Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Twenty Commandments

Thanks to Marg Epp of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut for contributing these photos of autumn in the Arctic

The August 11, 2009 edition of Christian Century (page 9) includes a listing of “New Ten Commandments.” Credit is given to Peter K. Stevenson & Stephen I. Wright in Preaching for the Atonement (Westminster, John Knox). The ultimate source is said to be a poll by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, not a revelation on Mt. Sinai! There’s no indication regarding who was polled, or the question to which they were responding, but I imagine it was something like, “If God were to hand down Ten Commandments for our day, what would they be?”

I found the list fascinating enough to reproduce here:

1) Treat others as you would have them treat you.
2) Take responsibility for your actions.
3) Do not kill.
4) Be honest.
5) Do not steal.
6) Protect and nurture children.
7) Protect the environment.
8) Look after the vulnerable.
9) Never be violent.
10) Protect your family.

Graven images, covetousness, adultery, Sabbath observance don’t appear in this list, and neither does the honouring of father and mother; here father and mother are urged to protect and nourish their children. Interesting flip, what?

I’m not certain why there are 10 commandments Biblically, and not 7 or 12. The thought comes to mind, though, that those commandments attributed to Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai might be the 10 most important of all the many commandments we find in the Pentateuch.

Notably missing in the Christian Century list is any reference to God, whereas at the top of the original 10 is the recognition that there is but one God and that we are to worship none other than Yahweh. It may be a sign of the times that ethics today begin and end with a description of what constitutes morality in social interaction, and not what constitutes obedience to God.

On the other hand, when we were children, our behaviour was checked by the rules laid down for us and enforced by parents and teachers, but as we matured, it wasn’t those rules that guided us anymore, but rather our individual commitment to the principles to which those rules pointed.

If the law really is a schoolmaster, I would happily see the CC list renumbered 11 – 20 and added to the Moses list. What about you?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Just three guys with guns, full of piss and vinegar

(http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities-channel.htm and

You know the story: three guys stop at a pond in Saskatchewan and for a lark, take pot shots at the swimming ducks and ducklings. One of them records the action with his digital camera set on “movie” and, for some reason, posts the event on You Tube. With millions of witnesses, they are quickly and thoroughly busted and given heavy fines, are featured on the front page of the StarPhoenix and admit through eager media that it had been a bit of “stupid fun.”

This fall, men in camouflage suits will spend hundreds of dollars on equipment, travel, etc. for the thrill of sitting around the same pond and blasting migrating ducks out of the air with shotguns. That will win nods of approval because hunting seasons and licences will have made this massacre “legal,” and the shooters in this case will be responsible “sportsmen,” not young men having a bit of fun.

So here’s a quiz. The “general public” and the humane societies were so outraged by the actions of the three young men at Cudworth because:

a) their stupidity in putting an illegal act on You Tube puts the general sanity of the human race in doubt,
b) ducks on the water (and particularly ducklings) make this shooting an unfair contest as opposed to firing at them from a blind as they fly overhead,
c) deep down, we find the slaughter of animals abhorrent, especially when we’re confronted visually with the actual event, or
d) we’re jealous of the three men because we’re frustrated and have been taught to curb our natural instinct to get relief by exercising the “patience,hell! I’m gonna kill me something!” prerogative.

And while we’re at it, let’s ponder this scenario. A group of men are sitting in an ocean-side restaurant eating freshly caught lobster when they’re excitedly informed that their help is needed to rescue a beached dolphin just below the restaurant. They rush out and with great effort, return the hapless creature to deeper water. They’re back before their lobster is cold and they finish their meal, lean back and revel in their humanitarian achievement.

Upshot: if you want sympathy, you’d better be a good-looking mammal, not an ugly marine crustacean. And if a mammal, try not to be a steer, pig or sheep; better a kitten, puppy or pony (canned Dalmatian would fill us with the same revulsion we displayed for the three men at the pond).

Finally, I applaud the progress we’ve made in protecting humans and animals from needless suffering. I’m told that abusive men often practice their need-to-inflict-pain (sadism) on animals before graduating to fellow humans. Action against cruelty to animals, neglect of animal needs, etc. may be a small step toward a society in which the blatant hypocrisies inherent in “legal sport hunting” may become a cruelty of the past.

(I really enjoyed the cedar-plank salmon at a friend’s place last weekend. I admit it. I don’t want to think about it. Let’s change the subject.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why am I so afraid? -a book review

Delillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Penguin Books, 1985

326 pages
ISBN 0 14 00.7702 2

Jack Gladney teaches Hitler Studies at a small college in Blacksmith, USA. His best friend, Murray, plays Bildad the Shuhite to Gladney’s Job. Murray is a nominal Jew and is hoping to be the guru in an Elvis Presley Studies program. Gladney’s first son is “Heinrich,” so named because being a specialist in Hitler, Gladney is working with little success at being competent in German. Heinrich has a headful of technical information about everything from the chemical effluents that pervade the modern world to pop culture, which he shares like Elihu with his father and with anyone who will listen. He shouldn’t be confused with Hitler’s Himmler, overseer of the Holocaust.

White light is light that contains all the colours of the spectrum and could be called “all light.” So it is with “white noise.”

White noise is a type of noise that is produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. If you took all of the imaginable tones that a human can hear and combined them together, you would have white noise. (http://www.howstuffworks.com/question47.htm)

The white noise pervading Jack Gladney’s world is the sum of the pervasive cultural “hums” characterizing America in the 1980’s. Their sources are cued to the reader in the titles of the three parts of the novel: “Waves and Radiation,” “The Airborne, Toxic Event” and “Dylarama.” In part, these themes reflect the Cold War with its threat of death dealt from above and the multiplication of radio signals that pass through us, surround us and can’t be defended against. The upshot of Jack Gladney’s immersion in the white noise of his time is a pervasive, growing fear of death. It creeps up on him (like the Holocaust crept up on the Jews of Europe?) and becomes central to his life, as phobias tend to do.

Ergo, Part Three: “Dylarama.” Jack’s wife has found a possible remedy for the disease that afflicts her, the disease that results from prolonged exposure to the white noise. And it is—you guessed it—a pill. She “sells her soul to the devil” to get it, but discovers that it’s ineffective in quelling her fears. The principle of a prescription remedy, however, begins to preoccupy Jack; it becomes his obsession. There must be a medication to mitigate the fear that grips him. It is this obsession to which the action of the novel has been leading—a sad reflection on American culture asserts that we have become so preoccupied with developing a chemical solution to all our ills that we are blind to causes, to prevention. Our wants have become our needs.

DeLillo’s technique for rendering the pervasion of white noise is to randomize the “noises” that bombard us. Radios and TVs are on constantly, and the narrator (Jack; first person) attends briefly to random bits and pieces that zing through his consciousness. Short, intrusive bits of soap commercials, news items, song lyrics. Coffee conversations wander into realms of the absurd and the obscure. The effect is to render him deficient in controlling the “input” to which he is subject. He becomes a complete victim of the “white noise.”

Jack’s wife, Babette (do consider the symbolism in all of DeLillo’s names and events) is a runner, not surprisingly. Her daughter is obsessed with her mother’s lack of attention to sunscreen, but Babette has a theory about this:

“The worst rays are direct,” Babette said. “This means the faster a person is moving, the more likely she is to receive only partial hits, glancing rays, deflections . . . It’s all a corporate tie-in,” Babette said in summary. “The sunscreen, the marketing, the fear, the disease. You can’t have one without the other.”

So, was skin cancer invented as a marketing ploy by the manufacturers of sunscreen? This may represent the pertinent cultural question of the age in America. The aftermath of 911 makes DeLillo sound prophetic; fear is—in America—a marketing device. Commerce defines culture. Anything goes, as long as it sells.

White Noise may not have become the watershed novel that the cover tributes promised, but it remains one of the best renderings of the mood and effects of America’s decline into corporate consumerism. I daresay, readers today will find it more “to the point” than the readers of 1984 when it first appeared.

Read it.

And, by the way, it’s hilarious.