Bahá’u’lláh, Mother Ann, Lamar Smith, the violent South, FFRF, and the power of the Religous Right




If Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahai, hadn't disrespected homosexuals, his followers wouldn't hold them in contempt. If Mother Ann, founder of the Shakers (for whom we are indebted for the song in the video), had decreed that her followers have ten children, they would have borne ten children; but she instead prescribed celibacy, so her followers renounced their marriages and gave up their children. Religion is premised upon the belief that God speaks to few people, and that He expects the rest of us to take those people's word for what he said. The fact that this has resulted in unimaginable misery for millennia in no way makes the faithful question that it's all according to God's plan. Credo quia absurdum.

If your savior of choice makes moderate demands, and you're not personally fanatical, you might leave the world better for having lived; but if your savior is wicked or psychotic, only luck, and less often, clear thinking, will keep you from murdering nonbelievers; committing suicide in Guyana; mutilating the genitals of little girls; castrating homosexuals; and blowing up the ancient city of Palmya after beheading its 82-year-old defender. Despite such things, most of the world's population holds that religion is good, but that it can be twisted into something bad. But consider the Inquisition. Consider all the wars that religion has endorsed if not declared. You might argue that these things were an aberration, and that today's problems with religion are more of the same, but when was there a time that persecution in the name of God was not the norm? 

I receive a monthly newspaper called Freethought Today that is devoted to religious oppression in America, although each issue also includes hundreds of verifiable accounts of the latest felonies committed by America's clergy. Rape and its conspiratorial cover-ups are the most common, but every other crime you can name also appear. Vulgar and threatening letters directed at the publishers are printed along with essays and news regarding the organization's latest lawsuits on behalf of people who have the guts to speak-out against religion's tax-supported intrusion into their lives. While physical assaults against those who object to the all-out effort by the Religious Right to create an American theocracy are relatively rare, losing friends, losing jobs, receiving death threats, having one's children harassed, finding one's property vandalized, and even having one's pets killed, are not. While most Christians don't take an active part in such things, they don't oppose them either, just as they didn't opposed the murders, bombings, and lynchings of 50-150 years ago.

I was six years old when a black World War II veteran and Civil Rights worker named Lamar Smith was lynched in broad daylight near the main entrance to my Mississippi courthouse. When questioned by police, the scores of bystanders presaged the oft repeated words of Sgt. Schultz on Hogan's Heroes: "I saw nothING! I heard nothING! I know nothING! nothING!" It was as though all of those "good Christians" (a term with which Christians like to favor themselves despite their Savior's insistence that only God is good) of my childhood took the position that, "Christ died for us, so we don't have to risk a goddamn thing for nobody." 

The oppression continues today in yearly outrages against all manner of Americans including those who dare to complain when their local teachers, coaches, principals, mayors, policemen, aldermen, and postal workers, use their offices to promote the Christian religion. It might be a $75,000 taxpayer funded mural inside a church in Asheville, North Carolina; $1.4-million to remodel a Presbyterian church in Morristown, New Jersey; Latin crosses on Alpine, Texas, police cruisers; or the many places in which school principals allow clergy to approach individual students while they're eating to ask if they're "saved." All of these things violate the law; all of these things are skyrocketing under Donald Trump's hamstrung Department of Justice; and all of these things are done by people who claim that they alone can live with integrity because they alone have the Holy Spirit to guide them.

For the whole of the Civil Rights era, I attended church three times a week without hearing a single preacher in a single sermon criticize the burnings, beatings, bombings, and murders that were happening in my state. "How can you be so sure?" one might ask, "Maybe you just forgot." I can be sure because to hear any white person, much less a preacher from a pulpit, criticize the criminals or express sympathy for the victims would have been as memorable as a train wreck. 

While it's true that a prominent area insurance agent named Albert Heffner Jr. (whose daughter was Miss Mississippi) tried to reign in the violence; he was forced out of his community within days and out of the entire state of Mississippi within weeks, without a single local preacher taking his side. Yet, it was the Christian South that saw itself as leading the nation in fealty to Christ. As the preachers put it, we Southerners loved our Lord Jesus "without any variance or shadow of turning."

Another reason I know whereof I speak, is that I took my religion far more seriously than I wish I had, and this enabled me to remember other sermons. One common topic concerned the claim that Noah's son, Ham, became the father of "the negro race" when God cursed him and his progeny with black skin and servitude because he didn't look away when he saw his naked father passed-out drunk. Then there was the egregious rationalization that was preached from pulpits and printed in Jimmy Ward's front page editorials of the Jackson Daily News: Our niggers were happy until Communist inspired outside agitators like Dr. Martin Luther Coon, Jr. came in and stirred 'em up. The fact that Dr. Martin Luther Coon, Jr. was also a Southerner was ignored.

But I speak of olden times, olden as in fifty years. So what say you? 1,950 years of cruelty and oppression followed by fifty years of relative pacificity, and I should trust that Christians won't "gird up their loins" (another popular sermon phrase) for continued mayhem? Before Trump, I tried to do just that because life is more pleasant when I think well of others. I even continued trying to do it after the Christian vote put Trump into office, my assumption being that once America's Christians had ample opportunity to see Trump in action, they would realize their mistake. There was no mistake. They knew exactly what kind of man they were electing. You might say that popular Christianity isn't really the force for evil that I make it out to be, but if this should prove to be true, it won't be for a lack of trying...

Although legal (mostly extralegal) religion-based oppression has increased under Trump, the American public as a whole has been becoming less religious for decades, and the trend is accelerating. So what gives? What gives is that the religious right is composed of voters who wouldn't vote for the Holy Trinity if the Holy Trinity favored gun control, gay rights, abortion, and various other "hot button" issues. But let a candidate oppose such things, and America's preachers will demand that their flocks vote for that candidate or be sent to hell for all eternity by a thoroughly pissed-off Republican deity. This narrow focus combined with gerrymandering and, of late, help from Russia gives the religious right a strength disproportionate to its numbers, yet as day follows night, as their numbers decrease, their political strength will necessarily. 

Other factors that work against the religious right are its advancing age, the growth of minorities, and the absolute fury that millions of Americans feel based upon their perception that our Republican-led Christianized government isn't only failing to solve problems; it is the cause of many problems and the exacebator of others. A few examples: school shootings; unwinnable wars; global warming; the elimination of consumer protections; the approaching insolvency of Social Security; looming national bankruptcy; the unwillingness to stand up a president who is doing his utmost to deconstruct our democracy; and even something so obvious and so simple as paying the bills and approving a budget. 

Saint Ronald Reagan (for he is a saint to conservatives) is best known for saying, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." But if the government can't help, who can? Big Oil; Big Pharma; Big Banking? The people whom capitalism rewards the most appear to care the least about what happens tomorrow as long as there's money to be made today, and besides, the government has shown that it will bail them out when their greed pushes the entire country to the brink of bankruptcy. Big Religion (i.e. the religion of the status quo)? One lesson of Roy Moore is that if a candidate will do its bidding and echo its bigotry, the Religious Right will vote for him no matter how many little girls he has twiddled. This leaves us with the NRA whose members keep building bigger, and bigger, and bigger military style arsenals. Why? So they can wage war against the government if it should ever attempt to take away their arsenals or anger them in some other way.

So yes, I think people will wake-up, but I seriously question that they will wake up in time, or if there will ever be the political will to solve many problems, global warming being the most pressing, before it's too late. Ours is simply not a species that takes the long view.

Christ in America


God rewarded this servant with multiple mansions
This post is about the problems caused by American evangelicals, fundamentalists, and conservative Catholics. My knowledge is based upon my childhood in the fundamentalist Church of Christ; my education at an Independent Methodist college and a Southern Baptist college; listening to National Public Radio for hours everyday; reading the monthly newspaper, Freethought Today, cover to cover; paying close attention to the issues that Christian voters care about, and watching the national and local news regularly. Based upon these sources, it seems to me that a large majority of evangelicals, fundamentalists, and conservative Catholics: 

1) Oppose gun control, abortion rights, social welfare programs,  environmentalism, homosexual rights, and Palestinian autonomy

2) Regard science as the gateway to atheism; deny evolution, global warming, the "Big Bang," and the antiquity of the universe; believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted; think that Biblical "science" should either replace or supplement evidence-based science in public school curricula.

3) Favor harsh prison sentences and capital punishment.

4) Are quick to support military intervention, imprisoning suspected terrorists indefinitely without a trial, and inflicting torture to gain information. Believe that America should stay out of other nation's affairs, thereby giving tacit support to human rights abuses and predatory dictators.

5) Believe that religious employers should have the legal right to deny contraceptive benefits through their insurance plans; that religious pharmacists should have the legal right to refuse to fill prescriptions that violate their personal beliefs; and that religious pastry chefs, florists, and others should have the legal right to refuse orders from atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, and anyone else of whom they disapprove.

6) Believe that America is a Christian nation founded on Christian values; that its prosperity is proof of God's preference; that Christian specific prayers should be a part of government meetings and school functions; that Christian symbols and monuments should be allowed in public parks, public schools, and in and around courthouses, post offices, city halls, and police stations; and that anyone who opposes any of these things is guilty of persecuting Christians.

7) Believe that foreigners who are here illegally should be expelled even if they were brought here as infants, have no ties to the country of their birth, and would be in danger if returned to the country of their birth.

During my coming of age years in the 1950s and '60s, most of America's churches held that attempts to mix religion with politics were unworthy of a people whose kingdom "is not of this world." They subsequently turned their attention to "preaching the gospel" and upholding morality. Now that religion has no part in the lives of a fourth of Americans, and non-Christian religions are on the increase, America's churches are desperate to regain a control that was formerly theirs simply by virtue of the fact that their values mirrored the values of the general public. 

This means that the church's newly found emphasis on transforming America into a conservative Christian theocracy doesn't come from a position of strength but from a desperation to return the nation to an era when white Christian conservatives ruled the nation and, legally or illegally, suppressed all challengers, a time that was like the materialistic 1950s when "In God We Trust" was put on the nation's currency; "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance; and tax breaks were given to "ministers of the gospel." As such, it is doomed to failure, a failure that is being accelerated by the church's willingness to abandon its own ethical teachings in the pursuit of power and wealth. I hold that the dominant face of modern American Christianity is morally, intellectually, and spiritually bankrupt; a purveyor of lies; a perpetrator of war; and an enemy of the poor. 

Despite all this, America's Christians believe that they are unique among all the peoples of the earth in their faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus Christ, no matter that their smugness, materialism, unprincipled pursuit of earthly dominance, and loathing of such "not nice" people as gays, atheists, and Muslims, are in contradiction to Jesus' message of love, humility, simplicity, peacefulness, and the renunciation of worldly power. I offer the following to support my contention:

1) While the public in general, and younger Americans in particular, are moving ever more in the direction of tolerance and inclusion, the church is openly embracing bigotry. For example, the Christians of the state of Alabama were so outraged a federal requirement that sexual orientation not be taken into account when issuing marriage licenses, that their lawmakers are working to end the issuance of marriage licenses altogether. Because Alabamians commonly hold that the Bible is a static record "of God's unchanging word," they can cite chapter and verse to prove that God wants them to go much further than putting an end to gay marriage; he wants them to criminalize homosexual relationships if not to actually execute homosexuals. Unfortunately for them, federal law makes these things impossible.

2) "...by their fruits you will know them." Matthew 7:20

America's evangelicals, fundamentalists, and conservative Catholics, have traded their belief that, if you do good and trust in God, God will make things right, for a world view that they formerly condemned as the hallmark of "Godless Communism." I refer Machiavelli's statement that, "The end justifies the means." The resultant pragmatism is what made it possible for Christians to support one politician who boasted of sexually assaulting women and another who raped children, and it is what is still inspiring America's Christians to protect clergymen who are accused of molestation. I could cite almost endless other instances of the church: violating the law to proselytize inside public schools; diverting public monies for its private use; petitioning for the installation or retention of religious monuments in publicly owned parks and buildings by claiming that such monuments have no religious significance; and supporting notoriously corrupt and otherwise unqualified politicians as long as those politicians favor right-wing religion.

(3) "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James 1:27

In what part of the New Testament did Jesus embrace politics, and where did he encourage patriotism? Why, then, is the rallying cry of millions of Christians "America First," and why did the church go from visiting widows and orphans to deporting them; from respecting peacemakers to extolling violence; from helping drug addicts to imprisoning them? Liberals are made to feel unwelcome in most of America's churches because if there is one thing of which America's Christians are certain, one thing that their preachers tell them from the pulpit (in violation of a federal law that prohibits them from endorsing candidates), it is that God wants his people to vote Republican, and if Jesus prefers Republicans, then liberalism is clearly a sin. 

(4) It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Mark 10:25

The heroes of the church are no longer the Kings, Bonhoeffers, and Schweitzers, with their emphasis on courage and sacrifice; nor is it the humble pastor of my childhood who turned down a raise so the money could be spent on what he regarded as higher things. The heroes of the modern church are rich politicians like Donald Trump, and rich preachers like Joel Osteen who lives in a tax exempt 17,000 square-foot mansion, and earns $55-million a year telling his16,800 person audience that they can be rich like him if they please God by giving generously to the church. So far as I'm aware, our modern era marks the first time that amassing wealth was officially endorsed by the church itself as proof of God's favor, the implication being that the poor have only themselves to blame and therefore don't deserve help.

(5) "Jesus answered, 'My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.'" John 18:36

While American religion tries to hide its unbridled lust for power beneath a veneer of piety, the effect is like that of a cat who hides beneath a chair with his tail sticking out. When religion wants to effect political change, it goes all out to pass discriminatory laws, but when it wants things to stay as they are, it offers prayers. Consider some typical responses from Christian politicians following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting:

"When we say 'thoughts and prayers,' it's frowned upon. And I take real offense at that because thoughts and prayers are the only thing that's gonna stop the evil." Florida state senator Kelli Stargel

"I think of those kids who went back to school today after than horrific shooting, and they need something more. They need a belief in God and Jesus Christ."
Former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz 

"And if there's ever a time to return prayer to the classroom, now's the time." U.S. Congressional candidate Steve Lonegan

American Christianity is a world turned on its head, but at least in the case of praying for an end to mass murder, it can't be positively proven that prayer is the complete failure that it appears to be. Potholes are another matter, but this didn't stop Jackson, Mississippi, mayor, Tony Yarber from tweeting: "Yes....I believe we can pray potholes away. Moses prayed and a sea opened up."

Is it not disingenuous to claim that banning guns won't save lives, but that banning abortion will; that social programs for the poor won't assuage poverty, but tax breaks for the wealthy will; that a commitment to helping disadvantaged youth won't prevent crime, but a commitment to building more and bigger prisons will; that any number of prayers by any number of people for any number of years can repair a single pothole or accomplish anything else of value, anything at all?
 
A people can be forgiven for having tried but failed, but how is one to forgive a people who pretend that good is evil and that evil is good? I know I cannot. 

"For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." 
Matthew 23: 27-28

Bastet and Other Bewitchers



The goddess Bastet
A happy aspect of studying cats is that when I see the same book or story referenced repeatedly, I seek it out, my favorite fictional cat thus far being Paul Gallico's Jennie. Yet Jennie didn't exist even in the context of the book, but was rather an injured boy's hallucination. I went from not liking Gallico when I first encountered him, to liking no one nearly so much when I got to know him. Gallico's enormous respect for cats (one of his books was entitled Honorable Cat), prevented him from using the cat as a literary device, not that there aren’t some very fine stories by cat-anthropomorphizers. Take Saki’s “Tobermory,” which chronicles the life and death of a talking cat who proceeds from charming the guests at a weekend house party to inspiring them to murder when they hear what he has to say. Such is the common fate of truth-tellers. Then there’s Kipling’s, “The Cat That Walked by Himself” with its playful introduction:

“HEAR and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild. The Dog was wild, and the Horse was wild, and the Cow was wild, and the Sheep was wild, and the Pig was wild--as wild as wild could be--and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones. But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.”

Desmond Morris' various works are probably the most comprehensive of the nonfiction books about cats, but Frances and Richard Lockridges' 1950 Cats and People is exemplary for its humor and opinionation, and for something the authors couldn't have foreseen. I refer to the enormous changes that human/cat relationships have experienced in the ensuing 68 years. Then there's Barbara Holland's 1988 Secrets of the Cat: Its Lore, Legend, and Lives. Best known as a crusty advocate of cursing, drinking, eating fatty foods, and chain smoking cigarettes, Holland was a keen observer who filled her book with the immediacy of her personality.

I also enjoy books of cat poetry, cat humor, cat photographs, cat quotations, cat paintings (I have one book entitled Why Paint Cats? and another called Why Cats Paint), or some combination of the above. Few have charmed me more than Lorraine Chittock’s Cats of Cairo: Egypt’s Enduring Legacy, in which she combines seven years of photographs with 4,000 years of Middle Eastern thoughts about cats.

As with my last post, this one is meant to illustrate how very differently—and often contradictorily—different peoples in different times and places have regarded cats. Given that the basic reality of cats is ever the same, and the reality of humans ever changeable, what insanity inspires us to laugh at past generations while maintaining a dogged faith in our advancement no matter how badly we behave? Is it really conceivable that the ancients’ worship of a Great Tomcat is less laughable than humanism’s insistence that “people really are good at heart” (Ann Frank), or Christianity’s belief in a triune god which had one third of itself murdered as a sacrifice to itself? As Whitman wrote concerning our fellow animals:

“I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”



The remainder of this post consists of some excerpts from Cats of Cairo.

Who is this Great Tomcat? He is the god Ra himself. —Coffin Text, 2000 B.C.


O peaceful one who returns to peace, you cause me to see the darkness of your making. Lighten me that I can perceive your beauty, turn toward me, O beautiful one when at peace, the peaceful one when at peace, the peaceful one who knows a return to peace.
 
—prayer to Bastet, 2000 B.C.

The name of the god who guards you is Cat. 

Bewitchers
—from the Book of the Dead, 1250 B.C.

She has bewitched me with her darkness and light as she appears to be made of ebony and ivory.
—Ibn Tabataba, died 815 A.D.

My sorrows will be over when I find companionship in a cat. —Ahmad Ibn Faris, 920-1040 A.D.

When a cat dies unexpectedly, the dervishes bury her and say, "Go on my friend, may God give you peace and peace for us." On that grave, they'll put a stone… and cry hot tears. —a Dervish custom

The yellow one from the bakery smelled like a cream puff--she followed us home. We buried our faces in her sweet fur.
One cat hid his head while I practiced violin. But he came out for piano. At night he plays sonatas on my quilt.
One cat built a secret nest in my socks.
One sat in the window staring up at the street all day while we were at school.
One cat loves the radio dial.
One cat almost smiles.

—Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952-

The black cat used to move from one table to the other, looking for crumbs and little pieces of fish, loitering at the customers’ feet and rubbing against their legs, with the idleness of one spoiled by luxury... The customers bandied jokes and anecdotes, and got more intimate by expressing their complaints and grievances to each other. Sometimes, one with a clear voice would start a merry song so that this damp buried place overflowed with happiness. "There is no harm in forgetting for an hour or two the problems of poverty and children." "And forgetting the heat and flies..." "And forgetting there is another world outside these bars..." And enjoying playing with the black cat." —from "The Tavern of the Black Cat" by Naguib Mahfouz 1911-2006


Cats Make Beautiful Women: Islam Versus Christianity


Old Maids at a Cat’s Funeral, John Pettit, 1789

The idea of a cat who turns into a woman is found in the legends of all countries and peoples.
Fernand Mery

"There was once a black cat, and every night she would crawl up through a dark well deep below the ground. Then she would shed her cat skin and go to the owner of a nearby house in the form of a woman. They would savor the joys of love night after night until morning prayer at which time she would disappear below ground again. Every morning when he awoke he would find some money she left for him in appreciation of their time together. Through the years their friendship grew so strong that she helped his daughter go on pilgrimage to Mecca."  
Moroccan folktale

Unlike similar stories from Christian lands, the Moroccan tale came from a culture that esteemed cats prior to the advent of Islam, and continued to do so afterwards. By contrast, here are three story plots from Christian Europe: (1) A man realizes that his demure young bride is really a cat when she drops to all-fours and chases a mouse. (2) A man awakens to find that a cat is lifting the latch to come into his bedroom. He cuts the cat's paw off with an axe, and realizes that his wife is not in the room. She comes home days later with a missing hand. (3) A man surprises a coven of black cats in the midst of a Satanic ritual. He slashes the leg of one of the cats with a sword, and his wife comes home the next morning with a sword wound in her leg.

Why cats, and why only female cats? Why not dogs? One night, Peggy had an erotic dream about our blue heeler (a beautiful dog with a delightful musk), and I learned from decades of walking dogs that the first thing people ask is whether it's a boy or a girl. Members of both species can be sensuously beautiful, and humans clearly care about their gender, so why are there no erotic stories about dogs becoming women and marrying men?

In pre-Enlightenment Christendom, stories about cats that could adopt the form of humans and humans that could adopt the form of cats accompanied the church's brutal subjugation of anything that represented mystery and sensuality. Although roosters and billy goats were also said to be consorts of Satan, they were comedic failures compared to the grace, beauty, and sensuality of cats and women. It was quite another story in the Muslim world. The following is from the Wikipedia entry Islam and Cats:

"In Islamic tradition, cats are admired for their cleanliness. They are thought to be ritually clean, unlike dogs, and are thus allowed to enter homes and even mosques... Food sampled by cats is considered halal [clean] and water from which cats have drunk is permitted for wudu [ceremonial cleansing]."

According to Islamic legend: cats won't walk across a Koran; they seek out people who are praying; they land on their feet because Mohamed blessed a cat by touching its back; the letter M on the forehead of tabbies is the imprint of Mohamed's fingers; Mohamed cut off his sleeve rather than disturb his cat, Muezza, who was asleep on it; Mohamed re-routed his army because a nursing cat was in their path. The following words of Mohamed are from the Hadith (a Moslem text second only to the Koran): "Affection for cats is a part of the faith;" and here are a few other other examples of the affection Muslims feel for cats: a 13th century sultan, al-Zahir Baybars endowed a still extant cat sanctuary in Cairo; cats are welcome in mosques and there was even a Medieval era cat hospital to which people brought food in the belief that doing so would win them the favor of Allah. I could go on.

No living thing fared well when Christianity dominated Europe, but when it came to unbridled cruelty, only heretics were persecuted as viciously as cats and women, and no women suffered more than "old maids," who, after being tortured, were often burned to death along with their cats. In what is surely the supreme irony of all time, Christians suspected that cats were causing the Black Death, and did their utmost to destroy the one animal that might have saved them. 

For decades, the city of Paris held yearly spectacles in which French monarchs presided over a religious celebration in which cranes hoisted iron cages filled with screaming cats above bonfires so the people could "...have the pleasure of seeing the violent movements and hearing the frightening cries that these poor unfortunate beasts are forced to make" (the words of Jean Meslier, a French priest of the period who, upon his death, was found to have been an atheist). If the Bible is God's word, why didn't God insert a verse to stop all this, something like, "Upon pain of hell, thou shalt never, for any reason, kill or torment any person or other creature wantonly or in my name"?

The cat's bad reputation among Christians originated in its high esteem by pagans. What Christianity couldn't appropriate (it made Christian saints out of pagan gods, and Christian holy days out of pagan feast days), it sought to destroy, and the cat's position was worsened by the fact that, unlike its predecessors, Christianity denied that non-humans had a soul. Because cats reminded the Holy Catholic Church and its Protestant off-shoots of women, the way was paved for stories in which, through the help of Satan, cats could become women and vice versa.

Cat in Arabic
When the Enlightenment robbed Christianity of much of its temporal power, the supposed supernatural relationship between cats and women degenerated into a low comedy about cats and old maids that continues to this day (it's a small step from being a "cat lady" to being a "crazy cat lady"). While being mocked was certainly preferable to being burned, the fact that men continued to feel threatened by any woman who could resist their masculine allure didn't speak well of men who, after all, had a long history of doing everything they could to make it legally and economically hard for women to survive without them.

Since every member of the cat family is referred to as "she" simply by virtue of being a cat, the threat to men that is posed by cats would not appear to come from any notion of women preferring cat masculinity to human masculinity, but rather from the fact that women and cats have a long history of being equated. I suspect that it would be hard to find a male cat hater who regards women as his equals, and when a 200-pound man proclaims his loathing of a ten pound creature that is scarcely aware of his existence, his first feeling wasn't hatred; it was the terror that came from having his self-image threatened by any creature's refusal to acknowledge his superiority.

Some relevant books, textual links, and a Youtube video that constitute a partial list of sources:

The Life, History and Magic of the Cat by Fernand Mery
Cats of Cairo: Egypt's Enduring Legacy by Lorraine Chittock
Secrets of the Cat: Its Lore, Legend, and Lives by Barbara Holland
http://www.thegreatcat.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_and_cats
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Meslier
http://muslimheritage.com/article/cats-islamic-culture
https://www.animalsinislam.com/islam-animal-rights/dogs/ 
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF7pTSCP4UM)
https://www.dailysabah.com/life/2016/02/01/peaceful-cohabitation-inside-istanbul-mosque-with-cats-worshippers-enjoying-each-others-company

Beautifuls...the Name I Call My Cats

 

Brewsky and Sage
"What greater gift than the love of a cat." --Dickens

Peggy and I were lifelong dog lovers until we made a spur of the moment decision to get a cat (Brewsky) the day after our schnauzer died. That was seven years ago, and I soon started amassing a small library of books about cats and spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of cats. We now have four of them, and if we had any confidence that they would welcome a dog, we would get one of those as well, but it's their home too, and we're all but positive that they would hate sharing it with a dog. What follows are some observations and reflections about the nature of catness.

The love of a dog is a given. The love of a cat is a reward. The tragedy of dogs is that they have no place within themselves to call their own. Kick a dog, and he will still love you. Neglect to feed her, and she will still love you. Leave him tied to a stake on a sleety night, and he will still lick your hand in the morning. Dogs resolutely deny the wickedness of their humans, and this makes the life of an abused dog tragic beyond measure. By contrast, a cat reserves a part of herself for her alone, and will loathe you and avoid you if you deserve it. 

Our most sensitive cat, Ollie, can't compete for even his most treasured treat, and will quickly upchuck his entire meal if the least thing upsets him (Scully likes to eat the vomit). When I think of the millions of cats like Ollie who are abused, neglected, abandoned, or tormented by scientists, it's obvious that the larger part of my species are less deserving of good than are those animals that we regard as our inferiors. 

While dogs are respected for their willingness to die for their masters, cats are dismissed as "only in it for themselves," but while my friend, Sheryl, was napping, a burglar broke into her home, and was it her dog, Eliot, who alerted her to the danger? Noooo. Elliot hid under the sofa while Sheryl's cat yowled and stomped on her chest.

Ignorant people think that all cats are the same. Scully is the first to greet me when I've been out. Sage is our only cat who likes to ride on people's shoulders, and he and Scully will sometimes watch nature documentaries from start to finish. If I hear galloping feet when I crawl into bed for a nap, I know that Ollie is coming to join me. He is also the first on the scene if anyone is in distress, his compassion being so great that if he were human, I'm quite sure he would be a vegan.

Even so, our cats share some traits. For instance, if one of them is on a chair, and I move the chair, he or she will go along for the ride, something that I've never seen a dog do. Likewise, if I'm walking through the house, and a cat is in my path, the cat won't move when I will step over him or her. I've never tried this with a dog but what the dog would leap to his feet in a panic, threatening to wreck both of us.     

Brewsky, Ollie, Scully
I had imagined that, because cats are less gregarious than dogs, they would be less forgiving, so when we got Brewsky, I spent a couple of weeks worrying that the least mistake on my part would destroy our relationship. I went from that to chasing him through the house while cursing and waving my arms when he had been bad, which was much of the time. I had to conclude that he wasn't taking me as seriously as I hoped when he stared interrupting our chases by rolling onto his back so I could rub his belly. The fact is that if I step on the tail of a dog or a cat, he will look to me for assurance that I didn't do it on purpose, and then life will go on as normal. Likewise, if I scold a member of either species, she only asks that I quickly get over my anger.

The fact that cats aren't pack animals doesn't mean that they deserve their reputation as unloving. I rarely see one of my cats sleeping alone, and all of them want to be petted more than I want to pet them. As I write this, I have to get up every few minutes to shoo Scully away from Peggy's door because Peggy is asleep, and Scully is impatient for her to get up. Once she and Peggy have greeted one another, Scully won't ask for further attention, but it's vital to her that a greeting occur.

One trait that is shared by dogs and cats is their extreme alertness to their humans' movements. Neither species ever sleeps so soundly but what they know when I unwrap the cheese.

Cats are exceedingly tolerant, and so it is that at least one behavior which can lead to bloodshed among dogs goes practically unnoticed among cats. I refer to the fact that if one cat steals another cat's food, the victim will stand aside and watch the aggressor eat. This is true even if the victim is bigger and stronger, and even if the food is practically stolen out of his mouth while he's picking it up to eat it. I know from watching nature shows that lions exhibit no such tolerance, but then lions are pack animals.

From the many books I've read about cats, one seemingly unremarkable sentence stands out: "Cats are small predators," the point being that their thin bones make them susceptible to injury and therefore incapable of the rough play I enjoyed with dogs. The speed, strength, and agility of cats had blinded me to their delicacy.

I discovered another trait of cats on my own. Namely that they're sprinters, not endurance runners, so even a mediocre human can run down a fleeing cat if the cat has no place to hide.

Although our cats are content with living indoors, their teeth still chatter when there's a bird at the feeder.

Ollie's chair
Until they reach old age, dogs love to play. While I expected grown cats to play less than kittens, I had no idea of the extent to which adult cats would continue to change in this and other ways, or how abrupt and permanent the changes would be. For years, Ollie spent hours a day sitting on his hind legs in my office chair, his front legs resting on the chair's left arm. This behavior so represented his Ollieness to me that I couldn't imagine that he would suddenly and irrevocably stop doing it, but he did. Such changes are like little deaths.

Our cats clean our dishes, something that we never allowed our dogs to do. This isn't because we love our cats more, but because little dry tongues gross us out less than big wet ones. Brewsky tries to eat Peggy's food right from her plate, so she'll push him away, and a few moments later, he'll start slowly reaching out his big tabby paw in the hope that she won't notice. Our other cats are content to wait.

Every time I think that, finally, I'm starting to understand cats, we'll get another cat and I'll be made humble again. For instance, I had imagined that cats were finicky eaters until we got Sage, and I couldn't find a single food that we like that he doesn't.

Nowhere is the fabled curiosity of cats more evident than when their humans are doing something unexpected. Last week, I was in the laundry room drying the interior of a freshly washed bird feeder with Peggy's hair dryer when I chanced to look down and see Sage and Ollie looking up at me in wide-eyed wonder. "What in the HELL do you think you're doing?!" they demanded. 

The winter we got Brewsky, he took enormous interest in some shelving I was painting in the laundry room, so I had to choose between letting him join me at the risk of tracking paint all over the place, or locking him out of the room and listening to him cry at the door. I chose the former, it being difficult for me to say no to my cats unless the decision is a no-brainer. I'm forever reminding myself that, while I have all the power in the relationship, love and respect demand that I use it sparingly.

Everyone knows that cats spend a lot of time bathing (30% of their waking hours), but I hadn't realized that they are enthusiastic bathers of one another. I often find up to three of them in a circle, each one bathing another, and nothing confirms the group's acceptance of a new cat like bathing him or her. When we got our second cat, Ollie, Brewsky, who had lived alone for two years, immediately gave him a bath. It was one of my life's high points.

Please consider supporting my friend Jody's cat charity: https://catwomanflix.blogspot.com/

The State of Medical Care in America


The following is from a letter that I just wrote to a British friend.

It is my understanding that many in your country want to replace your public healthcare system with a private one. I will preface my comments by saying that few Americans can even afford medical care unless they have insurance, yet they can't afford insurance unless they are able to get it through their employer because the cost of anything beyond "catastrophic coverage" can easily exceed $20,000 a year. It doesn't help matters that insurance companies do everything possible to discriminate against those who are deemed likely to actually need medical care. 

Under Obama, such discrimination was banned, but Trump has returned to doing everything possible to allow companies to price "poor risks" out of the market or even to refuse coverage altogether. Those who support such discrimination tend to be healthy young Republicans who argue that they shouldn't have to pay more because other people enjoy less than optimal health (the unstated motto of the Republican Party is, "Me first and screw you"). Peggy and I had employer-sponsored insurance until we turned 65 and could go on the government plan called Medicare. It is the best insurance we've had had, but even so, we have to supplement it with private insurance, and insurance companies do their best to fool people into thinking they're getting more than they actually are.

Here are three examples that people in your country might bear in mind in regard to the imagined success of privatized healthcare. All three of these examples were in the news here last week.

(1) Nearly all insurance plans have "in network providers," i.e. medical providers who have agreed to accept a lower level of reimbursement in return for insurers throwing business their way. If, for whatever reason, a person elects to see an "out of network" provider, his or her insurance company will pay a much smaller percentage of the bill.

Because the Republicans are doing their utmost to deregulate and privatize anything and everything, more and more of America's ambulance services are going from being owned and run by municipalities and county governments to being owned and run by private companies. This means that if you have an emergency and have the bad luck to be taken to the hospital in an out of network ambulance, you can, and almost surely will, end up many thousands of dollars in debt because ambulances are damned expensive, and god help you if you need to be taken on a second ambulance ride from, for example, a small community hospital to a remote big city hospital; and double god help you if your condition is so dire that you need to be transported in an air ambulance.

(2) Insurance companies are moving in the direction of refusing to pay any of your ambulance and emergency room expenses if they (the insurance company) decide that you didn't really need to go the emergency room. One problem with this is that it relies upon the honesty of dishonest insurers. Another is that patients are often in no position to know whether or not that they can get by with either waiting to see a doctor during regular office hours, or, in the case of the larger urban areas, going to an "urgent care center," which is a clinic that provides speedy medical care to people who, although their condition doesn't appear to be life threatening, are in too much distress to wait until regular office hours. Obviously, there will be people who die because of this policy, but as every American with an IQ above 60 knows, the priority of insurance companies isn't with getting people the care they need but with maximizing profit. I suspect that the same is true of private anything.

(3) America's drug manufacturers have shown themselves especially eager to buy up the exclusive rights to manufacture drugs that are the only approved treatments for life threatening illnesses, and then jacking up the prices of those drugs by hundreds or thousands of percent, a practice that is entirely legal in the U.S., and that insurance companies refuse to pay for. The most infamous of these drug company profiteers was a man named Martin Shkreli who, literally overnight, raised the price of the only approved treatment for toxoplasmosis from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill (a 5,000% increase). Even so, Shkreli doesn't stand out for what he did, but for not bothering to offer the usual bullshit lie for why he did it, even claiming from behind his perpetual smirk that he deserved appreciation for not raising the price of Daraprim even more. After all, he said, it would have been legal. Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison last week, but it wasn't for the deaths he caused, but for fraud in a non-related case. He cried in self-pity in the courtroom, self-pity being the only pity of which he is capable.

America has the highest cost of medical care of anyplace on earth with 25% of the money going to insurance companies. The cost of healthcare in America increases yearly at a rate that is far beyond what almost anyone can afford, yet there is no end in sight because well-funded lobbies--like Big Oil, Big Pharma, the National Rifle Association, and the insurance lobby--owns Congress. Despite what it spends, America doesn't even have a high standard of medical care compared to other first world nations. 

I'll throw in a final example that didn't hit the national news but very much hit the news in our household.

(4) Peggy spent hours last week fighting over the costs of her drugs while in the hospital for back surgery. Her hospital bill alone--the surgeon and anesthesiologist will bill separately--for the twenty hour stay was $17,000). When it comes to their charges and business practices, hospitals appear to say, "If you can't trust us, the people who work to keep you alive, who can you trust?" but the fact is that "the people who work to keep you alive" are the last people you can trust because they: (a)
refuse to give estimates, although charges for the same services differ dramatically from hospital to hospital; (b) are notorious for charges that are excessive and downright fanciful; (c) after their services are rendered, they refuse to send out itemized statements. In Peggy's case, her phone call was transferred from one office to another before she finally learned that she was being charged for at least one drug and one medical device that was neither ordered nor received. As is typical, she is unable to get the mistake corrected simply because it is not in the hospital's financial interest to correct it, this at a Catholic hospital that boasts of its "Christian values." 

The older I get, the more I become convinced that unregulated capitalism (which is what America's Republican Party assures us is the remedy for all of our ills) brings out the worst in people, and nowhere is this more obvious than when it comes to medical care. It speaks to the immorality of our system when a mugger with a gun receives a death sentence for murdering someone for $20, while a white collar thug like Martin Shkreli openly laughs about raising the cost of an essential drug to the point that only the rich can afford life.

It seems to me that people who voted for Trump fell into three main categories: the super rich who believed he would make them richer, which he has; fascists who believed he would inspire hatred and division, which he has; and the naive poor who believed that he was "the friend of the little man," which he most certainly is not. The people in the first two categories knew what they were getting; the people in the final category had no idea, and it is they who are being increasingly left to suffer and die as the government-funded medical care and economic assistance that they disproportionately rely upon is being slashed. Sadly, the Republican Party enjoys its greatest popularity among the very people whom its policies hurt the most, but how it does this will have to wait until another post.

My Personal History with Carrying Firearms; Thoughts on Arming Teachers


The political response to school shootings is always the same.

1) Republicans say, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families."

2) Democrats call for "stricter measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands."

3) Republicans say, "This is not the time to talk about gun control. This is the time to remember the victims."

4) Democrats continue to call for "common sense gun control."

5) Republicans say, "The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

End of debate until the next time, and the next time, and the next time...


I used to have a concealed carry permit, not because I felt the need to carry a gun, but because I knew someone who did and thought it would be fun. I had been around guns all my life, and had kept one in my car as a teenager, but it never occurred to me to regularly carry one on my person until I talked with that friend. After completing a minimal permit training course, I started out by carrying a .357 magnum that I kept in a special belly pack that was designed for quick access. When the gun's size and weight became burdensome, I switched to a .38 special. When it too became unpleasant to carry, I gave up carrying a gun. The fun part about carrying a concealed weapon was that it was my secret, and that it made me feel powerful. The not fun part was the gun's weight, and the fact that carrying it focused my thoughts upon the possibility of violence, which made my world seem more dangerous than it really was.

I'm cautious and orderly to the point that I lack spontaneity, yet during the short time that I carried a gun, I unknowingly let a .22 caliber bullet roll into the burner on my kitchen stove. When I lit the stove, the bullet exploded and hit Peggy in the stomach, but no damage was done (a bullet that explodes in a stove doesn't have the force of a bullet that comes out of a gun because the slug goes one way and the cartridge casing the other), the incident alerted me to the fact that even careful people have accidents. A few weeks later, I took my gun to a dinner party, took off my belly pack, and didn't even know I had left it there until the people called me at home. When they asked why I had taken a gun to their party, I didn't know what to say, so I said that if I had left it at home--or in my car--someone might have stolen it. As I look back upon the incident, I realize that carrying a gun was like having a new toy, and that I was experimenting with whether I wanted to do it full-time. My conclusion was that walking around with a gun is a lethal version of walking around with a fire extinguisher in that while it might come in handy, it's probably not worth the risk and aggravation.

I share these stories to show that guns are inherently dangerous (the nearby Portland, Oregon, police chief accidentally shot a friend as did Vice-President Dick Cheney). President Trump echoed the NRA recently by proposing that "qualified teachers" carry guns to school. I can think of so many obvious objections to his proposal that I regard it as being like much of what Trump says, i.e. blindingly stupid. For instance: 

(1) There is NO evidence to suggest that armed teachers could protect children while there IS evidence to suggest that they couldn't.* (2) Trump gave no clue as to whom would pay for the extensive and ongoing training that would be required to make teachers safe and proficient with firearms, and no evidence to indicate that teachers would have the time and inclination to take such training. (3) A school shooter could arm himself by assaulting a teacher and taking his or her gun. (4) If cops are capable of snapping and murdering people due to job stress, teachers probably are too. (5) A gun-toting teacher might find it harder to instill in students the value of peaceable solutions than would other teachers. (6) Teaching is enough work without the added responsibility of being perpetually prepared to shoot one's students. (7) Arming teachers would imbue in children the belief that they are always and everywhere in danger. (8) Just as I accidentally left a gun at someone's house, a teacher might accidentally leave a gun in a classroom or bathroom. (9) Guns can go off accidentally. (10) When we take extreme measures to feel safe, we increase our belief that we are unsafe. (11) There is no evidence to suggest that giving more guns to more people would make us safer, while the scarcity of gun deaths in countries with few guns would seem to prove otherwise. (12) A society in which people need to carry guns to protect themselves and others is by definition a society that has failed to insure the safety of its citizens, and this implies that the work we must do is societal rather than individual. 

I'll just add one more thing. The NRA insists that being able to own and carry guns is both a human right and a Constitutional right under the Second Amendment. The former is not evident to anyone outside the NRA, but neither is the latter. The Second Amendment reads as follows: "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 the NRA makes the leap from that to AR15s is a mystery to me, but if AR15s are legally allowable, then why not .50 cal machine guns or even grenade launchers? I don't think this is what the founding fathers had in mind, yet if the Constitution really does justify something that, instead of promoting the common good, harms the public good, then it's time to change the Constitution because the way the NRA would have us live is insane.

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=181&v=8QjZY3WiO9s

Margaretta Wade Campbell Deland


Margaret Deland 1857-1945
If life is a series of births and deaths, I was reborn in the old books' section of a St. Vincent dePaul store in Albany, Oregon, in 2015, when I discovered John Ward Preacher by Margaret Deland. I was so entranced that I, a non-collector of almost anything, quickly became a joyous collector of all things Deland. I now have six feet of shelf space devoted to her books (many novels, two autobiographies, a book of poetry, and an account of a summer in Florida) along with two Deland biographies. I also own numerous photos and letters. While mine isn't a notable collection, I'm in the process of willing it to a New England university so that it can supplement an existing Deland collection.

My love for Deland is being born afresh now that I'm rereading her books, of which I own multiple first edition copies, many of them autographed. I haven't seen the three silent films that her works inspired, and her Broadway play ended before World War I. She was awarded four honorary doctorates, and was among the first women to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. As labels go, she was a Pennsylvania regionalist and a member of the American Realist Movement.

John Ward Preacher (1888), is about the marriage of a non-religious Episcopalian named Helen Jeffrey to a very religious Presbyterian preacher named John Ward. Like her heroine, Deland was orphaned and grew up in the home of an uncle. Deland's uncle was a non-observing Presbyterian who came from a family rich in influential ministers; her aunt a former Episcopalian who obeyed society's expectation that she join her husband's church. The Presbyterians in Deland's life, and of whom she wrote, were not the mainstream Presbyterians of today, but hardcore Calvinists who saw no contradiction between a deity who was perfect in love but could predestine infants to eternal hell.

Unlike Deland's uncle, Helen's uncle was an Episcopal priest who lived a comfortable life despite his lack of religious conviction. He was dismayed by Helen's choice of a husband, but, not being a man to make waves, he remained silent. By contrast, John Ward took his Presbyterian religion very seriously indeed and, despite being a gentle, loving man, didn't hesitate to make waves except when it came to Helen, who he was afraid to  lose. To this end, he didn't allow her to hear him preach (they lived miles apart), and he avoided the subject of religion, telling himself that there would be plenty of time for that after they were married. Helen had hints that his views were abhorrent, but she also avoided the subject, telling herself that love alone was enough for a happy relationship, and that he would eventually come to respect her lack of religious conviction. 

William Campbell 1808-1890
After they were married, John tried to avoid alienating Helen by dodging his church's expectation that he preach hellfire sermons vividly and often. When he finally told Helen about his church's belief that God had predestined most people to a fiery hell before the world was created, she begged him to never speak of the matter again. Months passed during which John agonized over her lost state and wondered how to convert her. 

When Helen sought counsel from her priestly uncle regarding her doubts about religion, he was painfully reminded of his own non-belief, and told his daughter Lois, "I shall tell her to mend her husband's stockings, and not bother her little head with theological questions that are too big for her." Because of her outspokenness, the elders of John's church eventually learned that Helen didn't accept their church's belief about hell, and demanded that John turn her over to them "for discipline." John, worried that instead of winning her to God, the elders would push her away, undertook an all out effort to convert Helen to his views. When this failed, a despairing John imagined that God wanted him to expel Helen from their home so she would be forced to look to God for help, whereupon God would show her the reality of hell. 

As did Deland, the more Helen thought about religion, the more she came to doubt that any of it was true, and through the intense loneliness of her struggle, I saw myself. Coming as I did from rural Mississippi, all I knew of religious doubt was what I learned in church where ignorant preachers described it as the product of modern universities, and claimed that it represented a renunciation of morality, tradition, and common sense. I knew that such words didn't apply to me, yet I didn't even meet another non-believer until I was 29, and I had to make a special trip to New Orleans to do so then. So it was that the loneliness and desperation of a fictional character in a 127-year old novel by a forgotten author came to seem more real to me than anything else I had ever read. 

Houghton Mifflin had misgivings about publishing a book that was critical of religion, but since Deland's first book had done well, they finally put her under contract. When she wrote of the news to her family, "The result, in the domestic circle, was like the unexpected explosion of a firecracker." "Maggie...knows no more about hell than a kitten knows about a steam engine," her uncle raged, and it looked as if she might have to choose between telling the truth as she understood it and being disowned. Given that the heroine of John Ward Preacher, like the women in her later books, prized intellectual integrity above patriarchal acceptance, the answer might seem obvious, but it didn't come without a struggle, and it was followed by a heavy cost.
 
Lorin Deland 1855-1917

Deland's uncle finally proposed that she travel from Boston (where she moved when she married the famous Harvard football coach Lorin Deland) to New Jersey, to discuss the appropriateness of the book's publication with the spiritual patriarch of the clan, the Rev. Dr. William Howard Campbell (president of Rutgers) and abide by by his decision. She discussed the proposal, first with Lorin, and later with their friend, the renowned Episcopal clergyman and bishop, Phillips Brooks. She finally told her family that she would talk to her great uncle, but that she wouldn't be bound by his opinion. After a very long conversation, the Reverend Doctor gave Deland's book his approval. Her family's disappointment was such that a cousin suggested that the aged patriarch had become senile.

John Ward Preacher inspired plaudits and outrage. While walking her dog, Deland was accosted by a stranger who said that her book would "destroy Christianity." A friend of Deland's was castigated at a dinner party for keeping such low company. For a time, her family excluded her from gatherings. She was denounced from pulpits, and literary critics attacked her personally. The disapproval extended beyond the book's criticism of religion and into Deland's rejection of patriarchy, a rejection that also occurred in her later books. The following beliefs were commonplace in 19th century America:
Rev. Phillips Brooks 1835-1893

(1) Criticizing religion is wrong. (2) Women are the bulwarks of Godliness, so it is especially wrong for women to criticize religion. (3) Women lack the intelligence to address profound subjects. (4) "Ladies" don't write about hell. (5) Girls should adopt the faith of their fathers; women of their husbands.

I am glad that I possess things that Deland's hands touched, yet I rarely look at her letters, it being enough that I own them, if such things can be owned. While I regret the fact that I will never be able to talk with her, I have no reason to think that we would be friends because, whatever problems I bring to relationships, Deland admitted that she found it difficult to love. When she was still small, she overheard the aunt who adopted her say about another orphan, "No one can love a child as its own mother loves it." Deland was hurt to the core, but when she wrote of the experience decades later, she blamed herself for her loss of faith in her aunt's love: "As I think of that day in the back entry, and the smell of cinnamon and cloves, and the moving leaf shadows on the hall floor, and the tears in the sweet dark eyes, I am ashamed of Maggie. She seems to me a cold little monster..." Still speaking of her childhood self in the third person Deland wrote: "...she is selfish, cold-hearted, joyfully cruel, with no love in her, and not a particle of humor."

Perhaps as a result of losing trust in her adoptive aunt, Deland came to display two dominant characteristics. One was that, from a very young age, she was uncompromisingly independent, both in her intellectual integrity and in her desire for financial self-sufficiency. The other was that she concealed her intense nature behind a reserve that was generally mistaken for tranquility. Only Lorin was allowed to penetrate her core, and when he died in 1917, her very being and all that she had accomplished seemed empty. She dealt with the crisis by immersing herself in the misery of others as a canteen volunteer in war torn France. She also followed the lead of many others of the World War I generation, and turned to spiritualism. Her former belief that death was an eternal sleep became unbearable, and she, like Arthur Conan Doyle, came to believe that our earthly identities and relationships somehow survive the grave. 

Yet, what was to her, as it is to me, the nearly unbearable tragedy of loving and being loved in a world that contains death had tormented Deland long before Lorin died. She had even debated all sides of the issue with herself through the mouths of the characters in her 1890 novel Sidney. As with religion, the inability to reconcile myself to the fact that death and love exist in the same world is another existential theme that Deland and I share, and that enables her words to enter my depths. If I should someday discover a writer with the power to affect me more profoundly than Deland--both for good and for ill--I don't know how I will bear it, because she so often moves me to tears.

A Jaundiced View of a Game that Exemplies American Values




I began to hate American football when I was forced to attend weekly high school "pep rallies" in which cheer leaders worked their fellow students into a foot-stomping frenzy in the unsubstantiated belief that it would inspire the school's team to win that night's game. When, decades later, I learned that there is an incontrovertible link between football and brain damage, my hatred of the game escalated. Despite this loathing, Peggy and I watched this year's Super Bowl to see what all the hooplah was about. It was an enlightening experience. 

First, the football players ran onto the field between lines of Rah, Rah, Boom Bang cheerleaders. Next came the singing of America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner. The latter is America's National Anthem, and everyone is expected to stand with their hands over their hearts while listening to it. This is not the case with America the Beautiful, but most of the crowd didn't seem to know that. Then military jets flew overhead and World War II Medal of Honor winners were paraded onto the field for no apparent reason. 

I don't know if every Super Bowl goes to such extremes to tie football to patriotism, but I do know that the teams' owners were eager to reverse the impression that black football players (most professional football players are black) are unpatriotic, an impression that started in 2016 when some of them started "taking the knee" during the National Anthem in order to protest police mistreatment of black people. Trump fanned the flames with his usual mean spirited ineloquence when he said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field..." His epithet made him the first president to use language that couldn't be repeated on TV or radio, although, thanks to Trump, vulgarity during newscasts is now commonplace.



Companies that run ads during the Super Bowl go all out to make the $1.7 million a second cost worthwhile. Coke proved that its mixture of corn syrup and carbonated water is the choice of those who value individuality and diversity (not to mention obesity, tooth decay, and diabetes) by showing diverse people (all of them young, thin, and attractive) in a state of exaltation because, "There's a Coke for he, and she, and her, and me, and them. There's a different Coke for all of us." 

Dodge tried to boost truck sales by claiming that it's true to the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., in that its primary values are love and service (because America's highest court regards corporations as having the rights of human beings, it only follows that corporations can feel the gamut of human emotions). It did this--that is it attempted to do this--by playing an audio of King sermonizing alongside a video of inspirational images (a fireman rescuing a child, volunteers handing out food, etc.) interlaced with images of Dodge trucks. For those who still failed to understand that Dodge is the choice of people who buy a truck because they value love and good deeds over flashiness and horsepower, the commercial ended with the name of the company in white letters against a black background (it had kicked-off the commercial with the name of King against a black background). 

Because MLK was an outspoken opponent of both capitalism and materialism (he objected to Coretta spending money on curtains), no one can seriously envision him sitting behind the wheel of a two ton diesel (Americans just adore superfluous power), but Dodge relied on the fact that he was dead before its mostly white buyers were born, and the finer points of his message have been forgotten, not just by Dodge buyers but by King's children who have long shown themselves ready to rake in big bucks in exchange for his sermons. Not to be bested by Dodge, Jeep showed that its Wrangler can leave tread marks and erosion channels in pristine natural settings (Jeep admitted the destructive power of its product by boasting that the commercial was filmed in a manmade lake and waterfall that doesn't flow into any other body of water).



This year's Super Bowl was in Minneapolis, home of the deceased musician, Prince. The star attraction, Justin Timberlake, sang a duet (I know of no other way to put it) with a hologram of the dead performer. The fact that Prince called such performances "demonic" didn't dampen the crowd's enthusiasm. Because Prince is associated with the color purple, viewers were lifted high above the stadium and treated to a view of a city blanketed by purple snow, a phenomenon that never occurred during my two winters in Minneapolis. 

During the game, my inner eye kept returning to the very real image of the brains of football players setting silently in jars in darkened labs (it being Sunday) waiting to be sliced and diced in the study of brain damage caused by that damnable game. The carnage continues with the blessing of parents and public schools despite the fact that studies have shown that boys in their teens exhibit football related learning disabilities. America gives football scholarships and other, under the table, benefits to poor (mostly black) youngsters who have no other way out of poverty; sends them to the pros; and is unmoved by the fact that they're bumbling and pain-wracked by age forty.

How do people find it within themselves to pay $3,000 (cost of a cheap seat at the Super Bowl) to witness a game that destroys lives? And why don't fans care that no kid with an IQ higher than 38 can come to age in America without being cynicalized by an onslaught of commercials that exploit our species' best people and its highest values to sell products that harm minds, bodies, and the environment? Super Bowl fans pretend that they're watching gifted athletes at the height of their prowess, but what they're actually seeing are wounded men who are propped up on a diet of narcotics and steroids so they can play through their injuries. 

Coke was touted as the beverage choice of young, healthy, athletic, liberal, and mostly white, heterosexuals (among the couples depicted, there were no gays), although its primary users are fat, diabetic, poorly educated, and impoverished. Jeep presented its Wrangler as a means to enjoy nature in remote places although, as every hiker knows, no one who drives ATVs into roadless areas can seriously say they love nature when the very act of driving in such places destroys nature. Rather they want to get far enough from civilized society that they can do whatever they damn well please, which means that, in place of wildflowers and fragile rock formations, they leave a sea of mud, shell casings, bullet holes, and, oh yeah, lots and lots of garbage. 

The Super Bowl is a pernicious lie built upon a foundation of greed and callousness. The thing that bothered me most about those long ago pep rallies was that they conveyed the idea that if I was unwilling to scream, stomp, and jump up and down to inspire "our boys" to beat "their boys," I lacked some ineffable quality called "school spirit." The experience was designed to assault dissenters with the club of peer pressure in order to make them feel like they were all alone, but if this were true, why were these non-educational events compulsory? 

The answer was that pep rallies had everything to do with educating kids, only in covert ways that no teacher or administrator would have admitted to. Namely, they were meant to instill in students the value of tribalism, of pitting our side against someone else's side. Such was the message of the Super Bowl. Why else would a football game include a superabundance of patriotic songs and images, songs and images that might have been reasonably expected to bring violence upon anyone who didn't go through the motions of acquiescence? 

I don't doubt but what football fans see themselves as being every bit as compassionate and integrous as the next person, and that the same is true of those who create the pandering commercials, but how can this be? An ancient manuscript called Apophthegmata Patrum gives the answer as follows, although what the writer probably intended as a literal analysis, I regard as metaphorical. 

"When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered, then he goes round and round turning the mill wheel; but if his eyes are uncovered, he will not go around in the circle of the mill wheel. So too the devil, if he manages to cover the eyes of a man, can humiliate him in every sin. But if that man's eyes are not closed, he can easily escape the devil."

No one can enjoy football without opening both eyes to the public spectacle of bodies clashing against bodies while closing them to the long and private misery of the game's causalities, yet the latter is no less a part of the game than the former.