Sunday, April 24, 2011

Joshua Ben David and the Royal Myth

The Holy Thorn, Glastonbury, England. Legend says it grew after Joseph of Arimathea stuck his staff into the ground at that spot. It flowers at Christmas and Easter. (Jim Champion, Wiki Commons)Dan,Corn
At breakfast this morning, the subject of the subject of Easter arose…but not from the dead. It arose because the breezy, sunny morning seemed to call for a longer time sitting at breakfast, looking at the distant moor across the river Tamar in Devon. And it happened that my husband, Simon, who was raised by strict Anglicans, asked if anyone during the life of a Jewish rabbi named Joshua Ben David called him Christ.

How could my husband, who is quite well-read and well-travelled, have missed the fact that Christosfrom the Greek for annointedwas an honorific hung round the neck of this married Jewish rabbi much later? Later, when the myth was being created that he was unwed (which would have been very, very odd for a son of the royal House of David, and a 30-year-old rabbi) and that he was a rabble rouser who courted death to bring all souls to a God unknown in the world until that moment. One might almost say, in fact, that the creators of the myth were also creating a God.

And so they were. And so it is about time to issue a disclaimer: Anyone who is a fundamentalist about Christian thought might as well stop reading now. If, however, you are able to entertain the possibility that Christianity is no more than a myth, if indeed, a pretty good one, read on.

Years ago, I discovered books written by the late Laurence Gardner, a prolific British writer  who had traced the lineages of the royal houses of Europe (and influenced the work of Dan Brown). Their claim of the right to rule was based, in fact, on their own knowledge of their descent from Jesus of Nazareth, as Joshua Ben David became known post-humously, who his followers claimed was the son of God. They based that claim on what they posthumously reported as his own words, referring to his father in heaven.

A new, blue heaven
Interesting, that. At the time, there was no concept of heaven as we know it. The Romans didn’t have it, nor did the Jews in the way it was spoken of. The only culture of that time/world that had a concept of an afterlife was the Druids.

And now we get to Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who supposedly gave his burial chamber to Joshua Ben David’s family to bury him after he was crucified by the Romans. Or by the Jews, depending on whose hands you wish to splash that blood.

What blood? Indeed, it is likely Joshua, like most criminals, was hanged by ropes. Certainly, some died. But Joshua was offered “gall” as he hung on the cross. In all likelihood, it was a Druid potion making it possible for him to endure, or to seem to have died when in fact he was in a coma of sorts and thus was cut down, according to Gardner. Later, he awakened, arose, and went to France with his WIFE Mary Magdalen.

Druids helped Jesus live
The real story of Joshua Ben David, pieced together by numerous historians, is complex, and using this small space won’t tell it all. So, jumping around is necessary.

Back to that Druid thing. Joseph of Arimathea was not just a rich man. He traded in metals. He traded in Cornwall; there is little doubt that he also took Joshua Ben David with him on a trip to Glastonbury, there to meet Druids.

And there is where Joshua Ben David, future rabbi, acquired his belief in an afterlife. Of all the known populations at the time, only the Druids believed in an everlasting cycle of life, and that belief made them much less fearful of death than other folk. They didn’t think of it as a bearded old man sitting on a cloud with a sidekick deciding whether to let people into heaven or not; neither did Joshua. When he referred to his “father”and remember, this is only from translations of translations of translations, all of them written no less than 50 years after his “death” (can you recall what happens to statements when kids play ‘telephone’?)he referred to the origin of mankind. Not to a definable entity. His belief was clearly that it was incumbent upon mankind to be loving with each other and to be thankful that we had such a magnificent world in which to play out this phase of our eternality. No more, no less.

British royals, and Celtic Warrior Kings
And so we skip to the royal houses of Europe; they believe they derive their divine right from God, the God they think Joshua Ben David explained to one and all, or at least to those living around the Mediterranean about 2000 years ago. Since evidence points to Joshua of the royal house of David moving to France and raising a family, they have a point. But why not let the hoi polloi know this? Why keep it a secret, and try to convince the hoi polloi of the ludicrous myth of a ghost dude walking around and then ascending like a puppet hauled up on invisible strings to a place above the clouds where his lesser throne would perch beside Dad’s? Why?

Because the rest of the world’s royals at the timeCeltic warrior kings, examplederived their power from killing more enemies and stealing more cattle than other king wannabes did. So, in fact, perpetuating the myth would make it possible for rulers to rule with barely the tip of a rapier insulting the body of a foe.

For that alone, making governmental succession less bloody (in theory; note that even English kings and queens drew blood, often a lot of it, but at least they could then say they were doing God’s work and not just participating in a major cattle raid), perhaps the myth of Jesus Christ, the embroidering of the doubtless thoughtful life of Rabbi Joshua Ben David, should be thanked.

Thanked, but not necessarily believed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Take Three Cups of Tea and lie to me in the morning

Three cups of tea? Or a helping of swill? (Wiki commons)
About twelve years ago, one of New York’s toughest agentsa man who had worked to sell my most incendiary manuscript when my usual agent failedtold me there was one problem with selling it.

It was not the writing. Not the subject matter. It was that I didn’t have a platform. That is, I had not killed anyone or otherwise engaged in notorious behavior that would make some imbecilic publisher and its moronic sales staff get excited about pumping it to the jaded, overpaid, possibly coke-snorting buyers of various bookstore chains.

I told him I had no intention of committing mayhem just to sell books, and put the manuscript back in the drawer.

I was wrong. All I had to do, apparently, was make up a good tale, such as the one Greg Mortenson made up to sell Three Cups of Tea and make a name for himself, as well as a fortune. The fortune? Well, yes. He said he was going to give it all to charities in Pakistan and so on, which apparently was also mainly cut from whole cloth, or at least pinned together and not sewn.

Celtic kidnapping results in charity abroad
So here’s a possibility: Woman of a certain age travels to Ireland where she is lured into what she thinks is a gypsy caravan but is actually a cell of the neo-Celtic group, the Druid Militia. Once she is there, they cannot let her go; unless she joins them, they’ll have to kill her, but they assure her that the ancient Celts did not fear death. Still….she didn’t want to die, regardless of what modern morons think ancient Celts believed. So she pretended to join them. She helped them carry out raids on music stores, destroying all the discs by Enya in the process because Enya, as every militant neo-Celtic Druid Militia member knows, had taken Celtic ideas and made them global. And global is evil. Everyone knows that.

Global Church of Enya and Embroidery Society
After a year of pretending to be one of them, she found herself alone one day, unattended by a Militia member. Gathering what was left of her wits, she escaped, running immediately to a Roman Catholic Church, where she asked for asylum but was told she was unworthy as she wasn’t a Roman Catholic or a pedophile clergyman of any denomination. So she did the only thing left to her. She packed her Enya CDs into a suitcase (she had secretly saved her share of the loot), went to New York City, flung them onto the desk of a gullible publisher, and told him that she had suffered blackouts for years, and when she woke from them, she had been visited by an angel who told her to found a fan club for Enya. The current Enya fan club? It was nothing, of no account, she assured the publisher. It was not the angelic one she had come to found, the one that would teach every Celtic child in Ireland and the world how to play the harp and sing. The one that would build schools for global cooperation. It was not the one that would become the Global Church of Enya and Embroidery Society.

She took for herself a new nameAngela of the Ashesand was sent on a worldwide tour, speaking the truth of Enya wherever she went. She amassed a fortune. (She laughed aloud whenever she thought how gullible people were, that they didn't figure out she, Angela, was her own angel.)

And then someone found out. None of it was true. Indeed, the woman had never met Enya or an angel (although she quite liked Enya’s music, but thought the angel cult of the past 20 years just a tad ludicrous.) She hadn’t founded any schools in Ireland, although she did visit quite often to stay at her favorite Dublin hotel, Pembroke Townhouse, and dine at her favorite steak house, FXB. (That part about becoming a vegetarian when she was founding the cult of Enya? Hyperbole. In fact, she simply added an apple a day to her diet.)

So, Mr. Curtis, will that do as a platform? Or have you sent some ignorant publisher to Bozeman, Montana, to sign Mortenson to another book contract? This one will doubtless be about how he repented and came clean about his lying and cheating the first time out, and maybe will include information about his upcoming heart surgery.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know 60 Minutes did not write the Bible on outing stinkers. But it has a fairly decent track record. And anyway, there have been so many famous authors whose personal history was bogus, if not this one, then another.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Is HuffPo the new Faux News? Should we ask AOLianna Huffington?

Arriana Huffington in 2003: These days, her news image is tarnished. (Wiki commons)
If a news outlet offers a forum for comments, does it have a responsibility to post those that criticize that forum and/or its editors?

Yesterday, Huffington Post picked up a Reuters story about guns on campus in Texas. In the article, reference was made to the Texas shootings of more than four decades ago in which thirteen people were killed. What the Texas legislature is considering is a disheartening turn of events, but also disheartening is the mindlessly fundamentalist approach the writer took to telling the story. This approach is apparently tacitly supported by the editorial policies of Reuters and possibly Huffington Post, as well, which chose not to post comments critical of the bias in the report.

Subtle, but harmful bias
In noting the Texas legislature’s possible intent to allow concealed weapons on campus, the Reuters article reported that the discussion comes “nearly 45 years after Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the UT Tower and fatally shot 13 people and an unborn child.”

No, Charles Whitman shot thirteen people including a pregnant woman. He did not shoot an “unborn child” unless that unborn child was strolling across campus trying to bum a smoke. Aside from the fundamentalist bias inherent in that sentence, it is completely illogical. An unborn child is not, by definition, a person who can be shot independent of  its host, its mother. Whitman probably did not, from his heights, say to himself, “Ooh, there’s a woman who has an unborn child within her. I think I’ll shoot them both,” and then aim a bullet at the mother’s head and the fetus. He may well have hit the fetus, but it was the womanthe personwhom he sought to kill. The fetus was, if you will, collateral damage.

Nor is there anything inherently more evil about killing a woman carrying a fetus than in killing a woman not carrying a fetus. Because the mother’s body is integral to the existence of the fetusuntil delivery, with the umbilical cord severed and tiedthe murder of the pregnant woman was legally one killing. One. The mother. The woman. One woman.

And that is how the law regards it. In order to be purposely killed by gunfire―by a sniper or a whackjob student on a mindless rampagea person must be exactly that, a person, a being with an independent life, a name, a presence on the planet not dependent upon another being’s circulatory system.

Muddying otherwise clear waters
The debate about when, spiritually, a fetus becomes a person who can be murdered by medical procedures carried out upon the mother’s body need not enter into a discussion of who Charles Whitman killed. He killed thirteen people, period. One of them was pregnant. Whitman did not kill thirteen people, one of whom had a great aperture in her belly through which a tiny person escaped from time to time and went on his/her merry way, sitting under a spreading chestnut tree on campus and discussing great books or last night’s varmint huntin’ party and beer-guzzlin’ soiree. (This being about Texas, the latter is more believable, if any of it is.) It that were true, he would simply have killed fourteen people.

Reuters (or Huffington Post; it is impossible to know if the article ran as submitted or if HuffPo edited it) chose to put a fundamentalist spin on a straight report about a modern-day quandary. (Well, it’s only a quandary in Texas; most of the rest of us know it’s a crappy idea to allow concealed weapons on campus.) By doing so, they tarnished their image. They have revealed themselves as partisan and untrustworthy. 

It would do no harm to the anti-choice crowd to have stated the legal factsWhitman killed 13 peoplenor would it be a boon. It would do no harm to the pro-choice crowd to say that he killed thirteen people, one of whom was pregnant, nor would it be a boon.  Using either a simple thirteen people, or even the somewhat more yellow phrase “thirteen people, one of whom was pregnant” does not polemicize the situation…a situation on which Case Closed was written 45 years ago, when Whitman was killed by a police bullet after killing thirteen people. Not fourteen. Not thirteen and a fetus.

CORRECTION: Other sources contend Whitman killed fifteen people and a fetus, and one of those sources calls it an unborn child. The mother lived. So it was possible for Reuters/HuffPo to say that Whitman killed 13 people (though apparently it should have been 15) and a fetus. But they have still polemicized the issue by failing to note that while the fetus was destroyed (and I can find no information on whether it might have been viable on its own, or not), the mother survived. Clarification, in order not to obfuscate, is essential in a news report, and Reuters/HuffPo failed miserably at that, with the added fillip that they polemicized an issue that might still--regardless of the status of a pregnancy--have been reported straight and honestly.

Both by their sins of omission and commision, Reuters/HuffPo has needlessly polemicized an article that purported to be about the wisdom of allowing concealed weapons on campus. It has done itself/themselves and their readers a disservice. It has made the anti-choice people seem sneaky; it has dragged the pro-choice people into a superfluous discussion that need not ever have occurred, at least not based on this report.

Reuters/HuffPo (or is it AOL?) has now joined the ranks of the dishonest and discredited, the mindless polemicists of a Faux News stripe, only worse. Faux News is so viciously rightwing no one can mistake its intent; until now, HuffPo has been less rabid, although clearly slightly liberal. Has it altered its stance? Is there now no mainstream internet alternative to the ravings of the bagger/birther crowd?

I’d say time will tell, if HuffPo moderators had let the critical comments appear.

As it stands, HuffPo is now on my personal watch list, and henceforth I will read it with a critical eye and a fine-tooth comb, exposing as many of its manipulative, partisan so-called news reports as I can.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Terror on the roads, aka the UK driving standards, take 1

A lovely Rolls Canardly, similar to many a motorized machine I've driven...albeit with better paint! (Wiki Commons)
Is there any rhyme or reason to the way UK examiners assess new drivers? Or, ostensibly, old drivers who learned to drive in a sane environment--in this case, Long Island, New York. Home of the Long Island Distress--I mean, Expressway, Jericho Turnpike and its "death lane" (a lane down the middle between two opposite lanes for, oh, about 40 miles and cars in it turning every which way and/or passing), and flocks of deer crossing the dunes and the roads that interrupt the dunes (since deer have no traffic signals whatsoever).

Granted, the Long Island Expressway was barely finished when I got my license in 1963. Indeed,just enough of it was finished around New York City to make a new driver freak out.

I didn't freak out. I had been taught by Mr. Fitzgerald, a Kennedy cousin, and his lessons in good and defensive driving sank in well and deep. And they have kept me safe for 47 years on two continents driving cars from state-of-the-art to close-to-the-landfill. With good transmissions and bad transmissions. Manual, three-speed, four-speed and five-speed. With and without passenger side mirror. With and without reliable brakes; ABS? Huh? Whazzat? Bald tires, new tires, mismatched tires. Cars, vans, pickup trucks, moving vans with and without a car on a trailer at the back. In short, anything from a luxury car to a Rolls Canardly.*

So why does the spectre of the UK driving test send me into paroxysms of misery and fear?


Instructor: I teach defensive driving, but not until a new driver has been at it for about three years.

Me: Why so long? I mean, wouldn't it be better to teach defensive driving at the outset?

Instructor: No. They don't have the experience to assess when it's OK to straighten out an open curve, especially one with double solid lines.

Me: (Gulp.)

Instructor: Until then, they may not really be able to tell if the curve is safe enough or not.

I wanted to scream: "Are you people nuts? These are people who say pardon me to pedestrians they are approaching when they have burped 100 feet away. These are the people who elevated simpering to a fine art. Are you crazy? Why would you EVER want a driver to straighten out a curve and ignore double solid lines? Why would you EVER want them to assess it? Why not just say, it's illegal and that's that and if you whack someone who was UNACCOUNTABLY doing 110 around it, why would you not go to jail forever? What if there's a hidden driveway and some kid shoots out of it on a bike? ARE YOU FREAKING NUTS?"

But I didn't. I just kept driving, ever on the lookout--now that I knew--for "defensive drivers" cutting the curve on the twisty little road between the testing town and my house. (Oh, yes. Here, you drive the actual test course, rather than being prohibited from doing so, as in New York. Here, they test whether you are robotic enough and have paid for enough lessons to exactly do the inane little things demanded by the Level 5--whatever they are--standards. In New York, they test whether you can handle a car, handle situations you don't know, and have any sense whatever.)

The UK driving test is reputed to be the most difficult in the world for new drivers, and only about 43 percent pass the first time (on which more later). That's bad enough, but at least they spend 40 to 50 very expensive driving school hours learning to do it that way from the outset.

For those of us who learned to drive in sane environments, it means forgetting everything you ever knew--things that are now intuitive and ingrained and second nature and need I add have kept one safe for 47 years--to satisfy an examiner who is ensuring--as my instructor said--that every Brit drives exactly the same way.

Ain't gonna happen. Different brains, different bodies, different perceptions, different cars, different reactions, different assessments of relative distance, lack of flashing lights that say "Signal now or you will fail" on exit lanes from motorways....need I go on? You will NEVER get a whole population to drive same way. It ain't military marching; there's a lot more involved. And no drill sergeants.

Give it up, Brits. Assess safe driving, not mindless adherence to a set of rules which, by statistics, have not been shown to improve traffic safety one tiny bit.

Oh, sorry. It's about keeping the bureaucracy employed.

Silly me.

*Rolls Canardly. Old Brit joke. My car goes downhill OK, but it can 'ardly make it up the other side.