Armor for the Bishops

Isn’t Wikipedia a blessing? I wanted to clarify my notions about galvanizing because now it seems to have something to do with Catholic bishops, and I used to be one. A Catholic, I mean, not a bishop. More like a knight.

Friday the Times had a front page headline about the bishops’ plans to attack President Obama over health care insurance for contraceptives. The subhead said,

Ruling on Birth Control Galvanized Bishops

Truly amazing. Galvanizing involves the electrolytic application of a zinc-rich coating to protect nails, fenders, religious icons, or garbage cans from corruption by oxidation. My research didn’t reveal why anyone would galvanize a bishop in this day and age, though a few have been canonized, but it did turn up one of the many Celtic folksongs on the subject from the Middle Ages.

May our bishoprics be trusty!
Some are rusty, surely … But,
Until the Bishop is a statue,
May he not be rusted shut

If you haven’t got a smelter,
You may have to use the sink.
Don’t go running helter skelter,
Dip your Bishop into zinc


All right, all right — so it’s not an old folksong.

It’s a new one.

Kinky Kentucky

Mitch McConnell. Rand Paul. Jim Bunning. The Creation Museum. These are among the baleful images that come to mind when I think of Kentucky – a state so dismal lately that even its Democratic governor is acting like a troglodyte.

As a former resident (six months at Fort Knox), I think I’m entitled to a modest proposal:

Kentucky should be ceded to some other country, assuming we can find one dumb enough to deserve it – and to accept it. Let’s say North Korea.

I know, I know. There’s Louisville. There’s Churchill Downs and the Derby, gorgeous gorges, and the Jim Beam distillery. Really hate to lose them, but enough is enough.

Here’s the latest:

In Governor Steve Beshear’s state budget proposal, K-12 education will be slashed by $47.4 million, higher education (basketball) by 28 million, public safety agencies like the State Police by 17.4 million, health and family services by 19 million, Medicaid by 375 million, and other essential services by 28 million. Thousands of jobs will be lost.

But there’s lots of money for certain things.

For instance, the governor wants a $43 million tax break for development of Ark Adventure, an 800-acre creationist amusement park with an enormous Noah’s Ark to show children the origin of species. So while the right hand is snatching $47 million from the real education of youngsters, the far right hand is lavishing almost all of that on the proposition that it’s fun to be ignorant.

Oh, and there’s an extra $11 million for a highway interchange to deliver the unsuspecting kids to this sanctimonious, candy-coated poisoning of their intellectual development.

Ark Adventures is the dream of Answers in Genesis, the evangelical cult that founded the Creation Museum, also in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is hundreds of feet deep and shows signs of primitive inhabitants as far back as 13,000 years. The depth of ignorance in state officialdom has yet to be plumbed but may prove to be even more primitive.

If you say it aloud three times, “kentucky” begins to sound like an offensive adjective; and if the knucklewalkers in power don’t mend their ways, it may become exactly that.

Doomsday Scenarios

Normally we write about smaller issues, but duty calls.

This year as usual, according to my calendar, December 21 marks the first day of winter. By the Mayan calendar, December 21 will be the end of time, so winter may have to be cancelled.

Lovers of doomsday scenarios – and all the publishers, filmmakers, TV producers, and cult leaders who like to take their money – insist that the Mayan calendar is prophesying the end of the world. The movie 2012 opens with San Francisco sliding into the Pacific, and then things get bad.

“When the world ends, what good is money?” the doomsayers ask. It just makes you too fat to rapture. “Better to save your soul and unburden yourself of all that contemptible cash.”

Of course we’ve heard that song before. Cults and conspiracy theorists swarm like flies around such menaces as pole-shifts, hyperinflation, Y2K, imminent UFO landings, Halley’s comet, Hale Bopp, the Rapture, and they turn up self-styled messiahs too twisted for anything but the Tea Party Caucus—Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Harold Camping (twice), and countless others.

In 2000, the New York Times put together a list of 29 current End-of-Everything prophecies, all of which fizzled, and the website recently put up a list of 232 lights-out last calls, all peddling different dates, all phony but most of them raking in money as if it were going of style, which they say it is.

Present day Maya, to their credit, don’t seem to be exploiting their own calendar.

They’ll calmly hang onto their pesos but not try to talk you out of yours. They know their classical, long-count calendar isn’t calling for the world, much less the universe to cease.

To the Maya, December 21 will end a 5,126-year cycle, and a new day will dawn.

After what we (and they) have been through, it’s about time.


My Favorite Alien Invasion

Back in the 1970’s, during the oil shocks and long lines at the pump, there was a good news/bad news report in circulation.

The bad news was that aliens had landed in front of City Hall. The good news was that they eat bureaucrats and piss gasoline.

I’ve followed the UFO saga pretty much from the beginning – flying saucers, Area 51, Barney & Betty, ancient astronauts, etc. – usually with amusement but once in a while with a blink instead of a wink.

As silly as most of the reports have been, you have to remember that we are dipping into our own pockets at tax time each year to build UFOs and send them to the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and in one or two cases clear out of the solar system.

Except for the near neighborhood of the moon, we send robots instead of people to take the pictures and sample the soil, and presumably so would denizens of other solar systems because traversing interstellar distances would take many lifetimes for us squishy biological specimens, human or otherwise.

But after following the whole folklorical storyline for many years – and I thought I had heard it all — I just now discovered my all-time favorite UFO story.

Not that this incident proves anything, and it would be a big disappointment to people who yearn for gargantuan spaceships, bulge-eyed reptilians, force fields, abductions, and government conspiracies. But I don’t care about any of that; what I love is absurdity.

Thomas Bullard, in his non-hysterical new book, The Myth and Mystery of UFOs, notes that the problem with most UFO accounts is the lack of credible witnesses. So Bullard relates the close encounter of the ideal observer, a Nobel Prize winning scientist named Kary Mullis, when he arrived late one night at his hunting cabin in the woods of northern California:

“Once he had turned on the lights and left sacks of groceries on the floor, he lighted his path to the outhouse with a flashlight. On the way, he saw something glowing under a fir tree. Shining the flashlight on this glow, it seemed to be a raccoon with little black eyes. The raccoon spoke, ‘Good evening, doctor,’ and he replied with a hello.”

Asked later if he thought the hypothetical raccoon was some form of alien life, Mullis replied:

“To say it was an alien is to assume a lot. But to say it was weird is to understate it … it’s what science calls anecdotal because it only happened in a way that you can’t replicate.

“But it happened.”

Absolute Truth

Since the practice of telling the truth – or at least trying to — is now an endangered species of discourse, we’ve imported this treatment of the subject from our other website:

Bureaucracy, Metaphysics and Absolute Truth

In science, if new evidence doesn’t fit the theory, the theory is revised or discarded. In religion, when new evidence conflicts with prevailing beliefs, the evidence is revised or discarded, which sometimes requires intimidation of its discoverers until they recant.

Bureaucracy, as a creature of political ideology, is likewise a form of religion. If the evidence shows the prevailing system is flawed, then the evidence must be wrong. The political boss is the supreme being to whose divine revelations all else must conform.

What religion, bureaucracy, and their respective power structures have in common is the miracle of revelation in the service of entrenched interests. They reign as unimpeachable arbiters of truth, and all valid evidence, by definition, must support their chosen brand of truth.

Since empirical evidence derives from direct observation of nature, this also means that nature in all its majesty is compelled to change in accordance with the anointed truths of the regime.

Thus is the universe altered to suit the whims of men.

The records of such Faustian achievements are abundant. Archaeologists have sorted through the artifacts, rubble, and dust of many great, eternal empires, revising their theories as they go.

In his sonnet Ozymandias, Percy Shelley noted the inscription on one such mighty realm:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

So where do we stand in our search for truth?

Rest assured, the time will come to impeach the unimpeachable. But don’t expect its arrival to be announced by your church or your government.

In Search of the Inexpungible

If you were to stumble upon an eternal truth, what would it look like?

A loaf of bread? An egg? A rhyming couplet? A puppy? Possibly a graphic symbol such as Yin/Yang or infinity?

The great literary critic Alfred Kazin thought that if he were to encounter an eternal truth it would be something difficult, uncomfortable, and uncompromising — which sounds for all the world like a geometry problem.

Are dodecahedrons imperishable? If you were to put some in an industrial grinding mill, they would come out looking like cueballs. Maybe that’s it. A cueball is a cause in search of an effect.

Moreover, most things in the universe relate to the spherical, and the sports section is full of them; so the cueball might also be a bridge between blue collar and white collar philosophy, were it not for the fact that blue collars and white collars have themselves proved ephemeral and are now going extinct.

So what is left? An oxymoronic spherical bridge. That sort of paradoxical image evokes ancient legends of the philosopher’s stone or the druid’s egg if not the golden fleece or the holy grail, which are the wrong shape and texture.

It’s a wonder philosophy is even legal.

Sodom and GOPmorals

Old Testament scholars have discovered that God is a liberal Democrat.

In Sunday’s Times, Nicholas Kristoff reviews Jennifer Wright Knust’s new book, Unprotected Texts: the Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire. In case you’re a faith-based conservative Republican who is already offended by these first few lines, Prof. Knust is a biblical scholar and American Baptist pastor, so nyah nyah nyah.

She makes clear that what the people of Sodom were condemned for was not sodomy. That word didn’t come into use until over 1,000 years later.

Early biblical interpreters, says Kristoff, “attributed Sodom’s problems with God to many different causes, including idolatry, threats toward strangers, and general lack of compassion for the downtrodden.”

Certainly they wouldn’t have liked unemployment compensation, food stamps, Medicare, Head Start, or aliens, legal or not.

Ezekiel 16:49 suggests that Sodomites “had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Sound like anybody you’ve been hearing about in the news?

The Big One

I suppose you already know this if you went to church this morning. I got the news from my friend David, who heard it on an NPR interview:

May 21 will be Judgment Day.

That could be very unsettling. The faithful will be raptured up, and the rest of us are on our own. Beginning in the far western time zones (hmm) and rolling eastward, every time zone will experience huge earthquakes at 6 p.m.

They seem to have that backward, but I guess that’s what you call a miracle.

Then, 163 days later, the entire solar system – in fact the universe – will be destroyed.

I think I’ll short the market.

If there’s any money left over, I’ll buy up some cars from true believers at $100 apiece.

Fortunately, there are some wormholes in our basement. If I stick a piece of hanger wire into a few of them, maybe I can figure out which ones lead to parallel universes.

I’m glad I have friends like David. It’s never good to be blindsided by something like this.

The Goober’s First Act

Alabama’s new governor, Robert Bentley, was politely sworn in on Martin Luther King Day and said he would be governor of all Alabamians. An hour later he addressed a group of Southern Baptists (he’s a deacon) and tacitly owned up to the fact that this had been his first big lie in public office.

“If you’re Christian and you’re saved, you’re my brother or sister,” he proclaimed. “If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ and been saved, I’m here to say you’re not my brother, you’re not my sister.”

What a relief. He looks like Ichabod Crane and thinks like Mortimer Snerd. Goobernatorial through and through – another adolescent prank, courtesy of Alabama’s mischievous voters.

Who would want that for a brother?

Nevertheless, non-brothers and non-sisters from Islamic, Jewish, and Atheist groups as well as some of the more representative Christians denounced his bigotry and his unholy, unconstitutional mash-up of church and state.

The Goober tried to back down gracefully – not exactly his forte.

“People in the church understood,” he said. “We use some terminology that other people may not understand, so they may have been offended.”

In other words, if you’re offended, that’s your fault — you’re ignorant — even if you’re a Muslim who accepts Jesus and the virgin birth.

This Goober’s heavy. He ain’t my brother.

From Bill Maher…

“If you love guns, just admit it — like it’s a vice. It’s like alcohol or drugs or sex addiction or gambling … It’s not good for you or anyone else, but you like it. Forget all this Second Ammendment bullshit”