (Lady Antebellum), most R&B, much top 40.

Though choosy, I am much more egalitarian than my husband. I will nostalgically stop on Hall and Oates (this morning) or Phil Collins, while my husband would probably rather stick his head out the window in on-coming traffic. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of artists that he would listen to that I wouldn’t, at least not any that would be played on the radio. For a short time, for some reason, every time my husband was in the car with me a Jane’s Addiction song would come on—either ‘Been Caught Stealing’ or ‘Jane Says’—and while we both mildly like Jane’s Addiction it grew almost frustrating.

This also leaves aside the question of whether you will sit in the car and listen to a song that you have on MP3 not a foot away, or could go inside and listen to on CD. For the most part I mainly plug in the MP3 but for short trips it seems silly, and how else would I hear new music to sample?

Ah, well, there’s always NPR.

There's a radio show on the alternative station (sort of) in Boston at lunch time called "Left-Over Lunch" that plays 80's and 90's music for an hour. And today on the way back from the mechanic I got to hear:
Age of Consent by New Order (which I don't have on MP3)
Ever Fallen in Love (Buzzcocks--also don't have)
This is Radio Clash (which I do have)


Also got to hear Interpol's Slow Hands after the hour was up. Which I do have but it proves the above.

English vs. the World

Part of my curiosity about language stems from a book that I’m reading called “The Story of English” from the 80’s BBC series of the same name.

In it, it is postulated that English is uniquely capable of expressing such nuances because it is such a polyglot language—sometimes welcomingly and sometimes hesitantly or even actively resisted—developed from multiple sources and languages and is therefore so vocabulary rich that it is (arguably) unrivaled in its ability to say the same thing in multiple ways and as in my previous post, to say something different with the same words.

According to the book, the OED lists 500,000 words and there are almost a million technical and scientific specific words uncatalogued, with new words being developed every day. And this book dates from the 80’s. As science continues to expand the number is probably higher now.

In contrast, the estimates for German are 185,000 words, and for French, 100,000 including borrowings from English. The French have, of course, attempted to keep their language pure, but have been unable to stem the tide. The Japanese gleefully adopt English words (and Engrish words) to the chagrin of Japanese traditionalists. Or, like the Germans create polysyllabic, tongue twistery portmanteau words to cover new situations. You see, I can create the word ‘tongue-twistery’ for my sentence and know that I will not be considered illiterate by my readers. The verbing of nouns, the commonnizing of trade marks (band aid, Kleenex, etc.) are all marks of English. See my post on David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” for more on that trend.

Henry Higgins was perhaps exaggerating when he said in 'My Fair Lady' (words written by the American Alan Jay Lerner):
"The majesty and grandeur of the English language.... It's the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary,
imaginative and musical mixtures of sounds."

Shakespeare alone created multiple and varied words without regard to convention.
"Shakespeare put the vernacular to work and showed those who came after what could be done with it. He filled the universe with words. Accommodation, assassination, dexterously, dislocate, indistinguishable, obscene, pedant, premeditated, reliance and submerged..."--The Story of English.

This is not my post about the book—I’ll do one when I finish the book, but my question remains. Am I, like Higgins nationalistic and selfishly attached to and proud of English because it is in all senses (though not absolutely) my mother tongue? Having dabbled now in three other languages, but hardly scratched their surface (a note for another day—how many cliché’s are in this piece and how many clichés as shown above come from Shakespeare, still resonating despite their overuse because they are fundamentally true and perfectly metaphoric). I want to know how other languages compare. What are their strengths? Their weaknesses.

In another life I would have liked to have been a linguist or a studier of semiotics like Umberto Eco. Etymology fascinates me.

Well, I have rambled on enough and run-on sentenced enough on this topic for today. I await your answers.

Nuances of meaning

This previous post is one of my favorite David Sylvian songs and I was thinking about it's meaning. There are such subtle shadings in English, for example:

His world is suffering
Her world is suffering

Our world is suffering

They can all mean that THE world is suffering, mother earth physically suffering, but it can also mean that all he or she knows is suffering, that all of the world means suffering.

Likewise, in The Cure song, "The End of the World" Robert Smith sings:
‘I couldn't ever love you more’

Meaning I could not love you more than I do. It is impossible for me to love you more.

Later, he sings:
‘It’s not my fault, you couldn’t love me more’

Meaning isn’t it sad that you couldn’t love me more. You were incapable of loving me more, or as much as was needed. Of course, it is possible that she couldn’t love him more because it was impossible for her to love him more.

Also, in The Barenaked Ladies song, “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel” Steven Page sings:

‘You're the last thing that's on my mind’

Meaning at the beginning of the song, I wasn’t thinking of you.

But by the end (as he is dying—sorry all of these examples are such downers) it means that she is the last thing that he is thinking of as he dies.

So my question for all of my multi-lingual friends is what are the subtleties of other languages that hinge on inflection?

And for everyone, what are some other examples of these dual meanings.

When in doubt, David Sylvian

World Citizen

World Citizen
(Words by David Sylvian)

There goes one baby's life
It's such a small amount
She's un-American
I guess it doesn't count

Six thousand children's lives
Were simply thrown away
Lost without medicine
Inside of thirty days

In the New York harbour
Where the stock's withheld
It was the price we paid
For a safer world

World is suffering
World is suffering
World is suffering
World citizen

In Madhya Pradesh
Where they're building dams
They're displacing native people
From their homes and lands

So they hunger strike
Cos they believe they count
To lose a single life
Is such a small amount

In the name of progress
And democracy
The concepts represented in name only

His world is suffering
Her world is suffering
Their world is suffering
World citizen

World citizen

And the buildings fall
In a cloud of dust
And we ask ourselves
How could they hate us?
Well, when we live in ignorance and luxury
While our super powers practice
Puppet mastery

We raise the men
Who run the fascist states
And we sell them arms
So they maintain their place

We turn our backs
On the things they done
Their human rights record
And the guns they run

His world is suffering
Her world is suffering
Their world is suffering
World citizen

My world is suffering
Your world is suffering
Our world is suffering
World citizen

Who'll do away with flags?
Who'll do us proud?
Remove the money from their pockets
Scream dissent out loud?

Cos god ain't on our side
The shoe won't fit
And though they think the war is won
That's not the last of it

Disenfranchised people
Need their voices heard
And if no one stops to listen
Lose their faith in words

And violence rises
When all hope is lost
Who'll embrace the human spirit
And absorb the cost?

Not one life is taken
In my name
In my name

His world is suffering
Her world is suffering
Their world is suffering
World citizen

My world is suffering
Your world is suffering
Our world is suffering
World citizen

Monday, May 03, 2010

King Jesus

Robert Graves' King Jesus is a dense, sometimes difficult, thought-provoking and ultimately frustrating novel. Written as a history by one Agabus some 50 years after Jesus' death, it posits several controversial ideas about the life and death of Jesus.

First he discards the virgin birth (let alone the Catholic addition of the Immaculate Conception), suggesting instead that Jesus was the product of a secret marriage between Mary, a temple Ward, (whose own parentage owed more to ancient pagan sexual rites, than to Jewish custom) and a son of Herod, and therefore had the earthly right to be called the King of the Jews. But the historian also makes the argument that Jesus was the Messiah based on many writings of the Jewish prophets. Interestingly, while he dismisses the virgin birth as too mystical, comparing it to Greek and Roman mythology--making Jesus no more than Perseus, fathered by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold (I don't think there's a 21st century meaning there)--he leaves the central miracle of Jesus' life--documenting it, without endorsing it or dismissing it--the resurrection, but more about that later.

What the book primarily does, through Graves' startling knowledge of Greek, Roman and Hebrew history and texts, is to expose how many of those rites and mysteries that the Christians and Jews celebrate have their roots in much older Pagan religions. Most of us know that Christmas was to supplant the celebration of the Winter Solstice, and Easter is drawn from various European traditions of Beltaine, Walpurgis and Eostre, but Graves digs deeper, comparing the rite of communion with the symbolic digestion of the organs in Egyptian mythology among others. The mythology of many religions and cultures feature the sacrifice of a Son or the resurrection of a son into a father.

But what I find most fascinating is that Graves, an atheist, does not dismiss the resurrection, and while he finds practical explanations for Jesus' miracles, the final and ultimate miracle--the point of Christianity itself, he leaves alone.

But perhaps the most interesting/disturbing thing is that his Jesus has come to defeat the feminine in all her guises--not just the ancient cults such as Lilith, but all feminine--only by defeating the feminine can the kingdom of heaven be born on earth. That it was not the apple of knowledge that doomed Adam and Eve, but Eve's insistence on sex and motherhood. He urges his disciples to live with their wives as brother and sister. He takes a bride--Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus--but despite her wishes, he will not consummate the relationship. They are the holy king and queen, but he has not been consumed by her--she is subjugated to him.

Mary Magdalene is seen as a combination of all the derogatory version of her through history--she is not just a prostitute but a Madam, a witch and possessed by demons that Jesus drives out. There is a long passage describing a debate between Jesus and Mary where she describes the Pagan and he re-translates it into Jewish prophesy, eventually bringing her to his side.

Rather than being an overthrower of Jewish law and tradition, Jesus is described as being the surest defender of the law in the tradition of Rabbi Hillel. This too is a contrast with the "Hippie" Jesus who comes to break with all that has gone before.

It is important to note that this book was written in 1946 and that Graves had something of an obsession with the early feminine cults:

It is not, to my mind, nearly Graves' best book, lacking the humor and realism of the two Claudian novels or the self-depreciating wit of his autobiographical "Good-bye to All That." Still it shakes up the traditional notions and encourages questioning.