Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The 500 Year Old Virgin

As a corollary to the Punishing Humanity the Rube Goldberg Way series, I wanted to do a post about the central character of the Flood Story, old man Noah himself, so here we go.

The Book of Genesis tells us that Noah's father Lamech was 182 years old when Noah was born. But poor Noah didn't become a daddy himself until he hit the ripe age of 500. Given what we know about God's displeasure with premarital sex, there can only be one of two possibilities for Noah. Either he was trying to impregnate his wife for centuries without success, or he was a virgin until his 500th year. Given that Genesis tells us Noah fathered three sons between his 500th and 600th years, the latter possibility would be the more likely one.

When you think about the fact that most guys can't get past their teenage years without getting laid, even if they have to resort to desperate measures like getting the fattest girl in school passed out drunk at a keg party, Noah's 500 years of virginity is truly an astounding feat. One might ponder whether or not Noah availed himself of any farm animals to help him get by, but the Bible clearly tells us that God found favor with Noah, and we know how God feels about sex with animals, so Noah must be innocent on that account too.

Since Biblical literalists believe that people who lived before the Flood really did have life spans many times longer than present day humans, I think we need to ponder the implications of that. The typical American lives to be about 75 years old, having entered the labor force in his or her late teens and retiring around the age of 65. Now take that same American and extend his or her life span to 900 years. If you have a job right now, whether it be a grocery store clerk, a plumber, a school teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, a postal carrier, or a farmer, just imagine being consigned to a life where you work that same job for century after century. Or how about being a housewife for 800 years! Imagine being married to the same person for 800 years and having to be badgered by your meddling parents for centuries on end. Even the most loving of couples and families are bound to get sick of each other eventually.

Noah, so we are told in Genesis 6:9, "was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God." The Bible does not give us any examples of what made Noah such a righteous brother, so we are expected to take the Bible at its word. What we also know about Noah from Genesis 5:30 is that he had brothers and sisters, though no number is provided.

Now many of us either have or know of people who have siblings that are, to put it delicately, not exactly the most shining examples of human decency. I myself have two older brothers whose character and conduct in life have left and continue to leave much to be desired. Nevertheless, they are our family and most of us try to love our siblings in spite of their flaws. Now if some disembodied voice from the heavens called down to me and told me that he was going to wipe out all of humanity except for me, my wife, my kids and their spouses, I would vehemently protest such a thing, and would demand that I be able to take the rest of my family with me if I could not convince this deity to cease his madness. And if this would be Supreme Being did not accomodate me, then I would absolutely refuse to build the ark and I would challenge this God to kill me and my family along with the rest of the human race.

But what does Noah do when God announces his intention to destroy all life on the Earth save Noah's immediate family and two of every animal? Does he try to speak out in defence of humanity? Does he make a plea on behalf of his brothers and sisters? After all, are we to believe that every single person on the planet, including all of Noah's brothers and sisters, were wicked and evil people who deserved to die? All that Genesis tells us is that "Noah did everything just as God commanded him."

One of the first things that Noah does after leaving the ark according to Genesis 9:20, was to plant a vineyard. He then proceeds to get drunk as a skunk and passes out naked. His son Ham happens to find him in this state, and evidently concerned (he by account being the youngest of the three sons) informed his older brothers Shem and Japheth. The two elder brothers proceed to cover their naked father. In a normal world, that would have been the end of the story. But not so with Righteous Noah. In a fit of rage, he curses Ham's youngest son Canaan, who was not even involved in the incident.

So let's do the tally here. Noah is described as being a righteous man, but he does not utter a word of protest when God tells him that his brothers and sisters will die in a flood, and he curses a child who caused him no offense because of his own poor judgment in getting drunk. And what is the big deal about being seen naked anyway? God gets mad at Adam and Eve because they had covered themselves instead of going about naked, yet seeing Noah naked is seen as legitimating the cursing of a blameless child and his descendants. Yep, that sounds fair to me. After cursing Canaan, all that we are told of Noah is that he lived for 350 years after the Flood and that he was 950 years young when he finally kicked the bucket. Well, you know what they say, once you've hit your 600th birthday, it's all downhill from there!

As an aside, the drunken Noah story, like the Tower of Babel story, seems like a later interpolation. If you take out the drunken Noah section, and make Genesis 9:28 immediately follow 9:17, the story has a smoother narrative flow. It is almost as if Hebrew priests felt they had to insert into Genesis a few lines of text to provide some sort of theological justification for their conquest of Canaanite lands. It wouldn't be the first time someone tried to alter the past to justify the actions of the present.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Punishing Humanity the Rube Goldberg Way - Part 2

When last we left Noah and the gang, they were shut in the ark as the rains began to fall for forty days and nights, and the ark found itself floating on the waters.

So here is the situation. A 600 year old man, his wife, his three sons and three daughters in-law are stuck in a huge wooden vessel with “every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings.”

Now for those who hew to a literal reading of the book of Genesis, it is important to grasp the implications of the above paragraph. Here is a partial list of animals alone, in no particular order: sheep, goats, camels, bears, cows, pigs, buffalo, horses, llamas, alpacas, lions, tigers, gazelles, dogs, moose, giraffes, leopards, pumas, gorillas, chimpanzees, lemurs, bonobos, monkeys, orangutans, tarsiers, bear cats, cats, wolves, foxes, elephants, squirrels, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wildebeests, Tasmanian devils, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, swans, rhinos, hippos, pandas, lemurs, baboons, hyenas, hartebeests, impalas, warthogs, waterbucks, zebras, walruses, seals, sea lions, otters, yaks, rabbits, hedgehogs, armadillos, ocelots, deer, chipmunks, skunks, gibbons, possums, raccoons, ibex, platypus, sloths, rats, hamsters, gerbils, weasels, mongooses, porcupines, chinchillas, guinea pigs, shrews, moles, bandicoots, coyotes, jaguars, turtles, penguins, alligators, crocodiles, monitors, komodo dragons, chameleons, pythons, anacondas, cobras, salamanders, toads, frogs, bats, emus, ostriches, peacocks, ducks, owls, vultures, seagulls, hawks, eagles, canaries, parrots, geese, flamingoes, beavers, macaws, toucans, condors, tapirs, caribou, lynx, voles, rams, antelope, anteaters, boa constrictors, cougars, caimans, panthers, javelinas, kinkajous, peccaries, pronghorns, woodpeckers, cheetahs, lemmings, falcons, wolverines, musk ox, aye-ayes, bongos, ferrets, gnus, groundhogs, okapi, oryxes, pangolins, numbats, quolls, sugar gliders, Tasmanian tigers, dinornis, cassowaries, moas, kiwis, tuataras, and so on and so on. I have not even touched on insects yet.

But just from this list alone, the skeptic draws the conclusion that it would have been impossible for a mere eight people to have fed all of these animals. We are talking about a logistical nightmare here. Even if Noah and his family did not eat or sleep during the entire time they spent in the ark, there were still not enough of them to attend to the animals. But even if they did by some miracle have the means to do so, they would have been utterly ignorant as to the special dietary needs of many of these animals. Some were carnivorous, such as the lions and the tigers. Others were herbivores and ate only certain kinds of leaves. For instance, as mentioned in Part 1, koalas only eat leaves from the eucalyptus tree which is native to Australia. And some animals eat only insects. Since the majority of these animals were surely unfamiliar to Noah, how would he have known what kind of food each animal ate?

Those who insist on adhering to a literal belief in the book of Genesis will try to find ways to get around such inconvenient facts. For instance, some argue that God caused the animals to go into a state of hibernation so that they did not need to eat during the time they were cooped up in the ark. But after God tells Noah in Genesis 6: 18-20 the people and animals he is to take with him on the ark, God commands him in Genesis 6:21 to “take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and them.” This strongly implies that the food to be stored on the ark is not only for the people, but for the animals as well. Furthermore, if God caused the animals to sleep during the flood, it is likely that it would have been mentioned in Genesis. For example, in Chapter 2 of Genesis, when God creates Eve, it clearly reads “God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep.” If the animals of the ark were in a state of hibernation, we can be pretty sure there would have been a line somewhere in the Noah’s Ark tale along the lines of “And God caused the animals and birds on the ark to fall into a sleep so that they would not go hungry.” Therefore, we must conclude that the animals were not in a state of hibernation during their time on the ark and that they would have required enormous amounts of food and fresh water to sustain them.

The second problem that skeptics of the tale will bring up naturally follows from the first. The sheer amount of excrement and urine on the ark would have been enormous. Noah and his family, in addition to struggling to feed all of the animals of the ark, would have been overwhelmed by the task of disposing of their bodily wastes, assuming they did not pass out from the stench. In addition to the smell, the ark would have been a breeding ground for disease and sickness that would have caused an epidemic of death and illness on the vessel. To get a sample of what it is like to be on an oceangoing vessel for an extended period of time, below is a description of what travel conditions were like for European immigrants making a Trans-Atlantic journey to the Americas.

“The cheapest passage was in steerage, below the deck of the ship. This area was particularly filthy due to the lack of water, toilets, and cleaning facilities. The stench was nearly impossible to tolerate. Reports of rodents and lice were commonplace.

Regardless of the accommodations one chose, it was impossible to live comfortably. Cleanliness was a major problem. Ships had toilet facilities, but they were few and far between, and all were inconveniently placed. There was no space or equipment for washing. The amount of fresh water onboard was based only upon drinking and cooking needs.

Once the ship was on its way, seasickness was seldom far behind. The close quarters and unsanitary conditions facilitated the rapid spread of infectious diseases. These factors, plus the already physically compromised condition of many of the passengers, resulted in severe health problems that included typhoid, tuberculosis, influenza, and all manner of infections–all of which were potentially life threatening.

When storms came, the ship would pitch and creak. With the hatches down, and without proper ventilation, the stench increased and there was no chance of getting meals even for those who had stomach enough to eat them.”

Genesis literalist will try to argue their way around this unpleasant fact as well. One of my blog readers posited that “a hole with walls might have been built into the center [of the ark] through the bottom. Water could rise and fall like a piston, bring fresh air into the ark. This also would be a good way for them to get water for the animals. Maybe they even had two of these piston well holes and dumped all the poop down the other.” But Genesis does not tell us that such pistons were built. In Genesis 6:14-16, God describes to Noah how the ark should be built. He tells Noah what kind of wood to use, how long, high and wide the ark should be, that it should be covered with pitch, how many decks there should be, and where to put the door. Surely, if so revolutionary device as a piston were to be built, Genesis would tell us something along the lines of “and build a piston in the center of the ark so that that which issueth from man and animal can be pass out of the ark” or something along those lines.

In reading Genesis, a reasonable person can only conclude that the story of Noah and Ark was written by someone completely ignorant of oceanic vessels, not to mention the true extent of the Earth and the incredible diversity of life on the planet that makes a literal reading of the story ridiculous. The leaps of logic that literal believers in the story make to justify their belief only serves to reinforce the absurdity of a Supreme Being resolving to destroy all life by flooding the surface of the planet for months, killing all life save that which was packed aboard the ark.

Interestingly, before the rains began to fall, God tells Noah (Genesis 7:4) when the flooding will begin so that Noah knows when to have all of his family and the animals safely aboard the ark, but when the rain stops, Noah has to release birds to find out if the rainwater had receded. Why doesn’t God just say “Fourteen days from now, the ground will be dry enough for you and all on the ark with you to step out onto the dry land”? Instead, God waits until after Noah has already discovered that the land is dry before commanding him to leave.

The flood story ends with Noah sacrificing some clean animals to God (Genesis 8:20-21) and God being pleased by the aroma of the burnt offerings. For a being that is supposed to have created an infinite universe filled with galaxies, stars, planets, comets, nebulae and other celestial bodies, it seems awfully provincial for such a Supreme Being to get a rush out of the odor arising from the burning of sacrificed animals. And thus, God’s Rube Goldberg punishment of humanity had come to an end.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Give the Gift of Life

And now for an important announcement from the New York Blood Center:

NEW YORK, NY, OCTOBER 24, 2006 - With the busy, year-end holiday season fast approaching, New York Blood Center (NYBC) is urging everyone eligible to consider giving the best gift of all this holiday season - the gift of life - with a blood or platelet donation.
"A safe and adequate blood supply is essential to the health of any community," reports Dr. Robert Jones, NYBC President & CEO. "That's especially true in the holiday season as travel and the potential for accidents increases. Yet the holiday season also historically sees fewer donations and severe blood shortages. Therefore, we are asking all eligible residents of the greater New York/New Jersey community to help prevent a year-end blood shortage by giving a 'one size fits all' gift with no shopping required."
Who Can & Should Donate?
Eligible donors include those people at least age 16 (in NY) or 17 (in NJ) who weigh a minimum of 110 pounds, are in good health and meet all Food & Drug Administration and NY and NJ State Department of Health donor criteria. "The reality is less than 2% of people in our local community donates, which is far behind the nationwide blood donor participation rate of 5%," pointed out Dr. Jones. "We also need greater diversity within our donor base here in New York and New Jersey so we can better match the very precise transfusion needs of chronically transfused patients and those with uniquely inherited blood antigen patterns," added Dr. Jones.

I try to donate blood about three or four times per year and made a donation this morning. I strongly encourage anyone who is eligible to donate blood but has not done so to make an effort to donate this holiday season. It generally takes about an hour to an hour and a half, starting with the completion of the screening form, meeting with a medical screener, and then the actual donation of the blood itself, which itself takes no more than fifteen minutes.

Some of the questions on the questionnaire are very personal, and for me, the most irksome is the one that asks if you have ever had sex with someone who lives in, or was born in Africa. Being the honest person that I am, I have to explain to the screener that more than ten years ago I had a girlfriend who was born in Ivory Coast but grew up in France. Ivory Coast is not on the list of problem countries, but most of the screeners have to consult their manual to verify this. It’s not really that big a deal, it just delays the screening interview and examination (they do take your blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and prick your finger to get a drop of blood to test your iron levels) for a minute or so.

I imagine that most people shy away from donating blood because they do not like to have such a big needle inserted into their arm. Personally, I am not phased by the needle, and in fact I use reverse psychology on myself by eagerly anticipating the needle penetrating my skin. Yeah, I know, it's crazy, but it works for me. And for those who might need something more tangible than just the feeling that you are doing something good for the community, sometimes the Blood Center will offer small materialistic benefits like gift cards. For my donation today, I will be getting a $10.00 gift card for Barnes & Noble. When I receive it in the mail, maybe I will use it towards Richard Dawkins’ new book “The God Delusion”.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Punishing Humanity the Rube Goldberg Way - Part 1

Rube Goldberg, as many people may know, was a well-known cartoonist who was best known for his cartoons featuring absurdly complicated devices for accomplishing the most simple of tasks, hence the phrase “a Rube Goldberg contraption.”

In one of the most well-known stories from the Bible, the tale of Noah’s Ark, God takes a Rube Goldberg approach in punishing humanity for the wickedness of men. God is so angry with mankind that he decides to wipe out every person on the face of the Earth, except for a man named Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives. You see, Noah was a righteous man who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Apparently, Noah’s righteousness did not rub off on his brothers and sisters, because Noah does not utter a peep of protest when God informs Noah of his plans. We are also informed that Noah was 500 years old before he had his first child. In other words, Noah was the 500 year old virgin. How’s that for a movie title? His father Lamech, on the other hand, only had to wait 182 years before he impregnated his wife and fathered baby Noah.

Now, we are told to believe that the God of the Bible is the creator of everything in the universe and is omniscient and omnipotent. Therefore, when it comes to punishing mankind, God surely had a lot of options available to him for striking down the wicked. For starters, God could have cause every evil person on the Earth to spontaneously combust. Poof! Everybody is dead and vanished except for Noah and his family. The human race can start over again. Alternatively, God can make all of the wicked people sterile (after all, if he can make a virgin pregnant, surely he can cause men to have low sperm counts) and after a few hundred years, all of the wicked people die out and there is just Noah and his family still standing. Again, the problem of bad people is solved.

But no, we’re talking the God of the Bible here, which means nothing is ever simple and efficient. You see, God has decided that he will punish mankind by flooding the Earth so that it resembles Kevin Costner’s ‘Waterworld’. Unfortunately, this means that not only are all of the bad people going to be killed, but just about everything else as well. For some strange reason, in his anger, God is resolved to destroy not only all of the wicked people, but the “animals and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air.” Why animals have to suffer because of God’s anger with the human race is unexplained.

However, since God has decided to spare Noah and his family, along with two (or seven) of each living thing in order that life can start anew after the flood waters have receded, he has a number of options available to him as he is omniscient and omnipotent. As the flood waters arise, he could form a protective bubble around those he intends to save so that they do not drown, sort of like Jean Gray in X-Men II holding back the waters of Alkali Lake to protect her comrades on the jet. Nope, fat chance there. God could also send Noah and pairs of every living thing to dwell at the top of the highest mountains and cause the flood waters to stop rising just shy of those mountains. Tibet comes to mind as an ideal place. Sorry, can’t do that either.

God’s solution to save Noah and the fortunate few is for Noah to construct a vessel called an ark. God gives Noah very specific instructions as to how the ark should be built, from the type of wood to be used, the height, width, and length of the ark, even where to place the doors. You know right away though that there is going to be trouble on the ark, because there is no mention of God consulting with Noah’s wife about where to put the curtains. After all, you can’t expect a woman to be holed up in a stinking putrid wooden vessel for a year without trying to lighten the place up a bit.

God then commands Noah “to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” (Genesis 6:19). But God must have altered his plans slightly, because in Genesis 7:2-3, he tells Noah to “take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate (seven being an odd number, some animals are going to be stuck on the ark without a date), and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.” Noah has seven days to perform this task, whereupon God informs him that he will cause it to rain for forty days and nights.

According to Genesis 7:15, “pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.” How these creatures got to the ark is left unexplained. Did Noah and his sons go off and capture them when they weren’t busy building the ark, or did the lucky creatures embark on a mass migration across the Earth? This is a very important question. After all, many creatures subsist on a diet that is particular to the geographic location where they live. Koalas, for instance, eat the leaves of the eucalyptus tree. Did the koalas on the ark bring their own stash of eucalyptus leaves with them, or did Noah make a trip to Australia in his spare time? And then there are some animals and insects that live only in the canopy of a tropical rain forest. How could they be expected to survive the journey to the ark?

Regardless, the seven days passed and when Noah was a sprightly man of 600 years, “all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights.” The ark, we are told “floated on the surface of the water”, and so began the odyssey of Noah and his family, as they realized to their consternation that in all of their planning for the flood, they forgot to bring with them a deck of cards and Monopoly®.

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why Can't February Have Thirty Days?

It might seem like a silly question, buy why can't February have thirty days instead of 28? It wouldn't be that hard to do. All that would be required is to shave off a day each from January and March, still leaving them with 30 days each. Of course, every leap year, February would then have 31 days.

The next question then is who gets to make the official decision to change the calendar so that February gets two days and January and March each lose one? Is there some International Calendar association that has some authority in these matters?

Undoubtedly, there are more pressing problems in the world than giving February thirty days. But it is annoying, especially when you have to calculate deadlines that extend through February and into March, and you have to take into account that February has only 28 days. If it had 30 days, such calculations would be greatly simplified.

Extending the month of February to 30 days might also be popular with African-Americans. I am sure more than a few of them are not happy that Black History Month falls on the shortest month of the year. Maybe it can become Jesse Jackson's new pet cause.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Meaningless Babel

For religious skeptics, the Bible is full of stories that make it absolutely impossible to accept the Bible as literal truth. For me, one of the stories that tops the list is the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9.

As the tale relates, all of humanity spoke a common language and settled in a single place called the plain of Shinar. These industrious people resolved to build a tower of bricks that would reach to the heavens.

God is described in the story as coming "down to see the city and the tower that the men were building." Now whomever wrote this story reveals some interesting things. First off, the author (or plagiarist, more on that in a moment) of this tale had some idea that God dwelled somewhere up, up, up in the skies. Secondly, by describing God as coming down to see the tower, the author is clearly implying that God occupies a physical space and must actually come down to the Earth in order to see what humanity was building. After all, if God is all knowing, all seeing, and everywhere at once, he would not come down to the Earth. Now one might make the argument that the author of the story was describing God based upon his own limited understanding. But Bible believers constantly remind us that the Bible was revealed by God himself, and many believe that it was Moses himself who wrote down what God told him. Thus, God is describing himself as having to "come down" to the city.

Now where the story gets really interesting is where God decides that he must stop the people from building the tower, because "nothing they do will be impossible for them", which clearly suggests that God was afraid that the humans would actually succeed in building their tower high enough to reach heaven. Again, the teller of the tale is revealing his ignorance. He is obviously unaware of the fact that the Earth is surrounded by an atmosphere, and that at some point, if one goes high enough, there is simply no air to breath. Assuming the technology was even known to build the tower as high as the tallest mountain, the workers at the top would begin passing out from altitude sickness. Work would have to cease because it would simply not be possible to advance any further. But of course the technology did not exist back then to build a tower as high as Mount Everest. In fact, the Great Pyramid of Khufu (aka Cheops) in Egypt remained the tallest man made structure on the Earth until the advent of the skyscrapers in the first half of the 20th century. So God did not have to worry.

But God clearly was worried, so he decides to divide humanity by confusing their language so that they would not understand each other, and from there, God "scattered them over the face of the whole Earth." Now, what the Bible means by scattered is unclear. Did different groups of people migrate to different parts of the planet, or did God teleport them to sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Siberia, China, Australia, and the Americas?

Now what really makes a literal belief in the story of the Tower of Babel ridiculous to me, in short, is that humanity has long surpassed in achievement and ability the things that God feared humanity was capable of thousands of years ago. Not only do we have skyscrapers that are higher than any structure that ever existed before, but we have sent men to the moon and landed space probes as far away as Saturn's moon Titan, not to mention the Voyager probes that have travelled to the outermost edges of our solar system. Furthermore, in spite of the multitude of languages that are spoken by different ethnicities and nationalities, we all have the ability to communicate with one another. The English language is the language of global commerce and educated people from all over the world speak it. It is possible, with sufficient exposure and study, to learn to speak and understand the languages of others. We have the capability to pool the knowledge and resources of all humanity to accomplish almost anything we set our minds to.

This begs the question, if God stopped humanity from building the Tower of Babel some 4,000 years ago, then why hasn't God stopped us from landing on the Moon and landing probes as far as Titan? The Russians had the MIR space station orbiting the Earth for over a decade, and currently the International Space Station circles the planet. In a few decades, it is not inconceivable that we will have opened up space to commerce. Hotels and convention centers will offer visitors the ultimate panoramic view. Intrepid miners will venture to near Earth asteroids to mine for metals and minerals. There may even be budding colonies on the Moon.

But back to the plagiarism issue I hinted at earlier. When one reads chapters 10 and 11 of Genesis, the Tower of Babel story does not make any sense, and in fact, it looks like it was conspicuously inserted between Genesis 10:32 and Genesis 11:10. Genesis 10 covers the three sons of Noah and their descendants in the aftermath of the Flood. The descendants of the three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, are said to have occupied specific territories and having their own languages The last section of Genesis 10, from verses 21 through 32, cover the descendants of Shem.

Now, just to reiterate, Genesis 10 clearly tells us that the descendants of each of Noah's three sons occupied specific geographic areas and had their own languages. And then we go write into Genesis 11:1, in which "the whole world had one language and one common speech" and that they all moved "eastward", though from where we are not told, to the plain of Shinar. And then in Genesis 11:10, the story picks up again with Shem two years after the flood. The Tower of Babel totally interrupts the flow of the story. This clearly shows that what we know as the Book of Genesis is not a single book, but in fact a collection of stories cut and pasted together from various sources. I get the impression that some Hebrew priest overseeing the assembling of their holy texts came across the Tower of Babel story from some Mesopotamian sources and thought "I better put that in here to explain why different nations speak different languages." The Tower of Babel story is a cut and paste job, and a poor one at that.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ban Celebrity Marriage

We hear constantly from religious fundamentalists and cultural conservatives that gay marriage is a threat to the traditional family and demeans the true meaning of marriage. As a happily married heterosexual, I fail to see how allowing two people of the same gender who love each other to marry threatens my marriage, so I must emphatically disagree.

Rather, I would submit that what really demeans the institution of marriage in this country is celebrity marriage. Just in the last couple of weeks we have read about the separation of Reese Witherspoon from Ryan Philippe. And now we have Britney Spears filing for divorce from Kevin Federline. Keep in mind that both of these separations involve children.

But to this day, my favorite example of bizarre Hollywood relationships was when Jeff Goldblum split from Geena Davis to hook up with Laura Dern, who had been with crappy filmaker Renny Harlin, who ended up hooking up with Geena Davis. Now if only we could get Harlin to direct a movie starring Goldblum, Dern and Davis.

Anyway, I hereby propose that the United States Congress pass, and President Bush sign into law, a bill that would ban celebrity marriages. No more would the sacred institution of marriage be profaned by these self absorbed celebrities who change spouses like they change their wardrobes. It is time to put a stop to it! Write your congressional representatives now and let's begin to make marriage in America mean something again.

(No Shoprite customers were harmed while writing this post.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hell on Earth

Okay, maybe that is exaggerating it a bit. But if there is one place on Earth that truly brings out the curmudgeon in me, it is a crowded supermarket. For me, that particular supermarket is Greenfield's Shoprite in Plainview.

It could just be my own biased perspective, but I cannot think of any place with such a concentration of self absorbed blockheads as Shoprite. You get one fat old lady who parks her shopping cart one one side of the aisle and then proceeds to place herself in the space between her cart and the row of shelves on the other side, while she spends an eternity trying to figure out which brand of pancake syrup she wants to buy. Then there is the clod who stops his cart in the space next to where another customer has parked her cart. Another customer blocks the entrance to the frozen aisle with her cart while she examines the ice cream freezer. Then there are the two housewives who haven't spoken in the last three weeks who decide that they are going to block the shampoo and toothpaste aisle so that they can swap neighborhood gossip for the next ten minutes. What is it with these people? Why doesn't it enter their thick skulls that there are other customers in the store who need to get their shopping done and don't have all day in which to do it? Any why do they have to constantly cling to their shopping carts as if they were personal appendages?

I must confess that sometimes I daydream about mowing these people down with an AK-47. Then reality sets in when I realize that if I did massacre these annoying customers, their bullet ridden corpses would just end up being obstacles that I could not get around with my own shopping cart. So, I usually deal with these idiots with passive-aggressive methods. My most common ploy is to stomp my feet loudly as I get closer and closer to the customer in front of me. That usually gets their attention and they pull out of my way or go faster than their previous snail's pace. Another tactic I use is to hum the theme to Jeopardy.

One of my biggest pet peeves in life, as you can probably tell from the paragraphs above, is when my freedom of movement is curtailed. For me, it is very important to be able to move about with speed and efficiency, and I try to extend the same courtesy to others. When I am at the supermarket, I often park my shopping cart in a spot where it does not get in the way of other customers, and then I go up and down nearby aisles to find the items on my list. I do not feel the need to constantly have my cart with me wherever I go. When I do have the cart with me and I pause to peruse the shelves, I make sure that I am leaving a sufficient enough space so that other customers can pass by me. I even bring my own bags with me and have them ready so that I can pack my groceries as soon as the register girl scans them.

Yeah, I know, there are worse things that one has to deal with in life than clueless morons at the supermarket. But I just felt the need to vent. Besides, it has been a while since my last post and I thought I needed to post at least something to demonstrate that I am still alive and kicking. I also wanted to at last do a post that was not about atheism or religion.

In a way, my supermarket experience is a metaphor for my philosophy of life. There are so many things in the world that anger or annoy us that we feel powerless to do anything about. I can't snap my fingers and cause the roughly 50% of the customers at Shoprite who are clueless assholes to suddenly change their annoying behavior. All I can do is be thoughtful and try not to get in the way of other customers when I am at the supermarket. As my motto goes, "If you want to make the world a better place, then don't add to its problems."