Saturday, December 3, 2016

Holiness

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Felix Fabri (1438-1502, born in Zurich), was a Dominican theologian who wrote several books about his travels in the Holy Land. 

"In Egypt, just before his final departure for home, he met a holy man. The boat from Cairo to Alexandria was joined by a Muslim ascetic from an order vowed to perpetual silence: here was a man, Fabri wrote, 'of so great, and if it is not wrong to say it, of so spiritual a discipline as could nowhere be found among the Religious [Orders] of Christendom, and it was as if the holiness of the man shone in his countenance. I would have been glad to speak with him if I had known his language.' It is a sudden, blessed moment of genuine respect. A barrier dropped.”

Peter Brown, "Jerusalem, 1000-1400: Every People under Heaven," New York Review of Books, 8 December 2016.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel

"D’après nos recherches, 3 669 personnes ont été fusillées à Cuba depuis le 1er janvier 1959, confie Maria Werlau, directrice des Archives Cuba. Il faut y ajouter 1 276 exécutions extrajudiciaires. Cela dépasse le chiffre de morts et disparus imputés au régime militaire du général Pinochet (3 197)."
 Le Monde, 28 November 2016


"El 19 de noviembre [de 1965] se crean las Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción (UMAP), donde son confinados unos 25.000 hombres, básicamente jóvenes en edad militar, entre los cuales hay religiosos, homosexuales y disidentes, a los que se cataloga como parásitos, vagos y antisociales.
...
En un discurso [en 1968] en la Plaza de la Revolución, Fidel Castro dice: En nuestra capital, en los últimos meses, le dio por presentarse un cierto fenomenito extraño, entre grupos de jovenzuelos, y algunos no tan jovenzuelos (…) que les dio por comenzar a hacer pública ostentación de sus desvergüenzas. Así, por ejemplo, les dio por comenzar a vivir de una manera extravagante, reunirse en determinadas calles de la ciudad, en la zona de la Rampa, frente al hotel Capri…'"
Source: Manuel Zayas, Mapa de la homofobia - Cronología de la represión y censura a homosexuales, travestis y transexuales en la Isla, desde 1962 hasta la fecha.

No, Fidel, history will not absolve you.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Newspapers

Tiziano Terzani, for many years a correspondent for Der Spiegel in China, Vietnam, India and Japan, had this to say about journalism towards the end of the 20th century:

Il giornalismo è ormai dominato, come molte altre professioni, dall’elettronica. Computer, modem, velocità hanno un ruolo preponderante; la brevità e la tempestività delle immagini televisive trasmesse via satellite hanno stabilito nuovi standard e il giornalismo stampato, invece che puntare sulla riflessione e sul personale, non fa che correre dietro e cercare di imitare l’imbattibile immediatezza, e con ciò anche la superficialità, della TV. Nei giorni del massacro sul Tien An Men, la CNN trasmetteva in diretta dalla piazza nel centro di Pechino e molti colleghi preferivano stare nella loro camera d’albergo davanti al televisore invece che andare a vedere di persona quel che succedeva a poche centinaia di metri. Era il modo più veloce di tenersi aggiornati, di seguire gli avvenimenti. Per giunta i loro direttori e capiredattori a migliaia di chilometri di distanza vedevano sui loro televisori le stesse immagini e quella diventava la verità; la sola. Inutile andare a cercarne un’altra.

Tiziano Terzani, Un indovino mi disse, 2010, Kindle loc. 66.

What did Pastor Niemöller actually say?

The most frequently quoted version of Pastor Martin Niemöller's "First they came for the Socialists" statement reads:

"First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist,
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist,
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew,
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me"

The Communists are conveniently left out.

What he actually said is explained in this page from the Martin Niemöller Stiftung.
Was sagte Niemöller wirklich?

Wir zitieren die Version, die wir für die „klassische“ halten und die von Niemöller autorisiert wurde. Sie fiel  an Ostern 1976 während einer Diskussion im Gemeindesaal Kaiserslautern -Siegelbach bei Pfarrer Hans-Joachim Oeffler. In einem Gespräch mit Hannes Karnick und Wolfgang Richter („Niemöller – Was würde Jesus dazu sagen?“, Ffm 1986) führt Niemöller dazu aus:
„Wann ist denn dieses Ge­dicht entstanden mit dem Spruch: Als sie die Kommu­nisten abholten, schwiegen wir…?
Das war kein Gedicht, nein. Ich hatte mal in Oefflers Ge­meinde gepredigt, da war damals der Generalbischof der lutherisch-slowakischen Kirche dabei in Siegelbach bei Kaiserslautern. Da hat­ten wir hinterher eine Be­sprechung mit der Gemein­de in einem Gemeindesaal in der unmittelbaren Nähe der Kirche. Da haben die Leute n ihre Fragen ge­stellt und vom Leder gezo­gen. Und dann haben sie gefragt, ob wir denn nicht aufgewacht wären nach der Kristallnacht 1938. Und ich sage, um Gottes Willen, also fragen Sie mich nicht nach 38, ich bin 37 in die Gefangenschaft geraten und habe seitdem immer in der Einzelzelle gesessen und im übrigen, sehen Sie, als die erst mal die Kommu­nisten eingesperrt, und da­von haben wir vielleicht gleich was gehört, ich weiß es nicht mehr, aber wir haben dagegen nicht aufbe­gehrt, dass die Kommunisten eingesperrt wurden, denn wir lebten ja für die Kirche und in der Kirche und die Kommunisten waren ja kei­ne Freunde der Kirche, son­dern im Gegenteil ihre er­klärten Feinde, und deshalb haben wir damals geschwie­gen. Und dann kamen die Gewerkschaften, und die Gewerkschaften waren auch keine Freunde der Kir­che, und wir haben mit de­nen wenig Beziehungen oder gar keine mehr gehabt und haben gesagt, also lass die ihre Sachen selber aus­fechten.
Es gab keine Nieder­schrift oder Kopie von dem, was ich gesagt hatte, und es kann durchaus gewesen sein, dass ich das anders for­muliert habe. Aber die Idee war jedenfalls: Die Kommu­nisten, das haben wir noch ruhig passieren lassen; und die Gewerkschaften, das haben wir auch noch pas­sieren lassen; und die Sozialdemokraten haben wir auch noch passieren las­sen. Das war ja alles nicht unsere Angelegenheit. Die Kirche hatte ja mit Politik damals noch gar nichts zu tun, und man sollte ja damit nichts zu tun haben. Wir wollten in der Bekennenden Kirche an und für sich ja auch keinen politischen Wider­stand darstellen, sondern wir wollten für die Kirche feststellen, das ist nicht recht und das darf in der Kirche nicht Recht werden, deshalb hatten wir schon 33, als wir den Pfarrernot­bund gründeten, als 4. Punkt da drin: Wenn gegen Pfarrer Front gemacht wird und sie einfach ausgeboo­tet werden als Pastoren, weil sie Judenstämmlinge oder so was gewesen sind, dann können wir als Kirche nur sagen: Nein. Und das war dann der 4. Punkt in der Verpflichtung, und das war wohl die erste contra-anti-semitische Lautwerdung aus der Evangelischen Kir­che. Das ist nur das, was ich sagen kann zu dieser Geschichte mit dem: Als sie die Kommunisten einsperr­ten, da hat man nichts ge­sagt, wir waren keine Kom­munisten und waren durch­aus einverstanden, dass wir diese Gegner vom Halse hatten. Aber wir haben uns noch nicht verpflichtet ge­sehen, für Leute außerhalb der Kirche irgendetwas zu sagen, das war damals noch nicht Mode, und so weit waren wir noch nicht, dass wir uns für unser Volk verantwortlich wussten.“ 
Niemöller hat hier exakt geschichtlich nachgezeichnet, wie die Frontlinien des Widerstands der Reihe nach niedergelegt wurden. Die Katholiken hat er nicht genannt, weil die Katholiken ihr Konkordat hatten. Die Juden konnte er nicht nennen, weil die große Verfolgungswelle erst einsetzte, als er schon im KZ war.
Besonders in den USA existieren verschiedene Versionen; teils von Niemöller selbst abgewandelt, teils dazugedichtet . Martin Niemöllers zweite Frau (seit 1971), Sibylle von Sell  schreibt dazu am 23.4.2000 in h-holocaust http://www.h-net.org/~holoweb/ :.“ The trouble with Martin Niemoeller’s „famous quotation“ is that he never wrote it down – which enabled  so many hitchhikers  over the years to „put themselves on the waggon“. In his  „Confession of Guilt“  (as he called it himself: Schuldbekenntnis in German) the Communists came first, then the Trade Unionists and then the Socialists and then the Jews. NO ONE ELSE.”
Für eine wissenschaftliche Beschäftigung mit Entstehung und Rezeptionsgeschichte des Zitats lohnt sich ein Blick auf die Seite von Harold Marcuse (ja, er ist der Enkel …), Professor für deutsche Geschichte an der Universität Santa Barbara: http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/niem.htm

Sunday, November 20, 2016

All the news that's fit to print

I unsubscribed from the New York Times on November 13, 2016 after reading this editorial:

"As we reflect on the momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team."


Most of readers' comments were expressions of disappointment and anger at the Times. My comment was this:

"Without fear or favor"? There was nothing but favor for Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders in your reporting and your opinion pieces. Bernie Sanders was a progressive, honest and charismatic candidate who would have beaten Hillary hands down - had it not been for the efforts of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the DNC and NPR to undermine his campaign and dismiss his message.

No more fluff

"In 1375, the emperor received a memorial from Ru Taisu, a bureau secretary in the Ministry of Justice, that was 17,000 characters long. He had the memorial read aloud to him. When the lector got to the 16,370th character, Hongwu took offense at two harsh comments and had the man summoned and beaten at court. The following evening when Hongwu finally had the whole text read to him in bed, he decided that in fact four of Ru’s five recommendations in the memorial were quite good, and at court session the next morning ordered that they be carried out. He admitted that he had erred in getting angry, but blamed the victim for having left the substance of the memorial to the last 500 characters. Arguing that a truly loyal official should not trouble an emperor with 16,500 characters’ worth of fluff, he extracted the last 500 characters as a model of memorial-writing, added a preface explaining his distaste for florid prose, and ordered it distributed throughout the realm as a model of how officials should write.32 Clarity of communication mattered in the running of so vast a bureaucratic operation, though who knows whether he was successful in trimming the loquaciousness of his other officials down to precise prose."
 

Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China, 1998, Kindle loc. 656.

If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer

"Now everyone is busy scraping the bottom of his bowl with his spoon so as not to waste the last drops of the soup; a confused, metallic clatter, signifying the end of the day. Silence slowly prevails and then, from my bunk on the top row, I see and hear old Kuhn praying aloud, with his beret on his head, swaying backwards and forwards violently. Kuhn is thanking God because he has not been chosen. Kuhn is out of his senses. Does he not see Beppo the Greek in the bunk next to him, Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there looking fixedly at the light without saying anything and without even thinking any more? Can Kuhn fail to realize that next time it will be his turn? Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again? If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer."

Primo Levi, If this is a Man, Abacus Books, 1988, Kindle loc. 2008.

Monday, July 30, 2012

curio

On the curious origin of the word curio:

"The Empress, the first American ship to dock at a Far East port,
returned from Canton in 1785, making a 20 percent profit on invested
capital. In the following years, China trade expanded rapidly. By 1800,
the number of American ships that cleared Canton in one year had swelled
to one hundred. In trade volume, America now ranked second only to Great
Britain. The boom in trading, however, was buttressed more by the
natural products that merchants collected from the Pacific, especially
in the Hawaiian isles, than by the native products of the American
continent. Although the Empress voyage was a success, the Chinese soon
discovered that the ginseng they bought from the Americans was not the
same as the Korean herb that had been used for centuries in traditional
Chinese medicine. Consequently, it became increasingly difficult for
American traders to sell products brought from their native land. They
had to look for alternatives, soon finding that the Pacific abounded
with natural products that would cater to the demands of East Asian as
well as American markets. Fortune-seekers moved into the Pacific to
scavenge for furs, whales, bêche-de-mer (sea cucumbers), tortoiseshell,
pearls, shark fins, birds' nests, grain, fish, salt, coal, sandalwood,
lumber, copra, cowhide, tallow, arrow-root, spices, guano, human heads,
and even human beings. These commodities gave currency to the
nineteenth-century term curio, famously adopted by Herman Melville in
Moby-Dick (1851): The New England innkeeper, Peter Coffin, told Ishmael
that the Pacific savage Queequeg had 'a lot of 'balmed New Zealand heads
(great curios, you know).' The Oxford English Dictionary, in fact, cites
Melville's sentence as the earliest recorded use of the word."

Yunte Huang, Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective
and His Rendezvous with American History, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010,
p. 11.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Little finger

"Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads
of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us
consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of
connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon
receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine,
first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of
that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon
the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of
man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too,
perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings
concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the
commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in
general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these
humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his
business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the
same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The
most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a
more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow,
he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will
snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred
millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense
multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this
paltry misfortune of his own."

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments: To Which Is Added, a
Dissertation on the Origin of Languages (London: George Bell & Sons,
1892), p. 193.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jinasena on God

In her blog The Useless Tree, Namit Arora writes:

In 9th century CE India, a Jain teacher called Jinasena composed a
work called Mahapurana. The following is a quote from it.

Some foolish men declare that [a] Creator made the world. The
doctrine that the world was created is ill-advised, and should be
rejected. If god created the world, where was he before creation? If
you say he was transcendent then, and needed no support, where is he
now? No single being had the skill to make the world—for how can an
immaterial god create that which is material? How could god have made
the world without any raw material? If you say he made this first, and
then the world, you are faced with an endless regression. If you
declare that the raw material arose naturally you fall into another
fallacy, for the whole universe might thus have been its own creator,
and have risen equally naturally. If god created the world by an act
of will, without any raw material, then it is just his will made
nothing else and who will believe this silly stuff? If he is ever
perfect, and complete, how could the will to create have arisen in
him? If, on the other hand, he is not perfect, he could no more create
the universe than a potter could. If he is formless, actionless, and
all-embracing, how could he have created the world? Such a soul,
devoid of all modality, would have no desire to create anything. If
you say that he created to no purpose, because it was his nature to do
so then god is pointless. If he created in some kind of sport, it was
the sport of a foolish child, leading to trouble. If he created out of
love for living things and [in his] need of them he made the world,
why did he not make creation wholly blissful, free from misfortune?
Thus the doctrine that the world was created by god makes no sense at
all.

http://blog.shunya.net/shunyas_blog/2012/04/jinasena-on-god-the-creator.html