Sunday, March 31, 2013

Habemus Papum?

     Habemus Papam. I am told I must rejoice. So why this profound malaise? Shall I regale you, my fellow faithful, with my tale of woes? On second thought, let me just share with you my compact history of the recent Papacy; call it my Litany of the Three.
     In his book "Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII" (NY: Viking, 1999), John Cornwell tells us how Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, accommodated our Church to Hitler's murderous Third Reich and the Holocaust--in spite of repeated entreaties from the German bishops to come out in public against the unfolding abomination. Hitler was nominally an Austrian Catholic. Should Pope Pius have had the moral gumption to ex-communicate him? For his utter moral blindness, this Infallible of my long-lost childhood was rewarded with canonization by a pair of successors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
     Next, the now-retired Joseph Ratzinger: In his youth, a member of the Hitlerjugend. Did he object? Resist? Was imitatio Christi too much? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. In 1968, on the Theology faculty of Eberhard Karls University in Tubingen, this paragon of Christian orthodoxy came out against the striking students and many of his own colleagues, including Fr. Hans Kung, famed theological adviser to the Second Vatican Council--who had recommended him for the post. The revolution that shaped my generation this side of the Atlantic was anathema to this strict dogmatic.
In his next incarnation as head of the Munich diocese, Archbishop Ratzinger was complicit in hush-hushing priestly child-abuse in his diocese. Promoted to the Curia, Cardinal Ratzinger took over the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--a.k.a. The Holy Office, a.k.a. The Inquisition. There he proceeded to muzzle his old colleague Fr. Kung, removing him from teaching Theology at Tubingen. More recently as Pope Benedict XVI, he helped our very own Cardinal Timothy Dolan muzzle the American nuns, whose mortal sin was taking Christ's Gospel of love, charity and inclusivity too seriously. His lasting legacy, we are told, is berating European and American Catholics for exercising, too exuberantly, it seems, our God-given rationality.
     Just for comparison: On March 12, 2013, the NY Times reported the passing of the last living Valkyre conspirator, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist. Scion of protestant East-Prussian landed gentry, namesake of the illustrious novelist Heinrich von Kleist, and son of the anti-Hitler resistance hero Ewald von Kleist, this 22-year-old lieutenant in the German Army was recruited by Col. Calus von Stauffenberg in 1945 to join the Valkyre plot. Only the steadfast refusal of von Kleist's co-conspirators to disclose his name under torture saved his life. Joseph Ratzinger, by then 17, was out of the the Hitlerjugend and into the Waffen SS.
     And now, Jorge Mario Bergoglio: anti-women, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-contraception and a "humble" Jesuit to boot, reigning as Pope Francis I. According to the Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitzky ("El Silencio: de Paulo VI a Bergoglio: las relaciones secretas de la Iglesia con la ESMA", Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2005), as Provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina during La Guerra Sucia Fr. Bergoglio accommodated to the military dictatorship, refraining from either protesting the arrest of or protecting two fellow Jesuits who were snatched and incarcerated in the infamous Naval torture camp. Their sin? Not accommodating like their Superior; that and their ardent belief in Christ's ministry to the poor, also known as Liberation Theology.
     So enlighten me, my fellow faithful, what exactly am I to rejoice in? The recurrent moral blindness of our Papacy? Their retrograde rejection of the world we live in? Their insistence on repressive hierarchic control? Their repeated accommodation to murderous "conservative" regimes? Their 335AD Nicea model of servility to mundane Imperial powers? Shall I, per chance, rejoice in Fr. Tomás de Torquemada, my illustrious namesake who burned my kin at the stake for being mere conversos? Or in that other Francis, the rapacious Church-supported Generalísimo Fransisco Franco?
     For you see, I take my Catholic Faith dead serious. I believe in Christ's gospel, and have always cleaved to this hopeless romantic idea that The Body of Christ were us, the flock in the pews. To top it all, my favorite religious order is still the Society of Jesus. But how can this "humble" Jesuit hold spiritual sway over me, when all I see is--here I had better revert to my native tongue and his--nomás que otro lobo en piel de oveja? Shall I acquiesce to his triumph of style over substance? Is that what our Savior would have done?

Tomás Givón
Ignacio, Colorado

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On Guns and Freedom

     In a farewell salvo following his forcible retirement (Durango Herald 1-1-13), State Representative J. Paul Brown of Ignacio, my hometown, offered to continue the good fight on our collective behalf. Having abused his elected opponent one last time, he then exhorted us: "...We must also continue to fight for the right to own guns to protect ourselves from the tyranny of government, or from invasion by another country..." (emphases added). No hunting. No defense of hearth and home.
     J. Paul is of course not alone in his zeal to defend our sacred constitutional rights. In a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) offered the following historiography concerning our right to possess weapons like M-4 or AR-5: "...Well, for the same reason George Washington said: a free people is an armed people. It insures against tyranny of the government. If they know the biggest army is the American people, then you don't have the tyranny that came from King George..." (emphases added).
     By my own reckoning, the last time we took arms against a foreign invader was 1812. The last time a portion of our population took arms against our own government was 1861. Yet for the insurrectionist fringe of J. Paul Brown and Rep. Gohmert, the crux of the Second Amendment rests in an apocalyptic vision of overthrowing the freely elected government of the Republic by force of arms. Just in case these seditious designs are not transparent enough, the NRA's kid brother, the Gun Owners of America, have been muttering darkly about "Resorting to Second Amendment Remedies" against the depredations of the Affordable Care Act; while a latter-day apocalyptic doomsday cult is building a medieval Citadel for armed resistance in the Idaho Panhandle.
     The Second Amendment to our Constitution, as it turns out, has a clear history that belies latter-day revisionism. Its very language offers the first hint: "A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed". Given the grammar of adverbial clauses in 18th Century English, the only possible interpretation of the first clause of the Second Amendment is: "Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state...". As any grammarian will tell you, "because" clauses, in English as in any other language, are presupposed, i.e. taken for granted; they supply the justification for the asserted main clause that follows. The current interpretation by our 'Originalist' Supreme Court notwithstanding, the Second Amendment is thus about communally- regulated armed militias.
     But why militias? An immense amount of past research on this issue was summarized in an article by Carl T. Bogus (UC Davis Law Review, vol. 31, 1998). In the 18th Century, state militias were primarily the preoccupation of the South, where they were raised to suppress recurrent slave rebellions. In his objections to the section of the Constitution that vested war powers in Congress (except in case of foreign invasion), Patrick Henry, during the deliberations of the Virginia Convention in Richmond in June 1788, spelled out this fear rather explicitly: "...Not domestic insurrection, but war. If the country may be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress insurrections. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded..." (emphases added).
     In the context of mounting Southern fears that the North harbored abolitionist intents, and that Washington's standing army would supplant state-sanctioned slave-patrol militias, the Virginia Convention promulgated the first version of what eventually became the Second Amendment: "...That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free state..."
     Latter-day revisionist historiography about militias defending us against foreign invaders, or against the coercive power of a democratically elected Federal government, is largely a post-Civil-War Southern concoction. Or as Carl Bogus notes: "...The militia was first and last protection from the omnipresent threat of slave insurrection and vengeance..." (emphases added).
     At the outset of the War of Independence, the hastily-gathered militias indeed played an important role. But by the end of 1776, American fields commanders and politicians alike conceded the ineffectuality of the ill-trained, undisciplined, desertion-plagued militias. As historian Charles Royster observes: "...One year's experience convinced most American officials that they needed a standing army to fight the war...". In a letter to Congress at the waning weeks of 1776, George Washington lamented: "...The militias...are dismayed, intractable and impatient to return home. Great numbers have gone off, in some instances by whole regiments...".
     It is this sobering experience with the militias that prompted Alexander Hamilton to write: "...The project of disciplining all militias is as futile as it would be injurious if it were capable of being carried into execution...The attention of the government ought particularly to be directed to the formation of a select corps of moderate size, upon such principles as will really fit it for service in case of need..." (Federalist Papers, no. 29).
     A friend of mine--salt of the earth, a good ol' boy from down South who served his country in Nam--told me before the last election: "Tom, we are well armed. If Obama is re-elected, there will be blood in the streets". Hard as I rack my poor ol' brain, what I think my friend meant, and what J. Paul and his insurrectionist cohorts mean, is this: "If our candidate wins, peace and quiet will prevail; out of the goodness of our heart, we might let you losers parade peacefully in the street and write bitter editorials. But if your candidate wins, there'll be blood". It is not exactly an accident that my friend and his Freedom Works cohorts keep telling us that "Democracy Sucks". In a way, it does, being a rather messy two-way street.
     The absurdist hue of the Colorado gun debates is hard to miss. In a recent report (Durango Herald, 2-14-13), Joe Hanel quoted the new Speaker of the Colorado House, Mark Ferrandino: "...Since I started here, I think I have always known that members had guns on the floor...". Who exactly was J. Paul Brown going to defend himself against on the State House floor? Our coercive elected government? Foreign invaders?
     In another report by Joe Hanel (Durango Herald 2-13-13), the absurdity is further amplified by the shameful saga of concealed guns on the CU-Boulder campus. Where exactly, pray, will CU students and faculty use their guns? In bickering about the Dead Sea Scrolls being sent to us by aliens from outer space? In tenure-denial vendettas? To resolve failed love affairs? Avenge a C- grade? Reinstate a rejected dissertations? Hasn't anyone up in Denver heard of Chris Dorner and his vengeful California saga?
     I had better own up--I don't have the magic bullet, pun intended. So I pass the following to you without comment. The very same day of the Newtown massacre (Dec. 14th), the NY Times reported an eerily similar incident in China. A deranged man attacked a school, injuring twenty- one children. Not a single one died. How come? He attacked them with a knife.
     At the bottom of our communal predicament is neither the type of guns we may license, nor the ammo clips, nor universal background checks. What this raging cacophony is all about is the kind of society we are and would like to be. Ruled by the courts of--impartial, fair, just--law, or down the barrel of a gun? Governed by replaceable elected representatives or by anonymous lobbies of the rich and powerful and entitled? Ballots or bullets? As a veteran and life-long gun owner, I have learned to my sorrow, occasionally from close quarters, what guns can do to people. I remember all too well the Old Testament's atavistic injunction: "He who comes to kill you, kill them first". But I am also mindful of Christ's haunting query: "What profits a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?"

Post Script:
     After circulating an early version of this article to an e-list of 100-odd people, I received an avalanche of responses, most of them supportive but some bitterly chagrined. In an obvious way, these responses reflect the extreme polarization of the country at large. What strikes me most about this unholy mess we have gotten ourselves into is how edgy and passionate everybody seems to be; so much so that W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming" fairly leap to mind, most emphatically these two lines that ring as scary and prophetic now as they must have in 1921:

"...The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity..."
Whichever side of the issue one falls on, it would behoove us all to lower the decibel level, and to remember that, just maybe still, we are all in it together. Perhaps also, that we are our brothers' keepers. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Requiem to a Dumb Blonde

     I expect everybody's had their own TK, pending on when they met her and which 'her' it was they met. My own take on TK harkens back to the spring of 1970, my first year on the faculty at UCLA after 10 years as a perennial grad-student. I was walking on the beach in Venice zonked out of my gourd on a sweet batch of acid, when I bumped into this dumb-blonde-looking chick in jeans and tight sweater--she was practically spilling out of it and there was lots to spill--sitting at an open- air hippie café right on the boardwalk. We wound up having breakfast and it was a mind-blower, I couldn't tell for sure whether it was the acid or the lady was funning me.
     She said she had just quit her tenure-track job in philosophy at U Mizou in Columbia to do another PhD in psych at UCLA. Said she grew up in KC, said her dissertation was on C.S. Peirce, a rare in-group specialty in those days. It turned out she knew about my teacher-cum-nemesis Noam Chomsky, with whom I had had growing issues ever since the summer of 1966. She explained, eyes sparkling benevolently, how it was all in the faulty epistemology--there were not just the two extremes, Aristotle and Plato (or Descartes, Chomsky's stand-in for Plato). There was also the middle way--pragmatics, Kant and Peirce. That Swede-Suomi dumb blonde blew my mind sky high right there and then.
     The 1960s being what they were, we wound up in bed. Tho not before I got her high on the weed. Her eyes went double-wide, she turned into an innocent child, this dumb blonde on her way to a double PhD. She proceeded to tell me about Kara, whom I soon met and fell in love with. And Tommy, from whom she had just split. His dissertation, she said, was on Bertrand Russell, another heavyweight that took me years to fathom. She didn't believe in non-amicable separation, she said; Tommy was a dear friend, she was working on him to quit his post in Missouri and join the revolution in LA. The sixties, just ended, were still in full bloom in Middle America. California was an irresistible magnet, siphoning in the restless souls of Middle America, who were quitting their safe havens in droves to flock to the Coast. My ex had split to Aspen with my boy Christopher, I was just starting my life-long commute between the Coast and the Rockies.
     She also told me about her dad and Aila, whom I met years later. Her dad was an old-line Marxist and labor organizer, harkening back to the old country and its Syndicalist tradition. No way of understanding TK's politics without remembering her dad. And Aila was a sweetheart, I could see her smile on Kara's lips. Forty years later I finally met another Aila right here in Colorado. Boy do I love those Finnish vowels.
     Before I knew it, she dragged me to a meeting of a wild underground, the Elephant Theory Group, where I met more crazy people who turned my intellectual life upside down forever. Ed Sadalla, Kalyn Roberts, his artist wife Ruthie, bearded Jay Dowling. We met at Kalyn's house two blocks from my shack on Beverly Avenue in Ocean Park. At the start of each meeting we smoked the sacrament, Kalyn being a grand connoisseur. Of whiskey too, alas. Everything was on the table--psychology, philosophy, language, art, life--no topic was out of bounds and relevance was never an issue . As TK explained, preparing me for the shock, relevance was just another hobgoblin of small minds.
     Of course, it was too good to last. Kalyn drank himself out of tenure. Like most perfectionists, he had a serious writer's block. We did an experiment together; sweet results, iffy stats, but he couldn't write up his part. It set a life-long pattern for my collaboration with psychologists--I would design the language stimuli, their RAs would run the experiments, do the stats. The stimuli were always too complex, it turned out, and the stats barely borderline. No reputable editor, I was patiently told, would publish results with such ungainly stats. Then Jay decamped, then Ed, to greener pastures in Arizona. Now I was spending more and more time in Colorado, between the ranch on the Rez and Christopher in Aspen.
     TK puzzled us most with her move to Rand and applied research. Here was a prime, supple theoretical mind who could write her ticket to a top academic job anywhere, burying herself in boring real-world issues. What a waste of a mind, we thought. But she said she'd had enough of theory, she wanted to do something meaningful in the real-world. Her father's voice speaking.
     Many a time when, after a heroic struggle, I came to her with a conceptual epiphany, she smiled sweetly: "Oh, I was wondering how long it would take you". She wasn't beyond arrogance, a professional hazzard, but was incredibly sweet about it.
     She had a most generous idea about love: share and share alike. This was before she came to terms, reluctantly, with how smaller minds could inflict spectacular collateral damage in the fields of Eros. When we were together, we struggled mightily over her amatory inclusivity. I thought she toothe Sixtiemuch too literally.  She said I was having a hard time with my macho genes. Eventually I conceded, writing an extravagant note to her--she never saw it--in my copy of Alan Watts' "Nature, Man and Woman". It was excised years later, alas. It turned out we were both right, but by then I was mostly away, in Colorado and then Oregon.
     We kept lamenting the distance but never lost touch. As with my other Sixties friends, scattered all over the map, the bond never snapped. Tommy came over for our wedding on the ranch in 1978 with his Hawaii lily, Winnie, joining the Yin-Yang circle of witnesses under the perfectly-round juniper tree.      As with Ed, rare reunions merely reaffirmed that we had never parted. Two weeks before TK's shocking demise, she sent me a note about my latest novel "Downfall of a Jesuit", (a lurid sex-scandal in 18th-Century France). She loved it, she said, it reminded her of her Medievalist training, Aquinas, Abelard, Occam et al. She was just ready to trade it to Tommy for my Rez novel "Blood".
     I've never left, TK. You haven't either. We had a lot of forgivable illusions in the Sixties, we thoughtweecoulld change the world, but the world turned out to be most recalcitrant. At the very least, tho, we may have managed to change ourselves. And we may have left a lasting sediment, I see the spark in our kids' eyes--Kara and Chris and Nate and Jed Karim. Just enough so that the world may be a bit easier to bear; and that the words of our romantic prophets may still resound acrosthland, Bobby's "Love is all there is, it makes the world go round"; and Paul's "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make". I still take this silly axiom quite literally. I thought you did too, TK.

Tom Givón
White Cloud Ranch Ignacio, Colorado (February 2013) 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On the Hypocrisy of Church and State: Genes, Souls and Reefer Madness

          The Nobel prize for Physiology/Medicine has just been awarded to J. B. Gurdon of Britain and S. Yamanaka of Japan. Their works span fifty years of research designed to answer one of the most fundamental questions of Biology--how does an embryonic cell, with potential for turning into any cell-type in the body, lose its flexibility and mature into a narrowly specialized skin, blood, nerve, bone, lung, muscle, egg or sperm cell? More vexing yet, can such specialization be reversed to turn any mature cell-type back into a flexible embryonic cell? Dr. Gurdon answered the second question in the affirmative in the 1960s, taking the nucleus out of a mature intestinal cell of a frog, injecting it into a de-nucleated frog egg-cell and producing a neonate tadpoles. Dr. Takayama later elucidated the gene-expression control mechanism that turns this process on or off.
          The Nobel award could not have designated more seminal studies, sitting as they were at the crossroads of genetics, the rigid evolutionary endowment of a species, and development, the more flexible context-sensitive unfolding of each individual life. But for those of us who live in Colorado, the work of Professors Gurdon and Yamanaka also intersects with the politics of pseudo-science--the Myth of the Fertilized Egg.
          For the third election-cycle in a row, a group of religious zealots are trying the cram down our throat state-mandated designation of the fertilized egg as a person, endowed with full civil and legal rights. But what the just-Nobeled studies reminds us is that every cell in the body of a biological organism, human or otherwise, comes with a full complement of genes (DNA) that specify the full design of both embryo and adult and, more to the point, the developmental trajectory from one to the other. Every such cell can, in principle, be induced to mature into a full- fledged organism. The zealots pushing the "human rights"--a.k.a. "personhood- begins-at-conception"--ballot measure had better amend their amendment, so that it may endow every cell in the human body with civil rights and personhood.
          But it gets better. The Person in Whose name these zealots presume to speak must now revise His procedures too. Not only must He leap into action every time a human egg is fertilized on this planet and insert a soul into the just-created fully-nucleated zygote, a fete of incredible vigilance and invasion of privacy; but He must now endow every cell in the human body, upon every instance of cell division--millions per person per hour--with the same God-given soul and personhood previously reserved for the fertilized egg. For if one wishes to partake in the game of science, one had better play by the rules, especially if one is the Heavenly One reputed to have set up the rules.
          Now speaking of pseudo-science, the hypocrisy of our anti-marijuana laws continues to defy both science and common sense, let alone common decency. We have been allowing two of the most destructive, addictive chemical agents known to man, nicotine and ethanol, to be legally produced and hawked and pushed--and profited from. We let giant corporations snare our young and vulnerable into life-long dependency and untold suffering. To add insult to injury, we collect hefty taxes off the misery and havoc wreaked by tobacco and alcohol.
          And then we have the temerity to outlaw, criminalize and severely punish the use of one largely non-addictive, mildly euphoric, benevolent weed--with no scintilla of scientific evidence to back up our Reefer Madness fantasies. Indeed, our Governor, who made a respectable Vulture Capitalist living producing and dispensing one of those addictive poisons, is now, in a fit of utter hypocrisy, urging us to not legalize the ol' weed.
          Just once, for the sake of truth in packaging, let me recount the life experience of the generation I happen to belong to. We earned our multiple graduate degrees in the Sixties; we had 40-year professional careers; we loved our families, raised our children, worked out butts off; as your friends and neighbors we are still productive contributors to our society, community and -- yes--Church. And all the while, on the sly, in our spare time, we have been indulging in the good weed; peacefully, disrupting neither life nor work nor family.
          True, we turned our backs on our parents' use of the twin demons tobacco and alcohol. No wonder, as children we witnessed the havoc. But our lives taken together are a silent if eloquent testimony to the insanity--indeed the utter imbecility and above all flaming hypocrisy--of Reefer Madness and the legal nightmare it has spawned. As one of our old songs ("Where have All the Flowers Gone?") has observed, Oh Will They Ever Learn?

Tom Givón ranches near Ignacio.
His next novel, "Downfall of a Jesuit", is slated to come out later this month. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Slouching Toward Bethlehem

          In this season of our discontent, as we slouch toward another dread November, reliable prophets are few and far between. Perhaps a poet might do then, for the clangor of soul-numbing campaign ads surely brings to mind W.B. Yeats' timeless poem, The Second Coming:
          "...The center cannot hold;
          mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...
          ...the best lack all conviction,
          while the worst are full of passionate intensity..."
          Are we doomed, one wonders, to re-enact, again and again, Adam Smith's dire depiction 
of our Government and Laws?
          "...Laws and Government may be considered in this case and indeed in every case as a combination [contraption] of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve to themselves in inequality the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor..." (Lectures on Jurisprudence, 1751)
          Our species' nearest kin,
Pan troglogytus (Chimpanzee) and Pan panicus (Bonbobo), share 98.5 percent of our DNA. As condescending as we have been to these kissin' cousins, and as reluctant as we remain to concede the relevance of their experience to our own exalted life, perhaps the way they handle conflict could shed some light on our current predicament.
          Chimpanzee social life is marred by ceaseless conflict and rude aggression, instigated mostly by younger males. While the ultimate target may be the reigning alpha male, the most conspicuous victims are, invariably, females young and old and their immature progeny. The powerless, the poor. A complex and fluid system of war coalitions, alliances and personal ties barely suffices to make this harsh arrangement half-way workable. And the carcasses of innocent victims bear testimony to the fragility of the social contract.
          While Adam Smith, founding prophet of free-market Capitalism, was not a Hobbesian (Homo hominem lupus est, 'A man is like a wolf to his fellow man'), his vision of the more repressive aspects of our social institutions was tinged with the violence of a zero-sum game:
          "...[the poor] who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to equality with themselves. The government and laws hinder the poor from ever acquiring the wealth by violence which they would otherwise exert on the rich..." (Lectures on Jurisprudence, 1751).
          Smith took it for granted that aggression will be there, and that it must be countered with state- sanctioned brute force. That is, the Chimp social model.
          Bonobos, in contrast, handle conflict by unmitigated love and unbridled sex. Share and share alike, male or female, forever hugging and kissing and--perish the thought--copulating. Now here is the rub: compared to Chimps, the Bonobo social order is a harmonious lovefest, a win-win game. So much so that one wonders--have they per chance been listening to Bobby Dylan: "love is all there is, it makes the world go round"?
          Our kin the Bonobos seem to know something that we, true vulture capitalists that we are, have apparently forgotten: that we are all our brothers' keepers. This in spite of repeated exhortations from our last reliable prophet, who is reputed to have said:
          "...This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you... No one has greater   love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends..." (John, 15:12-13).
          When I asked my scriptural adviser, a renowned Jesuit scholar in Rome, whether all species 
of love were equally redeeming, whether they all shared a common thread--say, granting your fellow human the status of kindred spirit, just as deserving of love and compassion as yourself--I was fended off with this observation: John, thus Jesus, did not really speak of 'love' in our coarse, mundane, flesh-tainted sense. Rather, what He meant by the Greek agapein was 'loyalty', the commitment that comes from pacting with each other and keeping our oath. What is more, our love for each other is only akin to our love for the Divine if it remains untainted by the flesh, if it is part of our pact with the Divine. Has my adviser, I wondered, ever watched a pigeon mourn its lost mate, or a mare grieve for her dead foal? Has he ever basked in the unconditional love of a dog?
          What of the Bonobos then, who seem so blithely ignorant of the Divine and yet are such experts at love and its conflict-resolution magic? True, they cannot tell us beans about their love; but they hug and kiss and caress and gaze as if they knew all about it. And they tend to their sick, raise their downcast and comfort their grieving. Sure, what they have in mind is often-- shades of the Original Sin--unredeemed raw sex. But don't we know, from long histories and to our everlasting delight, how sex may engender love? And didn't our Old Testament observe:
          "...And Adam said: This one is a bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, she will be called she-man, for she was fashioned from a man; and for this a man would leave his father and mother and cleave to his woman and they shall become one flesh..." (Genesis, 2:22-24)
          In this season of our disaffection, as the contending armies clash in the night and the

Second Coming draws ever more remote, shouldn't we concede that the Bonobos' gospel--do unto others as ye shall have them do unto you--is not all that removed from Christ's? As we deal with our enemies resolutely and effectively, perhaps we should remember that hate is a sword that rebounds upon its wielder. And that our fellow citizen, however profoundly he/she may disagree with us on policy and politics, is still flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

White Cloud Publishing

The best venue to access my recently-published books, both fiction and non-fiction, is the website of our publishing house -- You can check out my recently-published Boz Trilogy:

1. "Seadock, or The Last Battle of Berkely" (2011)
2. "Sasquatch" (2011)
3. "Blood" (2012)

Also out now is my just-published  (2012) long-in-the-works translation of Lao Tse's Tao Teh Ching (Book of the Tao), which includes an extensive commentary ('retroduction').

With the printers now and expected out in the Fall of 2012 is the historical novel Downfall of a Jesuit. It is about a then-notorious sex-scandal in the Church in Toulon (the Provence; France) in 1731, where a  prominent Jesuit priest was accused of seducing one of his young devotees. The scandal embroiled the Church hierarchy in the Provence, Paris and Rome, as well as the religious orders, who all ganged up on the Jesuits. It also pulled in the central government in Paris (King Louis XV, his Prime Minister Cardinal Fleury, the Parliament in Paris), as well as the King's Governor (Intendant) and the Parliament of the Provence in Aix. Ultimately, the scandal led to the expulsion of the Society of Jesus from France (1761); it  was also one of the cataclysmic events leading to the French Revolution (1789). The case (Le Proces Girard-Cadiere) was never resolved, remaining a classic he-said-she-said (or, for the Kurosawa fans among you, another Rashomon); whereby lies the challenge for the novelist. Did he enchant, seduce and debauch her? Was she an ambitious, conniving hussy? The book is based on extensive contemporary records, blending choice morsels into the fiction. Did I solve the puzzle? You gotta read it to find out.

Lastly, the best way to reach me fast is through <>. I answer all questions promptly and definitively. For, as someone who knows me only too well is fond of saying, "He is often wrong but seldom in doubt". Let me hear from you,  TG


          In a recent review of a biography of the late Howard Cosell, David Remnick writes: "Sports, not religion, is the opiate of the people. Think of it in terms of time. Mass takes about an hour. You're lucky if a Monday Night Football game is over in three. The average Yankee-Red Socks game last year ran about the length of the Second Vatican Council..." (The New Yorker, 11-28-11, p. 75).
          At first blush, the story of Jerry Sanduski, Joe Paterno and Penn State is about crime and punishment. The justice system will grind its wheels, and will bring some closure to both alleged perp and alleging victims. On further reflection, the story appears to be about the institution and how it put its political and financial expediency above civic justice and human ethics. But how about those of us who partake in institutions? Or in the politics that makes institutions possible?
          There's a sweet old lady who attends San Ignatius Catholic Church with me. Her comment on the Penn State story was telling--if chilling: " they are lifting a page from the Church's book, aren't they..." Does sitting silently in the pews make one complicit?
          The individual level will sort itself out somewhere at the intersection of law and morality. We are all prone to sin and temptation. The Old Testament recognized this early on in God's warning to Cain: "...for whether you do good or do not do good, sin is forever lying at your door, and you will crave it but you must control it..." (Gen. 4:7). Likewise, the Gospels warn us: "...why beholdeth thou the mote in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam in thine own eye?..." (Matt. 7:3). And later on: "...he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone..." (John 8:7).
          What worries me most is our complicity, as citizens and voters, in what institutions do. In the case of Penn State, the top of the hierarchy--president, vice president, athletic director, head coach--conspired to suppress the evidence of crimes in the interest of institutional survival. But what exactly is an academic institution? Its appointed Governing Board? The state legislators that appoint them? The teaching faculty that meekly goes along with the primacy of athletics over academics? The poor students who rioted in the streets over the firing of their beloved coach? Or is it us, parents and voters, who put up with over-crowded, under-financed schools for our children?
          A respected past president of a well-known public university whose owner state pays but 5% of its budget but retains 100% control over its affairs told me recently: "...I am quite sure I raised more money for academic purposes in the President'...Skybox than in any other geographic place in the world, from people who enjoy a game as a bonding event, but who give to the academic side exclusively or primarily... [a billionaire alumnus] gave our first major academic gift, the [endowed] professorships to every School and College..."
          Fair enough, but here is what the president of the student body at the same university had to say more recently: "...the culture at this university [is that] a stronger emphasis is put on athletic success than on academic success..." The students apparently know this, as do the faculty, who-- deeply, viscerally-- resent the crushingly dominant status of athletics on their campus. Could it be that the generous private endowments and their putative trickle-down effect merely paper over the state's virtual abdication of support of its nominal "startship" research university?
          Closer to home, we go along with the state of Colorado's massive disinvestment in the education of its children and the working conditions of their teachers. My local school district, and the parents who pay the bills and vote the Board in, put up with sub-standard education for their children, but cheer in the bleachers. Sports is one thing they--and I--can be proud off. I suspect sports is the distractor that allows them to vote for school boards that divert attention, if not resources, from academics. Will we re-elect our state representative, an ex-school-board president, if he came out for decent school funding and--God forbid--the requisite level of taxation?
          An old friend of mine has fallen from grace and is paying for his sins, having been tried and convicted in a court of law. I could hardly condone what he is reputed to have done, even as I am bound to uphold his right to repentance and redemption. But his transgressions took place, I am told over years, in a little town that has no secrets. Shouldn't his nominal supervisors, the elected politicians, have known? Was the workplace atmosphere inside their town-hall so hostile that the victims just couldn't afford to complain? For fear of job-loss or other manner of retribution? And who is responsible for that?
          If there is one thing we can learn from the recent financial crises, it is that when you give anyone in authority--be they politicians, bankers, administrators or coaches--too much power, the temptation to abuse it is nigh overwhelming. This is the old story of emperors and dictators, indeed of human nature. But in a democracy, aren't we who vote our politicians into office, and let them appoint our institutional administrators, also obliged to watch over them like a hawk? And if we tire, or are distracted, or given inducements to turn a blind eye, aren't we then complicit in their misdeeds? Could it be that, to quote a classic Pogo, I have seen the enemy and it is us?

Tom Givón ranches near Ignacio.
His novel "Sasquatch", vo. 2 of The Boz Trilogy, has just come out.