Angel over the Church

angel-flying

I love the light of the early morning which can bring out colors that you can’t see the rest of the day. Making that time more precious, those special colors only last about 20 minutes. So, last week I decided to try and capture those colors with a series of photos out my kitchen window, each separated by 15 minutes.

The colors I am talking about are those in the first photo. But when I saw the third photo, I saw a wispy figure above the church roof. On further inspection, I saw the same figure first flying over the church and finally descending from the sky. That wispy image actually looks like an angel flying sideways.

Question for readers: Do you see the angel? What are your thoughts on the angel?

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Poetry: Stephen Dobyns

Prague — by Stephen Dobyns

The day I learned my wife was dying
I told myself if anyone said, Well, she had
a good life, I’d punch him in the nose.
How much life represents a good life?

Maybe a hundred years, which would
give us nearly forty more to visit Oslo
and take the train to Vladivostok,
learn German to read Thomas Mann

in the original. Even more baseball games,
more days at the beach and the baking
of more walnut cakes for family birthdays.
How much time is enough time? How much

is needed for all those unspent kisses,
those slow walks along cobbled streets?

“Prague” by Stephen Dobyns

_____________________

See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Stephen Dobyns (1941 – )Wikipedia,  The Poetry FoundationThe New Yorker , Cortland Review Interview

My Impressions:

(1) Real Love: I think that finding such a love, as depicted in this poem, is less common than literature and movies try to tell us. But if I ever lose my lover, I too may punch someone in the face who tried to assuage my grief with pablum.

(2) Fact or Fiction: I prefer poems born from real experiences, not fiction composed by the author. Thus my last post on the Judith Slaying Holfernes. The artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, fills a mythic picture with her hatred from her horrific experience. But as I explored more poems by the author of this poem, Dobyns, I found three that began with the same line of “The day I learned my wife was dying…” The others are Never and Niagara Falls.

And as I read a few little biography notes on Dobyns, I found nothing about a wife that passed away. And so I was disappointed that though I enjoyed the poem, that it too may have been fiction to him.  Do any readers know more on this issue?

(3) Obscure Poetry:

I detest obscure poetry. Dobyns’ poems seem anything but obscure. In a Poetry-of-the-Week interview we have these quotes from Dobyns on the subject of obscurity in poetry:

There are different kinds of obscure poetry. One kind exists because the poet has an idea of his poem in his mind, and then he puts it on the page, and it’s obscure because it’s referencing material the poet knows that’s not accessible to the reader. …

And then there’s the kind of obscurity that’s created by a writer who wants to set himself off as intelligent, so his poetry has a lot of thunder and lightning, and you expect some substance behind it, but it’s not there. It’s just thunder and lightning. ….

In other obscure poems, the complexity of the idea is just difficult to work out. You can see this, say, in Wallace Stevens, who has poems that are extremely difficult, but if you know how to read Wallace Stevens, I mean if you develop a context by reading his other work, you can come to some understanding of Stevens, and some of the poems, even the difficult ones, become very clear….

Another kind of obscure poetry which is either language poetry or post-modern poetry—it goes under a number of idiotic terms—says that meaning is not possible or is based on the premise that meaning is not possible, that human beings cannot communicate with one another, or that meaning itself is simply passé. They’d say that even the idea that you can communicate the idea of yourself as a human being is impossible, and so poets writing out of that philosophy actually work to thwart meaning; they work consciously to make sure there’s no connection in meaning from line 1 to line 2 to line 3, etc.

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Mythomania in India

Source from which I quote: The Economist 11/26/16

In 2001, India’s literacy rate was 65%, 10 years later it rose to 74% and is projected to be 90% by 2020. A large part of what is felt to fuel the increase in literacy reader’s love for Hindu Myths (with the Mahabharata and the Ramayana being two main epics).

India has two main competing political parties: the centrist Indian National Congress (INC) and the right-wing Indian Nationalist Party (BPJ – Bharatiya Janata Party). The BPJ has had huge influence in these burgeoning years of literacy and many feel that the embracing of Hindu myths is intentional as a tool to strengthen anti-Muslim sentiment (Hindu culture nationalist) and cast India as a Hindu country. The party has won the Prime Minister seat in 2014 with Narendra Modi.

Christoph Senft, a specialist in modern Indian literature who teaches at Pune University in Maharashtra state, argues that a “search for internal homogeneity” has become the flipside of India’s rapid push towards the global marketplace. “Mythological texts confirm the Hindu nationalists’ wish to tell India’s history as a history of Hinduism.”

Fictionalized traditional lore can prove very lucrative: Rowland’s Wizardry (of Britain’s Merlin’s Era), Game of Thrones (Martin’s fantasy with dragons too), Lord of the Rings and now Hindu mythology contained in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata have long nourished Indian popular culture, whether through village storytelling, puppet-shows, television serials or Bollywood movies. Indian novelists writing in English used to be known abroad purely as a source of strenuous literary works; now they regularly produce gaudy blockbusters that marry these ancient tales with the latest trends in genre fiction.

The man credited with inaugurating this mythological revival is Ashok Banker, once better known as a literary novelist but who turned to mythological stories in 2003 with an eight-volume Ramayana series that began with “Prince of Ayodhya”. Mr Banker is now writing a screenplay for Disney India, a two-part adaptation of a subsequent series, drawn from the Mahabharata.

Fortunately not all writers mine the epics for narrow Hindu-centered nationalistic fervour — Devdutt Pattanaik, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Askok Banker are examples of some of such more ecumenical authors.

Using religious sentiments to strengthen political goals is far from new. But these liberal Hindu authors use the exact same sentiments in to broaden the human heart. With these two possible uses, it is important that India maintain freedom of the press to allow keep diversity alive.

When it comes to freedom of the press, the USA is not as high as some Americans may think standing at #41 (compromised for National Security) but India lies at #133.  Interestingly, Northern European countries are 1. Finland 2. Netherlands 3. Norway and 4. Denmark.  See this Reporters Without Borders.

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“Judy, Judy, Judy” & Baroque Art

Let me use the name “Judy” to take you on a fun linguistic and historical tour. My goal is to playfully guide you to an excellent article about a woman painter you may not know.

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Older Americans on hearing the name “Judy”, may playful say “Judy, Judy, Judy”. They think they are quoting Cary Grant from his 1939 movie “Only Angels Have Wings” when he is talking to his girlfriend Judy, played by Rita Hayworth. But the phrase never happened in the movie. But being a good spirited fellow Grant played along with the apocryphal from as it filled American culture for decades.

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“Judy” peaked in popularity as a girl’s name right after this 1939 movie. But I wager very people know the origin of the name “Judy”.

“Judy” is the pet form of the name “Judith” which comes from the Hebrew Yehudith which is the feminine form of Yehuda which, in Hebrew means “son of Judah”. But what does “Judah” mean? Well, in the Hebrew Bible (the “Old Testament”) Judah is the son Abraham’s son Jacob and became one of the twelve tribes of Israel. “Judah” means “praised”.

Back in Hebrew history, after King Solomon, Israel actually split into two large kingdoms: one called Israel and one called Judah. You can read more on this in this link if your are interested. But what inspired me to write this post comes next.

The word “Bible” etymologically comes from the greek word for “book”. And thus what Christians call “the Bible” simply means “The Book”, but actually, it is not a book but an anthology of Christian favorite books. Yet most Christians don’t know their Bibles at all, yet alone the history of their Bibles or how the books for their anthology were chosen. And even fewer know that different Christian groups have somewhat different collections of books in their Bibles. One such book is Judith.

The Book of Judith is not included in Protestants’ Bibles but instead is found in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments. It is actually also excluded from the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) because the work is considered by many scholars to be non-historical. (see this wiki article). Nonetheless, the story of Judith is found alluded to in the Midrash and plays a role in Hanukkah.

In the Book of Judith, the Jewish heroine, Judith, is disgusted with fellow male Jews for not trusting Yahweh to deliver them for their enemies, the Assyrians.  So with a servant Judith goes into the camp of the enemy general “Holofernes”, and promises him information of the Israelites. He slowly trusts her and then one night, she gets him drunk and cuts his head off.

Oddly enough, early Christians were enamored with this story — “oddly”, because the story portraits such a strong woman in an era when society looked down on women. Nonetheless, the Judith beheading story was so popular that paintings of the decapitation scene fill history, particularly in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. (see this wiki article for examples and some history)

judith-beheads

One such Baroque painter was Caravaggio, famous for his use of dark vs light styles in his paintings. This article in the Guardian tells a fascinating tale of Gentileschi, one of Caravaggio’s followers who apparently meet him briefly when he was very young. Gentileschi’s story is of brilliant artist breaking into the field when women were not valued. Gentileschi, like many other artists, painted the story of Judith but put her own personal hatred for an artist who raped her in her youth. The incident became a seven-month shocking trial in Rome when she was young.

So if you are interested in this amazing woman’s life and her cathartic use of the story of Judith, give it a read in the excellent Guardian article.  She was a fascinating woman.

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Unavoidable Divisions

Democracy (as defined to be “majority rule”) is a horrible system when used alone. Thus in most “democracies”, there are checks and balances on democracy. Unfortunately, in electing the US president, there is only one check on democratic decision making — the electoral college. And we must wait until later to see if the electoral college counters the popular decisions of each state.  But I am neither a Hillary nor a Donald fan.  I think preferential voting (used in some local governments) would have solved the Hillary or Donald choice but we now have what we have.

Two days ago, America’s elections demonstrated one her many huge divisions. It also demonstrated the blindness we can have in estimating the strength others. Divisions are natural and healthy. The challenge is how we handle divisions. Here are some of the ways leaders handle divisions in their groups.

(1) Create Unity

Many leaders deal with difference by striving for unity. These leaders use different strategy to rid themselves of differences:

a) Demand Orthodoxy

Propaganda tied with threats of punishment can work to establish unified orthodoxy. Peer pressure is also very useful to suppress differences. Propaganda defines Orthodoxy. Belittling doubt or criticism is key tool in protecting orthodoxy. Here are quotes from Christian and Muslim scripture that shows their religious leaders (respectively, Paul and Mohammed) asking their followers to avoid division in belief:

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 1 Cor. 1:10

And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided. Surah 3:103

b) Nurture a Common Enemy

Though divisions are natural, they can be destructive. Differences should not be ignored or forbidden, but there are good and bad ways to soften them. National Leaders, threatened by division, often use war, jingoism and cries for patriotism to unite — they try to nurture the “common enemy” mentality.

c) Expel Dissidents

This is self explanatory.

(2) Nurture Diversity

This is the difficult path. We must be comfortable with compromise.  We must allow freedom of voice. We need to share power in checks and balances.

Political Conclusion:

I think Donald Trump needs to quickly announce that Latinos, African-Americans and LGBT folks will be appointed to his cabinet or high positions. We need him to prove he encourages different voices and some sharing of power and influence. Trying to create unity or the illusion of unity, is bound to failure. Democrats wanted to ignore the Trump supporters and hoped to overpower them in this election but the silent, unpolled masses in American shouted loudly. Now I can only hope that Trump and his supporters will prove they won’t ignore their opponents either.

Question to readers: What are your feelings?  Let us hear your voice — even if we disagree.

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Comparing Military Power

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The other day I was reading an article which nonchalantly stated “X is one of the world’s top military powers” and I wondered, “How do you measure a country’s military power”. I am sure this is already a well-thought out question, but my graph above is where my explorations took me.

Major Caveat: I found this unreliable site listing many factors used to evaluate a country’s military strength. So since the data is highly questionable, so is my chart which was constructed using the data.  Nonetheless, that is what I used.

I chose to compare only four of the many factors listed on the site. Nonetheless, I think they are very important factors. To obtain relative strengths on a scale of 0 to 100, for each category I find the country with the highest number and then divide other countries by that number and then multiply by 100 to get relative strengths. I chose some of the most powerful countries and a few others to illustrate points.

Here, then, listed by each factor, are my thoughts (in light of the caveat) about the results:

  1. Fit for Military Service: Number of possible soldiers means little unless attack by air (either from planes, ships or launch pads). So though China and India are the highest, they are only immediate threats to her neighbors by that factor — and even then, weapons are what matter.
  2. Total Aircraft: This is key to modern warfare, especially unmanned aircraft — which takes a large budget and technology.
  3. Total Navy: North Korea oddly  has the highest number of ships (making me doubt this site), but then it is probably highest because all ships are counted irrespective of the power of the ships (including ability to carry planes, long-range guns and missiles).
  4. Defense Budget: This is huge. But one must also realize the China, owning much of US debt, could ruin the US economy and so comparing China and US Defense budgets does not tell the whole story.

Conclusion: The vast majority of the world’s countries have weak militaries but can do significant damage within their own countries.  And when it comes to international war, the analysis becomes complicated.  The vast majority of countries have poor international means for war and among the big powers the story depends on locations and means of war. Also, be careful of your data sources. (ouch)

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Unpredictable Complexities

Below are two examples to illustrate how otherwise apparently simple choices may not work out as we as we’d expect.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Externalities

In 2002 the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) was made federal US law. SOX was a reaction to major corporate and accounting scandals and it goals was tighten responsibilities of corporate board of directors. That may sound wonderful, but SOX has been criticized as having unexpected side-effects (“externalities”, in economic jargon). See the criticism section of this wiki article for examples.

This recent article in Quillette, claims that one such externality is breaking down corporate ties and thus the past tendency of these highly connected old-boys’ clubs to actually make middle-of-the-road policies decisions with healthy compromise and moderation. Instead, now, ironically,(the article contends), with these highly connected elite clubs gutted, we now have allowed for more rogue leaders and policies.

Odd how the best of intentions can have such negative consequences.

Clinton vs Trump — Choosing the Worst

No matter what you think of each president — their personality, their corruption, their deceitfulness, they crassness or their policies — there are scenarios where voting for the worse candidate may be the best plan.

If Trump wins and has an unsuccessful presidency, he will be voted out four years later and we may actually then get a good Democratic candidate to run to replace Trump for the  next 8 years after Trump’s short four years. But if Clinton wins and she has an unsuccessful presidency, she will be voted out four years later and we may end up with a Republican to the far right.

I hear people say they don’t like either candidate so they will vote for the least of the two evils. But what if that will result in an even worse future years later — something they never planned on? We may take comfort thinking we are doing the right thing at the moment, but sometimes, the right thing can be the worse thing simply because the world is complex.

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