Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dude, am I tripping or is that a burning bush?

Kind of embarrassing that I missed this one, a story that popped up some 5 months ago in March 2008, but it's still blog worthy.

Moses Was High on Drugs, Israeli Researcher Says.
Psychedelic Cocktail May Explain Vision of the Burning Bush, Professor Says

The professor in question is Benny Shanon. He says you can find the same plants on the Sinai Peninsula that you find in the Amazon, where these plants are used to make a mind-bending hallucegenic cocktail. (One of many versions of the news story can be seen here.) Not only was Moses on the stuff, says the prof, but perhaps his followers, too. That means they were understanding when he came down off the mountain and said "Thou shalt not kill, and does anybody have any Cheetos?"

Any story like this, attributing less than divine cause to the great moments in the Bible, immediately draws scalding criticism. Hearken back to the "DaVinci Code" phenomenon, for example. For some people, the lessons in religious teaching are no good unless you have all the special effects. It's not enough for a human person to teach about faith or love or devotion - you have to have two of every animal, and water turning into blood, and people who live 900 years. Great plot, but what about the character development?

I think anybody who has imbibed even a mild hallucinogen can see the potential truth in this "stoned Moses" theory. Even a stiff dose of cold medicine can make you think you're hearing the voice of God, not to mention taking something really potent. Consider the peyote cults of the southwest as just one example, or the ritual Indian fasting and deprivation on the vision quest, which leads to the same hallucinatory state. There are those moments, whether on a good or a bad trip, when everything is understood - and if that is not a state of spiritual enlightenment, I don't know what is.

That's not to say you can't get on that same plane without taking drugs. God knows (and I know he knows because he spoke to me after the third bottle of Nyquil) that I am no proponent of taking drugs. (Keeping in mind that I learned from my dad that "beer is like food" so that's not a drug, right?) It's easy to see that some people can reach some other state of existence through the power of their minds (and souls?) Something that in some cultures would be called meditation, and in others, just called praying.

That is also not to say that everybody who "hears the voice of God" goes on to be a great leader for the good of mankind, or even a team player. Seems like the news is full of people slaughtering their families and claiming God was telling them to do it. In fact, there are more of these nutjobs than there are Moseses (or is that Mosii?)

Bottom line: don't know if it matters if Moses was a user. Wherever he got the idea for those 10 commandments, they seem to make sense. And the whole story made a swell movie, so we all win.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Leaving it behind

Once in awhile you get a situation in sports where somebody is playing for vindication. A big contract for an aging slugger- the golfer with the reputation for choking - or more currently, the whole Brett Favre mania. In all these cases, that player comes out to prove he or she's still got it, deserves to be there, is truly the best. There's a vindication story playing out right now in China, in the women's gold medal match between the US and A and Brazil, and she who may be vindicated is Hope Solo.

You have to be a real soccer fan to be really into this, I guess, but the Hope Solo story broke out into the mainstream last year. She's the US goalkeeper who played great all the way through the World Cup, then got benched for the semi-final, and Brazil cleaned our clock with Briana Scurry in the net. Solo was the better player at the time, Scurry's best games were well behind her, and just about everybody who follows the game thought it was a dumb mistake by the coach. Solo broke ranks after and said she would have made those saves, that she was wronged. For that bit of truth, she was ostracized. It was cold comfort that the numbskull coach got fired a little later.

Now (it's in the 79th minute) she's got a gold medal shutout working against big bad Brazil. Brazil is still the better team, but even if they take the win, Solo will be cleansed. I hope it goes to a shootout and she makes the winning save. She deserves it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Mikey Angels" flies off in both directions at once

The expression we've all heard is "you can't be too rich or too thin." I suppose that gets said a lot around the tennis court at the country club, the changing room at Sak's? I suppose it draws a wry smile every time. Or is it really said in the aisles at Target by people who are at no risk of being too much of either?

The expression we've never heard is "you can't be too smart," because we all know it is possible to be too smart. Kind of ironic since we spend a lot of energy trying to force kids to be smart. We pound them with homework, make them take tests, tell them the kids in Mumbai are going to take your future job. We try to get them into the best schools, the ones for the smart people, but they are always at risk of becoming "too smart for their own good."

Based on what I've heard about last weekend's Presidential candidate activity, Obama is running the risk of being too smart for his own good. He and McCain did these long interviews with Rick Warren, the "Purpose Driven Life" guy. (A huge success, I know, but a fully unreadable book for me.) Upshot of it all for some pundits - Barack sounds like a constitutional law professor when he answers questions. Funny how that can happen when you are a constitutional law professor. McCain, on the other hand, comes off simple, no gray areas, just a regular guy. I know for a lot of people, when it comes down to it, they just don't trust that guy who comes off too smart. If Obama wants to succeed, he needs to get a little dumber.

Meanwhile, I went over to Obama's web site to check out the "sign up to get texted when the VP is picked." I noticed the prominence on the site of the 16 - count 'em - 16! social networking sites the campaign is using. Not just MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, but a ton more that I've never even heard of. Over on the McCain home page, no sign of any social networking, even though he does have a MySpace page. This leads to an interesting comparison - Obama's MySpace shows he has 451,933 friends, McCain's has 63,485. Not exactly a scientific poll, but there's some meaning there. Talk about your "digital divide."

Kind of interesting to look through the people who have requested, and been accepted, to be MySpace friends to these prominent guys. (I assume there's some team of campaign interns who spend all day just dealing with these social networking sites.) On just the first page of Obama's friend list you'll see a guy with angel wings and women showing off their cleavage or their tramp stamp. Over on McCain's page, you'll see he has friends called "Sexy Gershom" and "The Bri Man." No tramp stamps visible, and all his friends seem to really be into cars. And wait - there's the guy with the angel wings again! He's friends with both candidates! He's either a real slut, or he's trying to get a bill passed. But I repeat myself.

I think I have found an enduring entertainment to carry me through the rest of this campaign.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The proxy war is on channel 11

Indifference rapidly turns to rabid partisanship as soon as the Olympics offers its first big moment, and it looks like that's happened, so let's pump our fists and do a little "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

In case you missed it, some French swimmers claimed they were going to "smash" the Americans in the 4 x 100 freestyle. (Imagine that, French bragging.) The race turned out to be spectacular, with the USA winning, so in your Gallic face, monsieur. Maybe you can win some gold medals if they had a smugness competition or a smoking marathon. We know the French could win the sprints if they could just have Germans chasing them. But mon dieu, enough cheap slaps at Pierre.

(And in case you missed it and you want to see it, NBC has set up an excellent website to feed video. You can get live streams and archived stuff. Go to the site here, and if you get a message that you need to install "Silverlight" that's cool, don't be fearful.)

It's a funny thing that happens when the Olympics starts. I can go from a complete lack of interest to the edge of obsession in about two days. All of a sudden I'm watching beach volleyball. (Looks like fun, but how did that become an Olympic sport? They don't even drink any beer while they're playing, so it's not very authentic.) And then I am rooting for some total stranger to break some record, or win some number of medals, and a week ago I could not have cared less. Shortly after that, I become an expert in dozens of arcane sports and am prepared to debate the importance of the #3 man in the 4-man bobsled or why the US doesn't produce great pentathlon winners or why some Swede will never win the pole vault because his run up to the pit is lackluster. Before you know it, the network turns some little known gymnast or skier into a famous face - a fame that has a short shelf life these days, but gets a prominent place on the shelf while it lasts - and I can add some "up close and personal" facts, usually heart-warming, to my stock of essential Olympic knowledge.

This Olympics, of course, is more symbolic than most. It's not far under the surface that it shapes up as a chest pounding exercise with the Chinese hoping to show that (a) they can host it, and (b) they can win more medals than the Americans. (Tally this morning: China = 14 medals, USA = 12. ) If all sports are symbolic of warfare, this particular set of games has the potential to produce some sort of new world pecking order. (China has clearly surged into the lead in the "smoggiest country" competition, so they've got that to be proud of right off the bat.) Is the US on a slippery slope to also-ran status in the world? Is China the new big man on campus? These games will shed some light on that topic, so pay attention.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

George Washington's crotch and other curiosities

I am proud to present my 200th post on this here blog, entitled "George Washington's crotch and other curiosities." You're welcome.

George Washington - what do we know? He chopped down the cherry tree (not really) and he threw a dollar across the Delaware (unlikely) and later he crossed the Delaware (maybe to retrieve the dollar?) and he had wooden teeth (true) and he married for money (true) and he was lucky as hell to win the war (true.) But today we ask, did he have a deformed groinal area? Was he, in fact, engaged with something less than a full set of equipment? Were his legs on backwards?

I'm not sure just what the heck was going on, but I enter as evidence this photo of a portrait that hangs in Faneuil Hall in Boston. (There may be copies in other galleries, too.) It's called "George Washington at Dorchester Heights" and was painted in 1806 or 1777, depending on what internet source you want to use.

We see the familiar face with the wig, the long nose, the long neck, the colonial military garb, the jacket buttoned high and exposing the waistcoat, and then the --- what the...? What's going on with George's crotch? Let's take a closer look.

Hmmm, something is not quite right here. Where is George's junk? These guys liked to wear the tight pants, and since he was the father of the country and all, we should see some evidence of fecundity, don't you think? The more you look at this (and don't look at it TOO much, you pervert) the more it looks like a badly-drawn female groin, or even an emaciated butt - but it sure don't look like this man is a man. Did he pose with his pants on backwards?

And that's not all: consider also GW's partner in this portait. Common enough that a military man would stand aside his faithful steed. But how many times have you seen a revered figure side by side with a horse's ass?I am sure you will remember from "Art Appreciation" that it was Gilbert Stuart who made the most famous portrait of Washington, from which the image on the dollar bill was derived. Stuart painted just about everybody who would stand still back in those days, and is the creator of this "man with horse" portrait above. Did Stuart have a peeve on for George? Slow pay for earlier paintings? Wanted to be an ambassador and never got the call? Got cheated by George at the poker table? Perhaps we shall never know. But I don't think you have to be Dan Brown to decipher the symbolism in this art work - Stuart was saying "George Washington has no balls and is comparable to a horse' ass."

Either that or he was just a really bad painter.