” TRUMP’S AMERICA : “From Barbarism to Decadence without passing through Civilization ” ?

In 1934, Ogden Nash, the well-known humorist and poet, exploited a saying, zapping the United States, attributed to Clémenceau but probably the creation of James Agate – reviewing in 1926 a Russian play, “Katerina” by Andreyev – who used it originally to pan the play and to denigrate . . . Russia :

“Once there was one of those witty Frenchmen whose name I cannot for the moment recall,

Who wittingly remarked that America is the only country in history that has passed directly from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization at all.

A remark which is wittily repeated with enthusiasm frantic,

In the lands on the other side of the Atlantic,

And is, I suppose, more or less true,

Depending on the point of view.”

We should have seen Donald Trump coming.  Non-Americans, unfamiliar with his flamboyant public appearances, his frequent presence on television and its apotheosis in his outrageous reality show “The Apprentice”, were caught off-guard when they found this arrogant, narcissistic, abrasive, abusive, anti-intellectual, embarrassing, super-rich childish clown … running for President !  We are all still reeling from the fact that Americans could be stupid enough (with or without Russia’s help) to vote for him and thereby impose him not only on their own country but on the whole world.

It is easy to ridicule the Donald and in the process denigrate the U.S. for electing him.  Anti-Americanism has had a field day over the last two years.  Every day CNN and even the BBC reinforce the conviction that Trump is the epitome, the incarnation, of the barbarism become decadence of a nation that has never know civilization.

Such a condemnation is patently unfair.  The U.S. – or at least half of it – has an undeniable track-record of courage, intelligence, generosity, innovation, invention and leadership, in spite of its original sin of slavery and the racism from which it still suffers, along with its penchant for violence, self-satisfaction and a religiously motivated sense of both superiority and messianism vis-à-vis other countries.  Trump, however, has succeeded not only in widening the gap between liberals and conservatives within the “Union” (?), but in reinforcing the increasing geopolitical isolation of America.

It is clearly absurd to respond to this challenge with a Trumpian ” We’ll see what happens”.  But the U.S. has too much wisdom born of experience to allow itself to be destroyed by Donald Destructor.  Then again, as Ogden Nash said, this is “I suppose, more of less true, Depending on your point of view”.  Mine is that God will not – for obvious reasons – either bless or save America.  But Americans can – and will.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

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CHARLIE CHAPLAIN

Some call it “pastor support”.  I call it hot air.  It’s the palaver practised by priests, ministers, rabbis, imans and sometimes even lay people, when they are appointed “chaplains” in hospitals, the armed forces and in jails.  There are also chaplains on cruise ships that offer a freebie to ministers of religion to “minister” to the well-heeled believers whose luxurious way of life need not deprive them of “pastor support”.

I used to be a hospital chaplain myself.  In Catholic hospitals I was given a white coat, adorned with a small metal cross.  I was often mistaken for a doctor by people who didn’t notice the cross nor the fact that I had no stethoscope around my neck.  Administering the Last Sacraments was a frequent occurrence, but for the most part chaplaincy involved just chatting and sometimes praying with the bed-ridden.  Most appreciated the personal attention, even if they were not particularly devout.  Days in hospitals are long, and visitors are, for some patients, rare or non-existent.  Chaplains provide a break from the soap-operas and other foolish fare on the tube.

Military chaplains have a cushy job, easier than that of hospital chaplains, in peace-time.  But on the battle-field, it’s mud, blood and guts.  They are admired for their courage and commitment, and they no doubt bring solace to the wounded and hope to the dying.  Their very presence reinforces the faith of men risking life and limb in conflicts they may consider absurd.  In God the non-atheist G.I. trusts; his military chaplain he reveres.

The exceptional prison chaplaincy of Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) and her fight to save a death-row prisoner (Sean Penn) in the movie “Dead Man Walking”, sets the bar way up there for ministers and religious who take on this challenge.  Apart from the horror of witnessing capital punishment in the few countries where this barbarism is still practised, prison chaplains face a difficult daily mission of getting through to hardened criminals.  Some of the latter do, in fact, “get religion” behind bars and even become themselves quasi-chaplains to fellow inmates.  The radicalization of Muslim terrorists has put a spotlight on this recent phenomenon.

There is something tragi-comic in these different forms of chaplaincy.  But while the circumstances are radically different from the ministry clergy men and women practise with hospital patients, military personnel and the incarcerated, everyday “pastor support” is just as hollow.  “Words, words, words”, said Shakespeare; if only they were founded on fact, and not on the wild imagination and wishful thinking of primitive story-tellers.

Without uttering a word, Charlie Chaplin makes us laugh.  When I’m in hospital (the battlefield is unlikely, though prison is still possible), I’d prefer a silent Chaplin to a chatty chaplain.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

WHEN THE BREAD – WINNER IS NOT THE HUSBAND BUT THE WIFE

By   AMY  FIENGA

According to some, woman was only an afterthought, and not created wholly and in her own right, but from a lousy, extra spare part in response to the realization of the need for an incubator for the continuation of mankind.

Regardless of what you believe as the origin of woman – or the human race for that matter – women and men have always enjoyed – and suffered, depending on your point of view – very different rôles and rights since the beginning of mankind.

Equality of men and women, and those in between, has made many strides during my own lifetime.

What do we mean, however, when we say “equality of men and women” ?  Equal pay for equal work, equal human rights, equal opportunity – the holy trinity – would make the podium in most societies.

In my lifetime, I have had a front row seat to this evolution (revolution ?).  Yet achieving change is a process.  It goes through natural growing pains, phases of pubescent awkwardness, resistance, rebellion, followed by wild pendulum swings until, finally, stabilizing into a new norm where acceptance, opportunities and true balance find their place.

And women began their rightful journey into a new era of the sky’s-the-limit.  Hello Partnership, Children, Career – Goodbye Heart, Hearth and Home.  You could have it all, or any subset of the above – whatever strikes your fancy.

With the right dynamic, and honesty about what it entails, managing the ambitious undertaking of parenting, career and partnership is possible, and I am fortunate to know couples who have, through compromise,  intelligence and prioritizing, succeeded in creating this balance very well.  But these are the lucky and wise few.  I for one gave up a solid career, financial independence and society’s approval of “having  it all”, to give priority to my family.  Lucky me to have had the choice to make a choice.  Luckier me still to know that having it all means having what matters.

What I have noticed, however, is how society views the man in families in which the woman is the breadwinner, the financial backbone supporting the household, and he, the man, is not.  Whether it be through choice, security of family money, failure or something else entirely, society still slightly raises its eyebrow and clearly has not embraced this type of equality between men and women.  And from what I see, neither have most women, at least not honestly.  Further, what I have also noticed is a fickle inconsistency as time goes on.  When the household demands on time commitment becomes greater, a hands-on househusband will be celebrated.  “Isn’t she lucky ?”.  “He’s so supportive of her career !”.  And if there are kids : “He’s so great with the kids !”.  “What a great dad – he can even cook !”

But then the other shoe drops, the kids grow up, and society raises its eyebrow just a bit higher and the rhetoric shifts to “Does he work ?”.  “What does he DO all day ?”.  What is he contributing anyhow ?”.  “What a shame he doesn’t find a job . . .”.

Often social convention, or perhaps a need for justification, takes the place of a truthful reply – as if a reply were needed – and, to save face, an ambiguous answer about consulting, writing or another artistic endeavor is muttered as an offering by the career-woman to smooth over any uncomfortable social situation in which we all know that the implications are he is NOT bringing home the bacon and she IS wearing the pants, and what’s intended to be inside them.

Is there equality between men and women in a society when a woman, who gives up her financial independence to run the household and raise a family, is celebrated – and a man who does so is scorned ?

Whose fault is this ?  Those who pretend that you can have it all – and those who fool themselves into believing this is so – surely shoulder part of the blame.

For generations women served the needs of the man’s career, providing unconditional support and sound advice from the wings, later thanked by society that they missed the boat and that it was too late to have a career of their own or one which could allow them financial independence.  That ship has long sailed.

Mind you – and I say this as a woman – women who in private are content with the closet-househusband managing everything, but who in public feel a superficial need to keep up appearances to meet more conventional norms, greatly share in the blame.  To my mind, you can’t have it both ways; in my experience, when things go awry and the female breadwinner leaves the no-longer employable male, a bitter scent of comeuppance somehow lingers in the air.

And I would like to think that with the newfound and long overdue equalities we as women now enjoy, we would not reproduce the self-serving model of yore.

I do look forward to the pendulum finding its right and just position.  Only then will we  entertain the notion of true equality.

Having the freedom to make personal choices – following your heart, choosing your life partner, identifying the right priorities and remembering you can’t have it all – can guide us to a divinely simple life, wherein happiness is found.

Whether you be a man, a woman, or somewhere in between, remember “to thine own self be true” – and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU GOTTA BE JOKIN !

It’s time I tried my hand at some fake news.  Actually, as is often the case to make the fiction credible, part of  it is true.  So here it is :

One morning at the checkout counter of my supermarket in Bidart, “The Basque Village on the Sea-Shore”, I noticed the name-badge of the lad toting up the price on each article’s ESL.  He is Basque and his first name is JOKIN.  I could not resist.  I just had to blurt out, as though I had suddenly recognized him, the predictable “You gotta be jokin’ !”.  I had to say it in English, though I knew he would probably not understand either the words or the play on them.  Then again it was possible he understood English, and had suffered all of his seventeen years putting up with English-speakers’ ridicule of his name (shades of the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue”).  You can work out for yourself where the fake news is in all this.

“You gotta be kidding !” is a response Catholics should have to many things they hear at church :

—  “This is My Body”.

—  “Your sins are forgiven”.

—  “Jesus rose from the dead”.

—  “Mary was assumed into Heaven”.

—  “The Faithful Departed are enjoying eternal life and the damned are suffering in Hell.”

—  “These indulgenced prayers will liberate your loved ones from Purgatory.”

—  “The Bible is the word of God.”

—  “The Pope is Christ’s Vicar on earth.”

You can add many more to the list.  The trouble is that practising Catholics leave their brains at the church door and never question the outrageous lies they are told by a credulous, presumably innocent, clergy, and never realize how silly are the statements they believe.  None of them is particularly funny.  We should however laugh outright at the nonsense they express, and give them the ridicule they deserve.  I know I sound like a broken record, but I’ll keep repeating my mantra :

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

JESUS ‘ ASCENSION : ” BON VOYAGE ! MAKE SURE YOU WRITE ! “

Once again today we commemorate the Second Rising of Christ : after His Resurrection from the tomb, His Ascension into Heaven.  In France it is still a public holiday (but no longer a holy day).  No one goes to Mass but even Commies are not going to complain about a bank holiday.  Strangely, believers never wonder why we have never, during the 2000 years since His Liftoff, received even a tweet from Him.  Nothing, rien, nada, zilch ! Surprising, really, that so few thought even to offer the credulous a series of fake messages from Heaven.

Better than divine tweets, He could have created a Blog.  He spent three years preaching the Word and, from Up There in Heaven, inspired His evangelists and a few others to write their Gospels and Epistles.  But since then not a word. Just imagine if our computer screens every morning or at least once a week carried a post from Jesus – giving us the advice we need to face the crises He allows to happen.  After all, it would be no more unbelievable than His supposed Ascension.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

” KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON “

No one seems to know where they put the 2.5 million copies of this motivational poster in 1939 Great Britain.  Only a few were ever seen when they were most needed.  But today they are everywhere, especially in updated versions.  I bought one in Manly, Sydney.  It now sits next to my computer,  its message intended not for me but for visitors who interrupt the publishing of posts like this.  It reads : “Keep calm and piss off”.

The original, quintessentially British, message was no doubt meant to be taken seriously by blitzed Brits, proud of their stiff upper lip.  Maybe someone post factum realized that while one could imagine a stereotype, like the Colonel played by Alec Guinness, actually saying this to his men in the appalling conditions of their P.O.W camp, as they built the bridge on the river Kwai, it bordered on caricature and was, no doubt, written off as an expensive P.R. snafu.

In fact, it doesn’t help much anyhow to tell people to be calm.  In a crisis, the best arms to avoid chaos are the example and steel nerves of a leader.  Calm and courage, like fear and frenzy, are contagious.  Churchill will remain, for Britain and the world, the model of leadership in seemingly hopeless situations.  His “We will fight them on the beaches . . .”, June 4, 1940, displayed the true grit of the right man in the right place who galvanized a nation, although his slurred articulation revealed that he was, as usual, tipsy at the time.  At the end of his speech, the House of Commons broke into thunderous applause, but when he sat down one of his Ministers asked him : “But Winston, how are we going to do all that ?”.  The P.M. replied : “I have no idea.”  Calm, Britain would carry on regardless.  And prevail.  Bloody Brits !

The crises most of us face are storms in cups of Earl Grey compared with that facing Churchill, Hitler’s barbaric blitzkrieg.  It is gratifying to note that he appealed to his fellow-citizens’ guts and resourcefulness, and not to wishful thinking and faith in a non-existent “God”, although he did slip into his vision of ultimate victory, the hollow, politically correct phrase, “in God’s good time”.  God save the King, and all that.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

Mind Your Ps But Especially Your . . . QUEUES !

Nobody enjoys standing in a queue.  I have been lucky enough to have had little experience in this domain.  Like everyone else, I’ve had to join a queue to be one of the first to see a long-awaited recent release from Hollywood, or to buy tickets for an international rugby match, or to make sure I managed to purchase the latest electronic gadget (this is a lie, but I imagine many do).  I have even joined queues in the street to get into a tiny Parisian boulangerie-pâtisserie for its pain complet and prize-winning quiches-lorraines and religieuses.  The worst I’ve experienced is the interminable waiting to fill up the gas tank during a French strike.

But I have never been forced to queue up for U.N. food parcels, or to fill a bucket with drinking water, nor join the line outside a bank during a financial crisis.  I am, however, resigned to waiting in line whenever I need an official document like a passport or a driver’s licence.

It has occurred to me that I have been in the world’s longest queue for the past 81 years.  Ever since I was born, I have been waiting in a long, long line of Earth’s inhabitants (presently seven billion), queued up on a conveyor belt, as we move closer and closer to death.  There are still quite a few old fogies ahead of me in the queue, but billions more behind me.  When I look back, I can see my three children, approaching their fifties, and their children, who have been way back in the queue for from five to eighteen years.  Ahead of me there is only one of my six siblings (as well as another sister just behind me), and fewer and fewer of my friends either way.  At my level in the queue, there used to be, some seventy years ago, a lovely girl called Mary O’Meara.  She was my cousin.  Her parents were Uncle Tom (really !) and Auntie Hilda – who, I remember, won £6000 in the N.S.W. State Lottery.  We didn’t see each other often, Mary and I, though we liked each other and she lived only half a mile away.  She wanted to be a wool-classer, an odd vocation for a girl, even an Australian one.  She died of polio in her early teens.

A macabre reflection, this ?  I don’t think so.  It’s just the way I have come to see the inevitability of death.  The promises of Artificial Intelligence have had little effect on me, and I’m not exactly counting on a-mortality.  How odd of God, or numbing of Nature, to put us all in a queue on a conveyor belt which ends with a cliff we fall over, or a pool of quicksand we have no choice but to plunge into, or a hospital bed in a ward for the terminally ill.  The queue is a sort of anti-assembly line, where we end up as a literally finished product, ready for a cemetery or a crematorium.

I guess this is the ultimate question for all of us.  What sense does it make ?  We had no choice in joining the queue but may, if life becomes unbearable and we have the courage to end it, opt to leave it before our time is up.  At one point or another we will, in fact, leave it – definitively.  And there is no coming back.  Once you recognize the inevitability of it all, it makes little sense to ask what meaning, if any, you give to it.  The only rational choice is to make the most of whatever time we may have ahead of us – and simply accept our EXIT as definitive.  So far I’ve enjoyed my relatively long ride in the queue on the conveyor belt.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

CHEATING DEATH (N.B. Don’t read this while waiting for your plane.)

Few people survive an airplane crash.  (Don’t gimme that bit about planes being safer than cars !).  However a World War 1 French pilot from the Basque country survived not once but seven times, when his frail, wood and fabric fighter plane crashed to the ground.  (This makes rising from the dead – just once – a pretty paltry performance.)  France’s No.2 WW1 air-ace (54 German planes shot down), Georges Guynemer, in one of his crashes – flying at 3000 m., his plane terminally damaged from enemy fire – saw the cloth being torn off the wings and fuselage, with none of his controls functioning, as he hurtled towards the ground at 180 kms per hour.  He attributed his survival to the straps holding him into his pilot’s seat; the straps were now imbedded into his shoulders.  His only injuries were a few facial wounds.  In fact, he wasn’t all that surprised.  It was becoming something of a habit for him.

The other “crashes” were no doubt less dramatic but extremely dangerous forced landings.  But even so, our hero was indeed a lucky man – until his final, fatal crash.  He will never be forgotten, but he was not immortal.

Most of us will die in far less frightening circumstances.  We may have had some brushes with death, but sooner or later we will find that we can’t cheat it.  Even Guynemer’s was only postponed.

It takes only common sense to accept the inevitability of our death.  It takes a little more lucidity to realize that there is no life after death, even for heroes who live on in the history books.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO      

IRAQ : A ” SHIT – HOLE COUNTRY ” WE MADE EVEN WORSE

The movie “Redacted” is an original, powerful condemnation of the crime of George W. Bush and his lying cronies, who invaded Iraq on the false pretense of its possession of WMDs, as well as on the unfounded assumption that it was responsible for 9/11.  Notwithstanding the well-known shortness of our memories, what the U.S. did to Iraq is not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.  This film will help keep the shameful memory alive.  It will be remembered for a famous quotation, particularly pertinent to the war in Iraq – “The first victim of war is truth” – and perhaps also for the GIs’ designation of their battlefield, Iraq, long before Trump’s “tough talk”, as a “shithole country”.

The film is fictional but centered on a war-crime that really happened.  Statistics recalled in the movie include those concerning the American check-points’ controls, during which 2000 Iraqi citizens were shot.  Only 60 of them were identified later as terrorists.  At one check-point, the double crime and cover-up of the rape of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her family by American soldiers, gave the movie its curious title.  The rape and murder, officially, became . . . “fake news”, redacted, black-markered, out of existence.

I could not help wondering, after viewing the film, what devout Iraqi Muslims must think of their Christian invaders and oppressors.  The blind faith and blind folly of the messianic Bush administration, believing itself appointed by God, who “blessed the beginnings” of the United States, according to the Great Seal of the U.S. which proclaims their mission as a nation to create “a new world order” (“novus ordo seclorum”), are tragic reasons for not only ridiculing but rejecting religion.  Religion, in fact, is not mentioned in the movie.  It is shocking enough to live through the horror of the redacted “incident” – dismissed not as “collateral damage” but literally erased from the pages of history.  It never happened !  In fact it did, as did this disastrous, devastating war.  If Islam has never forgotten or forgiven the medieval Christian Crusades, it would be surprising if, centuries from now, the war in Iraq is not remembered by Muslims as a 20th century Christian Crusade, intended to destroy them and their religion.  The world would be so much better off if there were no religions at all.

RIDENDA ,  DELENDA  RELIGIO  

 

 

$CIENTOLOGY , HOMEOPATHY , RELIGION : DEBUNKING THE B.S.

In the chapter entitled “Fibs” in his “Insights and Reflections” (pp.327-330), Phillip Adams reminds us about ” the old joke that asks ‘How can you tell when a politician’s lying ?’, (which) is answered by ‘When his lips move’ “.   The author goes on to expose “the bare-faced fraudulence of the whole preamble to the war in Iraq”.  Some blind people still praise George W. Bush and Co. for invading Iraq, in spite of the proven non-existence of WMDs : “We took out Saddam Hussein, didn’t we ?”

Stalin and Hitler got away with lies that cost millions of lives.  We all know that it could happen again.  Politicians are still moving their lips.

Beyond politics, there are three belief-systems where credulity is exploited to the hilt : $cientology, Homeopathy and Religion.  If you or any of your family and friends would like to discover the lies on which these insane beliefs are built, I am happy to refer you to the following sources :

  1.  $cientology  :   Check out Tony Ortega’s blog “The Underground Bunker”.  It contains ex-$cientologists’ constantly updated testimonies on the blatant nonsense behind this tax-exempt business, which calls itself a “Church” (!), and which continues to con suckers into paying exorbitant fees for phony “therapy” to rid them of their hang-ups.  Travolta and Cruise are hardly sufficient reasons for allowing oneself to be swindled, if not financially ruined, by this pernicious fraud.
  2. Homeopathy  :   All you need to know about this pseudo-pharmaceutical racket can be found in a hard-hitting, 13-minute, 2005 video by none other than Richard Dawkins.  A large percentage of my French readers will scream bloody murder when they read this.  The British government spends millions of pounds subsidizing this pathetic exploitation of the “Placebo Effect”.  500 million people worldwide pay good money to drink homeopathic “medicine” which is (at least) 99.9999% water.
  3. Religion  :   It will be no surprise to habitual readers of this Blog to learn that I believe its 750 plus posts provide ample material to reinforce the doubts of Believers on the Brink about the ridiculous claims of the world’s religions.  It is easy, often entertaining, and always informative reading, which reveals just how ridiculous religious beliefs, rules and ritual really are.  Even if I say so myself . . .                                                                                                                                                                                                            RIDENDA      RELIGIO