Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Read Your Bible

                                                 Read, you putzes!

Thanks to my friend Cathy (and Facebook, lately almost my only source of news) I was alerted to this (from NPR):
The Pew Forum on Religious Religion and Public Life released a survey on religious knowledge today. Atheists and Agnostics scored higher on it than anyone else, closely followed by Jews and Mormons, all Christians, Protestants and Catholics, were far behind.
That's overall, but when you get into specific religions it does show a startling lack of basic knowledge by practitioners. From the report:
More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.
The study also showed that Americans have a fairly poor understanding of religions other than their own. Only about half of the people surveyed know that Martin Luther inspired the Reformation, the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, and Joseph Smith was a Mormon.
Atheists and Agnostics scored higher on it than anyone else, closely followed by Jews and Mormons.  Well, excuse me, but I really resent this classification. I am an Atheist Jew, so that must mean I am Bible Expert Number One.
Number two, I think this is more a reflection of how stoopid and ignorant Americans are, rather than agnostics and atheists being geniuses at religion.
I took the quiz. It is so basic, it's appalling. I'm proud to report that I missed just one of the 15 answers and I think it was a trick question.
This useful bit of info is certainly welcome these days, but it is hardly surprising. Agnostics and atheists may not only know more about religion, we actually comport ourselves according to most of the better values of said beliefs, rather than pay hypocritical lip service, in the best of cases, or in the worst, use our special relationship with God to be thoroughly disgusting and abusive human beings (The Pope, The Taliban, all fundamentalists, the ultra-orthodox in Israel, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, televangelists, etc).
Why are Atheists and Agnostics better informed? The Los Angeles Times quotes one of the researchers who has a theory:
American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."
Also interesting is that Black Protestants and Latino Catholics scored at the bottom of the survey.
I have another theory: people don't read. The less people read, the more on the bottom of the survey they will be. Agnostics and atheists read. I bet that the numbers would support me if anyone took the trouble to statistically confirm this.
Agnostics and atheists are by nature doubters, and doubters tend to be better informed about the choices out there. They don't believe everything they read. But that's because they read.
If you want to know about religion, you have to read the goddamned books. Or at least leaf through them once in a while. Or read other books about them. Otherwise, it's all hearsay, mostly devalued and distorted.
I know about Judaism because it was taught to me at home and at school, more culturally than religiously. I know about Christianity, Catholicism and Protestantism thanks to Henry VIII. I studied English literature and I'll be damned if we weren't taught every Catholic sacrament and every article of faith and that Luther nailed some paper to a Church door, in order that we could better grasp stuff like The Faerie Queene. (I fondly remember the Anabaptists, who greatly impressed me in my college days by running around naked preaching the end of the world).
The little I know about Eastern religions comes from reading The Tao of Physics, watching Kung-Fu and going to yoga and tai chi classes.
About Islam I know even less, but thanks to recent history, I know the minimum.
I'm sick and tired of lazy people who don't read. Ignorant, benighted, idiot people of all races, religions, nationalities, genders and stations in life. I particularly detest those who throw the Bible and religion around as if they had some sort of divine dispensation to feel morally superior, only because they beat their chest regularly in public. Read a freaking book so at least you know what the fuck you are talking about (I'm talking to you, Palin, and the rest of you bunch of smug intellect haters).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cholesterol Blues

 Darlings! I'm in no mood. I have just been informed by my doctor that my cholesterol is through the roof.  243 and the bad one is 170, an increase of 35 points (?) since last year.  I feel strangely proud of these impressive numbers. They sound positively Olympic.
Until recently, I was certain that cholesterol was a malady invented by gringos in order to ruin the pleasures of those of us sybarites who actually live to eat instead of eating to live. As you know, I'm a voluptuous eater, but I don't eat junk food, I barely eat red meat (could that Dumont cheeseburger last weekend have spiked the count?), etc.
But one thing is for sure. I am getting on in years and this is genetic. I'm pretty sure it comes from my mom's side of the family. My mom had heart disease (although not cholesterol driven). My grandpa Samuel had a stroke (big eater of kishka and kreplach and the like), and my Tía Clara, who started doing yoga 50 years ago, when the only yogi anybody knew of was Yogi Bear, and who was supposedly a vegetarian, my poor Tía Clara died of devastating heart disease. At the end of her life, her heart was working at 25% of its capacity, and she hung in there for a long, difficult time. This despite the fact that she taught yoga for about 40 years and she was the most relaxed person in a family of intense people.
These circumstances have led me to revise my conspiracy theories on cholesterol. BUT. The doctor has another thing coming if she thinks I'm gonna go to Mexico in November and eat alfalfa sprouts.
The silver lining is, I need to lose weight anyway. The plan is to eat alfalfa sprouts and the like until November 25 (which nicely coincides with the time that I need to look extra svelte) and then, carnitas del mercado de Medellín, here I come!
The doctor immediately wanted to prescribe drugs to lower the cholesterol. Not so fast, I said. I am extremely wary of drugs that take one thing away and then leave you with a host of other ailments. So I will heroically try to reduce the Olympic numbers without drugs first.
With all due respect, so much for the Mediterranean diet. I spent the entire Summer in that area of the world (Provence, then Israel, then Jordan), and look what happened. Then let me blame Hugo Chavez. The last part of the Summer I spent in Caracas, eating more fried yucca than should be legal.
I'm bummed out.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Mexican 5 de Mayo

Tirar la casa por la ventana, throwing the house out the window, is an expression that means that you spent a bunch of money for a celebration, which was clearly the case in yesterday Bicentennial festivities in Mexico City.  For those of you who are confused because no one in the States was plying you with margaritas in the middle of September, Mexico celebrated yesterday and today the 200 anniversary of its independence. This is actually the important date in which you want to guzzle those Coronas.
I have always been deeply suspicious of patriotic sentiment, as scoundrels always abuse it for nefarious purposes. But in this case I was curious to see how Mexico was going to celebrate, particularly at a time when it has been deeply hurt by a violent war with the narcos. I think President Calderón wanted to send a message that Mexico is alive and well despite the war on drugs. And the spectacle was lavish. I hope Hillary Clinton was watching. Her declarations about the drug dealers being an insurgency were really stupid. 1. It's not an insurgency when many government and law enforcement officials are on the narcos payroll. 2. The narcos don't want to overthrow the government. They just want to be able to do their business as usual. And you have some nerve to complain, when the demand for drugs is insatiable in the US. 
There was widespread criticism of the millions of dollars spent on this extravaganza, and I think it is fair to complain when there is still so much poverty and inequality in Mexico. The bicentennial is bread and circus for the people, but without the bread. However, I wonder in my naiveté if this extraordinary display is also a necessary statement that Mexico is not a failed state and the narcos, despite the chaos and hurt they create, really are and should be ostracized from Mexican society. They have nothing to do with most Mexicans and they don't deserve to be part of the country or its celebrations.
Mexicans are always extremely self-deprecating in quite a negative way about their own capacity for achievement. On one hand we are deeply proud of our culture and our considerable achievements, on the other we never trust anything to work out as planned. Our penchant for impractical surrealism is legendary.
I'm sure I was not the only Mexican who was flabbergasted at the fact that the celebrations seemed to go off without a hitch and in pretty good order. They looked pretty nifty. And they were joyful, despite the media's insistence to the contrary.
The parade in itself was a hodgepodge. Some of it was tacky and painfully imitative, some of it actually quite cool. The illuminated Zócalo looked awesome. I loved the giant traditional Mexican toys, I loved the colorful parade of dancers in regional attire, and the slide show on the cathedral (I especially loved that it was on the cathedral). I think for once there were way too many fireworks.
I suggest floats depicting giant Mexican food dishes for next time. 
There were some huge duds, like that stupid colossal statue of a guy with a mustache and some of the aerial acts that were trying too hard to be like someone else's Olympic games. I also don't understand why, if we have the most amazing popular music that everybody knows and sings with all their heart, they commissioned awful pop shit for the occasion. Hearing 50,000 people sing along to the song México lindo y querido, made me realize it would have been so much cooler to have a public singalong of the greatest Mexican songs with mariachis, instead of those ridiculous opera singers. I think Moncayo's classical piece Huapango would have given goosebumps to everybody, as when the mariachis played La Negra during the parade. The best song ever written. Period.
President Calderón looked rather ridiculous when he almost tore the flag off of the flag bearer, but he gave a good grito (where's my Viva Juárez, dude?) and then steadfastly refused to smile during the entire proceedings.  Our politicos are nothing if not overbearingly, ridiculously solemn. On the other hand, if you have to account for 28,000 deaths, it's best not to display too much levity. His wife seemed to be having a great time, though. She seems as natural and spontaneous as he is stiff. Their kids apparently were told not to smile under any circumstances.
What was disgraceful were the two retards from Univisión that were providing the most inane, ignorant commentary. The ocassion would have benefited from someone like Jorge Ramos or Maria Antonieta Collins, or someone with at least half a brain, instead of surgically enhanced tits. The broadcast was a total mess. If there is something I hate more than Televisa, it's Univisión.
I realized, as I watched on TV, that after almost 20 years of living abroad, there is much of Mexico that I'm disconnected from. I am not very aware of its local politics or the subtle and not so subtle shifts in the public mood.  I don't really know if it has changed much recently. But I know it is a fantastic country.
200 years ago we liberated ourselves from Spain. 100 years later, we had a revolution to bring justice and equality to the more downtrodden. There was great progress but not quite. We had a one party rule for 70 years. Now we are at a crossroads in which it's time to evolve. Shed our dependence on corruption, mature as a democracy, update our laws and learn to respect and uphold them and be more just with those who have less.
Happy birthday, Mexico!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Viva Mexico

This is my homage to Mexico on its birthday. ¡Felicidades México!
Now act your age, and behave.



                                        ¡Salud y viva México, cabrones!

Mexico: It's My Party and I Cry if I Want to

Tomorrow it's Mexico's 200 birthday, and sadly, it is clear that the party mood has been seriously dampened by the horrible violence of its current war on drugs.
Mexico is waging a proxy war for the US with nary a word of thanks, because it is in the US that most of those drugs are consumed, and it is the US that mostly sells arms to the narcos, but never mind. No one here wants to acknowledge this fact, preferring to leave Mexico to deal with the fallout of ineffective American anti-drug policies and its endless drug frenzy. Meanwhile, murderers enrich themselves and terrorize Mexico with impunity. I wonder if they don't feel even a pang of guilt at being the worst party poopers in history. They should be ashamed of themselves, of the savagery and the irreparable harm they have done to the country.
However, I say if we let these bastards ruin the party, we're kind of letting them win.
I was happy to see, just this last 9/11, that people were out and about partying in that particularly carefree New York way that riles the extremists that so want to blow it up.
There is much to celebrate on Mexico's birthday.
Hell, I celebrate the mere existence of Mexican food every second of my waking life (and sometimes in my dreams). 
So let's cry into our tequila and celebrate 200 years of a magnificent country.

Friday, September 10, 2010

High Holidays

Today, as I was coming back from my Tai Chi class, I shared the elevator with this family of neighbors, who I always thought were Hindu. The father is about my age or even younger, but he has several teenage boys. They are all extremely handsome and polite. In fact, of the people I run into in the elevator, they are among my favorite. They are always sunny and unfailingly nice. They don't have that horrid NY custom of not acknowledging anyone you don't know, or going into an elevator without greeting people.
Today they were wearing these beautiful embroidered white Nehru suits and I told them they looked fabulous. Special occasion?,  I asked. "Our holiday, the end of Ramadan", they tell me. The father was carrying a small rug for prayers. 
So they're Muslims. Who knew?
"It's our holiday too, the Jewish New Year", I say.
"Happy new year!", they tell me. I ask if they are fasting. The fast ended yesterday, and tonight they feast. We feast tonight too, I say. In fact, I'm on a diet until feast time.
Through my mind, and maybe theirs as well, ran thoughts of ugly attacks against the downtown mosque and even uglier images of morons with ridiculous mustaches and retarded Koran burning notions. I almost wanted to apologize, but I figure that the whole point of our convo was that here we are, living in the same building, in the same city, following similar ancient customs, liking each other without the intrusion of prejudice, hurting no one.
So my point, children, is, that we can all fast and feast in peace and harmony. There is absolutely no reason not to.
I always wish for peace and health and joy during the holidays. Let's add intelligence and common sense to the mix.
Happy Ramadan
Shana Tova
Everybody behave!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Department of Words I Never Thought I'd Say:

"Listen to Fidel Castro" (here's the full interview from The Atlantic):
Castro's message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the "unique" history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.
He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. "I remember when I was a boy - a long time ago - when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside," he said, "and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.' God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.' They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?"

He went on, "Well, I didn't know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a 'Jew,' and so for me the Jews were those birds.  These birds had big noses. I don't even know why they were called that. That's what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was."

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. "This went on for maybe two thousand years," he said. "I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything."
 Obviously, he hasn't been invited to a Tea Party.
The Iranian government should understand that the Jews "were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here's what happened to them: Reverse selection. What's reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation." He continued: "The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust." I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. "I am saying this so you can communicate it," he answered.

Castro went on to analyze the conflict between Israel and Iran. He said he understood Iranian fears of Israeli-American aggression and he added that, in his view, American sanctions and Israeli threats will not dissuade the Iranian leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons. "This problem is not going to get resolved, because the Iranians are not going to back down in the face of threats. That's my opinion," he said. He then noted that, unlike Cuba, Iran is a "profoundly religious country," and he said that religious leaders are less apt to compromise. He noted that even secular Cuba has resisted various American demands over the past 50 years.

We returned repeatedly in this first conversation to Castro's fear that a confrontation between the West and Iran could escalate into a nuclear conflict. "The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated," he said. "Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war." I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. "That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense," Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, "At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?" He answered: "After I've seen what I've seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn't worth it all."
No shit, buddy. What do you have to see and know to understand that nuking the U.S. was not really an option?
I was surprised to hear Castro express such doubts about his own behavior in the missile crisis - and I was, I admit, also surprised to hear him express such sympathy for Jews, and for Israel's right to exist (which he endorsed unequivocally).
He was being nice because your name is Goldberg.

Well, I'll be damned. I think Castro is also indirectly speaking to his pal Chavez, to stop parroting and acclaiming that foul Iranian vantz. Castro is nothing if not tremendously astute. You know, he wrote a book called History will Absolve Me. He wants to make it happen.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Book Report

Remember in high school when you had to write a book report? Well, there is no way in hell I'm going to write a book report for you right now. I'll just write a little lazy list of some books I've read recently that you may want to check out.
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer. An awesome novel. Funny, deeply smart, about current art, older art, sex, love and death. Super gorgeously brilliant.

Then We Came to The End, by Joshua Ferris. I really liked this novel. It takes place in an advertising agency, but smartly, it does not go into the minutiae of advertising, which would bore people to tears (plus, no need since Mad Men). Instead, it chronicles the human and sometimes inhuman habits of office employees, hilariously, darkly, with great style, and more profoundly than The Office on TV. I was very impressed with this book. Ferris is a former copywriter who can actually write.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. A sweet, sharp, entertaining novel about the travails of an English language newspaper in Europe (obviously the Herald Tribune). It has some great moments and it is very fun and enjoyable, but given the hype, I expected to be more dazzled.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado. This is a memoir of a Jewish family exiled from Cairo in the 1950s. It is an incredible story, written without charm or style or grace. Still, Lagnado's descriptions of glamorous, cosmopolitan Cairo before the Nasser revolution and its incredible Jewish community gave me pangs of sadness at how much fabulousness was lost. It is an unbearably sad book, for the fate of the writer's family, the fate of the ancient Jewish community in Cairo, and the loss of one of the greatest cities in the world to xenophobia and intolerance. Countries that mistreat and expel their Jews are stupid. They may plunder the material riches the Jews are forced to leave behind, but they lose so much more. They lose a big part of their soul. This book made me realize the devastating loss of Jewish Levantine culture, something nobody in the Jewish world has paid much attention to. The history of modern Jewry has always been Eurocentric, perhaps because of the Holocaust, and because the pioneers of Zionism were mostly European, but the culture and the history and the heritage that were lost in all the Arab countries that expelled their Jews after the creation of Israel is irreplaceable and utterly, heartbreakingly tragic.
Let's face it: colonialism was very bad, for sure, but in places like Cairo, Shanghai, and Casablanca it was swanky and glamorous and fabulous. I wish I had been there.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Hyena's Laughter

I just spent 18 days in the capital of the Bolivarian Revolution, which also happens to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world. There was a huge uproar while I was there because the former Minister of Communications and current head of a government TV news channel appeared on a CNN en Español segment about the crime problem in Venezuela and he laughed about the crime statistics.
I heard reports that he had laughed, and I imagined his laughter to be more of a sarcastic, dismissive smirk, but then I saw the segment on internet.
Basically, you had to be there. It was harrowing.
Here was this dude, listening to the other talking head's laundry list of homicide statistics off camera, and you could hear him guffawing and laughing hard, as if he was listening to Don Rickles. Then they cut to him and he is literally slapping his thigh with forced, insincere, brutally mocking laughter. To add insult to injury, behind him is an oil painting of none other than Fidel Castro's mug.
Why the portrait of the head of another state? I find this even more offensive to the people of Venezuela.
When he finally could put on a straight face, the minister chose to answer with informal language that was more suited to a drunken discussion at a bar than an international news program. That the man has not been asked to resign by his boss is amazing to me, but Venezuelans just shrug it off. Never going to happen, they say.
The Fidel Castro effigy is not a coincidence. Castro is good at this kind of heavy, dripping sarcasm he has been directing at his imperialist nemesis for almost fifty years. It's the same bitterly unfunny, witless sense of humor of Maoist mock trials, as hilarious as putting dunce caps on intellectuals. It is childish, defensive, resentful and deeply patronizing. It's the cowardly behavior of a bully. Of course, the government will say that the enemies of the regime are making up the numbers. In truth, the minister's response would have been adequate if he had said exactly what he said in a dignified way. Instead, he took a tone of savage mockery and disrespect in a country where most people have lost someone they know to violence.

There is nothing I loathe more than Latin American leftist propaganda, with its worn revolutionary clichés, and its shrill, infantile, hysteric defensiveness. I fucking hate it with every fiber of my breathing being.