Fearing Other

What if we all had the same color of skin?

Who would you hate then?

What if we all had the same religion?

What if we all had the same warmth in winter, cool in summer?

Who would we fight then?

What if we eliminated the industries of war, destroyed all guns and other weapons?

Would we kill each other with rocks and clubs?

What if our jobs all paid the same and my stainless steel appliances were no newer than yours? What if our furniture was exactly the same, our lawns just as nicely tended, our cars the same year and model?

Would you still resent me then?

What if we were all born with the same color of hair, the same color of eyes, grew to the same height, the same musculature?

Would you still be jealous because my nose was slightly longer? Or my lips slightly fuller? Would you still pay for surgery to make your nose and lips more like mine?

What if we sat side by side through all twelve grades and received the same education and yet somehow I went to college and became a lawyer while you went to trade school and became a plumber? Would you call me a libtard and resent my career? Would I look down on you as you installed my new toilet?

Will we always find something to resent, something to be jealous of, something to fight about?

Will it always be our nature to fear the Other, even if their Otherness is only birthmark, a broken tooth, a different hairstyle?

How does the skin color, the religion, the material wealth of Others make us fearful?

How do we make all Other into Ours?

A Paeon to Flour

I believe I could live on carbs alone. Preferably derivatives of wheat. Refined into cake. Angel food cake. Chocolate cake. Lemon cake. Pound cake. Cupcakes! We’ve made up holidays so that we can have more cake.

Or cookies. Peanut butter cookies, oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies. Cookies! Biscuits slathered with butter and strawberry jam. Biscuits with sorghum molasses. Biscuits!

I bet you didn’t know that the Roman legions’ staple ration of food was wheat.  Or that from 123 BCE, a ration of unmilled wheat (as much as 72 pounds) was distributed to as many as 200,000 people every month by the Roman state. Hence the old reference to ‘bread and circuses’. Juvenal, a first century Roman poet who originated the phrase, used it to decry the “selfishness” of common people and their neglect of wider concerns because the government pacified them with bread and entertainment. The phrase implies a population’s erosion or ignorance of civic duty as a priority. (‘Circuses’ referred to elaborate spectacles in the coliseum.)

Not surprisingly, the Romans knew how to make flour into piecrust.

In these times of political crisis and viral contagion, I’ve increasingly come to admire the qualities of flour. Bread of course. Bread for sandwiches, toasted bread with eggs, with jam, with melted cheese and tomato soup. Breadsticks!

Without flour, there would be no gravy! No puddings! No graham crackers or the heavenly crusts made from them that lie underneath and beside the beautiful maidens of cheesecake and cream pies. Pretzels, bagels, tortillas, English muffins, blueberry muffins, banana nut bread, crumpets, scones. Scones baked with bits of crisp bacon, or with sharp cheddar, or dried cranberries.

Crackers. Salty crisp crackers.

Pies. Lots of my favorite foods come in pie crust, thick crumbly crust of flour and butter brought to its most exquisitely evolved state. One could argue that American cuisine is lacking in regard to pie crust. Our cousins across the pond seem far more advanced in regard to food wrapped lovingly in crust.

Like pasties.

The genius of pasties and its ilk is its perfect use of crust by wrapping crust entirely around the contents. Maximum crust.

We do have a descendant of pasties in our half-moon pies. Steam some apricots until tender, mash with appropriate sweetener. (There used to be dried apricots that carried the perfect balance of tart and sweet. You can’t find those anymore. Now they’re all too sweet.) Still, with a judicious hand on the sweetener and a hint of ginger, the apricots can be made ready for their marriage bed in crust. She finds herself spread on one side of a flat circle of rolled-out dough where the other side is brought to rise up over her, cover her… Ahem.

The most perfect apricot pies were fried. In deep hot oil, the butter in the dough sizzled, cooking the flour into tender flakes that, once in the mouth with a portion of apricot filling, dissemble like a velvet-tongued seducer, drawing everything connected to the mouth into bliss. For those aging beyond heavily fried foods, the alternative is to bake the pie – with so-so results.

WAIT for the pie to cool. Oops, sorry.

The genius of the Brits with pasties is that the filling is a meal.

A pasty is a baked pastry, a traditional variety of which is particularly associated with Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is made by placing an uncooked filling, typically meat and vegetables, on one half of a flat shortcrust pastry circle, folding the pastry in half to wrap the filling in a semicircle and crimping the curved edge to form a seal before baking.

The traditional Cornish pasty is filled with beef, sliced or diced potato, swede (also known as yellow turnip or rutabaga – referred to in Devon and Cornwall as turnip) and onion, salt, and pepper.

Despite the modern pasty’s strong association with Cornwall, its exact origins are unclear. The English word “pasty” derives from Medieval French (O.Fr. paste from V.Lat pasta) for a pie, filled with venison, salmon or other meat, vegetables or cheese, baked without a dish. Pasties have been mentioned in cookbooks throughout the ages. For example, the earliest version of Le Viandier (Old French) has been dated to around 1300 and contains several pasty recipes. In 1393, Le Menagier de Paris contains recipes for pasté with venison, veal, beef, or mutton.  

Other early references to pasties include a 13th-century charter that was granted by Henry III (1207–1272) to the town of Great Yarmouth. The town is bound to send to the sheriffs of Norwich every year one hundred herrings, baked in twenty four pasties, which the sheriffs are to deliver to the lord of the manor of East Carlton who is then to convey them to the King. Around the same time, 13th century chronicler Matthew Paris wrote of the monks of St Albans Abbey “according to their custom, lived upon pasties of flesh-meat.” A total of 5,500 venison pasties were served at the installation feast of George Neville, archbishop of York and chancellor of England in 1465.[1]

The family of pasty-style meat pies includes those fabulous empanadas which spread with the advance of Portuguese and Spanish conquests of the New World from Argentina to Indonesia (panasan) and the Philippines (several versions).[2] Then there are the Russian and Ukranian pirozhoks, boat-shaped pies made of yeast-leavened dough, with filling completely enclosed. Also the Italian calzone made with pizza dough wrapped around salami, ham or vegetables with mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan or pecorino cheese, plus an egg. Don’t forget the samosa of India, a crusty wrapping of dough around a filling such a spiced potatoes, onions, peas, cheese, beef or other meat, or lentils. And the Jewish knish. Or the Mongolian khuushuur.

We do have Hot Pockets, which hardly merit mention.

The lines blur with the jianbing, a Chinese wheat flour pancake that is wrapped raw around fillings and cooked on a griddle and folded. Traced as far back as 2,000 years, this food was originally made from millet flour or other grains. It is a cousin to crepes, usually served with fruit or other sweet fillings rather than savory ones. But then that brings up pancakes… PANCAKES!

Never forget those thin wrappings of eggrolls and spring rolls, deep fried to crisp perfection, thanks to wheat flour. Spring rolls appeared in the historical record in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (266-420 CE) of ancient China, leading one to theorize that the Western European rise of pasties as a flour-based wrapping around meat fillings might have resulted from the Italian Marco Polo’s wanderings along the Silk Road into Asian lands (1271-1295). Interestingly, the 12th century Arthurian romance Erec and Enide, written by Chrétien de Troyes, includes pasties eaten by characters from the area around Cornwall. Which brings back the question of whether the pasty was indigenous to Cornwall or if the idea followed Polo back from China.

Then there’s pasta. How lost we would be in this world without it? Spaghetti, ravioli, pizza and, among many other shapes of this water and flour invention, macaroni, that star of American comfort food, mac ‘n’ cheese! Developed as early as the 14th century in Italy, the charm of mac ‘n’ cheese quickly gained pride of place in English cuisine of the same century.

Let us not forget the forms of bread that serve us daily in their embrace of hamburger patties or hot dogs, soft pillows of compliant wheat dough providing a handhold on meat and fillings without the trouble of frying or baking a pasty.

People have been making delicious food with flour since, well, since a time before history. We just don’t know exactly when those clever women (of course it was women) started harvesting and then replanting the largest grains of native grasses; the first known cultivation was around 10,000 years ago in the area around modern day southeastern Turkey. Around 6,000 years ago Egyptians figured out how to make wheat bread in an oven. Evidence of the first identifiable bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) with sufficient gluten for yeasted bread is found in Macedonia circa 1350 BCE.[3]

But for flour, someone had to figure that out. Some woman rubbing two rocks together smashed wheat kernels into dust, and flour was born. Sometime before 2,000 BCE, a recipe for chicken pie was written on a clay tablet in Sumer.

One of the most sublime of all human flour experiences is to wind through the process of making risen bread – the mixing, the kneading, the waiting for it to rise only to punch it down again before waiting yet again for it to rise before shaping loaves or those manna parcels called ROLLS. And then, suffering through the baking as yeasty aroma fills the air, one arrives at the moment of completion when the golden loaves are lifted onto cooling racks and the truest torture begins. One is exhorted to wait until the bread cools, but who can wait? Yes, the soft interior suffers when a knife plunges into the hot loaf.  Equally true is that a slice of bread still steaming from the oven will melt the butter before it can be spread.

But who needs to spread it? Drop thick slabs of cold butter onto the incandescent bread and let it vanish into the textured magic, cooling the bread as it goes so that your trembling hands can bring the slab of hot bread to your mouth and you can absorb the entirely decadent ambrosia directly into your bloodstream.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasty

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empanada

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat

It’s Baack!

Looking for some perspective on today’s viral crisis? Considering humanity’s infinitely long track record with similar outbreaks, we surely aren’t surprised that it’s here again. In case you’re not up to speed on the history of mankind’s virus background, check out my last blog post.

There is evidently an ingrained memory of this threat to our lives. Instinctively, we know there are invisible killers lurking out there, and entertainment takes advantage of our interest. Not only have scientists made regular warnings to prepare for such eruptions, our literature and movies regularly focus on outbreak what-ifs.

Outbreak, 1995

Consider the list of 79 – yes, 79 – movies on the topic of epidemic/pandemic outbreaks. In fact, as long as movies have been made, viral contagions have been a favored subject. Here’s a great list.

If you prefer to curl up with a book, writers and historians have been exploring the desolate landscapes of plague-riddled civilizations since Greek and Roman times. Daniel Defoe was one of the first English writers to producing a book about devastating disease with his 1722 A Journal of the Plague Year, which chronicles the 1665 bubonic plague in London. Here are more books to consider.

1950

One might wonder why anyone would want to read about horrific diseases when we’re in the middle of our current crisis, but art reflects life in many important ways. Movies and literature about pandemics not only explore the physical effects of the disease but also the human response to collateral damage like quarantine, isolation, and economic hits. We can gain a greater understanding through this informing exploration, and that in itself is somehow comforting. It’s like, ok, we’ve been through this before and survived. We can do it again.

But most of all, such deep history about our relationship with diseases like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19) provides critical information for those entrusted with leadership over us all whether elected officials, agencies, teachers, or scientists.  In our tragic case, our president failed to read history or listen to experts – or even his predecessor, President Obama, who had learned from Ebola and Zika that preparations must be made BEFORE an outbreak ever occurs. The sad result is the enormous death rate for a nation purportedly the most advanced.

The most malevolent viruses are fast and silent killers, moving through populations before we have time to prepare. There is no excuse for the current situation in the United States where we’re still not in possession of enough face masks or testing apparatus to get in front of this tidal wave of death.

1950

Perhaps most instructive about such movies and books, both fiction and non-fiction, is the inevitable reactions of people. There’s denial – it can’t happen here, it’s not that bad, it’s still safe to go shopping, I won’t wear a mask – that has become one of the most virulent aspects of SARS-CoV-2. It probably wouldn’t matter what the books and movies might say to the folks clogging state capitol steps with their guns and angry, unmasked faces. Their denial derives from lack of understanding of the science involved and a refusal to admit they might be lacking. It doesn’t help that their presidential hero praises their ignorance – because he too is lacking.

Mother Nature will keep throwing these things in our path. I predict another new viral crisis within the next two years. Meanwhile, we don’t yet know if a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 will work – after all, vaccines depend on the idea that our bodies create effective antibodies once the vaccine is administered, and those antibodies will protect us from a new infection. But increasingly, reports filter in that persons are becoming sick for the second time, which means antibodies aren’t working. And we already know that to date, our best flu vaccines are only 50%-60% effective.

SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay, folks. More of us will die. Grab the popcorn and watch a movie! And next time you vote, make sure your chosen candidate is going to protect you and your loved ones by preparing well in advance for the next outbreak.

Viruses and Humanity — An Old Story

17th-century German “plague panel” depicting the triumph of death. Panels of this kind were placed on the walls of houses to warn against the plague. A plague epidemy raged in Augsburg, Bavaria between 1607 and 1636.

Amid funny television sitcoms, exciting football games, and eating out at your favorite Thai food restaurant, it’s easy to forget about plagues. But they’ve always been part of human existence. Millions of us have died with these periodic outbreaks. Fortunately for us, we (well, most of us) now understand that these are not curses sent by angry gods but rather a natural invasion of one or another micro-organism seeking its own place in the sun. Er, in us.

A side note here: A virus is technically NOT an organism like bacteria but rather a microscopic parasite much smaller than bacteria which can’t reproduce outside of a host body.

Viruses teeter on the boundaries of what is considered life. On one hand, they contain the key elements that make up all living organisms: the nucleic acids, DNA or RNA (any given virus can only have one or the other). On the other hand, viruses lack the capacity to independently read and act upon the information contained within these nucleic acids.[1]

A virus is a submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea. [Since their discovery in] 1898, more than 6,000 virus species have been described in detail, of the millions of types of viruses in the environment. Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most numerous type of biological entity.[2]

So keeping in mind that these infinitesimally small entities can’t move, reproduce, or live except inside another organism, we can look back and marvel at the enormous impact these entities have wrought on the human race. Research has found that an astonishing thirty percent of all protein adaptations for humans have been driven by viruses.[3],[4]  As noted in the 2007 scientific article by Christian W. McMillan, “Epidemic Disease and Their Effect on History,”

There is perhaps no longer-lasting historical relationship than that between humans and disease, especially epidemic disease. The relationship predates agriculture, the formation of cities, and, if current research on the emergence of diseases like tuberculosis is correct, human migration out of Africa. From the earliest times to the present, epidemics have affected human history in myriad ways: demographically, culturally, politically, financially, and biologically. Humans have never known a time in history when epidemics did not loom large.[5]

Studies of prehistory suggest that bottlenecks in human evolution may have been the result of epidemics where most of a population died off leaving only a few survivors to repopulate that area or continent. Aside from restarting populations, these virulent invaders also affect the genome by selecting survivors with particular DNA profiles which then become the prevailing type. Epigenetic effects also become part of the remaining population, an inheritance by mechanisms other than through the DNA sequence of genes. … It works through chemical tags added to chromosomes that function to switch genes on or off.

The discovery of a 5,000-year-old house in China filled with skeletons is evidence of a deadly epidemic. (Image credit: Photo courtesy Chinese Archaeology)

The earliest evidence of a widespread plague is found in China where the 5,000 year old remains of prehistoric villagers had been stuffed inside a house that was subsequently burned to the ground.

No age group was spared, as the skeletons of juveniles, young adults and middle-age people were found inside the house. The archaeological site is now called “Hamin Mangha” and is one of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in northeastern China. Archaeological and anthropological study indicates that the epidemic happened quickly enough that there was no time for proper burials, and the site was not inhabited again.

Before the discovery of Hamin Mangha, another prehistoric mass burial that dates to roughly the same time period was found at a site called Miaozigou, in northeastern China. Together, these discoveries suggest that an epidemic ravaged the entire region.[6]

There’s no question that epidemics have changed not only the physical make-up of humanity but also the course of history. Among the earliest records of such events are Sanskrit notations from 1200 BC documenting a type of flu that spread through Babylon, Central Asia, Mesopotamia and Southern Asia. Since these were the first areas of the world to create written records, it follows these would be the places where such chronicles would exist. But without doubt, plagues didn’t select only advanced societies to infect.

The first well documented outbreak of epidemic disease may be the Plague of Athens, an illness which Thucydides described as starting in the head with illness that included fever, redness and inflammation in the eyes, sore throat that led to bleeding, sneezing, coughing, vomiting, and ulcers on the body. The opinions of scholars on the cause range from hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola to epidemic typhus fever.

The Plague of Athens was an epidemic that devastated the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece during the second year of the Peloponnesian War (430 BC) when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach. The plague killed an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people and is believed to have entered Athens through Piraeus, the city’s port and sole source of food and supplies. Much of the eastern Mediterranean also saw an outbreak of the disease, albeit with less impact.

The plague had serious effects on Athens’ society, resulting in a lack of adherence to laws and religious belief. In response laws became stricter, resulting in the punishment of non-citizens claiming to be Athenian. In addition, Pericles, the leader of Athens, died from the plague. The plague returned twice more, in 429 BC and in the winter of 427/426 BC. Some 30 pathogens have been suggested as having caused the plague.[7]

The Roman Empire suffered its first massive epidemic in the so-called Antonine Plague circa 165-180 AD. Soldiers returning to Rome from campaigning along with empire’s boundaries developed what scientists now believe was smallpox. The result in Rome’s crowded streets was the death of up to five million people. The long-lasting outbreak ended the long peaceful “Pax Romana” for the empire, with barbarian invasions weakening the government and undermining the old religious belief systems with their multiple gods, opening the door to the growth of Christianity.

The remains found where a bonfire incinerated many of the victims of the Cyprian Plague epidemic in the city of Thebes in Egypt. (Image credit: N.Cijan/Associazione Culturale per lo Studio dell’Egitto e del Sudan ONLUS)

About 100 years later, a new virus hit the Roman Empire that wiped out over one million people.  “Named after St. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage (a city in Tunisia) who described the epidemic as signaling the end of the world, the Plague of Cyprian is estimated to have killed 5,000 people a day in Rome alone. In 2014, archaeologists in Luxor found what appears to be a mass burial site of plague victims. Their bodies were covered with a thick layer of lime (historically used as a disinfectant). Archaeologists found three kilns used to manufacture lime and the remains of plague victims burned in a giant bonfire.”[8] Thought by scholars to be another outbreak of smallpox, the disease is believed to have transferred from animal hosts to humanity and may have included measles.  The outbreak continued for nearly twenty years and contributed greatly to the fall of the empire.

In 541-542, up to 100 million died across Europe and West Asia in the epidemic known first as the Plague of Justinian (emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire at Istanbul),[9] wiping out up to 50% of the European population. The disease, later known as the Black Death (Bubonic plague) hopped over to the British Isles 100 years later and reappeared in 746-747 in the Byzantine Empire, West Asia, and Africa to ill an unknown number of victims. Meanwhile, an outbreak of smallpox in Japan killed about half the population.

A bubo on the upper thigh of a person infected with bubonic plague. Wikipedia

The Black Death is perhaps the most famous of pandemics, believed carried by fleas and also spread by human to human contact. Credited with depopulating Europe during the Middle Ages, the outbreak lasted from 1331-1353 and wiped out up to 200 million people, up to 60% of the population.

The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence and the Plague, was the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history… the bacterium Yersinia pestis is believed to have been the cause. Y. pestis infection most commonly results in bubonic plague… it most likely originated in Central Asia or East Asia, from where it travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1347. From there, it was most likely carried by fleas living on the black rats that travelled on Genoese merchant ships, spreading throughout the Mediterranean Basin and reaching Africa, Western Asia, and the rest of Europe via Constantinople, Sicily, and the Italian Peninsula.[10]

A recurrence of Black Death in the mid-1500s wiped out over 20,000 Londoners and another estimated 20,000 thirty years later. Various plague outbreaks around the globe continued to occur, but the biggest death toll in Britain of over 100,000 people happened in the mid-1600s. Subsequent ripples of this infection have made way through various populations since that time, and the virus remains active even in the United States.

One of greatest advantages Europeans had in its conquest of the New World were the diseases that came with them. Smallpox, measles, and yellow fever wiped out upwards of twenty million natives who had never been exposed and had no immunity. For a full list of epidemics and their impact, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_epidemics

Today, we have the advantage of knowing such disease outbreaks are not signals of the end of the world wrought by supernatural powers, but rather by invisible creatures that breed in our cells. We shouldn’t be at all surprised that yet another such eruption has occurred, given the role such entities have played throughout human history. Due to modern science, we stand at a far greater advantage than any of our forefathers in fighting such devastating illnesses. But as we’re witnessing, science is only as effective as the public and our leaders will allow.

And as far as science goes, no one yet knows exactly how COVID-19 kills people, or how long asymptomatic carriers continue to spread the virus, or whether those who’ve survived infection are vulnerable to re-infection. The horizon for a vaccine remains distant despite our advanced technology, and no one can predict whether a vaccine will be more or less as effective as the flu vaccine at its average of 50%.

Even when (if) we manage to craft an effective vaccine and discover treatments that address the viral infection with relatively useful interventions, we still must face the fact that the flip side of our advanced scientific status in the modern world is a far greater rate of intercontinental disease transmission and expansion of human population into areas previously left to nature, to name only two.

There will be new viruses.

~~~

Notes:

  1. With new viruses occurring approximately ONE EACH YEAR, the majority are viruses originating from an animal host. Of the many factors responsible, CHANGES TO LOCAL ECOSYSTEMS that perturb the balance between pathogen and principal host species is one of the major drivers, together with increasing urbanization of mankind and changes in human behavior. Many emerging viruses have RNA genomes and as such are capable of rapid mutation and selection of new variants in the face of environmental changes in host numbers and available target species. [Emphasis mine] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3630908/
  2. Scientists studying ice cores from melting glaciers have discovered previously unknown viruses that are tens of millions of years old. “The experiment revealed 33 groups of virus genuses (also known as genera) in the ice cores. Of these, 28 were previously unknown to science, the researchers said. “The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores,” the researchers wrote in the study, ‘presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.’” See https://www.livescience.com/unknown-viruses-discovered-tibetan-glacier.html
  3. We still have plenty of existing, known viruses waiting at our doorstep for a fresh host population. See https://www.livescience.com/56598-deadliest-viruses-on-earth.html
  4. Graphics of viruses. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.livescience.com/53272-what-is-a-virus.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virus

[3] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160713100911.htm

[4] https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/virus-human-evolution/

[5] https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0155.xml

[6] https://www.livescience.com/worst-epidemics-and-pandemics-in-history.html

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Athens

[8] https://www.livescience.com/worst-epidemics-and-pandemics-in-history.html

[9] It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how this plague led to the end of the classical world.  “The reign of Justinian was a turning-point in Late Antiquity. It is the period when paganism finally lost its long struggle to survive, and when the schism in Christianity between the Monophysite east and the Chalcedonian west became insurmountable. From a military viewpoint, it marked the last time that the Roman Empire could go on the offensive with hope of success. Africa and Italy were recovered, and a foothold was established in Spain. When Justinian died, the frontiers were still intact although the Balkans had been devastated by a series of raids and the Italian economy was in ruins. His extensive building program has left us the most celebrated example of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture that still survives: Hagia Sophia in modern Istanbul.” See https://www.roman-emperors.org/justinia.htm

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death

Our Republican Religious War

Why keep Trump? Why would career politicians bare their rotten souls to the world in order to keep him in office? It makes no sense when they have another Republican in line to take his place.

What is the prize with Trump? Why is he the one and only person who can carry the Republican banner?

Why disgrace themselves and their party by dishonoring distinguished veterans and career professionals? Why hear testimony that lays out sharp and clear the bribery and extortion Trump pursued with Ukraine and then pretend it was nothing? Why manipulate sound bites from witnesses by taunts and interruptions in order to feed misinformation to their hapless followers?

Now no less than in 2015, the followers cling to any slim suggestion that Trump is the best man to lead the country. Unbelievable as it may seem, all the evidence of his misdeeds then—stiffing workers, molesting women, cheating on all three wives, an endless stream of bankruptcies and financial shenanigans—and now in the impeachment hearings of his cavalier risk of national security, none of it disrupts the fond narrative that he is the Chosen One who can lead this nation toward some glorious future.

What glorious future do they envision?

It’s a story of turning back the clock and at the same time fulfilling prophecies. We’ll put women back in the kitchen without birth control — that’s keep ’em busy and out of the jobs men need. (Never mind the immediate crisis in household income…) We’ll put Bibles in every classroom and pray hourly at the nation’s capitol. We’ll end the rights of LGBTQ individuals and push back the tide of people of color, declaring once and for all the America is a nation controlled by and for white heterosexual males.

Nothing can be said, apparently, to penetrate the religious fervor of this mindset. They are the monkeys who can hear and see nothing. God works in mysterious ways, and Trump is the way, the unrecognized messiah, the one who has been selected by God Almighty to work His powerful agenda of bringing America back to its reason for existence.

This narrative was carefully constructed over decades of Republican manipulation, a frenzied backlash to the ’60s generation with their free love, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. It was outrage over legalized abortion. It was the pushback to the defiance of an entire new generation against an agenda of conspicuous consumption and materialism at any cost. The Silent Majority were sitting ducks for clever spinmeisters who needed their votes to put the corporatiers in the driver’s seat.

The rewards have continued to flow—destruction of workers’ unions, profits over people, wildly skewed income inequality, continuing devastation of the environment in pursuit of wealth, incarceration of the poor and non-white.

Trump is stupid enough to accept the risk of exposing his inadequacies but smart enough to know he’s being used. He doesn’t care that he’s the mouthpiece of larger forces. He’s in it for himself, his family, and the profits they can generate in one scam after another. He has no concept of right or wrong, no shame, no conscience.

None of that matters to the Devin Nuneses of the world. They have hitched their wagons to the myth of the Chosen One and can’t back out now. The two opposing camps of our nation, one seeking to generate public policy framed in science, compassion and forward thinking and the other seeking to generate policies of near-term greed and blind faith, have never been more clearly defined since at least the 1860s.

This is a religious war.  Even though many people of faith have not given up rational thought in order to serve their religious doctrine, those who long for Someone to rule with a strong hand are dedicated to Trump. His braggadocio stands in for strong character among those willing to compromise in order to worship their golden calf.

Will awake voters show up at the polls in November 2020? Will one side have to kill the other in blood-drenched battlefields, hand to hand combat in our streets and cities? Or are there enough people of good faith and common sense to wrest this nation’s direction back from extremists determined to ensure the prophecies of Revelations, their sacrifice to an angry God with whom they bargain in hopes of walking the promised Streets of Gold?

I ask myself, what can I do today to bring my country back to the Founders’ vision of liberty and justice for all? Quite honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to think that through better education and economic opportunity, people can learn how to think past superstitions and myths, that they would embrace rationalism and equanimity. Sadly, just last week a law was passed in Ohio that permits wrong answers to be counted as correct if the error is based on religious teachings.

Our Job as Citizens

As a nation operating under the concept of self-rule, we the people have to talk coherently about the issues. Mass shootings doesn’t solve our problems, but rather exemplifies our current failures as citizens. How did we get to this point?

Does the 2nd Amendment really grant the right to assault rifles and 100-round ammo clips? No, it does not. Nor do gun hoarders constitute a “well regulated militia.”

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

How did we not understand that waging a drug war against our own people would embed domestic violence in our society? Did we learn nothing from alcohol prohibition when, for fifteen years, underworld gangs selling illegal alcohol used their wealth to purchase weapons and political protection? How could Reagan and Congress think it was a good idea for “surplus” military weapons and equipment to be sold to our city police forces and used in commando tactics within our neighborhoods? How could we not see the horrible outcome of spending more money on prisons than education?

https://money.cnn.com/infographic/economy/education-vs-prison-costs/

We have to talk about immigration—what will stop the mass migration of people to our borders? For over a century, our corporations have been aided and abetted by our military to plunder Latin America for its natural resources and cheap labor. We have blood on our hands in the same tradition as Spain for its 300-year devastating occupation of the same lands. Doesn’t it make more sense to invest more heavily in helping solve problems in these countries so the people don’t have to leave home in order to have an economic future free from violence? What kind of future are we creating for ourselves by destroying Latino families and traumatizing innocent children?

We have to talk about climate change. How can anyone still believe this is fake news? Are there truly so many people who don’t grasp the science of this issue that our entire nation’s public policy can get away with denying climate change exists? What happens when water supplies dry up, crops die on the ground, and there isn’t enough food?

https://www.who.int/globalchange/mediacentre/events/2011/social-dimensions-of-climate-change.pdf

The impacts of climate change will increasingly affect the daily lives of people everywhere in terms of employment and livelihoods, health, housing, water, food security and nutrition, and the realization of gender equality and other human rights. Impacts are expected to hit those living in poverty the hardest, partly due to their more prevalent dependency on the very natural resources affected by climate change and also because they have less capacity to protect themselves, adapt or recuperate losses.

New York Times: A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises By Somini Sengupta and Weiyi Cai Aug. 6, 2019

We have to talk about population—we can’t continue blindly producing more people who need food, jobs, and a place to live when all of those resources are simultaneously shrinking.

In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on the planet. Now in 2019, there are 7.7 billion. By the end of the century the UN expects a global population of 11.2 billion.

In 2015, there were approximately 141 million births. In the same year, around 57 million people died. It’s clear why the global population is increasing: there are many more births each year than there are deaths. Around 2.5 times as many.

https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth

If we think we have an immigration problem now, just wait.

Each of us bears a responsibility to learn the facts on these and any other issues facing us as individuals, communities, and as a nation, engage in discussion with others with the goal of finding common ground, and then participate in the implementation of solutions through community action and voting.

Thoughts on Graduation

As I sat in the massive sports arena, outfitted in its overhead screens meant for close-ups to penalty shots, I thought of the other times I’ve joined such crowds for ceremonies deemed important in our society. People of all kinds rubbed shoulders in the steep rows of seats, all of us suffering the interminable wait for things to happen. A brass quintet played, their image projected onscreen so that we could see the puffing of the tuba player’s cheeks, the hand stuffed in the bell of the French horn. August cadences of heraldic composition by Bach and other Baroque composers echoed off the high dome of steel and glass. Attendants rushed from place to place.

http://www.ox.ac.uk/news-and-events/The-University-Year/Encaenia/academic-dress#

Finally the processional began, resonate strains of that long familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1 in D by Sir Edward Elgar (1901). Led by deans and faculty and pages carrying medieval banners announcing the insignia and names of colleges that would be conferring degrees, leadership of the university headed the long lines of graduating students, their robes descended from Middle Age dress just as many buildings on campus continue an ancient architectural tradition.

The caps or tams and variously colored hoods or stoles designated the degree and college—doctoral robes with three velvet sleeve bars, master’s robes with the pointed sleeve extension, or bachelor’s degree regalia with their open sleeves.

Once seated, the 1,700 graduates and attending university trustees, chancellor, and deans joined the audience in standing for the performance of the national anthem and a musical invocation by the university’s Schola Cantorum, yet another name and tradition of the Middle Ages originally organized to perform plainchant in the early church. The music brought a catch to my throat. How many times had I experienced the rush of emotion at this music, each occasion a milestone in my life or the life of someone dear?

Then the speeches, a reminder that from education comes what we value most as a society—the rule of law, the exploration of science, the marvelous inventions of mathematics and engineering, the preservation and creation of language through literature, history, philosophy, the magic of the arts.

Then the graduates, no longer embroiled in intense study and eager to harvest the product of their long labor and expense—a diploma. One by one their eager faces appeared on the big overhead screen, each called by name, each striding toward the dean of their college to accept the red leather folder with its heavy parchment page bearing their name and the title of their accomplishment.

My mother, at 95 hardly able to stay current with the rapid changes of our times, expressed muted shock at all the “foreign” names. “They live here, too,” I whispered.

Later, as I drove her home, I thanked her for coming to this ceremony honoring her granddaughter. “So many people,” she mused. “Nothing like when I went there.”

“No,” I said laughing. “A lot has changed in seventy-five years.”

Old Main, University of Arkansas Fayetteville

Later as I reflected on the emotion still swelling in my chest, the realization came again as it has in the past. Especially in times changing as rapidly as ours, we need our traditions, our ceremonies, to remind us of why we are what we are. Education forms the heart of our civilization. No wonder we house our institutions of learning in buildings modeled on the earliest designs of Western culture. No wonder the prestige of educational leadership appears in the same garment style as medieval Oxford dons wore a thousand years ago.

Graduation isn’t simply the conferring of degrees. It’s a rite of passage into a special tier of human endeavor celebrated by those who have committed to heart and memory the facts, rules, and practices of a particular profession. They have taken the traditions of our ancestors to their own safekeeping in order to serve us all, to preserve and enhance, to invent and expand the talents and knowledge upon which our lives depend.

The fact that a winter commencement at the modest yet ambitious flagship university of a lesser state such as Arkansas has advanced the ambitions of 1,700 individuals gives me good cheer in a time when so much about our world seems dark. From these and thousands of kindred graduates across our land will come the solutions. This is the future. I’m thrilled to see it.

http://www.medievalists.net/2017/04/medieval-hazing-freshmen-orientation-mid

War — What’s It Good For?

A lot of talk among those on the left focuses on ending war. I’ve heard plenty of Lefties say they didn’t vote for Hillary because she supported war. As if that had any bearing on reality, since so does Trump.

At any rate, I’m seeking input from anyone who can offer a thoughtful analysis on what the U.S. gains in war and why removing ourselves from those situations would be good or bad.

Why is this important? Consider this:

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs reports that by the end of the 2019 fiscal year, the U.S. will have spent $5.9 trillion on military spending in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other countries, as well as veterans’ care, interest on debt payments, and related spending at the Homeland Security and State Departments.

It’s not just about the Middle East. We support military forces around the globe.

The 2015 U.S. Department of Defense Base Structure Report states that the DOD has property in 587 bases in 42 countries, the majority located in Germany (181 sites), Japan (122 sites), and South Korea (83 sites). The Department of Defense classifies 20 of the overseas bases as large, 16 as medium, 482 as small and 69 as “other sites.” (Now up to over 800.)

These smaller and “other sites” are called “lily pads” and are generally in remote locations and are either secret or tacitly acknowledged to avoid protests that might lead to restrictions on their use. They usually have a small number of military personnel and no families. They sometimes reply on private military contractors whose actions the U.S. government can deny. To maintain a low profile, the bases are hidden within host country bases or on the edge of civilian airports. (Citation)

So let’s take this region by region. Wikipedia gives details on our involvement in the Middle East where we are actively engaged in the following locations:

Afghanistan – the reason we went there was to retaliate for 9/11 and destroy the Islamic insurgents known as the Taliban. Not sure why we care what happens now in Afghanistan but I do hear there are important rare earth deposits we’d like to monopolize. Yes, of course the Taliban still exists but anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at Afghan history will know that no one ever wins in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan footage at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0a8Zo77_W5c

Iraq – the reason we invaded Iraq had to do with the false claim they had developed weapons of mass destruction. The only credible excuse I’ve heard is that Cheney had vested interests in the oil fields on behalf of his company Halliburton. Also, Halliburton was contracted for billions of dollars in field support during and after the ‘war.’ Pretty sure we can all see now that Bush’s ill-advised invasion created a crisis for most religions in Iraq which had previously been more or less protected by Hussein’s tolerance policies. The invasion also created an environment where the long-festering religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Islamists could flare into violence and spawn extremists like the Sunni Al-Qaida.

https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/iraq-war-15-years-counting-dead

Yemen – we’re supplying arms and ‘advisors’ to Saudi Arabia (and of course money) for its support of the old regime of Yemen in the face of a rebel takeover. Supposed Iranian support for the rebels reportedly triggered Saudi involvement in this Yemeni conflict. So why does the U.S. think this is so important that we are supporting Saudi brutality and genocide in Yemen? Is it just about Iran? Or the shadow of Russia behind Iran?

Over 17 million Yemen people are currently at risk of starvation. https://www.albawaba.com/news/senate-vote-whether-end-us-involvement-yemen-war-1105240

Libya – we stuck our nose into Libya because we wanted to get rid of Kaddafi. Now there is chaos and devastation as dueling factions fight for control. What the hell was the strategic expectation in nations like this and Iraq where decades of strongman rule had carved out a relatively peaceful nation? Is our goal simply to create devastation and turmoil in the entire region in order to help Israel remain powerful?

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/libya/2017-07-18/filling-vacuum-libya

Syria – U.S. ‘advisors’ on the ground in Syria are dependent on Kurdish fighters in this ongoing cluster f**k that began as an uprising by educated Syrians against their dictator Bashar al-Assad. (Evidently despite our partnership with the Kurds, we’re too afraid of retribution by Turkey to advocate for Kurds to have their own homeland.)

Early on, our involvement in the Syrian civil war had to do with atrocities Assad committed against his own people, but then things became more complicated with the rise of Al-Quida/ISIS/ISIL in the war zones. At this point, as far as I know, we’re only trying to get rid of ISIL and allowing Assad to perpetuate his genocide against Syrians who want him out of power.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/9584216/Syria-conflict-massive-bomb-blasts-hit-Aleppo.html

Israel — Although we are not directly involved in military activities between Israel and Palestine (and other Arab nations who formerly controlled the area where Israel was given land), we’ve funneled trillions of dollars into the formation and sustenance of Israel. I have yet to understand this investment, other than a) sympathy for what Jews suffered during WWII; and b) the usefulness of a fierce U.S. ally in the region.

For the record, I’ll ask why anyone thinks a nation based on religion is a good idea. Catholics live all over the world. So do all other religions. Where is the State of Methodists?

Why take away land from people who have lived there for hundreds of years (Palestinians) and create an ongoing crisis just because Jews once claimed it as their homeland? That was back around 30 BC before the Romans took over. Since then, Jews were a minority in that region, only 10-15% of the population by 614 AD. Jews fared no better after the start of the Crusades when invading European Catholics installed Christianity. In 1517, the Muslim Ottoman Empire conquered the area and ruled until 1917 when the British took over.

So based on what existed 2,000 years ago, the Jews should once again have Israel? By that logic, should all other current nations be subject to occupation by the people who ‘owned’ the place 2,000 years ago? The mind boggles.

Is our involvement in the Jewish state mostly about U.S. Christians, Jews, and Biblical prophecies? Why is Israel important to the U.S., to the extent that Israel receives the following?

P.L. 115-141, the FY2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, provides the following for Israel:

  • $3.1 billion in Foreign Military Financing, of which $815.3 million is for offshore procurement;
  • $705.8 million for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense projects, including $92 million for Iron Dome, $221.5 million for David’s Sling, $310 million for Arrow 3, and $82.3 million for Arrow 2;
  • $47.5 million for the U.S.-Israeli anti-tunnel cooperation program;
  • $7.5 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance;
  • $4 million for the establishment of a U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in energy and water technologies;
  • $2 million for the Israel-U.S. Binational Research & Development Foundation (BIRD) Energy program; and
  • The reauthorization of War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel (WRSA-I) program through fiscal year 2019.

For FY2019, the Trump Administration is requesting $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Israel and $500 million in missile defense aid to mark the first year of the new MOU. The Administration also is seeking $5.5 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) funding for humanitarian migrants to Israel. (Citation)

Note: This problem will NEVER be solved as long as Israel continues to bully its way into more and more Palestinian land. The least we can do is withdraw from the drama and let them all kill each other.

Oh, and there’s this: The top five source countries of U.S. petroleum imports in 2017 were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq. Hmm.

~~~

As for other places in the world where our troops are involved in local violence and imperialist ambitions, consider Africa where U.S. forces are stationed in over 20 locations.

When U.S. troops were ambushed in Niger last October (2017), the widespread reaction was surprise: The U.S. has military forces in Niger? What are they doing there?

Yet in many ways, the Niger operation typifies U.S. military missions underway in roughly 20 African countries, mostly in the northern half of the continent. The missions tend to be small, they are carried out largely below the radar, and most are focused on a specific aim: rolling back Islamist extremism. (Citation)

Might I humbly submit that Islamist extremism in Africa didn’t exist until American evangelists started messing with native African beliefs and European/American colonialists swept in to exploit the natural resources.

From https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/us-military-bases-around-the-world-119321

Or how about Asia where we have maintained a heavy military presence since BEFORE World War II.  A Wall Street Journal report from May 2017 states that “the Pentagon has endorsed a plan to invest nearly $8 billion to bulk up the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years by upgrading military infrastructure, conducting additional exercises and deploying more forces and ships.”

In Central and South America, the U.S. has a long tradition of meddling with our neighbors’ affairs. Through our C.I.A. and black ops, we have assassinated, deposed, and otherwise destroyed Central and South American governments we didn’t like primarily for their socialist or communist leanings. U.S. policymakers evidently failed to consider the benefits of socialist policies in largely rural countries where most arable land has been taken over by multinational corporations for use as food crop plantations or grazing land for cattle production, or in some cases mining, oil production and other natural resources.

These practices have left the average native citizens without a place or occupation by which to support themselves, creating the need for governments to level the playing field. Instead, any government that has hinted it might take back land for its people has been ruthlessly eradicated.

… the U.S. military school initially called School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), [has fostered graduates] who have tortured and murdered citizens of their countries who opposed their governments’ oppressive policies-in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina. Some of the most notorious of these murderers that sought asylum in the United States in the 1980s are now being extradited back to their home countries, particularly to El Salvador… (Citation)

(Anyone still wondering why these migrants keep arriving at our southern border?)

Is it naïve to think that in a time of a mushrooming global digital community and escalating economic challenges due to climate change that we could start to look at new world order that’s beyond war?

What exactly does the U.S. stand to lose by stepping back from armed conflict?

Well, there’s the money. The combined arms sales of the top 100 largest arms-producing companies amounted to an estimated $395 billion in 2012. The five biggest exporters in 2010–2014 were the United States, Russia, China, Germany and France, and the five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. (Citation) In the top ten arms producers, eight are U.S. corporations. Among them, they provide 831,000 jobs, one of the primary justifications for perpetuating the industry of war.

Then there are military jobs. For FY2018, these were the following budget items:

  • Personnel costs: $141B
  • Family support: $10B
  • The VA: $178B

That’s a total of $329 Billion. For 1.4 million jobs. That’s $235,000 per job. Per year.

The total number of deaths and the amount of human suffering is incalculable.

To Christians who support war in support of Israel or otherwise, I’ll ask what Christ meant when he said to turn the other cheek. Etc.

Is violence ever justified? Is war ever moral? Is it really kill or be killed? Are migrants seeking refuge a threat requiring military action?

Have we come so far and still remain, at our core, savages?

~~~

Beware the Religious

The woman named Asia had been held in solitary confinement for eight years. Finally, her case reached the highest court in the land. There, after reviewing the case, the judge ruled that she should be released because the charges against her could not be proven.

An immediate cry went up as mobs called for her execution. Angry demonstrators blocked major roads as the woman went into hiding. It’s expected she will have to seek asylum in a foreign country.

Her crime? She was “accused of blasphemy after she quarreled with two fellow female farmworkers who refused to drink from a container used by a Christian.”[1]

The two Muslim women who pressed charges against 55-year-old Asia Bibi, a Catholic, denied they quarreled with her, saying her outbursts were unprovoked despite the testimony of several other witnesses who recalled the dispute.

Any outrage we as Americans might feel about this situation is quickly tempered when we learn the episode took place in Pakistan. We proudly believe we’re not a nation where religious fanatics control the government, where any hint of blasphemy against the dominant religion is a capital offense. Unlike Muslim Pakistanis, we wouldn’t kill a governor because he defended the woman or murder a government official after he called for justice in the case.

But hold onto your sense of superiority. If the prevailing powers in our political sphere have anything to do with it, we will soon have a nation that no longer protects and accepts all religious belief systems. Or, especially, tolerates those who declare no religion. The current president, elected largely by agitated mobs of religious extremists, accepts and enables those who want to make the U.S. a “Christian” nation. His current position of power as the nation’s top elected official came about through the efforts of those who fully intend to enforce their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

They’ve started with the nation’s highest court, where through Kentucky’s Republican senator Mitch McConnell’s illegal refusal to hold hearings on a sitting president’s nominee for the court and with the placement of Brett Kavanaugh on the bench, a justice whose temperament, according to former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, lacks the proper “temperament” to serve, the court comes to a conservative majority expected to amend or overturn Roe v Wade.

The issue of abortion has been the rallying cry of conservatives since the 1980s when Republicans figured out this one issue could be a highly useful political tool. Nothing else mattered as much as saving the fetus—not the murder of thousands in secret campaigns ordered by Reagan to foment revolution in Central and South America (Iran-Contra), not the encroaching monopolies of financial institutions  (savings and loan crisis), not Reagan’s crushing of labor unions.

…when he threatened to fire nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the world of the modern workplace. …Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.[2]

In hindsight, it’s not hard to see that Reagan’s genial manner served as an effective smoke screen to hide the brutal gutting of so many American ideals and freedoms. In an increasing number of places around the country, we no longer have the right to join with our fellow workers to demand safer working conditions or better pay.

We’ve learned we can no longer trust the federal government to conduct our foreign affairs in an open and just manner, and today face thousands of refugees fleeing their Central American homelands as a direct result of Reagan’s policies.

We’ve learned that our government is largely owned and operated by financial institutions that operate by an elite set of rules which protects their rapacious maneuverings, not the same codes of fairness that we must individually embrace in our daily affairs.

Reagan’s henchman in Congress, Newt Gingrich, operated by his own code in private, pursuing an adulterous affair while his wife lay in a hospital bed fighting cancer.

Gingrich went to Battley’s room with a yellow legal pad on which he had written a list of items related to the handling of the divorce. …Gingrich’s former press secretary reported that: “He wanted her to sign [the list]. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it.”[3]

This set the model in which thirty years later our current president could brag about his ability to “grab women by the pussy” and get away with it, be accused by at least seventeen women of sexual assault, and conduct multiple adulterous affairs and still be the champion of religious extremists in a blatant tit-for-tat where they put him in power because he will give them what they want.

We need to pay attention to what they want.

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2017/05/report-christian-extremists-u-s-military-national-security-threat/

It’s important to listen to voices such as the man whose recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette letter to the editor stated that God’s law overrules any laws crafted by men. He’s not the only one.

What happens when the extremists succeed in terminating a woman’s right to control what happens inside her own body? What religious edict will become the hue and cry of the extremists then? What will be the tool of hypnotic control exerted by Republicans to continue driving their “base” to the polls?

Will the new cudgel become our public schools, increasingly gutted of adequate funding so that religious schools can enjoy the benefit of our taxes? Will parental rights to educate their children as they see fit become the next altar upon which our nation’s laws and the advance of science are sacrificed in the name of God?

Will rabid rightwing terrorists continue to run rampant in our streets, killing those they perceive as enemies of their chosen leader and/or their belief system?

“Thousands of supporters of the [popular religious leader] took to the streets in protest, demanding Bibi’s public execution. Hundreds blocked the road linking the city with the capital, and protests were held in other cities…Three judges upheld the blasphemy law, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam’s holy book…”[4]

Will extremists in our nation succeed in their increasing effort to limit who votes?

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/31/conservative-republicans-are-least-supportive-of-making-it-easy-for-everyone-to-vote/?fbclid=IwAR01bySQy_kO6jg67Zp8ZlR9H3pXXLUeT7z9Gx-9z9i2Q8OWtAm15vu3BO4

The current president certainly thinks so. Yesterday he crowed to a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network about how much he’s done for the religious right and, in return, how much they will continue to support him and the Republican Party.

Trump suggested this support stems from how his administration has “nullified” the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code that forbids faith groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates…

He also referred to his expansion of the Mexico City policy, which withholds U.S. aid from foreign nongovernmental health organizations that offer women advice about abortion. In practice, the new policy has placed tighter restrictions on a wide swath of health organizations and applies to about 15 times the amount of foreign aid previously affected.[5]

Or consider the words of Trump’s doppleganger, Steve Bannon, who was quoted by journalist Joshua Green in his recent book Devil’s Bargain that:

“The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history,” Green quoted Bannon as saying. “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”

Bannon is far from the first to acknowledge the rise of women to positions of power and authority over the last one hundred years. In 2013, for example, Forbes reviewed Hanna Rosin’s “The End Of Men” which postulates “That the success of feminism, the decline of the patriarchy, has more to do with economic changes than anything else.”

If there is a hero in Rosin’s story, it is not women or men or progressive politics: it is the new service economy, which doesn’t care about physical strength but instead apparently favors “social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus” — things that “are, at a minimum, not predominantly the province of men” and “seem to come easily to women.” And so, “for the first time in history, the global economy is becoming a place where women are finding more success than men.”

I’ve blogged before about the struggle of men to make a place for themselves in a time when a greater skill set is required than manhandling mules, plowing, hunting, and crafting shelter. The angry white men comprising the bulk of rightwing politics and extremism haven’t been able to successfully adapt. Perhaps, for many of them, recognizing the true basis of their rage is beyond their reach. Instead, projecting their fear and anger onto the Other—minorities, immigrants, non-Christians—successfully disguises their instinctual terror that Women will gain the upper hand.

Of course there are female rightwing extremists. And there are plenty of evolved men who embrace women’s rights as akin to their own. But, as stated in a quote attributed to Margaret Mead, we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.”

Many exhausted progressive activists have embraced the comment to bolster their efforts in causes ranging from reproductive rights to environment. But the quote works both ways. It applies to rightwing extremists, too, those who won’t rest until we are as crippled by religion as Pakistan.

~~~

[1] Pakistani court acquits Christian woman…” Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Nov 1, 2018. 6A

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/opinion/reagan-vs-patco-the-strike-that-busted-unions.html

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aspects-of-gingrich-divorce-story-distorted/2011/11/17/gIQA8iY4YN_story.html?utm_term=.ee17cf62bc0f

[4] “Pakistani court” article

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-claims-no-one-has-done-more-for-religion_us_5bdb1316e4b019a7ab5aeb8d?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063&utm_campaign=hp_fb_pages&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=main_fb&fbclid=IwAR2St6FrAd2j5cr14i4MBG6ToeGflsLGSd7eAzAAMEUEn8aTXbXPYZGi2tY

Folk Song “Billy Boy”

From a YouTube recording of the spoken poem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bKJHwNzXAs

As often happens, at 3 a.m. I was lying awake with a song running through my head. I hadn’t thought about this song since I was child when my mother sang it in the style of the Andrews Sisters’ recording.

Why Billy Boy? I have no idea. But in the need to put this to rest, this morning I looked up the lyrics. And as happened before with other folk songs, I discovered this one has a long and not so nice history.  Wikipedia states: “Its lyrical structure is thematically complex and modeled after the question and answer form of traditional ballads” that served as Bob Dylan’s inspiration for a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.

While the tone of the nursery rhyme is ironic and teasing, both the question and answer form and the narrative of the song have been related to “Lord Randall”, a murder ballad from the British Isles, in which the suitor is poisoned by the woman he visits. Wikipedia

Here are the lyrics I always heard:

Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where have you been, Charming Billy?
I have been to seek a wife, she’s the joy of my whole life
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Where does she live, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where does she live, Charming Billy?
She lives on the hill, forty miles from the mill
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Did she bid you to come in, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she bid you to come in, Charming Billy?
Yes, she bade me to come in, there’s a dimple in her chin
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Did she take your hat, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she take your hat, Charming Billy?
Yes, she took my hat and she threw it at the cat
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Did she set for you a chair, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she set for you a chair, Charming Billy?
Yes, she set for me a chair, she has ringlets in her hair
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she cook and can she spin, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she cook and can she spin, Charming Billy?
She can cook and she can spin, she can do most anything
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she bake a cherry pie, Charming Billy?
She can bake a cherry pie, quick as a cat can wink her eye
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she make a feather bed, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she make a feather bed, Charming Billy?
She can make a feather bed and put pillows at the head
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she make a pudding well, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she make a pudding well, Charming Billy?
She can make a pudding well, I can tell it by the smell
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she milk a heifer calf, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she milk a heifer calf, Charming Billy?
Yes, she can, and not miss the bucket more than half
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Is she often seen at church, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Is she often seen at church, Charming Billy?
Yes, she’s often seen at church, with her bonnet white as birch
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

And is she very tall, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
And is she very tall, Charming Billy?
She’s as tall as any pine, and as straight as a pumpkin vine
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Are her eyes very bright, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Are her eyes very bright, Charming Billy?
Yes, her eyes are very bright, but alas, they’re minus sight
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she sing a pretty song, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she sing a pretty song, Charming Billy?
She can sing a pretty song, but she often sings it wrong
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

How old may she be, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
How old may she be, Charming Billy?
Three times six and four times seven, twenty-eight and eleven
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Is she fit to be a wife, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Is she fit to be a wife, Charming Billy?
She’s as fit to be a wife as a fork fits to a knife
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

But now with the information about an earlier darker version named Lord Randall, I had to know what it said. Here’s the Wikipedia description:

“Lord Randall”, or “Lord Randal”, is an Anglo-Scottish border ballad consisting of dialogue between a young Lord and his mother. Similar ballads can be found across Europe in many languages, including Danish, German, Magyar, Irish, Swedish, and Wendish. Italian variants are usually titled “L’avvelenato” (“The Poisoned Man”) or “Il testamento dell’avvelenato” (“The Poisoned Man’s Will”), the earliest known version being a 1629 setting by Camillo il Bianchino, in Verona.

Of course the Scots are in it! Here are the lyrics, by one version.

Lord Randal

https://www.allmusic.com/performance/lord-randall-mq0001894340

“Oh where ha’e ye been, Lord Randall, my son!
And where ha’e ye been, my handsome young man!”
“I ha’e been to the wild wood: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“An wha met ye there, Lord Randall, my son?
An wha met you there, my handsome young man?”
“I dined wi my true-love; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie doon.”

“And what did she give you, Lord Randall, my son?
And what did she give you, my handsome young man?”
“Eels fried in broo; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie doon.”

“And wha gat your leavins, Lord Randall, my son?
And wha gat your leavins, my handsome young man?”
“My hawks and my hounds; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie doon.”

“What become a yer bloodhounds, Lord Randall, my son?
What become a yer bloodhounds, my handsome young man?”
“They swelled and they died; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi huntin, and fain wad lie doon.”

“O I fear ye are poisoned, Lord Randall, my son!
I fear ye are poisoned, my handsome young man!”
“O yes, I am poisoned; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick at m’ heart, and I fain wad lie doon.”

Several performed versions may be found on YouTube. I particularly enjoyed this one by Giordano Dall’Armellina .  Some versions include a couple of final stanzas where he curses his treacherous lover to hell fire.