Email to my Christian Siblings

Recently in discussing the role of religion in wars over the centuries, my sister wrote:

“The Jewish people conquered and obtained land,  because God told them to. He kept his word to Abraham, telling him he would give his descendants that land, though it took hundreds of years. He said plainly in his word that it wasn’t due to the goodness of the Hebrews, but as a punishment to the nations there, due to their unacceptable practices…”

I wrote back:

Surely you realize that the claim that ‘God told us to do it’ is an entirely self-serving justification for whatever the Jews wanted to do. The Old Testament, written by Jews, is full of their violent behavior, not only by conquering tribes in order to seize the lands, but in admonitions like ‘an eye for an eye’ and other aspects of their primitive early laws. 

By the way, if you ever want to know how the Israelis got a lot of their Old Testament stories–especially the creation stories–check out Sumerian history recorded on clay tablets. The Sumerian civilization predates the rise of Jewish tribes by at least a thousand years. Tribal people who would become Israel lived in the hills around early Sumerian cities and adopted much of the Sumerian mythology. Here are a few of the Biblical stories that are copied from earlier Sumerian beliefs:

  • In the beginning, there was chaos (Enuma Elish–Sumerian story of creation)
  • Chaos was transformed to order (Enuma Elish)
  • God/gods created all things (Enuma Elish)
  • Light existed before the creation of the sun and moon (Enuma Elish)
  • God/gods were displeased with humanity and decided to destroy humanity via the flood (Epic of Gilgamesh, Eridu Genesis, and the Epic of Atrahasis)
  • The flood (Sumerian kings list)
  • One man and his family survived the flood (Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld)
  • Those on the Ark opened a window near the end of the journey sending birds as scouts
  • Food and drink can give eternal life (Adapa)
  • After the flood, this one man gave thanks to his God
  • The early settlers in Mesopotamia were of one speech (Enmerkar and the Lord Aratta)
  • The language was confused (Enmerkar and the Lord Aratta)
  • Migration originated from those who survived the flood
  • The Sumerians knew the concept of eternal life in paradise and were seeking it (Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld)
Part of the preserved clay tablet record of Sumeria

But I’m off topic. I deviated into that to explain why I have zero faith in the Jewish idea that they were God’s chosen people. They were just a scrappy little fringe tribe that came together around an adopted mythology and used violence to take what they wanted.

Warmongering and violence inflicted by the Jews is part and parcel of their history. Consider when God instructs King Saul to attack the Amalekites: “And utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them,” God says through the prophet Samuel. “But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. When Saul failed to do that, God took away his kingdom. In modern terms, God was demanding genocide of an entire people.

But then, the Old Testament idea of God included wiping out all of humanity because God was offended by sin. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods who set up the great flood were offended by the NOISE.

Similar edicts by God urged the ‘utter destruction’ of the Canaanites when the actual motivation for Jews was to take over Canaan instead of continuing to live in the mountainous regions where few crops could thrive. i.e.–the Jews wanted the land and they’d do whatever it took to get it including slaughtering as many Canaanites as necessary including women and children.

Part of a new print ad for Henry guns; a new TV commercial plays up the brand’s origins as made in the United States. From The New York Times, “My Rifle, My Bible and Me” by Stuart Elliott, Sept 17, 2009

Yes, the New Testament claims certain teachings of Christ were meant to limit or eradicate the old ‘eye for an eye’ mindset of the Old Testament. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing,” for example. But I’m pretty sure that while this idea sounds good in church, in reality many Christians today are among the first to hoard guns and exert deadly force when they feel they are threatened. It is Christians who pray over a campfire then turn around and start killing Afghans, or Syrians, or whoever else they decide to improve or challenge in their native lands! 

Or, on a lesser more pathetic scale, pray in a huddle to win a football game before trotting onto the field to physically assault one another.

To me, even going into places to evangelize — teaching the ‘pitiful heathens’ about God — is a form of violence. There are tribes who existed for thousands of years in peace, living off the land and worshiping in their own way, now told that their beliefs are all wrong and they must adopt this new religion in order to be ‘saved.’ Suddenly they become caught up in a war of dogmas–Islam vs Christianity, mostly, although in India and Myanmar for example, the conflict is between Buddhism and Islam. Africa right now is an absolute nightmare of warring tribes operating under the flag of Islam or Christianity, a situation I blame entirely on Christian missionaries who were so arrogant to believe that undermining tribal traditions with this new religion could ever turn out well.

While we can agree that Islam is often the birthplace of radical sects pursuing jihad in the name of their religion, we can’t escape the long history of equally abhorrent behavior by Jews and Christians. I mean, all you have to do is read through the Old Testament to see the countless times that the Jews use “God said” to justify their aggression against other people who possessed lands or other resources the Jews wanted. According to the pope, God said Christian crusaders should invade the Middle East and exterminate the ‘infidels’ (Muslims) who had occupied Israeli (Canaanite) lands for 500 years. The latest version of this mindset is before us today–Israel has not only taken most of the land away from Palestinians, but continues to attack and kill those who protest and move forward with taking more land–bulldozing homes, orchards, and gardens to drive out Palestinians. The situation in Israel is infuriating to any neutral observer. 

I think this kind of attitude of ‘God said’ and its subsequent use to justify aggression both in personal dealings and in national ones, is an underlying cause of the hatred directed toward Jews over the centuries. At the end of WWII, sympathy for the Jews after Hitler’s holocaust led Western powers to grant Jews a place of their own by taking a SMALL PART of Palestine to create Israel. Jews had not ‘owned’ a homeland since around 600 AD, so it’s hardly a matter of giving back what had been theirs any time recently. What other place on earth takes land away from its current occupants and gives it to people who lived there 1,400 years ago? This came about due partly to a strong Zionist movement among the Jews living in places like the U.S. as well as Christian fundamentalists eager to facilitate the predictions of Revelations. *sigh*

Here’s what the Jews have done with that:

image.png

Finally — here’s a hilarious take on the situation with the land now mostly called Israel.
https://vimeo.com/199418954

Sibling response to this email? Silence.

And that’s fine, because a) there is no reasonable response, b) we’ve argued about this for decades, and c) they do not have interest in challenging the belief system in which they’ve been brainwashed since birth. They’re comfortable with what they believe. How I escaped is beyond my comprehension, but I am thankful for it. I’m especially encouraged that nearly one out of three people in the U.S. today share my disgust with religion and the evil it often perpetrates.

Are Whites Superior? (Part 2)

Yanomami, Brazil [https://www.survivalinternational.org/articles/3162-yanomami-botanical-knowledge]

On first glance, it seems as though people descended through Western European ancestry are, by far, superior to people of color, those primitive folks who lived in tribal groups as hunter-gatherers in Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Islands—and American Natives. Let’s not leave out those strange people from Asia whose skin color isn’t exactly white. None of them look like us with our pale skin, light colored hair, and elegant facial features.

We are, after all, the ones who invented the marvels of our modern age from electricity to computer chips. It’s been the Americans and other Western Europeans, the penultimate of PIE western expansion and ingenuous invention, who have won the wars with our aircraft carriers and jets, sent men to walk on the moon, and just met the latest challenge from the viral netherworld to invent vaccines to conquer COVID-19. What more evidence do we need?

That’s the first and only consideration given to such a question by those who want—need—to believe they are superior. It was this thread of ancestry that supported Hitler’s quest to create a ‘pure’ Aryan race, thereby justifying the horrors of the Holocaust.

A second glances pulls back the curtain to reveal much more.

In truth, what white Indo-European descendants have created would not exist were it not for the earlier works of other cultures. The modern world and its many marvels exist not because of white supremacy but rather as a result of all cultures of all times.

It was the Sumerians (Iraq, Mesopotamia) who developed number systems, the wheel, a set of laws, and invented the earliest writing.

“Scholars now recognize that writing may have independently developed in at least four ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia (between 3400 and 3100 BCE), Egypt (around 3250 BCE), China (1200 BCE), and lowland areas of Southern Mexico and Guatemala (by 500 BCE).

“…The Phoenician alphabet is simply the Proto-Canaanite alphabet as it was continued into the Iron Age (conventionally taken from a cut-off date of 1050 BCE). This alphabet gave rise to the Aramaic and Greek alphabets. These in turn led to the writing systems used throughout regions ranging from Western Asia to Africa and Europe.[1] [Phoenicia was located in Lebanon (Middle East) from about 1100 to 200 BCE.]

Black eggshell pottery of the Longshan culture (China, c. 3000–2000 B.C.E.)

Most of the foundations of modern science appeared first in China and/or the Middle East, neither of which were white people. In Babylon, successor to Sumer in the lands of modern Iraq, medical practices, metallurgy, animal anatomy, and astronomy were documented as early as 2000 BCE. Egypt developed astronomy, medicine, and mathematics including geometry as well early concepts in neuroscience and in the empirical method of scientific study. By the first century BCE, the Chinese had advanced the use of decimals and fractions, kept records of astronomical events such as sunspots, supernovas, and eclipses, and are credited with a long list of other discoveries and inventions including gunpowder which, upon discovery by Western explorers in the early Renaissance, were lifted wholesale into Western cultures.[2]

While Islamic achievements between 786 and 1258 CE encompassed a wide range of advancements, especially in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine, white people of Western Europe lived in fortified tribal encampments, waged war with swords, and did not read or write except in cryptic runes or enclaves of monks using the remnants of Roman literacy.[3] These earliest non-white cultures advanced the inventions of Greece and Rome.

Hindu-Arabic numerals, set of 10 symbols—1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0—that represent numbers in the decimal number system. They originated in India in the 6th or 7th century and were introduced to Europe through the writings of Middle Eastern mathematicians, especially al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi, about the 12th century.

Western Europe’s invasion of Latin America brought diseases which wiped out nearly 90% of the native population, with the remainder subjugated into slavery to see their religious texts burned and accumulated wealth loaded onto ships bound for Europe. Yet before this invasion by the Catholic Spanish and Portuguese into Central and South America, the native cultures there had developed some of the world’s most advanced mathematical and astronomical expertise, calendars that equal anything invented so far, and agricultural refinements that produced corn, peppers, squash, potatoes, and tomatoes along with many of the bean types in popular use today.

An artistic recreation of The Kincaid Site from the prehistoric Mississippian culture as it may have looked at its peak 1050–1400 CE.

The myth perpetuated by such invasions, including the stories taught to generations of white Indo-European descendants in the United States, is that the Native tribes of our lands were uncivilized people who benefited from the teachings of European religion, speech, and cultural traditions. But for over 15,000 years before European diseases killed tens of thousands of them and deliberate genocide killed thousands more, Natives had lived quite well on this land, following their spiritual practices and developing extensive trading routes. Their general philosophy encompassed “harmony with nature, endurance of suffering, respect and non- interference toward others, a strong belief that man is inherently good and should be respected for his decisions.”[4]

Just as with the so-called primitive cultures in Africa, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and—closer to home—the Natives of the Americas, the civilizations they built did not wipe out their forests or pollute their rivers and air. They enjoyed communal life, unlike modern America where hardly a day passes without a mass shooting by frustrated Indo-European males who cannot go off ‘a-Viking’ to loot and plunder. The longing for a return to the violent ways of medieval ancestry is reflected in everything from the hue and cry over gun ownership to the rabid insurrection of January 6, 2021, when men carried Confederate flags symbolizing their supremacy.

Today, those finding unacceptable differences among persons wishing to make their homes in the United States (and other Western European countries of PIE descent) chose to discriminate not only for skin or hair color but also for religion, cultural practices, and even styles of dress. This is not new. As noted in a recent article in The Atlantic, “the United States has never been a “diverse nation of immigrants,” a phrase that first appeared in the national dialogue in the late 1890s. The U.S. has consistently favored immigration by Northern Europeans (PIE DNA) and, since 1882, has “deported more than 57 million people, most of them Latino.”[5]

Like so many other revelations resulting from modern science, DNA research clearly reveals that behaviors ascribed to our white ancestry are not in fact hardwired into our minds.

Further studies finally debunked race as a biological marker for humans for two key reasons. First, we cannot distinguish a “white” person, for example, from a “black” person by looking at their genetics, alone. Skin color is determined by a number of genes, and so even if a certain set of genes suggests someone may have dark skin, an entirely separate set of genes could also make their skin lighter. In addition, humans are so mixed that any physical features that may have arisen, such as height or skin color, do not clearly “belong” to one group of people. Moreover, the traits we might see in a particular white person — blond hair, blue eyes, light skin — are not grouped together in our DNA. In other words, many characteristics that we consider as racial traits are not inherited as a fixed combination. Having light skin has nothing to do with one’s having blue eyes (or being tall, or liking math, for that matter).”[6]

The evidence is clear that racism is not an inheritance based on our DNA but rather a choice taught by parents or cultural institutions and perpetrated by those who refuse to learn. Increasing numbers of white men and women of Indo-European ancestry have evolved to accept all humans as equals and embrace progressive reforms that overcome earlier, prejudiced views. Of the 255,200,373 Americans eligible to vote in 2020, only 159,633,396 actually cast a ballot (66.3%). Of those, supporters of an entrenched Indo-European view gained 46.9% and the progressives gained 51.3%, neither of which is a majority of the nation’s eligible voters. In the greater eligible voter population, only 32% voted for Biden and only 29% voted for Trump.

The slow trend toward an increasingly evolved view of the world based on science and acceptance gives hope that human intelligence can overcome the ancestral influence of PIE DNA’s long traditions. But only if we try.


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

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

[3] Islamic scholars also pursued advancements in chemistry, botany and agronomy, geography and cartography, ophthalmology, pharmacology, physics, and zoology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_in_the_medieval_Islamic_world

[4] http://www.wellnesscourts.org/files/Duran%20-%20American%20Indian%20Belief%20Systems.pdf

[5] Dickerson, Caitlin. “It’s Always Been About Exclusion.” The Atlantic, Vol 327-No. 4, May 2021, pp 11-15.

[6] https://www.illinoisscience.org/2020/09/there-is-no-biological-meaning-for-race/

Is Racism In Our DNA?

Typical Western European/American representation of Jesus Christ as a white man with light hair and blue eyes

If we track the roots of Western civilization to its earliest evidence in language and genetics, we find that our language and other markers of our ancestry track the spread of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language from its roots in the Eurasian steppe circa 4,500 years ago. This expansion can be traced through word relationships as well as commonalities of myth and religion, but also through similarities in social behaviors. From Bronze Age Greeks, Indo-Iranians, and Anatolian (Hittite) people, this cultural thread weaves through Iron Age Indo-Aryans, Iranians and, most importantly for our consideration, European groups including Celts, Germanic peoples, Italic peoples, and other Western European populations.

Recent DNA analyses of these populations support the theory of PIE migration and conquest over earlier human settlements.[1] By the Middle Ages, ancient Indo-European traditions, myths, and languages had reached Scandinavian cultures and spread across medieval Europe. Genetic information shows that certain characteristics currently attributed to European ancestry such as blue eyes first appeared in the genetic record around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago in Italy and the Caucasus. Light skin is less easily tracked as a genetic factor but researchers believe this feature spread through Western Europe between 19,000 and 11,000 BCE (Before Current Era). Other physical characteristics also follow this migration, including taller height and blond hair.

This movement from east to west parallels the penetration of farming practices into hunter-gatherer populations. Farming required settling into one location to oversee the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of farmed crops, meaning that people were able to accumulate more worldly goods which in turn led to inequalities as well as the need to determine paternity of children who might inherit such goods. Social rules proliferated to govern communal norms including the sexual behavior of women.

Migrations that spread PIE language and culture

By around 3500 BCE, people of the PIE traditions had domesticated the horse, adapted the wheel to chariots and wagons, and begun herding food animals such as cattle. The growth of grazing herds led to conquest of neighboring lands to expand grazing space. Increasing use of metals for weaponry (copper, bronze, iron) alongside war chariots pulled by domesticated horses led to the rise of empires from Greece and Rome to the European colonialism that shaped the modern world starting in 1500s. Just like their PIE ancestors, early Western civilizations seized power by conquering bordering indigenous populations and usurping any natural resources native to those lands.

Operating in the arrogance of supremacy, or the ‘might-makes-right ideology,’ expansionists viewed the world as theirs for the taking. If the tools of conquest could overcome native defenses, then it was conveniently considered a God-given right to take whatever the natives might have, not limited to their possessions and lands but also their very lives. Enslaved to their new masters, conquered people endured the various brutal labors required of empire building whether mining lead, tin, or salt or building roads, temples, and coliseums where even more slaves could be forced to ‘entertain’ their masters with fights to the death.

Rising from the ashes of the vast Roman Empire, by 1500 CE, Western European powers traveled the world, spiking their nation’s flags into new lands to claim it for king and country. During the next five hundred years, Spain ‘discovered’ the so-called New World. France, Great Britain, Portugal, and Holland (Netherlands) quickly joined the land grab, swooping in to establish their own satellites in the Americas and then around the globe. Most of these conquered people were people of color, therefore automatically considered inferior and suitable for genocide or enslavement.

Ironically, all these Western European powers were themselves shaped by invasions by outsiders, virtually all of which were also PIE cultures. For example, after the Celts penetrated the British Isles sometime around 2000 BCE, continuing waves of foreign invaders included the Romans (circa 55 BCE); Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (circa 400-500 CE); Norse, Danes and other ‘Viking’ entities (700-900 CE); and finally the conquest by Normans (1066). The influence of Scandinavian influence on British culture and language can’t be understated, since the Normans (Northmen) themselves were Norse Viking invaders of France circa 900 CE who agreed to stop pillaging Paris in exchange for lands along France’s western coast.[2]

England and subsequently the British Empire staked its claim first on Ireland and Scotland, but also on North America, India, Australia, Egypt and a major swath of Africa along with portions of China, Indonesia, and various Pacific islands.[3] Spain plundered most of South America as well as the western half of the present-day United States and the Philippine Islands. Not wanting miss out on native hoards of gold, silver, and precious gems, the Catholic Church worked through both Spain and Portugal to destroy indigenous religious traditions and take possession of their wealth.[4] France suffered the loss of much of their colonized territories to the British in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) including a large swath of the United States heartland and much of eastern Canada, then made up its losses with the occupation of northwest Africa, parts of India, and various parts of Indochina.[5]

Along the way, racism stood as a primary justification for enslaving not only Africans to produce wealth in American and Caribbean colonies, but virtually any indigenous peoples who fell before the advance of Western Europeans. A standard concept undergirded these actions, perhaps best stated in 1884 by the Frenchman Jules Ferry: “”The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races.”

The western European colonial powers claimed that, as Christian nations, they were duty-bound to disseminate Western civilization to what Europeans perceived as the heathen and primitive cultures… In addition to economic exploitation and imposition of imperialist government, the ideology of the civilizing mission required the cultural assimilation of “primitive peoples,” as the nonwhite Other, into the colonial subaltern of eastern Europe.[6]

Then, just like that, there were no more new lands to conquer and movement westward turned back on itself. Throughout the rush to ‘conquer’ the American West, freed slaves, migrant laborers from Mexico and the rest of Central America, and imported Chinese performed the backbreaking labor of building railroads, mining, and agriculture. Today’s U. S. agricultural industries depend heavily on the descendants of mixed Spanish-Native peoples.

For a time, the tradition of colonization continued into the 20th century in the form of wars against lesser nations. In a belated effort to rein in this long tradition of conquest, “In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill jointly released the Atlantic Charter, which broadly outlined the goals of the U.S. and British governments. One of the main clauses of the charter acknowledged the right of all people to choose their own government. The document became the foundation for the United Nations and all of its components were integrated into the UN Charter, giving the organization a mandate to pursue global decolonization.”[7]

Meanwhile, domestic discrimination by whites takes form in laws that are used selectively in the United States to disproportionately imprison Blacks and Latinos where they are used as a labor force and whose imprisonment enriches the rapidly growing private prison industry. The racist white-supremacy inheritance of PIE ancestry continues in the 21st century, thriving in right-wing hate groups and political party movements across the United States and Western Europe.

The racialist perspective of the Western world during the 18th and 19th centuries was invented with the Othering of non-white peoples, which also was supported with the fabrications of scientific racism, such as the pseudo-science of phrenology, which claimed that, in relation to a white-man’s head, the head-size of the non-European Other indicated inferior intelligence; e.g. the apartheid-era cultural representations of coloured people in South Africa (1948–94).

…Despite the UN’s factual dismissal of racialism, in the U.S., institutional Othering continues in government forms that ask a citizen to identify and place him or herself into a racial category; thus, institutional Othering produces the cultural misrepresentation of political refugees as illegal immigrants (from overseas) and of immigrants as illegal aliens (usually from México).[8]

The same science that has tracked white ancestry over thousands of years has not only provided modern civilization with countless amenities but also clear evidence that underneath our skin and other outward appearances, humans are all the same.

https://themetamodernist.com/2017/12/27/why-god-is-a-white-man-god-the-father-in-western-art/

See Part II coming soon: “Are Whites Superior?”


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

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

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

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Empire

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_colonial_empire

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilizing_mission

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

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other_(philosophy)

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?

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?

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.

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.

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.