Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trekkies

I was slightly embarrassed when it slipped out.

In my defense I was a bit nervous, preoccupied, and psychologically ragged. I had arrived at her apartment following a 45 minute drive that began with my rushing off after coordinating schedules with AYD, AOD and their mother; nothing had meshed that day, and if time really does weave memories into a delicate tapestry then that day still collects dust as a pile of odd yarn. I knew her, but it was an early date; maybe number 4.

She opened the door wearing tall black boots and a dress that looked shorter than it was. The dress was a polyester retro-style number that would have been at home on the set of the iconic 1960s SciFi show Star Trek (TOS). Luckily the dress was not red.

Star Trek (TOS) was a wild ride through a galaxy controlled by whimsical physics. William Shatner as Captain James Kirk simply overacted his way from impossible situation to incredible explanation. It was not simply because I was still very young when the series was being wrung through what must have been a fourth season of rerun that I accepted the impossibilities as unimportant; though I doubt I would be so forgiving today. Gene Rodenberry (the creator of Star Trek) had created a series of compelling and topical stories. He could talk about racism, and communism, and the threat of nuclear war because he had them take place in far off parts of the galaxy, and so they were not real.

In its third and final season Star Trek (TOS) featured the first on-TV interracial kiss between leading characters. The episode (Plato’s Stepchildren) that included the interracial kiss scene first aired on the 22nd of November 1968; the same day the Beatles released the white album. The character of Lieutenant Nyota Uhura was played by actress Nichelle Nichols. Nichelle almost left the show after season 1, but was convinced to stay by trekky and civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

Star Trek (TOS) was woven into the fabric of a tumultuous time. King was assassinated just a few months (4 April 1968) before Uhura’s kiss first aired.

To those of us glued to the TV Uhura’s kiss was more important than a simple nod to interracial harmony. It suggested that Captain Kirk might finally be getting over the loss of Yeoman Janice Rand who left the series after season 1.

When my date opened the door she projected more of a delicate Randian beauty than the unbridled sexuality of Uhura. I will not be surprised if my memories will be as crudely reproduced as Rodenberry captured Yeoman Janice Rand; soft focus and bright spotlight illumination of the eyes.

Yeoman Janice Rand as played by Grace Lee Whitney

When I saw her it just slipped out.

“My god you look beautiful!” I exclaimed.

I try and avoid the g-word in polite company. I was especially embarrassed as I had described myself as an atheist, and here I was invoking the name of some undefined super deity in an awkwardly stumbled compliment.

I was stunned and shocked.

I have a re-occurring dream where I am waking up just as a small garter snake crawls into my mouth. I claw fruitlessly at its tail as it slithers into my windpipe and a strange peristalsis pulls it in. Sometimes I even wake up in a panic, choking. Sometimes I barely manage to grab the tip-end of the tail with my fingers or teeth; sometimes it slips out of my grasp, and at other times the tip comes off, but always the snake escapes into my innards.

Saying the g-word when all I wanted to do was be some approximation of smooth and attractive was like the snake dream in reverse; only in a bad way.

I only used it in a reflexive figure-of-speech way. I regretted it as the words floated, almost visible with accreted embarrassment, to their intended target.

She smiled.

In retrospect the term “my god” was accurately, though accidentally, used in this situation. God references an often, and usually poorly, defined entity that can be anything, as long as it is great and powerful, to anyone. By implying ownership with the word “my” I create a term that alludes to ultimate control over an ultimate source of everything awesome. The fragmentary nature of the exclamation juxtaposes the “my god” with “you look beautiful”. The idea here, and I wish I had thought of it at the time, is that only ridiculously incredible constructs such as a personal all-powerful entity would compare with fact that such an attractive woman had opened the door for me.

I know that may be just a little over the top, but I’m okay with that.

Unfortunately I’ve still got to work on a justification for using the g-word three times in a single utterance:

“oh god, Oh God, OH GOD”



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

SOTU Godcount

Last night was the annual State of the Union (SOTU) speech by the President of the United States (POTUS) to the people of the United States (PUS). Following the POTUS SOTU opposition party members queued up to “respond”. This morning I pulled up transcripts of the SOTU and a couple SOTU-responses, and counted the number of times “God” was invoked.

The winner, and in this case winning is refraining from invoking “God”, was my own senator Mike Lee. Mike provided the Tea Party response. He only used one single “God’ at the end of his speech, and it was used in such a way as to appear more as a figure of speech than an actual invocation:

Good night, and God bless.” – Senator Mike Lee (R) Utah

Mike spent an awfully large amount of his allotted time invoking the 1773 Boston Tea Party. He needed to re-frame it as a purely antibureaucracy protest; any mention of a progressive taxation motivation was expunged. He also went on to explicitly defend religiously motivated homophobia and abortion restriction, but he avoided the G-word.

The POTUS came in second with three “God”s. One was a second-hand “God” as he was quoting another individual saying “God Bless America”, and the other two were included in the traditional SOTU closing:

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.” – POTUS Barack Obama

The official GOP response, provided by representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, invoked “God” four times. Once by describing her own response to realizing her child had Down’s syndrome: “We saw a gift from God.” .

The other three official GOP “God”s were in Cathy’s closing remarks. Instead of “God” as a simple or traditional closing she went full pulpit-style prayer on the American people.

That, with the guidance of God, we may prove worthy of His blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For when we embrace these gifts, we are each doing our part to form a more perfect union.

May God guide you and our president, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.” -- Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) Washington

I am always intrigued when theists assign gender to their deity. Since Cathy assigned gender to a theist God while acting in an official capacity for the people of Washington State does this mean that “God” in Washington officially refers to a male deity? If so what does it state about divine organs? Does the term “teabagging” have a more spiritual meaning in Washington State?





Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Babel 1

In my last post I somewhat whimsically suggested that any transcendent source of absolute morality could serve as a independent foundation for communication. If a theistic god wished to communicate detailed morality to all humans the absolute language-transcending identity of the message could be used to then translate any related information from one language to another. A moderately-sized hunk of rock with a decree from Ptolemy V (the Rosetta stone) unlocked our modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs; think of what an absolutely pure communication from a theistic god could do?

Conversely any miscommunication between any two people argues for a god-free more rational world.

Those of you familiar with the Christian tradition, and have suffered through to this paragraph, know that god is not disproved by miscommunication at all; Jehovah is the original source of miscommunication. Nine lines in Genesis chapter 11 tell us all we need to know about where languages come from. In less than 250 words the bible describes the origin of languages which linguists have spent millions of words apparently confusing. To an unbelieving eye like mine the explanation for how languages were created looks like it could be condensed even further; capturing in three words what the bible takes 250 words to say. “God Did It”.

Of course the three-word distillation (“God Did It”) does not provide an explanation as to why. The bible actually quotes Jehovah directly to provide the reason. Though it is not exactly clear who Jehovah is talking to.

The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Genesis 11:6 NIV

This sounds to me like a pretty poor reason to confuse the entire world. People are getting along, and peaceably building stuff, and –wham- God comes in to mess things up because things are going to well.

Just to prove I’m not leaving out important bits of the bible’s record of the formation of every language on earth, here is the biblical Tower of Babel story in its entirety.

“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” – Genesis 11:1-9 KJB

I provided the passage from the King James Version because its unique translation suggests that the tower “may reach unto heaven” where other translations suggest the tower would reach the heavens (Lexham) or sometimes only up to the sky (CEV). The height is sometimes given as a reason for Jehovah’s displeasure despite the fact that Jehovah is not quoted as saying something like “Hey that tower will be too darned tall”.

If we are to believe that the Tower of Babel was going to be “Too darned tall” then just how tall could it have been? Luckily what the bible lacks in detail about its moral lessons it makes up for in detail about construction materials. The Tower of Babel was made from baked bricks and slime.

Slime is the term used in the King James Bible, and it does not sound like a very architecturally optimal building material. Other translations provide slightly different descriptions of this material: Asphalt (Darby), Tar (NIV), or Bitumen (NRSV). In other words  a sticky non-hardening material was used to glue the bricks together in much the same way masonry mortar is used in buildings today.

Because the mortar substitute would never completely harden the bricks would shift if subjected to sheer stresses. On a large scale, and the Tower of Babel was large, the pile of bricks and slime would flow until it reached its angle of repose.

The angle of repose for a substance is the angle a side of a stable pile of the substance makes. Pour some salt on the table and it will form a little cone shaped pile. Continue pouring salt on the pile and the overall shape of the pile will not really change, even as the pile gets quite large. The greatest angles of repose are found in irregular solids, and the largest angles of repose are around 45 degrees. This means that a tower built with bricks and slime would need a base equal to about twice the height in order to be stable.

The effort needed to build such a tower gets out of hand long before one attains heights that are at all difficult to visualize. Increasing a building’s height by any amount (y) requires expanding the base to a size equal to roughly the square of the existing height ((X+y)*(X+y)*y). Moderate increases in height require incredible increases in effort and material.

The date given for the construction of the Tower of Babel is 2242 BC. This is a little over 100 years after Noah’s flood destroyed everything on the planet. Four women survived the flood, and all the folks building the Tower of Babel were the product of a few short generations of incest.

Building huge structures based on angle of repose architecture was popular around the time of the great flood (2348 BC). Some of the most famous structures were built in Egypt. The pyramid of Nyuserra was started just before his death in 2421, and completed 44 years before the flood in 2392. By stacking large blocks of stone the architects of Nyuserra were able to slightly cheat the angle of repose; that angle for the sides of the pyramid of Nyuserra is 52 degrees, but it was only a little under 171 feet tall. I know of no-one who thinks a stack of stones 50-some-odd meters tall will reach heaven.

But it is not really possible to make an un-reinforced pile of bricks that is 50 meters tall. A cubic meter of bricks weighs in at about 2 metric tons. This exerts a force of about 2 kN. Modern kiln-fired bricks begin to exhibit failure behavior when subjected to forces around 50 kN; this corresponds to a pile of bricks about 25 meters tall. Complete failure would not really occur till the pile reached around 100 meters tall. Ancient bricks would be expected to fail under much lighter loads than modern kiln-fired brick.

The great pyramid at Giza is the tallest man-made structure in the world to "survive the great flood". It is over 145 meters tall. It is constructed out of large limestone blocks stacked in such a way as to slightly cheat the angle of repose constraints for great big piles of rubble. It originally had a tightly fitting smooth limestone casing which also helped it stand slightly more upright than the angle of repose would allow.

The great pyramid at Giza was completed in 2560. This is over three hundred years before the Tower of Babel was built. Apparently Jehovah did not find the pyramid that was half again as high as would be possible for the Babel engineers as threatening as the unfinished tower of Babel.


Postnote: It is easy to discount the basal foolishness of the story of the Tower of Babel as only having importance to “answers in Genesis” style cultists. When attached to the accepted dates that the young-earth creationists derive from the biblical lineages (and these dates are not very speculative) it contradicts much of what most folks believe about history. These extreme fringe groups are not the only ones who believe in a literal, historical Tower of Babel, and a divine confusion of tongues. The LDS church is very explicit in what it believes as is clear from the following official communication on the subject:

“For some in the modern world, the historicity of the tower of Babel story, as with the Flood, is often discounted. One modern school of thought considers the account to be nothing more than an “artful parable” and an “old tale.” But Latter-day Saints accept the story as it is presented in Genesis. Further, we have the second witness of the Book of Mormon. The title page of the Book of Mormon explains that the book of Ether “is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven.” The book of Ether itself then tells of when “Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth” (Ether 1:33).” -- From “The Flood and the Tower of Babel“ by Donald W. Parry on LDS.org

The modern Babel believers must be counting on the fact that the Babel story’s placement, snuggled into the mind-numbingly tedious begats of the Old Testament, renders it invisible. It is too easy for Atheists to crack the bible and get bogged down in the realization that the bible is untrue from its first words. We are also seduced by the concept of evolution and the fact that it is both accurate and elegant. We lose sight of the fact that the bible goes from being simply wrong to discounting what we have learned about earth science, oceanography, and geology (Noah’s flood). And then, in a couple more pages, discounts all ancient history and all of linguistics.

The reason the Tower of Babel story should be of particular interest is that there is a growing old-earth creationist sentiment amongst Christians. They interpret the creation myth of the bible as occurring literally, but long enough in pre-history to where evidence is muddled. They present an unassailable argument from confusion for the existence of god (they don't understand stuff and you confuse them when presenting evidence, but there is a god despite what you might be saying). The Tower of Babel, by nature of its affect on language, had to occur during historical times. The biblical lineages provide a concrete time for it.

Believing in the literal story of the Tower of Babel –ironically- makes no sense.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Green Sun, Yellow Grass.

There is so much to tell you. I don’t really know where to begin. I could begin at the beginning, but even if I could describe what little I know of the beginning in a way that you would understand,  I would quickly get into events that I could not accurately describe without describing much later events. My language was also changed by what I would find out. Even now my description of events is subject to change; more will be revealed.

I’ve been harangued enough about an absolute morality or transcendent connectedness that I should be able to simply use the nature of that to form an absolute reference frame. These things, instead of possessing an intrinsic level of detail, retreat into the realm of subjective description when confronted. They are individual, or personal, or subject to interpretation; far from an absolute standard we can map the experiences to.

I could rely on similarity. We are both humans so the events, and their impact, are undoubtedly similar to yours. I could use your familiarity with similar events to color in the details I don’t have the time to fill in. Unfortunately the details would be yours. The less I specifically filled in the more your image of my events would only be the similar events you experienced.

I could call up real things. Those items we know exist regardless of how little we might believe in them. This, however, turns out to be a lowest common denominator of sorts. As we both learn more the possibilities for discussion increase geometrically. Tomorrow and tomorrow the detail of the events will continue to resolve themselves.

I might be able to re-create the events for you. Play act them, or write a play based on them. The stage would be sparsely set. I could focus your imagination on those things most important to the plot.

I could abandon words entirely and paint a picture.

Interpretive dance.

Though I, like most people, like to think of myself as unique, these problems are common.

Consider the problem of communicating something far less complicated than my series of events. Consider talking to someone about color. Without a common reference point to draw upon the concept of “green” steadfastly resists communication. I try to imagine green things that might serve as a stored reminder of what “green” would mean to you. That… or this… is “green”. The best solution might be to pull something out of my pocket that was “green”, or point to something “green”. In this way I provide an instantaneous shared experience who’s residual is a shared understanding of “green”.

Of course memories do fade; sometimes like bright colors in the brighter sun.




Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Oklahoma You're OK

2004 was a big year for marriage. Utah passed its constitutional amendment 3 and Oklahoma its SQ711. SQ711 stands for “question 711” which amended the constitution of the state of Oklahoma. Both amendments “defined” marriage as being between a man and a woman.

In November of 2004 two same sex couples (Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton) filed suit. Almost 10 years later, on January 14th 2014, Judge Terence Kern of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma ruled that part a of the SQ711 that amended article two of the Oklahoma constitution violated the equal protection clause of the US constitution.

Though the ability to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples was stayed the next stop is probably the same 10th district court that overturned Utah’s amendment 3, and then denied enough stays to allow some 1300 same-sex couples to get married.

I picture throngs of same-sex couples marching on the state capitol in Oklahoma City while singing:

“They couldn't pick a better time to start in life!
 It ain't too early and it ain't too late
Startup as a farmer with a brand new wife
Soon be liv-in in a brand new state!” -- Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II

Last April the Oklahoma house voted 84-0 in unanimous support for their marriage discrimination amendment. The legislators could feel the winds of change, and wanted to oppose those changes.

“Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain
Where the wav-in wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain
Oklahoma
ev'ry night my honey lamb and I Sit alone and talk
and watch a hawk Makin lazy circles in the sky” -- Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II

Oklahoma’s marriage discrimination constitutional amendment included three clauses that stated:
a.) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. Neither this Constitution nor any other provision of law shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
b.) A marriage between persons of the same gender performed in another state shall not be recognized as valid and binding in this state as of the date of the marriage.
c.) Any person knowingly issuing a marriage license in violation of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor

Clause (a) was ruled upon, but there might be a reason to strike this amendment because clause (b) looks like it is specifically designed to interfere with interstate commerce. I would venture to guess that the people waiting to dance their way to the courthouse steps for their licenses don’t really care which clause brought the amendment to its knees; to them it is all OK!

“We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand
Yippi-I, Yippi-I, Yippi-I, Yippi-I, Yippi-I, Yippi-i
And when we say
Yeow! A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY
Were only say-in
"you're doing fine Oklahoma,
Oklahoma you're OK” “ -- Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II



Monday, January 13, 2014

Pomeranians at the Gate

She was explaining about her “God Shaped hole”.

She leaned forward in a gesture which a less ample woman might use to create a cleavage crease between her breasts. She did not need to try as creases formed and moved like viscous ripples all over her body whenever she moved.

She rested what looked like five gallon bags filled to busting with a chunky mixture of cauliflower and mayonnaise on the table. It looked like they were tied to her arms with purple yarn.

“I used to try and fill that hole with food, and shopping, and sex.” She said.

She looked at me with an earnestness only used by those who cannot see well. Perhaps the prescription on her shocking-blue contacts was old.

sex..?” I replied with a quavering uncertainty.

“Yes! Sex!” she exclaimed “Lots of Sex!”.

She was able to talk without opening her mouth enough to show her teeth. I began to wonder if she had teeth. I was staring at her face and noticing the places where her makeup had soaked up some skin moisture and crackled on re-drying. She had a speck of oatmeal cookie on her cheek that would have passed for a growth if there wasn’t a plate of oatmeal cookies nearby.

“I used to be an atheist like you” she said “but I couldn’t get nothin to fill that god-shaped hole”

I wanted to retort with some question about why the sex wasn’t working, but I was picturing her naked.

“Then I found God. The God of the Bible. I had my hole filled. I didn’t need no Sex, no shopping, no food” She reached for a cookie and giggled “I like a cookie every once in a while”

“God doesn’t want you to have sex?” I asked.

She swallowed most of the half-chewed cookie in her mouth “Not before marriage he don’t”

“I guess it is too late for me to worry about having sex before marriage” I replied

This Saturday would have been my 22nd wedding anniversary, but the divorce and rapid re-marriage of the woman I would have theoretically celebrated it with rained on that parade a bit. She did drive her new husband’s Mitsubishi Galant over to pick up a few things in lieu of a celebration. She looked well. She smiled at the kids, but her smile soured when she turned her face towards me.

I had begun to think the morose thoughts reserved for those suddenly facing the prospect of living alone after decades.

“How long after I die will the cat go before it begins to feed on my corpse? Probably longer than if I owned a dog….”

Kept inside my head such lovely thoughts bounce around like the ball bearing in a can of spray paint. Sometimes I open my mouth and the thoughts spray out. In public the effect is similar to spray painting the words “Pathetic Loser” in huge neon pink script on a blank white wall.

I had just opened my mouth in a large gathering of friends and acquaintances. That is why the mayonnaise madam was talking to me about sex and holes.

“Yoooou knooow what I mean” she cooed “You are only supposed to have sex to the person you are married to”

Especially if you are married” I replied before peeping into that pit where I keep the images of my ex’s years long affair; into my jealousy for the grace with which she simply transitioned into another marriage. I guess we all have holes; at least one of mine is already filled with sex.

“No hon” she says, and makes the comforting gesture of reaching out to place her hand on mine.

I quickly reach for a cookie, and her hand oozes onto the table in the space where mine had been a moment before. I look at her face, and the growth/crumb on her cheek. I realize that I don’t want the cookie anymore.

I also realize that she is a fabulously nice person. I knew this before, but the sincerity on her face is stunning. She is not trying to ambush me with Jesus because I’m particularly vulnerable. She is giving me a solution she thinks will work. The fact that she so completely believes what she is saying about God Shaped Holes only makes it more annoying to me.

“I’m not really thinking about sex these days” I lie.

In truth I’ve been thinking about sex in every imaginable way; going out of my way to imagine new ways to think about it. I’ve simultaneously thought that I am too old for a real sex life, and that I am old enough to have sex with women less than half my age without being a pedophile; that sex would interfere with my ability to form meaningful friendships with women, and that attempting any conversation while wearing pants would be a waste of time.

I’ve also been thinking about sex with everyone. I’m sure I thought about having sex with this well-meaning bible pushing obese woman. Not just a casual grunting wave to repressed sexuality, but some full-on role-playing fantasy. She would comfort me while we prayed. Down on our knees together the comforting hand on my shoulder becomes a casual embrace. We look up and our eyes meet. Our kisses become fumbling for buttons, and clasps, and zippers. We laugh about how she got the bible-shaped bruise on her thigh over morning coffee.

Right now, however, I am not thinking about sex. I am watching her talk and imagining the color of her teeth; if she has any. I am imagining the puckered folds of her white skin, and the smell of yeast. I am imagining vats of mayonnaise with bits of unrecognizable material floating in it. Whistler’s mother is rocking back and forth knitting a scarf from a skein of varicose vein she has in a little portable Styrofoam cooler. Two Pomeranians lay curled together in a cute little doggie bed waiting for her to die.

I don’t know if I should thank her for defusing the obsession smoldering in my loins or cry for the death of the little pathetic optimism which I held against the future.

And I get to go back to work tomorrow; it is Monday.



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

And a case of

I have found that the most defining characteristic of strangers is that they really don’t know much about me. This is not the “you just don’t know me” of atrophied love. It is not exactly the “Let me get to know you” of a new and interesting acquaintance. It is usually not the “I don’t want to know about you” of prejudice. It is an abstract lack of information; a not knowing that has yet to develop into more mature forms of ignorance.

Yesterday I went into WalMart two times in rapid succession. I realized on my second trip that the path from complete ignorance to slight comprehension was something more like a landscape painting than a smooth dichromatic gradient; it might also be somewhat amusing.

AOD arrived home on a later bus yesterday, so I went shopping. I bought some uninspired foodstuff on my first go-round through WalMart; lots of vegetables. AOD texted me with a suggestion that we sit around eating junk food and watching a show produced by Steven Moffat. She had been up till midnight, and then up early, typing out some homework the night before, so the idea of lounging around watching a show sounded to me like the most meaningful interaction possible for us.

I headed back into Walmart, and as I did I remembered that I forgot to get sandwich bags for lunches. As I walked around the store picking up a little more junk food than I needed I amused myself with a barrage of rhetorical questions:

“Who goes into Wal-Mart twice in one day?”
“Are you sure the extra junk food is for AOD’s lunches?”
“Would this be more fun with one of those electric carts?”

The self-interrogation became more focused as I walked back to the checkout carrying an armload of junk food and baggies.

“How many folks in Colorado are buying this exact same stuff right now?”
“Should I pick up a lighter too?”

The combination of items implied a functional connection. What does a somewhat frayed adult do after dark that uses both baggies and junk food. For a person that did not know me the assumption would be almost irresistible, but if they jumped to that conclusion they would actually know less about me than before they knew that I even existed.

When I jump to assumptions about strangers I pick the most exiting ones. It is a hobby. I live in a world with many more potential ninjas and space aliens than are found the worlds of people without this hobby.

It is a relatively new hobby for me. Back in November a very good friend stayed with me for a week while she was recuperating from gender re-assignment surgery. We brought a bunch of stuff to the house about a week before her surgery. Among the materials she needed for the recuperation was an entire case of KY jelly. A case of KY jelly is a lot of KY jelly.

I found that I was unable to associate the case of KY jelly with anything without the entire collection sounding synergistically more interesting.

When I carried the box into my house I noticed that it contained:

  1.  A copy of “Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin.
  2.  A roll of paper towels.
  3.  A case of KY Jelly.

“I never get invited to parties like that” I thought.

After we unpacked some of her stuff I wanted to take a picture of the KY jelly in my bedroom. It is unlikely that I will ever have an entire case of KY jelly in my bedroom again. I had placed it on the dresser:

  1.  Two packs of shoelaces.
  2.  A watch.
  3.  A case of KY jelly.

It was actually going to be hard to associate the KY jelly with anything without the set becoming more interesting; more interesting than even the case of KY jelly by itself.

Since this realization I have tested my hypothesis by adding the phrase “and a case of KY jelly” to random lists of objects. Today at work I needed to get some glassware and culture medium:

“Glassware, culture medium, and a case of KY jelly”

What kind of party does my second trip into Wal-Mart become by the addition of a case of KY jelly.

  1.  An armload of junk food.
  2.  Sandwich baggies.
  3.  A case of KY jelly.

I sometimes wish I lead as interesting a life as it might look like I do.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Duck You

On April 24th 1946 Phil Alexander Robertson was born in Caddo Parish Louisiana in the small town of Vivian. Vivian fits most definitions of a small town, and I suppose back in 1946 one had to drive south the 20-or-so miles on highway one to the city of Shreveport to get city things. Now-a-days one can take interstate 46 most of the way, and get there in a fraction of the time.

According to records of lynchings between the years 1882 and 1968 compiled by the Tuskegee Institute there were only eight states that boast a tally of African-American lynchings greater than 200. Louisiana with 335 is one of four states with a tally greater than 300. Vivian is much closer to the state lines of Arkansas (226 lynchings) and Texas (352 lynchings) than it is to Shreveport.

The number of lychings in the US dropped dramatically after World War I, and the final nails in this practice’s coffin were hammered in around 1968 by the civil rights movement. Racially-motivated killings continue, but they are more secretive; gone is the carnival atmosphere and community spirit. Lychings often involved hanging the corpse for display. In this way uppity Negroes (As African American’s were called using polite speech during the lynching years) would have a visual reminder of the cost of overstepping their place in society. Vivian Louisiana is right in the heart of USA lynching country.

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” -- Phil Robertson

Several months after Phil’s birth, on August 8th 1946, and about 35 miles Southeast as the duck flies from Vivian, John C Jones was lynched. About a year and a half before he was killed by angry white men on a hot summer Louisiana night John had spent Christmas and New Years wearing an American Uniform and fighting German Fascists in the Ardennes forest during the battle of the bulge. John returned from Germany with a 9mm automatic pistol he took from the corpse of a Nazi officer.

About four days before his lynching John and his cousin Albert Harris Jr. were arrested on suspicion of trespassing. For four days the two were repeatedly tortured in an attempt to have them confess to trespassing. On 8:30 August 8th they were “released” to the custody of an armed mob who drove them to a secluded place, stripped them naked, and beat them. Albert lost consciousness and was left for dead. He woke up in time to cradle his cousin's dying body and hear his final words.

John’s lynching drew national attention. The trial was sensational. All the defendants were acquitted. Nobody was found to be guilty of the torture and murder of John C. Jones.

Desegregation of Louisiana began in southern part of the state, and moved northward. Court cases in the 1950s effectively ended segregation in the Louisiana Universities, but a decade passed before Louisiana Tech, located less than 50 miles east of where John was Lynched, was desegregated by Judge E. Gordon West’s 1965 ruling. Phil began school just as the first two black students at LA tech were entering their second year there. He would eventually get both a BS and a MA degree from LA tech. While he was there he was uniquely placed to observe the early stages of racial desegregation.

Phil is uniquely qualified to make his observation that “pre-entitlement” African Americans were happy. This makes the statement all the more reprehensible.

A&E made publicity history by responding to some of Phil’s statements about the evils he perceived in homosexuality. He was suspended from his reality show “Duck Dynasty”. Less was made of his racist statements. Phil received an outpouring of support from public figures who wanted to support his right to be paid to say things the public figures agreed with.

A&E reinstated Phil after 9 days of suspension. They may have even given him a raise.