Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Tales From the Old New Land - Just War - Act II

(Sound of reaching for chips in a plastic bag, a match being lit, and a smoker taking puffs. Barasaus opens door, home from a vacation, the Dad doesn't get up to greet him.)

Barasaus: I'm home! Mom and Da... (Dad coughs on the weed from startlement) Dad are you OK?

Juliana: (recovered but out of breath) He's fine, we just didn't think you'd be home so early.

Barasaus: Wait, are you?... You're just eating falafel balls out of a bag!

Elagabulus: (about finished his cough) Anything wrong with that?

Barasaus: No... But can you open a window at least? The house wreaks of pot!

Juliana: This is the fourth century son, there are no windows.

Barasaus: Oh...

Juliana: I know we talked about not smoking weed in the house.

Elegabalus: We thought you wouldn't be home until prima noctis hora.

Juliana: We figured there was time to air out the house.

Elegabalus: And don't you Christians preach all that forgiveness stuff?

Barasaus: Father Theodosius says I need to work on forgiving you more.

Juliana: Oh wow!

Elagabalus: Y'know, until now he always seemed to me like an idiot.

Barasaus: You should listen to what he has to say sometime. You might find it helpful.

Elagabalus: What would be really helpful is if you got some more falafel from the cabinet.

Barasaus: Which cabinet?

Juliana: (annoyed) It's next to the hayat (balcony) underneath the chamber pot.

Barasaus: You really shouldn't keep it there.

Elagabalus: It's all going to the same place eventually.

Barasaus: Shammai says that if the place were more hygenic you'd be alot healthi...

Elagabalus: Shammai can suck it!

Barasaus: He's just trying to help.

Elagabalus: That sheeny can help by getting the hell out of my business.

Juliana: Shammai's the reason we still have a business!

Elagabalus: It's his business, not mine.

Barasaus: He's just trying to help you get on your feet again!

Elagabalus: With interest...

Juliana: I don't know why you're always so down on a guy who helped you stay open during seventeen different drought seasons.

Elagabalus: He didn't help us out of kindness.

Barasaus: What'd he do it for then?

Juliana: Don't say it.

Elagabalus: He wants to know.

Juliana: Alright Barasaus, get your father's shit falafels. (Barasaus goes into the other room)

(Elagabalus takes opportunity to smoke more pot)

Barasaus: (returning to the room) Do you want to hear about Antioch?!

Elagabalus: You'd tell us all about it anyway.

Juliana: We should hear about it.

Barasaus: It was so amazing!

Juliana: (indulgently) Of course it was...

Barasaus: So our youth group leader took us to the oldest cathedral in the Byzantine Empire! It was, like, fifty years old!

Juliana: That really is amazing.

Barasaus: It had a painting of Jesus healing the paralytic at Capaernum.

Juliana: Healing the what?

Barasaus: I told you about that! Jesus made a crippled man walk!

Juliana: Oh! That's right...

Elagabalus: And I suppose this guy turns water into wine too...

Barasaus: (interrupting) And a painting of the Three Marys at the Tomb of Jesus!

Elagabalus: Three what?

Barasaus: Three Mary's!

Juliana: Three Mary's?

Barasaus: Yeah...

Juliana: Three women? All named Mary?

Barasaus: Yeah.

Juliana: (interrupting, confused) You told us about two Mary's...

Elagabalus: The one who's the mother and the one who's the whore.

Barasaus: She's not a whore!

Elagabalus: Yeah but in a thousand year's they're gonna think so...

Barasaus: What?!?!?!

Elagabalus: Never mind.

Juliana: Of course we remember the conversation! You told us there are two Marys. We just wondered how the two most important women in your book can both be named Mary. So all your father did was ask if people ever got to thinking that maybe there was only one Mary, and people got confused because the story got told so many times.

Barasaus: It's not a story! If God says that Mary mother of God is not the same person as Mary Magdalene, then they're not the same person.

Juliana: Alright, if you say it's true it's true.

Elagabalus: And now you're telling us there's three!

Barasaus: Well,... actually...

Juliana: (low enough that only Elagabalus can hear it) Oh no...

Barasaus: There's five.

Elagabalus: FIVE?!?

Barasaus: The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus...

Elagabalus: (quasi-interrupting) Yeah, that's not weird....

Juliana: There's Mary Magdalene, who you both think is a whore, Mary of Jacob, mother of James the Less...

Elagabalus: And that's not a distinction you wanna have!....

Juliana: What is?

Elagabalus: Who wants to be known as the less of something?

Barasaus: Well, the other James was the brother of Jesus.

Elagabalus: So the virgin had another child?

Barasaus: She had at least four more: James, Joses, Jude, and Simon.

Elagabalus: So she didn't stay a virgin...

Barasaus: DAD!

Juliana: He's just saying that mothering the son of God seems like it would be a full time job.

Elagabalus: And he wasn't even the son of God until pretty recently.

Juliana: That's true. Your avus (grandfather) remembered when it happened! For three hundred years, people said he might be the son of God, he might just be the Messiah, isn't it enough to be the Messiah? Then, the Nicean Council happens.

Elagabalus: Two months and BAM! Christ the Messiah!

Barasaus: Is it too much to ask for you to be a little respectful of my beliefs?

Juliana: I'm just telling you how things used to be!

Elagabalus: Anyway, come on, I wanna hear more about these Marys.

Barasaus: OK. There's the Virgin Mary, there's Mary Magdalene... who you think is a whore, there's Mary of Jacob, mother of James the Less, then there's Mary of Cleopas.

Elagabalus: ...That's a stupid name.

Barasaus: Dad! Respect!

Juliana: Is Cleopas the town she's from?

Barasaus: No. Cleophas was either her husband or her father.

Elagabalus: Probably both. Those fucking Jews, they're all goddamn hicks.

Barasaus:  Don't swear Dad!

Elagabalus: Whatever.

Juliana: So what's Mary of Cleopas's claim to fame?

Barasaus: She doesn't really have one. She might just be Mary of Jacob.

Elagabalus: Oh, what a surprise.

Barasaus: What do you mean?

Juliana: Don't mind him. I'd like to know who the fifth Mary is.

Barasaus: Mary of Bethany.

Elagabalus: Was she married to Bethany?

Barasaus: Please stop this Dad.

Juliana: That can happen! You remember those two wives who left to live in Lesbos!

Barasaus: (suddenly angry) Women shouldn't marry other women!

Elagabalus: And I suppose my Christian son doesn't think men should lie with other men either. Typical liberal bullshit.

Barasaus: I can't deal with this!

Juliana: Son, your father has a reason for being mad. Remember when you told us that monogamy is what human beings are biologically programmed for?

Barasaus: Look, I just think you both should respect my choices.

Elagabalus: (really angry) We didn't throw you out when you told me you practice that thing, what did he call it? Ethical monogamy?

Juliana: It's alright. So our son only wants to marry one woman and thinks that sexuality and gender isn't fluid, it's not the end of the world. It's just that the world's changing and we're too old to understand it. Anyway, I want you to tell us about this Mary of Bethany.

Barasaus: I told you about Mary of Bethany!

Juliana: You didn't tell me what she did!

Barasaus: She's the sister of Lazarus.

Juliana: That's it?

Barasaus: No, that's not it.

Juliana: Good, I was beginning to worry that this religion of yours doesn't le women do anything at all....

Barasaus: Why is it so hard for you to be respectful!?

Juliana: I'm sorry son, you told me about Lazarus, he's the guy who rises from the dead.

Barasaus: He's the one which Jesus... (annoyedly sighs) Alright, yeah that's the one....

Elagabalus: (a little insistently) So what did she do?

Barasaus: She washed Jesus's feet with nard.

Elagabalus: The perfume???

Barasaus: Yeah.

Elagabalus: That's the most expensive perfume there is! She could have lived on that for a year!

Barasaus: (Angry) Alright that's it, I'm leaving.

Juliana: Son, don't leave.

Barasaus: (furious) Taat's exactly what Judas said!

Elagabalus: Judas must have had a good head for business.

Barasaus: (enraged) This is what I'm talking about! You always do this!

Juliana: What's he doing?

Barasaus: You always ask me questions about my religion just so you can make fun of the answers!

Juliana: What's wrong with fun?!?

Barasaus: I don't want to say any more about it because I'm really trying to respect you now.

Elagabalus: What's the point of showing respect?! All we're trying to do is have a good time and all you're tryin'a do is ruin it!

Barasaus: I don't want to have a good time!

Elagabalus: Well what the fuck do you want then?

Barasaus: I want your respect!

Juliana: But son, you have our respect!

Barasaus: Then why can't you show it?

Juliana: Barasaus Brutus Iovivus! You know perfectly well that your father wouldn't try to have fun with anybody he doesn't respect.

Barasaus: Mom, please forgive me for what I'm about to say.

Juliana: When have we ever stopped you from saying whatever you like?

Barasaus: (takes a beat to formulate his thought) What has having fun ever done for you? What did it ever do for avus or pro-avus (great-grandfather) or generations of the Iovivuses? For as long as anyone can remember, all you've done is gone around smoking hash, never farming enough to sell anything to anybody else, always cutting the work day short so you can take me down to the caupona (tavern) to listen whatever new Bouzouki jam band you love. You and Mom always picked up a different woman and had a threesome in the middle of your magic mushroom crops.

Elagabalus: Yeah, but that was a lot of fun?

Barasaus: I shouldn't have seen that!

Elagabalus: You should try that sometime! You might see what you're missing!

Barasaus: Alright, I'm going over to Shammai's.

Juliana: Come on Barasaus, stop this.... (tries to figure out what to say) What happened to you?! You were such a fun loving kid!

Barasaus: I'm sorry Mom! There's gotta be more than this! I want to believe that my life has a purpose. Well we can't all get satisfaction out of going a million pedes (Latin for footsteps) out of our way to Antioch for every music festival! Didn't you go to one last year where they burned some guy alive?

Elagabalus: (to Juliana) Well, we had to go to Burning Man at least once. (Juliana chuckles)

Barasaus: That's hardly the only time you've been at something like that. Think about how that guy felt! He was a living being, and now he's not one, some part of his spirit is divine too.

Juliana: Come on, son, you remember your solstice school teachings. Our sensations are how we know we're partly divine.

Barasaus: If the senses are how we're divine, then why do they feel pain?

Elagabalus: That's why we always give the sacrifices opium before we do them in!

Barasaus: Can't you hear the screaming? They're in agony!

Juliana: Sometimes, but a lot of people think that's part of the fun!

Barasaus: Dad, you remember that public mass execution you took me to when I was eleven and how I was crying the whole time? How could you sit there and enjoy that?

(long pause) 

Elagabalus: (sigh) Yeah, he never did like sports.

(Barasaus gasps)

Juliana: Come on, prisoners aren't like us. That would never be you.

Barasaus: They have souls just like we do!

Juliana: Alright, you were probably too young for that. I told your father that at the time. He's sorry about that. Really. Aren't you Elagabalus?... Aren't you? (hits his elbow)

Elagabalus: Alright, I'm sorry.

Juliana: He is, and I was sorry at the time, but is that enough reason to turn your back on everything your family believes in?

Barasaus: What do you believe in?!?

Juliana: ...Y'know, I know you never met your avia (grandmother), but she was a great lady. And she had this great saying that I don't think I ever told you about. It was so poetic. She would say: "And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine, let us eat...:

Barasaus: ..."let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Isaiah 22:13

Elagabaus: Oh my god he knows that!?

Barasaus: It's from the Christian Bible! And the verse before that is - 'And in that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth!' You were supposed to do the opposite!

Elagabalus: So your God wants us to be miserable? What kind of miserable God would allow that!

Barasaus: The real one!

Elagabalus: If this God is such an asshole, why don't you just worship a different God?

Barasaus: Well, if you must know, it's because of something Shammai said to me.

Juliana: (sighs, under her breath) Oh can that Heeb keep his big nose out of anything at all?!?


Tales from the Old New Land - Just War - New Act 1

(Eastern Orthodox plainchant sung in the background, or possibly Greek pipes - the ambience must have echo. Shammai and Barasaus are sitting in the pews of a church)

Shammai: (whispering to Barasaus): I just can't wait to hear John Crysostom, I hear he has a mouth of gold. (Barasaus doesn't respond) ...that's a joke... (Barasaus still doesn't respond) ...did you get it?... (no response from Barasaus) ...you didn't get it... (Barasaus is unresponsive) ...see, Chrysostomos means 'golden mouth' in Greek!... (Barasaus is silent) ...did you get it?... (without response) ...alright, be like that... (unresponsive) ...I can see you don't want to talk... (without response) ...it's OK... (still unresponsive) ...I understand this is an important day for you... (still no response from Barasaus) ...I felt this way too the first time I was in an enormous cathedral... (still Barasaus is silent) ...they're so enormous they inspire respect in you... ...it's amazing how they build temples forty feet high?... ...still, eventually you see so many that they all look the same... ...You should see the one in Palmyra... ...They have these arches that somehow go all the way around the door like a circle without falling down... ...Do you know where Palmyra is?... It's a week's walk from Damascus... ...It wasn't an easy walk but the Bedouin we hired knew what he was doing... ...unfortunately we all got diarrhea on the way there because the meat wasn't buried one night... ...(to himself) Where's the beef?... ...(to Barasaus) But the cathedral in Damascus was so inspiring that I almost had a Damascus Conversion... ...that's another joke... ...see, when Paul saw Je...

Barasaus: Shammai, hush. Chrysostom's about to speak!

(St. John Chrysostom is heard mounting the pulpit in the distance, and then speaks in a clarion voice that can carry through a huge space)

Chrysostom: It's all theater! It's all theater for them! Synagogue is no different than theater or brothel.

Shammai: (still whispering) I'll say....

Chrysostom:  They LIVE for their bellies.

Shammai: ...well I don't know about that... I'm not that fa....

Chrysostom: ....They only know how to fill their bellies and be drunk!

Shammai: Wait I've never been drunk in my life!... at least I don't think I have...

Chrysostom: When have you ever been frightened in a synagogue?

Shammai: He's never had to deal with Mrs. Schorr...

Chrysostom: That's because God's presence makes a place filled with fear. He has power over life and death. You go into a church and you remember the rivers of fire, the venomous worm, the bonds that cannot be burst. There is no room for welcoming in God's sanctuary!

Shammai: Gee, thanks a fuckton.

Chrysostom: Their synagogues are ridiculous, they're the churches of people who've been dishonored and condemned!

Shammai: Wait A MINUTE THIS IS ANTISEMITIC!

(twenty people around Shammai shush him)

Chrysostom: Look at the way they dress, look at how they look. Doesn't it frighten you?

Shammai: Didn't he just say that there's nothing frightening about us?

Chrysostom: Lack of fear is how the devils and hobgoblins find you, at the moments when you lack fear!

Shammai: This asshole just said that he's never afraid of us!

Chrysostom: Are you a friend to Jews then? Maybe you should do as they do, take off your shoes in this marketplace, and let people laugh at your indecency.

Shammai: Your loss assclown, walking barefoot is orthotic support for your feet!

Chrysostom: But you don't choose to do this because you're ashamed to share their outward appearance but not in their impiety. You who are only half a Christian.

Shammai: But I'm half a Christian! What the hell is wrong with that?

Barasaus: (whisper yelling) Shammai! Don't curse in a Church!

Chrysostom: The Jews sacrifice their children to Satan!

Shammai: Well that's just not true.

Chrysostom: The synagogue is a brothel, a den of scoundrels, the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults, a criminal assembly of Jews, a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, a gulf and abyss of perdition....

Shammai: There we go, another half-truth!

Chrysostom: The Jews have fallen into a condition lower than the vilest animals. Debauchery and drunkenness have brought them to the level of the lusty goat and the pig. They only know one thing: to satisfy their stomachs, to get drunk, to kill and beat each other up like stage villains and coachmen... I hate the Jews, because they violate the Law. I hate the Synagogue because it hates the Law and the Prophets. It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews.

Shammai: Alright I've had enough. When you're done here I'll be at the kebob stand across the street. (gets up to leave sounds of shifting around) Excuse me,... pardon me... I'm very sorry... Just trying to get to the chamber pot... terribly sorry... FUCKING ANTISEMITE! (slams side door)

Barasaus (to neighbor): I'm sure he didn't mean that.

When Facebook Becomes Blogging


Inside baseball post ahead:

In immediate retrospect, it seemed as inevitable as it was unexpected at first glance. But there's something about this that feels wrong. Not just that they barely know each other, but that Salonen is going to be expected to top what he did in LA, and there's no way he can. He was thirty when he took over in LA, he'll be sixty-three. We know exactly what Salonen can do, and as much as he's injected new life into music, he's as much the establishment as Michael Tilson Thomas. This is a 'continuity' pick. It'll be a good time for SF, better than we get elsewhere, but we're going to have to look elsewhere for the real innovations. There were lots of OK tenures recently: Gilbert in NY, Alsop here in Baltimore, Robertson in St. Louis, Spano in Atlanta. But ultimately it was all little league stuff, and even Alsop now looks to be winding down here in Baltimore. Nobody, not even Gilbert in NYC, found the money to really shake things up. Except for the now slightly diminished returns of left coast, the best place now for new innovations in America may soon be, of all places... Gianandrea Noseda in DC, Osmo Vanska in Minnesota, and (oy) Franz Welser-Most and Jaap van Zweden and Riccardo Muti in Cleveland and New York and Chicago, and clearly none of them are setting the bar high at all...

There are American orchestras who play trad rep better, but America's West Coast Orchestras are the places you go for revelations - completely unexpected concert experiences, new and forgotten music. In terms of who provides real and new revelations, nobody even comes close to LA and San Francisco. But things are already getting a little stale. For all the talk about how innovative the LA centennary season was, Dudamel is still doing mostly trad rep and Susanna Malkki is the conductor doing the heavy lifting as Principal Guest. From the little I've heard, she is well thought of in San Francisco too. She, not Salonen, was clearly the best candidate to take the next step in innovation. We need someone here who can make an entirely new mark. We have young 'trad' conductors like Dudamel and Nelsons and Nezet-Seguin. Nezet-Seguin is in his early 40's and already a dinosaur, clearly never interested in challenging anybody with anything he programs. At least the other two stars are doing some serious new music, but in terms of actual ideas, the organizations around them are clearly coming up with the ideas, and for them, contemporary music is purely a matter of career climbing.

And if not Malkki, there were tons of others who could make a real and entirely original mark if anybody gave them a chance. Did they even consider other modernists whose careers have been stymied by insisting on playing plenty of new music? They all can clearly make enough time in their schedules for this appointment should they be asked? Pablo Heras-Casado, Daniel Harding, Francois-Xavier Roth, Markus Stenz, Marc Albrecht, Ingo Metzmacher, Xian Zhang, Joanne Faletta, John Storgards, Hannu Lintu, Mikko Franck, Lodivic Morlot, Andrey Boreyko, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Michael Francis, Thierry Fischer, and so many others more interested in music than a celebrity career. If you're looking for them, the list is practically endless. And even now-veteran Americans like Gilbert and Robertson and Alsop and Spano. None of them ever got the chances or the budget they should have, and might be able to run rings with them. Every one of these names would have been an unprecedented opportunity to do something that's never been done before. Every one has different composers they champion, every one has different ideas. Insofar as anybody's paying attention, Europe is snapping up 90% of the most forward thinkers and we're getting stuck with the leavings. It's a feather in our cap to get Salonen back here, but it's nowhere near enough.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

ET: Almanac

When General Charles de Gaulle made his first trip to Russia, in the winter of 1944-45, he went to Stalingrad, site of the farthest advance and greatest defeat of the German army. In the First World War, de Gaulle had been wounded fighting against the Germans at Verdun and had been imprisoned by them for more than two years, and in the Second he was leader of the free French fighting them. Legend, with a proper touch of verisimilitude, has it that amid the ruins of Stalingrad he muttered to an aide, "Quel peuple!" The translator inquired, "You mean the Russians?" "No," said de Gaulle, "the Germans."

The general's lapidary judgement at that place of devastation says much about the German drama of the past century, which he grasped clearly. He was speaking of a "people" who between 1870 and 1939 had thrice attacked his country, whose power had corrupted and nearly destroyed historic Europe, and who were guilty of a genocidal crime unique in Europe's history. But he also knew that the German people had been prodigiously creative and that they would be indispensable for the postwar recovery of Europe. He grasped the deep ambiguity that hovers around German greatness.

This book records my experiences with the five Germanys that my generation has witnessed. I ws born into the German predicament that de Gaulle understood so well; I remember my parents' dismay at the slow death of the Weimar Republic during my early childhood and the swift establishment of National Socialist tyranny thereafter, a tyranny accepted by so many and opposed by so few. I remember their friends who were defiant defenders of democracy and who were defeated, some of them murdered, incarcerated, or exiled. Though I lived in National Socialist Germany for only five years, that brief period saddled me with the burning question that I have spent my professional life trying to answer: why and how did the universal potential for evil become an actuality in Germany?

Decades of study and experience have pursuaded me that the German roads to perdition, including National Socialism, were neither accidental nor inevitable. National Socialism had deep roots, and yet its growht could have been arrested. I was born into a world on the cusp of avoidable disaster. And I came to realize that no country is immune to the temptations of pseudo-religious movements of repression such as those to which Germany succumbed. The fragility of freedom is the simplest and deepest lesson of my life and work. And when an unvarnished picture of the past, always indispensable, seemed difficult, I recalled Ernst Reuter's great credo of 1913: "The faith of democracy rests on faith in history."

In my work as a historian in the postwar years, I was only intermittently aware of the ties between my life and my studies; fully committing myself to the historian's craft, I knew that while Clio allowed for many ways of serving her, all of them demanded a measure of detachment--enlivened, one hoped, by empathy and a disciplined imagination. I studied and taught the German past with American eyes and for American students and readers. But my full American life eventually came to ahve a vital German component, because as an American historian of Germany, I was drawn into German controversies about the past, which were roiling a defeated and divided nation, itself the principle battleground of the cold war. Perhaps I didn't quite anticipate that when one fully lives with the upheavals of one's own time--by turns destructive and uniquely constructive--one comes to see the past in new, more complex ways. Also, I realized more and more that the lessons I had learned about German history had a frightening relevance to the United States today. And gradually I acquired another German life, parallel and subordinate to my American life. I came to live in two worlds simultaneously, learning from both. Remnants of black-and-white thinking receded, and the past became a fabric of shifting colors.


Fritz Stern - The Five Germanys I Have Known

Monday, November 19, 2018

My Ninth Post at The Times of Israel

The Grand Illusion of the 21st Century

Either the best or the worst thing I've written in a while. It's much more complex to write about what you love than what you hate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Tales from the Old New Land - Just War - Act I - Revised

(Sound of reaching for chips in a plastic bag, a match being lit, and a smoker taking puffs. Son opens door, home from a vacation, the Dad doesn't getting up to greet him.)

Son: Hey Dad! (Dad coughs on the weed from startlement) Are you OK?

Dad: (recovered but out of breath) I'm fine, I just didn't think you'd be home so early.

Son: Wait, are you?... You're just eating falafel balls out of a bag!

Dad: Anything wrong with that?

Son: No... But can you open a window at least? The house wreaks of pot!

Dad: This is the fourth century, there are no windows.

Son: Oh...

Dad: I know we talked about my not smoking weed in the house, but I thought you wouldn't be home until prima noctis hora, so I figured there was time to air out the house. Besides, don't you Christians preach all that forgiveness stuff?

Son: Father Theodosius says I need to work on forgiving you more.

Dad: Y'know, until this moment he always seemed to me like an idiot.

Son: You should listen to what he has to say sometime. You might find it helpful.

Dad: What would be really helpful is if you got some more falafel from the cabinet.

Son: Which cabinet?

Dad: It's in the hayat (balcony) underneath the chamber pot.

Son: You really shouldn't keep it there.

Dad: It's all going to the same place eventually.

Son: Shammai says that if the place were more hygenic you'd be alot healthi...

Dad: Shammai can suck it!

Son: He's just trying to help.

Dad: That sheeny can help by getting the hell out of my business.

Son: Come on Dad, sheeny won't be a slur for another fifteen hundred years, and Shammai's the reason you still have a business!

Dad: It's his business, not mine.

Son: He's just trying to help you get on your feet!

Dad: With interest...

Son: I don't know why you're always so down on a guy who helped you stay open during seventeen different drought seasons.

Dad: He's didn't help me out of kindness.

Son: What'd he do it for then?

Dad: Mo...

Son: Don't say it!

Dad: You were the one who asked.

Son: Alright, let me get your shit falafels. (goes into the other room)

Dad: (takes opportunity to smoke)

Son: (returning to the room) Don't you want to hear about my vacation?!

Dad: You'd tell me all about it anyway.

Son: It was so amazing!

Dad: (interrupting) Of course it was!

Son: So our youth group leader took us to the oldest cathedral in the Byzantine Empire! It was, like, fifty years old!

Dad: (bored) That really is amazing.

Son: It had a painting of Jesus healing the paralytic at Capaernum.

Dad: Healing the what?

Son: I told you about that! Jesus made a crippled man walk!

Dad: Oh! That's right... And I suppose this guy turns water into wine too...

Son: (interrupting) And a painting of the Three Marys at the Tomb of Jesus!

Dad: Three what?

Son: Three Mary's!

Dad: Three Mary's?

Son: Yeah?

Dad: Three women? All named Mary?

Son: Yeah.

Dad: (interrupting) You told me about two Mary's, the one who's the mother and the one who's the whore.

Son: She's not a whore!

Dad: Yeah but in a thousand year's they're gonna think so...

Son: What?!?!?!

Dad: Never mind. Anyway, of course I remember the conversation. You told me there are two Marys. And I wondered how the two most important women in your book can both be named Mary. So I asked if people ever got to thinking that maybe there was only one Mary, and people got confused because the story got told so many times?

Son: If God says that Mary mother of God is not the same person as Mary Magdalene, then they're not the same person.

Dad: And now you're telling me there's three?

Son: Well,... actually there's five.

Dad: FIVE?!?

Son: The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus...

Dad: (quasi-interrupting) Yeah, that's not weird....

Son: Mary Magdalene, who you think is a whore, Mary of Jacob, mother of James the Less...

Dad: That's not a distinction you wanna have....

Son: What is?

Dad: Who wants to be known as the less of something?

Son: Well, the other James was the brother of Jesus.

Dad: Wait, so the virgin had another child?

Son: She had at least four more: James, Joses, Jude, and Simon.

Dad: So she didn't stay a virgin...

Son: DAD!

Dad: I'm just saying, you'd think that mothering the son of God would be a full time job. And he wasn't even the son of God until pretty recently. Your avus (grandfather) remembered when it happened! Three hundred years, he might be the son of God, he might just be the Messiah, isn't it enough to be the Messiah? Then, the Nicean Council happens, two months, BAM! Christ the Messiah!

Son: Is it too much to ask for you to ever be a little respectful?

Dad: I'm just telling you how good things used to be! Anyway, I want to hear more about these Marys.

Son: OK. There's the Virgin Mary, there's Mary Magdalene who you think is a whore, there's Mary of Jacob, mother of James the Less, then there's Mary of Cleopas.

Dad: ...That's a stupid name.

Son: Dad! Respect!

Dad: Is Cleopas the town she's from?

Son: No. Cleophas was either her husband or her father.

Dad: Probably both. Those fucking Jews, they're all goddamn hicks.

Son:  Don't swear Dad!

Dad: Whatever. And what's the venerable Mary of Cleopas's claim to fame?

Son: She doesn't really have one. She might just be Mary of Jacob.

Dad: Oh, what a surprise.

Son: What do you mean?

Dad: Go on, I want to know who the fifth Mary is.

Son: Mary of Bethany.

Dad: Was she married to Bethany?

Son: Please stop this Dad.

Dad: It can happen! You heard about those two wives who went to Lesbos!

Son: Women shouldn't be marrying other women!

Dad: And I suppose my Christian son doesn't think men should lie with other men either. Typical liberal bullshit. Next thing you know, revolutionaries like you are telling us that monogamy is what human beings are biologically programmed for.

Son: Look, Dad, I just think you should respect my choices.

Dad: I didn't throw you out when you told me you practice that thing, what did you call it? Ethical monogamy? ...Alright, so my son only wants to marry one woman and thinks that sexuality and gender is not fluid, it's not the end of the world, it's just that the world's changing and I'm too old to understand it. Anyway, back to this Mary of Bethany thing.

Son: I told you about Mary of Bethany!

Dad: You didn't tell me what she did! That is, if this religion of yours lets women do anything at all.

Son: She's the sister of Lazarus.

Dad: That guy who rises from the dead.

Son: The one which Jesus... (annoyed) Yeah that's the one....

Dad: (a little insistently) And what did she do?

Son: She washed Jesus's feet with nard.

Dad: The perfume???

Son: Yeah.

Dad: That's the most expensive perfume there is! She could have lived on that for a year!

Son: (Angry) Alright that's enough Dad, that's exactly what Judas said!

Dad: Judas must have had a good head for business.

Son: This is what I'm talking about! You always do this!

Dad: Do what?

Son: You always ask me questions just so you can make fun of the answers!

Dad: What's wrong with fun?!?

Son: I don't want to say any more about it because I'm really trying to respect you now.

Dad: What's the point of showing respect?! All I'm trying to do is have a good time with you and all you want to do is ruin it!

Son: I don't want to have a good time!

Dad: Well what do you want then?

Son: I want your respect!

Dad: You have my respect!

Son: Then why can't you show it?

Dad: I wouldn't try to have fun with anybody I don't respect.

Son: Dad, please forgive me for what I'm about to say.

Dad: A blessing on your house, my son. Say whatever you like?

Son: What has having fun ever done for you? What did it ever do for avus or pro-avus (great-grandfather) or generations of the Iovivuses before us? For as long as anyone can remember, all we've done is gone around smoking hash, never farming enough to sell anything to anybody else, always cutting the work day short so you can take me down to the tavern to listen whatever new Bouzouki jam band you love. You and Mom always picked up a different woman and had a threesome in the middle of your magic mushroom crops.

Dad: Yeah, but wasn't it a lot of fun?  You should try all that sometime! You might see what you're missing.

Son: Alright, I'm going over to Shammai's.

Dad: Come on son, stop this.... (tries to figure out what to say) What happened to you?! You were such a fun loving kid!

Son: I'm sorry Dad! I want more! I want to believe that my life has a purpose. Well we can't all get satisfaction out of going a million pedes (Latin for footsteps) out of our way from us to every music festival! Didn't you go to one last year where they burned some guy alive?

Dad: Come on. I had to go to Burning Man at least once.

Son: That's hardly the only time you've been at something like that. But think about how that guy felt! He was a living being, and now he's not one, some part of him might have been a divine too, and getting rid of that divine part of him probably caused him enormous pain.

Dad: That's why we always give the sacrifices opium before we do them in!

Son: Can't you hear the screaming?

Dad: Sometimes, but that's part of the fun!

Son: Well if you really want to know, it was that public mass execution you took me to when I was eleven. Once I saw that, I never wanted to be part of that again.

Dad: (sigh) Yeah, you were never as into sports as your brothers. And you were probably too young to see that. I'm sorry about that, really I am, but is that enough reason to turn your back on everything your family believes in?

Son: What do you believe in?!?

Dad: ...Y'know, I know you never met your avia (grandmother), but she was a great lady. And she had this great saying that I don't think I ever told you about. It was so poetic. She would say: "And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine, let us eat...:

Son: ..."let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Isaiah 22:13

Dad: Oh my god you know that!?

Son: That's from the Christian Bible! And the verse before that is - 'And in that daay did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth!' You were supposed to do the opposite.

Dad: So your Lord God wants you to be miserable? What kind of miserable God would allow that!

Son: The real one!

Dad: If this God is such an asshole, why don't you just worship a different God?

Son: Well, if you must know, it's because of something Shammai said to me.

Dad: Oh can that fucking Heeb keep his huge nose out of anything at all?!?

--------------------------------------


My Seventh Post in the Times of Israel

The Cleese Test

Monday, November 12, 2018

Tales from the Old New Land - Just War - Act I

(Sound of reaching for chips in a plastic bag, a match being lit, and a smoker taking puffs. Son opens door, home from a vacation, the Dad doesn't getting up to greet him.)

Son: Hey Dad! (Dad coughs on the weed from startlement) Are you OK?

Dad: (recovered but out of breath) I'm fine, I just didn't think you'd be home so early.

Son: Wait, are you?... You're just eating falafel balls out of a bag!

Dad: Anything wrong with that?

Son: No... But can you open a window at least? The house wreaks of pot!

Dad: This is the fourth century, there are no windows.

Son: Oh...

Dad: I know we talked about my not smoking weed in the house, but I thought you wouldn't be home until prima noctis hora, so I figured there was time to air out the house. Besides, don't you Christians preach all that forgiveness shit?

Son: Father Theodosius says I need to work on forgiving you more.

Dad: That idiot is absolutely right!

Son: Don't you want to hear about my vacation?!

Dad: You'd tell me all about it anyway.

Son: It was so amazing!

Dad: Of course it was!

Son: Our youth group leader took us to the oldest cathedral in the Byzantine Empire! It was, like, fifty years old!

Dad: (bored) Sounds amazing.

Son: It had a painting of Jesus healing the paralytic at Capaernum.

Dad: Healing the what?

Son: I told you about that! Jesus made a crippled man walk!

Dad: Oh! That's right...

Son: And a painting of the Three Marys at the Tomb of Jesus!

Dad: Three what?

Son: Three Mary's!

Dad: Three Mary's?

Son: Yeah?

Dad: Three women? All named Mary?

Son: Yeah.

Dad: (interrupting) You told me about two Mary's, the one who's the mother and the one who's the whore.

Son: She's not a whore!

Dad: Yeah but in a thousand year's they're gonna think so...

Son: What?!?!?!

Dad: Never mind. Anyway, of course I remember the conversation.   you told me there are two Marys. And I wondered how the two most important women in your book can both be named Mary. So I asked if people ever got to thinking that maybe there was only one Mary, and people got confused because the story got told so many times?

Son: If God says that Mary mother of God is not the same person as Mary Magdalene, then they're not the same person.

Dad: And now you're telling me there's three?

Son: Well,... actually there's five.

Dad: FIVE?!?

Son: The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus...

Dad: (quasi-interrupting) Yeah, that's not weird....

Son: Mary Magdalene, who you think is a whore, Mary of Jacob, mother of James the Less...

Dad: That's not a distinction you wanna have....

Son: What is?

Dad: Who wants to be known as the less of something?

Son: Well, the other James was the brother of Jesus.

Dad: Wait, so the virgin had another child?

Son: She had at least four more: James, Joses, Jude, and Simon.

Dad: So she didn't stay a virgin...

Son: DAD!

Dad: I'm just saying, you'd think that mothering the son of God would be a full time job. And he wasn't even the son of God until pretty recently. Your avus (grandfather) remembered when it happened! Three hundred years, he might be the son of God, he might just be the Messiah, isn't it enough to be the Messiah? Then, the Nicean Council happens, two months, boom! Christ the Messiah!

Son: Is it too much to ask to be a little respectful?

Dad: I'm just telling you how good things used to be! Anyway, I want to hear more about these Marys.

Son: OK. There's the Virgin Mary, there's Mary Magdalene who you think is a whore, there's Mary of Jacob, mother of James the Less, then there's Mary of Cleopas.

Dad: ...That's a stupid name.

Son: Dad! Respect!

Dad: Is Cleopas the town she's from?

Son: No. Cleophas was either her husband or her father.

Dad: Probably both. Those fucking Jews, they're all goddamn hicks.

Son:  Don't swear Dad!

Dad: Whatever. And what's the venerable Mary of Cleopas's claim to fame?

Son: She doesn't really have one. She might just be Mary of Jacob.

Dad: Oh, what a surprise.

Son: What do you mean?

Dad: Go on, I want to know who the fifth Mary is.

Son: Mary of Bethany.

Dad: Was she married to Bethany?

Son: Please stop this Dad.

Dad: It can happen! You heard about those two wives who went to Lesbos!

Son: Women shouldn't be marrying other women!

Dad: And I suppose my Christian son doesn't think men should lie with other men either. Typical progressive nonsense. Next thing you know, revolutionaries like you are telling us that monogamy is what human beings are biologically programmed for.

Son: Look, Dad, I just think you should respect my choices.

Dad: I didn't throw you out when you told me you practice ethical monogamy. So my son only wants to marry one woman and thinks that sexuality and gender is not fluid, it's not the end of the world, it's just that the world is changing and I'm too old to understand it. So now back to this Mary of Bethany thing.

Son: I told you about Mary of Bethany!

Dad: You didn't tell me what she did! That is, if this religion of yours lets women do anything at all.

Son: She's the sister of Lazerus.

Dad: That guy who rises from the dead.

Son: The one which Jesus... (annoyed) Yeah that's the one....

Dad: (a little insistently) And what did she do?

Son: She washed Jesus's feet with nard.

Dad: The perfume???

Son: Yeah.

Dad: That's the most expensive perfume there is! She could have lived on that for a year!

Son: (Angry) Alright that's enough Dad, that's exactly what Judas said!

Dad: Judas must have had a good head for business.

Son: This is what I'm talking about! You always do this!

Dad: Do what?

Son: You always ask me questions just so you can make fun of the answers!

Dad: What's wrong with fun?!?

Son: I don't want to say any more about it because I'm really trying to respect you now.

Dad: What's the point of showing respect?! All I'm trying to do is have a good time with you and all you want to do is ruin it!

Son: I don't want to have a good time!

Dad: Well what do you want then?

Son: I want your respect!

Dad: You have my respect!

Son: Then why can't you show it?

Dad: I wouldn't try to have fun with anybody I don't respect.

Son: Dad, please forgive me for what I'm about to say.

Dad: Of course. A blessing on your house, my son.

Son: What has having fun ever done for you? What did it ever do for avus or pro-avus (great-grandfather) or generations of the Iovivus clan before us? For as long as anyone can remember, all we've done is gone around smoking hash, never farming enough to sell anything to anybody else, always cutting the work day short so you can take me down to the tavern to listen whatever new Bouzouki jam band you love, always picking up a different woman and feeding her your so you can screw her in the middle of your magic mushroom crops. Well we can't all get satisfaction out of going a million pedes (footsteps) out of our way to every music festival from us! Didn't you go to one last year where they burned some guy alive?

Dad: Yeah, but wasn't it a lot of fun? What happened?! You were such a fun loving kid!

Son: I'm sorry Dad! I want more! I want to believe that my life has a purpose. Well we can't all get satisfaction out of going a million pedes (Latin for footsteps) out of our way from us to every music festival! Didn't you go to one last year where they burned some guy alive?

Dad: Come on. I had to go to Burning Man at least once.

Son: That's hardly the only time you've been at something like that. But think about how that guy felt! He was a living being, and now he's not one, some part of him might have been a godly part too, and you probably killed that god part of him with enormous pain.

Dad: That's why we always give the sacrifices opium before we do them in!

Son: Can't you hear the screaming?

Dad: Sometimes, but that's part of the fun!

Son: Well if you really want to know, it was that public mass execution you took me to when I was eleven. Once I saw that, I never wanted to be part of that again.

Dad: (sigh) Yeah, you were never as into sports as your brothers. And you were probably too young to see that. I'm sorry about that, really I am, but is that enough reason to turn your back on everything your family believes in?

Son: What do you believe in?!?

Dad: ...Y'know, I know you never met your avia (grandmother), but she was a great lady. And she had this great saying that I don't think I ever told you about. It was so poetic. She would say: "And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine, let us eat...:

Son: ..."let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Isaiah 22:13

Dad: What?

Son: That's from the Christian Bible! And the verse before that is - 'And in that daay did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth!' You were supposed to do the opposite.

Dad: So your Lord God wants you to be miserable? What kind of miserable God would allow that!

Son: The real one!

Dad: If this God is such an asshole, why don't you just worship a different God?

Son: Well, if you must know, it's because of something Shammai said to me.

Dad: Oh can that fucking Jew keep his nose out of anything at all?!?

--------------------------------------



Saturday, November 10, 2018

Tales from the Old New Land: Episode 1 - Just War - More of the Beginning

(Sound of reaching for chips in a plastic bag, a match being lit, and a smoker taking puffs. Son opens door, home from a vacation, the Dad doesn't getting up to greet him.)

Son: Hey Dad! (Dad coughs on the weed from startlement) Are you OK?

Dad: (recovered but out of breath) I'm fine, I just didn't think you'd be home so early.

Son: Wait, are you?... You're just eating falafel balls out of a bag!

Dad: Anything wrong with that?

Son: No... But can you open a window at least? The house wreaks of pot!

Dad: This is the fourth century, there are no windows.

Son: Oh...

Dad: I know we talked about my not smoking weed in the house, but I thought you wouldn't be home until prima noctis hora, so I figured there was time to air out the house. Besides, don't you Christians preach all that forgiveness shit?

Son: Father Theodosius says I need to work on forgiving you more.

Dad: That idiot is absolutely right!

Son: Don't you want to hear about my vacation?!

Dad: You'd tell me all about it anyway.

Son: It was so amazing!

Dad: Of course it was!

Son: Our youth group leader took us to the oldest baptistry chapel in the Byzantine Empire! It was, like, fifty years old!

Dad: (bored) Sounds amazing.

Son: It had a painting of Jesus healing the paralytic at Capaernum.

Dad: Healing the what?

Son: I told you about that! Jesus made a crippled man walk!

Dad: Oh! That's right...

Son: And a painting of the Three Marys at the Tomb of Jesus!

Dad: Three what?

Son: Three Mary's!

Dad: Three Mary's?

Son: Yeah?

Dad: Three women? All named Mary?

Son: Yeah.

Dad: (interrupting) You told me about two Mary's, the one who's the mother and the one who's the whore.

Son: She's not a whore!

Dad: Yeah but in a thousand year's they're gonna think so...

Son: What?!?!?!

Dad: Never mind. Anyway, you told me there are two Marys, and now you're telling me there's three?

Son: Well,... actually there's five.

Dad: FIVE?!?

Son: The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus...

Dad: (quasi-interrupting) Yeah, that's not weird....

Son: Mary Magdalene, who you think is a whore, Mary of Jacob, mother of James the Less...

Dad: That's not a distinction you wanna have....

Son: What is?

Dad: Who wants to be known as the less of something.

Son: Well, the other James was the brother of Jesus.

Dad: Wait, so the virgin had another child?

Son: She had at least four more: James, Joses, Jude, and Simon.

Dad: So she didn't stay a virgin...

Son: DAD!

Dad: I'm just saying, you'd think that mothering the son of God would be a full time job. And he wasn't even the son of God until pretty recently. Your avus (grandfather) remembered when it happened! Three hundred years, he might be the son of God, he might just be the Messiah, isn't it enough to be the Messiah? Then, the Nicean Council happens, two months, boom! Christ the Messiah!

Son: Is it too much to ask to be a little respectful?

Dad: I'm just telling you how good things used to be! Anyway, I want to hear more about these Marys.

Son: OK. There's the Virgin Mary, there's Mary Magdalene who you think is a whore, there's Mary of Jacob, mother of James the Less, there's Mary of Cleopas.

Dad: ...That's a stupid name.

Son: Dad!

Dad: Is Cleopas the town she's from?

Son: No. Cleophas was either her husband or her father.

Dad: Probably both. Those fucking Jews, they're all goddamn hicks.

Son: Dad! Don't swear!

Dad: Whatever. And what's the venerable Mary of Cleopas's claim to fame?

Son: She doesn't really have one. She might just be Mary of Jacob.

Dad: Oh, what a surprise.

Son: What do you mean?

Dad: Go on, I want to know who the fifth Mary is.

Son: Mary of Bethany.

Dad: Was she married to Bethany?

Son: Dad! Stop!

Dad: It can happen! You heard about those two wives who went to Lesbos!

Son: Women shouldn't be marrying other women!

Dad: And I suppose my Christian son doesn't think men should lie with other men either. Typical progressive nonsense. Next thing you know, revolutionaries like you are telling us that monogamy is what human beings are biologically programmed for.

Son: Look, Dad, I just think you should respect my choices.

Dad: I didn't throw you out. So my son only wants to marry one woman and thinks that sexuality and gender is not fluid, it's not the end of the world, it's just that the world is changing and I'm too old to understand it. So back to this Mary of Bethany thing.

Son: I told you about Mary of Bethany!

Dad: You didn't tell me what she did! That is, if this religion of yours lets women do anything at all.

Son: She's the sister of Lazerus.

Dad: That guy who rises from the dead.

Son: The one which Jesus... (annoyed) Yeah that's the one....

Dad: (a little insistently) And what did she do?

Son: She washed Jesus's feet with nard.

Dad: The perfume???

Son: Yeah.

Dad: That's the most expensive perfume there is! She could have lived on that for a year!

Son: (Angry) Alright that's enough Dad, that's exactly what Judas said!

Dad: He must have had a good head for business.

Son: This is what I'm talking about! You always do this!

Dad: Do what?











--------------------------------------



Dad: You ever get to thinking that there's a slight chance that there was only one Mary, and people got confused because the story got told so many times?






Dad: This whole Jesus thing of yours is really obnoxious.

Son: Well we can't all get satisfaction out of going a million pedes (Latin for footsteps) out of our way to every music festival from us! Didn't you go to one last year where they burned some guy alive?

Dad: Come on. I had to go to Burning Man at least once.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Tales from the Old New Land Reboot - Tale 1 - Just War - A Very Little More

(Sound of reaching for chips in a plastic bag, a match being lit, and a smoker taking puffs. Son opens door, home from a vacation, the Dad doesn't getting up to greet him.)

Son: Hey Dad! (Dad coughs on the weed from startlement) Are you OK?

Dad: (recovered but out of breath) I'm fine, I just didn't think you'd be home so early.

Son: Wait, are you?... You're just eating falafel balls out of a bag!

Dad: Anything wrong with that?

Son: No... But can you open a window at least? The house wreaks of pot!

Dad: This is the fourth century, there are no windows.

Son: Oh...

Dad: I know we talked about my not smoking weed in the house, but I thought you wouldn't be home until prima noctis hora, so I figured there was time to air out the house. Besides, don't you Christians preach all that forgiveness shit?

Son: It's OK. Father Theodosius says I need to work on forgiving you more.

Dad: That idiot is absolutely right!

Son: Don't you want to hear about my vacation?!

Dad: You'll tell me all about it anyway.

Son: Oh it was so amazing! Our youth group leader took us to the oldest baptistry chapel in the Byzantine Empire! It was fifty years old!

Dad: (bored) Sounds amazing.

Son: It had a painting of Jesus healing the paralytic at Capaernum.

Dad: Healing the what?

Son: I told you about that! Jesus made a crippled man walk!

Dad: Oh, that's right!

Son: And a painting of the three Marys at the tomb of Jesus!

Dad: Three what?

Son: Three Mary's!

Dad: Three women? All named Mary?

Son: Yeah.

Dad: I mean... don't you think it's a little weird?

Son: What?

Dad: ...That they all had the same name?

Son: No... (considering) Not really... (faith comes back to him) No!

Dad: You ever get to thinking that there's a slight chance that there was only one Mary, and people got confused because the story got told so many times?

Son: I have no idea what you're talking about.

Dad: Who were these Mary's?

Son: Mary, mother of Jesus.

Dad: OK, so far, so good.

Son: Mary Magdalene, the


--------------------------------------



Dad: This whole Jesus thing of yours is really obnoxious.

Son: Well we can't all get satisfaction out of going a million pedes (Latin for footsteps) out of our way to every music festival from us! Didn't you go to one last year where they burned some guy alive?

Dad: Come on. I had to go to Burning Man at least once.

Tales from the Old New Land (Reboot) - Episode 1 - Just War - Very Beginning

(Son opens door, home from a vacation, the Dad doesn't getting up to greet him.)

Son: Hey Dad! (no response) Aren't you going to give me a hug?

Dad: You're not going anywhere...

Son: Wait, are you?... You're just eating falafel balls out of a bag!

Dad: Anything wrong with that?

Son: No... But can you open a window at least? The house wreaks of pot!

Dad: This is the fourth century, there are no windows.

Son: Oh... Aren't you going to ask me about my vacation?

Dad: You'll tell me all about it anyway.

Son: Oh it was amazing! We went to





--------------------------------------



Dad: This whole Jesus thing of yours is really obnoxious.

Son: Well we can't all get satisfaction out of going a million pedes (Latin for footsteps) out of our way to every music festival from us! Didn't you go to one last year where they burned some guy alive?

Dad: Come on. I had to go to Burning Man at least once.


My Third Post for the Times of Israel

Daniel Barenboim's Orchestra

My Second Post at Times of Israel

The Imminent Decline of Pikesville

Friday, November 2, 2018

When Facebook Becomes Blogging


I may be the only person in the world personally affected by this who is not involved in it (and I suppose that's the reason it's happening), but this labor dispute at the BSO is a tragedy. The management is saying that there isn't enough money to keep the Baltimore Symphony a full-time orchestra. At the end of this, the BSO may be demoted from a 'major American orchestra', a term used to mean a full-time one, to a 'minor', part time one. The best musicians will start applying elsewhere where they can make more money and work more, and that will push off more potential donors.

In a few years, anybody else who cares will have died. If you explained to anybody under the age of 70 that classical music was literally the soundtrack of daily life for everybody who is now over seventy, hardly anyone would believe you. It seems so completely distant from today's life that it must have disappeared overnight. But how have all these symphony orchestras kept going for so long? When I was a kid, it was three orchestral concerts in Baltimore every week, nearly all of them sold out. 50% of the people who went back then are clearly dead now, and a good half of the ones left seem barely able to walk. Twenty years before I was born, the Philadelphia Orchestra would come to Baltimore and do an entire mini-season of concerts at the Lyric Opera House.

If the musicmaking weren't so great, the BSO would be the most depressing place in Baltimore. But the BSO is not the most depressing place in Baltimore, it is the best thing about living in Baltimore. I'm single and eccentric, so I go out of my way to go to a lot of orchestral concerts far afield. And I often wonder why I do, because on any given week, the BSO may outplay every orchestra until you get as far afield as Pittsburgh. But i's the BSO who gave me the passion for this music. Perhaps its a paradox, but the very fact of the precariousness of the arts in second-tier cities like Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Cleveland means that the practitioners have to bring their A-game every week or else there will be no audience at all. And, of course, there may be no audience even so.

I may be alone in my generation in believing that high culture is at all important. It is obviously far from what's most important in the world; and there are hundreds of issues at stake right now which are far more important than events like this. And long before the crises of the last few years emerged, there were millions of Americans who believed that high culture is just a more pompous form of what popular culture gives us much more directly. Even a lot of classical musicians believe that today, and I suppose there was a time when even I believed that myself, or at least tried to convince myself that it was true. But whatever you believe about it, classical music is an unbroken tradition which has existed for hundreds of years and it is dying out. Dying is the most inevitable part of nature, and eventually comes for everybody and everything, but the greatest reason to immerse yourself in the arts is that it's the only proof we have that anything at all defies the cycle of nature. It takes you to places and eras and worlds which you never would be able to imagine yourself without them. The loss of something like this is like a fire at the BMA or the Walters - hundreds of paintings and architectural artifacts that are completely unique and reach to us across centuries and let us commune with the ambitions and yearnings of people and places long dead. It only takes an instant to destroy all that uniqueness which has lived for centuries, and once erased, you can never get it back.

All artists have ever wanted to do is make your lives more joyful, more meaningful, more beautiful. It's almost a cliche that Americans don't like the high arts, which we perceive as something elitist, and that Americans don't like history, the lessons of which we perceive as not applying to us. But it would seem of late that we're drawing closer and closer to learning that the lessons of history still very much apply here. If America lets things this beautiful die, how much else can it allow to die?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

I often come to shul late. There's nothing in the Shmoneh Esrei or Ashrei that Hashem hadn't heard from me last week. One eighty-something friend of my Bubbie's has gossiped on more than one occasion about how disrespectful she finds it. But unfortunately my tendency to come late to shul paid off this morning. Nobody at my synagogue knew yet. When I got there, the Rabbi was nearing the end of a sermon that was already about political violence. I whispered what happened to the Rabbi's wife (a Rabbi herself), and she went up to the pulpit to tell him. When he broke the news I watched as a number of congregants dissolved into tears.
At its core, Judaism is not a religion of belief. Faith, or 'emunah' as we call it, certainly exists in Judaism, but Judaism was formed before the Classical era from the best scientific knowledge anybody had in 1000 BC, so there isn't as much of a leap of faith Jews need to make. The Tanakh, or the "Old Testament" has very little to say about the transcendent realms of Hashem and his celestial dominion. The core of Judaism is not in belief but tactile, about rituals and customs. One of the most well-known aphorisms of the religion is 'na'aseh v'nishma.' "Do first, understand later." I go to shul because it's as inborn as a bird flying south. It's just what Jews do. Needing a critical justification for your worldview is a very Western concept. Jewish theological texts are as voluminous as Christian and generated by a tiny people, but the bulk of it is not theological justifications or mystical speculations, it's simple legalistic rulings about the best way to properly interpret our oh so many weird laws and customs.
Had I not played music, I wouldn't have ever known a single gentile remotely well until I was sixteen. I spent my twenties trying to be as secular as I could, only to find myself changing the subject at every opportunity to the bizarre tales of what it was like to grow up in the most uniformly Jewish town in America. What else did I ever have to talk about? Eventually, I just decided it was better to just 'eat the bagels.' Meet some Jews again who were Jewish in more than just extraction, and talk the ins and outs of this strange faith into which fate deposited us with people who already knew what it was.
I do remain a God-skeptic, and even were I a believer, how can anybody love a god that allows the world to come to this? But my father always put his creed like this: "There is no God, and He gave us the Torah at Mt. Sinai." I didn't quite understand it growing up, but as I got a bit older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I watched over and over again as friends who had renounced religion fell into religions of their own, sometimes actual traditional religions, more often political religions, and because they had no experience of growing up in a system of beliefs from which they had no critical distance, they fell into their beliefs with such fervor that when their pet causes came up, it was as though their personalities had left them and they answered with pre-programmed responses that were not their own thoughts. Seventy-two years ago, my father was the first Jewish baby born after the Holocaust in the city of Bialystok, possibly in all of Poland. My grandparents survived both Stalin and Hitler, they knew very well what happens when people take leave of their critical faculties, and yet they elected to remain Jewish. When my father was born, other Jews told them not to give him a bris because God had abandoned them. But they gave a bris anyway, and every remaining Jew showed up in the entire region.
Who am I to turn my back on all that and so many other stories of family members who lost, sacrificed, and fought for, everything for the right to survive as a Jew? And even were I tempted anymore, Judaism, as weird as it is, is the best way I've found so far to make sense of our bizarre world. Other religions, spiritual, political, social, demand of us transcendent possibilities in a world where there is so clearly no transcendence to be had. The technology may get better, but the 'yetzers' of human nature seem unchanging, every virtue balanced by vice, and both locked in an eternal struggle where good can only ever win 50% of the time while the stakes grow ever higher.
Judaism is a religion of caution. It does what it can to accommodate the practical necessities of guarding against evil while still promoting active virtue. It is the only Western religion that does not believe stake its entire system of belief on there being a transcendent life after death, and is therefore the easiest of scapegoats for anybody who needs a reason that the world has not achieved a celestial kingdom on earth. It neither gives into the sensual as most of the ancient pagan religions do, nor does it demand renunciation of sin, as Christianity does (and yes, of course it's more complicated than that). It simply asks for a balance, instructing us to not give into either our urges to the narcissism of unceasing pleasure or the self-absorption of fanatical self-renunciation. "To everything, there is a season," the poet of Ecclesiastes writes (said to be King Solomon but probably a court scribe), and Judaism is a pre-proscribed series of customs and holidays and commandments to regulate the human spirit into something more balanced than it would be were it adrift in the chaos of some moments not meaning something cosmic.
With numbers like 6 million from the Germans, 1.7 million from the Romans, 320,000 in Pogroms, with the tales of slavery in Egypt, expulsion by the Babylonians, imperial rule, discrimination, and persecution from the Persians and Selucid Greeks and Byzantines, the betrayal by the Sanassid Emperor, the forced conversion and massacres and humiliations of the Islamic Caliphates, after the medieval blood libels and forced exiles and conversions in England and France and Germany and all the resulting murders that resulted in only 250-400 Ashkenazic Jews remaining in the entire world during the 13th century, after all the forced exiles of Sicily and Genoa and Portugal, after the deaths of the Spanish Inquisition and the Grenada massacre and the forced exile of the Alhambra Decree, after the Venetian Ghetto and all the ghettos they inspired, after discrimination in Poland, the massacres of Khmielnitsky, the destruction of Tzfat, after both waves of Russian pogroms, after the trials of Alfred Dreyfus and Manechem Mendel Bellis, the forced exile of 700,000 Sephardic Jews from Arab lands when the State of Israel is declared, after seventy years of an encircled Israel from which our forced expulsion and death is demanded by so many millions nearby; after all that and so much more, what's another eleven martyrs? We have had it so good here in America. Thousands more Jews could have died today and the American rule of the world would still be the Goldenest of Golden Ages in Jewish history. This country gave us everything. We love it here, your good fortune is our good fortune, and whether or not our contributions are properly appreciated, we will fight and die to keep this country as far from tyranny as we can, because nobody knows better what tyranny does to people than Jews. Even if America takes everything away from us someday as everyone else has, this will be remembered as the happiest period of Jewish history, and therefore, perhaps the happiest period in the history of the world.
Because the fact is, everywhere we've gone, we are the barometer of your civilization. We have never been parasites, as antisemites inevitably say, but we have been the yeast that makes your society rise. When we are your honored guests, your civilization prospers, when you do us dishonor, your civilization declines. It's probably not because God is watching over us, it's because a civilization well-disposed to its guests is a civilization that values tolerance and progress and liberty and justice, and is therefore destined to improve. Feel bad for us, sure, we deserve it, but feel just as bad for yourselves. Every Jew is taught that any moment we're not being persecuted is a lucky one. It's you who don't know how to deal with moments like this, not us. Why are Jews seen to be disproportionately successful? It's because we have practice. We are a whole religion based on how to be practical and accommodate the reality of every situation. When you don't know how to deal with a people whose entire religion is based on practical accommodation of reality, it means that you yourselves don't know how to deal with reality anymore. Whatever happens, we will survive this with the core of culture intact. Even if many of us don't survive, the memory of us, our world, our customs, lives on in those who come after. But should America fall, the essence of America falls with it, everything about American culture will be as foreign to those who come after as the culture of the Byzantines.
But as we say on every Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, 'Repentance, prayer, and charity, avert the evil decree.' There is still hope, perhaps plenty of hope, to avert the evil that may come to us. But it involves a careful accounting for all the wrongs we've all done, collectively and personally, right and left, and enacting corrections to right them. Endless debate, and not debating civilly, but through nuance - endless immersion in the precise details of how our world went wrong, agonizing examination of our own actions well as examining the faults and virtues of others. And by better understanding our world, by better understanding people different from us, by seeing the world through their views as well as ours, we better understand ourselves, and we each see where and when we've gone wrong. And from there, we can apologize for when and where we've erred, we can forgive when and where others have erred, and most importantly among causes, we can understand where we have enabled evil. And then we can proceed to solutions: we can understand how to create a better society, and we wage the fight against the worst enemy of all, ourselves, and hold out faith and hope that through the most Samsonian effort, the tactile actions we take on ourselves every day can change the most powerful country on earth.
We must think differently, look at things in a different way. Peace requires a world of new concepts, new definitions. You don't make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change we seek. We need you to help us prove that together, ordinary people can still do extraordinary things in the United States of America.
Amen.

Friday, October 5, 2018

When Facebook Becomes Blogging


This post goes out to the Upper East Side sixtyish divorcee with immaculate dyed blonde hair and impeccable plastic surgery and an enormous payout from her real estate lawyer ex-husband who was seated at Carnegie Hall tonight in the box just to the right the stage.
Look, we all got it, you love the Rite of Spring. It's a great piece of music. But you literally danced in your seat, and not a little bit, you were doing wave motions for the entire thirty-three-and-change minutes that looked like Tai Bo moves which were probably introduced to you along with The Rite of Spring by your failed musician yoga instructor who's twenty years younger than you with whom you're having a fling that's turning serious but you haven't realized yet that he loves you for your money, not for you; and then, as you talk non-stop to your daughter while you're dancing, literally non-stop, and you pretend to be embarrassed but are obviously proud every time a loud part ends and she yells out 'WOOOOOO!', you become the performance, not Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. At first I was amused, but eventually I was enraged. 2000 people paid serious money for this, and believe me, for most of us, it's very serious money. And yet when we arrived, the star was not the orchestra, it wasn't MTT or Leonidas Kavakos, it wasn't even Stravinsky, it was you.
Now that you've reached your venerable age, I'm sure you've come to that unfortunate realization that money doesn't buy happiness. Music comes closer to making you and me and everybody else happy than nearly anything else can, but a large part of why music gives happiness is that it can be enjoyed not as an individual, but as a community. You may think you couldn't love this music more, but at least one of us rode eight hours in a bus to attend a performance of by performers who do legendarily well a piece this busrider can write a halfway impressive facsimile in full score. And I guarantee I'm far from the only person in the audience for whom that's true - we just care that much! If you expressly wanted to dance, you could have bought any number of boxes further back and not attracted the attention of thousands. If your daughter wanted to 'WOOO' at The Rite of Spring, either one of you could clearly have sponsored a performance in a much less formal setting. A much more secure key to happiness than music is knowing that you've done good for other people. There are so many ways to make other people happy, and tonight, you chose none of them.
Just as you clearly are, I am all for less informality in the concert hall, I even started a performing arts organization in my twenties devoted to exactly that. If other people felt as strongly about it as you and I clearly do, maybe it would have succeeded. But since you were the performance tonight, I think you are worthy of being reviewed, and I wasn't impressed.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

We are living in an era when everything about democracy's basic building blocks: its apparatus of intelligence gathering, economic capital, economic regulation, government departments, and most importantly, intellectual debate, have worn very thin and decadent. We've grown so democratic that we apply democracy to facts themselves, to giving the option to both right and left to reject statistical findings that hundreds of thousands of experts, even millions, have collected with greater knowledge and accuracy than ever before in human history. Companies are no longer properly regulated and grow as powerful as nation states themselves, governments are controlled by prosperous minorities who feel they have no need to provide for people who don't benefit from the system, intelligence agencies and political ministries and cabinets are increasingly subordinated to political agendas rather than the welfare of those they govern, and political debate is locked away in ideological certainties that exclude the possibility of reasoned disagreement because those who disagree are simply unable to understand because of the innate evil in their character rather than being simply and tragically misinformed.
Like every political system before it, liberal democracy failed to evolve flexibly enough to fit its times, just as Great Power Monarchies did in the 1880s and 90s, and thus we increasingly stand teetering on a precipice of a collapse, and in a generation that's exactly what we might have in a rain of blood just as the imperial powers collapsed into World War I, or absolute monarchy collapsed into the French Revolution. The centrally planned technocratic authoritarianism of China will be shielded from it just as democratic America was shielded from World War I, and the liberal monarchy of England was basically shielded from the French Revolution and Napoleon.
But just as happened in the generation before World War I and the French Revolution, part of a system's dismantlement is that as the Right increasingly consolidates its power, the Left becomes increasingly unmoored with all kinds of un-thought through radical notions that do nothing to liberate people but plenty to kill them. There is no point to the increase of liberty if you're already dead.
When I see Jeremy Corbyn, I see where America is soon headed. The English government, European governments generally, provide all the social services that turn American liberals green with envy. All the social services that, if Western Europe were operating with America's purchasing power, could keep the world stable in near-perpetuity. Even after Thatcher and Blair, even after all the French Gaulleists, both of whom tried to dismantle its achievement, none of them could do it. It's called falsely called Social Democracy, but is really just how a liberal democracy should properly function as Roosevelt and Keynes envisioned it. But for some people, it's never enough. They see that some people want to dismantle it, they panic, and they'd sooner blow up the whole thing to start over rather than accept that no achievement is a utopia and no achievement can ever be completely stable. There will be plenty of Americans who fall for that viciously dangerous lie just as lots of Brits and French have, and among people I know, I feel as though I can identify which will fall for it right down to person to person.
Jeremy Corbyn is not Bernie Sanders. The Bernie Sanderses (and Jim Callaghans) of the world make leaders like Corbyn possible, but Corbyn may well be an English Hugo Chavez. Somebody whom in better circumstances would be dismissed as a small town mediocre political agitator, there are thousands of them, and in less stable times, dumb luck deposits one those mediocrities into a leadership role. Capitalism teeters on the verge of a collapse from the hubris of people who exploit it and governments who fail to maintain it properly, and rather than blame it on the evil in human beings, it's inevitably alleged to be the fault of the system itself.
Ever since 2008, we've been on the brink of a depression still worse than The Great Recession. It's coming. The world is increasingly dominated by just a few companies, the collapse of any one of could cause it. With the ever larger specter of automation, with the ever advancing specter of ecological catastrophe, this is all possible very soon. The far left will crow that they saw it coming a mile away. Otherwise sensible people will marvel at their prescience; just as their parents and grandparents marveled at conservatives’ prescience that Reagan’s weapons buildup would end communism, and that accelerated civil rights legislation would cause urban decline. In one dimension, they all have a kind of truth to them, yet they egregiously ignore the entire context. The pendulum always swings, and whichever fanatic’s side it favors at the moment get to say they were always right without the world laughing them out of debate forever.
In the coming years, leaders like Jeremy Corbyn and Jean-Luc Melanchon, or whatever their updated American equivalents turn out to be, will seem like an ever more appealing alternative to the Trumps and Pences and Putins and Netanyahus and Orbans and Erdogans and Dutertes's. Just as a hundred and two hundred years previously, people with even the slightest intellectual or radical bent will sign onto their agendas, and the conflict between the two immovable sides will probably sign the death warrants of millions. Every debate we're now having will seem completely insignificant.
You'll all do what you do regardless of what I say, but you don't get to say you weren't warned.