Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Christopher Hitchens

Coming Around For Another Bite

Two Novembers ago it took my father. In September it took my wife. Now it wants my dog. I hate cancer. Why won’t it leave us alone? I am reminded of the quote from Christopher Hitchens who, when confronting his cancer diagnosis wrote, “To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: why not?” So it is with my family. And so it goes.

Susan Sontag warns us of anthropomorphizing cancer, but it is so easy to do. Without a face, your foe it is that much harder to fight. What made Jaws so powerful was that the animatronic shark kept breaking forcing Steven Spielberg to come up with other ways to present the omnipresent danger through the use of camera movements and ominous music. The unseen monster is far worse than the seen. So we put a face on cancer and try to fight it from the outside while it destroys us from within.

So now we are awaiting the results of the biopsy which will tell us if the tumor is malignant. If it is, we will be faced with the difficult decision of what to do next. At twelve years of age, my wonderful dog has already battled cancer twice, had both back knees rebuilt, and had his eye repaired in Chicago. He’s been through it all. And yet his only concern in life is that he loves us. We will be faced with the difficult answer to the question: for whom are we going to submit him to more medical treatment? If it is for him, we will proceed, cost be damned. If it is for us, we will need to regroup and face the ultimate question of when is more surgery, radiation, and recovery too much for him leading to the inevitable decision whether to put him down. But I’m ahead of myself. We need the biopsy results first. We’ve been down this road before and will make the right decision when we have all of the facts and in spite of the perturbations it will cause.

We will be forced to answer the tough question: for whom are we going to submit him to more medical treatment? If it is for him, we will proceed, cost be damned. If it is for us, we will need to regroup and face the ultimate question of when is more surgery, radiation, and recovery too much for him leading to the inevitable decision whether to put him down. But I’m ahead of myself. We need the biopsy results first. We’ve been down this road before and will make the right decision when we have all of the facts and in spite of the perturbations it will cause.

I hate cancer. Leave us alone. Even sharks need time to digest their latest meal.

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GUEST POST: Modernity, Maternity and God

aa graphicAllāhu Akbar!

The phrase literally means, “Allah is greater”, but can be generalized to mean “God is Greater”. As a call to action, it is a consistent part of daily Muslim prayers.

When talking to CNN, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva had this to say about her sons’ deaths: “My oldest one is killed, I don’t care. I don’t care if my youngest one is going to be killed today. I want the world to hear this. And I don’t care if I am to get killed too, okay? And I will say Allāhu Akbar!”

The public condemned this statement. How could a mother be so callous about her children’s lives? Is she even human? Is this not proof that Islam is a religion of pieces, rather than a religion of peace? (This stupid pun follows in the grand intellectual footsteps of “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”) My problem with these questions is not their sentiment, but the hypocrisy that their context reveals. The vaguely racist, forced connections from immigration to religion that underscore this discussion are violent, and ignorant. Religion is the ally of child sacrifice. The religious doctrines of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all applaud child sacrifice.

Genesis, Chapter 22, beginning at Verse 1 (KJV): “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Aside from that fact that God is said to be tempting, and not testing, (which makes him something less than perfect or good), this incitement of murder is pointless and evil. God recognizes Abraham’s love for his son before demanding the child’s death. This immoral mockery is wholly undeserving of praise. Abraham asks no questions, and Isaac’s only concern seems to be that he can’t seem to find the animal of sacrifice. His father ties him to the altar. Isaac offers no protest. Abraham shows no reservation. The most chilling line of Genesis, save for the floods and violently wicked exultations and bursts of anger from a ‘perfectly just and merciful’ God, is verse ten of the same chapter. “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” God chooses this moment to put down the popcorn and intervene. After egotistically claiming that his only desire was to ensure the fear of his subjects, (I can feel Job wincing), God kindly releases Abraham from the devout act of killing his only child. Unrealistically, the son in question abstains from flipping the capricious deity the bird. The Quran takes the story even further, claiming that the boy’s hands, (almost definitely referring to Isaac), did not need to be bound and that he chose sacrifice willingly. This version of the story is more toxic. The idea of child sacrifice ought to be abhorrent to both parent and child, but the willing sacrifice of a child that goes undisputed by his parent is evil. To advocate this view is to champion inhuman cruelty and vilify familial loyalty.

Temptation, fear, and apathy define the God of Genesis. Orwell taught us the perverseness of being forced to love someone that you fear. Child sacrifice is evil. Those who condone it are immoral. The Christians who claim that Abraham’s faith in God was so great that he believed that his son would be brought back from death are being impossibly revisionist. I default to Christopher Hitchens for the final word on the subject.  Speaking about his children, he says: “If I was told to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do, and admire the man who said, ‘Yes, I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God’, I’d say, ‘No, fuck you.’”

The proud outrage of the religious at Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s pitiless piety is hollow. Her insistence that her sons are innocent and not terrorists is made irrelevant by her defiant exultation of “Allāhu Akbar!” Her ideas are loyal to a vile principle present in all three major monotheisms. As a human being and an American, I’ve had enough of à la Carte religion and the baseless moral condescension of the faithful. Allāhu Akbar is an abdication of responsibility. The final reminders given to the 9/11 hijackers included “Shout ‘Allāhu Akbar’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers”. The Iranian flag has the phrase “Allāhu Akbar” written on it twenty-two times. Maryam Mohammad Yousif Farhat screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” and handed out candy upon hearing that her son had killed five people as a suicide bomber. Nidal Malik Hasan screamed “Allāhu Akbar!” before opening fire at Fort Hood. This deadly idiocy is the battle cry of piety. Their love of God is just as dangerous as their fear of him. It empowers disembodied tyrants while cheapening the lives and intellects of human beings. No mother should value her faith above her sons. God is not greater than family. God is not greater than humanity.

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

According to legend, the pilgrims and puritans of Plymouth, Massachusetts, following a good harvest, celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621.  George Washington issued a proclamation in 1789 naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thanks.”  Here is the proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. WASHINGTON.

However, it was Sarah Josepha Hale, writer and editor famous for penning the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” that deserves credit for creating a national day of thanksgiving.  Following a forty year letter writing campaign to all manner of politicians, Hale wrote the following letter to President Abraham Lincoln in 1863:

Private

Philadelphia, Sept. 28th 1863.

Hon. Abraham Lincoln

President of the United States

Sir-

Permit me, as Editress of the “Lady’s Book”, to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and — as I trust — even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.

You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.

Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the “Lady’s Book”, and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories — also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen — and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.

But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid — that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; — or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag — could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.

Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.

An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.

Excuse the liberty I have taken

With profound respect

Yrs truly

Sarah Josepha Hale,

Editress of the “Ladys Book”

Moved by the carnage suffered during the recent battle of Gettysburg (and with the rudimentary foundation of the Gettysburg Address formulating in his brain) Lincoln embraced the idea of a national day of thanksgiving.  On October 3, 1863, Lincoln issued the following proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

By the President

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

However, because of the Civil War, the states of the Confederacy did not honor the “national” day of thanksgiving and a truly national celebration would have to wait until the Reconstruction of the 1870’s.

And while I agree with Christopher Hitchens that everything that does not kill us does not necessarily make us stronger, experiences, like the concrete piers of a well-built home, forms the foundation upon which we face the ever more difficult, whether by choice or chance.

Here, then, are several quotes of Thanksgiving for your enjoyment:

Rest and be thankful!

Doubling and doubling with laborious walk,

Who, that has gained at length the wished-for Height,

This brief this simple wayside Call can slight,

And rests not thankful? Whether cheered by talk

With some loved friend, or by the unseen hawk

Whistling to clouds and sky-born streams that shine,

At the sun’s outbreak, as with light divine,

Ere they descend to nourish root and stalk

Of valley flowers. Nor, while the limbs repose,

Will we forget that, as the fowl can keep

Absolute stillness, poised aloft in air,

And fishes front, unmoved, the torrent’s sweep,–

So may the Soul, through powers that Faith bestows,

Win rest, and ease, and peace, with bliss that Angels share.

William Wordsworth

I can no other answer make but thanks,

And thanks, and ever thanks.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night. Act III, scene iii

When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?

No- here’s to the pilot that weathered the storm.

George Canning, May 25, 1802

Happy Thanksgiving

Game Day Quotes

The election is finally upon us.  We vote today and await the results tonight.  Tomorrow all the political placards will vanish from our lawns.  All of the candidate commercials on television will give way and our TV’s will once again be bombarded with advertisements for erectile dysfunction prescriptions, Fords, Chevy’s, pizza and college football promotions.  Before we move on to another sporting season, here are a few select quotes on the political process for your amusement and consideration.  As always, comments are appreciated.

“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”  ― George Bernard Shaw

“I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.”  ― Alexis de Tocqueville

“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”  ― Bertrand Russell

“Democracy is reproached with saying that the majority is always right. But progress says that the minority is always right.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”  ― Larry J. Sabato

“In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance” ― Thomas Jefferson

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”  ― Bertrand Russell

“Omnia praeclara tam difficilia quam rara sunt (All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare)”  ― Baruch Spinoza

“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”  ― Thomas Jefferson

“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.”  ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Those who will not reason, perish in the act. Those who will not act, perish for that reason.”  ― W.H. Auden

“All I have is a voice.”  ― W.H. Auden

“The governor of Texas, who, when asked if the Bible should also be taught in Spanish, replied that ‘if English was good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me.” ― Christopher Hitchens

“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”  ― Christopher Hitchens

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”  ― Sinclair Lewis

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”  ― David Foster Wallace

“You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena.”  ― Jon Stewart

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”  ― Edward R. Murrow

“On Undecided Voter​s: “To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broke​n glass in it?”  To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”  ― David Sedaris

“In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill… we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.”  ― Plato

“If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of Congress?”  ― Will Rogers

“If you actually are an educated, thinking person, you will not be welcome in Washington, D.C. I know a couple of bright seventh graders who would not be welcome in Washington D.C.”  ― Kurt Vonnegut

“The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletariat to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeoisie.”  ― Gustave Flaubert

“Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt

Will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside ragin’.

It’ll soon shake your windows

And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’.”  ― Bob Dylan

“Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.”  ― Otto von Bismarck

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.  – Nelson Mandela

“It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.”  ― Graham Greene

“But, Jefferson worried that the people – and the argument goes back to Thucydides and Aristotle – are easily misled. He also stressed, passionately and repeatedly, that it was essential for the people to understand the risks and benefits of government, to educate themselves, and to involve themselves in the political process.  Without that, he said, the wolves will take over.”  ― Carl Sagan

“Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.”  ― Václav Havel

“They deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth.”  –Plato

“In a democracy, the most important office is the office of citizen.”  ― Louis Brandeis

“Ideology is the science of idiots.”  ― John Adams

“History is changed by martyrs who tell the truth.”  ― Miguel Syjuco

“A thinking man never be a party man.”  ― Friedrich Nietzsche

“Let no one misunderstand our idea; we do not confound what are called ‘political opinions’ with that grand aspiration after progress with that sublime patriotic, democratic, and human faith, which, in our days, should be the very foundation of all generous intelligence.”  ― Victor Hugo

“I take criticism so seriously as to believe that, even in the midst of a battle in which one is unmistakably on one side against another, there should be criticism, because there must be critical consciousness if there are to be issues, problems, values, even lives to be fought for… Criticism must think of itself as life-enhancing and constitutively opposed to every form of tyranny, domination, and abuse; its social goals are noncoercive knowledge produced in the interests of human freedom.”  ― Edward W. Said

“In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there were no kings; the consequence of which was there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throws mankind into confusion.”  ― Thomas Paine