Monday, October 29, 2012

Son, You've Got A Condition...

Harry Dean Stanton in Marvel's Avengers, great line, "Son, you've got a condition."

It could be camptodactyly that is twisting my fingers.  It could be arthritis.  It could be both.  I first noticed the radical change in my right ring finger about five years ago.  To accompany this, I had a deviated septum (the worst one the surgeon had ever seen, a 90 minute surgery became a 3-4 hour surgery) and I have troubles with the eustachian tubes in my ears and I have a horseshoe kidney.  My brother has scoliosis of the spine that twisted his back bones.  All of those things seem to accompany camptodactyly.

Then, yesterday I noticed that the outer bones of my right middle finger are warping.  That may have begun a year or two ago, I noticed some turning over back then, but I can really see it lately.

The top knuckle is going over to the right (it sort of reminds me of a mouth sliding over on Mister Potato Head) and the center knuckle is going left and the bone is definitely twisting.  It's quite strange to see your own hand morph out of normal shape.

I can already do the Bela Lugosi double-jointed Dracula finger bit.

They call this "Christian finger" or European finger, although it may be Indo-European because there is a high incidence of it in India and in Iran.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rich Man Behaving Badly in Hell

If you have ever searched the Bible for descriptions of Heaven then you have probably run across the parable told by Jesus in the gospel of Luke, chapter 16.  In a way it is one of the few eyewitness accounts of Heaven because theologically speaking Jesus came from Heaven to dwell among us.  That adds both an intriguing curiosity and a certain sense of veracity and so we read the parable in verbatim parsing out its descriptions of Heaven and Hell.

The rich man completely ignored the poor, feeble, dying poor man Lazarus who lay at his feet, literally on his steps.  The rich man did not give him any attention, did not spare even the crumbs from his table, the only compassion such as it was came from the dogs who licked the poor man's wounds.  This Is Vital To The Story, You Must Get This: The rich man completely disregarded the poor man, he never even said, "Let's be practical and fix this guy up and maybe we can put him to work."  No, the rich man ate his meals and ignored the poor man.

Jesus went on to tell us their fates, (Luke 16:22 and 23) "So it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham.  The rich man also died and was buried."

Now, I want you to get the contrast of this:  The poor man died and was carried to The Most Enviable Place, right to the bosom of Abraham, a spot many priests and pharisees desired, a wish fulfillment of Heaven to the max, but the rich man was just buried.  Buried.  Not lauded.  No legacy.  No shrine.  Dead.  Sent to corruption.  Ashes to ashes.  Buried.  A boxed lunch for worms.

The rich man was tormented in Hades, and seeing the poor man from afar, he called out, "Hey!  Father Abraham!  Have mercy on me!  Send that poor guy over here.  Put him to work.  He's obviously an underemployed servant and he could do something and come cool my tongue."  Of course that is not a precise translation.  No, it's not even an accurate paraphrase, but It Is What You Should Realize About This Jerk's Attitude.  The rich man who had never paid the poor man any mind sees him from far off and thinks that he, the rich man, is still in control and can give orders.  The rich man does not cry out to God for mercy -- that is significant -- he calls out to Abraham, and like Satan he tries to tempt Abraham with some practical altruism.  "I'm really thirsty, I'm being punished enough, just get that lazy beggar to do this one little decent thing and just dip the tip of his finger in the water and cool my tongue."  He calls for compassion but he completely lacks it, he utterly lacks empathy, he lacks pathos, he doesn't think, "Aw, look, there's that poor beggar and now he is getting some decent treatment.  Isn't that nice?  I'm glad that somebody made out well."  No, the rat still thinks that he is superior.  Superiority in Hell.

By the way, he doesn't really complain about being in Hell, he seems to know that he belongs there.  C.S. Lewis put characters like that into some of his books, people who find Hell to be where they belong.  Milton made Satan decide to possess Pandemonium.  Better to reign in hell, he said.  In my house I say, "Better to be a doorstop in The House of The Lord than to find yourself outside it."  But some people expect Hell.  They think of God as someone who sends people to Hell and that is where they expect to go and they claim that they won't be surprised when they get there.

The rich man said, "Send him over here" -- to Hell -- "with some water," but failing that he asked for something else.  Get That:  failing that he tried to give other orders.

Look, the man said, I have five brothers, send him to warn them.  Oh, he was a real problem solver, he still thinks that he can straighten things out, do good, he will send the poor man on an altruistic mission and save his kin.  Nix that.

Abraham explains a crucial detail, "You, rich man, had plenty of good things in your life, you already got all the rewards that you are going to get.  Besides that, a great gulf is fixed between us, a gulf that no man can cross."

Then the dead guy in Hell proves that his problem solving skills are better than Abraham's, he says, "But if someone will go to them from the dead they will listen and repent."

And the last line of this is the most supremely ironic:  "Even if someone rose from the dead they will not believe it."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

We Are Not As Far As We Think We Are

Stonehenge was constructed on the Salisbury plain in 3000 B.C.  That is not as far back as we think of "prehistoric" as being.  Within a few years of that date on the timeline the Chinese were casting bronze bells and continuing sophisticated glazing of ceramic ware, the Indus River Valley was dotted with cities, city states ruled from Uruk up the Mesopotamian world, and the warring civilizations of Lower Egypt were within a few centuries of becoming the first unified kingdom in history.  The neolithic tribes of Briton knew that Earth was round, understood the polar circumnavigation of the stars, had mapped the skies and seasons, and wondered if the blue stones themselves of the southwest coast might have healing powers, instead of those powers belonging to the air and sea and spirits.  If you think about it, they may have been within grasp of radiation therapy.

Every semester I offer my students a chance to construct a working Stonehenge but so far I have had no takers, no one believes that they can meet the challenge.

Paleolithic people were less sophisticated than that.  They made 4 inch figures like the Venus of Willendorf and believed that they could appropriate the powers of the spirits and possess them to aid and protect themselves.  They thought that objects could aid with fertility and guard against death in childbirth.  That was 9000 years B.C., at least 11,000 years ago.

But, in 2012 women will still climb onto the effigy of Victor Noir and brag about it online.  There are web sites that offer fertility tours, and the French government had to remove the protective fences that ensured the sanctity and permanence of the cemetery because women protested over their rights.  Rights?  And what are those, exactly?  It is believed that lying on the bronze statue will bring love, happiness and fertility.  Victor Noir was a journalist and anti-Bonapartist in the 19th Century, a case of the messenger being shot.  As part of the outcry over his murder, which was defended much the same as a "stand your ground" defense, a cast was made from his fallen body and it captured in detail the postmortem effects on the young man's corpse.  Flowers, kisses and even sleeping on the statue have been the result.

In England, where they probably wish that they had something like this in Mayfair, they are nonetheless civilized enough to realize that they can turn away from certain superstitions and did something in 1996 -- they returned The Stone of Destiny to Scotland.

What exactly is The Stone of Destiny?  It is the stuff of legend.  The stories vary but the sum of it is this:  three sacred objects are said to have come to ancient Britain during Roman occupation, the stone on which Jacob rested his head brought to England by Jeremiah as a slave from Egypt, the crown of thorns carried to Wearyall Hill by Joseph of Arimathea, and the Holy Grail with Christ's blood.  The Irish claimed the stone and said that the Scottish stole it, the Scots claimed the stone and said that it was carried to Skye and that no rightful king could rule without it, and the British took it from the Scots during the rebellion.  It rested under the coronation throne in Westminster Abbey until it was relinquished in 1996, it was there because no ruler of Great Britain could rightfully rule the United Kingdom unless that ruler was crowned atop The Stone.