28 October 2008

David & Goliath: A Cautionary Tale; Do Not Try This At Home

The Old Testament [modern Jews call it something else] depicts the Jews experiencing odd and/or supernatural things involving pillars of salt, trumpets, walls collapsing on their own as guys march around them, sheeps’ blood warding off evil, faux sacrifices, holy arks (supposed to be some sort of capacitors by modern authors who have read too many comic books - sorry, “graphic novels”), and which also show a great deal of bad judgment. (Here, I refer to things like David wooing Bathsheba, getting her pregnant, and arranging the death of her husband, Uriah, to cover his tracks - see the post of a couple of weeks ago, “Who Speaks for Uriah.”)

And so we come today to the story of David and Goliath. This is a central story in our culture, or a central theme, and teaches that that Good will prevail over Evil even when the wicked is bigger, stronger and meaner, because Good is, well, good. This theme introduces a moral exception to the conclusions available from the experiential observations from which we conclude that God is, indeed, on the side of the big battalions. This Good-wins theme is critical to our species and that is an acute distinction with less sentient species. Life since Humanity began (in the Garden, in Oldevai Gorge, wherever) has been about power and the conflicts of power. That happens in the physical world, the social world, the intellectual world, the spiritual world, and some of the greatest (and also some of the least successful) human achievements have been about transcending constant competition and conflict. But even in our own churches, we freely acknowledge power and conflict, even in trivial matters. One way that immediately comes to mind is good friend Pastor Josh’s genuinely humorous comment at the end of some sermons about our communal desire to get out of church and beat the Baptists to Bob Evans for lunch. Think about it – when you are in a commercial establishment, a restaurant wanting seated or at a grocery store wanting to check out, do you look for the shortest line, the quickest way in and out, the advantage that will advance your interests over those of others? Welcome to the world of conflict, competition and power. Even when I’m slouching through the grocery store line and let someone (usually an older person or a lady) in front of me, I’m aware that I have given up some sort of right, that I have the power, but I’m voluntarily relinquishing it, just to be a nice fellow and maybe gain a few points in Heaven or notch up a Boy Scout Good Turn.

The David & Goliath tale as told to little kids is somewhat sanitized. Let’s look at it in a really modern translation (the translation called The Message, available on bible.com, which is probably as far from the KJV as the KJV is from the Greek): (This is from I Samuel 17.)

A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor——126 pounds of it! [No, that unit of measure hadn't been invented. I don't know where this translator gets that.] He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail——the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. . . .

Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, "Why bother using your whole army? . . . So pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he kills me, we’ll all become your slaves. But if I kill him, you'll all become our slaves. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!" When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine's challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope. Enter David. . . . Goliath stepped out from the front lines of the Philistines, and gave his usual challenge. David heard him. . . . David asked, "What's in it for the man who kills that Philistine and gets rid of this ugly blot on Israel's honor?"

. . .

The things David was saying were . . . reported to [King] Saul. Saul sent for him. "Master," said David, "don't give up hope. I'm ready to go and fight this Philistine." Saul answered David, "You can't go and fight this Philistine. You're too young and inexperienced——and he's been at this fighting business since before you were born." David said, "I've been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I'd go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb. If it turned on me, I'd grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it. Lion or bear, it made no difference——I killed it. And I'll do the same to this Philistine pig who is taunting the troops of God. God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine." Saul said, "Go. And God help you!" [I don't know if that's a prayer or given in the modern sense, which is a sort of kiss-off.]

. . . Then David took his shepherd's staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd's pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.

As the Philistine paced back and forth, his shield bearer in front of him, he noticed David. He took one look down on him and sneered——a mere youngster, apple-cheeked and peach-fuzzed. . . . "Come on," said the Philistine. "I'll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I'll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice." David answered, "You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God, whom you curse and mock. This very day God is handing you over to me. I'm about to kill you, cut off your head, and serve up your body and the bodies of your Philistine buddies to the crows and coyotes. The whole earth will know that there's an extraordinary God in Israel. And everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn't save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God——he's handing you to us on a platter!"

That roused the Philistine, and he started toward David. David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine. David reached into his pocket for a stone, slung it, and hit the Philistine hard in the forehead, embedding the stone deeply. The Philistine crashed, facedown in the dirt. . . . Then David ran up to the Philistine and stood over him, pulled the giant's sword from its sheath, and finished the job by cutting off his head. When the Philistines saw that their great champion was dead, they scattered, running for their lives.

OK, I think that even this humble scribe as the Chair of our Church Board of Heresy can find the Moral: Armed with the power of the living God, the Weak have a weapon that the Mighty cannot match, and God’s People will prevail. (Here, my mind's gospel group is singing that energetic verse, "There is power, power, wonder working power, in the blood of the lamb . . ."

There are two broad ways to look at the lessons from the David & Goliath tale. First, whether it is literal or some inspirational fable [no, I’m not going there], if David’s stone was powered by and guided by God personally and not by God’s laws (angular momentum, aerodynamics, kinetic energy, etc.), it’s a pretty good story, although I assume there’s an implied lesson that God doesn’t always (doesn’t even frequently, in my observation) interfere that directly in human affairs. However, if the point is that David’s faith made the difference, and that he accomplished this feat without direct, present supernatural assistance, then the story teaches lessons that are seldom discussed:

1. King Saul is a moron. Lucky, but a moron. He nearly got David killed.

2. David is either a lucky genius (the Palestine version of J.B. Hickok) who defied God's laws of physics or a little psychotic or, more probably, both.

3. The putative lesson, that you can do anything, even that which is seemingly impossible in the physical world if you just have enough faith (and the corollary that if you attempt something and it doesn’t work, you’re the one who failed because you didn’t have faith) is cocky, anthropocentric and contrary to species and civilization advance and survival, because it mocks both courage and intelligence.

The greatest reality in our physical lives is power – who has it, who uses it, who is affected by it, how it changes, and how we (usually ineffectively) try to avoid it and produce a just society based on reason and love (which coincide closely a lot of the time.)

For a primer on power in our lives, look at two relatively recent books, The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War, both by Robert Greene. I do NOT recommend these books in the same way that I recommend, say, Handling Sin or Red Helmet or Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar. Greene has not produced something beautiful and stirring and uplifting. These remind me of an episode from the original Star Trek series where a planet was operated on the basis of a book about Prohibition-era-Gangland-Chicago, and carrying a Tommy gun with a drum magazine was the zenith of culture. Greene paints an accurate, smelly, colorful picture of the sewage pit that is much of our social structure, and does so in a vain and cynical manner. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, just that I wouldn’t want to hoist a brew with him.

It is not impossible for a small, unarmed person of great faith and virtue to prevail in physical battle over an evil, armed, ruthless opponent, but that’s not the way to bet. Perhaps the real heroes of the David & Goliath story are (1) God, not for being right there and orchestrating the fight, but for creating mass, inertia and angular momentum and (2) the guy who invented the slingshot. It was noted (at least by legend) in the Old American West that God made All Men but Colonel Colt made All Men Equal. The force multiplier of a slingshot, David’s ability to use it, and his willingness to do so under stressful conditions theoretically made the victory possible. However, against an armored opponent, the target for this primitive weapon was small, and the odds weren’t with David.

According to the story, David put the stone exactly in the unarmored spot on Goliath’s forehead with enough force to embed the stone. This just isn’t likely. There is a limit to how fast anyone can twirl a sling. Aiming a sling is necessarily imprecise. With a firearm, you are looking down the barrel, along the axis that the bullet will follow. By definition, with the sling, you are the sling has to be 90 degrees off target when you release it. (Actually, a touch more than 90 degrees to give the pouch time to disengage from the projectile.) Then the projectile leaves the pouch at a not-amazing velocity. Even if the slingster is experienced, s/he cannot account for the vagaries of physics. David used a river rock, that is, a smooth rock. It was still unbalanced, it was not spin-stabilized, and so it was not terribly aerodynamic. Early fluctuations in its course became greater and greater, so no matter how good a slingster David was, the equipment is limited and physics defies pinpoint accuracy.

In sum, generally, God is on the side of the big batallions and the quality weapons.

This is not to say that it is always wrong to take on a more powerful opponent. (Although, it is still always stupid to do so unknowingly.) Germany was going to overrun Poland in 1939. Poland knew that. Poland’s army included no-kidding horse cavalry and fabric-covered biplanes. If they didn’t resist, Germany was going to invade, crush Poland and kill lots of people. If they did resist, Germany was going to invade, crush Poland and kill lots of people. Resistance was honorable and reasonable. Germany moved on Paris, but was not bent on destroying the city. The French declared Paris an open city and evacuated the military. Cowardly? Up for debate. Wise? I think so.

These are hard and even evil ways to look at life. When the old and weak springbok is taken down by the predators, no doubt his last thoughts are something like, “Boy, this sucks,” but they are still his last thoughts.

When the underdog wins, there’s usually a reason. Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae faced 300,000 plus Persians around 480 BC, and held the Persians at the pass called the “Hot Gate.” This is frequently cited as an example of those armed with goodness and faith prevailing over impossible odds. Well, this was not a David vs. Goliath situation. Consider:

1 - The 300 were elite soldiers facing relatively poorly trained conscripts.

2 - The Spartans were defending a narrow pass where the Persians could not bring their numerical superiority to bear.

3 - The Spartans knew that they were all going to die, they were willing to die, and they did die.

4 - The Spartans had a limited goal, delaying the Persians. They did not have to defeat 300,000 enemies.

Looking dispassionately does not diminish the courage and honor of the participants in any conflict, nor the disapprobation deserved by some of the participants. But looking only through the emotional lens is still stupid.

So, do you carry away the right lesson from David and Goliath? Here is a test: I recently read in a newsletter a blurb where a guy was essentially bragging that he saw a “bad guy” outside his house hotwiring his motorcycle. So, he concludes, he was on the side of good and right when he grabbed his pistol, went outside, got very close to the bad guy, missed the fact that there were two other bad guys present, and let the bad guy get within 5 feet of him. Now, here is the question, what did you think of first? (a) Good will win out, and we need to stand up to evil. (b) Going after someone for a property crime is immoral. (b) Getting into an armed confrontation unnecessarily is stupid.

If you answered “(a),” and are still in your fecund years, that is good, because evolution is about to work it’s magic. If you answered “(b),” stick to well-lighted, gated communities. If you answered “(c),” you got the true point of David & Goliath.

God has worked, can work and does work miracles. One of the less flashy and most important is the development of the human brain and this intangible thing called Good Judgment. Perhaps the College of Hard Knocks is really a Jesuit school.

Note: A special tip of the ol' chapeau to Friend Rosa, who pointed out that I'd slipped and used "Trojans" three times in place of "Spartans." Rosa also declines to start the discussion of "justice," and let me assure you, dearest Rosa, that post is a-borning.
Pippa passes.


12 October 2008

Another Department Funeral; Mr. Physics Strikes Mildly; First Crop Circles, Now This . . . ; Honoring Columbus

Another Department Funeral

Today was the funeral of Dave Chittum, one of the Marion County Rescue Squad veterans. Dave was an adherent of the strength of the “brick in the wall” theory. Rather than negativity of the Pink Floyd version, the brick in the wall theory is quite robust. Systems require cooperative effort. One person cannot do it all alone. It is a noble thing to do one’s part, to be a “brick in the wall.” Dave applied himself vigorously, worked hard, and served as a good example. He was always prepared and meticulous. Toward the end of the funeral, the rescue company took over the service. I guess I’ve become sort of a de facto department funeral spokesman or sexton (even though I’m long “retired”), so I gave a short eulogy, and then the officers and members performed the traditional all-companies roll call. I recently described that - All radio frequencies are cleared, and all county departments are alerted, which takes a couple of minutes to scroll through the tones. The dispatcher then announces that EMT Dave Chittum does not answer roll call, that he is loved and missed, and that he is now serving with our Lord and Savior. Uniformed squadsmen (that includes both genders) were pallbearers, including son Tim, and the hearse was tucked in amongst several pieces of apparatus for a procession to Station 20 for a final salute before the hearse went on alone. There is something about the long line of ambulances and rescue vehicles, lights flashing, driving along in procession at about 10 miles per hour, that is very, very somber and sad. My brethren the Fords were in charge of the service, and this is the second department funeral they’ve done in two weeks.

Mr. Physics Strikes Mildly

This is the weekend that Partner JC moved to Fairmont from Baltimore. Inasmuch as all of us had more ambition than brains, we arranged for a rental truck and guys on each end to do the move. JC rented a 26 foot Uhaul, and Bro. Dave’s son Elliott drove me and it over to Balto. A bunch of guys loaded Saturday, and it took several hours longer than “budgeted.” Then, the truck was full, but here was more stuff, so we went out and scrounged another Uhaul truck. We returned to Fairmont late last night, and I put the short truck up the hill, no problem. I told Elliott to take the turn up the driveway wide, because the driveway is narrow. However, still not having an overabundance of brains, I forgot that the truck was riding low and that the driveway gets real steep real fast coming off Locust Avenue, so I forgot to consider coming in another way. The truck’s rear bumper dragged and stopped the truck coming in. When Elliott put ‘er in reverse, the trailer hitch dug in, and that puppy was going nowhere. I called the Fairmont Police because we were a traffic hazard and one of Fairmont’s Finest came out. That’s not sarcasm, the Department is working well these days. The officers are well-trained, reasonable and respected. He called a large wrecker (non-locals: That’s a localism for a tow truck) to free the truck. Fortunately, the fine asphalt and steel bumper were of exactly the same hardness, so neither was marked at all by the experience. LaJ came down to No. 3, and found 3 young fellows who did hard work, and she hired them to help unload in the morning, and they helped get the truck up the hill after the wrecker freed it. Helped, hell, they figured it out, or the truck would still be there. I gave them fifty bucks to have some refreshment on me last night, and they were there at No. 3 at 8 AM and worked hard unloading. Elliott was somewhat chagrined. I thanked him for two days of really hard work and also for giving me a story on him (To tell the story, I do have to conceal the fact that it’s really all my fault.)

First Crop Circles, Now This . . .

I was really glad that the whole thing with the truck bumper didn’t mar the asphalt. However, before I left the office last night, I saw a terrible thing. Aliens have been at it again. They dissect our cows. They abduct people. And those damn geometric crop circles, what are those about? Well, now, right in front of No. 3, they have started asphalt etching. I’m trying to figure what the message is. It looks like it was done by a UFO with a large metal flat surface dragged across the asphalt, with a metal protrusion right in the middle that dug in. I’m calling the Air Force, this is outrageous. I’m an American citizen, and I need protection.


Tomorrow is Columbus Day (observed), when we lose a day of work in honor of an Italian navigator who was so lost, he missed is destination (China) by 8,000 miles and never knew it.

Pippa passes.


09 October 2008


Janese Tennant

Dear Friend Janese Tennant died late last night. The way she met Death is a humbling lesson to us.

Dave Chittum

Comrade Dave Chittum of Marion County Rescue Squad died yesterday. He worked thousands of hours as a volunteer, and never shied away from the tough duty. At this point, I don't know if the family will want the department involved in the funeral.

Pippa passes.


08 October 2008

Silliness; Observations; Pique; and a Great Sadness This Evening


Comments betwixt Rosa & Melissa remind me of an old saying ‘round the Marion County Palais d’ Justice: Sometimes you get Justice. Sometimes you get Just Us.


Balto trip for this weekend to move lotsa stuff. However, to secure my continued position as the apotheosis of The Easy Way, I’ve gotten Bro. Dave’s son to go along (great guy), and HE will drive the damn truck. Mind you, I did a lot of furniture mover/driver work while I was in school, and moved a lot of folks who couldn’t drive either something large or something with a manual transmission. (I think rental trucks mostly have slush-boxes these days, for the plethora of wusses who rent them.) But the drive to Baltimore is a pain in the ass, and if I can go as a passenger and read, etc., by golly that’s what I’m going to do.

Government by Machine Shop

I spent the morning in the Governor’s offices on business. There are two parts to the offices, one of which you’d expect and one of which you wouldn’t. The reception and public areas are spacious (spacious, hell, you could park a blimp in there), graciously decorated, and staffed by ultra-polite, well-dressed and efficient folks. It’s the working areas in the rear that really fascinated me, though. All of the folks back there are also well-dressed and ultra-nice (men, women, all in business wear), but it’s not plush offices with people sitting on their asses sipping cappuccino and thinking weighty thoughts. It reminded me more of a neat and orderly machine shop. There are work stations all over the place, and you have to be a touch of a gymnast to weave around the work stations, and everyone is busy. You can tell that it’s a focused and happy place. People aren't relaxing, but they are smiling when nobody's looking. And it’s not artificial. My dad would refer to “working boats” as those that had equipment on deck, neatly arranged but still there on deck. There is simply no show about the place, it is a place of work and accomplishment. Governor Manchin is one of the most genuine guys I know. He won’t say it if he doesn’t believe it. Particularly my friends in other states, google his uncle, A. James Manchin. I loved that guy. He was flamboyant, and that fact made some people fail to take him seriously. He talked about “Mother West Virginia,” and when he was head of an environmental clean-up program, he referred to the plague of junk cars as those “jaded jezebels of junkery.” He talked like that all the time. But he was sincere, and he believed every word. Governor Joe Manchin is like that, only with less alliteration. Even when I don’t agree with him, I respect the hell out of him. He is the most effective and most honest governor in my lifetime.

There my thoughts go back to Governor William Marland. That guy was absolutely brilliant, considered the best student ever to go through the WVU College of Law (and since Dean John Fisher is in the running for that distinction, Marland had to be legendarily great). He was elected Governor in the 50's when he was quite young, but he developed a serious addiction to alcohol. His administration ended as a disaster and he faded into obscurity. In the mid-60's, a news reporter found him driving a taxi in Chicago, and published an interview, where he described having found some peace.

The Perfect Political Speech - If the Sublime Elu returns from his world tour, he's running in '12.

(I do not claim this as totally original. I have heard or seen it or something like it somewhere, but it must have been a long time ago, and I forget where it was.)

My fellow Americans - My programs are simple and workable. They are fair. They will restore safety and prosperity to our beloved country.

YOUR taxes will be reduced to nothing. However, THEY have been shirking their responsibilities to support the Nation which has granted them succor for far too long, and THEY shall bear their fair share of taxes.

Wasteful government programs which give OTHER people benefits to which they obviously are not entitled will be ended, and these citizens will be required to work for their daily bread. The necessary government spending which benefits YOU will be expanded to reflect fair recompense for the contributions which you have made unselfishly to your country.

No longer will the police be shackled by antiquated notions of warrants and technicalities which merely let the wrongdoer avoid the heat of the forge of Justice. And, my friends, my law-abiding loyal friends, YOU shall not be inconvenienced by a search made without probable cause or a warrant, and you shall never be arrested or placed on trial for something for which there is no clear video evidence of your doing. As to YOUR children who, in their youthful enthusiasm, may stray over the boundaries of good sense and legal behavior, the law will deal with understanding and mercy. But make no mistake: The OTHER youth, the hooligans, shall find that attaining the age of adulthood gives them the responsibilities of adulthood and the punishments for failing in those responsibilities.

I pledge that your mortgage interest rates shall be less than 3%, inflation shall be less than 3%, and that the average passbook savings interest rate paid to you shall be no less than 12%. You deserve no less.

YOUR second amendment rights WILL be enforced, and NO ONE who will commit a crime with a firearm will be permitted to obtain or possess a firearm even for a moment.

YOUR first amendment rights will be enforced, and YOUR CHILDREN shall not be exposed to pornography, strong language or situations of which you disapprove in any media. Moreover, academic freedom shall prevail, in libraries swept clean of the filth and controversial writings that pollute America. You will be free to worship as you wish, and there will be prayer in school.

I strongly support freedom of choice.

Every human life is precious, from the moment of conception.

No longer will we be bound by a corrupt system of benefits and costs, of trade-offs, or of comparisons. We shall, from this day forward, deal only in absolutes, never questioning, never doubting, and never, never thinking.

Thank you and God Bless America.

And please hurry, Lord.

Great Sadness

Friend Janese is on the brink of that passage from this life to the next tonight. Remember her, please. She has walked a steep and stony path in this life by her own choosing, because she has been strong and capable and could do so; she has been a gruff and effective supervising nurse in intensive care settings, and has seen and done things that had to be done which were nevertheless most unpleasant and which most of us would recoil from. She is facing this transition with faith and class and courage and acceptance. As I write this, the hospital tells me that she is now in a coma. God bless this beautiful person and friend and grant her peace.

I have been thinking much tonight of our group at Parkersburg High School, class of '71, and it is surreal to know that she is leaving us, if only to await us down the road in a little while.

Pippa passes.


04 October 2008

Who Speaks for Uriah?

Let’s set the stage:

As I noted recently, Pastor Josh Patty has wrapped up his 16 week marathon sermon series on the ancient Israeli/Jewish monarchies, as reported in Kings and Samuel (and probably elsewhere). In my comments here and on the pastor’s blog (www.alongthispilgrimsjourney.blogspot.com - kickin' place, you gotta try it) I’ve succeeded in offending lots of people with my lumping of the ancient and modern Israelis together and projecting my negative opinion of the moderns (controversial in itself) on the ancients.

I’ve commented with light humor and with heavy-handed sarcasm. That doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a good deal. Quite the contrary. Just as it’s easier to improve on someone else’s plan than it is to come up with your own out of whole cloth, seeing someone doing something less than optimally or even downright stupid prompts you to see new things and better ways. Or, put baldly, it's easier to criticize than create.

Despite their exploits being recorded by God in the Bible, the ancient Jewish leaders had venality and pettiness in excess even of Bill Clinton and his wandering hormones, Richard Nixon and his enemies lists and maybe Bush II and the phantom WMD’s. I have notes of the earliest adventures of David (whipping Goliath) for a potential future post on interpersonal conflict, probabilities given strength and other tactical matters, and reality, but turn today to David as King and the corruption of power. (Josh reads the story as being about sex. He is a biblical scholar. I am not. I still say it’s about power first.) And so, the story of David and Bathsheba:

(A note on the translation: This is from The Message, found at bible.com. It’s a very free translation that loses a lot - I guess, but how would I know - in the musical language of ethics, but restates the history in words heard around the fire since the nighttime fire was discovered. I’ve simplified the language even further – this is far enough from the original Hebrew or Greek that I don’t think I run afoul of the warning in Revelation about changing stuff in the Book. And if I do, I recognize that that’s a pretty big “oopsy.”)

2 Samuel 11

One late afternoon, David got up from taking his nap and was strolling on the roof of the palace. From his vantage point on the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was stunningly beautiful. David sent to ask about her, and was told, "This Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite." David sent his agents to get her. After she arrived, he went to bed with her. Then she returned home. Before long she realized she was pregnant.

Later she sent word to David: "I'm pregnant."

David then got in touch with Joab: "Send Uriah to me." Joab sent him. [Uriah is away with the army at a seige. What follows is David offering him a leave to go be with his wife and, presumably, cover David’s tracks on the paternity issue. Uriah, having more honor than brains, refuses because the others in the army can’t get the same deal. David tries again, this time getting Uriah drunk.] Uriah replied to David, "The Chest is out there with the fighting men of Israel and Judah——in tents. My master Joab and the army are roughing it out in the fields. So, how can I go home and eat and drink and enjoy my wife? On your life, I'll not do it!"

“All right," said David, "have it your way. Stay for the day and I'll send you back tomorrow." So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem the rest of the day.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. [Which is pretty cold under the circumstances, read on.] In the letter he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front lines where the fighting is the fiercest. Then pull back and leave him exposed so that he's sure to be killed."

So Joab put Uriah in a place where he knew there were fierce enemy fighters. When the city's defenders came out to fight Joab, some of David's soldiers were killed, including Uriah.

[Joab sends a report of the battle back to David, who is really, really peeved that the Israelis didn’t take the city. Then the messenger reports:] "By the way," said Joab's messenger, "your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead."

Then David told the messenger, "Oh. I see. Tell Joab, 'Don't trouble yourself over this. War kills — sometimes one, sometimes another — you never know who's next.’ “

When Uriah's wife heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.

[Further passages go on to have a pity party for David, because that first child dies and he really regrets his sin, but finally, his life works out, he and Bathsheba have further children including Solomon, and Israel presses on.]

So King David suffers, loses a child, loses sleep, knows that he’s done wrong, but he’s still got the girl. Uriah is still dead. Who speaks for Uriah? The love child lives a short and miserable life. Who speaks for that child? Extolling the justness of David’s punishment and suffering is a rather strange position for people of faith who, presumably, believe in loving everyone and protecting those unable to protect themselves, whether it is because they are very young or because their backs are turned.

Well, this is ancient history and perhaps apochryphal or fantasy or something like that. Of no interest at all today. There is no modern David who would harm others for his own pleasure or benefit or enrichment, is there?

Damn right there is.

Uriah is everywhere. Who speaks for Uriah? Who speaks for the service people in mortal danger in Iraq and Afghanistan, danger that doesn’t resemble the noble and fun bullshit that the small screen portrays, Uriah who has been sent to war, tour extended, enlistment stop-lossed, furnished low-bid body armor, and sent into a war justified by lies which may really be about profit and showing the world which country has the biggest dick.

Who speaks for Uriah? The financial system glitz and promises sent a smart young woman to NYU 15 years ago, where she earned an education in finance, and then went to a second tier business school for an MBA. Let’s call her Jane Briefcase. The old boy net wouldn’t let her in on the top floor (being old boys and being Harvard/Yale/Columbia/etc. bigots), but they put Jane into a cubicle, paid her well enough to buy a late model used Volvo, and she started struggling with the idea of having children, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Oh, she worked at Lehman Brothers, an investment firm. Boy, the CEO and CFO and other guys in Saville Row suits and Italian silk neckties sure have egg on their face right now, since their greed drove Lehman Brothers into the ground. They are going to have to rely on vast savings, protected retirement accounts, and may have to sell off real estate until they have only the city condo, the Connecticut mini-manse and the house in the Keys. Oh, Jane Briefcase, who made them much of their money, was laid off with less than a day’s notice. She has a few thousand in savings and a mortgage that is eating it up. Nobody will be hiring financial people for a long time. She is Uriah, too.

Who speaks for Uriah? Uriah is the coal miner whose foreman sent him under some bad top because it was probably going to be OK. The roof fell, and Uriah blew out his back. He was making $60,000 per year because he worked a lot of overtime. He’s on workers’ comp taking home half of what he was. He may get retrained, or he may not. He may get Social Security, he may not. The retirement home isn't gonna happen.

Who speaks for Uriah? We market “gangsta rap” and glorify guns and violence without ever showing a real gunshot wound. We send police officers out with “rules of engagement” and laws of search equivalent to a “Mother, May I?” approach, and then tut-tut the TV when it reports more violence and blame the liberal-conservative-du-jour when we realize that we are losing the War on Drugs.

Who speaks for Uriah? The tobacco industry patronizes the U.S. Congress, which in turn protects and subsidizes the industry that directly kills Uriah 400,000 times per year.

Who speaks for Uriah? 43,000,000 have no medical insurance and won't be getting any. They may get some charity care, but if they need something expensive - chemotherapy, coronary artery bypass operation - they are shit-outta-luck. Talk to your congressman. Oh, you'll need to dodge all 4 of the health-insurance lobbyists that exist for each and every member of Congress.

Uriah is no weakling. S/he is dedicated and powerful, looks after the other guy and asks only that those who hold the power of life and death over her treat her honestly, and not put her where enemies are sure to kill her.

Who speaks for Uriah?

Pippa passes.


01 October 2008

My Humble Attempt to Piss A Lot of People Off; How am I doing?

Screw Wisdom: The Profligacy of Solomon

Pastor Josh finally finished the fabulous and engaging series of sermons on the Jewish monarchy, which stretched through the summer like a featureless, steaming asphalt roadway across a New Mexico landscape, going someplace but who knows where and numbing the mind as it goes and goes and goes and goes. (Friend Josh is a regular reader, and I’ve had a great deal of fun explaining my thousand-yard-stare boredom about the Jewish kings.) In any event, the last sermon was entitled “God’s House,” or something like that, referring to the building of Solomon’s temple. (That’s one of the central images in Freemasonry, so I’m actually familiar with the accounts in I Kings.) Josh likened the temple to the Pilgrims’ meeting house, one of the first structures built in Massachusetts. Sorry, I disagree. The Pilgrims cut down a bunch of trees, and built a snug meeting house. Perhaps 50 guys were involved. As to the temple, to build a structure around 60 feet by 90 feet, THOUSANDS of artisans worked for years to build a perfect building with perfectly cut stone faced with perfectly fitted cedar and a sanctum sanctorum lined with gold where the High Priest went to chat up God once a year. Sorry, guys, this is Thorstein Veblin at work. My God doesn’t need a gold room or a temple that drains a substantial chunk of a nation’s resources. Not that the Jews were unique – At the Vatican, you could use the sanctuary at St. Peter’s to hanger a Zeppellin, but they still have nuns with bowls for contributions at the doors for visitors to throw money in. There’s lots of speculation about the wealth of the Catholic Church, but who cares? What we can SEE is disgustingly ornate and arrogant.

My issue with this sort of consumption is not confined to churches. Just so I can be sure to cover all the bases and piss off as many readers as possible, I consider the following to be of questionable judgment, ridiculous waste, silly posturing and often consumption to the point of immorality:

Granite countertops

Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Maybachs, Lamborghinis, & Ferraris

Homes with more than 2000 square feet per occupant

Exotic animals kept caged

Hair transplants for men

Breast augmentation not related to medical need or injury

Fur in environments where it is not necessary to kill and skin the animal yourself to survive

Shotguns costing more than $2,500

Exotic hardwoods imported for construction from other continents

Rolex watches

(Dissenting view: "Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned . . ." James 5:9. I must have missed that sermon.)

Accuracy to Distraction

Dearest Doreen mentioned some weeks ago that she sets her clocks ahead a few minutes to “fool herself” and be sure that she is on time. That’s a concept that I don’t understand. If you have instruments, don’t you want them as accurate as possible? Mind you, I take this to extremes. At least once a week, I check and if necessary set my watch by the government’s atomic clock. (www.time.gov)

I Am Not Antique, Merely Unique

At Alice Polis’s funeral, I was talking to an old buddy. He told me that he had been to the Fire Museum in New York City, where they display antique fire and rescue apparatus and tools. One of the “antiques” displayed there was a Hurst Rescue Tool, a powered hydraulic machine that tears up and cuts up cars to get at trapped people. What annoys me is that we bought one NEW when they were FIRST introduced, and now the damn things are ANTIQUES?!?! I also remember 78 rpm records, 8 track tapes, manual typewriters, column shifters, bias ply tires, fender skirts, black dial phones owned by the only phone company that existed, Amos & Andy on the radio, and I can live with all that. But this Hurst Tool thing hurts.


I’m still going to Marietta as much as possible to see dear Friend Janese. One thing I’ve noticed over there is that the town still has some brick streets. This is an old town - founded in 1788. Brick streets make sense. Brick streets last MUCH longer than asphalt, and no petroleum is used in the composition of bricks. I wonder why we got away from brick streets.

Janese . . .

. . . continues to do poorly, on the one hand. On the other, she knows that no matter what happens corporeally, she still wins. She still needs love and touch and prayer, and I ask that for her.

25 years

Someone brought in a deed that I prepared 25 years ago. I was honestly pleased to see that it was good quality work.

One of Roger’s Handy Tips

To keep stuff from sliding around on the car dashboard, companies sell “special” mats which have a waffle pattern and stick real well to vinyl. They cost $10 or so for an 8" x 6" rectangle. However, they are made out of a material called “tool matting,” which is used by mechanics to line the drawers of the big professional tool chests you see in automotive repair places. (Mechanics invariably own their own hand tools.) You get tool matting at the auto parts place for $5 for a 3-foot roll. It’s sad that some bastard is working the fringe on this and overcharging people for mere repackaging and marketing.

Jesus Isn’t a Candidate - Get Used to It

In a recent issue of Reader’s Digest, there is an article about critical “swing” voters. The idea (which makes sense) is that McCain and Obama each have a solid core of people who would vote for them no matter who or what they got caught in bed with, so the campaigns are aimed at a small group. One voter said that he was waiting to see who would act more like Jesus. Jesus Christ, preserve us from such idiocy. You’ve got to be kidding me. Would Christ our Lord function in current government? I’m thinking that there would be a moneychangers-in-the-temple thing going on real quick. How about looking for leaders who aren’t motivated by money, who are honest (and one way you gauge that is by how often they tell you stuff that you don’t want to hear when they know that you don’t want to hear it), and who will actually READ the Constitution, some history, the Bible, and some science. Got news: Jesus ain’t running. (A recent book, American Savior, by Roland Merullo, is based on the premise that Jesus shows up and runs for president. It is a work of fiction.)

Happy Flag

Bro. Dave and I have coffee at 8 AM most mornings in the café across from the courthouse. To indicate that she’s open, Jeri, the owner, hangs a happy sun-and-flower flag outside the doorway. That’s just such a positive thing.


I've a number of posts in the works. One now under way is about a local Marion County issue where county commissioners are openly pulling an arrogant political stunt that is genuinely upsetting. One is a friend with whom I was in Boy Scouts, and he is a genuinely nice fellow. This is sooooo uncharacteristic of him. The other is a public servant who has served honorably for sooooo many years, and this seems uncharacteristic of him, too. They are wrong this time. Unfortunately, in politics, seldom is anyone willing to say, "Darn, I was wrong, I'm sorry."

Pippa passes.