Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

Archive for January 2016

Jan/16

26

Review: Lucifer is devilishly entertaining

“Men never sell their souls, they give them away.”
Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword

A devilishly handsome man driving a snazzy convertible gets pulled over by a motorcycle policeman.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the cop asks.

“Obviously you felt the need to exercise your limited powers and punish me for ignoring the speed limit,” the driver replies.

The driver is Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis), who has grown bored with reigning in hell and is now the owner of a piano bar in the City of Angels. In the first few minutes we see his power to tempt. Specifically by getting the cop to accept a large wad of cash after sharing his deepest naughty desire. In his case he sometimes turns on the siren and races down the road at great speed for no other reason than it’s a lot of fun.

Within the first 10 minutes Lucifer tells a young recording star (AnnaLynne McCord) that her troubles are all on her. Nobody made her do the drink, the drugs, and the topless selfies but herself.

And contrary to all expectations, Lucifer makes her promise to pull herself together.

Then she’s murdered in front of him, and Lucifer demonstrates a second power. He briefly revives the corpse of the murderer and wrings some information out of him. He was hired, by somebody.

Finding that somebody is what the pilot episode of Lucifer is all about.

Lucifer is a character created by Neil Gaiman, and originally appeared in DC’s The Sandman comics in 1989.

Personality-wise he owes something to Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost.

Milton’s most famous line, “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven,” has convinced generations of young rebels that Satan was the hero of Paradise Lost, which would have distressed Milton greatly.

He also has a bit of the 19th century anti-religious sentiment expressed by Edward FitzGerald in his thoroughly unreliable bowdlerization of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Oh Thou who Man from mortal clay didst make,
And even in Eden didst provide the snake,
For all the sin with which Man’s face is blackened,
Man’s forgiveness give – and take.

Because Lucifer complains a bit about the role his Father has consigned him to. In particular he complains to the Angel Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), who shows up at the Lux piano bar to tell him his return to hell is requested.

“Let me check my calendar. The seventh of never to the fifteenth of ain’t gonna happen, how’s that work for you?”

One foresees conflict in their future.

In the immediate future Lucifer teams up with Los Angeles PD Detective Chloe Dancer, who seems immune to his charms – which he finds intriguing. Enough to join her in solving crimes. Which she’s going to have to put up with, because in spite of being irritated by him he gets results.

She’s a gal who made some mistakes once, then turned around and made something of herself, neither excusing nor wallowing in them.
Dancer has a seven-year-old daughter who’s intrigued by Lucifer, much to his discomfort.

“Like the Devil?” she asks awe-struck.

Supporting characters include Lucifer’s therapist (!!!) Linda (Rachel Harris) , who he’s going to have a more than professional relationship with, and Mazikeen (Lesley-Ann Brandt) a Lilin, descendant of Lilith, Adam’s first wife.

Mazikeen complains a bit herself.

“I didn’t leave hell to become a bar tender,” she gripes.

Already there have been complaints from the religious. Like they didn’t know that was going to happen.

I’m going to suggest they take another look. Behind the wisecracking banter and the “look how naughty we are” anti-clerical attitude (like so 19th century) there is some fairly serious personal responsibility stuff here.

Lucifer is downright irritated at the notion he “buys” souls. No he doesn’t. He doesn’t even offer you a choice. He makes it plain the choice is yours, the most he’ll do is tell you how much fun the wrong one is going to be – for a while.

As one character from the comic put it, “When the Devil wants you to do something, he doesn’t lie at all. He tells you the exact, literal truth. And he lets you find your own way to Hell.”

The fact is, the figure of Satan, the Devil, Lucifer (Latin, “light bearer”) Son of the Morning, owes far more to folklore than to scripture.

Satan means “enemy” or “adversary” in Hebrew, and in the earliest references in the Bible are often plural rather than a singular great enemy. It’s not even certain Satan is the same figure as that Hellel ben Shahar, “Daystar Son of the Morning” associated with the planet Venus as it appears in the morning.

There is a hint of an icky-sticky-gooey Bad Guy saved by the pure love of an innocent little girl storyline, which I hope they’ll do something with more original than seems likely. We’ll see.

Then again perhaps I’m a bit uncomfortable myself with the memory of how a certain drinking brawling hellraiser was turned into a staid stuffy hack writer by his love for two little children.

A legitimate complaint could be that Lucifer glamorizes evil. But isn’t that kind of the point?

“To the sinner, the sin appeareth beautiful.”

I’d say have a look. There are so many ways this could go wrong, but you could be in for a hell of a good time.

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Jan/16

21

Ted Cruz and my son have the same problem

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
– Constitution of the United States: Article 2, Section 1

My son and Ted Cruz have the same problem, nobody really knows if they can be president.

Well that and the fact that it’ll be another 21 years before my son fulfills the age requirement.

“Does that mean it’ll be 21 years before I can drink beer?” he asked anxiously.

Ted Cruz was born in Alberta, Canada, to an American mother and a Cuban father. My son was born in Warsaw, Poland, to an American father (moi) and a Polish mother.

And suddenly all of the “Birther” stuff that was airily dismissed under the administration of Barack Obama is urgently relevant again.

Cruz had dual citizenship until 2014, when he officially renounced his Canadian citizenship.

My son still has dual citizenship and has had two passports since his birth.

When we took my son’s Polish birth certificate to the American Embassy in Warsaw the nice man at the passport division gave us the lecture explaining everything. There is a canned lecture because it happens more often than you might think.

“We don’t like dual citizenship,” he said. “We recognize that it happens. What it amounts to is he has to enter Poland on his Polish passport. He has to enter the United States on his American passport. Everywhere else he can chose the cheaper visa. When he comes of draft age, if the country he’s in has conscription – they’ve got him. And if he gets arrested in one of his countries of citizenship, the other can do nothing.”

Note there was not a word about whether he can be president someday.

This is what I argued about with Birthers who claimed Obama was really born in Kenya and nefarious plotters, thinking he might want to run for president arranged to have birth announcements placed in the Honolulu newspapers.

It’s doesn’t matter where he was born! The child of an American citizen is an American citizen.

The question about Barack Obama is, has he ever claimed dual citizenship or had it claimed on his behalf by his notoriously America-hating mother? Has he ever traveled on a foreign passport? And is that legally equivalent to renouncing American citizenship?

Well in the case of Ted Cruz (and my son) there is no doubt and now we cannot duck the issue.

A brief perusal of the Wikipedia entry “Multiple Citizenship” confirms what I suspected. The issue did not even arise at the time of the framing of the Constitution. America recognized that one can become a citizen by naturalization, and evidently almost nobody else. An issue which led to the War of 1812, when England refused to acknowledge that American seamen were no longer subjects of the Crown.

Dual citizenship may not have existed at the time, so this is a new issue the Founders did not anticipate.

Some say this should be settled in the Supreme Court. I think it’ll probably just be ignored. At least if and until Cruz wins the nomination.

In my son’s case I have to chuckle, because I think it was the example of Poland that caused the Founders to include the native born qualification for the presidency.

At the time of the framing of the Constitution, Poland had an elective monarchy and the electors had a preference for foreigners because the great magnates were so jealous of each other’s power they preferred to look elsewhere for their kings.

This was one of the things that led to Poland being partitioned among Prussia, Austria, and Russia and wiped off the map for 135 years.

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Jan/16

12

The Invasion of Europe

One day in 1998, while I was working at an Industrial Training Center in Saudi Arabia, I heard that sound which once heard is never forgotten. It was the sound of hundreds of voices screaming mindlessly, the sound of a mob.

What had happened was a delegation of American executives, including one woman, was touring the facility. Somehow the American woman became separated from the group and was wandering through the hallway when a break between classes occurred.

I heard the roar of the mob, grabbed a student and shouted, “What the hell is going on? Is there a fight?”

“It’s a woman, Teacher,” he said. “An American woman.”

Imagine if you will what this woman must have felt walking by hundreds of young men screaming things like, “Can I *** you?” at the top of their lungs.

Well more than a hundred German women in Cologne, and on a smaller scale in Hamburg and perhaps Sweden didn’t have to wonder. They experienced it and worse first hand over New Years.

Reports have it thousands of North African Muslim refugees mobbed young women, groped them, tore their clothes, and robbed them.

Police were overwhelmed – and perhaps reluctant to act.

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker advised young women to “stay at arms length” from “unknown men” and dress modestly.

Worse, many German newspapers attempted to kill the story, as did Swedish newspapers in 2015 when something similar happened at a concert.

The Germans are caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, there are living men and women who recall the mass rape orgy of the Red Army at the fall of the Third Reich. On the other hand, they’ve long felt the need to be conspicuously humanitarian for two generations after Nazism. So when asked to take in refugees they’re like the gal who can’t say no.

So what explains the Swedes?

The East Europeans who endured two generations of unwanted guests under the Soviet occupation have no such qualms. Poland has seen mass demonstrations against taking in Muslim refugees and Hungary has re-built border fences dismantled after the fall of communism.

For more than a generation Western students have been taught the doctrine of cultural relativism, the notion that each culture should be judged by its own standards and no culture is in any objective sense better than any other.

When I was getting my masters in anthropology this was holy writ. Which is one reason I didn’t go further than an MA. I have a problem keeping my opinions to myself you see.

So here’s mine. Western civilization is suffering a crisis of confidence. On the one hand we hold to the values of equality, tolerance and inclusiveness. After much bloody history we have at last arrived at a place where we consider the in-group, those people we are obligated to act ethically towards, as all of humanity regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual preference.

And that has caught us on an awful contradiction when we welcome into our midst members of a culture that accepts chattel slavery, the brutal subjugation of women, the murder of apostates, honor killings, murdering homosexuals, and killing those who insult their religion as perfectly OK.

Try to put yourself into the mind of a man who would murder his own daughter for being raped, daring to choose her own husband, or just getting uppity in public.

In Jordan, one of the more progressive and Westernized Arab Muslim countries, in spite of the efforts of Queen Rania and Dowager Queen Noor, men convicted of honor killings typically get sentences less than you could expect for a DUI.

Honor killings have come to Europe with Muslim immigrants, and lately to America.

There are those who say our wars in the Middle East have created this refugee crisis. Perhaps so, but we did not create that culture.

If we should not be over there, perhaps they should not be over here. And if they wish to come, can we make it plain that in our countries we make the laws and customs?

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Jan/16

4

Who runs the world?

In the run up to the nominations I have noticed something about people’s views of the electoral process. There are those who believe that only their preferred candidate can fix things, and the other candidate will work diligently to destroy the republic once in office. Take your pick.

Then there are the people who believe it makes no difference who gets elected, that elites working in secret control the world, and allow us only the illusion of choice.

It used to be the first view was “normal” and the second the quasi-religious conviction of a few nutty conspiracy theorists.

Has anyone noticed the conspiratorial view seems to have become normalized?

Consider all the talk about “the one percent” and how similar it seems to the John Birch Society (remember them?) with their talk of The Conspiracy that runs the world from the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands and the Trilateral Commission, and gets together for fun and recreation at the Bohemian Grove.

That some people are richer, more powerful and influential than the rest of us is not news. The political reform organization RepresentUs cites a study that showed zero correlation between the likelihood of a bill passing congress and how popular it is among the general electorate, and a strong correlation between the likelihood of passing and how popular it is among the top ten percent of wage earners.

But that’s ten percent, not one percent.

According to IRS data for 2013-2014, the average per capita income in the U.S. is $48,000. To get into the top one percent you have to be making at least $380,354. Cutoff for the top 10 percent is $113,799.

This is of course a measure of income, not savings, real property, art collections, etc.

Point remains, those “one-percenters” are not shadowy individuals who live in penthouses in New York, London, and Paris when they are not relaxing on their private islands or country mansions. You quite likely have known someone who makes or has made in some year enough to qualify for that percentile. You might very well know people in the ten percent well enough to call by their first name and make small talk with.

There are for example, quite a few farmers who fall into those brackets in terms of cash flow. But ask a farmer if he feels rich as harvest approaches in a drought year.

Farmers by the way, are about one percent of the population these days. I can remember when one in 13 Americans was a farmer. And at farm meetings I’ve covered I’ve heard quite a lot about how this translates into their business getting regulated by people with no personal experience with wresting a living from the land.

But what about the banksters and big oil?

Influential for sure. And like representatives of all influential sectors of the economy, able to get legislation passed that makes it easier for them to make and keep money, harder to lose it in the market, and scandalously rescued by taxpayers from the consequences of their bad decisions.

But do they run the world?

Remember how the invasion of Iraq was all about oil? When Iraq was briefly reasonably peaceful the rights to exploit the country’s oil resources were auctioned off. Care to guess how much American-based companies got out of it?

None.

So is anybody in charge? We can see how powerful some are, but on the other hand the world seems remarkably chaotic – which is even scarier than the notion of all-powerful elites working in secret.

A friend who is an avid board gamer recently introduced me to a game called “Illuminatus” named for one of the secret societies which allegedly runs the world. It’s a simulation game in which players are invited to create conspiracies to take over everything on the board.

Something interesting happens however. The invariable result is that alliances are created, and just as readily broken as it becomes advantageous for players to betray their present alliances and make new ones. The lesson seems to be that secret conspiracies are unstable, just as cartel monopolies are in a free market.

The world it seems, resists being “run” by anybody. Whether that’s comforting or alarming is another question.

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