Dealing with Violent Ideology through Economics

27 02 2015

Every generation since the beginning of the twentieth century seems to have its crises, socially and societally. Whether it was Spanish Flu, World War I and the Depression or World War II, commodity rationing and the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Oil Crisis and the rise of Terrorism in Ireland to the Iraq Wars, Afghanistan, the global financial crisis and the rise of ideological terror in the twenty first century, every generation faces dilemmas which, more than ever, affect us globally and locally.

I phrased that last sentence intentionally, because I believe that we live in a generation where global influences gain momentum and then break out in local, related events, rather than the other way around. Currently, we tend to fear, with some reasonable cause, the rise of localised violence as a result of global events and the ubiquity of ideology online which feeds minds.

It is typical that progressive leaning politically interested Australians tend to respond rather ‘tribally’ to events in other nations, notably those which involve Israelis and Palestinians but certainly not limited to such crises. Historically, the reason is rather simple and much blame must be laid at the feet of that quietest of wars that Generation X readers of my blog may well remember. Yes, the Cold War, between the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic and the United States of America. Arguably, historians recognise the end of WW2 in Berlin as the seed of this war which was as devoid in real deaths as it was dangerous for the potential of, for the first time in human history, the deaths of the majority of people on the planet through full-scale nuclear warfare. Coinciding with the glory days of socialist states worldwide, it was natural for the rest of the world to choose sides or, more correctly, with the superpowers choosing sides in virtually every violent skirmish from 1944 to 1989, with the construction and subsequent destruction of the Berlin war forming appropriate bookends for this 45 year era.

So it was that the US became the closest ally of the tiny state of Israel, established by the United Nations in 1948. Naturally, the USSR, in the politically polarised mindset of the mid 20th century, supported politically and, sometimes, militarily, the Islamic nations against Israel. With glasnost and the demise of socialism worldwide, after 1989, there was a change across democratic nations worldwide, with Communist and Socialist parties struggling for relevance in a post Soviet era. The solution came quickly, throughout the 1990s as Socialist causes united with Environmental activism to forge new “Green” parties worldwide. It is with little surprise then, that many commentators refer to such parties throughout the OECD as “Watermelon Parties”: Green on the outside but Red (Socialist) on the inside. Indeed, this most unlikely of political marriages has worked with some success in such nations as the Environmentalists had the ground support and ability to mobilise and the socialist/communist arms brought political will and apparatchiks available.

So it is that many nations in the West find themselves in a somewhat concerning situation where the voice of Progressive Politics, or the parties of the extreme left, have a disproportionately loud voice on the issue of ideological violence. Once again, it ought to come as no surprise that progressives have two main solutions for almost every political problem: educate and tax.

I suggest that it ought to be no surprise because the rise of socialism was firmly on the campus in the 19th century before it ever set foot in the factories of the 20th century. Likewise, the rise of environmentalism since the 1950s in the USA was explosive in varsity before it influenced the ‘establishment’. The socialist roots of Green Parties leads to a belief that government ought to be very large and that taxation is an opportunity cost.

The problem with this progressive political voice is that it tends to tacitly or directly support regimes that flourish with Ideological violence. In addition, it erroneously believes that education is the most effective weapon against violent ideology, despite paltry evidence-based support for such a view. It is also ironic that progressive political advocates also seek to lecture the community-at-large on the benefits of ‘dialogue’ and ‘community-based solutions’ that result in ‘postive education’ and the diffusing of ideologies which result in violence and terrorism in democracies of the West.

So let’s get something straight: It ought not be necessary to have to ‘re-educate’ citizens in the democracies of the West that blowing citizens up with car bombs, hi-jacking planes and steering them into buildings, strapping C4 to one’s self and blowing up spectators at a Marathon or killing people in Chocolate shops is anything but very, very crappy behaviour. Let’s get something else straight: anyone who has studied violent ideologies in the 20th and 21st centuries can easily confirm that violence is not largely attributed to men simply being ‘disengaged’, as perhaps the poor orphans that featured regularly in Dicken’s novels. Trying to de-radicalise any person who is deeply driven ideologically with education, community halls and ‘dialogue’ is about as effective as turning up to a bushfire with a pile of wet face-washers.

So is there a solution for the rise of violent ideologies in the present era? Maybe, just maybe. You see the penchant for taxation that progressives hold dear may very well be the very best weapon we have in the ‘war on terror’. Terrorism and violent criminal behaviour in the name of an ideology, whatever that happens to be, is certainly, by global accounts in the 21st century, on the rise. It is also true to say that the unpredictable nature of a terrorist risk or violent crime on civilians has resulted in exponential increases in budgets for policing, counter terrorism capabilities, surveillance and intelligence collection and infrastructure to support the early detection and arrest of suspected terror plots and planning towards ideological violence. The total cost is trillions annually, in worldwide terms.

Some behaviours of citizens in Australia are more likely than others to result in a commensurate cost to the burgeoning health budgets of our nation. Smoking and drinking are two such examples. One government solution to address this increased burden on the health system is to heavily tax citizens that smoke and drink. Australians, in general, tend to accept this: if your behaviour has the effect of increasing the costs of healthcare as a result of smoking and drinking then it is reasonable that you financially support the system disproportionately compared to those who don’t smoke or drink. It is not perfect but it certainly is fair.

In a very similar way, violent ideologies which lead to unpredictable and often fatal consequences for innocent Australians are a risk to security and well-being in our public places. Federal Police, the arms of the Australian Intelligence community (including ASIO and ASIS), State Police Divisions and governments (at least at State and Federal level) are spending disproportionately in order to contain this risk. Would it not be reasonable, therefore, to levy those in the Australian community who foster, support or otherwise endorse ideologies which result in this expansion and distraction of valuable resources supported by Australian taxpayers?

Yes, a Violent Ideology Levy, ladies and gentlemen. The reasoning is rather simple. Education and dialogue from those outside any community, group or political movement is expensive and patently useless in defence of such cognition and behaviour. Instead, much research would suggest that only those within a group such as this are likely at all to diffuse the propensity to act maliciously and violently for the sake of a cause. It is the responsibility of those within a community from which violence and terrorism is born to deal with it and bear the economic cost, which is currently shared by a majority of Australians for whom such ideologies are non-existent.

The way that such a levy would work is this. Any violent crime in the name of an Ideology, including acts of terrorism, past, present and future is documented and the ideologies that ‘claim’ such acts be registered. This includes religious ideologies (including mainstream religions and cults) as well as political, racial or sectarian violence. Then the economic cost is attributed to taxpayers within those communities, groups or political affiliations. Those individuals are all levied additional taxation to contribute to the disproportionate costs incurred through government resources aimed at the reduction of such violence.

Any increase of violent behaviour, including arrests due to violent crimes, inside the home or in public, or acts of terrorism, or surveillance reasonably required to prevent the occurrence of future acts of terrorism which is claimed or reasonably attributed to a particular religious, political, racial or sectarian violence is reason to increase this levy until the cost is reasonably recovered for such acts. Similarly a decrease would, by very definition of the term ‘levy’ cause a reduction in the financial obligation for those in a community to kerb the breeding of terrorists in our Australian suburbs.

The Australian Federal Governments of the last 15 years, beginning with the Howard government and continuing thereafter has shown considerable success with school attendance amongst those in lower socio-economic communities in our nation by addressing the responsibility of families to ensure that the priority of education supported by the wider Australian community pervades to all sections of the community, ensuring better outcomes for Australian children. In precisely the same way, it needs to be recognised that it is predominantly the responsibility of the families in communities from which violent radicalised Australians come, to dissuade such behaviour. If encouragement and expectation is not enough then, as with parents of non-attending students in schools, reasonable sanctions must be in place to guide such behaviour.

Whilst many in Australia might consider such a move as harsh, it needs to be realised that such violence and terrorism is unlikely to subside, if the experience of European nations in recent years is any guide. Certainly, the modern-day emigration of Jews en-masse over the last two years is testament to the very real threat that terrorism has become in our societies. It is imperative that this is dealt with when communities that breed violence are few and incidents are rare. Such a policy would not only offset the exponential increase in the cost of reducing such threats but provide a workable strategy for genuine reductions in radicalisation. It is correct to say that the solution to ideological violence lies in the communities from which perpetrators arise. Thus it is also fair to say that it is only fair that such communities ought to be held financially responsible, in part, for the increased risk of terror events as a direct result of the propagation of ideals which lead to such violence.

This would be the toughest stance on such atrocities in the developed world, but, bloody hell, it might just work. Wouldn’t that be good?

Advertisements




Life….. Isn’t everyone for it?

1 08 2014

 

life

So, ok, we all see the world through a construct, or series of constructs that make sense of the world. Our brains need to do this essentially to save memory space, allow you to get on with life and, perhaps, avoid paranoia  as much as humanly possible. So, for example, when you walk into your bedroom, which you may have done thousands of times, instead of your brain storing every single image you’ve ever seen at different times of the day with different clothes, clean or otherwise strewn around (or, for my loyal OCD readers, quilts, pillow cases, throw pillows, cushions and this week’s curtains in complementary shades of Rosemary), your brain essentially ‘overlaps’ the information, storing differences. Even then, we largely stuff them away in the neurological equivalent of those archive boxes you forget how to fold every time you use them but never bother to remember how to fold them because, hey, how often do you ever use them, right??

Now, what is fascinating to me is that people I talk to often hold contrary or conflicting points of view very strongly and yet have little cause to question them. Psychologists call this ‘cognitive dissonance’ and describes values held which may contain contradictory notions. An example of this that harks back to those heady days of suburban medicine in the early ’80s was my local GP. The guy was always relaxed. He’d lean back laconically in his 1950’s creaking typist’s chair, its bottle green PVC cover long spewing chunks of foam through its gaping cracks and his rattly old electric fan was constantly on, regardless of season. More curious to me, as one visiting the one man I enstrusted my health to as a very young man, was that he’d light up a cigarette, almost every visit and type relevant notes on my, usually insignificant, health issues onto 8″ x 4″ index cards through a (now shared) pall of blue-grey smoke. Yep, a smoking doctor. Cognitive dissonance, ladies and gentlemen, exhibit A.

Of course there was also the well-meaning, though perhaps undereducated pseudo-vegetarian I once knew years ago. Quite proud of her newly acquired and apparently ‘secret’ knowledge about the treatment of domesticated animals bred for food production (in an era, of course, before the ‘Interweb’ was surgically attached to our brains) she boasted to all and sundry about her epiphany. Until one day I saw said ‘vegetarian’ shovelling tuna onto her salad and remarked on this curiously. Firstly, because it occurred to me that this was animal meat, secondly that a substantial number of dolphins were caught, killed and tossed away each year from Tuna nets and finally, that Tuna stocks worldwide were plummeting. Her response was equally curious. Faced with an irritating git pointing out the perhaps obvious cognitive dissonance concerning this behaviour given her love of animals, rather than acknowledging this the reply came, ‘Look, you can criticise all you like, but at least I am doing my bit! Just like that guy who threw all those starfish in the ocean or whatever!’. Beef Cattle : 1, Tuna: 0, Dolphins: 0, Capacity for Values Evaluation: 0.

So it is with many issues we face. In 2008 Nicole Kidman infamously played a didgeridoo on a German morning news show. Now, as the indigenous Australians who perfected the art of playing this wonderful instrument were quick to point out in Australia, this instrument is traditionally only played by men and it is offensive to them to see a woman playing the instrument. The news article died a quiet death, however, because many politically left progressives, though motivated on the issue faced a conundrum; What is a more important held value, the equality of women in our society or the nobility of indigenous culture? This dissonance was simply met with deafening silence.

Likewise, we find proponents worldwide, usually left of centre politically who tend to support a Palestinian Free State and generally rail against (or, in extreme cases, like Lee Rhiannon, Federal Senator for the Greens who lives in Sydney, strongly support sanctions against) Israel. This is the same arm that claims the high ground morally for championing women’s rights, including affirmative action in the workforce and the right to free and legalised abortions. However, in doing so, they support not only known terrorists but the most extreme forms of Islam, whose societies violate the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights for women and endorse female circumcision, justify rapes, kill women caught in adultery, marry children and routinely treat women as property.

Sometimes, those holding alternate views are disparagingly called ‘Flat Earthers’, ‘Xenophobes’, ‘Wowsers’, ‘Prudes’ and ‘out of touch with modern society’ though I would perhaps ask a little indulgence here for those who might otherwise consider changing their ‘old, out of touch views’ from those who see themselves as sexily progressive. You see, I wonder if such people, common in nations where English is the mother tongue, have spared a thought for the coherence and integrity of apparently progressive views. It might be likely that more conservative people would consider them if they weren’t so rationally flawed. One core principle of Judaeo-Christian folk is the sanctity of life, all life. It is as simple as it is profound. Generally, it also seems to be a cognitive framework that makes for a more compassionate society. Allow me to explain.

 

Injured Palestinians taken to hospital after Israeli airstrikes

 

Here is a Palestinian baby, injured during the current conflict in Gaza. Anyone reading this, though perhaps parents especially, would agree that these are the innocent and tragic victims of this stubborn conflict between adults. So is this:

 

Jewish baby

An Israeli baby in critical condition after the Palestinian bombing of a residential shopping centre in Kiryat Malachi, Israel. I don’t think that there is a person reading this article that would disagree with the notion that the geography of a baby should determine how much we care about injury and death meted out to the young. Surely ALL babies deserve protection from violence and death regardless of their location on our planet, right? Now hold that thought and watch your response to this:

 

 

aborted-baby-in-bucket

 

This baby was found in a womb of a mother that ‘wasn’t ready for kids just yet’. Like about 38% of mothers in the UK, USA and Australia typically cited as the primary reason for a ‘termination’ (or ‘abortion’, depending on your ideological stance). Now, consider your emotional reaction to this, seriously. Was it sadness at the sight? Was it immediate anger at ‘Pro-life Propaganda’ or was it anger directed at those who do this? Confusion maybe? Some might have even felt physically sick (as I do now having to type this with these images before me).

 

My point is simple. We all experience cognitive dissonance from time to time. Actually having to look carefully at the various values we hold and perhaps realising inherent contradictions, which have the potential to help us see why others perhaps don’t share your value set. In this example, most readers were in agreement about the injustice of babies being injured in the first two environments but baulk at the third, as perhaps some macabre trick or ‘intention to shock’, rather than considering the coherence of belief that Judaeo-Christians (among other religions and belief systems) that all life is sacred.

 

Christians hold that unwanted babies, the elderly, the disabled, humans of every skin colour of human being on the planet and the lives of animals and plants on this planet are precious and worth protecting. It drives and informs Christians and Jews who ‘take their book seriously’ and, if a lifestyle is carried out according to the instructions, pleas, admonitions and commands in their ‘Book’, creates societies which are largely harmonious, ecologically sustainable, gracious and respectful of all life. They seek not to take life because it is old and in pain (and feels like suicide today but may not next month). They seek to protect babies in the womb (acknowledging the statistics that between 0.1-1% of all pregnancies are the result of heinous rapes, incest and abominable human behaviour but that more than 90% are the result of careless adults in unprotected sex). They seek to protect wildlife but are not prepared to endanger the lives of people to do it. For this such views, at least in the ‘Western World’ are considered out of touch and outdated. Can anyone from alternative viewpoints see that such people might simply hold to very simple and very old world views which see value in all life?

 

Such readers may also tend to forget that most major advancements in Human Rights over the last 300 years were championed by people of Judaeo-Christian faith, not atheists, not Muslims, not those of a gamut of other world religions or belief systems. Consider:

  • William Wilberforce and other English Christians who fought for the abolition of slavery 1807
  • John Newton, the captain of a slave trading ship, after his conversion could not reconcile his occupation and eventually became a leader in the abolitionist movement to free slaves (and, of course, also penned that most famous hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’)
  • Wilberforce also established the very first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824
  • Reverend Martin Luther King in the USA finally galvanised the support of the majority white population in the USA to pave the way for racial equality in the largest English-speaking country

Martin Luther King

It should come as no surprise for someone who understands what the pervasive underlying motivation of both Judaism and Christianity is. It is what the Greeks call ‘Agape’ love, an unconditional love. Does this mean that Jews and Christians compromise their morality to make peace with those not of the faith? Well, no more than the parents of a drug-addicted son change their attitude to drugs. Yet it is possible to love someone from a different belief system, worldview or lifestyle whilst maintaining a moral centre which is unswerving. Jesus did it all the time.

When progressives ridicule and vilify the beliefs of conservative Christians and Jews, mocking them as ‘God botherers’, ‘homophobes’, ‘narrow-minded bigots’ and so forth, they betray their lack of tolerance and acceptance for those with opposing views. If the views held had consistency and not the ambiguity that causes the cognitive dissonance discussed here, then they would stand alone on their own merit and internal validity as a philosophy on the nature of life. Unfortunately, the inescapable fact for those who support militant muslim terrorist organisations, those who defend abortion and even those who champion animal rights is that for all such causes, some life is more important than other life.

There are some who quietly, defiantly and, some would argue, justifiably, reject this notion.

 

 

 





Vegemite, Australian Troops and Crocodile Hunters…

28 06 2014

Australians are in the consciousness of other people around the world far more than we ought to be in terms of our (relatively) tiny population. Comparing us with many countries such as Belgium, Portugal and Chile, more people know about Kangaroos, didgeridoos and turbo-charged loos than much at all about these aforementioned countries. In part, this may be due to our exotic location, politely referred to as the “arse-end of the world” by one Paul John Keating, who also happened to be our Prime Minister at the time.

So there is a fair degree of mythology about our nation, some which causes a pain in the arse in the arse end of the world, some of which is distinctly to our advantage, allow me to explain. In the 1980s with the rise of the box office dole bludger (as opposed to ‘blockbuster’ in terms of net receipts) “Crocodile Dundee”, Australia became flavour of the decade, at least in the western world. Yes, now we were apparently putting shrimps on the barbie (not the humble ‘sausage’ which still tends to dominate all but inner city ‘not-dog’ vegan soirees) and all wrestling crocodiles outback. Actually, it was not until he 1980s that many Australians even knew we HAD an outback, let alone what was even there, apparently there is some big rock somewhere that is pret-ty darn cool, by the sounds of it.

You see the truth is that over 94% of Australians live in or around cities. Of those, more than 80% solely on the thin eastern coast hemmed in by that bloody big bunch of mountains called, somewhat appropriately “the great dividing range”.Few of us have even seen a crocodile live, let alone wrestled one, but most men in Australia, given a bottle of ‘dutch courage”, duct tape, a hessian bag and a ute full of coaxing mates would be only too pleased to give it a go! In fact, I feel like wrestling a crocodile right now. 🙂

angry crocodile

Steve Irwin certainly helped this cause by appearing to be a typical ‘real-life crocodile hunter’ and gaining worldwide attention for our crocodile hunting (and perhaps taking some of the heat away from a far more popular past-time now deemed politically incorrect of ‘dwarf tossing’ in some of our less-respectable bars). To add to the mythology, he was from Beerwah, yep, EAST of the divide, the Green not the Red. Of course, Aussie males were khaki-clad, Crocodile-wrestlers with a penchant for adventure and the substitution of vulgar vernacular with the relatively benign, “crikey”. Now this only added to the mystique around the sheer courage of such men… if you are ever confronted with a reptile hurtling towards you at full speed who is the weight of a ladened refrigerator and with more teeth than a tardy dentist’s waiting room, I dare you to limit your vocabulary to “crikey”!!!

Which brings us to the real topic of today’s article: Why hasn’t Australia ever been successfully invaded?

Ok, well, in that concession I will rule out the obvious issues of being mostly barely-inhabitable desert, having more flies than is statistically possible to sustain on planet Earth and the fact that Paul John Keating is still alive. You see, we have, literally an abundance of the world’s mineral resources, some spectacular countryside, more beautiful beaches that all the beaches in the rest of the world combined and some of the best food and wine… Well, kinda…I’ll get to that later.

Yet, aside from a few ambitious, or possibly lost,  Japanese submarines in World War II that arguably were here to scout out good real estate deals or sites for successful sushi bars, really, no one has even bothered to have a red-hot go. It is hardly because of our amazing fleet of naval vessels constantly guarding our coastlines. No, there is significantly more chance of seeking the famous white whale, Migaloo, patrolling our coast than any white-uniformed military personnel.

Of course, the secret is spectacularly simple: Vegemite.

Not many people have seriously considered this in understanding the profound lack of interest of nations for invading this land which abounds in nature’s gifts and has some kind of ‘skirt’ of sea (or somesuch!). It lies in this most curious, and in some minds, vile, condiment that has pride of place in most Australian pantries… a jar of black sludge known as VEGEMITE.

Vegemite Jar

Vegemite was famously named out of a hat in a competition in 1923 by sisters Hilda and Laurel Armstrong but fewer people know that Cyril P Callister, commissioned by Fred Walker (the father of food giant, Kraft) actually developed the product in 1922. A scant few of my faithful File:13 readers would be aware, however, that this product is actually made from the yeast products in the sludge at the bottom of brewer’s vats.

Let us just pause and meditate on this for a moment. We are considering the people of a nation who see it as an important cause to employ someone to develop a food source from microorganisms having a (presumably wonderful) party at the bottom of a brewer’s vat and to promote said food to the populace. Well, there is a more fantastic tale than this droll anecdote.. the people of Australia BLOODY LOVE THE STUFF!!!

Just to make entirely sure that you understand the ramifications of this development in our nation’s history, I add, for the sake of a more complete history of the matter, that other nations have indulged in similar dark, salty and  odorous spreads from similar origins. Most famously (and earlier), Marmite from the United Kingdom, enjoyed pride of place in this rather small section of the “gross condiments category” worldwide and some have even labelled it more inedible than Vegemite. New Zealand still has a hankering for Marmite, though they load it with sugar in much the same way that Methadone is administered with Orange Juice, in a vain effort to disguise the gravity of what you are doing to your body. However, here’s the rub: a majority of people in both nations consider the consumption of such condiments abnormal and wouldn’t feed it to their enemies.

Here are some fairly typical reactions of apparently everyday Americans sampling our national treasure:

 

In contrast, Vegemite is LOVED by the majority of Australians! Now, for those reading this who did not grow up on the stuff and are, perhaps, from overseas, you may have had the opportunity to taste the stuff. If you have, I guarantee that you remember precisely where and when you did and, not only that, but the string of expletives you uttered spitting the stuff out, the exact quantity (and colour) of the vomit that ensued and how many used toilet brushes you went through scouring your tongue for hours to get rid of the vile taste.

Now, think about it. We routinely give this food to our troops. Our troops flippin’ LOVE the stuff. They’ll get those little packets and, in the absence of a nice Vita-Weet, Salada, or even a piece of bread to break up those vile particles of long-dead sozzled micro-organisms, they will LICK THE STUFF STRAIGHT OUT OF THE LITTLE PLASTIC RATION PACKS. Imagine that you are an enemy scout and you see this event, in broad daylight with your binoculars. Imagine that you have also tasted this food in a mad evening of drunken frivolity and ludicrous dares. What impression would you have of these men whom you have the audacity to engage in battle. Yes, that is right. There is NOTHING you could do to these troops that would be worse than they choose to do to themselves. So you turn around and slouch down the wall of your trench, looking heavenward and wondering what the hell you were thinking taking on Australian soldiers.

Indeed, your mind would race with fearsome images of past formidable armies. The horned and winged helmets of the ancient vikings (that mostly only existed in Asterix and the Vikings, but humour me here), the precision and clinical execution of the Roman Army, Hannibal’s famous elephants or perhaps the bright blue woad stained faces (or more fearsome pasty white exposed bottoms) of Celtic hoardes might come to mind. However, nothing would strike fear into the heart of an opposing soldier than seeing an Australian soldier who, presumably, lived off the land in a desert full of flies, wrestling crocodiles in his spare time, able to consume the carbonated cat-piss that is Foster’s Lager and, to make matters worse, revels in the delight of licking vegemite. Yes, young man, you’d better bloody run.

Troops vegemite

Yes, our female soldiers also eat it with gusto. This photo above shows a happy snap taken just prior to this typical consumer of vegemite administering a small portion to an ALLIED soldier. He is in a stable condition in intensive care and is expecting to be discharged in a month or two. Thanks for your prayers and support folks.

So there it is. The US, NATO and possibly China could all learn a few things about defence if they would concentrate their resources and efforts more economically. You see massive economic spending on technology, aircraft and a formidable fleet is all really a waste of time if you’d just get your troops used to eating disgusting stuff (on this count, I’d have my money on the Chinese as the front runners in any particular race to the culinary bottom on this one, particularly with egg-based dishes!).

The benefits to the Australian way of life is quite obvious. None of us has to go anywhere near anything as dangerous as a crocodile, flies aren’t a problem in most places we live and we can continue munching our morning toast with a fine film of black sludge content that we live in the luckiest country on the planet and there is not a damn thing any other nation is going to do about it any time soon! 🙂

Mickovich.. the GenericOracle.





Why Lorde really appeals to middle-aged men…

22 06 2014

Admittedly I sometimes have reservations about writing articles on this blog. It happens about as much as Rolex tends to come out with a new model watch, yeah, not very often. I also have a confession to make, I kind of like cinnamon donuts. AHA! caught you out didn’t I? You fell right into my trap! Though yes, I admit that I very much enjoy the music of young New Zealand born prodigy, ‘Lorde’ (born Ella Marija Lani Yellich-O’Connor). Actually, her proper name sounds a little like the entire team of a private school cross-cultural debating team, so a monosyllabic and cryptic moniker was obviously a shrewd marketing choice. Having said that, I suspect that her song-crafting and style had quite a lot more to do with her success than a cool name.

 

Yep, I get the tension that is already palpably evident in your head at present.. “Where the hell is he going with this article?” and “Why is a middle aged man listening to, let alone writing about, a pop sensation not even finished high school yet?” or possibly “Why do I never get sick of tacos, no matter how many times I eat them, when I get sick of every other meal that I eat a lot?”. Ok, maybe YOU weren’t thinking that but I was and man, I am gonna have to write me an article about THAT very, very soon, but not now.

 

The reason I like Lorde is very simple. Her music is characterised craftsmanship, intelligence and genuine talent, not sex. I think it is no accident that fathers across the world find themselves listening to Lorde, even when their daughters or sons are NOT in the car. Her age puts her right at the age at which many forty years old men conceivably have daughters. Therefore, Lorde’s parents are similar in age and, allowing for some quirky variations in musical taste, Lorde may well have grown up in a milieu of music in a garden which might not necessarily be sound nor savage (couldn’t resist a bandy pun or two there!) but certainly not unlike that of most men listening to her music. There is the ambient grooves and basslines reminiscent of the heady days of early trance and house, lyrics that tend to be provocative and cryptic like the work of the Smiths, U2 or coldplay but not derivative of them and the melodies are pared back and haunting, almost a little like Robert Smith, of the Cure (who possibly seems to be giving make up advice to young Kiwi songwriters as well, these days!).

 

 

One of the hallmarks of a truly good musical artist is the ability to sell more than the ’empty carbs of the pop world’ which is sex wrapped up in the plastic of riffs better left in advertising jingles. Instead, despite her modest years and relatively limited experience in what is fast becoming the most competitive era ever for the sale of popular music, she is carving up the pie with some genuinely good material in a manner that established artists like Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Beyonce are finding increasingly hard to emulate. Lorde-RS So middle aged-men get Lorde because the musical style is eclectic, whilst reminiscent of a lot of things they half remember from their youth, which they half-remember wasn’t half-bad, back in the day. So about 12.5% association with something vaguely good in the past. What is great is that Lorde has so much more to offer than the shell that we all walk around in. Not so for artists such as Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga who each left nothing to the imagination when strutting out of highschool into packed arenas in their late teens/early twenties. There is, most certainly, something a little ‘pedo’ in a middle-aged man’s interest in the ‘music’ of any of these artists when the product being sold is both so young and so obvious.

 

Typically, such artists are “unit puppets”, just flogging their latest cheap, tacky fads to plump ailing record sales for a little girl who has grown up and lost core fans distracted by the musical equivalent of Sizzler Salad Bars as such fans have also grown up. Not so with artists like Lorde. It is perhaps a little naive to suggest that she, and artists like her, thrive because of authenticity and free reign to write precisely what they like, wear what they like and have control over how that ‘brand’ is developed. What she does have is, however, genuine product which is not dependent on her age, her body and her gender. Instead, along with other successful artists like Alannis Morisette, Avril LaVigne and Alicia Keys, she is a song-writer not just a singer. Sure the content does involve the usual pop themes of love and love lost, but not a whole lot. Instead, we get lyrical poetry (perhaps an unsurprising observation given that her mother is an acclaimed New Zealand poet but kids don’t always follow their parent’s day jobs!). Nevertheless, we hear class contrast, generational angst, concerns about superficiality in social interactions and the influence of mammon on man. Intelligent, philosophical, thoughtful writing and ambient, trancy and layered vocals with pitch-perfect harmonies (possibly worked on in the mixing and editing but still beautifully done) and, the hallmark of successful female artists: a different voice.

 

So why the appeal to middle-aged men, specifically and why should this be important in any way to those who direct this juggernaut of a musical phenomenon? Primarily because it represents generational change. We have the first glimpse of our millenial/Gen Z music, almost like a time trip into the near future. Arguably, the music reaching our ears through whatever media we choose to consume is the last flickers of Gen Y artists, that are sounding tired, stretched, over-evolved, like some actress that has been poorly advised to pay too much for cosmetic surgery that  creates more beasts than beauties.Typically, the generation consuming the music has it delivered by the generation above, but here we see a wonderful window into what could be the future of millenial artist pop. That’s exciting.

 

 

Generation X is characterised by its cynicism, search for authenticity and obsession with relational depth (as opposed to Boomer/Gen Y focus of relational breadth). Likewise, their children seem to have inherited these values. Millenials question superficiality, generally have drive, focus and ambition that is tempered with acceptance of honest feedback about their ability to achieve such goals. Unlike Boomers, whose suspicion of ‘the establishment’ was near universal, which often led to “plugging in and dropping out” in search of a new utopia (almost universally disappointed with the outcome..when human nature is involved), Millenials see the inevitability of the establishment and work within it, breaking and shaping it when needed (and allowed to). In an almost Frankl-esque dedication, these Millenials understand that the ‘Matrix’ is something that we need to work with but we choose how much it changes our sense of self. Digital natives yes, but not the mindless slaves we thought they’d be. Using technology to find relational depth, make their brains more alive, more creative, more rich not less rich. The games they play tune their brains, build creativity within boundaries like lifting weights at the gym, using their networks to study seriously and faster than their older natives, now in employment.

Lorde at Madame Jojo's, London Lorde seems emblematic of a generation that their parents can’t help but get excited about. True, many Gen Ys don’t know what to make of these younger ‘upstarts’. This is not, however, die to the fact that Millenials are so enigmatic but more a function of the fact that Gen Y tend to be so self-absorbed or, now, running around on minimal sleep now they are breeding, that they simply don’t have the time to care. Of course music artists, particularly female artists trying to share this consumer-space with artists like Lorde are not happy in the slightest, and the knives are out. This guest is, in their opinion, unfashionably early and they are not happy about the way the party might change.

 

Now the fathers of Millenials who listen to the haunting melodies ringing through their homes in wireless convenience also find tracks on their own devices feeding these melodies they find themselves humming. Daughters going to Lorde concerts may find their Dads not only footing the bill but offering to come along. In doing so, these involved ‘Neo-Dads’ far from experiencing the derision common in earlier generations at this kind of cultural invasion or cringeworthy example of an uninvolved Dad trying to ‘get hip and be cool’ to be-friend his distant daughter, is often greeted compassionately by such gestures. Dads and daughters these days have a lot more to do with each other than they once did. Dad is not trying to be a friend, he will always be the ‘daggy old dad’.. but he is there and that is, for the meantime at least, cool. From the Dad’s point of view, this is a damn-sight more tolerable to sit through for $100 a pop than, say Britney Spears or Taylor Swift or even Pink, for that matter.

 

The music is cool, accessible and it is about the talent, intelligence and concert atmosphere of an artist and work, not a piece of female flesh teasing the men and causing the women to covet mimicry of that blatant sexuality to get the same attention from men. Again, there is more than enough evidence that marketers are way ahead of the curve on this one (money is that most powerful motivator!). Even the clips selected for this blog post contained advertisements for Joe Satriani concerts (1989 Surfing with the Alien, anyone??) and Rolling stone arguably bought into this phenomenon with Lorde in a Cramps shirt and a nod to early Gen X punk with both their cover and headline.

 

Yep, this young lady is for youth and their dads (with a possibility that more than a few Mums might also want to ride this train!!). Economically, nothing could be smarter for Lorde than continuing to push boundaries of music and stage performance whilst remaining decently (if esoterically) dressed and not dipping her feet into the superficiality of carnal hedonism as she ages. In an age where profitability from music sales is bottoming out and album sales contribute paltry revenue for even the most popular artists, sales of concert tickets are a coveted stream of income. Having on board the fathers of fans as benevolent benefactors of entertainment coin is very, very savvy. Deep pockets and an appreciation for the art is driving a medium which simply can’t be pirated: the live experience. Much like the glory days of stadium rock and pop concerts that were the staple of bands in the 1980s, such fathers are keen to support this once again. A format long in decline to the chagrin of performers as music became diverse and democratised in the age of the internet, good concerts are slowly, but surely experiencing a resurgence with artists such as Lorde and, just like a feudal system that young Ella Y-O is often enamoured with in her lyrics, we are seeing a new generation of Pop royalty rise among the ashes of a cacophony of peasants. Long live the Queen, then eh? Mickovich





Fundamentally… different.

17 06 2014

The rise of social media is great. Every man, woman and child has an opinion on every meme, photo, funny dolphin video or clickbait propaganda that hits the digital world. I am not, however, naive enough to think that I am in the minority that sees a trend towards both bland and blind acceptance of some idealistic middle ground in terms of holding belief. Some ‘like’ everything, even when they don’t or when they have ‘liked’ polar opposite statements you might have (ok, somewhat-sneakily-in-purely-a-sociological-ethnographic-research-kind-of-way) posted weeks apart.. So what am I getting at?

It seems that one evil we are all keen to agree on is that of ‘Fundamentalism’.

Now, I know that those that know me will shudder with the hypocrisy of leaving that hanging sentence above as a paragraph when I know better, right? Shocking, but it was intentional. There is this perpetuated myth that ALL fundamentalism is bad because a) it causes more wars than anything else, blah, blah, b) it lacks tolerance and why can’t we all just be brothers and c) you don’t fancy a paradigm shifting wardrobe change or the effort/embarrassment required having too much hair, too little hair or just plain silly hair.

One thing which is just plain wrong (not ‘opinion’ wrong or ‘moral’ wrong but ‘statistically’ wrong) is that all (religious) fundamentalists are the same. It simply isn’t true.

This is not to say that there are fundamentalists of most belief systems (not just religious ones, by the way) who carry out atrocious acts. Many who not only hold the view that Fundamentalism is the root of many kinds of evil and lean to the left politically are quick to drag out the chestnut of Abortion Clinic Violence as evidence of widespread fanatical violence. Actually, over the last 23 years in the USA, with a population now over 318, 000, 000 only 8 people who were employees of abortion clinics have died, in six incidents. Three of these perpetrators had any clear links at all with Christian Churches and two of these were declared to have pervasive mental illness prevalent. The last one, the notorious Eric Robert Rudolph, infamous for not just an abortion clinic murder but the tragic Atlanta games Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996 confesses that he is not really aligned much at all with the ‘Born Again Christians’ and that he ‘much prefers Nietzsche to the Bible’.

 

pro life irony

 

Now the US outstrips all other nations for this type of terrorism.

So what about other ‘fundamentalists’? Firstly, shall we get to some kind of understanding of what this means. Whilst introduced to our language from the USA, its origins were particularly grounded in Protestant Christianity, from sects that believed the literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly as it related to Genesis and Creation. Following Islamic sectarian violence and the rise of modern Islamist terrorism, it has been applied also to other religious beliefs as well.

 

islam violence

 

Of course, it is difficult to choose a time from which to start recording Islamist attacks and those specifically which may be considered terrorism, so let us just consider those attacks claimed by Islamic jihadist groups in precisely the same period of time that we considered the horrific acts of senseless violence on abortion clinics above. The total figure to date of fatalies from 1990 to 2014 is

4047.

 

Yep. 4047 deaths. 809 000 % more deaths caused by Muslim Fundamentalists compared with less than 8 which in any way may be linked to “right-wing Christian fundamentalism”. Now there are some who peddle the myth that “religious fundamentalism” has “caused most of the wars in history, or, it’s fat brother “Christianity has caused…”. The simple fact is that the term religious fundamentalism at it applies to those who believe the document of their faith in an orthodox fashion is relatively new, less than 120 years. Furthermore, the adoption of that term to those of the Islamic faith is also on the basis that those who practice “extreme Islam” actually follow what they believe to be the literal word of Allah, their God.

Now, this is quite problematic for the old chestnut trotted out above. You see, we have the following issues:

1. Not a single one of the many hundreds of wars recorded in ancient documents prior to the death of Christ were caused by ‘Christians’, nor by Islamic fundamentalists, for that matter (given that Islam is generally regarded to have taken root in 610 AD).

2. Wars between 1 AD and AD 1880 cannot have said to be ’caused’ by any kind of Christian Fundamentalism. Certainly any scholars who propose this would be in the minority, primarily because it is very hard to justify that many people at all throughout Europe (or any other continent, for that matter) held ‘fundamentalist’ beliefs, ie: they actually believed what was literally written in the text. indeed, this is particularly hard to justify, since Martin Luther in the Reformation itself based much of his opposition to the Catholic church in the 16th century on the very basis that the actions of church routinely did not reflect the instructions, doctrine and commands written in the Bible, including many of those from Jesus himself. Thus, any crusades cannot be considered to be the responsibility of ‘fundamentalist’ Christianity. At the time, populations in Europe were eclipsed by those in Asia, Africa, Asia and the Americas, most of which had never heard of Christianity and all of which have scores to hundreds of wars in recorded history, none of which were remotely related to Christianity.

3. Since 1880, we have witnessed some of the most brutal and fatal wars in the history of mankind. Indeed, the First World War, often called the ‘Great War’ alone, was responsible for over 16 000 000 deaths. It is simply not supported in any literature that any type of fundamentalism was a trigger, cause or catalyst for this or any other major war, conflict skirmish or stern words in the 20th and 21st centuries this far!


gas masks

Indeed, even ongoing terrorism between ‘Protestant ‘and ‘Catholic’ sectarian violence and terrorism, widespread in Northern Ireland from the 1960s to 1990s in particular cannot be framed in terms of fundamentalist beliefs. Rather, most commentators agree that the issue has nothing to do with the tenets of religious faith. Instead, the ‘colour’ of faith provided a convenient division of political geography: those aligned to the “Church (and country) of England” and those aligned to traditional Irish Catholicism. Tribalism at its ugliest.

 

Irish violence

 

So, ok, it seems that human beings addicted to power and the acquisition of resources has most likely led to more wars than anything, and not the belief in the literal texts of a religious faith. Maybe this is one sweeping statement that ought to be put firmly back in the cupboard of ignorance?

So, can you have ‘fundamentalism’ that is not necessarily ‘religious’? It appears so. Certainly deists have no monopoly on fanaticism. There are many organisations of people who are so one eyed to manifesto or principle that they are willing to risk life, limb, incrimination and humiliation of themselves and their targets.

Environmental Fundamentalism has been steadily on the rise since the late 1970s and organisations such as Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Earth Liberation Front (ELF) , People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have been responsible for over 2000 acts of ecoterrorism since 1980. Indeed, the FBI considers Ecoterrorism a real and present threat in the United States:

 

“In 2008 the Federal Bureau of Investigation said eco-terrorists represented “one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats in the U.S. today” citing the sheer volume of their crimes (over 2,000 since 1979); the huge economic impact (losses of more than $110 million since 1979); the wide range of victims (from international corporations to lumber companies to animal testing facilities to genetic research firms); and their increasingly violent rhetoric and tactics (one recent communiqué sent to a California product testing company said: “You might be able to protect your buildings, but can you protect the homes of every employee?”).”
In fact, given the sheer number of incidents which involve destruction of property, significant acts of Arson, sabotage of equipment used to log, harvest or facilities in which animal testing is carried out, you are more likely to be the victim of an ecoterrorism attack than one caused by religious extremists. There is, however, one main difference at present: Islamic terrorist attacks like those experienced in New York, Bali, Pakistan, Egypt and London are less likely but far more fatal when they do occur.
What is disturbing, however, is any manifesto which subjugates the horror of violence or death to some other goal, cause or principle. With the rise of Eco-groups described above, all of these have been in the past and continue to be dominated politically by those in the extreme left and, as the left is wont to be, dominated by uncompromising dogma. Ecoterrorists hold to tenets of “deep ecology” which espouse fundamentalist beliefs such as the importance of ‘Biocentrism”, which is a belief that man is only one of a great multitude of species on the planet. As such, the life of a human is no more or less important than any other organism and the death of a human for the cause of the planet no worse than the death of a seal, a whale or a forest. Another common motivation of “deep ecologists” is the return to a natural or ‘pre-industrialised’ state, some believe, by whatever means necessary. These are fundamentalist beliefs held by many millions of people who have shown their will to act in line with such beliefs. Is this something we ought to be worried about? Perhaps.
confessions-of-an-eco-terrorist-HI
The rise of such fundamentalism was primarily on a wave of baby boomer activism in the 1960s to 1970s which saw a collection of issues rise to prominence in western culture including (but not limited to) Anti-war Sentiment, Environmentalism, Communist sympathy and Anti-Israel sentiment (largely a reaction to staunch Republican support for the nation of Israel). All of these causes have one thing in common: reaction to ‘establishment’. In this sense, any collective organisation of people which was a political party, religious organisation, a military organisation or corporation which opposed the positions described above was automatically granted suspicion and, often, became a conveniently visible enemy from which to fight a “David and Goliath” style battle and such movements sought to occupy what appeared to be, at least in their own eyes, the moral high ground. From this position, the objective was always clear: Frustrate, Intimidate, Repudiate and, if at all possible, Annihilate.
burn-monsanto
Given this history, it is hardly surprising therefore that the modus operandi of such groups has been spectacularly successful and no matter which guise this ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ appears, the principles, as well as the practices are remarkably similar. This fundamentalism is widespread and yet is not vilified anywhere near the degree that, say, Christian Fundamentalism is slandered because such activists own the game. Social media has replaced the ‘magic marker placards’ but make no mistake, the propaganda is as deliberate and targeted as it was for communist nations in the early 20th century, they control the airwaves.
Consider the relative lack of criticism on social media of the atrocious acts of Islamists all over the world, the caution with with the British media phrase their stories, walk on egg shells in their schools and turn themselves inside out to point out that ‘very few muslims are extremists’. Media outlets online, by broadcast or by print media in English-speaking nations take great care not to malign Mohammed, let alone Allah. When the odd cartoonists do slip through the cracks and poke fun at such figures, hundreds of arson attacks, violence, death threats and the destruction of property follows. What happens when Richard Dawkins makes a mockery of the Christ whom more than a third of the planet follow? When Christian schools have the ‘audacity’ to suggest that Creationism ought to be taught alongside Evolution and face widespread scorn, where are the demonstrations and flag-burning afterwards? When atheists challenge the presence of Christian Chaplains in schools in the High Courts, where are the acts of civil disobedience amongst that ‘dangerous’ (and illusory) ‘religious right’ that apparently exists in every English-speaking nation? Hmm. Most likely at home watching telly with their slippers on or carrying out some shocking subversion such as a mid-week Bible study over a coffee and a biscuit. Yep, this is about as radical as your average fundamentalist Christian will get.
I would ever go so far as to venture that if you took a random-sample of such ‘fundamentalist Christians’ you would be several hundreds of times more likely to find a ‘Fundamentalist Christian’ who has provided a meal for a family undergoing a new pregnancy/natural disaster/cancer treatment, or having cooked a sausage at a fund-raiser, or mowed the lawn of someone who couldn’t or given large sums of money to any number of (not necessarily ‘Christian’) charities than ever holding a molotof cocktail, stone or placard in a public rally. It is simply an unsupportable myth that Christians who believe their Bibles are any more dangerous that a rabbit holding a water gun.
So why is that? How could that be? How can such uncompromising beliefs NOT be violent, aggressive or intimidating in their expression? Simple. The founder of these beliefs and the doctrinal manifesto to which such believers subscribe does not support such actions. Yes, this ‘dangerous dogma’ suggests that ‘we should love our neighbours as ourselves'(Mark 12:30-31), that ‘human life is precious'(Exodus 20:13), that ‘we should do good to those who harm us'(Luke 6:28) and that we should ‘look after the garden’ (Genesis 2:15) that we have been given.
So, I trust that it is as obvious to you as it is to me that there are many, many kinds of ‘Fundamentalism’ that exist in our (global) society at present and that not all are equally a threat to our peace, safety, well-being and economy. Not all can be tarred with the one brush and just because one might have an old (hippy) axe to grind about the ‘establishment’ as far as it relates to those who regularly attend churches. Perhaps it behooves us not to toss out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to those who believe that they ought to live out their lives as their founder did, one Christ, Jesus. Could it be that some ‘fundamentalists’ just don’t fit that stereotype about ‘smashing the world’ to achieve their cause.
It’s just worth a thought. That’s all I suggest.
😉
Mickovich.

 





Ladies.. the most important thing in life is to keep your man distracted.

22 01 2014

I think few women genuinely appreciate the importance to any society of keeping its men distracted. Certainly, in the age we live in, it appears that women spend much of their time trying to prise men away from distractions. Things like working on old cars, playing with toy trains in the basement, collecting human body parts in chest freezers and spending too much time on facebook games that involve gorgeous women with impossibly large breasts having equally impossible fascinations with automatic weapons. Now, it is possible that after the last sentence you are either a) a typical male now mesmerised with the mention of boobies b) a slightly disturbed woman thinking that I know your love interest a bit too well or c) Dexter wondering whether he left the chest freezer open last time he was down there.

body parts

You see the problem is that men are, as Douglas Adams was wont to say “mostly harmless” if left to their tedious but otherwise innocuous pursuits. They just get dangerous when they REALLY get an idea in their head. You see whilst men joke about the length of their… urethras (while in comparison, sans UTI women hardly spare a thought!) they don’t actually like comparing them, certainly not with any reliable measuring device handy, because we all know that if you look at another man’s penis you become gay. So, long ago men devised ways that they could outdo other men. One simple game is called ‘Climb the tall thing’. It is rather simple, you just climb the nearest tall thing. Now once your son, your great Uncle Ralph and your mud hut was scaled, groups of men tended to look further afield (and get out of there before you had to deal with Uncle Ralph’s broken back or your wife screaming about the new hole in the grassed roof of your house).

So men would climb trees. Some in Vanuatu would actually JUMP off trees as a rite of passage. It was also a convenient way of getting rid of your enemies, as long as they were poor at estimation skills, by cunningly making the supporting vine to the ankles somewhat longer than the actual fall to the ground. Brilliant those men! Trees get dull, so you try waterfalls, cliffs, large mounds of dirt with grass on them or.. mountains. So men would climb mountains. “Why?” Sir Edmund Hilary was asked after completing the first documented ascent of Everest with his faithful Sherpa, Tenzig Norgay. His answer? Often documented as “because it was there!” but apparently, according to a source I have yet to make up, his original answer was “because my wife is not!!”.

edmund and Tenzig

Yes, climbing a summit makes you a man. Can you climb stairs? Well, son, you can climb a mountain. So men do. Now, what people fail to realise is that a LOT of dishes pile up whilst one is away doing lame-arse things like climbing mountains (when, after all, you just have to go back down again and you’ve seen all that bit before, right?). Apparently Sir Edmund Hilary’s wife had to rent a second home to store the dirty dishes that accumulated during the year and a bit that the first ascent took him.. She did apparently negotiate a dishwashing machine afterwards so the expedition wasn’t completely pointless.

The problem is that once men start climbing things, they tend not to stop. So to avoid too much purchasing of unnecessary crockery, whole societies actually moved further and further up mountains. Yes, in every continent on the planet you will find Indians, Tibetans, Nepalese and, of course, the indigenous people of what is now known as Papua New Guinea.

Now these tribes long satisfied all desires to climb to the top of mountains. It long since became a rite of passage since the majority of babies in such tribes tended to be born right on top of such things. A more difficult rite of passage was not falling down of one of these perilous peaks that tribesmen and women decided to live on. Silly, some might even suggest. Well, perhaps, but each family had only one set of crockery and the dishes were always done, so the women were hardly complaining.

That was until the men stopped getting distracted. This was always going to be trouble. So one day, an alpha male starts lamenting about the taro and pork all the time. “I’m so sick of @#$% Taro and Pork!!! I’m so #$% ^&* hungry I could even eat your mother-in-Law, Buntu!!”. “My mother-in-Law, hey? Hmm.. I’ll tell you what, there is a Taro lager and a kilogram of bacon if you do!”. So it was that the “other, other” white meat was sampled and found to be well, pret-ty darn tasty. As an added bonus, the constant whining around camp was minimised a little as well.

cannibal jokeThe problem is with cannibalism is that you end up eating your labour, really. Yes, in an exciting Master-Chef-Style ingredient challenge, it was a bold flavour and freely available but there comes a point where there is no one much around to do any other food gathering and you just get a bit, well, on edge! So people generally tried to steer away from descending down the culinary road of cannibalism. Of course, because of the difficulty of achieving sound sleep but also the truly awful jokes:

Cannibal daughter to cannibal mother: “Mummy! Mummy! I hate Daddy!”, “Well, leave him, dear and eat the Taro.”

Cannibal daughter to cannibal mother: “Mummy! Mummy! This clown tastes funny.”

You see what I mean. So cannibalism is a pretty serious slippery slope for society to head down.

Modern societies, of course, substituted mountains for skyscrapers but this was hardly a challenge, as long as the lifts were actually working. Even when they weren’t, it became a fashionable competition, from New York to Addis Ababa (purely an assumption, but, why not?) to have stair climbing races to the tops of skyscrapers. The thing is that feminism had LONG been invented by then and we were roundly chastised that “Women can do anything!”. As it turns out they pretty much can… well except for scratch their balls, play good lead guitar, achieve mainstream success with stand up comedy or beat your average man at putting together a MALM bookcase, An EXPEDIT unit or, the piece de resistance, an entire FAKTUM kitchen. So the stair thing died a sorry death.

Yep, men raised on a solid diet of Lego to distract them from connecting power socket to fork to baby sister spent many hours deciphering the 3D hieroglyphics in the verbal desert that is a Lego instruction manual to make pirate ships, Millenium Falcons or properly operating flush toilets (didn’t your house have a Lego toilet??). Now, blind Freddy could see.. no, well, perhaps he was one who clearly couldn’t, but almost everyone else would see the clear similarity with Ikea instructions. Men also knew how to hold those notoriously tricky allen keys supplied!

So modern men can pretty much take or leave mountains (unless they perhaps had a Legoless childhood). Or perhaps if they happened to have a Legolas childhood and got a fanging for some of ‘dem New Zealand peaks!! However, I digress. Yep, modern urban man can build IKEA and this is a blessing.

Sure our houses might have enough storage, OK maybe it is 7.6 times easier to get into a POANG chair than out of one (according to a study I conducted in my home last Tuesday morning) and perhaps it is a pain in the neck trying to remember which box in the EXPEDIT shelving that you left the cat because it was, well, an annoying cat. Ladies, a cautionary tale, however, is on this ver blog. Please go to work. Please let him buy that PAX wardrobe. Leave him alone on the floor with those 19 pieces at the end that were worryingly left over and the Crownie in his hand… At least he is not thinking about how !@#$%^& bland your @#$%^&*(  Tofu salad and whole grain croissant tastes. If he does, you might find yourself waking up catching a glance at a dirty glass door once every three seconds or finding out that your Gaggenau oven really DOES keep an even temperature all over. It is imperative to stop men rediscovering Cannibalism. The more you push your men to avoid skin cancer (or the outdoors entirely), the more you make him love that lamentable metrosexual on the YOUI commercial, the more you sermonise about your food that tastes like Rainforest Puke, you are driving him closer and closer to exotic carnivorism at an apartment near you. VERY near you.

Faktum Kitchen

Actually,  evangelism is in order. It is probably time to get such pasty-faced almost men out and doing a bit of exercise and I wholeheartedly recommend introducing the joys of IKEA furniture construction to the isolated tribes of the Sepik river in New Guinea. Imagine the relief in the faces of those who face horrific lives there if they knew that a) they could finally sleep knowing that their men are maniacally distracted by hexagonal metal and whiteboard and b) that if the women didn’t like their kitchens, they’d have 90 days to haul them back down the mountain to Port Moresby for a ‘no questions, money back guarantee’! Of course, we’d run out of Cannibal jokes and some have suggested that Muslim jokes are on the rise.

I’m not so sure that is a good thing, really.

 





Be careful what you wish for…

14 01 2014

My daughter came to me with a verse of Scripture that she had been reading and wanted some clarification. Of course, like any Dad, I was flattered, but the passage was intriguing and, when I understood that the version of the Bible was the King James Version, I could appreciate her difficulty in understanding it:

16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.

17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. 18 And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord.  Genesis 19:16-18 KJV

The context was the escape of Lot and his family from the location known historically as the “Cities of the plain” of Canaan. We tend to know them by two dominant cities: Sodom and Gomorrah. How Lot came to be there and how these cities came to be destroyed has intrigued many since the event presumably occurred.

Genesis 13 tells us that Abram and his nephew Lot were blessed with many herds and possessions but the extent of their livestock was causing disputes amongst their workers in the area they were settled, so Abram does quite a noble thing for a Middle Eastern patriarch of the era: he gives the younger man the choice of where to settle:

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lorddestroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company.  Genesis 13:10-11 NIV

The character of Lot is immediate throughout a reading of Genesis: he is an opportunist. The easiest way to raise livestock is on flat plains with abundant grains and grasses and good access to irrigation, a no-brainer. In contrast, the rocky mountains and hills surrounding makes raising, herding and protecting livestock much more difficult, so Abram certainly got the rougher end of this ‘deal’. Notably, Genesis makes significant reference to the proximity of the ‘cities’ to the plains possessed by Lot. Subsequently, we see Lot camped ‘near’ the city of Sodom (Gen 13:12) and close enough to be carried off (along with his possessions, Gen 14:12) when a rebellion broke out in Sodom, Kedolaomer, who had defeated the kings of the plains and kept them subdued for 12 years, quashed it. When Abram is alerted, he takes on this army to rescue Lot, is successful and the king of Sodom meets him on the plains:

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you,not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

 Again, this is extraordinary. Entitled to (all) the spoils of victory, when Abram is confronted by a vanquished king asking for his people back (servants, workers, concubines and relatives) and is offered their ‘goods’, he not only relinquishes his right to take everything, but accepts nothing. Abram clearly is wealthy but not motivated by it. Instead, he sees the snare that such greed could be, leading to resentment by the impoverished people of Sodom which could come back to bite his (predominantly) agricultural bottom. Note here a connection with Jesus in an often misunderstood passage in Luke 16:8:
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.   Luke 16:8
Furthermore, Jesus commends us with our ‘possessions’:
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.   Luke 16:9
So Abram refused to live with, deal with or be indebted to the ‘Cities of the plain’. Not so, Lot. Indeed, far from seeing the clear and present danger of living so close to populations of people that had frequently attracted war and invasions by nations greedy for the filthy lucre of this fertile area, Lot actually moves into the city of Sodom itself (Genesis 19:1) and has his house inside the city walls. The people of Sodom are referred to as ‘his friends’ (Genesis 19:7).
Now much is made about the kinds of activities that seemed to be common in these cities of the plain at the time. We even use the word ‘Sodomise’ to refer to homosexual male rape still in the 21st century. Here is where a greater understanding of the depth of depravity needs to be understood about this region at this time. There are a great many sins mentioned throughout the Bible that relate to the people of Canaan and, more specifically, ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’.
Goddesses ‘Asherah’ (also ‘Ashtoreth’) and ‘Ishtar’ were commonly worshipped throughout Canaan and archaeology in the 19th and 20th centuries has revealed an abundance of artifacts that attest to this. Asherah was often referred to as the “Queen of Heaven”, a consort of Baal but was also adulterated widely by Israelites later as a consort of Yahweh, the most high God. She is often depicted holding ‘the sea’ or being able to walk over the sea.
Ishtar represents the rather bizarre combination of goddess of both fertility and of war. Such Goddesses were largely borrowed from both broader (and older) Mesopotamian and Egyptian traditions and were, amongst other things, worshipped through ceremonial, ‘sacred’ or paid, religious sex. Men, it seems, are always pretty good at inventing religions that satisfy one or more of their primal lusts: ‘gold’, ‘girls’, or ‘glory’ (see Scientology, Raelians, Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints). The result in an era long before effective contraception was, unsurprisingly, children, some of whom were not really wanted by church-sponsored prostitutes.
ashtoreth
Here is where some of the practices of the ancient Canaanites appear a lot less than ‘quaint pagan cultural practices’. Enter ‘Molech’ (also called ‘Chemosh’) was quite a frightful addition to the pantheon. With a name vaguely referring to simply ‘king’ (Molek) but often intentionally mispronounced in Hebrew as ‘Melek’ (or ‘shame’), parents would sacrifice their children to Molech, often represented as a large Bull-like creature which outstretched arms, into which were carved steep ‘slides’ which terminated in a furnace where the god’s ‘belly’ might be. Other depictions show the bull-headed god’s outstretched arms over a fire:
molech altar
In either case, the parents were to deliver their child to the attending priest and, according to some accounts, were not to make a sound or cry when their (usually) infant child was ‘passed through the flames’ lest the sacrifice not be accepted by this horrific deity. Afterwards, it was common for the parents to bury the bones of the child under the threshold of their home as a reminder of the promise of coming prosperity. Indeed, the sacrifices seemed to be motivated by convenience (an unwanted child) or a deep sacrifice in return for ongoing prosperity from the god.
I need to mention at the point that to my daughter I completely glossed over the practices in the last few paragraphs. It is clear that if the Bible were given a censorship rating, Genesis would almost certainly be given an M15+ rating!! Suffice it to say that I told her that if you were to devoutly worship this god in Australia (or most countries on the planet) today, you would be rightly thrown into jail for a considerable time. Yet this was de rigueur for the peoples depicted here in Genesis.
When I share this from time to time with older students and friends, there is often a combination of revulsion and anger, particularly from parents as they consider that anyone might kill their own children for convenience or to secure ongoing prosperity. Yet, in some chilling irony, the two most substantial reasons for abortions reported in a 2004 study of 1209 women who underwent abortion were:
“..having a baby would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%) or was having relationship problems (48%).”
(note that mothers in this study were obviously able to cite more than one motivator in the interview/survey).
Interestingly, the proportion of women seeking an abortion due to incest and/or rape is consistently shown to be between 0.5% and 1%. The incidence of such vile acts seems to me to be still appalling high for supposedly ‘civilised’ societies like ours. Whilst there arguably a few differences in the two practices, nevertheless parents are making decisions about the comfort and convenience of their own lifestyle over their children’s lives. In Australia, more than 25% of pregnancies each year end up this way. However, this is not an inflammatory debate about abortion, so let’s consider again our context: Sodom and Gomorrah and the family of Lot.
One can only shudder about the possible prevalence of events involving the sacrifice of children and depraved violent sexual activity, including rapes that occurred in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis gives us some insight to this, since Lot, was opposed to the agitated, insistent and violent intent for the men of Sodom to desire to rape the male guests that Lot welcomed into his home:

They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” Genesis 19: 5-8

It would be hard for most of us in our middle class, suburban homes to even imagine an event as confronting as this occurring to us. Note the depravity here. Lot is opposed to the proposition for the ‘men of the city’ to rape the male guests but offers to these same people as an appeasement his two virgin daughters to them to do with what they wished. I think that any father reading this would be hard pressed to see any situation where he would be prepared to negotiate like this. Let me be very clear here, the homosexual desire of the men depicted in this passage is far worse than consensual male intercourse but brutal, violent rape. It is hard to see how Lot is any more noble than the men of the city, yet this was the culmination of his desire to acquire. Nothing was more important to Lot than ‘stuff’, even the safety and security of his own family. Sobering stuff, yeah?

Now, when I teach about this from time to time, it is very hard for any of us in the 21st century to read Genesis and feel comfortable at all with what appears to be the decree of God to ‘wipe out’ some populations of people from this ancient world and it is usually criticised as “God sponsored Genocide”. Credit where credit is due, sometimes a cool title for an argument can seem a nice substitute for logical reasoning. However, the judgement of God is declared in Genesis 19: 12-13:

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

If we can divorce from our thinking the ‘noble indigenous’ archetype prevalent in our post-imperialist and (deservedly) guilt-ridden minds, then we can perhaps see some sense of justice here. Note firstly that this judgement clearly indicates a volume, magnitude or consistency of outcry which would justify such extreme action. Secondly, note that ‘genocide’ as defined in our era refers to a race, creed or culture systematically exterminated purely on that basis. Finally, I think it took me until I was a parent to fully understand the depth of love that one can have for children, their relative innocence and the surprising capacity to sense ‘righteous anger’ or deep sorrow when our children are threatened or in pain. Now, I think I understand how much more it might be possible for a Holy God to have more extreme feelings and motivation to act than even my own.

I can’t help but wonder how deceived we are to follow wealth, financial security and the insatiable desire to follow (and purchase) the latest trends in fashion, electronics and appliances until our wardrobes break our TV units are full and our kitchens are littered with expensive ‘gadgets’? Simple materialism is not necessarily the villain here, no, it is deeper. We feel incomplete and ‘itch’ for accumulation to grant us relief, comfort and an easier life on Earth. All things which perhaps seem pretty reasonable in a post-modern, secular and economically developed nation. After all, the saviour of the developing world appears to be the steady growth of the ‘middle class’ as a means out of poverty. The economic guiding principle here is substituting ‘work’ for ‘stuff’, a subtle shift from the ‘work’ for ‘food’ subsistence of the poor. Nevertheless, we deceive ourselves if we think this economic model will come without conseqences for ourselves and our relationships, which leads us to the final, puzzling part of this passage which specifically relates to Lot’s wife:

“15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”” Genesis 19:15-17

The intent was clear from the visitors (now revealed to be angels), that Lot should literally get the heck out of there! It is the situation with Lot’s wife that always had me puzzled. You see, my children’s bible, as a kid, had massive  coloured pictures that showed Lot’s wife, having apparently disobeyed the angels’ command not to “turn around” and instantly became a statue!

Pillar of salt

 

Of course, this situation was always possible but I felt that it seemed a) a little arbitrary and b) a little “Harry Potter” (or maybe “Doctor Who”?). Actually, the angels’ command mentions several times the admonition not to ‘muck around’ but simply “get out of there!!”, it wasn’t the ‘looking’ but the ‘tarrying’ that caused her demise. Neither Lot, nor his family, it seemed, was in any hurry to get out of the place that had caused them to be distracted from holiness, taken captive, had Lot offer his daughters to animals and now the very real possibility of death.

The next part is pure speculation but much is written in these few chapters concerning Lot about possessions. They caused the quarrels in the first place with Abraham’s servants, they caused Lot’s family to move closer and closer to Sodom, eventually living inside. Even when they make their escape, what did they bring? Why was Lot’s wife already lagging behind? How hard was it for her to leave her ‘life’ behind?

Now the ‘pillar of salt’ I had to explain to my daughter carefully. Not a ‘statue’ as often depicted in children’s Bibles, like mine, no translation of the phrase ‘netziv‘  נְצִ֥יב מֶֽלַח׃ ‘ can be rendered as ‘statue’. If it were the case then it is likely that ‘Pesel’ (a graven image) or ‘Tammunah’ (a likeness) would almost certainly have been used.

Actually, this is where I get to have fun as a chemist! Now the text uses the phrase “..it rained down burning Sulfur..” (Genesis 19:26). This is unambiguous, in English and in Hebrew. It is a phrase used to describe a volcanic eruption. This is not conjecture either. Below is a picture of archaeological remains uncovered at Bab Edh Drah in modern Israel in 1979:

 

ash remains SodomWhat was uncovered over fifty years in this region of Israel were exactly five cities, replete with an abundance of “shaft tombs” where many thousand people were buried. Even some grapes in winepresses have been preserved in the desert dryness. What is more telling, however, is the thick layers of spongy ‘fly ash’ that is consistent with volcanic eruption and the multitude of unburied bodies (and parts thereof) at such sites, dated at the same time.

So, it appears that far from being a cautionary tale about obedience and sin, this event was history and volcanic in origin. So what of Lot’s wife? Well, she was a ‘Netziv’ of ‘salt’. When organisms burn that have internal skeletons, high proportions of proteins and meet a demise with very hot reductants like sulfur is the likelihood of an abundant of white ‘salts’ and ash, from oxides of potassium, calcium and an abundance of various nitrates.. all white and similar in appearance to table salt. See here a well preserved human specimen from pompei:

pompei man

So, can we suggest a similar demise for Lot’s wife? It is certainly possible. If she really did drag behind in the valley during an eruption then could she have ended up as a pile of inorganic ash & salts? Very likely.

What message is there for us, then? I find the most sobering part of this record that both parents were more consumed by the need to possess than the very safety of their family and, a very distant third, their pursuit of holiness in deference to a just and Holy God. Far from being genocide, this appears to be God’s patience, over a long period of time with the destruction of innocents finally stretched to breaking point. I think it is macabre irony that many adults met their death after centuries of passing their children through the fires of Moloch and storing their ashes on their thresholds by being burnt alive, many on the threshold of their own homes.

I often write that comfort is not good for us as people, or as Christians. God is merciful (note here that Lot’s family is certainly not worthy of saving but Abraham pleads for them) but if we pray for a ‘good day’, ‘safe passage’ and for ‘things to work out OK’ he will often, though not always, meet our request. However, we do well to toil, to labour, to find ourselves trusting in Him for our food, shelter and personal safety because we grow into resilient spiritual beings. Paul tells us we’d be mad to pray for suffering, though, ironically, it is how we become better in this fallen world. Certainly, though, we should be very careful about decisions made in the guise of some other ‘noble’ purpose that have the ulterior motive of making our families more comfortable, accumulating more ‘stuff’ and taking our eyes of those whom we apparently love on Earth more than anyone or anything else.