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St. Petersburg Pier Design: Lens or IUD? January 30, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Humor, Personal anecdotes, Popular Culture, Random Observations.
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One of the icons of St. Petersburg, Florida is our Pier, a huge inverted pyramid at the end of a long approach. There are a few shops out there, most of which are more trouble to reach than they’re worth. There are two or three casual eateries, too, one of which may be a bar.

What I love about the Pier is that it’s home to St. Pete’s branch of the Columbia Restaurant — fantastic food since 1903, and a wonderful view, a small sliver of which you see here. Eating at the St. Pete Columbia is like dining on the deck of an ocean liner, but comfortably protected from the ocean breeze. There are always gulls, terns, and other seabirds perched a few feet from your table on a ledge that runs the length of the building about 18 inches from the ceiling; my husband and I always see pelicans, and frequently we see dolphins. The Columbia is our special-occasion restaurant.

So when the city leaders of St. Petersburg began grumbling that the Pier is antiquated and expensive to maintain, some of the pilings on the approach are crumbling, yadda yadda, I could accept it. They formed a special panel and sought new designs. The three “finalist” designs were the Eye (shaped like a cream-filled donut, “the Eye” looks both like a flying saucer AND like the logo of a famous Tampa sex club); the Wave (my favorite, it looks like Skateboard Heaven); and the Lens.

A five-member jury voted, and the Lens won unanimously. The Wave came in second, and the Eye a distant third. The jury chose the Lens in part because, unlike the other two designs, it focuses not on shopping or eating, but on St. Pete’s strengths as a city. “For me,” said one of the judges, “the Lens really invites everybody to the waterfront. It is an opportunity for people to experience some of what people used to experience, the water, the view, the fishing, the pelicans, not just a shopping and dining experience. There’s also an opportunity to address the boating issue,” she said.

During the review process, the only “view” that was published of any of the three designs was from ground level. It wasn’t until the selection process ended and the Lens was chosen as the new design of the Pier that the Tampa Bay Times ran an image of the Lens visualized from helicopter height.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope it’s just me — but to ME, the “Lens” looks like an IUD!

is the new design a Lens or an IUD?


Romney and Gingrich Campaign Posters January 27, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Politics.

A day or two ago, I had a lot of fun putting together this “campaign poster” for Newt Gingrich, the poster boy for sociopathic pussy-hounds, who was convicted of more than 84 crimes, resigned in disgrace, and is baaaaaaaaaaack:

In this morning’s Tampa Bay Times, one of my favorite pundits, Dan Ruth, pointed out that Mitt Romney looks exactly like Peter Boyle’s Monster in Young Frankenstein. (Ruth also commented, “What irks me is that these pols think we’re all a bunch of gullible half-wits.”) Which led me to have some fun making this “campaign poster” for Mitt Romney, the poster boy for Pottersville:

. . . If you think of a better caption, please leave it in the comments section. It will be easy to generate the same poster with a new “campaign slogan.”

Newt Gingrich IS Harcourt Fenton Mudd! January 23, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Politics.
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I had a revelation a few days ago: Newt Gingrich is the “reality” version of Harcourt Fenton Mudd.

Fat, mustachioed, grandiose Harry Mudd was one of Captain Kirk’s most popular adver­saries on the original Star Trek. A notorious con artist, Harry abandoned his wife, Stella, and roamed the galaxy smuggling, trans­porting stolen goods, passing counterfeit money, selling stolen patents, stealing small spacecraft, and similar adventures in grifting and chicanery. The first time he encountered the Enterprise, Mudd was engaged in procuring (“wives” for space miners), dealing in an outlawed substance, and fraud. Throughout his life, Mudd preferred the company of beautiful young women (or beautiful young fembots) over marital fidelity.

Ah, but what does a fat, grandiose Roman Catholic convert who has spoken often and piously on the sanctimony of heterosexual marriage have to do with a notorious criminal? Consider these facts:

  • In 1960, at age 16, Newt began a secret affair with Jackie Battley, his high school geometry teacher, who was 7 to 9 years older than himself. He married her on June 19, 1962, days after his graduation and two days after Newt’s 19th birthday. Newt’s parents boycotted the wedding, allegedly because of the age difference. Newt’s adoptive father, Bob Gingrich, said, “[Jackie] certainly seemed to love [Newt]. But I don’t think he was capable at the time of loving anybody more than he loved himself.” Two daughters quickly followed, Kathy, born in 1963, and Jackie, born in 1966.
  • In 1974, Newt ran for Congress and lost by 2,770 votes. In 1976, after voters had a chance to get to know him better, Newt ran again and lost by 5,100 votes. (Don’t blame Newt for these losses, though; blame Richard Nixon.)
  • In 1976, when Newt was 33, neighbor L.H. “Kip” Carter, who was Gingrich’s campaign treasurer in 1974 and 1976, reported:

    “We had been out working a football game — I think it was the Bowdoin game — and we would split up. It was a Friday night. I had Newt’s daughters, Jackie Sue and Kathy, with me. We were all supposed to meet back at this professor’s house. It was a milk-and-cookies kind of shakedown thing, buck up the troops. I was cutting across the yard to go up the driveway. There was a car there. As I got to the car, I saw Newt in the passenger seat and one of the guys’ wives with her head in his lap going up and down. Newt kind of turned and gave me his little-boy smile. Fortunately, Jackie Sue and Kathy were” 10 and 13 years old, respectively.

  • In 1977, Newt engaged in an extramarital affair with Anne Manning, a married supporter of his failed 1976 campaign. Manning later told reporters that Newt insisted their affair be limited to blow jobs (only on himself, one presumes) so that Newt could claim he wasn’t sleeping with her.
  • In 1978, during Newt’s first successful campaign, Jackie was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus and underwent two surgeries. She was 42 to 44 years old at the time; Newt was 35. The cancer was to recur in 1980.
  • In 1980, Newt, 37, met Marianne Ginther, 28, and shortly thereafter left Jackie and proposed marriage to Marianne, who knew he was still married to Jackie. During the 1980s, when Newt began claiming that his first marriage had long been troubled, Jackie said, “He can say that we had been talking about [a divorce] for 10 years, but the truth is that it came as a complete surprise.” Jackie continued,

    “[Newt] walked out in the spring of 1980 and I returned to Georgia. By September, I went into the hospital for my third surgery. The two girls [then ages 17 and 14] came to see me, and said Daddy is downstairs and could he come up? When he got there, he wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce while I was [still in a hospital bed] recovering from the surgery . . . To say I gave up a lot for the marriage is the understatement of the year.”

    Jackie’s account has been confirmed by both Kip Carter and by Lee Howell, Newt’s press secretary in 1974 and 1976. According to Kip Carter, Gingrich said of Battley: “She’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the President. And besides, she has cancer.” The final fact of this tawdry little anecdote is that to compel Jackie to agree to the divorce, Newt withheld child support for his teenaged daughters.

  • Newt and Jackie were divorced in February 1981. Newt married his mistress Marianne in August 1981.
  • In 1983, around the time Newt turned 40, Congressman Gingrich made speeches in response to the affairs of other Congressional members lamenting the moral decline of leadership in America and claiming that the country cannot remain free without moral leaders. He has repeated this theme innumerable times over the decades.
  • In May 1988, Newt accepted $105,000 from Republican supporters to promote his book, Window of Opportunity, circumventing both campaign-finance laws and House ethics rules. At the same time, he accused House speaker Jim Wright of much the same offense.

    “It was the nakedness of his attack on Speaker Jim Wright of Texas that shocked traditionalists of both parties. Working the press relentlessly all over the country, Gingrich began calling Wright the ‘least ethical Speaker of the 20th century’ [ed. note: HA!] and leaking vague but ominous charges: Was [Wright] involved in the teenage-page scandal? Did [Wright] scam a pension out of the Air Force Reserve? Did he lobby a foreign president on behalf of a Texas oil family? Eventually a few stories got printed and Gingrich passed them out, sparking more stories. A couple of senior Republicans looked into [Newt’s] evidence and told him he didn’t have anything, others looked a second time and told him the same. But Gingrich would not relent.” — John H. Richardson

    Newt finally got Wright on failing to report the income of a vanity book, around $60,000, and Wright resigned.

  • It was later proven that in the late 1980s, Newt engaged in check-kiting on 22 distinct occasions.
  • In 1994, when Newt was 51, he began a clan­des­tine extra­mari­tal affair with a Congressional page, Callista Bisek, 23 years his junior and the same age as Newt’s younger daughter, Jackie. That was the same year that Rupert Murdoch offered Newt a $4.5 million advance on a book deal. According to the New York Times, “On Dec. 30, under pressure from Democrats who called the deal inappropriate and Republicans who said it would tarnish his tenure as the new Speaker, Mr. Gingrich announced that he would not accept the $4.5 million advance and would take royalties from sales instead.” I have been unable to track down how well Newt’s book actually did, but I’ll bet it was no $4.5 million, even in grosses for its eventual publisher.
  • In 1995, Newt began his term as Speaker of the House by shutting down the government’s highly regarded, independent Office of Technology Assessment. The same tasks once conducted by impartial scientists are still today being conducted by lobbyists and axe-grinders.
  • In 1995 and 1996, Newt shut down the federal government, ostensibly because Clinton objected to Republicans’ provisions for eviscerating Medicare, education, the environment, and public health in the 1996 federal budget. In fact, according to CNN U.S. News (Nov. 16, 1995 report), the shutdown occurred because Newt didn’t think he had been assigned a nice enough seat on Air Force One going to Yitzak Rabin’s funeral. White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta called the Gingrich comment “bizarre.” (120K AIFF sound or 120K WAV sound) (The 1996 budget also demanded that the federal government achieve a balanced budget by 2003. In the final irony, Clinton achieved both a balanced budget and a surplus by 2000. Both were quickly destroyed by Republican George W. Bush.)
  • Between 1994 and 1998, 84 ethics charges were filed against Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, including money laundering, misuse of charitable donations, check kiting, repeatedly violating federal tax law, repeatedly lying to the House Ethics Committee, submitting “inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable” testimony, and making “an effort to have the material appear to be nonpartisan on its face, yet serve as a partisan, political message for the purpose of building the Republican party.” Seven years after he had destroyed Jim Wright for a far lesser offense, Congress, voting 395-28, punished Gingrich with the highest fine ever imposed on a Speaker of the House, $300,000. Close to broke, Gingrich borrowed the money from Bob Dole.
  • In 1999, Marianne was diagnosed with multiple schlerosis. A month or two later, Newt filed for divorce. “During the court proceedings, Congressman Gingrich refused to participate in the discovery process so that he would not have to disclose any funds that he spent on his mistresses.” During the divorce proceedings, Callista’s role became known. Newt told the court that he and Marianne had an agreement that she would ignore his affairs. Marianne denied this vehemently, but at that time, in 1999, told the court that Newt had asked her for an open marriage, and she had refused. The divorce was eventually settled, and a few weeks later, in August 2000, Newt married the woman who had been his mistress for the previous six years.
  • On January 18, 2012, Gingrich offered Sarah Palin a “major role” in the putative 2013 Gingrich administration — an indisputable violation of 18 U.S.C. §599. The penalty is a fine and two years in prison.

Despite Republican claims to the contrary, Marianne Gingrich feels no bitterness toward her ex-husband. I found some wise assessments in various places:

Newt grew up poor, always wanted to be some­body, make a difference, prove himself. That was his vulnerability, do you understand? Being treated important. Which means he was gonna associate with people who would stroke him, and were important themselves. And in that vulnerability, once you go down that path and it goes unchecked, you add to it. Like, ‘Oh, I’m drinking, who cares?’ Then I start being a little whore, ’cause that comes with drinking.

He was impressed easily by position, status, money. He grew up poor and always wanted to be somebody, to make a difference, to prove himself. He has to be historic to justify his life. . . .

Oh, yes, Gingrich is indeed Harry Mudd! Let’s recap:

Harry Mudd

Newt Gingrich

fat, grandiose, dishonest fat, grandiose, dishonest
philanderer serial adulterer
crimes include smuggling, passing counterfeit money, grand theft, fraud crimes include check-kiting, money-laundering, fraud, repeatedly violating federal tax law, lying to Congress, and partisan propaganda
charming vindictive

Early in his campaign for the 2012 GOP nomination, Newt excused his many crimes with this remarkable claim:

“There’s no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”

“Patriotism made me do it! It’s not my fault, it’s America’s fault!” I would suggest that Newt’s true passion is not for the United States of America, but rather for Newton Leroy Gingrich. If Gingrich succeeds in attaining the 2012 GOP nomination, I look forward to this slogan: “Gingrich: Restore Dishonor to the White House.”

“She’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the President. And besides, she has cancer.”


Wikipedia biography of Newt Gingrich

8/10/10 Esquire, “Newt Gingrich: The Indispensable Republican”

Jackie Battley and Newt Gingrich Marriage Profile. Their story is recounted in the PBS documentary “The Long March of Newt Gingrich.”

Speaker’s Aides Say Gingrich Met Murdoch Before Book Deal

Newt Gingrich Promises Palin a Presidential Appointment and Commits a Felony

Gingrich comment on shutdown labeled ‘bizarre’ by White House

Newt Gingrich’s Marital Affairs

Our Ultra-Rude Awakening January 14, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Humor, Personal anecdotes, Random Observations.
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It wasn’t my fault. Well, yes, it was, but it wasn’t solely my fault. My husband lives here too.

It all began a few years after we moved to Florida, when a routine inspection of our heat pump revealed that it was so encrusted with mold you could barely see that the photo was supposed to have been of metal. There had been a good reason why Jerry spent so much time sneezing.

So we replaced the heat pump. For some reason, our then-air conditioning company (who later turned out to have been a bunch of incompetent crooks) replaced the heat pump with an air conditioner. This was around 2003 or so, while my mother lay dying slowly in Maryland (she finally died in 2007), and I don’t remember why Jerry and I let this happen. The probable answer is “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” To be fair, our electricity bills have been lower for about three-fourths of each year.

But then, a few years later, came the Deep Freeze of January and February 2010. In the Tampa Bay area, the average daily high for that period ranges between 70° and 75°F, and the average daily low is 55°. During the Deep Freeze, our average daily high was 55°. And even with the thermostat set at 64° for day, 60° for night, our electric bill was about twice our historical average for winter. Much the same thing happened in January 2011, but not for as long a stretch.

We bought space heaters. They work well in our oddly designed house, which was built in 1920 and rehabbed around 1998. By “oddly designed,” I mean that we have all sorts of unexpected corners and crannies; my theory is that whoever designed the house was an amateur, not an architect. We also have WAY too few electric outlets, and the ones we have are often inconveniently placed. The best location for our bedroom space heater required an extension cord.

Here’s where I confess that what happened Wednesday morning was primarily my fault: I think most safety instructions are ridiculous, and seldom read them. “Do not use your hair dryer while taking a bath or shower.” And — I swear I’m not making this one up — “Unplug your clock-radio when not in use.” I bought a new space heater for our bedroom on Tuesday, and the first time I looked at the safety instructions was Wednesday afternoon, when I read “Do not use an extension cord.”

I then checked the instructions for all our other space heaters. All of them said, “Do not use an extension cord,” although one set of instructions reluctantly allowed that a heavy-duty extension cord, rated for at least 1500 watts, would be acceptable in cases of extreme necessity. Mind you, the space heaters in our bedroom and upstairs bathroom had been on extension cords for two years, with no signs of trouble.

Using the extension cords was not solely my fault. Jerry lives here too. Jerry is far more prudent than I am. Jerry unplugs clock-radios when not in use.

The new space heater works well. It’s a Patton, 1500 watts. Have you guessed what happened? Around 5 a.m. on Wednesday, I woke to the sound of loud poppings and giant, terrifying sparks flying around the room. The first thought in my sleep-fogged brain was “Fire!” I began shrieking as I accomplished a beautiful lying-down high jump, ending up on my feet. I started to race for the bathroom, with my sleep-addled mind thinking, “Electric fire, don’t get water, get the baking soda, get the baking soda.”

Luckily, Jerry, awakened by my shrieks, had more presence of mind. He leaped for the wall outlet, and had the space heater unplugged so fast that in the end, there was no damage to anything at all. Except the extension cord, which had melted.

Now I need to tell you that Jerry has not one but two leaky heart valves. He had open-heart surgery in 2003, and was hospitalized for the same problem in 2007. General anesthesia shuts down Jerry’s bladder. As part of the aftermath of his 2007 adventure, he spent seven weeks of nonstop misery on a Foley catheter. There’s an excellent chance that if he were ever “put under” again, he’d have to spend the rest of his life peeing through a catheter. This is unacceptable. Jerry refuses to be anesthetized ever again, and I don’t blame him.

So, after dealing with the melted extension cord, Jerry took his heart meds, and the two of us returned to bed and huddled together, twitching a little, until it was time to get up. I am amazed at how few lullabies I know. I must have sung “Soft Kitty” about a hundred times (thank you, Chuck Lorre!), plus the Dixie Chicks’ “Lullaby” (except I really only know the refrain), and Paul Simon’s “St. Judy’s Comet” (which is really too fancy for a 5:30 a.m. lullaby). I tried to sing Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” but while it’s got the right tempo, I quickly ended up in tears and had to return to “Soft Kitty.”

Whenever Jerry gets depressed about the state of his health and his probably short life expectancy, he starts in with his “I’m so useless” refrain. He did it on Thursday, the day after our little dawn adventure: oh, I’m so useless, I can’t lift the vacuum cleaner, I can’t do this, I can’t do that, you should just kill me in, yadda yadda. We’ve been married since 1989.

After about the second or third “I’m so useless,” I finally had enough. “What are you talking about?” I demanded. “It was just yesterday that you saved my life. You saved your life. You saved the lives of all our cats. You saved us all.”

There was a long pause. And then, with just the hint of sly humor, Jerry said, “Well, yes. But that was yesterday.”

Community, Comity, and Conservative Propaganda January 9, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Politics, Popular Culture, Tea Party, Television.
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A Facebook friend of mine complained yesterday that America has become a culture of takers, with no or little sense of community or comity. (“Comity” is a friendly social atmosphere in a loose, widespread community based on common social institutions, like houses of worship and schools.) He blamed the poisonous hyperpartisanship that the Republicans have introduced and cultivated, transforming politics from a game of negotiation into nuclear warfare.

My friend is correct, of course. As the author of Bowling Alone points out, social organizations like bowling leagues, service clubs, PTAs, garden clubs, and religious bodies are all shrinking dramatically. Since 9/11, attendance at my resolutely apolitical downtown mainline church has dropped by almost two-thirds (!), and other houses of worship also report drops.

More and more, we live like strangers who aren’t planning to stay, not bothering to get to know our neighbors, not bothering to join local organizations, to vote (“why bother, they’re all crooks anyway”), to get involved with the arts, events, and celebrations of local community life. (I pick up cigarette butts from the street and the sidewalk and throw them away, and my neighbors pity the loony crank. Why bother, when there’ll be ten more tomorrow.) We shop in huge box stores that are identical to huge box stores on the other side of the country, and we never bother getting to know the sales clerks or the other shoppers. We eat in chain restaurants that are similarly interchangeable. We spend our time watching TV and surfing the Net, replacing the neighborhood hangout “where everyone knows your name” with Cheers, replacing the corner store where everyone knows you hate colas with a soulless minimart identical to all minimarts where you’re lucky if the clerk even notices your existence.

There are several factors that have led to this breakdown, not just the 35-year GOP campaign to transfer all assets of the United States into the hands of the oliGOParchy (which currently controls roughly 90 percent (!) of the nation’s assets, ladies and gentlemen, while claiming that pointing out the undeniable fact that 52 percent of Americans live in poverty (!) is “class warfare”):

  • Advances in technology have made living alone much easier. In 1930, only 2 percent of Americans lived alone; in 2000, that had become 10 percent. A large proportion of theses “solos” consists of elderly people, mostly women, who in earlier generations would have moved in with their offspring. Those commercials that advertise services that singles can subscribe to so “you’re never alone” whitewash a lot of loneliness.
  • Modern technology encourages isolation in many other ways:
    • Air conditioning. Time was when people sat on their front porches in the cool cool cool of the evening, gossiping about their neighbors with other neighbors strolling by. If a couple had a fight, every child in the neighborhood heard it. People made excuses to go to the park, to walk by the lake, to stroll down to the neighborhood eatery and have “an ice,” and in all of these places they socialized daily with others in their community.
    • Refrigerators. Before refrigerators, if you wanted unspoiled food, you had to shop every day. You saw the same grocers and butchers every day, and you saw the same fellow customers. You could tell them about Pat’s measles and Gran’s complaints, and they could tell you about the kid who got run over two streets away, we really need to get the city to put a stop sign at that intersection. Today what do we have? The Real Housewives of Deplorable Overconsumption.
    • Television/the Internet.Time was when people participated in or sat in the audience of school plays, church pageants, little theater, bandstand concerts, summer stock. Today we prefer slick, mass-produced entertainment that costs millions to produce — millions recouped by advertising that encourages over­con­sump­tion, unethical behavior, and self-delusion. Or we sit alone in front of our computers, “chatting” with “friends” halfway across the world whom we’ve never met in The Real World and who certainly won’t come to our house and comfort our sobbing when the one we love most in all the world dumps us and runs off with that bleeping sex addict. In researching this section, I ran across an unintentionally hilarious study conducted by the Center on Media and Child Health. Here’s an amazing scientific discovery: the more time you spend watching television, the less time you spend having fun doing stuff with your friends!
    • Working at Home. Advances in technology have made working at home more feasible than ever. Around 28 million Americans work at home. This provides obvious freedoms, such as flexibility and independence; but it also means the worker loses out on social interactions and colleague networks. It’s much harder to make dozens of “business friendships” with nothing but your computer, your phone, and maybe Skype.
    • The Automobile.Cars give us freedom, true. But this freedom comes with a price.
      • Moving Away. We change jobs every few years, refusing the kind of roots that Dagwood has developed with Mr. Dithers. And we move, an average of every five years. Why put down roots when you’re just going to move again? And why go to all the trouble of making a casserole to welcome that new family across the street when they’re just going to move away in a year or two, and you’ll never see them again?
      • The Suburbs are the blessing and curse of the automobile. Most houses in the suburbs are set well back from the street, with no sidewalks or porches. The homeowner goes to the garage, gets into the car, opens the garage door, and drives away; that way they don’t have to talk to their neighbors. Perish forbid. Moreover, since birds of a feather yadda yadda, most suburbs tend to be homogenous clusters: whites live primarily with whites, religion A lives primarily with religion A (never call them ghettoes), rich people live in gated communities, poor people live in the scary part of town. Both law and custom discourage places where people can get together to meet and get to know each other, like bars, cafés, libraries, and coffee shops. Both social isolation and suburban homogeneity work to make people less empathetic, as an excellent article in AlterNet pointed out in September 2011. I recommend “What Awful Reality TV and Suburban Living Have to Do With the Tea Party.”
  • Isolation Within Families. Many spouses are too busy or self-absorbed to pay attention to their families; mothers who work outside the home in particular tend to be dramatically overworked and overstressed. On average, modern parents tend to spend 22 fewer hours a week with their children than parents did just 50 years ago. Children tend to divide their time between highly structured group activities in supervised child-centered environments, like Little League, and spending an average of six hours a day watching TV, surfing the Net, playing video games, or reading, alone. And we don’t need to begin with divorce. . . . Even architecture encourages isolation with families. The gigantic houses that people were encouraged to overspend on before the crash lead individual family members to stake out their own spaces, rather than sharing. (“Don’t go into Daddy’s man-cave,” “This is MY room, keep out!”) Privacy fences make these big houses feel like fortresses, and swimming pools, barbecues, jungle gyms, and trampolines make it unnecessary for these families to ever leave home.

The loss of comity that my Facebook friend talked about is particularly troubling. Sociologists see it as the result of our increasing social isolation. There’s no need to feel empathy for the suffering you see on your TV screen because you don’t see it in your immediate vicinity, so that makes it fiction, entertainment. The director will yell “Cut!” and those flood victims will go back to their trailers for the makeup artists and costumers to get them ready for their next scene.

People are less and less civil to each other. (About two months ago, a telemarketer called me, and when I later reminded her that I had not initiated the contact, she hung up on me!) People are way, way less empathetic. Disaster victims, the desperately poor, the elderly, the long-term sick, the disabled are all “moochers” and “leeches” who should either work hard and provide their own assistance or die. We must dismantle the welfare state. We must return to the Gilded Age of the 1890s, when robber barons ruled with almost the greed and arrogance of Donald Trump. We must hand over wealth and power to the 1 percent, because social conscience is “socialism,” caring about justice is “class warfare,” and a man who “earned” $250 million by buying troubled companies, firing half or all the staff, sucking the companies empty, and tossing the husks away is the very man we need to rescue the nation from Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment insurance, and worst of all, the dreaded “Obamneycare.”

Because, remember: Life begins at incorporation.

Worst of all, we allow and even encourage people to segregate themselves into communities that live inside bubbles. The most famous of these bubbles has been created by years of propaganda from Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and similar right-wing “think” tanks, hate radio, and astroturf organizations like the Tea Puppets, who obediently chant the Party Line of the oliGOParchy and can be relied on to vote against their own best interests every time.

You can see our loss of comity in some of the audience reactions to that hilarious new reality show, “The Real Candidates of Despicable Lies & Smears.” Gov. Perry is responsible for several hundred deaths, some of them innocent men? YAY! Should the life of an indigent 30-year-old be saved? BOO! Should you be barred from serving your country, or God, because of whom you love? No, you should be shot at sunrise! Yay for torture! Yay for the rapacity of the 1%! I’d be willing to bet that a lot of those who actually believe Faux News is “fair and balanced” are home-schooled, further eliminating any knowledge of what community even IS.

It’s early 2012, and the Citizens United tsunami of conservative lies and smears began about three months ago. My husband and I gave up on the evening news about a month ago; we’ll start watching again in mid-November. Others have guessed that this year is going to be so vicious, it will make 2010 look like a love-in. In a way, I sort of hope so. It’s going to take a national atrocity to get that atrocious ruling overturned by an act of Congress, and the 2012 campaign season is shaping up to be just that.

Actually, I hope I’m wrong. Humans are naturally gregarious. Kids are using the new technology to connect with each other in ways I never dreamed of. The January 8 issue of the Tampa Bay Times had a heartwarming story about a young woman who was robbed of husband, possessions, and Christmas. She posted about it on Facebook, and “hundreds” of her old school friends — friends she had made in The Real World — sent an outpouring of gifts and money so generous the woman had plenty to pass on to others in need.

I believe humans need a feeling of community to be truly happy. Studies have shown that religious people are happier and healthier, tend to be more successful, and are demonstrably more active in their local civic life. Obviously these benefits can be attributed to the attention they pay to their spiritual lives, but what if they also accrue to membership in a faith community? When my father died, I phoned the priest of a church I had joined a month earlier at 8 a.m. and wailed “My daddy is dead!” She came right over to comfort me and my father’s sister, and she was wonderful. Who is an atheist going to phone at 8 a.m.? Richard Dawkins? Who is going to bring you chili when you’re stressed to the breaking point over your mother’s slow dying?

I think the Occupy movement might be an ideal vehicle for the creation of secular communities. Nonviolence and consensus are excellent axioms to coalesce around. But I also think we need a whole new paradigm, one that doesn’t accept conservative premises as a given. Maybe tax gifts to the wealthy are not the be-all and end-all of politics. Maybe socialist democracies like Sweden have happier, healthier, better-educated citizenries because they don’t label democracy “socialism” and kleptocracy “democracy.” One of the worst crimes the GOP has committed in recent years was the libeling, vilification, and hounding out of existence of ACORN. ACORN was innocent of all the crimes the GOP fantasized, did good work, and was killed out of sheer Republican hatred of Obama.

Maybe Democrats’ 2012 slogan should be, “Tax cuts never built a bridge, rescued a flood victim, or saved a nation.”

Republican “Ineptocracy” November 11, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in National Debt, Politics, Taxes, Tea Party.

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail in which he quoted his acquaintance “Joey.” It looks almost like free verse, doesn’t it?:

Joey sends this definition:

“Ineptocracy” — The system of government where:

The least capable to lead are elected by
the least capable of producing,

and where the members of society
least likely to sustain themselves or succeed

are rewarded
with goods and services

paid for by the confiscated wealth of
a diminishing number of producers.

Dear Joey:

I realize that you have been duped by the Republican Party into believing that ignorance is as worthy as knowledge; that unprovable hypothesis is as worthy as mountain-of-fact-confirmed theory; and that mulish adherence to failed ideology is “faithfulness.” I realize also that you have probably also been duped into believing that morality is impossible without religion and that religion is impossible without believing that theology from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages is as literally factual as the most recent Encyclopedia Britannica. You may even believe that women have no right to control their own bodies if their medical decisions might conflict with your religion’s 19th-century misconceptions.

The sets “least capable to lead,” “least capable of producing,” and “least likely to sustain themselves or succeed” are identical. The members of all three sets consist of:

  • newborn babies;
  • people in comas;
  • people on life support in Intensive Care;
  • those born with no or damaged frontal lobes;
  • those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease;
  • those with IQs below 60; and
  • Fox News True Believers.

(Those last two groups have a significant overlap, if the Fox on-air personalities are any evidence.) I would add quadriplegics and those with advanced degenerative diseases, like Lou Gehrig’s disease, but Stephen Hawking is living proof that success IS possible for some of the members of society who are least likely to sustain themselves without being “rewarded” with help.

Joey, your use of “rewarded” and “confiscated” and your scorn for those “least capable” are profoundly immoral for those who delude themselves that they are Christians. You sound like someone who has made a religion out of the literary and political fictions of Ayn Rand, whose atheism substituted the worship of individual wealth for the idea that one cannot buy the love of God. I would suggest that if you consider yourself to be a Christian, you follow the example of Zacchaeus and of Jesus: First, if you have committed any sort of crime, you repay everyone you have injured fourfold (Luke 19:8). Second, sell all your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22). Not 39.6 percent. Not 28 percent. Not 20 percent. Not 9-9-nein percent. Jesus said, “Sell EVERYTHING you own and give the money to those poorer than you.”

You would surely consider a top marginal tax rate of 91 percent confiscatory, Joey. And yet between the 1950s and 1982, that WAS the top rate. The economy boomed, and the wealthy remained wealthy. Then along came “conservatives.” A genuine conservative wants to keep what works, Joey, and fix what doesn’t work. The radical oligarchs who have taken over the Republican Party want to dismantle what works if the wealth can be diverted into the coffers of the GOPlutocracy instead. They’re about as “conservative” as Che Guevara, but with MUCH more selfish motives.

Reagan and the two Bushes added 85 percent of today’s national debt, Joey. This is a FACT. (Here’s proof.) The three “conservative” presidents dismantled decades of regulations protecting Americans from the crimes of businesses and corporations. The three “conservative” presidents started wars and, in Dubya’s case, put two wars and trillions in overspending on the nation’s credit card and left people like YOU to blame Obama for Dubya’s crimes. Today Americans pay the lowest taxes since the modern age began, and people like you are duped by the GOPlutocracy into shrieking about “confiscated wealth.”

(One of the funniest things I’ve heard recently was Bill O’Reilly telling his faithful that President Obama was “very likely” to raise Billo’s tax rate to 50 percent, in which case he, Billo, would be so disheartened he would just quit “pro­ducing” whatever it is he “produces” to justify his membership in the top 1 percent. As if even the attempt to wrest fairness from the GOPlutocracy would face zero opposition from any Republican! Democrats can’t even get Republicans to agree that 9/11 first responders and U.S. war heroes deserve to be treated fairly!)

Thirty years ago, the GOPlutocracy owned or controlled 21 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today the GOPlutocracy owns or controls well over 80 percent of the nation’s wealth. Joey, you are shrieking about the “confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers” when in the real world of FACT, your “confiscated” means “multiplied by FOUR.” You SHOULD be shrieking about the diminishing wealth of yourself, your family, your friends, and everyone you know, confiscated by Bonzo, Poppy, Newt, and Dubya and given to their “have-more” friends.

Do you want to know about the success of worshiping “producers” as if wealth were indistinguishable from merit? Look at Europe. The more closely a nation adheres to the Republican philosophy of “wealth for us, fiscal austerity for you lower classes,” the worse off its economy is. High interest rates, tax shifts from rich to poor, slashed services, vanished social safety nets, and similar conservative prescriptions have all increased both national debts and national suffering in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, England, etc. On the other end of the pole, ultra-liberal nations like Sweden, with strong social safety nets that include universal health care, are doing JUST FINE.

Pray that your moral philosophy never becomes law in the United States of America, Joey. Otherwise, you may discover that your hurricane, your earthquake, your major flood, your drought, your massive oil spill, your dust bowl, your home invasion, your tainted meat, your pothole-broken axle, your need for an army, a navy, a coast guard, a police force, firefighters, teachers, librarians, court clerk, inspectors, highways, street lights, trash pickup — well, sorry, you are now among the “least capable,” and “the producers” refuse to have the wealth they took from you “confiscated” to “reward” you. You are NOT a victim of an act of God or of human crime; you’re a moocher, a parasite on “the producers.”

Just what have “the producers” produced since 1981, except for rampant inequality resulting from a massive transfer of wealth upward; a debased polity poisoned by hatred, lies, and smears; soaring corporate crime rates; and a semi-permanent depression caused by $12.8 TRILLION in debt (out of $15T total) amassed by REPUBLICAN “producers”?

Do you feel better off now than you were in 1981, Joey, or even in 2000? WHY????? And why do you delude yourself that if we stop “confiscating” the “earnings” of the “producers,” things will be totally different THIS TIME?

What Did God NOT Want Adam and Eve to Know? October 29, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Religion & Theology.
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At a new (or newish) web site called Quora, someone asked, “What precisely was the knowledge that God didn’t want Adam & Eve to have? It must have been very threatening to God, considering his reaction,” and, flatteringly, asked me to answer it. My answer at Quora, which is mostly similar to what you’ll read below, can be found here.

Myths fall into broad categories, one of which is called etiological: how things came to be the way they are. Where did those vaguely anthropomorphic salt formations in the desert come from, for example — why, it MUST be Lot’s wife and her friends.

The Bible’s second creation myth answers such questions as, why are women the only females who suffer labor pains? (Gen. 3:16) Why are human men practically the only males who DON’T have bones in their penises? (Gen. 2:21) Why do most men consider their gender superior? Why should children and innocents obey authority even when they don’t understand WHY? Why does adulthood require the end of the innocence that we find so charming in four-year-olds? Why do human beings have moral autonomy, when clearly most of us are so bad at it? Why do I so often feel alienated, alone, ashamed?

Remember, myths are NOT fiction. They are complex, originally sacred stories that present sophisticated theology in a form that even children, fools, ignoramuses, and fundamentalists can understand. The sacred (to Republicans) story that culminates with “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” is similar myth-making, combined with a healthy dose of hagiography.

Notice that the first few chapters of Genesis portray the theory of Bronze Age nomads about how sin, evil, and death came into the world, in ever-cascading ripples, from simple disobedience through more serious crimes and general “wickedness,” until God finally decides to just wipe out all life on Earth and start over.

Notice also that our Bronze Age ancestors may not have known as many “science facts” about the world as we do (I miss Mystery Science Theater 3000!), but they were just as smart as we are, or 99.9999% as smart. They may not have had a legal system that had evolved to include the term “attractive nuisance,” but they knew perfectly well what an attractive nuisance is: property that is inherently dangerous but enticing to children, like a backyard swimming pool. There was no law that required God to plant the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden; and even if some super-God HAD required God to plant the TKGE, there was no law saying that God couldn’t fence it off, literally or metaphorically — for example, by making it ugly, stinky, poisonous-looking. There was only one reason for God to make the TKGE beautiful, nourishing, and desirable for the wisdom and godlike-ness it would impart: God wanted the woman and the man to disobey.

There is an old folk story about a single mother who had to go out to work and leave her children with no babysitter. She worried: what if they ran with scissors, accepted candy from strangers, played with fire? So she told her children that they could do whatever they wanted, but under no circumstances were they to drag the heavy ladder into the house, break into the top shelf of the locked cupboard, and stuff the beans they would find there up their noses. You can guess what happened: she came home to a house full of crying children with beans up their noses — not one of whom had played in traffic or killed his sister. Don’t you think that Genesis 2:17, the literal Hebrew for which is “in the day that you shall eat of [the fruit of the TKGE], dying you shall die,” is a lot like “do NOT put beans up your noses, or I’ll kill you”?

Another detail about Genesis 2:17: At this point in our story, there was no death. So “dying you shall die” was, to the first human being, ha’adam, like saying “blorping you shall blorp” or “gazordnik you shall gazord.” Gibberish, meaningless. You can practically hear the first human think, “I’ll wazinklewitz, hunh? Ooooh, scary . . . NOT!”

I have written before about the scholarly theory that the second creation myth is a “takeover” of a much older myth in which the Great Goddess, whose symbols were trees and serpents, blessed humanity with moral awareness. Paraphrasing (very, VERY loosely!) one of the poems the first known poet, Enheduanna, wrote to the Sumerian goddess Inanna: “Women, I give you the gift of desire. You will be desired by your lover and you will desire him in return” — very unusual in the animal world. “You shall be life-givers, and your creation shall be great, your bearing of children hard work, for new life is a well-won achievement. Men, I charge the Earth to provide for you; but your making of bread will be hard work, the food that you eat a well-won achievement.” If this theory has merit, that makes the point of the myth that people value their treasures according to how hard they had to work to attain them. I find it plausible that $100 means a lot more to a welfare mother than it does to Paris Hilton, and that war hero Sgt. Shamar Thomas values his freedom more than does Rush Limbaugh, who never served his country for even one day in his life.

If you’ve studied ethics, you know that a moral problem arises only when there is a conflict between what we ought to do and what we want to do. The Bronze Age nomads who told the second creation myth around their campfires for hundreds or thousands of years before it was written down (around 950 BCE) appear to have felt that the most fundamental ethical dilemma comes between obeying God unquestioningly and deciding, on the basis of way too few facts, that one is smarter than God is.

So the answer to your question is, there is NO knowledge that God doesn’t want humanity to have, or God would not have put the TKGE in the Garden in the first place. God wanted humanity to eat the fruit NOT “so that he could evict them from the Garden and place the curse of original sin on humanity in perpetuity,” but so that the first woman and the first man could understand from personal experience that moral awareness is a blessing and that if a blessing is handed to you on a silver platter, it can never be your well-won achievement.

Notes on the Evolution of Religion October 13, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Religion & Theology.
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If you accept the appealing arguments advanced in books like Why God Won’t Go Away, human beings believe in God because our brains have been hard-wired that way. Mystics of virtually every belief system have recorded encounters with a divine, superhuman Entity, and it would be impossible for all of them to be crazy, deluded, hallucinating, or high.

But the existence of a spiritual dimension that occasionally intersects with “reality” has been debated for thousands of years, and is not likely ever to be settled. Today I want to talk about one corollary of this theory of the way the human brain is hard-wired: Religion.

A religion is a collection of cultural and belief systems that establishes a relationship between humanity and the divine. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions, and mythologies — oh, sorry, fundamentalists, sacred histories — that are intended to explain where everything came from or to give meaning to life. Religions often derive moral, ethical, and religious laws and a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

All religions, like all political systems and all schools of philosophy, are created by human beings to help us live in community. It can be argued that all belief systems exist to manage power relationships in competing groups of humans. Democracy, socialism, communism, or fascism? Stoicism, cynicism, hedonism, or epicureanism? Polytheism, monotheism, pantheism, panentheism, monism, agnosticism, atheism? All these systems of belief and many more have evolved, most of them over thousands of years.

It’s easy enough to compare civilizations that evolved in isolation from one another, for example, the Egyptians and the Mayans, and to infer common elements of civilization’s evolution. As a species, we were first hunter-gatherers, then hunter-collectors (a new level of discrimination and expertise). Then we invented agriculture, and control of the water supply became more important. Cities were invented, and power structures quickly evolved: who controlled the water and food became the first the wealthy and then the elite. Elites breed resentments; resentments breed wars.

Until relatively recently in human evolution religion and politics were inextricable. Kings ruled because they were gods or the offspring of gods (Cleopatra, the last “king” of Egypt, was the reincarnation of Isis); priests and prophets uttered or interpreted the words and divine will of the gods (for example, Samuel of Israel). The priest-king (e.g., the High Kings of Ireland and Rome’s emperors) might not himself be divine, but because he interceded with the gods on his people’s behalf, his power was absolute. Some rulers, like the Emperors of China, were considered chosen by Heaven, but could be temporarily deposed if natural disasters, famines, or droughts revealed Heaven’s rejection of them; the kings of Israel recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures also fell into this category. Most of today’s royalty are the remnants of the theory of “divine right”; while Queen Elizabeth might not make a big deal of this, her ancestors, such as Henry VIII and even Victoria, had not the slightest doubt.

Around 90 CE or so, the evangelist today known as Matthew created a myth — sorry, fundamentalists, sacred history — that informed early followers of the Jesus Movement that Jesus was chosen by God to be king (gold), priest (frankincense), and prophet (myrrh): a triple threat to the status quo. No wonder the status quo conspired to get rid of him!, Matthew appears to imply.

People reared in today’s world may consider it natural to ponder some feature of the world and come up with a mechanistic explanation based on what they know of science. The rainstorm came because of a low moving in from the north, for example, rather than because of the wrath of the rain-god. The volcano erupted because of rising magma, rather than to express the anger of the volcano-goddess.

Evolutionary psychology, however, suggests that we have been “designed” by natural selection to explain anything by attributing it to a humanlike supernatural agency, and this tendency still continues today. Here’s one frivolous example: In 1999, my husband and I moved into a house that was built in 1920. For the first few months we lived here, Jerry and I would occasionally hear someone walking around upstairs when we knew jolly well that no one was there. Rather than get exercised about it, we declared that we had a ghost, and named it “George.” Even today, more than 12 years later, we still hear George walking around once in a while. Is George “really” a squirrel on the roof, someone in the garage apartment next door, the house settling, our vivid imaginations? Who cares? A less frivolous example: immediately after 9/11, two conservative “Christian” leaders declared that the attack had been made because God wanted to punish non-fundamentalist Christians (“pagans”), feminists, abortionists, the ACLU, People for the American Way, and homosexuals.

When our distant ancestors first asked “Why?”, hundreds of thousands of years ago, they weren’t primarily asking about why the wind blows or why fire burns; they were asking about human behavior. Your brain’s ability to think about why things happen and to come up with theories about what might happen in the future was “designed” by natural selection to come up with explanations for why? If that scary rustling in the trees isn’t a leopard, maybe it’s a bogeygod! Many of the myths in the Hebrew Scriptures are etiological, designed to answer questions like “Why do women suffer labor pains? Why are men practically the only males that don’t have bones in their penises?” (The answers: Gen. 3:16 and 2:21, respectively.)

This primitive thinking is on full display in the Bible; over and over we read, “Israel [never ever Judea; see below] did what was evil in the sight of YHWH,” after which comes some punishment from YHWH. One of the most dramatic instances of this primitive thinking can be found in Numbers 16. The Hebrew tribes were wandering in the wilderness on their way from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land when a significant percentage of the travelers became restless with the perceived arrogance of their three leaders, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. At least 300 Hebrews called a meeting and told Moses and his siblings, “You make too much of yourselves! The whole community is holy, every one of us, and YHWH is in our midst. Why then do you set yourselves above God’s assembly?” (16:3)

Not an unreasonable complaint, you or I might think. But YHWH was enraged at the disrespect to his chosen stand-ins, and it took all of Moses’s begging to keep YHWH from destroying every Hebrew but Moses and Aaron (16:20-22). First, God sent an earthquake; the ground opened up and swallowed not only the three “wicked” ringleaders, but also their innocent wives, children, domesticated animals, and servants. “They and all that was theirs went down alive into Sheol” — the grave, a deep pit below the earth (16:30). At least 50 innocent people were killed, and very likely more.

Frightened, everyone nearest the ringleaders fled; “and fire came out from YHWH and consumed the 250 dissenters” who until moments earlier had been “respected leaders and members of the council.”

But this wasn’t enough to appease the wrath of YHWH. When the Hebrews began to murmur about the injustice of killing 300 to 500 people for the crime of dissing Moses, the still-enraged YHWH first put in a personal appearance to emphasize his displeasure (16:42), and then sent a plague that killed 14,700 innocent people.

In summary: YHWH killed a rock-bottom minimum of 15,000 innocent people because of the “wicked” “rebellion” of questioning the arrogance of leaders anointed by God. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were arrogant by divine right; if you don’t like it, prepare to die.

If the Hebrew Scriptures were literal history, as fundamentalists insist, we are left with the uncomfortable knowledge that God overreacts to humanity’s desire for justice; that God is childish, petty, arbitrary, unjust, easily enraged, and not noticeably intelligent. From the vantage point of 3,000-plus years of advancement in human knowledge, it seems far more likely to me that the earthquake and plague came first, and the unpleasant story in Numbers 16 evolved to explain to the faithful what had “really” happened: Never question the divine right of God’s anointed stand-ins, or God will getcha. And every innocent bystander, too.

Many theories have been put forth to try to explain the evolution of religion. Neanderthal graves show that around 80,000 years ago, hominids already believed in an afterlife. Literally thousands of more recent small statues (60000-500 BCE) suggest that humanity started out worshiping the Great Goddess; many caves, representing Her mighty vagina, seem to have been used for religious ceremonies. Mountains represented the Goddess; for example, the name “Shaddai” meant breast, mountain, similar to how “Grand Tetons” is another spelling of “Big Titties.” (Male translaters of the Bible usually insist that “El Shaddai” actually meant “God the Omnipotent.”) The caldera of a volcano was the Goddess’s divine uterus. Mt. Everest’s original name was Chomolungma, “Goddess Mother of the Earth.” Trees were another, important symbol of the Goddess, as were serpents, which “died” and were “rein­car­nated” with every shedding of skin. Many scholars believe that the second creation myth in the Bible, Genesis 2:4b-3:24, “took over” a much older myth in which the Goddess blessed humanity with moral awareness; it is instructive that in the Bible’s version of this myth, YHWH cursed only the serpent that symbolized the Goddess.

Over the millennia, many goddesses and gods arose, until we see pantheons like those of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The Goddess’s son became her consort and then her ruler. Elaborate myths evolved in many cultures depicting the sacrificial death of the Goddess’s son/husband, followed six months later by his annual resurrection. Eventually, and particularly after the invention of writing, the son/husband became the chief god of the pantheon, and the Goddess was first relegated to consort and “sister” (e.g. Rhea, Isis, Hera, Juno) and then muscled aside altogether.

In Israel, the two main deities were El and his consort Eloah. Other members of their pantheon included Rakh-El, a sheep-goddess; Mikha-El, the god of war; Rahab, Leviathan, Shaddai, and “Sarah, the laughing goddess of the sea,” who was eventually demoted to human and called the wife of Abraham. A week’s journey to the south, Judea worshiped Yah/Yahweh and his consort Asherah as the chief deities of the pantheon. One of the goddesses and gods of Judea was Lee-Yah, a cattle goddess. Many inscriptions dating from between 2000 and 500 BCE refer to “YHWH and his consort Asherah.”

Not long before 1000 BCE, Judea, led by King David, conquered Israel, and the “golden” age of the United Monarchy began. History is written by the winners of any given conflict, so we are not to know the details how El and Eloah (together, the plural Elohim) were superseded by Yahweh and Asherah. A few clues come from the conflation of the two nations’ favorite stories. For example, the national hero of the southern kingdom, Yah-kob, married BOTH Israel’s Rakh-El (the goddess of sheep) AND Judea’s Lee-Yah (the goddess of cattle), and eventually changed his name to that of the national hero of the northern kingdom, Isra-El. It kept the subject peoples “in line” to believe that the gods and goddesses of the southern kingdom were “really” the gods and goddesses of the northern kingdom by other names. When you are reading Genesis, be aware that first the priests and scribes of Yahweh and later the translators of the Bible into other languages strove mightily to conceal the stitching that conflated the two nations’ oldest myths. As a general rule, “God” and “the LORD” translate “YHWH”; “the Lord” translates “El”; and “the Lord God” translates “YHWH elohim,” or literally “YHWH of the gods.”

Like history, holy scriptures are written by the winners of any given conflict. Notice how the Bible depicts both the Hebrews’ “conquest” of Canaan and Judea’s conquest of Israel as God-blessed. Notice how the Bible depicts monotheism as the “default” setting for Judaism, and only rarely and grudgingly admits that it was the default setting only for the priests and scribes of YHWH who lived in or near Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, frequently expresses his rage that no matter how much he shouts and curses at Jerusalemites, both women and some men insist on worshiping the Queen of Heaven as if Asherah were just as much a goddess as Yahweh is a god. (E.g., 7:18-19, 44:16-17)

Notice, too, that although the Bible is rife with verses saying, in essence, “Israel displeased YHWH,” the Bible never, ever says either “Judea displeased YHWH” or “Judea displeased El/Eloah/Elohim/etc.” Similarly, during the first few hundred years of its existence, the Jesus Movement saw running battles — with literal bloodshed — between the “Jesus was LIKE God” camp and the “Jesus was God in a man-suit” camp. Reading the Christian Testament, can you guess which group eventually won the battle? Can you guess who the Gospel of Thomas is not in the Bible, even though it’s just as valid a gospel as the four that made the cut?

Monotheism appears to have been invented around 500 BCE, after the return from the Babylonian Exile. Although the Hebrew Scriptures insist that YHWH was and is the only God in the Universe, few scholars believe that this belief was shared by the majority of Israelites or Judeans. As more than one scholar has commented, if the peoples of Israel and Judea had not worshipped a Goddess, whether Eloah (Israel) or Asherah (Judea), they would have been unique in the ancient world, and peoples from surrounding nations would have commented on their obvious insanity. No such mockery can be found in any ancient writings.

Two words refer to the worship of one god. Monotheism declares that there is only one God in the Universe. Henotheism declares that there are lots of gods and goddesses, but only one is to be worshiped: “Thou shalt have no other god more important to you than Me” (Ex. 20:3, Deut. 5:7). Israel and Judea were both polytheistic for millennia. Around 1000 BCE, they were henotheistic; Genesis 31:19, 30-35 tells the story of Rachel stealing her father’s household gods, and by implication their favor. The Bible tells us that around 980 BCE, David and Michal had the same sort of household gods as Laban’s, and the passage contains no hint of disapproval. (1 Samuel 19:16) Around 595 BCE, when Jeremiah was ranting against the Queen of Heaven, most Jews were at least ditheistic.

The scholar Claudia Camp has shown that during the intertestamental period (ca. 500 BCE – 325 CE), Lady Wisdom (Proverbs 8) was so popular that Judaism almost became ditheistic officially. It is not implausible to speculate that Asherah evolved into Hokhmah (Wisdom), who in Christianity became conflated with the Greeks’ Sophia (Wisdom), who in turn became conflated with Christianity’s Holy Spirit (Logos, rationality). (In Judaism she is usually known as the Sh’kinah, God’s glory.)

It was not until 325 CE that men stamped out all evidence of femininity in the divine by declaring the Holy Spirit to be “the Lord, the giver of life” — and so Christians seeking the feminine face of the divine have been forced to exalt Mary of Nazareth to demigoddess.

The main problem with monotheism as practiced by today’s “Big Three” religions is that in their theological insistence that God is exclusively male, half of the species is excluded from full humanity. I was reared Presbyterian and joined the Episcopal Church when I married Jerry, and I have a lifetime of firsthand experience being both too subhuman to be allowed to serve at the altar, and the gender exclusively responsible for all sin, evil, and death through Eve. Ladies and gentlemen: it bites.

Most Christians are outright polytheists, like the Mormons, or de facto polytheists who add Jesusolatry to their worship of God the “Father” and the occasionally remembered Holy Spirit. But then again, most Christians have plenty of gods before either Yahweh or the Father, including Mammon (the “prosperity gospel”) and supply-side economics (high priest, Grover Norquist).

It doesn’t matter. If God exists, logic dictates that God must be infinite in both space and time. That means that almost anything anyone says about the nature and especially the thinking and intentions of God must be infinitely wrong.

Columbus Day Image for Inerrantist Bible Believers October 11, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Religion & Theology.

Yesterday, October 10, was “Columbus Day observed,” so that everyone can have the holiday off. Tomorrow, October 12, is the “real” Columbus Day. This seems like a good day to talk about the simple fact that “Bible believers,” folks who delude themselves that the Bible is an encyclopedia of absolute factuality, are required by their beliefs to insist that the Earth is flat.

The Bible is a collection of ancient animal skins (“parchment”) from the Bronze Age, plus a comparatively few sets of decayed mashed river reeds (“papyrus”) from the Iron Age. But Bible believers insist that the Bible is NOT Bronze- and Iron-Age theology, written between two and three THOUSAND years ao for a different audience, in Hebrew, Aramaic, and koine Greek, for different purposes than anything most people today could comprehend.

No; these “Bible believers” insist that the Bible is history written according to our 21st-century definition of “history,” and that every word of the Bible is as literally, historically true as if it were part of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Earth was created on October 23, 4004 BCE, at 9:30 a.m., and every fossil, every artifact found by paleontologists and archeologists is an elaborate fiction devised by God to deceive non-Bible believers.

A very simple, very obvious question has been raised by more than one observer: If God decided for some ungodlike reason to deliberately deceive billions of past, living, and future human beings, and God therefore created and “planted” hundreds of thousands of absolutely convincing fossils and millions of pieces of absolutely convincing evidence of the remains of humanity before 4004 BCE (up to about two million years before!) . . . then maybe this absolutely convincing “deception” is what God WANTS humanity to believe.

I doubt the above is good enough to persuade a True Believer that he/she has been deluded by other literal-minded, simplistic, ignorant, modernity-terrified True Believers. But I’ve spent some time in the last few days devising an image portraying the Bible’s cosmology. The image appears next; below it is my explanation, complete with citations from the Bible.

image portraying Hebrew cosmology

First after light came water

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. But the earth became chaos and emptiness, and darkness came over the face of the Deep — yet the spirit of God was brooding over the surface of the waters. . . . Then God said, ‘Now, make an expanse between the waters! Separate water [above heaven] from water [below the earth]! So it was.’ ” — Gen. 1:1-6 There are many similar citations in the Hebrew Scriptures to the idea that the chaos waters remain, both below Sheol and above heaven — occasionally, when God “opens the windows [Gen. 7:11],” becoming rain.

The Earth is a flat disk, shaped like a dinner plate

  • “It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in.” — Isa. 40:22
  • “God has [created the Earth as] a circle on the face of the [chaos] waters [between the Earth and outer space], at the boundary between light and darkness.” — Job 26:10
  • “I [Lady Wisdom] was brought forth when [God] had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When [God] established the heavens, I was there, when [God] drew a circle on the face of the deep.” — Prov. 8:26-27
  • “The devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” — Matthew 4:8 (Even from the top of Mt. Everest, it is impossible to see the “kingdom” of Greenland, to cite just one example.)

The “dinner plate” Earth rests upon gigantic pillars

  • “God shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble.” — Job 9:6
  • “The pillars of heaven tremble, and are aghast at [God’s] rebuke.” — Job 26:11
  • “The pillars of the earth belong to YHWH, and YHWH sets the world upon them.” — 1 Samuel 2:8
  • “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I [God] who keep its pillars steady.” — Psalm 75:3

The Earth is covered by a metal dome, the “firmament”

  • “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters [of Earth] from the [chaos] waters [of outer space]. So it was: God made the dome and separated the water above the dome from the water below it.’” — Genesis 1:6-7
  • “[God] walks to and fro on the dome of heaven.” — Job 22:14
  • “Can you help God spread the dome over the heavens, or temper the steel-gray skies?” — Job 37:18 (Temper here is used in its metalworking sense, a treatment with heat that strengthens the metal.)
  • “Who [but God] built the high dwelling places in the heavens, and a vaulted dome over the earth?” — Amos 9:6 (“It is the sovereign YHWH omnipotent!” 9:5)
  • “Again, on the second day, you created the spirit of the firmament, and commanded it to divide and separate the [chaos] waters, so that one part might move upward and the other part remain beneath.” — 2 Esdras 6:41

The dome is made of hammered metal, although several citations indicate that it is transparent, like glass. (And here we are amused to remind you that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home tells us that transparent aluminum was invented in 1986.) Rain enters the world through sluice-gates in the hammered-metal dome, as for example in Malachi 3:10: “See if I do not open windows in the sky, and pour so much blessing on you that you cannot contain it!” The sluice gates are indicated in the illustration by the random gaps. In essence, the dome that separates the heavens and the earth is a gigantic, upside-down colander!

Sheol, “the grave,” is below us

The word “Sheol” appears more than 60 times in the Hebrew Bible; its equivalent in the Christian Testament is “Hades,” the Greek equivalent for Sheol. (“Hades” is the word that is usually translated “Hell” in the Nicene Creed.) It meant “grave, pit, destruction, abyss.” With one or two rare exceptions, like Elijah and Jesus, everyone went to Sheol/Hades. Here are a few examples:

  • “Just as a cloud dissipates and vanishes, those who go down to Sheol will not come back.” — Job 7:9
  • “Turn, O YHWH, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” — Psalm 6:4-5
  • “Your love for me is great; you have rescued me from the depths of Sheol.” — Psalm 86:13
  • “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.” — Psalm 139:8
  • “Ask for a sign from YHWH your God; let it be as deep as Sheol, or high as the sky.” — Isaiah 7:11
  • “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.” — Jonah 2:2

“I have touched the sky”

  • “Then they said, ‘Let us build ourselves a city and a tower whose top can reach to heaven.’ ” — Gen. 11:4 Evidence that it was possible to touch the sky: God became so alarmed that the tower was destroyed and languages were confused to prevent any second attempt from being made.
  • “The tree grew until it reached heaven and touched the sky; it could be seen from everywhere on earth.” — Daniel 4:10-11

God lives ABOVE the dome

As with Sheol, there are far too many citations to list them all. Here are a few representative samples:

  • “YHWH came down [from heaven] to see the city and the tower [of Babel] these mortals had built. ‘They are a single people with a single language,’ YHWH said [to God’s heavenly courtiers]. . . . ‘Come, let us go down and baffle their language.’ ” — Gen. 11:5-7
  • “It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in.” — Isa. 40:22
  • “[God] walks to and fro on the dome of heaven.” — Job 22:14
  • “O YHWH of our ancestors, are you not the God in heaven?” — 2 Chron. 20:6
  • “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” — Mark 16:19

Which image do YOU find more believable?

image portraying Hebrew cosmology

Tea Party Campaign Song for 2012 September 21, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Politics.

Back in the 1960s, folk singer Pete Seeger wrote a classic Viet Nam protest song called “Bring ’Em Home.” Here’s a sample verse:

If you love your Uncle Sam,
Bring them home, bring them home.
Support our boys in Vietnam:
Bring them home, bring them home.

You can read all the lyrics here. For a somewhat pathetic 30 seconds of Pete himself performing, I think around 2007 or so, here is the YouTube clip.

Now that you know “Bring ’Em Home,” use Pete Seeger’s tune, but sing these lyrics:

Let ’Em Die

If her cancer’s hard to cure,
let her die, let her die.
If your grampa’s not insured,
let him die, let him die.

If a flood took out their town,
let ’em die, let ’em die.
If a bridge is crumbling down,
let ’em die, let ’em die.

If your workers are not white,
let ’em die, let ’em die,
And their children are too bright,
let ’em die, let ’em die.

If your summer was too hot,
let ’em die, let ’em die.
Global warming is Dem plot.
Let ’em die, let ’em die.

We won’t pay our legal debts,
Dems should die, Dems should die.
Jobless? Euthanize your pets.
Let ’em die, let ’em die.

Those who do not love the rich,
let ’em die, let ’em die.
We will make them Norquist’s bitch.
Let ’em die, let ’em die.

If your taxes are unfair,
let ’em die, let ’em die.
Stay out of the have-mores’ hair.
Poor should die, let ’em die.

I welcome YOUR contributions. Add your verse in the comments section, and if I like it well enough, I’ll promote it. (If, on the other hand, you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and are a hard-core Tea Puppet who will “comment” only with partisan vilification, forget it. I’ll just delete you.)