God and Frank

I often wonder what ultra-conservative “leaders” like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson think of Frank Sinatra. My guess is that they liked Frank. He was the very embodiment of reactionary, repressive, hierarchical thinking. God bestowed that wondrous voice upon Frankie and made him a star. Therefore he was entitled to special treatment, body guards, limos, mansions, numerous wives (including, astoundingly, Mia Farrow), the best suite at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Anyone who thought otherwise was a radical, and dangerous to God’s good appointed order.

Then Frank sings “My Way”. The irony is, of course, is that “My Way” is probably one of the most anti-Christian pop songs ever recorded. It is one of the most explicit statements of utter self-sufficiency and moral relativism.

Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour? There is something wildly comical about the fact that, in his later years, even with the assistance of a teleprompter, poor addled old Frankie couldn’t even get the words right. All those fans paid big bucks to hear the old crooner mumble incoherently while he tried to remember what city he was in. The old man, trying to assert once again his own personal macho myth of self-sufficiency, needed all the help he could get.

Well, who knows? Maybe Pat Robertson is a Dylan fan instead. Maybe James Dobson comes home from a long day of ranting about the evils of toleration and compassion and flips “Sticky Fingers” on the turntable for an hour of relaxation. Maybe Jerry Falwell hops into his limo and says to the driver, “hey, you got any Ani DiFranco tapes in there?” And maybe Jimmy Swaggart, when nobody’s looking, pops in a CD of cousin Jerry Lee’s “Great Balls of Fire”.

Well, when I get a chance, I’ll look up some of these guys’ web sites and see if I can get any of them to respond to a couple of simple questions: do you like Frank Sinatra? Does he represent to you, as a Christian, a morally acceptable style of entertainment? If you really believe that God appointed you to be a spokesman for the Christian community how come you have rigged your organization so that you are accountable to no one but yourself? Where do you guys get those awful haircuts? When did you run out of Brylcreem? Explain to me why you drive around in a limo surrounded by bodyguards while claiming to be a follower of a man who surrounded himself with the poor and the outcasts and rejected material wealth at every opportunity?

The Sacrifice Bunt

The Sacrifice

Time and time again, if you are a baseball, fan you will see the following: a team comes up to bat in the late innings of a ball game. The lead-off batter gets on base with a walk or single. The next batter comes up and the manager instructs him to “sacrifice”: bunt the ball to the right side of the infield for a sure out in order to advance the runner to second base. If he succeeds, the colour commentator will rave about him “getting the job done” and “advancing the runner”. After the next two batters strike out and fly out, no one ever says, “Gee, I guess giving up that out on the sacrifice was pretty stupid, eh?”

Does the sacrifice bunt make sense? It must work. Almost every manager in the league does it, often two or three times a game. If everyone does it, it must be right.

The sacrifice bunt emerged as a strategy at a time in baseball history before there was such a thing as a designated hitter. Late in a close game, if a runner got on and the pitcher was the next batter, it made sense, because:

a) pitchers didn’t hit very well (a .200 average was considered good), and,
b) pitchers didn’t run very fast, making them very susceptible to the double play, and,
c) it was usually a good time to bring in a relief pitcher anyway. But nowadays, American League teams use it just as often.

It is possible, with a bit of computer programming and lots of free time, to create a “simulation” of thousands of baseball games. I set up such a simulation once to test the theory that the sacrifice bunt is a stupid strategy. I ran thousands of games in which, after the sixth inning, every time the lead-off batter got on, the manager used the sacrifice bunt. Then I ran the same series of games with no sacrifice bunt. Since there is no way of knowing which hitter exactly is coming up to bat in these situations, I created an average team with a set of batting and on-base percentages that reflected the abilities of a normal range of players.

It didn’t surprise me that the second simulation showed many, many more runs scored than the simulations using the sacrifice bunt. Consider this: the following batter, in most situations, will have an on base percentage (hits + walks) in the neighborhood of least .325. So roughly 1/3 of the time, he will advance the runner anyway, without giving up an out. The next batter has the same 1/3 chance of advancing the runner without giving up an out. And so does the next. And… here is the key point… so does the next batter. Without a sacrifice, you still have three outs to work with. With the sacrifice, you only have two. How significant is that? Consider some other factors. The next batter will, of course, often hit a double, a triple, or a home run instead of a single. With the runner on first, the first baseman has to hold the runner on, leaving a gap in the infield. The pitcher is often distracted by the runner. A fast runner has a chance of stealing the base anyway– I saw Tim Johnson use a sacrifice when he had Alex Gonzalez– a good base-stealer–on first. Finally, with the runner on second and one out, if the next hitter is “hot”, he will get walked anyway, setting up a potential double play. And don’t forget that without a runner at first, the first base man doesn’t have to cover the runner.

I’m not saying the sacrifice never works. But a lot of people make the foolish assumption that the odds of getting the hit you need to score a run are roughly the same after a sacrifice as they are before. In fact, they are substantially less, because one less batter is going to get a chance to drive in that run, and because the sacrifice ensures that the “batter” following a lead-off single or double invariably “hits” a single. In other words, over a season, or even a short series, the sacrifice will fail to achieve it’s desired objective– scoring a run– far more often than simply letting the next three batters do their job.

Well, if a sacrifice is so stupid, why do managers do it? The answer is simpler than you might imagine. Consider the World Series Champions of 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays, who were managed by Cito Gaston. I don’t think anybody in this world would think that Cito was a smarter manager than Bobby Cox, one of the shrewdest skippers in the league. Why did he win? He simply put good talent on the field and let them play the way they were capable of. He put Roberto Alomar at second base and watched him make unbelievable fielding plays. He penciled in Devon White in centre field and watched him swallow up every fly ball hit there. He had the finest defensive third baseman in the league that year in Kelly Gruber (’92), and he had terrific pitchers, including Henke, Ward, and Wells, who didn’t give up a single run in relief until the final game. He won in spite of his questionable management. He won in 1993 in spite of the idiotic managerial decision to let Jimmy Key leave as a free agent and so they could retain Jack Morris, who contributed nothing to the 1993 victory. He won because Paul Molitor, John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, and Devon White, had terrific years.

Well, what exactly, then, is the role of the manager? The role of the manager is to call for the sacrifice bunt. What if the sacrifice bunt is a stupid strategy? Then what would the manager do? Send for the closer in the 9th inning of close games?

It’s like the famous question asked of Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones: “Why don’t you sing more often?”

Keith replied, “then what would Mick do?”

Novell, Software, and Insurance

We recently thought we lost our license disk for Novell 4.11 Intranetware Server. When I called Novell, they nicely informed me that I had to pay $100 for a replacement disk. I told them that that was a little pricey for a disk that cost about $1 to make. They explained that they had a bunch of complete idiots working for them and it took them hours and hours to correctly copy a single disk.

Well, not exactly. But pretty close.

What I thought was interesting was that they wanted me to sign a form declaring that our insurance company had refused to pay for the cost of replacing the Novell software, total of about $5,000.

Excuse me!

We already paid for the license. We didn’t lose the license– we lost the disk with the license software on it. Why, exactly, should our insurance company pay for something we have not lost?

I had hoped that with Microsoft playing the heavy, companies like Novell might take advantage by trying to build up a reputation for fairness and honesty, but this little stratagem stinks big time.

The Missionary Position

The statistics keep changing– depending on who is doing the counting– but there can be little doubt that there are now more Christians in Africa, Asia, and China, than there are in Europe or the United States. So why does the United States and Canada keep sending missionaries to the “Third World”?

The answer is, probably, because we can.

I remember reading a fairly detailed story about a large charity organization that raised funds for research into a certain childhood illness. It might have been polio or something. Anyway, the disease was finally virtually eradicated.

So what happened to the charitable organization? They had a big party, right? They laid off all their staff, sold off their buildings, shredded their internal memos, and disappeared, right?

Wrong. The organization simply adopted a new cause and began raising money for it. The tools were all in place. Jobs were at stake. The decision of what to do was made by the people whose jobs depended on the continued existence of the organization.

Well, obviously, we haven’t found a cure for apostasy yet, so, in that sense, missionary organizations should continue their work. The trouble is, they are doing all this work over-seas, not here.

The real reason we don’t send missionaries to New York and Chicago and Paris and Toronto is that we haven’t yet found a way to present the gospel message in a compelling way to a literate, educated, and somewhat cynical population. Why not? Because the church chose certain battlefields many years ago, and they were the wrong battlefields. We chose to fight the doctrine of evolution, and we lost. We chose to fight the discovery of dinosaur fossils, and we lost. We chose to fight the scientific conclusions about the age of the earth, and we lost. Now we are fighting a battle for the morals and cultural values of our society, and we pretend that we never lost any of those earlier battles. We tell people, “take our word for it: we’re right”. But we haven’t earned the right to invite anyone to take our word for anything. We haven’t explained yet why we fought the idea of dinosaurs so energetically, and now we try to explain that Noah actually took dinosaurs with him on the ark. We haven’t explained how Noah could have saved two of every creature in his ark when it wasn’t even big enough to carry two of every single species of fly.

I am told that no other world religion, Buddhism, Islam, or Confucianism, for example, entertains a conflict between the evidence of our senses and the evidence of sacred scripture or tradition. And that is why, the educated, professional classes of Buddhist and Islamic societies are full participants in the religious life of their nations.

But here in North America, and in Europe, religion–Christianity–has virtually proclaimed: forget everything you learned about truth and science and knowledge, and accept these doctrines without question…

Our Enemy, Iraq, Straddles the Globe

And we shall have a mighty victory which the world will celebrate with trumpets and cake.

Here is the map of Iraq published recently in Time Magazine, to get you all excited about the coming victory:

iraq.jpg (10466 bytes)

And here is a more objective rendering of the same area:

world2.jpg (9547 bytes)

Notice something?

Yes, Time Magazine has made Iraq much, much bigger than it should be.  That is Time Magazine, my friend, tireless cheerleader for the American military.

The Contrary Bible

Some people believe that the bible is “literally” inerrant– every word is true, no matter what it says.  Then they’ll tell you that, as good Christians, we have to reduce immigration and lower the minimum wage.  They also believe that if you question even one word of scripture, you thereby call into question everything the bible says.  I dispute that.   I believe most people with common sense will find the bible more believable if we all acknowledge that some verses just don’t jive.

Another Website on Contradictory Bible Passages

God stops the sun from continuing it’s “orbit” long enough so Joshua can win the battle.  I’ll look it up when I get the chance.

Can rabbits chew their cud?  Nope.  But the author of Leviticus and Deuteronomy thinks they do. Lev 11:4, Deut 14:7

Exodus 20:5 says that children, unto the third and fourth generation, will be punished for the sins of the father.  Ezekiel 18 says “the son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.”

Matthew 20:20  The mother of James and John asked Jesus to reserve a place of honor for her sons.  Mark, however, says James and John didn’t need their mom’s help.

Luke 4:31ff  Jesus, after preaching in Capernaum, asked his disciples if they were willing to follow him.  Mark 1:16-21 says he asked this question before preaching in Capernaum.

Matthew 10:10, Luke 9:3  Did Jesus tell his disciples to take nothing with them on their journey, or a rod?

Who killed Goliath?

You thought it was David?  Check 2 Samuel 21:19.

Numbers 18:22  “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination”

Numbers 19:16: “you shall not go around as a slanderer”.

In regard to illegal aliens (Mexicans):

Numbers 19:33 “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Gee, I hope Pat Robertson is out there campaigning for reformed immigration laws.

Appropriate punishment for adultery:

Numbers 20:10  “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”  Did you read that Mike Warnke and Bob Larson?  I’ll bet you did.

On Mules

Numbers 19:19: “You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind.” (Mules are a cross-breed.)

On Haircuts

Numbers 19:27:  “You shall not round off  the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.”

On counting accurately:

Judges 7.12:  “The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore.”

On Monogamy

Judges 9:30  “Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives.  His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech.”

On Mass Murder and War Crimes

Joshua 11:20 “For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

On wearing clothes while you work:

John 21: 7  “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.”

On the evils of communism.

The next time someone tells you that the Bible supports free enterprise, ask them to explain this verse.  Of course, you shouldn’t be explaining anything in the Bible, right?  Isn’t this rather clear all by itself?

Acts 2: 44 “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”  and Acts 4:32:  “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”

To the next big donor:

“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!” (Acts 8:21)

On women in church office:

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints…(Romans 16:1)  Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life…”

On Losers

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (Corinthians 1:27)

On masturbation

“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.  But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry.  For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (I Corinthians 7:8)

On the future:

I Corinthians 7:29ff implies that the world will end shortly.

On compromising with culture

“I have become all things to all people that that I might by all means save some.”  (I Cor. 9:22)

On slavery.

“Were you a slave when called?  Do not be concerned about it.   Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.”  (I Corinthians 7:21)

On hats.

“For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels”  (I Cor. 11:10)

On uncompromising spiritual leaders:

“Love… does not insist on its own way.”(I Cor. 13:5)

On speaking in tongues.

“If no one is there to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.”

On women in church:

“Women are to be silent in church.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says”.  (I Cor. 14:34)

On Faith vs. Works

“Just as Abraham ‘believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.”   (Galatians 3:6)

Was not Abraham, our ancestor, justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the alter?”  James 2:21  “You see that  a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  (James 2:24)

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?”  (James 2:14)

On the gospel of wealth:

“Is it not the rich who oppress you?  Is it not they who drag you into court?”  (James 2:6)

and…

“Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.  Your riches have rotted and your clothes are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will bve evidence against you and it will eat your flesh like fire….”

On the minimum wage…

Listen, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”  (James 5:1-5)

On huge expensive churches and office buildings…

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  (James 1:27)

On Respect for Bill Clinton

“For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.”  Peter 2:13

On Slavery and Matrimony

“Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle, but also those who are harsh.”  Peter 2:18 … wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands…  (Peter 3:1)

On the Second Coming, the Last Judgment:

“The end of all things is near…”  Peter 4:7

“Children, it is the last hour!  As you have heard that anti-christ is coming, so now many antichrists have come.  From this we know that it is the last hour.”   1 John 18.

For they (the apostles) said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.”  It is these worldly people devoid of the spirit, who are causing divisions.  Jude 13:18

On alcohol

“No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”  1 Timothy 5:23

More on Alcohol:

“Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”  Proverbs 31:10-31

Was the Sermon on the Mount, or the plain:  Matt 5:1, Luke 6:17.

 

Coda

Children, it is the last hour!  As you have heard that anti-christ is coming, so now many antichrists have come.  From this we know that it is the last hour.”   1 John 18

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

Homeless in Ontario

Premier Mike Harris has long made it his own particular virtue to proclaim that the provincial government will no longer support deadbeats. Get out there and find a job, says Mike. Stop sponging off the hard-working taxpayer. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!

Well, let’s say you’re one of the uneducated poor and you do find a job. Maybe not a great job, but a job nonetheless. Maybe not even a full-time job. But at least you have a reason to get up early most mornings. Mike is happy. You’re no longer a deadbeat. Let’s say this job is half-time at minimum wage with no benefits and pays you all of about $550 a month. That’s $6,600 a year. Could you live off of $6,600 a year? Would you get up early every morning, get dressed, scrape the snow off your car— more likely, wait in the cold for a bus– and get yourself off to a job for $6,600 a year?

Until now, the provincial government realized that someone making only a little money would probably not have much left over for “luxuries” like prescription drugs or dental work. So the government, sensibly enough, has allowed these people to be eligible for a special drug, dental, and vision plan normally available only to welfare recipients. Now tell me: in your heart of hearts, does this sound unreasonable? Wouldn’t this person be more likely to improve his chances at a full-time job if he could at least take care of his teeth and replace his glasses once every two years? And if that’s all we do for the working poor, isn’t this, in fact, embarrassingly pathetic?

Well, it wasn’t pathetic enough for the Harris government. They are removing that benefit. They are also removing certain exemptions and changing other rules so that a jobless man living at home with his parents gets all of $52.00 a month to take care of all his needs. The Harris government is now also going to require that welfare recipients provide receipts for any rent they have paid. If they don’t or can’t, their welfare check gets slashed by $180. They will then receive a grand total of $195 a month basic allowance. That is $2,400 a year. How much did it cost you get through the last year? Do you feel wealthy? Most people spend about this much on movies and eating out.

Now if you really believe that we should be the kind of society that is merciless and heartless, don’t read any further. We have built this society that runs like a machine. We’re spinning right now at maximum rpm. To survive in our society, you have to keep up with a million details. You need the right education, the right clothes, the right haircut, the right forms, the right location, the right skills, the right connections, the right state of mind. Not everyone can hack it. It doesn’t surprise me that there are 30,000 people living on the streets of Toronto because they can’t keep up. So if we want to be merciless, we can say to them, “Tough. Go drop off the edge of the earth.” Or we can say, it’s a fact of life that not everybody can fit in.

It’s not a question of blame. It is true that some people abuse the system. It is also true that a lot of people pass around third-hand stories about people living the high life on welfare and unemployment insurance, double-dipping, and squandering all their money on cigarettes, lottery tickets, and booze. But there really are a lot of people out there who fall through the cracks simply because they don’t have the mental or emotional make-up to succeed in this hyper-world. So we toss them a pittance, maybe enough to eat semi-regularly, and we provide some shelters so they can sleep inside on the coldest winter nights.

The only hard research on this subject indicates that the real rate of abuse is very small, but everyone’s got a story and a lot of people are credulous. Life on welfare shouldn’t be too easy– after all, it’s not good for people to live in dependency anyway. But it’s one thing to have reasonable restrictions; it’s quite another to kick someone in the teeth when they’re already down. By steadily diminishing their access to assistance, we are pushing them into a state of desperation.

Some social workers don’t believe that the government is actually going to save much money with this latest jab at the poor anyway. It’s just another mean-spirited expression of the Harris’ government’s contempt for losers.

Our society generates enormous wealth. There was a time, in the 19th century, when it was believed that there was a fixed limit to the amount of wealth any economy could generate. If wealth was diverted to the poor, that meant that someone had to give it up. Social conservatives argued that there wasn’t enough wealth to go around, and that redistribution would simply make us all poor. Socialists played this game, declaring that, whether there was enough or not, more of it ought to be taken from the rich and given to the poor.

The late 20th century has proven these arguments false. We are, in fact, generating more and more wealth, on a scale that was unimaginable in the 19th century. The problem is, as almost every significant study shows, that more and more of the wealth is ending up in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Nobody knows what someone with ten million dollars needs another ten million for. What can you buy with twenty million that you can’t buy with ten? Isn’t this called greed? Then why does our society heap admiration and honors on people like Conrad Black and Bill Gates and Michael Jordan? And why do we heap contempt upon young mothers with children who live in brutal conditions off a tiny, tiny, tiny piece of pie? Are we that heartless?

With budget surpluses looming, a surprisingly large percentage of the voting population favours increases in government spending on social programs, education, and health care. Perhaps this is the beginning of a reversal of a twenty year trend that has seen a growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

The Noble Charlton and His Festive Murder Weapons

Charlton Heston, who played Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s pompous and boring “10 Commandments” has just been elected President of the National Rifle Association.

Charlton Heston claims he was a liberal back in the 1950’s and early 60’s. He was in favor of the civil rights movement. Then it all got out of hand he became an arch-conservative. The NRA hopes the luster of Moses will revive the somewhat sagging fortunes of the NRA, which has lost more than 500,000 members in the past two years.

The NRA only has about 2.5 million members, yet they virtually dictate U.S. policy in regard to gun regulation, because they have the big bucks.  The general population has no regard for the NRA but– here’s the key– Republican Primary voters do.  Once you win the primary, you tone down your virulent pro-death views and act as if you’re a moderate.

The NRA fought tooth and nail against Clinton’s efforts to ban the importation of assault rifles.

I’m not going to waste my time making a case against virtually unrestricted gun sales, which the NRA advocates. Only an idiot would believe we are safer if everyone has a gun than if no one has a gun. Shall I repeat it? Yes, it sounds harsh, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade: only an idiot would believe that we are safer if everyone has a gun than if no one has a gun.

John Sayles recently produced a brilliant movie (“Men with Guns”) that dramatizes better than almost any other what the meaning of a gun is. If Jesus were here today, I think he would say something like “anyone who buys a gun has already committed murder in his heart”.

That said, I am not totally unsympathetic to those who buy a hand-gun out of fear and keep it next to the bed. The truth is, American’s have made their bed: they have made guns readily available to everyone. They have created a sick, ultra-competitive, violent society, and now they have to deal with it. American culture constantly hammers home the message that if you are poor or unemployed or on welfare, you are a valueless parasite and a worthless human being. I sometimes think they will never solve the gun problem– it’s too late.

But the politicization of gun control can be changed.

A few years ago, a man came home to his house, heard a noise in a closet, flung the door open and shot whoever was in there. It turned out to be his own daughter, who died in his arms.

Well, hey, anybody can make a mistake. What bothers me about this case, however, is the fact that the man was never even charged with careless use of a firearm. Similarly, a Japanese student was shot to death when he walked up someone’s driveway to ask for directions to a party. You could, maybe, argue that it wasn’t quite the same thing as first degree murder, but the killer was not even charged with negligence. What if he had run him over instead, while drunk or drugged? Do people actually believe that such negligence is more criminal than firing a handgun at a stranger walking up your driveway before you have the slightest idea of what he wants?

The most offensive irony of all this is the large number of fundamentalist Christians who support these insane gun laws and yet call themselves “pro-life”.

“Moses” should take a few tablets himself and start rereading his scriptures. Or did I miss the verses where Jesus tells his disciples to travel light, preach the good news to the poor, and pack a .45.

The satirical Arrogant Worms had it right:

“Wouldn’t it be great if everybody had a gun?.
Wouldn’t it be great if everybody had a gun?
No one would ever get shot,
’cause everybody would have a gun
Wouldn’t it be great if everybody had a gun…”

The sad part is that some people would take those lyrics seriously.

More on Eva

I am puzzled by a book on Eva that disputes many of the claims made about her early life, her liaisons with persons other than Peron, and her effects on Argentina’s culture and politics.  Who’s right?

This account seems balanced– as far as it might be possible to be about a woman who was determined to mold her own image.

What is indisputable– and acknowledged even by her defenders– is that Evita was extravagant and self-indulgent, and consistently tried to control and manipulate her public image.  She is legendary for kissing the poor, but she is also legendary because she ensured that her “charitable” activities received maximum exposure.  And the media understood exactly why they were to give her prominent exposure.  She had a forged birth certificate created with an altered birth date in honor of her wedding to Juan Peron, in order to conceal her humble origins and real age.  She traveled the world at state expense and demanded to be treated like royalty.  She famously refused the position of vice-president– after moving mountains to secure it– as an act of “self-denunciation”, as if she would not have declared that a willingness to serve in that post would not also have been an act of supreme self-denunciation.

She received the poor in front of portraits of Christ… and of the Perons.

Like Diana, she embraced and kissed individuals with visible manifestations of infectious, disfiguring diseases.  Passion?  Or a case of the actress beginning to actually believe she is the part she plays?

Yet some biographers continue to insist that the negative press she received was undeserved.

The final word?  How about this, from the Boston Review above: to understand the people, she said from her sickbed, one must “become one body with them, so that every pain, every sorrow and worry, all the joys of the people is as if it were ours. This is what I did . . . in my life.” 

This is what I did.  An act of monumental narcissism.

What, pray tell, is remarkable about Eva Duarte Peron, other than her steely-eyed devotion to promoting herself?  The truth is, had she not met Colonel Juan Peron at a charity fund-raiser, nobody, today, would remember or care about “Evita”.  In short, she was remarkable for nothing except for the remarkable ability to become well-known by attaching herself to a man of wealth, in spite of a completely unremarkable accomplishments in every field except the most obvious one.

And that, I suppose, is an accomplishment.

Evita the Movie: Rewriting History, Because I’m Worth It!

Most people going to see the movie version of EVITA or renting the video for a snuggly Friday night probably never listened to the original recording by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and are even less likely to have seen one of the early stage productions. What percentage only saw the movie? It’s hard to say– the movie was not a great success. But let’s make a conservative guess: 70%?

That’s the percentage of people who will get a slightly different picture of EVITA than the ones who heard the original recording or saw an early stage production (the newer stage productions are likely to be modeled on the movie version). The original was based fairly closely on the known historical facts about the life of Eva Duarte Peron, who rocketed to fame and power in Argentina in the 1930’s and 40’s and then died very young, of cancer, at the height of her influence, on July 26, 1952. The picture of Evita, as drawn in the original, is somewhat ambivalent. If she is admirable in any sense, she is admirable only for her remarkable ability to rise from almost nothing to one of the most powerful women in the world. But the original EVITA also makes it clear that the way she accomplished this feat was by whoring herself up the rungs of a ladder of influential men. And once she was married to the top dog in the military, Colonel Juan Peron, she became co-responsible for one of the most brutal and repressive regimes ever to rule Argentina. Snubbed by the aristocracy, she extrapolated bundles of money from everyone–including the labour unions– for her celebrated “Foundation Eva Peron”, and distributed unknown amounts (no books were kept) to the poor. Without a doubt, most of the money went into her own pockets, and to pay for jewels and dresses and her extravagant lifestyle as unofficial queen. It was a little like the Ontario lotteries, except that the lotteries steal from the poor instead of the rich. Eva stocked government officialdom with her relatives and cronies and severely punished any newspapers (including La Prensa) that dared to print critical commentary about her or her husband.

Now, I don’t mean to brag, or maybe I do, but not many of the people sitting in the movie theatres watching the Madonna version of EVITA know every single word of every song in the original. I do. And I immediately noticed many significant changes to the lyrics. Furthermore, I noticed a distinct trend. All of the changes functioned to improve the image of Evita herself. One of many examples: when an aristocrat observes that “statesmanship is more than entertaining peasants”, in the original, Evita snarls, “We shall see, little man!” In other words, yes, statesmanship is merely a matter of entertaining peasants. In the movie version, this line is given to a minor character. The result leaves open the possibility that Eva was more far-sighted than that.

The most disgusting change–because it is so patently self-serving–is the assignment of the beautiful aria, Another Suitcase in Another Hall, to Evita herself, when it was originally performed by Peron’s young mistress after Evita gave her the boot. This aria (remember, this is not a musical, but an opera, in spite of what the movie promoters tell you), had an important function in the original. It followed Evita’s initial seduction of Peron, during which she portrayed herself as a humble, innocent girl, who was so overwhelmed with Peron’s goodness and charm that she couldn’t help but throw herself at his feet. Then she nastily tosses Peron’s 14-year-old mistress out into the streets. The mistress sings a very plaintiff, introspective song about her dismal prospects. Interestingly– and in sharp contrast to Evita– she claims to be hard on the outside but confesses that, in her heart, she is devastated.

Time and time again, I’ve said that I don’t care/
that I’m immune to gloom/
That I’m hard, through and through/
But every time it matters, all my words desert me/
so anyone can hurt me/
and they do

In the original, you feel a twinge of your heartstrings for this poor, vulnerable girl. And your perception of Eva’s heartlessness and ruthlessness is enlarged. The contrast with the scheming Eva makes it plain that her seduction of Juan Peron is nothing more than a ploy to whore herself up another rung of the ladder.

In the movie version, Evita herself sings this song! This is a little like rewriting THE SOUND OF MUSIC and taking “Do Re Me” away from Julie Andrews and giving it to one of the Nazis. What a fun-loving, charming guy!

The reason for the change is obvious, and no, it’s not quite as sinister as you might think. Though the Peronista’s are still a force to be reckoned with in Argentina, I don’t think their reach extends all the way to Hollywood. No, it’s more banal than that. It’s Madonna’s Evita-like ego.

Madonna didn’t just get asked to do this picture: her representatives played an active role in getting her part, and, indeed, in getting the movie made (the property has been around for years but no-one was able to put the package together until recently). Strings were pulled. Everybody knows that the most captivating song in the show is the little aria sung by Peron’s mistress. Well, Madonna wanted that song for herself, and if she had to revise history a little in order to get it: so be it. In fact, all the other little changes also seem calculated to present Eva as less of a conniving slut and more like a poor girl who was merely ambitious and clever. As a result, many people will leave the theatre thinking that Eva Peron may have been a little rough around the edges, but maybe she was genuinely in love with Juan Peron, and maybe she really cared about the poor and dispossessed, and maybe her death was a real tragedy because Argentina was deprived of her gossamer presence as a result of it.

And you know, when you think about it, there are a lot of parallels with Madonna’s life. After all, hasn’t she been accused of the same things that Eva was accused of? Didn’t Madonna exploit her sex for money and power? And wasn’t Madonna reviled by some critics who didn’t really appreciate how sweet and vulnerable she really was, inside? And thus that obnoxious song they added, to ensure airplay for a “new” release: “You Must Love Me”. That’s all the poor girl wanted: to be loved.

The truth is that Peron was a Hitlerite and a fascist (Argentina was Germany’s very last ally), and Eva was a little dominatrix who abused her husband’s office for pure personal gain. The tragic results of her ascendancy to power–violence and social and economic instability–were still felt up until the 1970’s. The idea that she really wasn’t so bad is not a harmless delusion. When Bill Clinton talks about teaching Saddam Hussein a lesson, and when Jesse Helms spouts off about Castro, and when Le Pen in France denounces foreigners, and when Bouchard talks about “humiliation”, we are hearing echoes of the same demagogic impulses. EVITA could have done us all a favour by showing us, unflinchingly, just how attractive an evil political philosophy can make itself.

By the way, as a movie, EVITA isn’t great either, though it’s not as bad as some reviewers have decreed. And Madonna’s performance is relatively faultless: the girl does have a set of pipes. But there are too many moments where the singers don’t really know what to do with themselves. See Jesus Christ Superstar for an example of what they could be doing.

One last note: when is someone going to do an opera based on the story of Eva’s corpse? It was embalmed remarkably well and apparently remained quite life-like for years afterwards. It was stolen by the government when it feared Juan Peron would use it to regain political power, after he was turfed in 1955. After years of chaos, Peron was invited to return and he did so, but only after her corpse, which had been hidden in a crypt in Italy, was returned to him. He kept it on a living room table and his third wife, Isabel, (Eva was wife #2) dusted it every day for him, when she wasn’t occupied with her duties as vice-president! Isabel, eventually achieved what even Eva had not been able to achieve: the Vice-Presidency. In July 1974, upon the death of her husband, she became President of Argentina.

Her administration was an unmitigated disaster, as Eva’s likely would have been.

So how about it, composers?

Update 2009

Updated January 16, 2009

The real “Evita” in action, leading a rally (left).

Not the first revision… when introduced in Europe, the musical was controversial — did it glorify a woman associated with Fascism? When brought to America by producer Hal Prince, the authors (Rice and Webber) apparently agreed to develop a character based on Che Guevara to “balance” the role of Eva. He tells the audience what to think… a bad development artistically, if not morally. You can hear it in his songs– let me frame it for you, so you understand just how bad she is. Or good. Or both.

Still, the best lines in the show are Che’s reaction to the monumental funeral of Evita: “Oh what a circus, oh what a show….”

On the other hand… keep in mind that in the process of extorting millions of dollars from workers, the rich, and corporations to give to the poor (in a manner that suggested to them that they were personal gifts from Eva’s own pockets), Eva was merely practicing a form of socialism that benefited families and individuals who managed to come into her orbit. The actual numbers helped probably pale in comparison to the numbers helped by, say, an increase in the minimum wage, which applies to everyone, regardless of whether they have the opportunity to personally thank Evita. It’s a bit like a socialist lottery. In this context, it’s hard to have any sympathy for the upper classes who thought that politics was more than “entertaining peasants”.