Author Archive | Good German

Take Me to the Death Cafe

hans van den berg (CC BY 2.0)

hans van den berg (CC BY 2.0)

Sophie Elmhirst writing at Prospect Magazine:

In the middle of the graveyard in Vissoie, a small town in the Swiss mountain valley of Anniviers, stands a grey stone cross. For years, the cross was the focus of a local competition among the town’s teenagers. The brief was simple: turn up at midnight, sit by the cross, and whoever lasts the longest wins. By day, the task doesn’t seem too onerous. The graveyard is absurdly picturesque, perched on the side of a hill next to the church, the valley dropping away to a river, mountains on the far side rising up against a faultless blue sky. Even the graves are palatable: there’s no ornate Victoriana here, no ghoulishness or mawkish angels, no sentimental inscriptions; just a few rows of simple wooden crosses planted in the ground. (A rule was declared in the town that the dead should all be commemorated identically, to prevent wealth-displaying one-upmanship.)

Not long ago, Bernard Crettaz, an eminent Swiss sociologist who was born and raised in Vissoie, sat on a stone wall by the shared grave of his parents—Pierre and Genevieve—and recalled his year of competition.

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Embracing Paradox Helped Me Discover That Religion Is a Neurological Disorder for Which Faith Is the Only Cure

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Frank Schaeffer writes at Patheos:

My kaleidoscopic beliefs are fickle and motivated by desire, wishful thinking, and wanting to fit in with my family and community and to make my marriage work. My dogmatic declarations of faith once provided status, ego-stroking power over others and a much better income than I’ve ever earned since fleeing the evangelical machine. Certainty made things simple, gave me an answer to every question and paid the bills.

With the acceptance of paradox came a new and blessed uncertainty that began to heal the mental illness called certainty, the kind of certainty that told me that my job was to be head of the home and to order around my wife and children because “the Bible says so.” Embracing paradox helped me discover that religion is a neurological disorder for which faith is the only cure.

These days I hold two ideas about God simultaneously: he, she or it exists and he she or it doesn’t exist.

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Karl Marx Was an Anti-Communist Dick

Elliott Brown (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Elliott Brown (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Eugene Wolters writing at Critical-Theory.com, from 2013:

John Gray recently took to the pages of the New York Review of Books to discuss Jonathan Sperber’s book “Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life.” As it turns out, Karl Marx was kind of racist and on more than one occasion denounced communists movements. In one case, Marx even advocated for the armed suppression of a communist movement.

As Gray Notes:

Sperber’s subtly revisionist view extends to what have been commonly held to be Marx’s definitive ideological commitments. Today as throughout the twentieth century Marx is inseparable from the idea of communism, but he was not always wedded to it. Writing in the Rhineland News in 1842 in his very first piece after taking over as editor, Marx launched a sharp polemic against Germany’s leading newspaper, the Augsburg General News, for publishing articles advocating communism. He did not base his assault on any arguments about communism’s impracticality: it was the very idea that he attacked.

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The Oddly Reassuring Quality of Surrealistic Art

Giorgio de Chirico's 'The Red Tower,' 1913. (Photo: Public Domain)

Giorgio de Chirico’s ‘The Red Tower,’ 1913. (Photo: Public Domain)

Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard:

A person’s taste in art is generally thought to be unchanging. A lover of Renaissance frescoes, for instance, isn’t likely to suddenly become entranced by the abstract paintings of Jackson Pollock.

But recently published research suggests one specific, uncomfortable circumstance can inspire us to appreciate a wider range of work. It finds people are more likely to forge a positive emotional connection with surrealistic art if they have just been reminded of their own mortality.

It has long been argued that, in the face of existential threats, art can evoke a comforting aura of collective meaning and transcendence. That’s a fairly obvious dynamic with sacred works, but it can also be true of secular images that serve as poignant reminders of the beliefs that give one’s life meaning.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, a research team led by psychologist Verena Graupmann of DePaul University reports surrealistic art can serve this same purpose.

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The Origin of Modern Terror and Crumbling Western Values

Peter (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Peter (CC BY-SA 2.0)

John Chuckman writes at CounterPunch:

Do you ever solve problems by ignoring them? Most of us would say that is not possible, yet that is precisely what western governments do in their efforts to counteract what is called “Islamic terror.” Yes, there are vast and costly efforts to suppress the symptoms of what western governments regard as a modern plague, including killing many people presumed to be infected with it, fomenting rebellion and destruction in places presumed to be prone to it, secretly returning to barbaric practices such as torture, things we thought had been left behind centuries ago, to fight it, and violating rights of their own citizens we thought were as firmly established as the need for food and shelter. Governments ignore, in all these destructive efforts, what in private they know very well is the origin of the problem.

Have Islamic radicals always existed?

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A Just Cause ≠ A Just War

Poster Boy (CC BY-2.0)

Poster Boy (CC BY-2.0)

By Howard Zinn, via the Progressive:

Editor’s Note: Today we remember our legendary columnist Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States and champion of pacifism, civil rights, and the voices of the marginalized. On this fifth anniversary of his death in January 27, 2010, we present a classic essay on nonviolence adapted from his speech on May 2, 2009, at The Progressive’s 100th anniversary conference.

I want to talk about three holy wars. They aren’t religious wars, but they’re the three wars in American history that are sacrosanct, that you can’t say anything bad about: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II.

Let’s look carefully at these three idealized, three romanticized wars.

It’s important to at least be willing to raise the possibility that you could criticize something that everybody has accepted as uncriticizable.

We’re supposed to be thinking people.

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Use Me Instead

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Abby Zimet writes at Common Dreams:

There is, it seems, grace in the world. Appalled at news that North Miami Beach Police were using photos of young black men for target practice and resolved to “put ourselves in the place of those whose humanity is denied,” dozens of clergy and others have offered their own smiling, sacred pictures to police shooters with the hashtag #UseMeInstead.

The effort sprang from an online conversation between Rev. Joy M. Gonnerman and other pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Facebook group about a police practice – now stopped – they saw as “emblematic of a deeper, systematic problem.”  Motivated by “our service to Christ and his call to love our neighbors,” they decided “maybe we ought it make it harder to pull the trigger.”

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Friends Know How Long You’ll Live, Study Finds

Gerry Everding writes at Washington University in St. Louis’ Newsroom:

Young lovers walking down the aisle may dream of long and healthy lives together, but close friends in the wedding party may have a better sense of whether those wishes will come true, suggests new research on personality and longevity from Washington University in St. Louis.

“You expect your friends to be inclined to see you in a positive manner, but they also are keen observers of the personality traits that could send you to an early grave,” said Joshua Jackson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences.

Published Jan. 12 in an advance online issue of the journal Psychological Science, the study demonstrates that your personality at an early age (20s) can predict how long you will live across 75 years and that close friends are usually better than you at recognizing these traits.

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I Am Not Corn: Guantánamo Diary Reveals 14-Year-Long Vision of Hell

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Abby Zimet writes at Common Dreams:

After a seven-year legal battle and 2,500 redactions by the same government that has beat, tortured, humiliated and held him incommunicado for twice that time, this week sees the release of the first book detailing harrowing life and near-death inside Guantánamo by one of its longest-held prisoners – Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a 44-year-old electrical engineer from Mauritania who studied in Germany and Canada and briefly joined (a U.S.-supported) Al Qaeda in 1992 before beginning his “endless world tour” of American black sites and torture chambers, from Jordan to Bagram to Guantánamo, because he fit a terrorist profile (distant cousin to known bad guy, prayed at wrong place at wrong time etc) that turned out to be “smoke but no fire.”

Slahi’s extraordinary account, born from 466 pages of manuscript handwritten from his single cell at Camp Echo, begins at his family home in Noakchott, Mauritania two months after 9/11, when he is summoned to answer questions at the country’s intelligence ministry; he remembers his mother watching his disappearance, and “the taste of helplessness.” What follows is months and then years of brutal abuse: interrogation, isolation, blindfolding, shackling, sleep deprivation, freezing temperatures, sexual humiliation, death threats, a mock execution and other tortures set out in a “special plan” approved personally by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, all within an absurdist context of fantastic conjecture worthy of Kafka, Beckett, Orwell, Vonnegut and Dostoevsky, all rolled into one well-funded, quintessentially American “intricate machine for generating self-reinforcing fiction.”

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