Saturday, November 11, 2017

Political update for November, 2017

There's a lot going on and only I, out of the six billion people on this planet, have something valuable to say about it. I’m sure you will agree after reading the following:

Stand, kneel, play patty cake – what do I care? Just don’t bore me.

The whole NFL anthem thing is almost played out – and pretty much where I wanted to be in the first place. That’s good, because for once the NFL, whose games I love to watch, but whose organization I’ve come to have little respect for, got it right for a change. But, let's start at the beginning.

Kaepernick - So, Kaep was a decent quarterback in this league who had a lot of potential, but during his last two years the 49ers were a poor team and he showed no improvement. Statistically, he’s right about the same place as he had been, but the teams not winning and efforts to improve his game (including with mentoring from Hall of Famer Kurt Warner) seemed not to help at all. Though he comes from a middle class family into which he was adopted, he may have been radicalized a little by a new girlfriend (that's the narrative and what it seems like, but I really don’t know - maybe he was leaning that way already), and it also seems that he is feeling some kind of youthful identity stress. I don’t know that he is acting with any more or less political savvy than other people. He’s 30 now. I probably felt a lot like he did in my early 20s - not a commie, but definitely a lefty. I grew out of it. 

I actually liked Kaepernick quite a bit for a while. Though I thought a lot of Alex Smith, who he replaced as starter (and who is a few years later having the year of his life), I wanted to see Kaep play.  He seemed like he had a fun loving personality and was absolutely a great athlete, if not ever an elite QB. I remember one play, probably in 2013, which endeared him to me personally. He had just run the ball and was forced out of bounds. A defensive player on the other team was jawing at him coming off the sidelines back to the field. Kaep smiled at him sweetly and just pointed to the scoreboard. Maybe he has changed. Like with entertainers, we only see their public persona and not necessarily the real person. He was fined for something he said on the field, not sure what, fined for wearing headphones the league didn’t endorse (that’s a knock on them, not him, in my book) and had a fight with a teammate who used to date his new girlfriend. Nothing horrible, but, you don’t see Eli Manning or Russell Wilson doing those type of things either, right?

Anyway, for whatever reason, in 2016 he started sitting out the anthem. He didn’t make a big deal about it until asked why during an interview. Naturally, there was a reaction, but, though I have trouble with his statements that black people are oppressed (not that there isn't prejudice on both sides) or that cops are quicker to shoot them than other people, I could be wrong and they obviously have a long history of oppression against them and many people still feel they are today. On the other hand, even President Obama said it is a lot better now than ever. 

Actually, I don’t need to agree or disagree with him at all, or even know why he is sitting. I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned he could sit or kneel, as he did in the last game of the season, for any reason or no reason at all. I’m sure I’ve written here on one occasion at least that in high school I often lay down on the radiator during home room while the pledge of allegiance was recited, mostly out of exhaustion, but partly because I was never comfortable with public displays of patriotism, and when younger would sometimes not stand for the anthem for both of those reasons. I tend to stand in public these days during the anthem, because it upsets people more than I care, and I'm a little less exhausted, but there have been times I haven’t stood if I was in a back row.

In any event, some other players emulated him, and some much better athletes than him, including some on the Seattle Sea Hawks. This year it took off, especially when our whiz kid from Queens opened his bi-i-i-g-g mouth and said that players should be fired or benched – whatever. Then, the protest became something else. Whole teams linked arms in some kind of show of unity/protest and there were some black power salutes.

Now there was even more push back. Some people took Trump’s side, although I think he was idiotic about it, perhaps just trying to rally his base. I personally knew people who said they refused to watch the games while players were protesting. As many people pointed out, people are buying hot dogs and doing whatever they want during the anthem. Why can’t players do the same? What could be a more peaceful display of someone’s opinion than merely sitting or taking a knee? Some people seem to think is more respectful to the armed forces (I have no idea why they are part of the discussion – are they why we have the anthem? If so, I sure didn’t know that).

The NFL definitely has its eye on the bottom line. It is the reason for most of their stupid decisions although, they are a business and it is hard to blame them for trying. I don’t know if they are handling it right. There tv numbers – the reason for all that big money – that have been dwindling. But, that is also true of cable tv and sports in general, or so I read. The powers that be in the NFL, mostly my nemesis, Goodell, decided they’d better do something about the bad publicity from the protests. But, at the same time, being that the large majority of their players are black, they needed to tread lightly. Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys, told his team whoever protests doesn’t play and it looked like the NFL was going to follow suite. But they didn’t. Goodell, in an NFL network interview, made it clear there were no policy changes and they wanted to talk to players about social justice. So, they had a meeting. It looked like they were even going to have Kaepernick, but then they didn’t.

What took place at the meeting, I can’t say. I guess there was “dialogue.” About what, I don’t know. It’s not like anyone is accusing the NFL, one the most minority dominated big businesses in the country, of oppressing blacks. I don’t know who they are accusing of oppressing them. Is it still about cops? The NFL, which is suddenly responsible for racial justice in this country, as if they were a branch of the civil rights division in Washington, agreed at the meeting that it would have a month set aside for social justice. No idea what that will entail, probably public service messages and some promotions. Maybe those representing the players wanted a way out too.

 Now, it comes out one of the owners,  Houston's Robert McNair, made a comment about the inmates running the prison, or was it asylum? So, he had to apologize for using an expression. Because e v e r y t h i n g is about color now, I guess his expression – one that had no racial meaning I knew of - became all about race too. Yawn. So, his team was affronted because that means . . . ummm . . . the owner’s a racist? The millionaire players are oppressed?  

Me? Not enough to not watch the games, but I just wanted everyone to shut up about it. I don't think it does a thing for what the protests are intended to do (I still am not sure what) and I don't think it does a thing for the military or police to have it pushed to the side. It just makes me happier.

In the meantime, Kaepernick has sued the league on the grounds that there is a conspiracy not to hire him. That means owners had to get together to say – hey, lets not hire Kaep. That’s going to be hard to prove. I understand why they don’t want to hire him. For one thing, he started the whole thing. He had also worn socks with pigs wearing cop hats, which he claims he wore before he started sitting down and only represented rogue cops, and he wore a Che tee-shirt to some event or another. Che is a hero to rebels but to others a vicious murderer. Kaep now also sports an afro which we kind of associate with the ‘60s and “black power.” Some people may think that’s great, and maybe he’s a trend setter. But, others are going to be angry about it. Not because they are racist (although I’d bet some are), but because they hate racial divisiveness. Let’s face it – Che was and Kaep is divisive, and he’s not good enough to overcome it. There are other QBs not playing or second string who are better than he is -- but they aren’t divisive. There were and still are other guys protesting, but they were either really good, or great, or they were kneeling next to guys who were. If Kaep was good enough, he’d get hired too. Mediocre and divisive are a bad combination.

I’ve written before about what I think is going on in racial relations in America and I don’t want to go into it here. Why? Because I’m watching football. And there is nothing racist about football. Along with basketball, it is practically the antithesis of racism – unless you count reverse racism. The revolution is taking on almost ludicrous behaviors and opinions. Recently, the NAACP demanded that the national anthem be changed to remove a reference to slavery – not even an obnoxious reference, but one that simply acknowledges that there were slaves and indentured servants. I knew there was more than one stanza to the anthem, but I don’t know how many there are. I would expect that not one person in 10,000 knows that there is more than one, not one in a million knows how many and not one in ten million know the words. And what would it mean to change the words that are never sang or thought about by almost anyone in the country? Finding old books and burning them or just having some government official stating – we change these words and henceforth everyone pretend Francis Scott Key never wrote them.  I don’t get it. It would be like Jews demanding that people stop mentioning the holocaust or Americans that people stop writing novels about 9/11. You can’t change history. These things happened. We are better off knowing and thinking about them.

Also, recently, an NBA player suggested we stop calling owners "owners." "Chairman" would be better. Why you ask? Not that we have slavery, but apparently for him, using the word "owner" is some kind of holdover from slavery we should get past. Thanks to Mark Cuban for pointing out that the ownership involved is not of people, but shares of stock or a team.  

So, my preference – sit, stand, kneel, sing, don’t sing, I don’t care. It’s harmless, absolutely peaceful protest about something concerning race, but I’m no longer sure what. Maybe it just means for the protester - we are black and we still feel stigmatized or threatened or we are protesting for those who look more like us but don’t have million dollar salaries. It’s not that I don’t care about race relations or people’s feelings. I just don’t want to hear about it or see it while I’m trying to watch football. It would be like a football game breaking out in a super market while I'm trying to shop.

Weinstein, you knucklehead, you may be disgusting, you may be a criminal, but you may also have helped women get past a stigma of being sexually assaulted

It was exactly zero shock for people to read that there was an avalanche of women coming out of the shadows to accuse a film producer of sexual harassment. I’ve known since I’m a child that there was a casting couch and that many young actresses, maybe old ones too for all I knew, who felt they had to have sex with people in power to get good roles. Or put up with uncomfortable situations. And many times they were likely right.

Harvey Weinstein, is, undoubtedly, a pig. Yes, when this many women come out, I do believe them, at least most of them. He is probably, based on the accusations, a criminal, though he denies that part of it. It’s actually not fair that some of the commentary seems to focus on his looks. He’s not a good looking guy, but that shouldn’t be the issue.

What I’m glad to see mostly is that women who were before being quiet, because they felt they wouldn’t be believed, or that they’d be shamed, now feel they can speak up. But, if all it is, is a snowball related to Weinstein and a few other chosen people who were predatory, it is not enough.

Many, many years ago I heard something in summer camp that I still remember. I was somewhere between 8-10 and a camp counselor, probably in her young 20s - to me very grown up, was saying that she had to wear a blue dress for her wedding because she had been raped – she couldn’t wear the traditional white. I was outraged for her but thought she was crazy to think that way. Why should she be shamed or stigmatized because someone else did something horrible? Don’t ask me where I got this idea that intentions should matter a lot and that traditions that shamed, denigrated, stigmatized or denounced people over things that were not in their control and seemed to have no rational relationship between the fact and the reaction, were not good traditions, but I had it very young, still in my single digits. Maybe everyone does, but it never seemed like that to me. It seemed closer to the opposite. People seem to like those stigmas, sometimes even when they apply to themselves.

But, at the same time I felt outraged for her, I was also very impressed that she didn’t seem to be ashamed that she was raped and could speak about it. I was already aware that rape, like almost anything sexual or biological in those days (we didn't even discuss that women had menstrual cycles) was a hush-hush matter. And, again, maybe all or most young kids know that. I’m not sure where we learn it.

Somewhere along the road of life I started to say outloud that I thought that women would be better off if their names were not hidden in rape cases and that the should be very upfront about it if they were sexually abused. The idea of sexual harassment was only slowly developing.  Definitely by my 20s.  But, quickly I learned it wasn’t an appreciated position to take publicly. People immediately got mad – as usual when I said what I thought about anything emotionally charged – and often they changed what I was saying into something different and definitely offensive, and claimed I was demeaning women, that I couldn't know what rape was like, and I shouldn’t have anything to say about it. Usually, if I have an opinion that was different than most people, I’d know that at least some people agreed with me, sometimes many people, but that being less awkward and more social than I was, were uncomfortable saying it in public (e.g., there are a lot more atheists/agnostics than admitted it publicly). But, with this opinion, I seemed to be completely on my own. Honestly, it didn’t come up a lot, but that was my impression.

Jump ahead to 1991 and the William Kennedy Smith rape case. There’s a lot that can be said about that case – there have been books about it – but I just am focusing on the fact that Ms. Bowman, the alleged victim was publicly outed, rather than being hid and the crime being prosecuted against an anonymous person. Though I tended to believe Kennedy in the scenario described, having heard the testimony, I was glad to see it was being brought out of the shadows for the defendant's sake, but also for hers, even if she protested.*


*Just as an aside, though people associate his name with the rape case too, few people are aware that subsequent to the trial, he received his M.D. and went on to a storied career as a humanitarian dealing with land mines and innovative ways to help poor countries with medical issues. No, you idiots, I’m not saying if he was a rapist his career gives him absolution (I’m actually sorry to have to say this, but I too frequently get reminded how people argue), I’m just saying that he was not just the party boy he was portrayed to be. I’ve read that he was accused as late as 2004 of sexual assault, which he denied, pointing out that he was very susceptible to accusations (a good point whether he’s a rapist or not). I don’t know what’s true. I’m just noting that anyone would be proud to have his humanitarian record. Both could be true.  

Still, I did not see much evidence that women were being taught not to be ashamed to be victims. I get the problem still. They did not want to be the subject of hostility from ogres, and there are plenty of them, have their sex lives dragged out in public, maybe have their careers and life affected, have people whisper when they came into a room, etc. Nor have that general horrible feeling of having someone else exercise their will over them (presuming they are telling the truth). And I’m not saying I would feel or act differently, because I am subject to the same cultural training as they are. I am saying that we should get past it, and that case was a small step.

But, now, maybe, things are changing a little bit. Obviously, as time goes by we see more women, and sometimes men, willing to come out and say that they were abused. There’s courage in numbers, clearly. Although it seems there is a lot going on, there’s no way to know if this outing stuff will trickle down to those who can’t get in the media spotlight because the accused aren’t famous. I don’t know if it will empower people at work or other places at all. We’ll see, I guess. And, I’m also not suggesting that some of the accusations are false. It is just as dangerous to suggest that women don’t lie about rape or assault as to take the man’s side by rote.

I will only touch upon one more point about it. We have a tendency in this country to throw the baby out with the bath water when we have cultural change. While it is important - incredibly important - that women not be sexually assaulted or harassed at work, and I welcome this Weinstein generated movement in general, we do not want to create a situation where the work place becomes a sexual bonfire of the vanities - where every social interraction between male and female workers is made non-sexual and castigated as evil. Because that is what we have been teaching our young people. Love and sexuality exists even at work. You can't cut it out of you by force or law. Many relationships, I don't know if still most, are created there. It is one of the few places you can get to know people well in a natural environment and we are way to hung up about sex in general. Mild flirtation, dating, even sex does not have to be evil or wrong in the work environment. Probably little of it is. Just today I read of a journalist at CNN saying that she gave a man permission to say her dress look pretty. Now, that's insane.

Trump

               While he was running I said that if he won, he’d be a terrible president but it would be very entertaining. It is. Partly because he’s such a moron (of course, Tillerson said that, whatever his denials – I don’t know that for a fact, but I believe it – I call a lot of people a moron at some point; it’s a common character assessment for even minor mistakes and Trump makes major ones repeatedly) and partly because of the resistance, which I’ve written on here before, is in a state of hysteria* and keeps his presidency aflame too.

*I’ve been a little conscious of the usual partisan fear and hatred for the opposition since Nixon and very much so since Reagan – when I joined in, being then very liberal. The reaction to Bush II was a large uptick in animosity towards the opposition president, possibly because the election was so close; Obama possibly more so, because of the attempt and partial success in changing our government, but at least the same amount; but the white hot “hysteria” regarding Trump is a giant leap back to uglier times in American history. Part of that is Trump’s fault, as he was the most insulting, degrading and flagrantly dishonest campaigner we’ve seen in modern times. Pay back is a bitch, as they say. It makes it very difficult for him to govern now at all, as even many in his own party intensely dislike him or don’t mind watching him flail. I have my own friends and family members who literally can’t bear any disagreement about him. One friend, who invited me over, started talking about him and literally became hysterical when I agreed on A,B and C insults, but not about D, and said heatedly he was going upstairs if I kept talking about him. The other day a relative started every sentence with how fair he was to Trump and then would become white hot with rage by the end of the sentence and called him a “Nazi.” Those are just my own experiences, but I see this all the time with Trump, mainly in op-eds criticizing him. Unfortunately, his supporters rarely match the emotion in defending him because it is so hard to defend someone who constantly shoots himself in the foot.

Anyone could justify doing their entire political review on Trump. He is almost the only subject and not just about politics. His adversaries make almost everything about him. Too much is written about him for me to want to do wander endlessly about him though. I’m just going to sum up some issues.

I still don’t see the Trump-Russian connection. Though some of his opposition says – but there are already indictments and a conviction – no there aren’t, not about his campaign's supposed collusion with Russia (which, as has been pointed out ad nauseam, isn’t a crime, unless it’s connected to a real crime). Neither Manafort nor his partner are accused of “collusion” crimes. Even Flynn, who had not yet been indicted will not likely be indicted for that. And Papadopoulos pled to lying to the FBI, which does not even rise to the level of perjury and is just a blunt tool to force people to say what the FBI wants it to say. Which makes any testimony he may have about collusion tainted.  None of the above were or will be accused, as far as we know now, of any collusion, however their adversaries might choose to phrase it. So far, every revelation about a discussion or possibility of some minor league collusion, seems to show that there was none (not that there couldn’t be - I'm just not sure I'd think there was anything wrong with it).

Trump’s main problem is not the “resistance.” Had he the support of all Republicans in congress, he’d be able to sweep most of it aside. But, many of them give him tepid support and some, like McCain, Corker and Flake have just plain come out against him. Even the independent counsel is a product of Republican dislike for him, as they are the majority and could have limited the scope of the investigation or not had it at all (although it is largely Sessions' fault).  Not that I have a problem with the investigation of Russian interference with the election or into Trump’s business conflicts. Both are legitimate topics. But, the craze over collusion so far looks delusional. Show me a fact, I’ll change my mind.

When I first assessed Trump in June of this year, I wrote that the following was dead in the water –  the stupid wall; banning Muslims from America except for new standards for vetting asylum seekers in general; self or forced deportation of millions of illegal aliens and an independent counsel to investigate the Clinton emails.

In a comment Bear took me to task, suggesting it was already happening. I still disagree. So far, though he keeps trying – I think to make it look good for his base – congress has shown no interest in the stupid wall. Despite the hysteria over his orders, which affected citizens from seven, then six predominantly Muslim countries, there has never been an order banning Muslims and isn’t going to be.*  The WH has already announced there will be no mass deportations and the only thing he has done is not renew an illegal DAPA (I didn’t say it – a court did) and tried to bolster the border patrol – crossings are way down and even his opposition has a hard time saying that we should not have a border (although, I do know there are some who feel that way). Last, right away it was announced that the email investigation was over, though I'm sure some Republicans would like to have it re-investigated. We’d need some dramatic new revelation to change that.

*Some people will argue that these are, in fact, Muslim bans and that even he has called it that and insisted that this is what it his orders really were. Well, as I said, he can be an moron. The orders specifically forbid discriminating by religion, although they are almost entirely Muslim countries. But, can anyone deny that these few countries do have a significant population which might pose a threat to us and do not have control of their own immigration or borders. In addition, we are not also so bound to them politically or otherwise so that a ban would destroy the relationship (e.g., Saudi Arabia). In any event, the entire population of these countries is well below 10% of the Muslims in the world. The latest so-called “ban,” was a proclamation which was also stayed by Hawaiian and Maryland district courts. Supposedly they will be appealed, but it is possible they will be ignored. I have to admit, though I think these orders mostly unnecessary, I am disturbed that under our constitutional system a district court (the lowest federal court) can stop the president from acting in what he believes is a national security matter in what I believe is a political way by lower courts. It gives a judge in the other party the opportunity to control what is legitimately presidential power.  Imagine if nationwide orders of Exxon’s or Microsoft’s CEO could be stopped by a local production manager. This power was essentially usurped by the court system long ago (Obama had the media support to just ignore such orders when he wanted to) and I guess people like it.

But, despite all the negativity from the press towards Trump, despite the fierceness of his opposition and the distraction of the Russia investigation, he has what would certainly be considered successes for other presidents in that their supporters liked them (let’s not forget Obama got a Nobel Prize just for being elected). The economy is growing faster than it has in years, consumer confidence is up, as I said – illegal border crossings are down and the border administration doesn’t feel like they are the enemy, the rules of engagement for our armed forces has been made more reasonable, ISIS as a political and military force is being reduced rapidly, Russia has stopped pestering planes with theirs (I think since February, shortly after the inauguration) and Iran our ships since July when we fired warning shots at them. I think they get the message that there is a new sheriff in town - even if he sometimes acts like an idiot, who does not feel that humility is a virtue in foreign affairs. The stock market is at an all-time high (although, we should always be nervous about bullish markets). New jobs are way up and unemployment way down. New regulations have come to a stand-still and are being reduced, manufacturing and housing are up. NATO has responded to his call for a greater anti-terrorism focus. I could go on, but if you want to say those are talking points, they are. I took them from various lists so I wouldn’t have to think hard. Still, doesn’t mean they aren’t real. You will not see these arguments in most of the mainstream media though. You have to read online. Yes, you can absolutely argue that some, many or all of these things are actually bad for us (although some it would be hard to do so) or that he has little to do with him (again, some, you really can’t). I’m not judging here. Some things he does I like, more things I don’t. I’m just saying that other presidents would be given “credit” for them.

Love him, hate him. I know good people who feel both ways. We will be lucky if this is the narrative that we have for the next 4-8 years because it will mean nothing horrible has happened.

               The future is easy to predict until you get there. I love to predict elections, even who is going to run, and sometimes I do it well, sometimes abominably. I really don’t think I’m any better or worse at it than anyone else. It is human nature to think when you are right it was because of some good qualities in you – logic, knowledge, intelligence, etc. And when you are wrong, it is because something unforeseeable got in the way. Even if we realize that this isn’t the case, we still feel that it is true anyway.  

               During the Obama years, I wrote about 8 of 10 installments of why he was the worst president in my lifetime. Even worse than his predecessor. Never finished it. Trump may surpass him too. I’m not sure yet because Trump hasn’t had a chance to do much. The other day - election day -the normal trend occurred, where the Democrats gained seats in the house during election following the presidential election. We don’t know if it is going to get worse next year when Senate seats are up for grabs. But, not unlikely. Trump can do nothing with a majority, I doubt he will do more with less of one. And maybe this is what is best, no party with complete control to wreak havoc on the idiots who elected them.

               Nevertheless, I am going to start making election predictions for 2020 sooner than later, probably around the end of 2018, could be early 2019, which isn’t all that far away.  If you wait until there’s a clear front runner, or just follow the polls, you aren't predicting much. The two main questions I’m asking myself now are no different than what many other people are wondering – will the Democrats continue what they’ve been doing and double down on the leftwards trend and nominate a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Sanders type, and, two, will Trump run again. Right now, I’d bet a little both things will be so, but I don’t feel a whole lot of conviction about it (actually, probably rarely do about these things).

               In the meantime, enjoy or withstand the roller coaster, if you can.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

David, The Sequel

Finishing up the story of David, King of Israel and Judah - We left off with things going pretty well for David as he repeatedly defeats his enemies.

So all good, right? Nope. Not for long. After exterminating other tribes for a while, he gets in trouble the traditional way - can't keep his hands to himself. One day David sees Bathsheba. You may have even heard of Bathsheba as the story still has popular appeal. People hate adultery when it is them or their friend who is cuckolded, but they love it as entertainment. Bathsheba is married, but David does the wrong thing and summons her and sleeps with her. Even worse in religious terms - he did it while she was still purifying from her monthly visit. Bad idea. She winds up pregnant and lets him know. So, he does the decent thing (I kid), and tries to get Uriah, the husband, to go home and sleep with his wife so he won't realize it wasn't his. But Uriah was a faithful soldier and stayed with his men, as they were at war. Good guy. So, David asks Joab, his nephew (who remember he cursed, but still employs as his commander in the field) and asks him to put Uriah where the fighting is fiercest and then abandon him to his fate. That worked out well. After Bathsheba mourned, she came to be David’s wife and bore him a son. Really, what else is a girl going to do around 1200 B.C. But God was pisssssssssed.

Maybe David didn’t realize the trouble he was in. Soon, he was raging about a rich man who took the lamb of a poor man rather than his own livestock to feed a traveler – David wanted him killed for it. But, we never find out what happened to the guy because Nathan points out to David that he will be punished for it if he does it. Maybe his point was – stopping talking about other people and consider yourself. Nathan prophesizes that someone from his own household will sleep with all his wives. Kings hate it when that happens. Almost as an afterthought, Nathan adds – oh, and God is going to kill your son. God does make the baby he had with Bathsheba sick. At first, David is sick with worry himself – but when he learns that the baby actually died – he goes about his business, saying, well, now he’s dead, so, move along everybody, nothing to see here. In fact, he goes to Bathsheba and they make another baby they call – Solomon. You probably have heard of Solomon too. But, we’ll get back to him later on in the story.

In the meantime, Joab is kicking the Ammonites’ butts and tells David to come take a city or they will name it after Joab instead. David does, and takes the defeated king’s crown, a big shiny one too. Not a good time for the Ammonites, as he takes all their cities. See, not all so bad. Except. . .

. . .  something creepy happens. One of David’s sons, Amnon, follows in love with his sister, Tamar – I think a half-sister. On the advice of David’s brother he pretends to be sick and tricks her into coming into his bedroom. Then he tries to have his way with her. She tries to talk him out of it, so, he rapes her. Then she doesn’t want to leave, because that would be a worse shame (I guess) and just like that, he now hates her more than he loved her. So, he has her thrown out. Their brother Absalom hears about it and tells her to relax, and she lives in his house, a bitter woman. Absalom says nothing to Amnon, but two years later he gets David to send Amnon on a trip with him and he has him killed. David hears about it back home and mistakenly thinks all his sons are dead, but that just turned out to be a silly rumor. It is little touches like that which make you think maybe there is some historical basis for it as there is just no point to the plot twist.  Still, Absalom flees and for three years stayed away. But David, knowing Absalom had avenged the rape of his sister, had already forgiven him. Kind of. I mean, families fight, right? 

Joab knows that David years for Absalom to return. He creates a bizarre artifice by sending a servant to David with a wacky story I’m not even going to trouble you with, because, frankly, I don’t really understand it - but at the end, like a protagonist in a Dan Brown novel, David figures out that Joab is behind it the ruse and says to him, okay, go get Absalom. Now it’s really going to get weird.

Joab brings Absalom back, but David orders that Absalom not see his face. Why, you might reasonably ask. I don't know. A few years go by and Absalom sends for Joab who ignores him. So, naturally, Absalom has his servants burn down one of Joab’s fields. Joab comes and says – Hey, what the hell, or something like that, and Absalom says he just wanted to get his attention. He asks to see his father and if he did anything wrong, David can put him to death. It is all arranged and Absalom goes to his dad, falls to the ground, and David forgives him. Of course, he does. These people are nuts.

Not surprisingly, Absalom, a proto-politician, starts cleverly winning the hearts of the Israelis. When David learns this, he deals with it calmly and rationally - screaming like a lunatic that everyone with him should flee for their lives. At the very least, it was an over-reaction. So, David and his people fled to the wilderness, but he sends a few back of them with the Ark to be spies.

Absalom comes to Jerusalem, and was now king. He asked his advisor Ahithophel (say that three times fast) what to do. This is what Ahithophel tells him:

“Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute.”  So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines right in front of everyone.

That would probably get big ratings, even today. But it would have to be on cable.

Both Absalom and David thought Ahithophel gave great advice. But Absalom also calls for Hashei, who is David’s secret mole in Jerusalem, and charged by David with countering whatever sound advice Ahithophel gives. Leave aside sleeping with David's concubines, Hashei gives what sounds to me like the same advice Ahithophel gave, although waiting a little longer to attack. But, for some reason, it seems like better advice to Absalom.

Hashai then sends two priests to warn David that Absalom is coming for him. But, the priests are seen and Absalom’s men follow them. Fortunately, a couple hid them in the well. Their pursuers had to be idiots, because they didn’t find them. The priests got to David and warned him in time (although – if Absalom was following Hashai’s advice, there should have been no rush – plot flaw!)

And if you think Ahithophel would figure it all out and ruin Hashai’s schemes, think again. The big baby went back to his hometown and hung himself. Once again, things are looking up for David. The two armies prepare to fight. His men persuade David to stay behind but he asks them to be gentle with Absalom for his sake. But Absalom is riding on his mule when his hair gets tangled in a tree branch and he’s left hanging there. How is that even possible? Joab and his men kill him and bury him in a pit. Maybe they did it gently.

When David learned of Absalom’s death he wailed: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” Personally, I wouldn’t have given the jaw of an ass for Absalom myself, but you know Jewish parents.

Joab, hearing that David was mourning, went to him and gave him a piece of his mind. “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.”

This is why I like Joab more than David. Obviously, he was a violent guy, but he actually made sense a lot of the time. A lot more than David did, anyway.  What’s wrong with God that he preferred David?

David went back to Jerusalem. He didn’t kill the concubines who Absalom had slept with. He just confined them for the rest of their pathetic lives. I suspect that was seen as merciful and just for this – because, after all, the concubines were at fault, right? At least in the bronze age mind they were - I guess.

In any event, now the Israelis and the Judeans don’t get along so well. An Israeli named Sheba blew his trumpet and called away the men of Israel. Joab went after them. They came to a great rock and Joab went to meet Amasa, who fled with the Israelis, and who, for reasons I can’t even begin to understand, David had earlier promised to put over Joab if he played ball with him. So, while they were walking towards each other, Joab did the prison yard thing and secretly took his knife from its sheath and “took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.” Then, he disemboweled him. They moved on and came to a city where Sheba was holed up. They were battering down the wall when a woman came to it and called for Joab, asking him to relent. He said they would if they threw down the head of Sheba. Next thing you know, over the wall comes Sheba’s head, and, they all went home. That’s how business was sometimes handled back then, and, frankly, as horrific as it sounds, it spared a lot of lives – probably the life of every person in that city, for example - save Sheba, naturally.

Here’s another good example. God brought famine to Israel because Saul, long dead himself, had put the Gibeonites – who were not Israelis, but lived around there too – to death. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. God could have said "you know what, live and let live," but, who can see the ways of the Lord? David asked the Gibeonites how to make it right with them. They asked to be given seven Israelis to put to death. So David gave them seven of his subjects, Saul’s descendants, and the Gibeonites put them to death and exposed their corpses. Then David exposed the bones of Saul and Jonathan, the latter who was, of course, his own good friend. Famine over, just like that. If only it was really that easy.

David was getting older. His men killed some more Philistines, but they decided, no more war for David. He was too old and valuable. Now David had many warriors, and frankly, it gets tedious when the Bible lists them, which it does to some extent. But, then David called for Joab – good old Joab – who should have been king if you ask me, and had him, against his will, go through the land and count all the fighting men. There were 800,000 in Israel and 500,000 in Judah. For some reason that again defies reason, this was a sin. God spoke to David’s seer and gave him three choices, three years of famine, three months fleeing his enemies or three days of plague, to atone for his sin. David liked the last one best and God’s angel wiped out 70,000 Israelis with plague. But, God stopped him before he wiped out Jerusalem.

The seer then came to David and told him to go build an altar to God on the threshing floor belonging to so and so. David did so, insisting on buying the place, rather than just accepting it as a gift, and, God then stopped the plague entirely. Don’t ask me what happened to God stopping it at the end of three days, which was the original deal. The Bible is often not that consistent.

As David became very old he couldn’t stay warm. So, his attendants got him a beautiful young virgin to keep him warm. Lucky her, though she took care of David, he did not sleep with her – I presume this is what it was like with Hugh Hefner in his last days.

David’s son, Adonijah, a handsome and spoiled brat, tried to become king and threw a big party. But, he didn’t invite Nathan – you remember Nathan – or David’s son Solomon, who was promised the kingship. Bathsheba and then Nathan went to David and said – hey, what about your promise to Solomon? So, David, having nearly run his race, made Solomon king.

The big wrap up where I wax ineloquent and think about life, death and other such things.

And I could go on and on with Solomon. All this brutality I have related to you was in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel of the Old Testament. Samuel himself, who I didn’t mention until now, was probably the last important prophet of Israel. He anointed both Saul and David earlier on, but was barely having been mentioned in the very books named for him. Nevertheless, they are two of my favorite books in the Bible, which I’ve read more than once, because I like the stories. You can see that there is more to it than you learned in temple or church, but it doesn’t exactly put David in a good light. That is supposed to be the moral lesson – David’s sins and God’s rebuke and then forgiveness for them. That is supposed to be the moral - but, I don’t see it. It seems to me that the lesson of the Bible is, whether you are good or bad, life isn't fair. You could say that's just my opinion, and it is, but it is also real life.

Reading the Bible is not a religious thing for me, although there are what I think are spiritual aspects to it.*  One reason I like reading it is much the same reason some people like The Game of Thrones (“TGOT”). It’s entertaining, particularly if you like gratuitous sex and violence. But, there are literate, historical and lingual reasons I like it too.

*Years ago I came up with my own definition of spirituality, which resonated for some people I tried it out on. I still like it, though I’ve tinkered with the original - Spirituality is a pleasant feeling of connection to the universe that some people identify with one or more supernatural beings.

I tried reading TGOT but couldn’t get through it. I’ve never watched the show on television. A friend of mine mocks me because I like made up stories from thousands of years ago but not ones someone made up now. He’s got a point, but it’s really an overstatement. I love a lot of modern fiction and even fantasy for various reasons, and don’t feel obligated to like or dislike any of it, without regard to some rational. But there is also no doubt I rarely like fantasy except when it invokes stories or myths from long ago and the mythology, names and places have meaning to me separate and apart from the story I’m reading. It’s as broad as the difference among The Once and Future King, Peter Pan and Beatrix Potter. Stories by authors who share these interests gives me the feeling of a connection to history and through it to the universe. I realize that is a feeling, not a physical manifestation, at least outside my brain. I accept it without being able to fully explain it. And it is important to me, for reasons I can’t explain either. At some point our ability to explain these things ends with a closed door. Some people think they know why they are this way or that, but they - we - really don’t. I’m very comfortable with uncertainty. So, I’ll just finish the story -

And soon David died, going to rest with his ancestors, but not before giving instructions to Solomon to kill Joab – because, well, as I said, these people were just crazy. If anyone deserved  David’s friendship and to be King of Israel and Judah himself, it was Joab, in my view. David was 70 when he died, which was a long natural life.  I, his namesake, am now 58, only 12 years younger than he was. Of course, my life and death is not linked to David's because of a name and I don’t know when I will die (though for some bizarre reason, I frequently tell people I will die at 66). I hope it is a long time from now, until pain makes it more some imaginary duty instead of pleasure, but you never know. 72-73 is an average, not a given.

I live – we live - in a different place and time than David did -- a much, much better one in my view, though one built on the foundation of his time, if he actually lived. There is no direct proof or strong circumstantial evidence that he did, whatever you may have been told, though the name and story has come down through history, never having lapsed. Whether there was a King David or not, the heritage is there, even if we can only name our grandparents or great grandparents and have to stop there. Because of reading and writing, we are not just products of those we are genetically descended from, but innumerable other peoples and civilizations, some of which we know and some we don’t. Some people don’t even care about why they feel the connection to their ethnic ancestors. Maybe most people. They just want to be told that they are this nationality or that religion, even if they literally know nothing about it. Whatever story, true or not, they’ve been told as children is good enough for them and that is what they preserve.

I may sound all judgy in the above rendition of the Bible. I am from our 21st century perspective, of course. But, I’m really not picking on the Jews at all. Find a group at that period of time, or for thousands of years, that didn’t behave in a similar barbaric way, at least to our eyes, and survived for long when they came in contact with other fierce people. If you do find one, good chances you are relying on their own legends and not the truth. There are snippets in the Bible and the Jewish culture that has come down to us which are far superior to other cultures, but it was a culture in its infancy compared to what we know today. No one should base their ethics upon the behavior of Biblical characters because often they were examples of human failures, frailty, cruelty and sin.  Humanity, like a single human, had to start somewhere.

The Bible itself is a collection of stories, real or imagined, laws and poetry emblematic of a continuing tradition. It tells of a fairly substantial period of time, roughly a millennium to a millennium and a half, and may be fairly said to be a significant part of the reason we now live in what seems to us an enlightened, if highly imperfect, culture, though no doubt future cultures will find us barbaric too. I hope so, at least. It is a step by step thing, but the Jews have been evolving for thousands of years more intact way than most other groups. The fact that Bibles are printed by the millions today in hundreds of languages, even if rarely read in their entirety in any of them, alone tells you of the impact of this early and continuing culture. Nevertheless, each of us is a product not just of one strand of people, but many peoples, particularly in the modern age, who though out history have influenced one another, merged and split off from one another in innumerable ways. I feel as much an heir to the Greeks and to the American founders, just as they were children of each other and many other groups.
We know from watching tv and reading the news that life can still be filled with horrors of Biblical proportions and there are people who wish to still live with laws and mores like those of earlier centuries, butchering or enslaving others. As we know from recent events there are people in America with full access to our diversity, enlightenment ideas and technology, who murder and destroy with no clear rationale and many more who would if they could. But, overall, not so much either, and when I leave my home to go get a sandwich, there is never a thought in my mind that someone is coming to kill me. It is not for nothing I like to say to people almost every day – We are not only the luckiest people in the world – we are the luckiest people in the history of the world. Some days it is harder to believe than in others, but nevertheless, I still think it is true.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

David and the Game of Thrones

When I was growing up, I could take a rock and literally hit the houses of two other kids named David. It wasn’t very far. One was across the street and one next door. And, if I threw the rock as far as I could, then ran picked it up and threw it again, I could hit the homes of two more Davids. 

There were a lot of Davids where I grew up. I lived in a neighborhood with a fair amount of Jews and Jewish parents were partial to the name. It was so popular, it was number 2 for boys after Michael the year I was born (1959) according to one baby name website. Right now it is not that popular – down at number 45 in 2016, according to another baby centered website.

You might be aware that it’s an Old Testament name and that King David, once a lowly shepherd, and slayer of the colossus Goliath, was one of the most revered figures in the Bible.

What you may not know is that he was quite the character and his life (or fictional life - no way to know) would make for a very dramatic mini-series. Of course, they’d have to leave a lot out or rate it X. I haven’t written about the Bible in a while*, so I thought I’d relate his story in a summary and breezy way. There's a lot of violence, but also a lot of sex and backstabbing. George R. R. Martin, author of The Game of Thrones, did not invent the genre. The Bible was way ahead of him.

*5/22/07 - "Would you have father Abraham for your father?" and 2/11/15 - "Atheist and Bible to marry! Read all about it!" come to mind.

I’ll mostly use the King James Version as my source, because I prefer it to all other English versions. As always, I do not need to be comprehensive – you can read the Bible if you like – but simply will write about such things as are on my mind now and which I think might interest someone who is not too religious and has any interest in history or literature.

I am simply following the Old Testament here, and do not go into the later interpretations and traditions among Christians, later Jews (in the Midrash), Muslims or even Hollywood or modern literature. There are, even in the Bible (of course) contradictions. So has it always been.

So, once upon a time . . .

There was a battle between the people of Israel and the people of the Philistines, both who were arrayed on the sides of mountains looking across the valley at each one another, when a Philistine known as Goliath of Gath came forth. Let us just say he was a big guy with metal armor, a hell of a big spear and a shield bearer.

Goliath issued a challenge to the Israelis. Let one of them fight him. If the Israeli could kill him, then the Philistines would be their servants. But, if Goliath killed him, well, you know.

And he issued this challenge for 40 days. You’d think they’d get bored and just fight after a few days, but apparently, they’d rather Goliath just issue this challenge. Big as he was, I expect the Israelis just looked down at their sandals or pretended to be pulling off a hangnail.

Now, there was a man of Bethlehem, Judah by the name of Jesse. He had a bunch of sons. The three oldest followed the Israeli leader, Saul, to battle . . . or went to listen to Goliath issue his challenge day after day. Jesse also had a son named David. David was his youngest and he tended to his father’s sheep. One day, Jesse asked David to take some bread and cheese to the army.

When David got there, it looked like there was going to be a battle. But, Goliath of Gath came forward again and issued his challenge. And the Israeli men, perhaps trying to cajole some witless fool to fight Goliath, said, whoever kills him would be made wealthy by the King, get the King’s daughter – always big in these stories – and free his father’s house, whatever that means.

David, hearing this, asked who was this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the army of God. David’s oldest brother reproached him, asking him who is looking after the sheep and wasn’t he the naughty one.

Eventually, someone repeated David’s words to Saul, who called for him. David repeated that he would fight the Philistine. David told Saul a rather unlikely story of a lion and a bear who took a sheep from his flock, and that he slew them. You see, David had the Lord on his side, and the Gathian was just one more beast to him.

Saul gave David a weapon and some armor, but David rejected them, not having tested them. David went out to meet Goliath and his shield bearer armed with just a staff, some stones and his sling. Not surprisingly, Goliath mocked him a bit, but David came back with a rejoinder that must have gotten some cheers from his side – “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: But I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied” and other bravado.

Goliath came towards him and David moved towards him fast. And quick as you can say “Jack Robinson,” David nailed Goliath on the head with a stone from his sling shot. Running up to Goliath, David climbed a top him, drew Goliath’s sword and cut his head off. And so was born one of the most iconic moments in history – at least literary history, which is familiar to hundreds of millions of people in the world even today.

You can imagine, the Philistines took one look at David holding the giant head and tore off, running wee, wee, wee, all the way home, or something like that.  David put his armor in his tent – though where he got a tent from is not clear to me – but carried the head with him when Saul called him. It was traditional in ancient times to ask whose son someone was, and so Saul inquired of David, who told him he was Jesse’s son.

Saul’s son was Jonathan. Jonathan and David made a pact with each other and Jonathan gave David his sword and other weapons, even his clothing.

After that, Saul put David “over his men of war.” And though David behaved himself admirably, when Saul found out that women were praising David more than him, well, you can imagine how he felt. An evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he hurled his javelin at David, intending to pin him to the wall.  Had he hit him, I’d likely have a different name today.

Saul, who sounded a little unstable to me, then put David over “a thousand,” that is, a large group of warriors. He also promised his eldest daughter, Merab, in exchange for David’s fighting for him.  For reasons I can’t fathom, Merab was given to someone else, but his other Daughter, Michal, was in love with David (which, by the way, probably means “beloved” or “beloved one”). The whole point was to ensnare David to die in battle. David was told rather than a dowry, which was traditional and unaffordable to David and his family, he could pay Saul with one hundred Philistine foreskins.  Yes, foreskins.

Apparently, David was quite good at getting Philistine foreskins, for he brought back twice as many as required. In that way, David won Saul’s daughter. But Saul became even more afraid of him and his enemy. At least, so we learn in 1 Samuel 18, although the writer appears to have forgotten that Saul had already tried to pierce David’s flesh with a spear himself, and the whole bunch of them seemed a little crazy. Family was tough, even in those days. Saul told his son Jonathan, among others, to kill David. But, Jonathan ratted out his dad and sent David into hiding. All for no good purpose, as Jonathan soon talked his Dad out of killing David, who went out and killed a greater bunch of Philistines. But, not for long. Soon Saul changed his mind – the evil spirit from the Lord again visiting him, and he tried once again to pin David to the wall. Fortunately, David slipped away. Saul was more aggressive this time and planned to have David killed in the morning. Saul’s daughter, David’s wife, advised him to run and he did, out the window. Michal though played, maybe for one of the first times in history, the ole dummy in the bed trick, while David escaped. I kid you not.

And Saul continued to pursue David, but Saul’s son, Jonathan helped him escape and David fled and gathered to himself the sword of Goliath and fled again and feigned madness in fear of another king. And David’s family came to him.

In the meantime Saul gathered his people and inquired of them, and slew many of them he felt helped David. And so a game of hide and seek ensued, with David always a step ahead of Saul.

Until at last Saul entered a cave where David and his men hid. And rather than slay Saul, he cut off a piece of his clothing secretly. When Saul left the cave, David followed him and calling to him, showed him how he had spared his life and prostrated himself. Saul wept and declared that David was more righteous than he was.

Saul then promised David would surely be kings, but made David swear he would not cut off Saul’s seed and destroy his family name. And then Saul went home and David and his men back into their cave. If you think I understand what just happened, you are wrong because it seemed like they patched things up – but apparently not.

David then came upon a rich sheep herder, who refused him help. David girded his sword and with his men went to slay him. But, the herder’s wife, Abigail, interceded and begged him off. Soon the old coot died because the Lord, who wasn’t shy about smoting someone in the Old Testament, smote him.  And David took Abigail and another woman to wife. And it was a good thing, because back at the fort, Saul had given David’s first wife, his daughter, to another man.

Good story so far, right? Sex and violence sells. They are going to sell more.

Soon after Saul and his men head out after David again. This time, David sneaks into the camp and, rather than kill Saul, or let his man do it, he takes Saul’s spear and some water, and steals off. This time when Saul and him face off, David shows him the spear and lets him again know that he spared him. And again, Saul forgives him and they go their separate ways. I wouldn’t trust Saul for anything.

Then David went into the land of the Philistines, even to Gath, from whence came Goliath, and is given land. And then David went on the warpath, and “smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel, and returned, and came” back to the Lord of Gath, who seeing David had attacked Judah and Israel, and made them abhor him, would be his subject forever.

Now the Philistines came to Israel, and the Lord of Gath brought David with him. Saul, panicking, sought out a seeress, though he had driven all those with familiars or wizards out of the land. And she raised the spirit of Samuel, the holy man, who Saul and David had known, and let me tell you, Samuel made Saul feel pretty small about what was going to happen, and Saul was going to depart, feeling weak and tired, but the seeress, being a nice girl underneath it all, made something for him and his men to eat. So Jewish.

But then, the other lords of Philistine, being numbskulls, insisted that David not fight alongside them and convinced David’s new lord to send him packing. So, back to the land of the Philistines David went.

It was a good thing, because while the men were out fighting an Egyptian raiding party had come in and grabbed all of the women and children. David and his men followed, and finding one left behind by the Egyptians, treated him well, promised not to kill him, and he led them to the party. David and his men killed almost all of them, except for those who escaped by camel, and recovered their families. David, showing some of the wisdom he’d become famous for, gave equal shares to the men who were exhausted and guarded the baggage and then sent gifts to some of the elders of the tribes of Judah.

Meanwhile, things did not go swimmingly for Saul. Without David to defend them the Philistines beat them silly, killing Saul’s men, even his sons, even Jonathan. Saul asked his armor bearer to run him through, but he wouldn’t, so Saul literally fell on his sword to avoid being abused by the uncircumcised Philistines, who found him, cut off his head and strapped up his body. Some Israelis took him down, burned his body and buried his bones under a tamarisk tree. Tradition.

An Israeli came to David in the land of the Philistines. He told David what happened and that Saul and Jonathan were dead.  David asked him how he knew. Saul, it turns out, dying, couldn’t quite manage to turn the corner himself, and asked the man to kill him. David and his men lamented. Then, because David was, albeit "wise," still a member of a barbarian tribe, he had the man killed because he had killed Saul - even though Saul asked him to do it.

Now David moved back to Judah and was made king over it. And one of Saul’s sons was made king of Israel. Some of Saul’s men and some of David’s met around a pool and decided to fight. It was a ridiculous fight, at first seeming like a very violent contest and then a ridiculous chase scene that may have inspired Benny Hill (those who don’t know who Benny Hill is – he was a very silly man). At the end of the day though, David’s men overwhelmingly triumphed.

The war went on and David triumphed more and more and had some kids. In the meantime, Saul’s son, the king of Israel (you wouldn’t remember his name if I told you) insulted the commander of the army, Abner, whose name is easy to remember, asking him why he slept with his father, Saul’s, concubine. Abner was fit to be tied and went to David and offered to trade allegiances and make him king of Judah and Israel. David said fine, but only if you bring me back Michal, his wife whom Saul gave to another man. So, this Abner did, and a pitiful scene arose, with Michal’s new husband following them the whole way, crying. Finally, Abner told him to go home, and just like that he did.  Abner convinced the elders of Israel to accept David. He went and told David what he had done and was allowed to leave in peace. Everybody’s happy.

But, it never lasts long in the Bible. When Joab, David’s general returns, he learns that Abner had been there and allowed to leave in peace. He tells David that he was hoodwinked, Abner just wanting to spy on him. Not to mention, Abner had killed Joab’s brother in battle. Joab goes and gets Abner, takes him aside to talk, but plunges his dagger into him, killing him. David finds out, curses Joab and his family, which in Biblical times is a big deal, and orders a funeral for Abner. Much lamenting ensues. David’s followers say to him to eat something (so Jewish) but he refuses to eat until the sun goes down. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but it somehow lets everyone know that David had no part in killing Abner. David whines that he is king, but the “sons of Zeruiah” – his nephews, Joab and his brother, are too strong for him. We’ll see about that.

In the meantime, it wasn’t going so well for Saul’s son, the king of Israel, either. Two Israeli banditos came to see him and stabbed him. They fled to David and told him that he was avenged. But, David, remembering that he had put to death the man who brought him the news that Saul was dead, decided he could do no less with these two, and his men hacked them to pieces. He found Saul’s son, and buried his head in Abner’s tomb. That makes little sense to me, as Abner and the king parted enemies, but, these fellows are hard to explain.

Is this all brutal enough for you Game of Throne's lovers? I assure you – it gets worse.

The Elders of Israel came to David and offered him the kingship. He had been king of Judah 7 years. Another 33 he would rule over both. But, the citizens of Jerusalem resisted him, sort of saying, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, you can’t get us.” Using a water-shaft, he did and took the city, renaming it the City of David. The Philistines attacked again, twice, and twice he defeated them. He had, after all, God on his side, and that’s hardly a fair fight.

But, God also had his testy side. David sent for the Ark of the Covenant, upon which God was enthroned. How this is different than having an idol, I’m not sure, but it isn’t looked upon so. In any event, as the procession was occurring, the Ark was shaken and one of the escorts put his hand on it to steady it. God took offense at this, because in the Old Testament, he was a temperamental and jealous fellow, and zapped the poor guy.

Now, we haven’t had any female characters getting crazy, but that’s about to change. David was now afraid of the Ark, so he put it in someone’s house for a few months. When all went well, he had it brought to the city. It was a big party. They sacrificed some animals and David started “dancing with all his might.” His first wife, Michal, who had recently rejoined him, saw this, and for whatever reason women have to get mad at their husbands, this qualified. When she saw David dancing, she said “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of all the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would.” You can just hear a more modern version of Michal snarling, "Why don't you just go dance with your little whore girlfriends?"

David, of course, got on his high horse, frat boy that he was, and mocked her father (though he was always defending Saul to others) and her family, sort of saying, "God picked me, your family sucks, nyah, nyah, nyah. And I’ll dance like a fool if I want to." But, he was right, and Michal never bore any children. Personally, I kind of feel sorry for her.

Soon after David admonished himself to his friend, Nathan, that he was keeping God in a tent while he himself lived in a house of cedar. I get his point. He wanted to build God a house. But Nathan had a vision and God revealed to him that he never asked David for a house, but he was going to reward David by making his child king, and the kid would build him a house. It’s actually an important chapter for Jews but also Christians and Muslims, all of whom believe David’s life was revelatory for their own religion, because it promises that David’s house and throne and kingdom would last forever.

Then David and his men went all about basically kicking ass and taking names, defeating all comers. “David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.” Here’s an example of Davidian justice, so that you get the idea:

“David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live.”

Sounds more like an obsessive-compulsive serial killer to me, but . . . . Arguably, in modern terms, David was plain nuts. But, you can see how royalty would love the message of David. In one chapter he finds one of Saul's descendants, a lame son of Jonathan, and treats him wonderfully, even though Saul repeatedly tried to kill him. 

It worked out well for everyone there, but, sometimes we know kindnesses are met with suspicion and it doesn’t always work out so well. Another time, David sent some envoys to a local tribe, trying to be nice to the son of a man who was good to him. But, that leader’s advisors told him that David was just trying to spy on them. So, he cut off half the beards of the envoys and also the garb around their buttocks. You can imagine them returning to David with half beards and their asses hanging out. David told them to keep their distance until their beards grew back – yes, that’s the apparently the part that bothered him. It wasn’t a good idea for the other tribes though. Much as they tried, David kept defeating them.

That’s all for this week, but I’m going to do Part II next week. It’s going to start getting even more Games of Thronish. Stay tuned. Same Bat channel, same Bat time. And if that doesn’t mean anything to you, then you are probably just a lot younger than I am.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Emergency birdie update

This is an Emergency birdie report!

I admit it when something obsesses me. I always liked birds, but the last couple of years I'm just crazy about them. I'm not the only one either. Yes, many of my friends look at me when I'm talking about them as if I'm crazy (or crazier than they already though), but l also know a lot of people really interested, some much more than me.

Lately, my obsession has heightened my awareness of them and whereas, I think like most people, I used to just note a bird, now I'm looking at its features intently as soon as I see it and boring my evalovin' gf (and others) by identifying it verbally, if I can. Unfortunately, it is rare I have my camera on me when I see one flying by, or to be ready to snap a picture if I do, and the cell phone camera is rarely sufficient for smaller birds. Unlike cows, birds are often on the move and you only get a few seconds before they are gone.

A few weeks ago while at my pond (see previous "birdie" posts) I suddenly noticed a little gull shaped bird flying by. It was smaller than most gulls. I stared at it like a panther its prey and could see it had grey wings and a completely black hooded head. It flew off. Although I had my camera next to me there was no time to take a picture.  I hoped it would come back to the same spot as many birds do. A few weeks later I saw what I thought was a pair of them, but I was looking into the light and couldn't be sure. I've been trying to track it down in my bird books and I'm pretty sure this is it - it is a little gull - that's its name, little gull. It looks like this:

Related image

As my gull flew by I could not see its underside, but only the upper wings and head, so its body may or may not have been white.  It was not making any noise or doing anything notable, just flying by, so I can only say that New York is in its range, I couldn't find anything else that fit the bill (pun intended) and I am pretty sure it's what it was.

A few weeks back I stepped outside to greet some workmen. There was a small bird on the front lawn - not unusual - pecking into the ground. At first, I thought it was a small crow or maybe a starling. But, just as one of the workers was stepping out of the truck he heard me say, "What the f*** is that?" He looked and said, "A bird." He wasn't wrong, but that's not what I meant. "I know that," I said. "But look at it. It has a black body and a brown head. I don't know what kind it is."  He said, "Ask him (his partner). He's a scientist." I was a little surprised that the guy who was going to rip out the kitchen was a scientist (he explained later this work paid much better) but he immediately said it was a grackle. I didn't think that was it but just said, "Oh, thanks." A few seconds later its mate flew down, and then they looked at me looking at them and then flew off.

The scientist was a nice guy and I think intelligent, but he was a marine biologist, not an ornithologist, so I decided to look in my books (I love my bird books) and online. I couldn't find a grackle that matched what I saw. So I did what I always try to do - I just perused until I found it. The brown-headed catbird. It looks like this:


That was definitely the birds I saw on my front lawn.

As I've pointed out in prior Birdie posts, the birds' behavior is also of unending interest to me, even though they are usually creatures of habit. I love it when they do the same thing day after day. But sometimes they step out of character and it is more interesting. I don't know why, the other day, a mallard picked up and try to swallow what was obvious a feather. Birds know feathers. Sparrows and swallows often pick them up to carry away, I'm presuming to their nests. One mallard did it and then a second, watching, tried too. They both gave up after a few chews. I mean, ycchhh, even for a bird. But what made them try? Did they think maybe it was food?

And for a few days last week the three main families who inhabit the shore of my little pond, the swans, the geese and the mallards, were visited by a stranger - a sea gull. One plopped himself down in the midst of them. Not a few minutes flight away there are thousands of other gulls at the shore. But, he must have wanted to be here, because he stayed for about three days before leaving, I'm guessing to find other gulls.

In the meantime, I think I hear the mockingbird in my backyard imitating his neighbor the cardinal. Gonna go look.

Meanwhile, I have to tell you I have been photographing the swanlet the pair had at the pond all year since it was born. It is almost full grown and many of its feathers have turned white. I will put some photos together when he's all white and you can see the change over time. This is not a particularly attractive time for the young swans as the gray and white does not mix very well. He's like an ugly duckling.

I also met a man at the pond who also comes there frequently and belongs to the Audobon Society. He had a bird book in his car and we discussed what we have seen at the pond for a good while. That doesn't happen to me a lot. He mentioned that the male swan here now is not the same as the one last year. That swan died after getting tangled up in a fishing line. He himself cleans out the fishing lines left at the pond frequently. I don't go in the water, not having waders, but I do clean up the shore and curse out the bastards who leave their junk there. "Bastard!!!" (and much worse).

This has been an Emergency birdie report!

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .