Patricia Cornwell – Scarpetta

I have recently started – and scarcely less recently stopped – reading this book.  Cornwell is revered among thriller writers. Kim Hill, if I recall correctly, is a fan. For starters, I suspected the title: ‘Scar’ and ‘Pet’ juxtaposed like that.  Seemed facile.
By page 13 we have a protagonist talking to a Dr Thomas, gender unrevealed, but clearly a psychiatrist.  The presence of a psychiatrist, particularly so early, worries me because psychiatrists in a thriller are often just a cheap trick, a lazy writers’ mechanism for creating a dilemma for a  character. They also allow the writer to dodge the challenge of revealing a character’s motivation and proclivities through words and actions.

That alone would not have led me to snap the book shut at page 22 with a huff of dissatisfaction. I was just tired of trying to piece together the first three or so chapters by guesswork, which we have to do because they are missing. At least, that is how it reads. We are simply thrown into the action when it is already well under way. Person A is fuming about something Person B has done but we have not a clue what that is or why A is upset about it. And so forth. Eventually, of course, we will catch up, cotton on, find our bearings. What has been achieved? Nothing. And since not one character has, by page 22, captured my sympathy or even piqued my curiosity, the book is a gone coon.
Perhaps Cornwell is suffering by unconscious, unintended comparison with Evelyn Waugh, whose ‘Sword of Honour’ I have just finished. Waugh was a miracle worker. He describes almost nothing, or at least nothing physical. Characters go places, say things to each other, events occur, we meet new people, the books just roll on like life and yet somehow they reveal an extraordinary amount. They teach us, entertain us, and in the end we have the illusion of having almost become Guy Crouchback, we know him so well, pity him, admire him, love him. And is if that wasn’t enough we have experienced the English language having been put through its paces like  champion show-jumper achieving a perfect round.

Will we ever see his like again?

Nietszche’s Error

Nietzsche was right, if only partly: most people live their lives cocooned in a host of glib little self-deceptions.  They will do anything to avoid the great crisis which would force them to stare straight at the truth about themselves, at what they have become, the crisis which would ultimately set them free.
Nietzsche realized that avoiding suffering and pursuing happiness was a vainglorious pursuit. What is necessary is to accept that suffering is inevitable and the real goal is to accept and learn from our suffering, to discover the most important and ennobling ability we possess – how much we can bear and stay straight and true.
No-one to my knowledge has ever expressed this better than Viktor Frankl, in ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ where he writes of his experiences in Auschwitz and observed that those who survived longest were those who found meaning in their suffering and a reason to endure it. Great book.
Neitzsche’s greatest error was his conviction that belief in God and the life of the spirit was an anodyne for the weak, a comforter to cuddle in the cold winter of truth. Because accepting God imposes heavy burdens. Never mind all the obligations to pray and attend Mass instead of lounging in bed on Sunday morning – they are actually pleasures. Prayer can be like talking with a friend, and Mass is beautiful, uplifting, social, musical, a real worldly pleasure.
No, the hard part is in following Jesus’ instructions, about which he was unambiguous and forthright. “I was hungry, and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was imprisoned, and you cared for me.”
How about “If someone steals your coat, give him your shirt.”? Or “If your enemy strikes you on the cheek,  offer him the other cheek.”
Anyone who thinks these are metaphors is sadly mistaken.  Unfortunately, Jesus never added a rider to his injunctions. I wish he had said “Turn the other cheek (unless the bastard desperately needs a good hiding)” or “I was hungry and you surely would have fed me if you’d had a little more to spare and the time to get it organised, so you’re all good on that one.”
But he didn’t, and if we are to glory in the works of the Lord and truly fear no evil as we walk in the shadow of the valley of death, we have to deliver.
Worth taking particular note of, I think, is that reference to visiting prisoners.  Of all the many good works, Christ singles out visiting prisoners as one of the ‘must-do’s’. Why? He doesn’t single out the unjustly imprisoned, so it’s not about that.  I think it is because helping those in prison requires not only generosity but the all-important ability to suspend judgment. Succouring prisoners is like giving the thief your shirt; they don’t deserve it. Those who do so play an important social role, of course, because they counteract the natural tendency of the imprisoned to hate society and everyone in it. Rednecks who want to see prisoners given the stick, those who rant on about prison being a holiday camp do us all a grave disservice because they justify recidivism. I wonder I Jesus had that thought at the back of his mind?

Sorry Friedrich. You got that bit wrong.

Jungle Eats the Jungle Eaters

Delicious irony du jour: one of the world’s leading environmental criminals has met his end by crashing into the very jungle he was planning to despoil. Yep, Ken Talbot, head of (can you believe it) Sundance Resources (cue projectile vomiting by Robert Redford) and a bunch of his cronies jetting out for a quick gloat over the millions he would make by flattening a few million hectares of the Congo rainforest has instead flattened a rather small patch personally, using the plane he was flying in.
That’s not the really good bit, however. The good bit is, assuming the plane didn’t burn and I’m praying it didn’t, his body and those of his mates will be right now, as I write, providing a feed for the troops of those very monkeys who would have soon been driven from their homes by today’s dinner.
But wait – there’s more… What if those monkeys are poached for their bushmeat and sold into the European bushmeat market?
Then, my friends, the molecules and mitochondria and the fat cells and the protein chains from these robber barons will enter the food chain of some of the very people Talbot and his cronies pushed first into homeless poverty and then into exile. LOL, I say.
Of course it doesn’t stop with monkeys. By night, hordes of vermin, rats, mice, myriad insects take over to carry the work forward. Until, finally, the ants. Millions of them, chewing, snipping away every last molecule of meat until only bone, pure white bone, remains. If we were there, wherever ‘there’ may be, we might perhaps catch a glimpse of white, gleaming in the shaft of light briefly punched by the light plane through the vast unbroken canopy of the rain forest.
Being the contemplative sort, I like to ponder the (up to) half-million dollar watches limply encircling those skeletal radii and ulnae. For the sportsmen like Talbot, perhaps the Ferrari special editor’s edition, going at a snip for yes, one half of one million dollars? (You have to own a Ferrari to buy one, don’t you know?) For the others, perhaps the odd Rolex Aviator certified chronometer, or, slipping ever so slightly down market, a Tag Heuer or two.  Chronometers of course. Goes without saying.
Think of them. Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick…..

PS. Two days later.

Unfortunately for my imagination, they found the plane and retrieved the bodies. Ah well….

Sin as the Cause of War

March, 2008
I am reading “Elected Silence”, the biography of Fr Thomas Merton, centered around his early life, conversion to Catholicism and his journey to a vocation as a Trappist monk.
At the time of the outbreak of the Second World War he is wracked with his conviction that the sins of the world in general and his contribution to the quantum of war-causing sins are the cause of this war.
When reading it I felt that he was drawing a rather long self-condemnatory bow to believe that his boozing in speak-easies and reading dirty French novels (his delicate 50s shorthand for the solitary vice) could be considered the cause of a global war. A touch of spiritual vanity, I thought. With Hitler shrieking at his deluded millions with an army of Satanic demons cheering him on, Merton’s puny sinning could hardly rouse the laziest and most insignificant imp in Satan’s army to take a role in that great and horrible war.
That was last night. I woke this morning and opened the newspaper to read that the Chinese military is gunning down protesting monks who have shown the temerity to circumambulate their shrine en masse, in public. They walk in contemplation, spinning their prayer wheels and reciting a prayer – probably Om Mani Padme Hung, or the Hundred-syllable mantra – Om Benza, Satu Samaya, Manu Palaya, Benza Sato Tino Pa…

Suddenly, according to eyewitnesses, a volley of thirteen single shots rang out and thirteen monks fell. The rest continued their circumabulation.

Last year, two Canadian ex-members of Parliament came to NZ to present compelling, probably irrefutable evidence, that Falun Gong devotees are being farmed for their organs.
It works like this.
Customers come in, mostly from overseas, and are analysed for their blood and tissue types. A selection is made from the meticulous records of the Falun Gong detainees (imprisoned without trial, of course) who are given three-monthly physicals and maintained in healthy condition despite their hard daily labours.
A group of preselected recipients is gathered in surgery. The chosen donor is wheeled into surgery, anaesthetised, and all his or her organs are harvested, fresh and in perfect health, and implanted into the wealthy recipients.
The donors, of course, never wake up.
Requiescant in pace Domini.
So this morning?
This morning I wake up to read that our Prime Minister, the former leftie peace marcher, certainly the best Minister of Conservation we ever had, is saying that we need to wait for confirmed information about this incident, we don’t have any confirmed facts yet, that nothing is to be gained by rushing into statements, etc.
She is hovering, pen in hand, to sign a Free Trade agreement with China early next month.
Meanwhile, such international champions of Human Rights as the US and the UK are scathing in their condemnation of the Chinese atrocities.
Oh, wicked woman, Ms Clark! Shame and eternal torment for her!
Alas, but no, actually. Ms Clarke is doing what she has always surpassed herself at: reading the will of the people and doing it.
So what has this to do with Fr Merton and his sins?
This.
We want Helen Clark to keep her mouth shut. We want the millions of dollars that this Free Trade agreement will put in all our pockets.
We want the Olympic Gold Medals. The last time there was a boycott at the Olympics, the Russians and 13 other Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the 1984 LA games. Ian Ferguson blitzed his way to an undreamed-of four gold medals in canoeing, with Paul McDonald close on his heels and sharing glory in the double events.
Why? Because the gun canoeists from the Eastern Bloc didn’t show. If they had, Ferg and Paul might just have scraped through with a silver or bronze or two.
Our sports commentators said nothing about that and probably fair enough too, because many of those 1984 giants of East Bloc canoeing are dead or very sick today, cut down by the crude mega-doses of steroids which made them what they were.
So we cry: Just shut up, Helen, and it can all be ours again – special privileges from this hideous Chinese government; dare we even hope for a swag of medals from a partly boycotted Olympics.
Yes! Yes oh yes. We want it. Individuals want it. En masse the farmers, those men who were furious at the disruption of the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand (politics and sport don’t mix!!!) want it.
Our sins. Our greed. Yup.
Good on ya Helen!
Let us all pray that we can see, as Thomas Merton saw, that this is a personal issue for which we will and should be answerable.
Please people, don’t let this happen. Write to Helen Clark now! Write to your MP now! Say no. We don’t want the blood money. We don’t want prosperity on the backs of the corpses of monks and Falun Gong devotees.
We will choke on this prosperity. Oh yes, there’s this too – if it even said prosperity arrives. Because minnows don’t bargain with sharks. As soon as a couple of the big guys see how well we’re doing out of our cosy, turn-the-eyes-away-and-shut-your- mouth relationship with China, they’ll want the same. That will be when our now close chums in the Chinese Politburo stop taking Helen’s calls – bigger act on the other line, gotta run, love ya, missin’ ya already!
What suckers we can be.

Ancestral memory or Genesis – a new choice.

This is too much!
Check out this story.
What you will find is, in part, this:
The earliest homo sapiens remains found outside of Africa were discovered in Israel and are thought to be around 100,000 years old. They are remains of a group (of a few hundred people at most – my comment- Ed.) who left Africa through what is now the Sahara desert during a brief period when the climate grew wetter, turning the desert green with vegetation.
And how did they get to Israel?
They crossed the Red Sea! Truth.
Now, the article goes on to say that group died out, but later crossings further south at the Red Sea’s narrowest point into Arabia succeeded. However it is apparent from looking at the scanty evidence that their dying out is just a guess, based on the non-continuance of fossil remains.
And because the fossil record is picked up further south, in that Mesopotamian ‘cradle of civilisation’ we all know about.
It cannot exclude the possibility that, as conditions grew harsher in Israel, this group of proven resourcefulness simply upped stakes again and moved south.
So what?
The bare facts of crossing the Red Sea and establishing the first society outside the African ‘Garden of Eden’ in Israel are before us. Long before Egypt, and pyramids/pyraslavery, and Exodus.
The article does assert that the vast majority of surviving humanity is descended from that very small very special group.

Think deep tribal memory. Think Israel – chosen people – think….strewth!!!
I’ve only just read this information and am only starting to digest it.
I question my ability to interpret these facts or factoids or what, but I’m given a fillip by reading this piece in the same publication.

It starts:
Studies on a human skull recently unearthed in Spain offer the earliest evidence that ancestors of Homo sapiens did not reject newborns with severe deformities but cared for them alongside their other children.
They pieced together a 530,000-year-old fossil cranium and discovered it belonged to a child who lived to between five and 12 years old despite being born with a rare birth defect known as craniosynostosis, in which the skull segments close too early, producing facial deformities and interfering with brain development.
Nice. Reassuring. ‘Cared for them alongside other children.’ How sweet. But quite possibly wrong. How can Ana Gracia Tellez, a palaeoanthropologist at Complutense University in Madrid, who led the research,exclude the possibility or likelihood that the child was not only spared but revered because her bizarre and to them terrifying countenance led her people to believe she had extraordinary shamanistic or magical powers?
She can’t and my guess is certainly as good as hers.

In the same way, the assertion that the proto-Israelites died out and were superseded much later by others from further south is just another guess.

But what can we assert from this? Nothing really.

It enables us to suppose that what was eventually recorded in Genesis and Exodus embodied a subtle and altogether wonderful blending of ancient tribal memories with much more recent material, providing a framework with historical verisimilitude for the preservation of a set of Ur-menschlich traditions that this very special group had been chosen by God since the very beginning for a special purpose.

And thus it presents to us the real and tantalising possibility that this proto-nation was able to keep its memories and beliefs alive and relevant for 100,000 years.

Since this is way beyond any comparable achievement or behaviour or…well…anything done by a group of people, ever, it becomes reasonable to suppose that God chose those people for something special. Which, as it happens, is exactly what they have always said.
Praise God, folks.

Chris