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Bear with me. Just for a bit.

Bear with me. Just for a bit.

Wombatman prepares for the fight to begin.

Wombatman prepares for the fight to begin.

What are we really expected to learn from this?

(cross-posted at my blog)

I’ve been re-learning some history lately, and picking up some new things as well, from my son’s 4th grade homework and studies. Most of it is general information about the Indian tribes that once lived in Georgia, but I’m also taking another look at what he is (and I was) taught.

On around Columbus Day, when he was learning about the explorer, I taught him about the ruthless and murderous villain that Columbus was as well. The villain story is much more interesting and violent, so he shared it with his class. The only surprise for me about this was that no one seemed to believe him, and even his teacher said she wasn’t familiar with that story.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me at all, because history lessons aren’t designed for two important things that I’ve come to expect. They aren’t intended to be interesting, or to be accurate.

I don’t mean that many teachers don’t work very hard at making history interesting and accurate. They do, but they do it on their own. As taught, that is not the point of the classes.

History classes are intended to give you the same basic information that a moderately educated person is expected to have. The point is to give a reference, or starting point, for a general discussion. By its nature, that approach is shallow and boring, because it never takes you into the motivations of historical figures.

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I’ve been trying for a week to get my daughter to tell her kindergarten class to leave Santa a stick of butter if they’ve been bad, or he will eat their toes.

She keeps forgetting, and she told me that none of her friends are bad anyway, so it probably didn’t matter. 

"What about the rest of the class, maybe they should leave him a stick of butter just in case they might have been bad and weren’t really sure?" I asked her, to see if I could raise a concern.

"Well, there’s Trent. He’s kind of bad. Maybe Santa might his take his toes. I should tell Trent," she decided.

After a few minutes of thought she changed her mind.

"You know, Dad," she said, "it would be kind of funny if Santa came and ate Trent’s toes."

I’m a little bit disappointed and a little bit proud.

I’ve been trying for a week to get my daughter to tell her kindergarten class to leave Santa a stick of butter if they’ve been bad, or he will eat their toes.

She keeps forgetting, and she told me that none of her friends are bad anyway, so it probably didn’t matter.

"What about the rest of the class, maybe they should leave him a stick of butter just in case they might have been bad and weren’t really sure?" I asked her, to see if I could raise a concern.

"Well, there’s Trent. He’s kind of bad. Maybe Santa might his take his toes. I should tell Trent," she decided.

After a few minutes of thought she changed her mind.

"You know, Dad," she said, "it would be kind of funny if Santa came and ate Trent’s toes."

I’m a little bit disappointed and a little bit proud.

Lets’ spend the night together, 2013

Lets’ spend the night together, 2013

Black 900’s.

Black 900’s.

Oga’s

Oga’s

The joys of air travel.

The joys of air travel.

Onan, Tamar, and birth control

These verses have been debated for thousands of years, but I can’t help sharing my opinion on the issue. The Bible is a fascinating book, but many people try to hard to find interpretations within minor parts of a story- in essence missing the forest for the trees.

I think that happens with this passage in a fairly major way:

Genesis 38:8-10 (KJV)

And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.

That’s it. That is the entire passage upon which denial of birth control is based. (and masturbation as well)

So what is happening in this scene? Honestly, it’s a pretty wild story, especially by today’s standards. Onan is Judah’s son. Er, the eldest, was struck down by God for being horribly wicked. That’s why it says “slew him also.” The Lord didn’t have a lot of patience with Judah’s boys; He had important business and they weren’t right for it.

Onan, as Judah’s second son, was to take Er’s wife Tamar as his own to provide Er with heirs, and he does, but it seems that Onan doesn’t want his kids to be considered Er’s. As Er’s rival he wouldn’t have children of his own, and perhaps he wanted his own tribe to propagate. At any rate, there are, in my view, two ways of reading this: Onan was denying the Jewish people their next leader by disobeying God, or Onan was using Levirate law to manipulate a woman into having sex with him.

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Ultimately, Judah himself sleeps with Tamar because he mistakes her for a prostitute—she disguises herself and tricks him because she wasn’t given the third son Shelah to marry as was her due—and she has twin boys. Tamar is actually a very strong figure here, as she demands what she believes is her right: to be the mother of the tribe. She demands Onan after Er dies, and when she does not receive the third son she risks her life by taking matters into her own hands. (It’s also worth noting that God was fine with Judah sleeping with a prostitute, or at least with Judah thinking that he was. This is mentioned casually enough that it’s hard to think it’s the only time.)

So what does all this have to do with birth control?

Nothing.

There is literally nothing in these verses that says Tamar couldn’t have told Onan she wanted to have sex but didn’t want kids. There is also nothing that implies “spilling seed” would be a problem if he wasn’t supposed to be providing a leader for the Jewish people. We see from Tamar’s later actions that she did want to have children and to be the mother of the future king, but that Onan just wasn’t cooperating and was essentially using her. In fact, Onan is a bit of a scumbag (and possibly a rapist) here; instead of providing her with children as Levirite law demanded, he’s having sex with her, then basically saying, “Sorry, not pregnant yet? Guess we’ve gotta do it again.”

So there is simply no reason that I can see why this passage should be about God requiring women to have children every time they have sex.

The issue discussed in these verses is clear: God wanted an heir for Judah’s line, and not only did Onan not want to provide one, he used the law to take advantage of his brother’s widow. So God took him out. These verses are about men doing what God commands, NOT about women having sex. Perhaps there is a story here about the need for women to forge their own destinies, but this is not about birth control or abortion at all.

Why am I not surprised that an all-male hierarchy would shift it around to justify their ideas for female behavior? I’m not surprised because the all-male hierarchy is in fact the root of the entire problem. Men get stuck on the minor issue of sex and their own desires, instead of on the incredibly huge deal of the creation of the Kingdom of Judah, and the bringing together of the tribes.

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Why are Onan and Er even important then? There’s a lot of disagreement on that, but some scholars say the two men are an etiological representation, intended to establish the relation of two other extinct tribes to Judah. That makes some sense, especially in regard to Onan not wanting to provide Er with heirs, and the fact that they are both bypassed, and killed by God.

It’s an interesting theory at least, and it could also support the idea that God killed Onan for his treatment of Tamar, for taking advantage of his brother’s widow. In fact, if there’s any moral lesson at all here, that is the strongest one that comes from reading this story. Perhaps the author was making a reference to the behavior of this entire discredited tribe and their brutality.

There is a bit more in the Bible that gets called out on occasion to oppose both birth control and abortion, namely that children are referred to as a “gift from God” — which they truly are — and that to deny God’s gift is to oppose Him. But it’s worth noting that the Bible also calls a wife a “gift from God” — which mine is, others may not be so lucky — yet there is no church requirement against resisting marriage. In fact we have just the opposite in some denominations, with celibate priests.

Birth control, masturbation, abortion. They just aren’t in this story, unless you make mental contortions to put them there. Manipulating women into having sex with you? Now that, God apparently would kill you over, but those same mental contortions can convince you otherwise if you really need for them to.

The meek shall inherit the Earth

Most of the world’s great religions contain advice about living in the present, or embracing the “now” in order to live a full and rich life.

Eckart Tolle bases a lot of his secular writings on this, drawing advice instead of inspiration from these sources. The Bhagavad Gita, for example, teaches most everything you need to know about cognitive behavior therapy, and Jesus preached about how to live this life, not the next, even describing how the meek truly understand how to embrace this earth.

Of course that’s usually ignored in favor of focusing on texts, then “discovered” and called “spiritual,” when in fact it’s just listening to what some fairly thoughtful people were saying in the first place.

We end up with people telling us they’re spiritual and not religious. I know what they mean—they are looking for a full life, not a strict one—but it’s a nonsensical statement. They’re often following religious advice but simply avoiding the creeds that have been added for hundreds of years in order to keep groups of people in control.

To me they’re religious, just not conformists.

Washington, DC

Washington, DC

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In today’s strained environment for arts support, the funding wonderland of Norway can incite jealousy. Yes, Norway is an oil-rich country; it also allots a respectable percentage of its oil wealth to pioneering art, making it a model for exactly what well-spent money for the arts can engender.

Especially in jazz. Public support has helped the country’s improvised-music scene expand from a handful of artists in the late ’60s to a thriving network of recording, performing and educational opportunities today. It’s not perfect, of course; I’ll address some chinks in Norway’s funding armor. But the country’s improvised music flourishes largely on public support.

"

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Michelle Mercer via How Norway Funds A Thriving Jazz Scene  (via nprmusic)

I’ve never understood why jazz and classical music are consider fine art, ripe for public funding, while more contemporary expressions are generally not. I’ve thought of this as an American phenomenon in the past, but it isn’t.

Now that shows I recall seeing in the early 1990’s (that video was just a part of the performance, fyi) are being blandly and drudgingly imitated by some of today’s video artists, I wonder if this is simply a result of limited thinking. Unfamiliarity with a genre, especially a rapidly-changing one, leads critics and art communities to dismiss creative and exciting work until it can be categorized and anointed as officially “art.”

[I should add that I would frankly greatly prefer to hear Norwegian jazz than the thriving Norwegian black metal. While the immaturity of most black metal disqualify it from having an “art” label, its relentless literalism and pedantry could potentially overcome that. Perhaps, as a positive outcome, an embrace from the art world could cause its murderous nationalists to flee the popular music and culture scene.]

Still, it is interesting to see an imported genre of American music evolve as official “art” in another country. I can’t help but wonder how or whether the embrace of official art culture can lead, there as here in the US, to innovation instead of embalming.

I finally watched CNN’s full report on the Steubenville verdict, and it really is as horrible as it has been described. “A very serious crime,” Poppy Harlow said, but it’s true that all of the sympathy in this report was clearly directed at the criminals, and not the victim. Both Harlow and Candy Crowley need to watch the video themselves and see how they sound. In fact, it gets worse and worse the longer you listen.

The report didn’t have to be that way.

It’s important to show these two boys and talk about their promising futures. It’s not bad for the news reports to show one of them giving his tearful apology and breaking down. It could be helpful to tell us these boys had everything going for them. In fact, everything about this report could easily have been well-done even while emphasizing the boys’ good grades and bright prospects.

But those boys’ lives were not ruined by the charges or by the verdict, as the report strongly and offensively implies. Their lives were ruined when they decided to humiliate and rape a helpless girl. They did this themselves, not the girl, not the judge, and not the law. They did it, and the verdict can and should be a good lesson for others that may have such arrogance and inhumanity, including those that have yet to be charged.

The CNN report, instead of giving us a lesson about consequences, conveyed the message that these boys are still heroes deserving our sympathy, victims of a youthful mistake fueled by alcohol.

Bullshit. People don’t commit rape unless they are truly disturbed. If you do that, you deserve to go to prison and have it seriously affect your entire life. You deserve to have to register as a sex offender, and the community you live in needs to know you are there. A decent person helps; he does not laugh or join in.

We can be sad that these boys turned out so poorly, we can lament that they wasted a promising life. We should do that. What we should not do, and what CNN needs to apologize for doing, is to lament that they were punished for it.

There is enough art for everyone

The extremely high-priced market for living artists exists only because of a general lack of appreciation of art.

That sounds a bit counterintuitive at first. Surely people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a work because they love it, because it speaks to them. But even a brief thought about that statement reveals how ludicrous it is.

Art is personal. Its beauty and its meaning exists for the artist and exists in a different way entirely for a viewer. Viewers are all as different as the artists themselves. An emotional collector buys what they love, if they can be moved by it, and should not need to told by gatekeepers what they are meant to cherish. It simply isn’t logical that we would all hunger for the same things, or find the same limited amount of people to be producing exactly what we want in our lives.

Collectors that buy for investments, banking on increased values, exist in an isolated self-serving side market of their own making, rotating products between themselves & among blue-chip galleries & museums. The love of meaning, craft, beauty & personal emotion is very different here, sterilized and held apart.

True, some artwork will inevitably rise to the top, in its quality & expressiveness, and this is a wonderful thing. Its creators should be recognized. But if a majority of buyers had enough confidence in their own tastes, enough trust in their own emotions, the amount of this appreciated artwork would increase. The number of well-paid artists would be greater and the number of ridiculously-highly-paid would plummet.

This holds similarly true for music and other jackpot professions where most of the extremely talented will labor in relative obscurity and low income while a select few dominate. Again, the public is told what they should love, because the public wants to be told.

Have you ever watched an artist’s booth or small gallery as people consider buying? We don’t trust ourselves and we want our peers to look up to and respect our tastes. And this is quickly clear.

People will stare at a $30 work for ages, come back and look again, wondering how it will make them look. “I love it,” they’ll say, but they’ll want to be sure they live the rest as well. “What if this isn’t good art? What if other work is bad and I don’t like it?”

It doesn’t matter—I want to say, just take it home. You know you’ll spend more than that on a decorative piece from Ikea without much thought at all. Trust your own taste; you can always put it away or move it to a different wall later. You even spent more on iTunes this morning (after checking the reviews for approval of course.)

Look around you. There are most likely talented people nearby, singing & playing in pubs, painting, making pottery. Become a fan, a collector, a supporter, a friend. Don’t wait for approval, just embrace what you discover that you love. Revel in their successes and encourage them in their struggles. Our world will be more beautiful & diverse for your efforts.

There is enough art—real, personal, meaningful art—for everyone.