30 December 2014

Holy Prepuce and Happy New Year

Circumcision by David Gollaher, 2000, Excerpts

Before and during the Renaissance, throughout Christendom’s golden age of relic worship, one of the most prized and most esoteric relics was the foreskin of Christ. Legend held that the foreskin emitted a sublime odor, much to the delight of grand ladies of Rome.

One legend held that Mary saved her son’s prepuce and carried it about on her person until she ascended to heaven, there to present it to him so that he might stand intact before God the Father. Others, however, suggested that it was left behind and survived. Some people believed that Mary the Mother of Jesus gave it to Mary Magdalene who, before her death, passed it on to the apostles. According to the Revelations of Saint Birgitta, a Swedish saint who was canonized toward the end of the fourteenth century, Mary appeared to her in a dream and told how she had preserved the blessed foreskin and finally handed it to Jesus’ disciple John.

By various means of concealment, as the story goes, an angelic courier, in anticipation of Charlemagne’s coronation by Pope Leo XIII in the year 800, spirited the relic to Charlemagne. The emperor, in turn, presented the foreskin to the Church. It remained a private possession of the popes until the sack of Rome in 1527.  Its rescue and return to Rome was interpreted as a miracle in its own right.

The Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord is a feast day formerly celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church on 1 January as a holy day of obligation. It was a feast celebrating not only Christ consenting to submit to Jewish Law, but also the first time that the Redeemer spilled his blood for mankind. Traditional Catholics still celebrate this feast under this name.

Gives a whole new meaning to “Happy New Year’.

Guido Reni 1575-1642

German postage stamp honors circumcision as ancient tradition
26 Aug 2012
As debate over circumcision rages in Germany, the postal service in that country has issued a commemorative stamp likely to play into the hands of those supporting the custom. The stamp, which will be released on September 11, contains a passage from the New Testament describing the circumcision of Jesus: “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus” ‏(Luke 2:21‏). 

27 December 2014

PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

On Killing by LtCol Dave Grossman, 2009, Excerpts

Societies which ask men to fight on their behalf should be aware of the consequences. Manifestations of PTSD include recurrent and intrusive dreams and recollections of the experience, emotional blunting, social withdrawal, exceptional difficulty or reluctance in initiating or maintaining intimate relationships, and sleep disturbances. These symptoms can in turn lead to serious difficulties in readjusting to civilian life, resulting in alcoholism, divorce, and unemployment. The symptoms persist for months or years after the trauma, often emerging after a long delay.

Success in war and national survival may necessitate killing enemy soldiers in battle. If we accept that we need an army, then we must accept that it has to be as capable of surviving as we can make it. But if society prepares a soldier to overcome his resistance to killing and places him in an environment in which he will kill, then that society has an obligation to deal forthrightly, intelligently, and morally with the result and its repercussions upon the soldier and the society. 

Tom Waits – Hell Broke Luce
Based on the story of Jeff Lucey, a 23-year-old Marine veteran of Iraq who killed himself. 
Lucey was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 
He hanged himself with a garden hose in the cellar of his family's home.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010, Excerpt
The Pacific POWs who went home in 1945 were torn-down men. They had an intimate understanding of man’s vast capacity to experience suffering, as well as his equally vast capacity, and hungry willingness, to inflict it. They carried unspeakable memories of torture and humiliation, and an acute sense of vulnerability that attended the knowledge of how readily they could be disarmed and dehumanized. Many felt lonely and isolated, having endured abuses that ordinary people couldn’t understand. Their dignity had been obliterated, replaced with a pervasive sense of shame and worthlessness. Coming home was an experience of profound, perilous aloneness.

26 December 2014

Rape of Nanking

The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang, 1997, Excerpts

Few atrocities in world history compare in intensity and scale to the Rape of Nanking during World War II. Looking back upon millennia of history, no race or culture has a monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin – one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war. When the city fell on December 13, 1937, Japanese soldiers began an orgy of cruelty seldom matched in world history.

Atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking can be seen as a predictable if not inevitable outgrowth of ceding to an authoritarian regime, dominated by a military and imperial elite, the unchallenged power to commit an entire people to realizing the sick goals of the few with the unbridled power to set them.

Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to see dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise. The Rape of Nanking should be perceived as a cautionary tale – an illustration of how easily human beings can be encouraged to allow their teenagers to be molded into efficient killing machines able to suppress their better natures.

Governor of Japan broadcaster NHK denies Nanjing massacre
04 Feb 2014
A governor of Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, has denied that the Nanjing massacre took place. "In 1938, Chiang Kai-shek tried to publicize Japan's responsibility for the Nanking Massacre, but the nations of the world ignored him. Why? Because it never happened. Atrocities were committed by all sides in wars and that there was no need to teach such things to Japanese children.” Mr Hyakuta's comments come days after the broadcaster's new head, Katsuto Momii, said that the Japanese military's use of sex slaves during World War Two was a practice common in any country at war.  "Such women could be found in any nation that was at war, including France and Germany," he said, describing international anger as "puzzling".

Nanjing massacre: China's Xi Jinping leads first state commemoration
13 Dec 2014

Chinese President Xi Jinping has presided over his country's first state commemoration of the Nanjing massacre. China says 300,000 civilians were massacred when the city was occupied by Japan's troops in 1937, although some Japanese nationalists dispute this. President Xi told survivors that to deny a crime was to repeat it but insisted the ceremony was to promote peace, not prolong hatred. Beijing says Tokyo has never properly apologized or atoned for its wartime past. China says tens of thousands of civilians were slaughtered in Nanjing, some Japanese politicians and nationalists deny a massacre even took place. Millions of Chinese people were killed when Japan occupied China in the 1930s and 1940s.

Tree of Heaven by Binstock
Tent of the Orange Mist by Paul West, 1997.

The Rape of Nanking: An undeniable History in Photographs, published in 1996.


City of Life and Death [2009]: Director Chuan Lu pulls off a rare feat by providing a clear-eyed drama about an event in Chinese-Japanese history -- the 1937 Rape of Nanking following that city's capture by Japan -- that still casts a shadow over relations between the countries. Shot in black and white, the film chronicles the six-week period through the eyes of multiple characters -- including a Japanese soldier, a refugee camp supervisor, a resistance fighter and others.
One of the best war movies I've ever seen, especially effective in bringing to the screen the horrors that befall a besieged city, both from the victims' and the victors' perspective. Surprised this movie hasn't gotten more widespread attention.

Nanking: Co-directors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman helm this Sundance selection chronicling the story of "the Rape of Nanking," a World War II-era tragedy in which more than 200,000 Chinese citizens were murdered and tens of thousands were raped at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway and Stephen Dorff portray some of the Westerners who rose to the occasion with quiet acts of heroism.

John Rabe: Chairman of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, the good Nazi. Florian Gallenberger directs this gripping drama about John Rabe (Ulrich Tukur), a German businessman living in Nanking, China, who in 1937 used his Nazi party affiliation to save some 200,000 Chinese civilians from slaughter at the hands of the Japanese army. As Rabe labors to establish an official safety zone to shelter the innocent, he forms an unlikely friendship with an American doctor (Steve Buscemi). Anne Consigny and Daniel Brühl co-star.

13 December 2014

Christ Series

The Spirit of Christmas -- Gift Exchange

Money by Edwin Walter Kemmerer, Princeton, 1935
Goods were exchanged long before money existed, and the origin of exchange was in gifts. One would make a present to another in the hope of obtaining a present in return. Our modern customs in regard to Christmas and birthday presents are reminiscent of these primitive forms of exchange.

Mammon by Robert Graves, Annual Oration, London School of Economics, 1963
Let us go back farther in ancient history, to the idea of barter; and beyond that to the idea of obligatory gift-exchanges; and beyond that, to the still purer idea of unconditional gift. What we now call ‘finance’ is an intellectual perversion of what began as warm human love.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Everyone could share the routine of necessary jobs for a few hours a day, and leave most of the time free for enjoyment, creativity, labors of love, and yet produce enough for an equal and ample distribution of goods.