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Friday, March 28, 2008

MENSCH UND UBER-MENSCH

I wish they would just leave Friedrich alone. They can’t, of course, I understand that. And it doesn’t really matter anymore, I understand that too. He’s been dead a hundred years and what is left of him has long since turned to dust. What does it matter where his dust resides, or even if it all resides all in the same location? Clearly it mattered to his sister, but she was an anti-Semitic witch. She loved Friedrich but her attachment to his dust was her opiate, not his. He didn’t worry about such things, why should I? But it is a nasty joke to play on all of us. The very ground they buried him in is too valuable to be allowed to simply rest where it is with him in it. But it’s a nasty joke, and troubling. I care because although there is much about Friedrich that is troubling and contradictory, there was also one thing in particular which Friedrich wrote, words that spoke to me like a clarion call of honesty and integrity; and which dispelled half a lifetime of conventional pandering and route idiocy. His words that convinced me that intellectually I was not alone on this earth, Friedrich said, "Plato was a bore.” God, yes, he certainly was: a fascist, hate mongering snob and a bore; and Friedrich Nietzsche was the first man I ever read who was brave enough to say that out loud. Sometimes I feel like shouting it. PLATO WAS A BORE!Friedrich, on the other hand, was nuts; a literal raving lunatic toward the end of his life was what he was. He ordered the Kaiser to journey to Rome, and once there to be executed by the Pope. And Friedrich wasn’t kidding. He wrote to friends to explain why he had done this, as if they were going to disapprove of the Kaiser’s imminent demise and hold Friedrich responsible, as if the Kaiser was imminently about to demise. Maybe that is how you know he was crazy; he could not distinguish between what he wanted to do and what he could do.
Perhaps insanity is that simple, the inability to divide in the mind between what is and what ought to be, some kind of hormonal imbalance of the chemical hierarchy of the brain, encouraging you to stuff your pigeon into the wrong hole. It was probably a symptom of the syphilis or gonorrhea he had contracted as a young soldier in the service of the crown. He was a medical orderly who in retrospect hated war and all the justifications for it. The crown he served as a young man was the last thing he had believed in outside of his own brain. As Friedrich himself wrote, “A casual stroll through a lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” And who would know that better than Friedrich?
But that was yesterday, the age of mensch and uber-mensch. Today the mensch (or men) of Germany are far from uber (0r super), with smaller minds and smaller dreams. Unemployment in what was once East Germany is now over 20%. And the little village of Rocken, where Friedrich lies in the church yard, buried next to his father, sits atop a vast reserve of lignite, also known as “brown coal”.
It is ugly and burns dirty. But Germany has over six and one half billion tons of such lignite reserves. The heat produced by burning lignite (as opposed to anthracite) is so low as to be uneconomical unless the power plants are built right next to the vast open pit mines. Twenty-five villages have already been eaten up by such open pits since World War Two. And it seems likely that Rocken will be number twenty-six or twenty-seven. And then, whatever will become of Friedrich? What a nasty joke on him.And it’s an old joke. A dead atheist is one all dressed up with no place to go. And there is the story of the rabbi, the priest and the atheist sentenced to death by the French Revolution. Asked if he has any last words, the rabbi proclaims, “I believe in the one true God!” The executioner yanks the rope and the blade flashes down and -Thud! - it stops just short of the rabbi’s neck. He is immediately released, much to the crowd’s disappointment. The Priest is next, and he proclaims, “I believe in the son, the father and the holy ghost!” The blade flashes down and – Thud! – stops just short of his neck. To the disappointment of the crowd, he is also released. Then the atheist is tied down and asked if he has any last words. And he says, “Oh, here’s your problem. You’ve got a bone stuck in the gears.”
And then of course there was the indecisive insomniac/dyslexic agnostic who lay awake all night, pondering the existence or non-existence of dog. Is Friedrich laughing yet?Friedrich Nietzsche usually gets the blame for providing the philosophical justification for Hitler and the “final solution”, but in fact Friedrich considered anti- Semitism to be foolish. He wrote that it should be “…utterly rejected…by every sensible mind”. He hated the ultra-nationalists, like the Nazis. That’s why he broke off his friendship with the composer Richard Wagner.
Friedrich called the idea of a “master race” “…a mendacious swindle” which was a polite way of saying that Hitler was full of manure, or would be full of manure, since Hitler was 11 ½ when Friedrich died in 1900. As Friedrich wrote, “Although the most acute judges of the witches and even the witches themselves were convinced of the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was non-existent. It is thus with all guilt.” Could a man who could write that really have condoned killing Jews for killing the Christ?Friedrich answered Rene Descartes bold claim of "God’s logic" (I think, there fore I am) with a desperate appeal for compassion: “I still live, I still think: I still have to live, I still have to think.” Meanwhile the logic of the situation says that eventually, someday, Friedrich and his father and all the graves in the church yard, and the church and the entire village, will have to be dug up. Every drop of oil that is burned makes each remaining drop that much more valuable, and increases the value of every ton of lignite beneath the little village of Rocken. The mining company, Milbrag, says they may start work to retrieve that lignite beneath Rocken by 2025; or, perhaps, sooner. It is another sign that the Oil God is dead. Long live lignite. And long live Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas. If it gets cold enough, maybe we can burn his books. Again.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

DADDY DEAREST

I think the North Central coast of New Zealand’s North Island is as close to paradise as you are likely to find. We don’t know for certain why Captain Cook called it “The Bay of Plenty” in 1769. But at the port of Taurange, a three hour drive south from Auckland, the average low temperature in the winter (March through August) is a cool 41F, and the average high in the summer is a pleasant 75F. During the winter rainy season the average rainfall is only 4 to 5 inches a month. And even though its beach lined coast is bisected by the Taupo Volcanic Zone, with its northern terminus of White Island, one of the most accessible and active, explosive volcanoes in the world, a mere 30 miles off the coast, there is nothing in the geological history to indicate that this resort region has anything particular to fear from Mother Nature. The violence and the fireworks of this land are merely harmless backdrops. Or at least they were until 45 year old James Bowring went on the prowl.
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James is a Maori, one of the native peoples of New Zealand. The word means normal or ordinary in their language. They arrived a thousand years ago from Polynesian islands to the north and had the place to themselves until the Dutchman Able Tasman showed up 500 years later. It was the Dutch who renamed the “Land of the Long White Cloud” after their native region of “Zeeland”. But it was the English, who followed them, whose enthusiastic immigration prompted the Maoris to ask if they planned on transplanting the entire population of England to this South Pacific Hobbit haven. In 1864 the English Colonial authorities set out on a war of conquest that climaxed at the battle of Rangiriri. The morning after a bloody and useless assault the British were stunned to see the victorious Maoris flying a white flag. The natives had just meant to parlay, but by the time that was straightened out 20 minutes later the fort was filled with intermingled and intermingling British and Maori soldiers, and it just seemed easier to call the whole thing a draw. In fact no peace treaty was ever signed. Everybody just stopped fighting. It was an enormously logical way to end a war: just stop fighting. By 1900 there were barely 43,000 natives left in New Zealand. The population has since rebounded, but to quote one official New Zealand web site, today “…not one fully blooded Maori exists - but thankfully the culture and heritage continues with passion amongst their descendants.”
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James Bowring is certainly passionate. So passionate he can be described as suffering from a “personality disorder”, as well as from anxiety and depression. One effect of his “disorder” is that James has been arrested four times for driving after his license had been revoked. And another effect of his disorder is that it seems to make James irresistible to young New Zealand women. And they, it seems, are irresistible to him. If so this would explain why James was drawn to woo and seduce 18 year old Krystal Clark, whom he met while his 18 year old son, Jacob, was dating her. In fact, Krystal is carrying James’ child. Now, stealing and impregnating your son’s girlfriend tends to put a strain on the familial bonds, and in February James was driving down a street in Taurange, with 18 year old pregnant Krystal in the passenger seat. They had just dropped off a 14 year old female “friend” when they happened to drive past Jacob. And all hell broke loose.
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Jacob gave vent to his frustrations on the street corner, as 18 year olds will do. The sight of his ex-girlfriend driving past in his father’s car compelled the boy to call out in pain and indignation, public ally branding his father as a “pedophile” and shouting that he “should be in a mental institution.” James, evidently driven by his “personality disorder” immediately pulled a U-turn on the street, drove over the curb and, at 30 miles per hour, aimed the speeding car at his son. The only thing preventing James from running over Jacob was a propitious lamppost, which Jacob hid behind. James was charged with recklessly operating a motor vehicle, driving while his license was revoked and “assault with a blunt instrument”, i.e., a car. Later, in Tauranga District Court, with Jacob seated in the gallery directly behind Krystal, James’ lawyer pleaded his personality disorder. And the judge agreed. James was found guilty and sentenced to five months home detention, drug and alcohol counseling and 12 months loss of license, which James was already driving without – for the fifth time now.
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James has sought solace with his native cultural. He now lives in the tiny Maori community of Te Puna: in a bus. And now Krystal lives there too. It must be every New Zealand parent’s dream to have the fruit of their womb, their bundle of hope and dreams, living in a bus with the 45 year old reprobate who impregnated her. I’m fairly certain this was Jacob’s nightmare, if he had ever thought about such things before. But James seems contented for the moment, locked up 24 hours a day in an immobilized bus with a pregnant 18 year old. Do you think they have run out of things to talk about, yet? To most 45 year old males, such an existence would eventually become a living nightmare, and in a lot less than 5 months, too.
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

A WAKE FOR THE GODS

I pity those Bronze Age civilians who suffered living next door to the “heroes” of Greek mythology: what an amazing collection of selfish sociopath lunatics, like Hector and Agamemnon, who looted property, raped and molested women and children, murdered animals, men, women and children, and burned down whole cities to cover their crimes, and who, when they got caught, blamed “the gods”. They sound like a cross between politicians and gang members, don’t they?
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Consider Patroclus: as an adolescent this lunatic murdred his boyhood friend over a game, then did time "up state" guarded by centaurs, where he hooked up with another gang thug named Achilles. These two terrorized half of Asia Minor, fighting a ten year war with a rival gang, who eventually killed Patroclus in a chariot drive by. Achilles avenged his death by killing the rival gang chiefdom and dragging his body all around town. Then Achilles was slain by Paris. What a bloody mess! It sounds almost mythological, doesn’t it? But consider the modern day collision of real heroes at the ironically named “Family Focus Community Center”.
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On February 19th, 31 year old Javor Brooks of Chicago was visiting friends when he was shot and wounded several times in front of a home on Florence Avenue in the suburb of Evanston. Witnesses said they heard four or five shots and then a car accelerating away. Javor was found conscious and transported to St. Francis Hospital, where he died of his wounds 12 days later, on March 9th. To this date there have been no arrests in his murder. On Saturday, March 15th his family gathered for a memorial and luncheon at the Community Center to celebrate Javor passing to Elysiyum Fields, when what might best be described as a Dionysiac Frenzy broke out. (The cops just called it a brawl). After it was all over, according to the Chicago Tribune, “… Elmo Hatfield, 39…was charged with mob action and marijuana procession. Sheldon Morales, 26,…was charged with mob action and obstructing a police officer. Dale Rafael Miguel Richardson, 28,…was charged with aggravated assault. (And) Zipporah Saphire Morales, 24,…was charged with disobedience to police, mob action and obstructing police.” So many arrests at a funeral: it sounds like a funeral rite only someone like Althaemene could appreciate.
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Althaemene was the only son of Catreus, the king of Crete, who had been given a prophecy that he would be killed by his own child. Learning this and loving his father, Althaemene moved to Rhodes. Years later, as he neared death, Catreus sailed after his son to ensure that he inherited the crown. But the fishermen on Rhodes thought Catreus and his men were pirates. The villagers called for help and Althaemene arrived and immediately threw his spear at the intruders without looking or aiming. By luck it struck and killed Catreus, thus fulfilling the prophecy. In his grief and guilt, Althaemene staged a grand funeral for his father, inviting all the kings from the Greek world - including Menelaus, the King of Sparta. And this is why, when Hector and Paris stopped off at Sparta to pay their respects to Menelaus, they found instead, Helen, home alone. So in a way it was the funeral of Catreus that caused the Trojan War.
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When Agamemnon returned after ten years at that war, his wife, Clytemnestra, promised him a huge banquet. But as Agamemnon stepped from his bath before the festivities Clytemnestra threw a heavy robe over her husband’s head and while he fumbled in it she stabbed him to death with his own word. Then she quickly married Aegisthus, who had been her lover for seven years. And if there is one man alive today who might understand how poor old Agamemnon felt, trying to defend himself under that robe, it would be Andrew Scullen, of Hastings, Minnesota, who looked upon the face that launched a thousand ships and two nasty lawsuits.
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Andrew, age 36, married the lovely Kimberly, aged 26, on March 10, 2006. Just five days later he shipped out for Iraq with his National Guard unit. But before he left he granted Kimberly power of attorney, so she could take care of things while he was away fighting a war. However, when he returned home in July of 2007, the lovely Kimberly greeted Andrew with divorce papers. He then discovered that Kimberly had spent all of his combat pay and emptied his savings. She had bought a new car and then let the payments lapse “…giving rise to various fees, penalties, interest and foreclosure”, and destroying Andrew’s credit rating. Kimberly also ran up huge debts on their credit cards, paying for trips with and making straight cash payments to one Nicolas Hale, age 23, Kimberly’s new boyfriend. Andrew is now suing Kimberly and Nicholas to get his money back, (good luck with that) and he is demanding a trial by jury, under the theory, I suspect, that no jury could refuse to convict a petty pretty gold digger like Kimberly. It might make a good plot for Aristophanes’ next play.
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And how could you describe the tragedy of Jeffery Gillham, a 37 year old engineer, except to say it was mythological, but in the original Greek meaning of the term, “Mythos”, meaning a traditional tale. Because, one way or another, Jeffery suffered through a great tragedy in his family home in Woronora, a western suburb of Sydney, Australia. On the night of August 28, 1993, Jeffrey’s father, 55 year old Stephen Gillham, was stabbed 29 times and died in the master bedroom of his home. His body was then soaked in turpentine and set alight. Jeffery’s 58 year old mother, Helen, was stabbed 17 times, and died in the family room. Then her body was soaked in gasoline and set afire. And finally Jeffery’s 25 year old bother Christopher was stabbed 17 times and also died. His body was burned in the fire that severely damaged the family home. But who could have committed these horrible acts?
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If this was truly a Greek Tragedy, one of the gods would be the chief suspect. But the age of heroes has passed, and in our logic driven world chief suspicion fell on the only surviving family member, Jeffery, who by surviving had inherited $916,717.59 Australian. At the time of the murders Jeffery was a 23 year old student earning $8 an hour and had just $8 in the bank. But Jeffery’s version of events confounded the prosecutors. He admitted to chasing down, stabbing and killing Christopher, but only because Christopher had just confessed to murdering their parents. Jeffery could offer no motive for Christopher to murder their parents, but claimed to have even seen Christopher set their mother’s body on fire, just before a rage drove Jeffery to avenge his parent’s death by murdering his elder brother. A jury was swayed by Jeffery’s testimony and he was convicted of manslaughter. He was given a 5 year suspended sentence. And for 14 years his success at swaying a jury proved a Gordian Knot too complicated to unravel.
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But thirteen years after the massacre the Director of Public Prosecutions for New South Wales reversed his two earlier assessments of the case. In February of this year Jeffery was finally charged with the murder of his parents. At trial the jury was lead into the labyrinth of the case. A fireman testified that when Jeffrey met him at the front door his hair was wet and his clothes were dry and clean, but “smelled of petrol”. The Coroner testified that all three victims (including Christopher) had been stabbed in the “region of the heart”, while probably lying motionless on the floor, by an assailant who was probably kneeling over them. He also testified that all were stabbed with the same knife and that the assailant would have been covered with blood. Detectives testified that they had found Christopher Gilliam’s eyeglasses, which he needed to find his way across a room (or defend himself), in the laundry room.
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Under direct examination Jeffery insisted that he loved his parents and had not wanted for money. And he insisted that he had seen the fire spread quickly into the master bedroom, even though a forensic expert had testified that turpentine burns very slowly. But he did admit that he should have thought about helping his parents rather than chasing after his brother. Under cross examination he was asked why, if he had called the fire department immediately after killing his brother (and there was blood splatter around his brother’s body and the room) the only blood found on Jeffery was on his knuckles and fingernails. Jeffery had no explanation. Nor could he explain how Christopher could have murdered their parents without his glasses, or how they had gotten into the laundry room. As they say in the Commonwealth courts, the trial continues.
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And if there is a difference between our reality and the ancient Greek Mythos, it may simply be that had Jeffery Gillham commited his crime in the bronze age he might have been blinded and banished to a slow death by disease. In our more reasoned age, he may only go to jail: assuming this time the jury convicts him. Otherwise, things haven't changed all that much.
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