Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Day I Saw the Pope on the Toilet

The Pope and the Pinch

I'll never forget the day I saw the Pope sitting on the toilet.

He was in full papal regalia, having a wonderful time throwing rolls of toilet paper to the crowd as he went by. Then, somebody made the mistake of pinching Red Death, no doubt emboldened by the distraction.

To be fair, Red Death remains very pinchable to this day, and a real redhead must have been irresitible among all the black-haired Sicilian girls, not that they lacked a certain monochromatic leggy charm. Things like a fake pope-on-a-float and getting pinched are just part of quaint Sicilian culture, just as having your arm broken in thee places is part of American culture.

That is what makes cultural exchange so rewarding.

That does not mean Sicily is not a religious place. Every week or two there would a religious procession through our little town on the knees of Mt. Etna, accompanied by the tiny uniformed municipal band from The Godfather. On those nights, there would be fireworks, which the family would watch from the back balcony (the one that overlooked the enclosed area inhabited by cats; not the one over the street where we would buy fresh mozzarella wrapped in green leaves by means of a bucket on a rope).

Among all the differences between Sicily (where we lived) and Bahrain (which I visited a couple of times, courtesy of the U.S. government) the one I remember most was that Sicily had church bells and Manama had muezzins.

Sicily

Funny the things you remember. The proliferation of posters was another culture shock. No flat vertical surface in our Sicilian town was not layered with posters. Besides the pornographic movie posters our children passed on the way to the asilo, there were the ubiquitous black-lettered death announcements and sometimes political posters.

One had a cute, well-scrubbed girl in jeans. Another a smiling sun. There were Communist-red and Green-green posters. (Maybe the Greens had the smiling sun, now that I think of it, but there were probably the Greens and the Real Greens--50 shades of Green: that's Italy.)

There were way too many political parties by American standards. But since their government was proportional, everybody both got their say and didn't expect much. Not a bad system. Is your thing hunting and fishing? You got yourself a party. Neo-fascist? Make the trains run on time! (Bear in mind, this was in the early 90s, about the time the system was being overhauled.) There was even a famous porn starlet elected to the Italian parliament.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Sicilian politics. However, the same people who can make fun of the pope one week and march in a solemn religious procession the next probably hold their beliefs in an easy balance. Perhaps it comes from having your country conquered by someone new every other decade for centuries. In any case, despite invasions, plagues, the Mafia, earthquakes and eruptions of Mt. Etna, Sicilians enjoy life.

Maybe living where you are so frequently reminded that you don't control much makes you focus on the simple pleasures. Everything shuts down for a nap in the afternoon. Everything closes during August for vacation.

You learn to give, so you can receive. We had a padrone--the mayor, who happened to be our landlord--which means we were golden. We were invited to his campanga and his lido. The Bear always suspected he might be asked to "do a small favor," but that day has not yet come. If the road was blocked by a herd of "geep" (we believed them to be an abominable mix of sheep and goats) a couple of cigarettes would get you on your way.

Every job would be done "domani." At first--don't laugh--we believed them. It wasn't that they were lying. That anxious American need to know a deadline probably just didn't compute. "Tomorrow," just meant, "Not today, not six months from now, what do you want from me? Got any cigarettes?"

American culture is all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it. A soccer game might end an a tie, but not a baseball game. Politically, we have our good candidate and the other guy's evil candidate. It's black and white, and thanks to social media, half the country would kill the other half and consider it a mitzvah. Thank God we're all geographically mixed up now, or every day a thousand Ft. Sumpters would bloom.

Which brings me to the real point.

American Binary Intensity

Americans hold opinions with a binary intensity one does not necessarily find in other places in the world, at least those not controlled by ISIS. It is part of our history. Since it also means no American is capable of being argued out of any opinion, the Bear shall not attempt to do so here. He will leave a testament, however, and continue to explore how the internet is making everyone stupid and wicked.

We see the same thing in the controversy over Pope Francis. Maybe if we could get a kick out of seeing a toilet-seated pope-on-a-float without having a stroke, we might have a different perspective.

This is the horrible, heretical truth the Bear believes.

Hierarchy versus Tradition

The Church is a hierarchy. The Church has changed many practices throughout history. There have been popes who were saintly, wicked, foolish and mediocre. We have even had more than one at a time. (Stop snickering.) Wherever we are today, for better or worse, it did not start with Pope Francis, but long ago.

If I believe that Pope Francis is foolish and wish he would isolate himself in a catacomb far from microphones and cameras, that's one thing. However, the establishment of a permanent internet papal opposition party (and there is zero doubt that is what is happening) is a negation of the concept of hierarchy and saps the foundation of the actual Church to replace it with a museum. That, I won't participate in, if this blog's audience dwindles to three people from its current nine.

There's already an Orthodox Church.

Between the concepts of hierarchy and tradition, many have decided the Church is to be found in the latter. In theory, one should not have to choose, and in practice, I suppose it depends on what one considers essential. Everything on this earth is pinched between a very Sicilian Scylla and Charybdis: the ideal and the real, so Bears are not overly troubled by such things.

This Bear believes the Church is not found apart from the hierarchy and the test of time is not always the acid test of truth--truths of the past sometimes being a little too much acid not to burn people.

The internet makes it so easy now. Americans are practical and see things in black and white. The internet has not opened us to infinite viewpoints, it has only further committed us to which of just two (never more!) sides we have already chosen. That is unfortunate in most things, but a clear and present danger to the Church and souls.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Huxley Right, Orwell Wrong

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. 
-- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book News for Friends of this Ephemeris

Red Death will kill me if I put another
writing-related dime on our VISA.
As you know, the Bear's treatment of marriage and temptations, Judging Angels, became unavailable when its publisher folded. Always one to make lemonade out of lemons, the Bear took the opportunity to carefully edit 38,000 words from the original. Now, it has the same characters, same story, same themes, but moves faster and stays focused. I don't think any previous reader would miss anything.

It will be republished as The Do-Over Birdy with new, more modern cover artwork that will be carried from book to book. Before that, it will be getting professional work at the hands of an experienced editor.

(Which is not cheap.)

It will be concurrently published with book 2 of the series, The Crow Hunter, which picks up the action (from a different perspective) toward the last page of The Do-Over Birdy and adds some new characters Bear thinks you'll like.

The Bear has also been working on book 3, Conspiracy of Crows. (Books 2 and 3 were originally one overlong, overcomplicated book, so he split them into separate ones, which accounts for the progress on both.)

Each book will be as thematically serious as the first, while maintaining that light touch that separates them from most urban fantasy (and certainly horror) novels.

However these books reach the public, the project costs money the Bear just doesn't have. Unlike a blog article, which is here today and gone tomorrow, a book needs sound editorial assistance to make the right first impression. If you have read the Bear's books, or at least his 1448 free articles on a wide variety of topics and enjoyed them, the Bear politely begs for any salmon you can spare for this project specifically. A patron of the arts! That can be you!

Thank you.
The Bear

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Umberto Eco, Charles Williams and the Bear

Umberto Eco
Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community...but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize Winner." - Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco
The Bear will circle back around to the quote, but by now, you know Bears prefer to stalk their subjects in an indirect manner.

The Bear received Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco as an early Father's Day present. Eco is best known for The Name of the Rose, which Hollywood made into a conventional mystery set in a medieval monastery. The first time the Bear read Foucault's Pendulum, he was baffled.

He hopes this time around he's onto Eco. It's not a conventional novel, but meant to engage the reader beyond plot and character arcs. If the Bear is right, the novel itself is the author's "metagame" that engages the reader on different levels. The Bear thinks he can illustrate this in a way he hopes that Eco wouldn't find too awful.

Imagine you receive a novel as a gift. However, the chapters are not bound, and part of the fun is using clues to puzzle out how they fit together in the right order. Furthermore, this process itself reveals meanings related to the novel. It is not, however, part of the text per se.

Maybe you never quite get all the chapters right, and so the communication is not one-hundred percent. Even so, you may have learned quite a bit, and, after all, you still get a novel to read. Please note this is much different from saying, as some academics have tried to say, that the text has no actual meaning and belongs to each reader.

Foucault's Pendulum is the story about bored editors who decide to turn theories of crackpot occult authors into a vast and secret conspiracy. However, their prank becomes dangerous when someone takes it seriously. Occultism is ripe for a send-up, although that's just one ball Eco juggles.


A Wicked Pack of Cards

To use a more personal example, the novel formerly known as Judging Angels is about--among other things--our world's starvation of a sense of the supernatural. From the first chapter to the last, there are references to what T.S. Eliot called in The Wasteland, "a wicked pack of cards." In the novel formerly known as Judging Angels, the Tarot--like a couple of the characters--are intrusions into the consensus world of materialism by the supernatural (or, perhaps, "preternatural" would be more precise from some perspectives).

Slaying the reductionist materialistic dragon is the primary goal of the artist in his culture today.


The Origin of the 22 Trumps in Christian Europe

Forget all the occult nonsense you might have heard about the Tarot. The cards are the product of Christian Europe in the 15th Century and their form was fixed in in the 17th and 18th Centuries in what is known as the Tarot de Marseille. The 22 trumps were used in a game where each was "trumped" by the higher-numbered card. Le Mat (The Fool) is the only unnumbered card, and survives as the Joker. The grim reaper (XIII) is the only unnamed card; perhaps it was considered unlucky in the plague era.

For example, the shady sleight-of-hand performer (whom silly Victorian occultists turned into an adept) is I and is trumped by La Papesse (the female pope) II.
This second card represents pagan religion, perhaps in the guise of the legend of Pope Joan. Contemporary art shows a classical goddess wearing a triple crown.

It is trumped by the Empress (III), then there's the Emperor (IIII), then the Pope (V), and so on. These would have been familiar figures to people of that age. The Renaissance was a time of rediscovery of the classical world and that is reflected in ways space does not permit the Bear to go into here.



Their Use in the Novel Formerly Known as Judging Angels

Anyway, there is a Tarot reading in one chapter of the novel formerly known as Judging Angels. No previous knowledge is necessary, and if readers don't catch on, they won't miss anything essential. If they think about it, though, it does provide clues to hidden connections among characters, their true identities, and an overview of the plot. The numbers 21 and 22 appear throughout the novel, also. Suffice it to say that 21 is missing one card. Who, what or where?

The relevance to the on-going discussion is that here we have one medium (a game with picture cards possessing their own associations) on top of a different medium (words used for description and dialogue). This is not gratuitous. Like them, fear them or just think they're silly, most people at least feel there's something mysterious about them. If they seem like an intrusion into this material world of an unseen reality our culture denies--just as they intrude into the story--it supports an important theme of the novel. And, unlike a motif or symbol, they have a resonant independent existence outside of it.


The Lead-Off Quote

Eco's quote probably sounds like an Italian academic with no appreciation for American ideals of free speech. However, the reason the Bear thought it was interesting was that it recognizes social media can harm the community. Eco is talking about content, but I'm sure he would have also been aware of it as a medium independent of content. As the Bear has argued, a medium limits and shapes content, and social media constricts it in harmful ways. What is your reaction?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Internet Porn a Gift from God?

Since internet users spend an average of 27 seconds on any given site the Bear has to get you into the tent. NEW POPE VIDEO AND PORN!

Pope Francis as Bad Example


Pope Francis is, with all due respect, an excellent example of someone who is unwisely trying to use media with extremely poor truth-transmitting capacities to teach the faith. Off-the-cuff pressers on airplanes? God, no, please. Feel-good lifestyle comments to anyone who manages to get near him? A pope can't be a glad-handing Tammany Hall wannabe like Cardinal Dolan because, hey, he's just a nice guy and wanna be liked.

And there are these damned Pope Videos.

The latest calls the internet "a gift from God," and shows how wonderful social networks are supposed to be. Even Africans with dirt floors have Wi-Fi, apparently. Let's just keep it "inclusive," 'kay? That's right. The only warning the Pope gives about the internet is that we keep it "inclusive."


Dumb PSA: Papal Service Announcement

What can you say about these dumb Public Service Announcements from the Pope. Here is the Vicar of Christ using his teaching authority (apparently) to raise awareness of global warming, care for the planet, indifferentism, and all sorts of things, so long as they don't challenge the zeitgeist. Catholic content: zero.

The Pope Videos are a metaphor for how media not only limits, but shapes content. The Christian religion is reduced to another TV commercial that might have been produced by the Democrat National Committee or Greenpeace.

And, typically, whoever created this particular abomination about the internet deals only with content, not the problems with the medium itself. In other words, They Don't Get It. But, we knew that all along.


Pornography and Sex

Almost no one is using this "gift from God" to watch Pope Videos, though. They're all watching porn. (James Martin S.J. probably isn't, because he's too busy being an idiot on Twitter.)

That's right. According to an article on the Forbes website, 2.5% of all the internet users in the world are finding some sort of god at just one adult site: Live Jasmin, which is interactive. You not only watch,  but tell the girls what you want to see! Internet porn stats are notoriously difficult to pin down, but it's safe to say this gift from God is leading a lot more people to Live Jasmin than Pope Francis. (If you fell for the Bear trick, don't feel bad. We're all human. Except the Bear.)

Given the awful Pope Videos, Bear is not sure that's a bad thing. But, hey, the Bear would pay $1.99 a minute if they were interactive to tell the Pope to just stop, but if he wants to talk about the internet, talk about how it's making us all stupid and wicked, not about content and how it's all good as long as we're "inclusive" whatever the Hell that's code for.

But what is porn doing to humans? Let the Bear introduce you to:


The Coolidge Effect

The name comes from a story, or a joke. President Coolidge's wife was at a government farm and noticed a rooster mating several times. Upon asking, she was told, yes, it was the same rooster, and he did that all the time. "Tell the President when he comes by," she told the attendant. When it was the President's turn, he was informed as the missus had asked. "Same hen?" Silent Cal asked. "Oh, no, sir, they're all different hens." So Coolidge answered: "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge."

Scientists (don't ask Bear why) experimented with mice and found that boy mice were capable of heroic sexual activity as long as they were provided new partners. Mrs. Mouse? Let's just say he did his duty.


Your Brain on Porn

What's that got to do with the internet? The brains of the people who use internet porn don't know they're not, um, interacting with new and exciting real partners. Enter the Coolidge Effect. Variety is the hardwired spice of life, which for thousands of years we didn't need experiments with mice to know. Just ask David. Or Solomon, who had like a billion mice.

Porn changes the human brain. But, then, everything you do much of online does.

A gift from God, huh? If so, it's the Bear doing God's work with it, not the Pope.

Here's an illustration of the Coolidge Effect from Stanley Kubrick's hilarious Dr. Strangelove (1964). Watch George C. Scott's reaction to the plan for repopulating the United States and the question and answer starting 55 seconds in.



Monday, June 4, 2018

Session 3: The Abby Normal Brain

The Historic Jeanine Nicarico Murder Case

The 1983 murder of Jeanine Nicarico is the nightmare of every parent, but the disturbing details are not part of this story. You can always read about it in on Wikipedia if you have a morbid curiosity.

Police and prosecutors sent two men, Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, to death row. After years of appeals, a sheriff's lieutenant reversed his testimony and Cruz was acquitted at his third trial in 1995. Shortly thereafter charges against Hernandez were dropped.

Three DuPage County prosecutors and four deputies were indicted for conspiracy, because they had hidden evidence that showed Cruz and Hernandez were innocent.. 

You see, Brian Dugan had confessed.

Brian Dugan and the Abby Normal Brain Defense

Brian Dugan was a very bad man doing time for similar crimes. In 2009 he pled guilty at his death penalty trial and the jury considered whether he should be sentenced to death or not.

This is where the Abby Normal Brain defense -- and, more or less, the Bear -- comes in.

It is relevant to this course on how the internet is making us stupid and wicked because a big part of that story is about how our online time is physically changing our brains. The other is a media critique along the lines of McLuhan and Postman. Eventually, it will all come back around to show how many of the problems we see in the world are, if not manifestations of, at least aggravated by humans struggling with new ways of handling information without giving it sufficient thought because it's just so easy and ubiquitous.




For the first time in Illinois history, the results of functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) were to be introduced into evidence. Dr. Kent Kiehl had taken his fMRI road show from New Mexico to Illinois to see if Brian Dugan was a psychopath or not.

You probably know what an MRI is, or perhaps have even had one. An MRI gives a static picture of the brain. An fMRI purports to scan the brain, run the results through a computer, and show brains in the process of being used. In this case, emotionally-charged pictures are shown to the subject to see what areas "light up" -- or don't. Kiehl claims to be able to detect psychopathy this way.

Just Because We Can, Should We?

The Bear had been arguing in print and in our little circle of death penalty lawyers on the state payroll  that the last thing defense lawyers should do is portray defendants as nothing more than "Abby Normal" brains.

Bear did not and still does not understand how it is a good thing to prove to a jury a defendant is a remorseless intraspecies predator incapable of empathy and biologically doomed by an Abby Normal brain to commit crimes. Not that there aren't psychopaths, although they're rare. Ted Bundy is the classic example. Brian Dugan might be one, for all Bear knows.

Not only is the Bear philosophically opposed to a reductionist materialistic world-view, he does not welcome this kind of thing into the law. But most of all, he thought it was just a bad strategy. 

Prosecutors (Bear's first death penalty case was as prosecutor) and defense counsel use all sorts of tricks to dehumanize (prosecutors) and humanize (defense). The prosecutor stands and points an accusing finger at the defendant (he's always "the defendant"). The defense lawyer puts his arm around his client at counsel table and leans in to whisper into his ear, even if it's just to say, "look how jurors two and three are paying more attention to each other than the evidence." He's always named, never "the defendant."

They call it "optics" now, a term the Bear finds annoying, but there you go. On some level, jurors think, "Wow, that nice Bear isn't afraid of him, so he can't be all bad." Or, maybe, "That Bear is just as awful as his client." You just never knew what jurors are thinking.

Boning Up on the Brain

Before the fMRI of Brian Dugan was entered into evidence, the Bear had done much research on the brain. It was of vital professional importance. He lost the argument. The defense went forward on the cockeyed theory that Brian Dugan should be spared because he was a dangerous, broken machine. 

He was sentenced to death (not that a different theory would have made much difference). The Bear, however, had learned a whole lot about how our brains work, and has kept up with the research. 

That is why he read with such interest the book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Carr marshals impressive evidence that the internet is physically changing our brains and the very way we think. Is it possible we're all getting our own Abby Normal brains from the enormous differences between what we do online and anything that humanity has ever seen before?



Saturday, June 2, 2018

More on Bear's Facebook Page

More conversation on the Facebook page of the Bear. Hot topics include why the mega-best-seller The Time Traveler's Wife is bad, plus more on the subject of the current series (course). Feel free to get all the Bear by checking in.

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Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

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