Conservative Sociopathy: A Rant

[CW: I’m cursing today.]

This post comes from a place of anger.  I need to say that up front, because I suspect that anyone who reads this as a political conservative will be tempted to read my words as whiny or “snowflake-ish.”  I’m not whining; I’m angry.

The reason I’m angry is because I’m tired of seeing things pop up in my social media that remind me that conservatives who voted for Forty-Five did it because they wanted to say “fuck you” to liberals and leftists.  They saw us grow increasingly dismayed that their chosen candidate is a flaming pile of shit of a human being, and they embraced this aesthetic because they saw that it made us angry.

Congratulations, you made us angry.  Now we’re dealing with an administration that is only tolerable in terms of its incompetence (this tolerability will only go so far; the first real crisis that drops into Forty-Five’s lap is going to cost a lot of lives wherever it happens to be located on the map, and it will be due almost entirely to the administration’s utter disregard for the necessity of actual expertise with regard to anything).  The proposed budget will slash a multitude of cost effective domestic programs that don’t cost the taxpayer much money at all (I am happy to let my taxes pay to feed children and the elderly, thank you), and even though it’s unlikely to pass as-is through Congress, the sentiment of the administration is clear: fuck all you lefty liberal snowflakes and your brown people too (because of course, the only people who qualify as people in the conservative sociopath’s mind are white people, you God-damned, racist asswipes); we’d rather shit on ourselves as long as it spites you.

I should back up slightly.

My Facebook feed is very much in the “blue feed” category.  I used to allow political stuff from my more conservative family and friends to pass through, and I’d even occasionally engage with those things, but I don’t do that anymore.  It’s become clear to me that for many of these people politics is not a subject that you discuss with the intention of expanding your horizons.  It’s about engaging in resentment Olympics, and I reached a point where I was just over that bullshit.  It was gradual, but I eventually got my feed weeded out pretty well so that the only things coming from that side of my network are just innocuous stuff such as family pictures and the like.  Very occasionally something nasty slips through, and I mark it as content I don’t want to see and move on.  That happened today, and while I wanted to just move on, it started to eat at me.  At the moment I’m mostly feeling pissed at the pettiness of conservatives; this is not a thing that really needs fixing.  Given some time, the worst feelings will pass and I’ll go back to just trying to ignore stupid conservative shit in favor of focusing on trying to do practical things to make my communities better.  Outrage isn’t productive, and as I’m trying to point out here, it actually feeds into the sociopathic behavior of conservatives.

Let’s talk a little about what I mean when I call conservative behavior sociopathic (having completed my rant, I now feel able to think more dispassionately about this topic).  First, take a few minutes to read this essay by Aaron Loeb (for folks who just don’t click through when it’s recommended, Loeb likens the split between conservatives and liberals in America to a divorce that has turned ugly without one side realizing it).  He articulates the frustration I’ve been feeling rather eloquently, and nicely sums up the realization I’m having that many conservatives I know are only in it to hurt people on the left.

It’s important to remember that when we discuss sociopathy, we’re not discussing an actual classification of mental illness; the term is sort of a catch-all for behavior that’s recognized as antisocial in nature (this is antisocial in the clinical sense that a person’s behavior is directly antagonistic toward social norms, not the more colloquial sense that a person is rejecting socialization as a way of spending their free time; that’s more correctly described as being asocial).  You don’t receive a diagnosis of sociopathy, so I want to emphasize that I am not equating conservative ill will with a mental disorder.  People with mental health needs don’t need to be dragged through the mud to point out what shitheads conservatives are being.

I call the behavior of conservatives sociopathic because they’re acting in a way that is literally pathological to our social fabric.  They’re reveling in being trolls because they get a high off of seeing liberals and leftists gnash their teeth at the injustice of Forty-Five’s policies.  What’s being overlooked is the fact that liberal anguish is rooted in the actual suffering of real people.  We get pissed about Forty-Five’s proposed policies because he’s being reckless and vindictive towards people who see through his bullshit.  We’re angry because there are consequences to these actions, and what we hear from conservatives is that they just don’t give a damn.

Look, the purpose of politics, as messy a business as it is, is to try to suss out how to make our communities operate better.  This is hard, emotionally trying work.  You frequently have to deal with people who have a different vision of what “better” means and negotiate some sort of compromise between those visions.  It’s not a fun prospect, but it’s necessary.  What I’m seeing from conservatives is an abdication of that fundamental purpose in favor of making politics a team sport where you cheer for your side and rub it in the face of your opponents when they lose.  The consequences have been completely divorced from the action in their minds, and in that environment they’ve chosen to treat the whole endeavor like pure entertainment.

I’m over all that.  Conservatives who do this shit can go fuck themselves.

Reading “Look On My Works, Ye Mighty…”

I’ve read Watchmen about four times now, and one thing that puzzled me in the past was how this issue was meant to be primarily about Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias.  The subplot of the chaos that erupts on the street corner is so compelling, and so essential to the plot of the series, that I often forget that most of this issue is built around Veidt monologuing to various listeners about his life and master plan.

Adrian Veidt understands the real world almost as well as he understands the fictional world he lives in. (Artwork & letters by Dave Gibbons, colors by John Higgins)

If there’s a defining trait for Veidt as a character, it’s hubris.  He actually hews pretty closely to a classically tragic hero; in addition to his overwhelming self confidence, Veidt is one of the richest, most well respected people in America and he’s driven by his hubris to carry out a plan that in a more traditional superhero narrative would culminate with his disgrace and potential demise.  Moore and Gibbons aren’t interested in that model though, so while we’re going to see some interesting shades of Veidt filled in in the last issue of the series, in this one he’s very much someone who has decided to commit a heinous atrocity for what he believes are the best reasons, and he’s aware enough of the conventions of the story in which he exists to take steps that would prevent anyone from foiling him.

Veidt’s story is intriguing simply because it is utterly devoid of tragedy.  The closest thing to a serious hardship that he experiences is the death of his parents when he’s relatively young, and even that is described more as an opportunity for Veidt to prove himself rather than as something that haunts him.  If you discount the fact that he wants to murder millions of people to scare America and the Soviet Union out of nuclear war, Adrian Veidt comes across as a perfectly well-adjusted, if smug, person.  This is an important feature of Veidt’s personality to remember, because when he discusses his time as a superhero, he makes it clear that he became disillusioned with the lifestyle’s approach to justice almost immediately.  Unlike Nite Owl and Rorschach, who do superheroics as something of a passion project, Ozymandias was always meant to be a means to a larger end.  Instead of these characters, Veidt explicitly places himself in the same category as Edward Blake.

Like Blake, Veidt believes himself to be a person who sees the world for precisely what it is, but in place of cynicism he adopts a stance of idealism.  The irony of this idealism is that it’s not rooted in optimism about humanity writ large but in Veidt’s own capabilities.  He’s totally convinced of his capacity to manipulate the entire world into a lasting peace, and while he appears dispassionate as he explains all the steps in his master plan, there’s an undeniable sense of zealotry and narcissism.  Veidt believes utterly that only he is capable of resolving the world’s chief problem.  In terms of the scope of what he wants to do, he’s totally megalomaniacal; he just happens to be doing it because he genuinely wants to save the world.  This is really where the differences between Blake and Veidt end though.  Blake is a thoroughly violent man who has built his whole life on violence in small, intimate doses; people who know the Comedian know he is not someone to be trifled with.  Veidt, while maintaining the appearance of a more genteel person, is the same, only on a larger scale.  His chief power is his intelligence, and he uses that to create access to other forms of power for himself, which he wields ruthlessly; Veidt exposes multiple people to enough radiation to give them cancer, arranges a failed assassination attempt on himself that results in the deaths of his personal assistant and the assassin in order to avoid suspicion, systematically murders every person who can potentially be connected to his plan, and destroys half of New York City.  In most cases he won’t beat you senseless himself (except for Blake, whom I suspect Veidt personally murders as a bit of revenge for the humiliation of losing to the Comedian when he was an inexperienced adventurer), but Veidt makes it starkly clear that he is a dangerous man if you get in the way of his ambitions.

Malcolm’s arc is a really brief one, but where he arrives in this moment is one of the best in the whole series. Shame we don’t get to see the journey from his moment of despair in his last appearance. (Artwork & letters by Dave Gibbons, colors by John Higgins)

Running parallel to Veidt’s reveling in his moment of triumph is the last story of the New York street corner.  We get to see the stories of several of the ordinary people who have been interacting with the superheroes in passing come to a head just before Veidt’s alien crashes into the city and kills them all.  We see the news vendor finally connect with the boy who has been reading the pirate comic after weeks of his lonely observations about the state of the world; we see the detectives who were so close to catching Dan Dreiberg as Nite Owl choosing to intervene in a street fight while they’re off duty; we see a cabby who frequents the news stand caught in the heat of the moment as her girlfriend breaks up with her; we see Malcolm Long, Rorschach’s prison therapist, finally assert to his wife Gloria what he’s come to value after being exposed to the worst of humanity.  All these thoroughly mundane stories culminate with this moment of ultimate intersection and concern.  Just before Veidt turns them all into collateral damage, they demonstrate the hope that humanity can somehow learn to care about itself.  It’s a poignant moment where empathy cuts through all the noise of life, and I’m generally of the opinion that it represents the moment that Moore was most interested in arriving at as he wrote Watchmen.  It’s the moments of clarity in the lives of ordinary people that are special and worthy examining, not the big flashy spectacles of people in costumes.

What more fitting moment do you need for this idea than a man, thoroughly convinced of his own specialness, casually murdering millions of people so that he can say he saved the world?

“My name is Ozymandias king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” (Artwork by Dave Gibbons, colors by John Higgins)

Lenten Reflections: Week 2

For my second week of Lent, I decided to throw myself into one of the books of the prophets.  When I look back on my journey from white evangelicalism into more progressive Christianity, aside from the influence of various contemporary people I’ve read, one of the biggest factors was the year I did some more in-depth reading of the books of the minor prophets (they’re only called the “minor” prophets because the texts that are named after them are significantly shorter than the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; the nickname isn’t meant to imply that their messages are of lesser significance).  Rachael and I spent the fall of 2012 hosting a weekly Bible study on the prophets for a group of UGA students who were involved with the campus ministry that we had gone through when we were undergraduates.  That study was a fun experience, but I remember really stressing over how to present ideas that deviated from evangelical orthodoxy; I think 2012 was the year I abandoned inerrancy, and that was a challenging thing to introduce to a bunch of undergrads who had been spiritually raised on it.

My major recollections of the minor prophet study (we called it “Minor League” because puns are the best) mostly revolve around lots of discussion about how the prophets were all upset with people because they weren’t properly worshiping God; it’s kind of a funny thing to remember in hindsight, because there’s so much in the prophets that is more about how frustrated they are with outward shows of piety that overshadow societal problems about which God is more angry.  It’s a messy recollection, and I think that I’d like to revisit the minor prophets soon, assuming I continue my Bible reading after Lent’s concluded.

For the time being, I’m contenting myself with a relatively brisk read-through of the book of Jeremiah.  I’m pretty confident that I’ve read through the entirety of the Bible at least once in the last ten years, but things do get fuzzy after a while.  I picked Jeremiah mostly on a whim; the idea that sticks out most about this book is that Jeremiah engages in a particularly melancholy reflection on the waywardness of Judah.  What I’ve seen in the first quarter of the book reflects that in part, but there are also some things that didn’t really stand out to me in the past.  The first metaphor that Jeremiah explores to describe Judah and Israel’s relationship with God is of a bride who has forsaken her husband; this isn’t an unusual metaphor in the Bible (the book of Hosea is especially famous for using this extended conceit), but it’s a hard one for me to latch on to.  There’s too much of the sense that the relationship is intended to be one between an owner and property, and that description just rubs the wrong way.

Other things that are notable and generally positive include the sections where Jeremiah rips into Judah for not doing enough to care for the marginalized while hiding behind signifiers of extreme piety:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,[a] burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 7:3-11

That’s some really good stuff.

Of course, the flip side of this is that you have to think about all the seriously negative talk about other religions that’s going on here.  Jeremiah’s primarily a lament and theodicy of the Babylonian Exile, and the major narrative that all the writers in the Bible who were grappling with that national trauma pushed was that Israel and Judah got too cozy with non-Jewish religions.  This context must be remembered when you come across bits like this: “They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind” (Jer. 19:5).  We don’t actually have any evidence that most of the other religious groups from the time period were engaging in child sacrifice, so things like this accusation are very likely just part of the propaganda.  This is a hard thing to remember; my evangelical instincts are still primed to assume that there was something wrong with the other non-Jewish religions that Jeremiah complains about.  As I’ve been reading through, I had a thought that the constant refrain of Judah’s unfaithfulness might be somehow tied back to the commandments laid down in the Torah following the Exodus.  The Hebrews established a code of faith that had as a significant part of its structure rules for taking care of people in need, and I was thinking that this communal failure was the infidelity that Jeremiah rails against.  I think that might still be a possibility, but you can’t ignore the historical context of why this and other books of the prophets were written, and I realized recently that I had done just that in my reflections.

So I Just Saw X-Men: Apocalypse

I know, it’s been a really long time since I last saw an X-Men movie; it was hard to justify going to see Apocalypse in theaters after it got mixed reviews (movies, despite being affairs where you sit in relative silence for two hours, are largely social experiences that are less fun if you can’t get someone to go with you, and I’m the only person in my friend group who really enjoys the X-Men franchise), and as things tend to go when you’re in a transitional year, some stuff just falls by the wayside.  Fortunately, a friend of mine is sharing his HBO Now account with me, so I was finally able to catch this movie for the low, low cost of the time it took to watch it.  All things considered, that’s probably a good deal.

This picture’s probably a good summation of X-Men: Apocalypse: it’s almost has a comic book-y feel to it, but it stops just short in the generic high budget sci-fi category instead of fully embracing its roots. (Image credit: IMDb)

X-Men: Apocalypse is not as good a movie as X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is helps you recognize the quality of Days of Future Past since it’s a movie that was written specifically to untangle the continuity snarl of the movie franchise (this purpose is a bad foundation for a movie to begin with).  Apocalypse has the much more enviable position of getting to be the actual soft reboot of the franchise, and from that position it wastes too much of its time retreading the relationship triangle of Charles, Erik, and Raven (Apocalypse also has the unenviable position of being the third movie in the franchise’s second trilogy, meaning that there was likely a lot of pressure from all sides to make the story tie off loose threads with the arc begun in First Class).  Those characters are well established and given a lot of depth, but they crowd out the younger characters who are very definitely Apocalypse‘s main strength.  There’s certainly a bit of character fatigue happening with the older generation, and it’d be nice to give them a rest; it’s not like Fox doesn’t remind us with every movie just how many other characters are available for use in X-Men stories.

This point is probably my biggest complaint about the movie (and about the X-Men film franchise in general): just like every entry before it, Apocalypse is packed with characters from the comics, and they get under served in the story because of the character density.  The triad of Charles, Erik, and Raven get plenty of space; Wolverine gets his obligatory cameo where everyone can say, “Hey, it’s the Wolverine cameo!” and then move on with the story; even Beast, who’s been a main character since First Class, gets some decent development here; after that you have the younger generation of characters like Scott, Jean, and Kurt who are so engaging to watch but who never feel like they have enough time; left over in the dregs are all the characters that appear just to be window dressing.  Apocalypse’s horsemen are made up of Storm, Psylocke, and Angel, and all three characters are woefully underwritten (Storm fares slightly better since the studio needed to establish her enough to be a presence in future movies, but she really doesn’t do much as a character for the majority of this movie).  Quicksilver is a lot of fun, but he’s totally static besides the development that he now knows Erik is his father (he’s also not enough of a jerk; if you’re going to have Quicksilver, he needs to be really arrogant and snooty towards other characters).  Apocalypse himself is perfectly fine as a wannabe god, even if he’s pretty one-dimensional beyond that (not a big deal; he’s a pretty one-dimensional villain in general).  All of these characters add up to a really crowded story where someone is going to be poorly served, and it unfortunately falls mostly on the characters that we expect to be the major players in future installments.

If you let go problems with character development and just focus on the movie as a spectacle feature where you get to see folks with superpowers do cool stuff, it’s still a lot of fun.  The overall tone feels like the closest the X-Men franchise has gotten to a lighthearted adventure story since its inception (relatively speaking; this is still a movie where its big set piece for the end of the second act is the launching and destruction of the world’s entire cache of active nuclear missiles), and it’s clear that the filmmakers don’t really want the audience to think deeply about the larger implications of what’s happening on screen (the movie’s climax involves Apocalypse building himself a new pyramid in Cairo while Erik magnetically rips apart dozens of major cities all over the world; you’re not supposed to think, “they are killing a lot of people,” so much as, “cool“).  Even the smaller scale action is tonally dissonant, like when Wolverine slaughters a bunch of Weapon X soldiers in front of the kids and they for the most part don’t react like someone who’s just witnessed extreme violence.  The only conclusion you can draw is that this is meant to be a spectacle first, and a character story second (I just realized that’s getting dangerously close to the way you should appropriately describe any Michael Bay movie, and I feel a little sadder about this film).  Go in expecting to see some really fun action sequences and just acknowledge that you’re really only supposed to be emotionally invested in about two thirds of the cast.

Reading “Neverending”

The tenth issue of All-Star Superman is probably my favorite one out of the series.  It departs from a standard story arc structure to instead deliver scenes from a day in Superman’s life as he alternates between performing his regular superhero functions and getting his affairs in order for his impending death.  The action is split between several different events that comprise the day, and the flow of the story moves non-chronologically as we flash back and forth between Superman dictating his last will and testament in the evening and his accomplishments from earlier in the day.

This is probably the most stressed Superman looks at any point in the whole series, and he’s just sitting and thinking about what’s going to happen to the world after he’s dead. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman & Travis Lanham)

The plot threads that make up this issue can be divided into three categories based on the social scale of Superman’s impact, moving from the very personal up to the communal and on up to the universal.  Superman races between crises and duties constantly, one moment facilitating diplomatic negotiations between Leo Quintum and the shrunken inhabitants of the Kryptonian city of Kandor, the next stopping an attack on Metropolis, and the next comforting a suicidal girl who was about to jump off a building because her therapist was unable to reach her in time.  The time stamps on the scenes from all of these stories, while initially disorienting, help emphasize just how tightly packed Superman’s schedule is.  The urgency of his pace here is underscored by the flashes to the end of the day where he explains that he knows his death is imminent, but he has to complete all of his labors before he can rest.  Superman knows he’s on a limited clock, but aside from the flashes of events like him recording his entire genome so it can be studied by Quintum’s PROJECT and his work on a new suit that will be needed for a conflict we’ll see in the next issue, the impression that Morrison and Quitely seem to want us to take away here is that this is just how a normal day goes for Superman.  He has immense power to help people, and he throws himself totally into using that power to its fullest potential; the whole practice feels like an echo back to young Clark’s mistaken assertion in issue #6 that he can “save everybody.”  This Superman is more tempered than he was in his childhood, but he’s clearly still grasping for that ideal.

Sprinkled throughout the accounting of Superman’s work are panels showing the gradual development of human civilization on an Earth located inside a miniature universe that Superman has stored in his Fortress.  The purpose of this Earth Q is to provide Superman an opportunity to see how the world will fare without him there to protect it.  The glimpses we see show that this Earth Q is remarkably similar to our own Earth as it shows moments reflecting the advancement of thought that leads to the character of Superman as he was conceived by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  This little subplot strikes me as Morrison and Quitely asserting the importance of Superman as a symbol for hope even in a universe where he doesn’t actually exist.

What I like most about this issue in particular is that it operates as the central thesis for the All-Star Superman series as a whole.  The point since issue #1 has been that Superman always operates in good faith and never slacks off from the responsibility that he’s assumed because of his abilities.  This is a fact of Superman’s life that continues in the background of all the adventures we’ve seen him have since he got supercharged by the sun, but the beauty of this issue is how it fills in the gaps between those big milestones.  Superman’s helping sick children and saving people from supervillains when he isn’t embroiled in any particularly spectacular conflict that’s worthy of having a comic book issue devoted to it.  He is, apparently, inexhaustibly good, but that appearance is cracking here as the toll of the supercharge is catching up to him.  Though it never shows when he’s in public, Superman looks incredibly stressed when he’s alone with his thoughts of what comes next for the world.

When I think about what makes Superman an excellent character, I’m thinking largely about the way he’s imagined specifically here, rushing nonstop towards problems that need his help because it’s the right thing to do.  There’s a moment in this issue where Lois, having thrown herself in the way of a rampaging supervillain to get Superman’s attention, asks Superman when they’re going to have a chance to talk now that she knows he’s really dying.  Echoing her confidence from the first issue, Lois has total faith that Superman will find a way to save himself; Superman’s not so confident, but he doesn’t have time to talk.  This scene’s interesting because we get to see that the crisis Superman’s flying off to deal with is an important, though small, one.  He’s not exactly trying to avoid the subject of his doom (he skirted the issue much earlier when he was treating Lois to her birthday celebration), but it’s definitely not a conversation he wants to have; the way he sidesteps Lois’s complaints while addressing the emergency with the suicidal girl is quite elegant: we get to see a sharp example of how he packs his time for maximum efficacy while also indulging in one of his deepest flaws.  Superman is a lonely figure in ways that aren’t exactly tragic (he’s not wallowing the way Batman often does), but he clearly feels an emotional distance from everyone around him.  I suspect some element of Superman’s avoidance of Lois (he never talks with her directly about what’s happening to him) and others is meant to be tied back to the trauma of losing his father; that event sits at the center of Morrison and Quitely’s series, and its impact echoes strongly here.

Superman has some intimacy issues. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman & Travis Lanham)

Lenten Reflections: Week 1

As I previously mentioned, I’m observing Lent this year by setting aside some time every day to read and reflect on the Bible.  This is a practice that I haven’t done in a couple years, and I’m hoping to rediscover some of the substance of my faith in the process.

To begin my project, I figured I would read through one of the gospels, and since in the past I’ve showed a particular favoritism towards Matthew, I would change it up and spend some time reading the Gospel of John.  I’m about halfway through the book at this point, and the effect it’s having is a really strange one.  My reading this time is done with the understanding that the author of John most likely wrote the account with the intent of emphasizing certain aspects of early Christian practices peculiar to whichever church the author was affiliated with.  Because of that, there are multiple passages where the author of John makes a point of explaining to the reader how things that Jesus is portrayed doing reflect passages from earlier scripture which can be retrofitted to be explicitly about the Messiah.  It’s kind of weird realizing that now when just a few years ago I took a much more face value view of the Bible’s textual origins.  The impact I feel most strongly right now is how much I had been taught to rely on inerrancy as a foundational aspect of my faith; so much of evangelicalism is predicated on a supernaturally inflected view of the world that it really does feel like a house of cards collapsing when you pull the base away.  All that’s left is a skeleton of moral imperatives that you suddenly realize were supposed to be the foundation all along.

These specific observations aren’t really anything new (at least in my mind), but I think this is the first time I’ve confronted how recognizing that paradigm shift changes my interaction with the Bible.

One way where this shift becomes really stark is in how I look at the portrayal of the Jews in John’s gospel.  Christians seem to be in the habit of treating the Pharisees and the Saducees who antagonize Jesus in all the gospel accounts as these cartoonish villains, but they ignore the underlying reality that these groups were also major parts of the Jewish religious order of the day; treating them like villains implicitly paints Jews in a negative light (I recognize that there are a lot of complex factors that play into the perpetration of antisemitism in Western culture, but the part that early Christianity’s sharp rejection of its Jewish roots plays shouldn’t be underestimated).  I’m left wondering how much of the portrait of the Pharisees is manufactured by the gospel authors to establish a distance between Christ’s disciples and their religious contemporaries.  The figure of the hypocritical Pharisee is useful for illustrating the type that we see so commonly these days in conservative Christians (you know, the folks who want to impose their personal, byzantine moral code on others for the sake of establishing “moral purity”), but I can’t help wondering precisely how accurate that depiction is.  I don’t doubt that Jesus was arrested and executed because his teachings were taken as heretical to established Judaism, but I wonder how much of it was a political conflict rather than pure cravenness on the part of the Pharisees.

In Portland

I’m on vacation visiting friends, so expect no blog posts until next week (I imagine at least some of my recovery time when I get home will be spent frantically writing).

In the mean time, Portland is a lovely city.  We spent our first day here just walking around town, and I was impressed by how easy it was to go places without the need of a vehicle.  The weather is also agreeable, and it provides a ready reason to wear a nice hat.

Find below a few pictures from a walk that we took Sunday morning in a park that’s located along one of tributaries that feeds into the Willamette River.  The place is covered with vibrant green moss that my phone camera can’t really fully convey.

Moss covered branches hanging down over the creek.

The remains of a tree that had fallen over and splintered. The wood’s soaked all the way through, so it had a really warm red color in contrast to all the green and brown.

Some graffiti inside a room in an old stone building that’s located up the trail. It looks especially haunting when you walk by because only the white face really stands out from the shadows.

This is a picture of a brook that runs down the side of the valley into the creek. I wanted to get a clearer picture, but the zoom on my phone just isn’t good enough. There are a bunch of these brooks all along the valley.