Code of Hammurabi and Sledgehammer

I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book today called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?  Here are a few snippets from an address to Agnes Scott College, which is a women’s college.  The piece is entitled Advice to Graduating Women (That All Men Should Know). 

I am so smart I know what is wrong with our world.  Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?”

What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi,  a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago.  And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too.  Are you ready for this?

“And eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi,  which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury,  real or imagined, shall be avenged.  Somebody’s going to be real sorry. 

Bombs away – or whatever.

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ” Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.”  What kind of a man was that?  Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi,  would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all of their friends and relatives, and make their deaths painful.”

And later…

Revenge provokes revenge which provokes revenge which provokes revenge – forming an unbroken chain of death and destruction linking nations today to barbarous tribes of thousands and thousands of years ago. 

We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully,  violently,  to every insult or injury.  In this, the Age of Television,  they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers,  to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on.

Fires, explosions.  Come look.  Oh my gosh – hey wow.

To quote the late Irving Berlin: “There’s no business like show business.”

It seems that not only in our response to slights, not only do we not take the high road,  but our responses create the unbroken chain of violence that Mr. Vonnegut speaks of.  One only has to look at the Iraq War and now the emergence of ISIS.   It also seems as if our response is always disproportionate to the original slight. 

I was reminded today, while reading this, of a show I used to watch as a kid.  It was called Sledgehammer,  and it was a spoof of the kind of over the top Dirty Harry character that always uses excessive force.  I think the link to the video is a good metaphor for our foreign policy.  In the clip the police are being shot at by a sniper.  Rather than simply take the bad guy out, Sledgehammer pulls out a bazooka and blows up the entire building in which the sniper has his nest. 

Oh my gosh – hey wow.

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Advice

Someone dancing inside us
Learned only a few steps:
The “Do-Your-Work” in 4/4 time,
The “What-Do-You-Expect” waltz.
He hasn’t noticed yet the woman
Standing away from the lamp,
The one with black eyes
Who knows the rhumba,
And strange steps in jumpy rhythms
From the mountains in Bulgaria.
If they dance together,
Something unexpected will happen.
If they don’t, the next world
Will be a lot like this one.

By Bill Holm

“The Conformist”: An unsettling political masterpiece returns

“The Conformist”: An unsettling political masterpiece returns http://www.salon.com/2014/08/28/the_conformist_an_unsettling_political_masterpiece_returns/ via @Salon

This article in Salon made me really want to see this movie.  It is also nice to see a long form piece about a work when so many reviews are becoming shorter and shorter. 

Cultural Apocalypse

In reading Hampton Sides’s excellent In the Kingdom of Ice I came upon the story, only a side story in the book, of the Yupiks, a native population in Alaska.  They were destroyed when the white man came along and killed their food source and supplied them with alcohol.   In their case it was the walrus and not the buffalo. 

It was the Arctic version of a story well known to Americans, the story of the buffalo and the Indians of the Great Plains.  Here, as there, the wholesale slaughter of a people’s staple prey had led, in a few short years, to ruinous dislocations, terrible dependencies – and a cultural apocalypse.  

I have read a good deal of history books.  I was a History Major and eventually an American Studies Major.  Yet, this slaughter is something I have never heard of.  It took place as late as the 1880’s,  hardly ancient history.  That is less than 150 years, the span of two human lives. 

When we, as a people, go into a region, such as we have in Iraq, do we really know the history of what went on there?  There is so much we don’t know about our own history.  There is so much that we don’t know period.  How do we make informed political decisions, especially when human life hangs in the balance? 

The Birds of St. Marks

Jackson Browne, one of my favorite songwriters, has a new album coming out in October.  This is the first song released from the record, The Birds of St. Marks.  I’m glad that it sounds like he is in top form.  HIs last studio album, Time the Conqueror, was one of the best albums of 2008.  There are few songwriters that can match intelligence and emotion in equal measure as he has done throughout his career.  

Why Comics are Self-Destructive and Other News

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/comedians-depression-self-destructing-robin-williams-20140827

I thought the above article was an interesting read.  It’s by Dana Gould, in the wake of Robin Williams, and it is about why comics are so self-destructive.  

I’m between tours right now and am a little upside down.  I’ve been trying to think of topics to write about, but my focus is lacking.  Tomorrow the Shinyribs band heads on a three day run that starts Little Rock, Arkansas.  You can get details at http://www.shinyribs.org

I’ll also be performing my first solo show at Strange Brew in Austin, Texas on September 21st at 4pm.  More details to be announced soon!  

In the future when all’s well…

Jeff