THE NINTH BATCH OF SHORT RANTS

SPECIAL CONSPIRACY EDITION

WHO KILLED JESUS

Mel Gibson's crucifixion movie opened last month. Jewish activist groups are flipping out because he took a superliteral reading of the gospels and declined to modify the text in such a way as to make the jews seem less like the bad guys.

Jews have had trouble with the gospels all along. They're pretty unambiguous in blaming the Jews and letting the Romans off the hook. That shouldn't be too surprising, since they were written at a time when the church was trying to recruit gentiles in Rome and distance itself from the Jews. Even though I'm not a big believer myself, I have to admire Mel Gibson putting his career on the line like this. He had to know that Passion Plays are always in danger of scraping the antisemitic nerve, and getting yourself labelled an antisemite is a bad career move in Hollywood. Good thing for him the film is doing well. He might be financing his own movies from here on.

He did make one script concession from the book of John. He took out the line where the Jews claim responsibility for railroading Jesus to the cross, invoking a curse on themselves and their children. The line is still there in the ancient language, they say, but the subtitle was taken out.

That omission creates a problem from a technical/rhetorical point of view. At the crucifixion Jesus says, "Forgive them, Lord, they don't know what they're doing." That forgiveness sounds like it was meant for the Romans if the previous curse line is omitted. Without the curse line he seems to be saying that it's not the fault of these soldiers because they're just pawns of this political machine. If the curse line is included it's clear that Jesus' forgiveness is meant for the Jews. That's a really big change in interpretation from cutting just one little line. The irony is that the Jewish activists are the ones who insist on cutting the very line that allows Jesus forgiveness to apply to the Jews.

On the anti-Gibson side of the argument, we do know that shortly after the Jesus incident Pilate was called to Rome to be put on trial for being cruel, capricious, arbitrary and brutal in administering Roman justice in Judea. So he probably wouldn't have been the reluctant executioner we see in the gospels. He did this all the time, and in fact he was required to spend passover in Jerusalem just so he could be on hand to dispense justice at a time of year that was politically volatile.

Pilate didn't prowl the streets like Batman seeking out troublemakers to crucify. He had a whole system in place bringing troublemakers to him. Soldiers, tax collectors, spies and priests were all people who could haul folks up before Pilate. The gospels say in this case it was Ciaphas who put the finger on Jesus. Pilate was a Pez dispenser for death sentences. He executed a lot of guys who got into less trouble than Jesus. The streamlined judicial process that put Jesus on the cross might have been used a half dozen times that weekend. Jesus might have been just one victim of a system that dealt brutally with the slightest threat to the status quo. No ad hoc conspiracy or backroom machinations were required. This was a tapdance everybody already knew and this time it trampled an itenerant reform-minded rabbi from Galillee.

THE GOOGLE IPO

This is how Steve Case had AOL taken from him.

GLIMPSES OF MORTALITY AND THE SCROOGE EFFECT

Popular culture tells us that people who survive brushes with death are changed for the better. This is not true. I personally know lots of people who have come terrifyingly close to dying and none of them are better people now than they were before. Some of them have been brainwashed into thinking that they are improved by trauma, or had been strengthened by some ordeal; but that's all subjective. There are so much contrary evidence (PTSD, for example, will yield millions of contrary cases) that it's baffling how people can still think trauma, torment and horror will improve one's personality. People buy into physically dangerous rebirthing therapies, for example. I've never seen one case where the victim was improved in any subjective way by enduring hazing, facing illness, surviving an accident, imprisonment or combat. It's a notion sold to us once agian by Hollywood. It makes for a good story because it gives the writer a finish line to breeze past, but in the real world it's 100% gold plated bullshit.

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

Republicans are now using the phrase "conspiracy theorist" the same way the early colonists used the term "witch" back in the 1620's. They haul it out and apply it to anybody who pisses them off. They think they can discredit critics by portraying them as paranoid. This is an insult to the really dedicated paranoids who have worked so hard to advance the art of conspiracy theory.

ARE JEWS TRYING TO DOMINATE AMERICA (as long as you brought up conspiracy theories)

Every group in America is trying to dominate America, that is to say trying their best to get their own way first and most. Why would you expect Jews to be any different than the Southern Baptists?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY (as long as you brought up conspiracy theories)

I once read a copy of their book, "None Dare Call It Conspiracy," and darned near every frightening prediction it made has come to pass. Meanwhile, I haven't been able to find any John Birch Society stuff on the web. You'd think that a group that was so good at predicting future events would still be around, unless of course......hmmmmm.

CHALABI

If you ever get a chance to be a part of a conspiracy, take note of the fate of Mr. Chalabi. When things start going badly the conspirators start throwing each other to the wolves, weakest first. I'm pretty sure that's what's happening here. If the occupation drags on three more years we'll start seeing how deep this thing goes.

UPDATE 6/5/04: No sooner did I post this comment than George "Slam Dunk" Tenet offered his resignation as director of the CIA. So Chalabi, who gave Tenet the bogus intel is out and now Tenet, the insider who signed off on the bogus intel is out. The backstage hawks who sponsored our entry into Iraq are hoping that will be the end of it, but Chalabi didn't cook up the bogus evidence by himself. Somebody invented it and handed it to him. Tenet wasn't the only authority to accept uncritically the bogus evidence of WMA.

The inside element, Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz and some others have probably kept their jobs secure by pinning the blame for this on Tenet. The outside element, those who concocted the evidence and funnelled it to Chalabi, are probably safe enough, too, unless it turns out that the bad intelligence originated from within our own government or from one of our trusted allies.

AL SADR: MIDDLE EASTERN MADMAN OF THE WEEK

For as long as I've been old enough to watch the news there has always been a Middle Eastern Madman. The American News organizations produce them like clowns from a teeeeny little car. When I was a kid, the MEM-designate was Idi Amin Dada. Then when advanced syphillis got him, the new supervillain was Muammar Quaddafi. Then one of his kids was killed in an air raid and he became less public about his anti-Americanism. Right about that time, Shah Pahlavi of Iran got overthrown by Ayatollah Komeini and for a long time he was Middle Eastern Madman as seen on TV. Meanwhile, we were giving money and weapons to two of our regional allies so that they could combat evil in the region. One of those guys was Saddam Hussein and we gave him guns and money because he was fighting Middle Eastern Madman du jour Khomeini. At the same time we were giving money and weapons to another guy, Osama Bin Ladin, because he was trying to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. The basic assumption that the enemy of my enemy is my friend is utterly refuted by this one example. Once the Russians withdrew, he turned his attention to somebody he really hated. Us.

There are two reasons we didn't notice just how dangerous Bin Ladin was to us. First, during Bin Ladin's critical gestation period, half the FBI was tasked with investigating Bill Clinton's penis. Second, Saddam invaded Kuwait, which upstaged every other contender for the title of Baibers. Meanwhile, now that American military bases are not in Iran so much as they were when the Shah was in power, the Iranians don't hate us so much, so now Sadam replaces Khomeini as Middle Eastern Madman.

Then after a decade of low-level anxiety about Saddam and the shell game he plays with the weapons inspectors, suddenly comes the Word Trade Center attack, and Bin Ladin has set the madman bar so high that only he and Saddam vie for the Lex Luthor role.

Then Saddam got captured and Bin Ladin has just melted into the scenery. So what happens? We can't write news without a supervillain. How will we understand the complexity of international politics if it's not presented to us in the World Wrestling Federation format? So they look around and they find this mouthy lightweight Al Sadr and he assumes the Nemesis role until a better actor can be found.

Amin, Quaddafi, Khomeini, Saddam, Bin Ladin, Al Sadr. These guys rotate in and out like a middle school basketball roster. Middle Eastern Madman? It's not a man. It's a costume. It's a role on the world stage, a creation of story-telling imperative of the American media. For 230 years the American press has portrayed the world as melodrama and the Middle Eastern Madman is one of its stock characters.

RTJ -- 6/1/04

JUST HOW DUMB ARE WE

When I look at all the infomercials that sell junk jewelry, gold plated silver dollars, painted quarters, get-rich-quick seminars, crappy stamped swords and Klingon combat knives (in bulk, no less), and when I listen to the preposterous interpretations of religious texts and the TV preachers' appeals for cash, and when I read about beliefs in UFO's and dowsing and special creation (and the list just goes on and on), there's only one conclusion that we can reach. We really are stupid.

How is it that somebody can gold plate a silver dollar and sell it for fifty bucks? They must be selling a bunch of them because I see the pitch over and over again.

ANOTHER DISTURBING DEVELOPMENT

This month I got a notice in the mail along with my cable bill. The notice said (I paraphrase) "If you don't notify our legal department in writing within 30 days, you give up your right to sue us, and all conflicts between you and us will be resolved by private arbitraion firms and you'll get billed for that."

I'm reminded of the scene in "The Jerk" where Steve Martin is talking to his sleeping girlfriend, trying hard not to speak loud enough to wake her, "If you're in love with me and want to get married, jus lie there still and don't say anything."

This sort of tacit signature thing is becoming more and more common. I used to get notices like this from my bank promising to trade my personal financial information with all sorts of people unless I write them a letter making it clear that I don't want that.

So if you get a couple of these notices a month from every group you deal with from the cable company to the termite man to your landlord to the plumber to the electric company to the credit card company to the water company and to Whom it may concern, one day you'll wake up to discover that the American system of civil law no longer applies to you. Bit by bit, corporations have moved your legal recourse into the land of private arbitration. Corporate lawyers. Corporate judges. Privately operated for profit. They owe their jobs to other corporations who have gotten their customers to neglect to send OPT OUT letters. Are they going to be fair to the individual? Maybe. Of course it doesn't matter, does it. America no longer protects you or your rights. Your fate is out of the hands of the civil courts and in the hands of courts owned and operated by corporations.

In theory you can protect yourself by reading ALL the fine print in EVERY legal document that shows up in your mailbox and composing letters to prevent some entity from taking your rights away. So that's five or six hours a month taken out of your life. Those are hours you could have spent doing something better than dodging darts. The disturbing part is the tacit approval aspect. You no longer have to sign away your rights. The company is going to do something to you unless you catch them and stop them. When I think about the number of OPT OUT letters I've written, I also have to worry about the number of notices I might have missed.

The moral of the story is: You are under assault every minute of every day. Assume all human contact is hostile. Every approach is either a probe or an attack. If a raccoon approaches you in the woods, you have to assume it's got rabies. That "friendly" bear wants your backpack full of GORP, and he might accidentally kill you to get it. Happy Disney banjo-playing bears are a fantasy. (In case you're wondering, those are metaphors. I'm not talking about physical assaults. I'm talking about assaults on your atttention, your time, your plans, your social resources. A long term distraction is much more debilitating than a short term whuppin', and the victim can't sue you for distracting him like he can for a punch in the nose. Examples of social assault include things like extended warranties, junk mail and complicated product rebate schemes. How humans manage to live in such large accumulations with as little violence as exists is a miracle.

FARMLAND CONSOLIDATION AN MANUFACTURING OUTSOURCING

As farms grow larger and larger and farmers grow fewer and fewer, their votes matter less and less in elections. Politicians no longer have to care about the way farmers vote.

As foreign factories make more and more of America's products and American factories employ fewer and fewer workers, their votes matter less and less in elections. Politicians no longer have to care about the way labor votes.

Land and labor are the elements of our real wealth and they represent the traditional economic and political base of America's power. The rest of the economy feeds off that. The increasingly complicated rules of today's economic game are eroding that power base. If we smother the political influence of land and labor, the ever-burgeoning insurance and financial and service sectors will vote more cheese trucks for themselves.

6/06/04

PARIS HILTON'S ARKANSAS BOYFRIEND

In her interview with David Letterman she gave no indication that she recognized her public humiliation (the infamous video) was similar to that she foisted on her Simple Life Arkie boyfriend. Until somebody spells it out for her, she's not going to notice.

6/15/04

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