Am Misbehaving

Teri Gross, interviewing a young female actor/writer/director tonight on Fresh Air, had an uncomfortable dialog concerning male role-models that have now been revealed as sexual predators. The discussion focused on the challenges of not saying “the wrong thing,” with “the wrong thing” never being elucidated. Presumably it would be something that could be interpreted as hateful of men in general, or dismissing the human depth and value of the work of some of the men involved, or frightful to men that they might want to work with on future projects.

So they preferred to say nothing.

This contrasted with the All Things Considered interview of women from lineage of three generations that have worked in Hollywood since 1960. They spoke frankly about the problem of sexual harassment and what it takes to avoid degradation. They had direct experience, and so had a specific human story to tell.

In both contexts, their attraction to Hollywood was explained as a reaching for the opportunity to create dreams. Remember that these are successful creators, so they have not hit the wall that causes most workers to hate their jobs after they turn forty. That wall is the gate that narrows when the cost of providing opportunities to all qualified people exceeds the available resources. When opportunities for professional growth thin out, what characterizes those that stay the course?

I would hazard that it’s not just the opportunity to create dreams for others, it’s the link between their work and the expression of their own fantasies. The more powerful those fantasies are, the greater the commitment to their craft.

Perhaps the most disturbing experience I have had in church is being told by a pastor that I was not welcome because when I meditated on the cross, everybody in the congregation felt that they were being sexually harassed. To love someone is to affirm their personality – and if they find more joy in sex than in compassion, they will channel the energy that way.

Couple this to the desire of a director or producer to associate and control beautiful people – the people that we love to watch on the screen – and the adoration that we tender to our media figures is going to amplify their worst habits. The more we adore them, the worse their conduct will become.

The problem is related to the problem Jesus faced with his disciples. The disciples believed that they needed Jesus to tell them what to do, just as consumers of entertainment believe that they need someone to give them dreams. Jesus complained of the “little faith” of his followers because they didn’t believe in themselves. He died, was buried, rose and ascended to convince them that they should cast off their doubts and love others.

Rather than fixing our gaze on that story – the true and heroic testimony of the redeeming power available to all that choose to love – we choose to fill our dreams with fantasies that can’t possibly be made true. In seeking to entertain, Hollywood doesn’t create dreams, it creates illusions. Those that suckle on its teat shouldn’t be surprised when those illusions are pierced, unmasking the self-serving motives of all those that peddle illusion – and exemplified by those that have clawed their way to the top.

Our government is also riven by corruption – politicians don’t have the power to solve our problems, so they peddle illusions. And we are disappointed in our relationships, because we operate under the illusion that someone else can change our soul when that is work that only we can do in collaboration with God.

We’re not going to end exploitation by shaming people, or throwing them in jail. There will always  be replacements.  We’re only going to solve the problem by recognizing illusionists when they appear in our lives, and putting them off with “That’s all very nice, Donald, but I need to pray for a friend before I go visit them.”

Virgin Shield

Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the Senate seat vacated in Alabama by Jeff Sessions, is under attack for his conduct towards underage girls while working in the district attorney’s office during his 20’s and 30’s. In responding to the accusations, Moore appears to be taking the advice of Steve Bannon, who led Trump around the Access Hollywood (“Grab ’em by the pussy”) debacle. Bannon advised to deny everything and double down.

Moore’s supporters have done their best. On the political level, they charge that the revelation of these claims only four weeks before the election reeks of political manipulation by the Democrats and liberal media (the charges were given national airing by the Washington Post). Others note that the acts, even if committed, have expired under the statute of limitations, and so have no bearing on the election.

Before the scandal, Moore achieved notoriety for his defense of Biblical principles. He was removed as a sitting judge for refusing to honor a court order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments display he had installed. Appointed later to the Alabama Supreme Court, he was removed again for refusing to enforce the US Supreme Court decision upholding same-sex marriage.

So the political arguments have been supplemented by theological arguments. Co-religionists have implored voters to show Moore Christian forgiveness. Others have compared his suffering to that of Christ on the cross.

But the ugliest justification is that the Virgin Mary was only fourteen when she was married to Joseph, and so there is Biblical foundation for older men to pursue young girls.

There is so much wrong with these arguments. Forgiveness is wonderful, but that does not extend to empowering those that do wrong. Women also suffer persecution, and to suggest that Moore is being persecuted is like unto a suggestion that Herod is persecuted.

But the one that hurts the most is the parallel drawn to the relationship between Mary and Joseph. That relationship was not considered unusual in the era – in fact, the principle concern of the parents of an adolescent girl was to ensure that she was established safely in marriage to a decent man. Moore was not married to his victims.

But neither was the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard this issue raised before at a non-denominational Christmas service. The preacher attacked the whole idea of the immaculate conception, stating that “God doesn’t molest little girls.” Trevor Noah took this to its ultimate conclusion on Monday night, observing that the parallel offered by Moore’s supporters seemed to suggest that Moore was seeking to conceive a Messiah, giving new meaning to the idea of a “Second Coming.”

This upsets me because I don’t see Mary as a passive vessel. When women are allowed to choose, beautiful consequences result. The angel Gabri-el proposed a solution to the problems that beset Mary’s tribe, and by extension the whole of humanity. Mary’s humble response was “Here am I.”

Events during Jesus’s ministry emphasize this message. Presented with the paradox of the life in paradise of a woman widowed successively to seven brothers, Jesus observed that in that age everyone will make their own decisions about marriage. When Margaret complained that Mary was not helping with housework, Jesus encouraged Margaret to take also “the better part.” Finally, when a woman appears to anoint him with oil before the crucifixion – as were the kings by the high priest – Jesus rebukes the charge of hypocrisy (“the oil could have been used for the poor”) with the simple statement “She has done a beautiful thing for me.”

That Mary made the decision to bear Jesus when she was only fourteen may seem strange by our standards, but it was her choice. Moore didn’t share that choice with his victims. Mary’s choice carried with it the possibility of prosecution under the law of her day. Safe from criminal prosecution, Moore would do well to learn from her courage and humility, ask personally for forgiveness, and bear the consequences in the court of public opinion.

Foreign Commercial Policy

As with others, I have been concerned to see the shrinking of the State Department under the Trump Administration. The President of the American Foreign Service Association, Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, has penned an editorial (to be published in the December issue of Foreign Service Journal) that summarizes the self-inflicted wounds on our ability to conduct foreign policy, and demands that we ask “Why?”

I see two reasons. The first, and lesser, is Trump’s preference for the military option in foreign policy. I believe this is rooted in two realities: American has by far the most powerful military in the world. Trump is a man of simple judgment, and so doesn’t need to reason much beyond that. Furthermore, he is undisputed commander-in-chief of the military, which is why he has so many generals in his cabinet. They are bound to do what he commands them to do. What more could a narcissistic megalomaniac want?

Constitutionally, the president’s control of the military is constrained only by the requirement that Congress declare war. Unfortunately, since 9/11 the military has been operating on a global remit to wage war against terrorism, which under the rubrik of “state sponsored terrorism” can be interpreted to mean almost any hostile act.

The second reason to destroy the State Department is more insidious. Trump doesn’t reveal his tax returns because they document his participation and profiteering in money laundering, often in collaboration with leaders from other nations. Trump’s motive is to clear the barriers to such conduct, barriers maintained in large part by investigators hosted and supported by our foreign service.

As CEO of Exxon, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bragged that Exxon was a supra-national power. He thumbed his nose at American sanctions against Russia, and undercut repatriation agreements intended to ensure that African dictators allocated for public benefit a portion of resource extraction profits.

Trump and Tillerson are both united in their intention to minimize political interference in the ability of US business to profit overseas. My sense is that they look at Iranian resurgence – led by the corrupt Revolutionary Guard – and increasing Chinese hegemony on the international stage – led by the corrupt People’s Army – as evidence that American power can be sustained only if military and commercial policy are fully aligned.

Tillerson is gutting the State Department to create conditions under which that alignment can be established. In part, that is a rational response to global realities, but it has the undeniable side-effect of supporting the construction of a global kleptocracy. For Trump, that is the compelling motivation.

Exhaustion

So, here I am again, woken at 3 AM in the morning by the narcissists that run the company that employs me. They’ve tied my compensation to acquiescence to their industrial ambitions, and won’t take “no” for an answer.

When my boss told me two months ago that he wanted me out of the company, I memorialized the conversation, and ended up in a scrum that included the owner and the HR manager. Offered control of the agenda, I chose compensation as the topic. At one point, I asked the owner whether he could characterize the value that I brought to the company. He stammered, and then admitted, “Well, perhaps I know more about other parts of the company that I know about your area.”

He has no idea what my contribution is worth, and interprets his ability over nine years to avoid that understanding not as a testament to my value and virtue, but as a reason to ignore them. In fact, my boss is his fair-haired child, a man that the owner sees as driven and strong enough to ensure success in the competitive world of commerce.

To clarify the emotional context that drove my concerns, I shared that my father had passed two years ago, and that I had been living in proximity to my mother in Westlake Village until rent increases had forced me to move away. The owner interrupted me, stating that others had come to him with family issues to demand higher pay, and he had the same response for me: my family issues were my problem. He had a “family” of more than a hundred employees to consider.

To demonstrate his sacrifice, he tendered a letter of offer for his business. He said that he didn’t really need it any more, and I was tempted to tear the envelope in two. My family is eight billion people. The mind that I occupy took three billion years to create, and will survive long after the sun has annihilated the earth and with it all material evidence of human accomplishment.

Our mind is worth more than his company. It is worth more than all the businesses in the world. There is no price sufficient to purchase a billet of entry. The qualifications for entry are the compassion, tenderness, and awe that guide those responsible enough to walk in the temple of the Most High without corrupting his Creation.

Those aren’t typical in those unable to recognize and honor virtue when they see it. I shouldn’t have to think twice about being close enough to support my mother. I shouldn’t have to think twice about flying out to Texas to support the survivors of our most recent mass shooting. If they recognized that, the executive team at my company would be bending over backwards to garner the benefits of awareness among those that receive my love that “I work at Advanced Motion Controls in Camarillo, California.”

Rock of Egos

NASA’s New Horizons probe is flying through the Kuiper Belt (home of the Solar System’s comets) and about to survey a large rock. The rock is named “(486958) 2014 MU69“, which would sound nice when tweeted from R2D2, but is a terror for newscasters.

So NASA is running a contest to select a name to attach to the rock for their PR campaign. Recommendations include “Mjolnir” (Thor’s hammer) and certain mythical cities in the heavens.

My suggestion is “Ziggy Froid.”

The rationale? In honor of David Bowie, of “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Because “Ziggy” is a diminutive of “Siegfried” and “Sigmund” which ties in to the Norse mythology of the Arctic Circle through Wagner’s series of Ring operas. And because “Froid” – French for “cold” – is a near-homonym of “Freud,” evoking my sense that it’s crazy to attach names of power to the first rock that we happen to encounter in the Kuiper Belt.

Though there’s no purpose served, you can visit the contest site and vote for my entry.

How Long?

This nation has cultivated a spirit of violence. Lacking an external enemy, it turns now inward.

First Las Vegas, and now Texas. Both sites of the most fervent gun worship. The saner parts of the country reject your mania, and so the intensity of the hatred builds where it finds succor.

We shall overcome:

Exit the Dragon

The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe and Its Lessons for Today: An Interview with Daniel K. Williams

In the form of an interview with Daniel Williams, Millennial offers the most sympathetic articulation of the pro-life stance that I have encountered. The experience of the original activists – proponents of the liberal theory of universal human rights – is typical of the experience of the Pharisees confronted by Jesus: any attempt to use law for moral ends allows hypocrites (such as the fiscal libertarians of the GOP) to suborn those impulses.

The proper approach is that of Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That generation did confront their error, seeing many of their brethren convert to Christianity – including Saul on the way to Damascus.

So should we look at the problem of abortion – as a teachable moment that might not change the heart of a desperate woman, but that should change her behavior, hopefully bringing her closer to God as a result.

Williams’ final paean to life also rings hollow in my ears: babies are not priceless because their genetic code is unique. They are priceless because they represent an opportunity for self-clarification of a soul. We do have responsibilities as parents to optimize the conditions of that opportunity. That is best informed by abandoning the categories “pro-life” and “pro-choice” and choosing to be “pro-creation.” Pregnancy should be a conscious and considered joy, not an accident.

Millennial

What was the pro-life movement like before Roe v. Wade? In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K. Williams, history professor at the University of West Georgia, provides an essential overview of the pro-life movement in this period. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed Williams on his groundbreaking book and its implications:

The pro-life movement is often associated with conservatism, but could you talk a little bit about the roots of the movement?

The modern American pro-life movement, which originated in the mid-twentieth century, was the creation of Catholic Democrats, most of whom subscribed to the social ethic and liberal political philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  They believed that the government had a responsibility to protect the rights of minorities and provide a social safety net for the poor.  They viewed the unborn as a minority deserving of legal protection, but many of them…

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