Thursday, April 01, 2004

A Snake's Eye View on Some Recent News

I refuse to write about the 9/11 commission scandal, about what the Bush administration knew or did not know, about who lies and why. There are plenty of very good blogs about all this, and they show us very convincingly that the Brooklyn Bridge is still a very good buy. Which is sooo depressing.

Let's look at something more cheerful instead. First, there are very good news for the mice: they can be vaccinated against the SARS virus. This makes it much more comfortable for them to travel to the Far East. Humans are very kind to the mice; sometimes it seems that almost all medical research has to do with the well-being of our four-legged friends. Can mice take artificial sweeteners without harm to their health? Can we solve extreme obesity in mice? Will Prozac work to keep the mice positive while hunting for the cheese? Large libraries consist of all the crucial findings on Mouse Health.

Too bad that humans are rather different from mice, and that not that many of the mice findings generalize terribly well to other mammals. I'm old enough (very old as humans count!) to remember countless mouse health revelations that ultimately had nothing to do with the health of humans. Still, studying mice is a lot more harmless than some other human activities (except from the mouse point of view).

If all these people weren't studying mice, they might be making movies like Mel Gibson. What do I think about his latest take on the last days of Jesus? This is what Father Thomas Hopko, a Christian, thinks about it:

Whatever the cinematic and artistic merits of Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," and whatever the conversations it provokes, it hardly portrays the fullness and depth of Christ.

Gibson's passion is a monotonous and misleading exaggeration of one aspect of the scriptural Christ's suffering and death to a distorting degree. His Jesus is God's suffering servant whose passion is reduced to his being ridiculed and beaten with a sadistic brutality far beyond what the four Gospels record. The film's relentless emphasis on Christ's physical sufferings which, contrary to scripture, begin already in the Gethsemane garden, and the almost comic ugliness of the villains - the priests, the soldiers, Judas, Herod, Barabbas, the devil figure and its child, the faces in the crowds - capture the viewer's attention and serve more to conceal than to reveal the fullness and depth of the passion's multiple meanings.

The sacrifice of a grain god is of course common in many older religions, and sacrifices of all types have always been popular in human religions. It's an extension of commerce to the supernatural realm: If I give you my son, will you give me victory and power? There is also something about the suffering of others that appeals to the worse instincts of some, yet portraying this suffering as a just sacrifice makes watching it ok, not sadistic or anything. In fact, it makes watching a holy experience. This is nothing singular for Christians. All humans seem to do it.

I don't pretend to understand Christianity, but I'm sure that the story of Christ has more important lessons (the Sermon on the Mount?) for us than the one Gibson chose to portray: That it hurts to be crucified. A lot.

It also hurts some to be a victim of racism. The University of Notre Dame has a spokesman in Paul Hornung that the university would probably prefer not to have:

Football great Paul Hornung said in a radio interview that his alma mater, Notre Dame, needs to lower its academic standards to "get the black athlete."

Where is this "black athlete" with the low academic standards? Who is she or he? And how did Hornung find out about this person if Notre Dame is still oblivious?

It is racist to stereotype a whole class of people in the way Hornung did, though maybe he doesn't know any better. I guess he will learn soon.

But what are universities for, anyway? If they are for team sports, why not just dispense with all the fusty academia and make all college campuses into big training camps for football, basketball and ice hockey? We can still have the alumni come and picnic at the games, and we can still have media coverage for the institutions. Plus, we'd save a lot of money and get rid of the evil lefty-liberal professors at the same time.

Maybe this will happen in time for my next snake's eye review of news.