MARSHAL LAW and SOILED DOVES

I have often not been asked who my favorite Old West marshal is. Just as often, I have not replied: “I have not often given it any thought.” I suppose that if, for some desperate reason (such as drawing a blank for something to write about for this post) I had given it any thought, I would’ve come up with Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok or Bat Masterson. Don’t ask me to name other famous marshals. Were there any other famous marshals?

Today is the 228th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Marshal Service, so I decided to marshal my resources, round up a posse, and pursue my query. Unfortunately, it wasn’t posse-ble to corral volunteers for such a questionable undertaking; I will have to go it alone. If I don’t come out of this post alive, please pray that I have gone to a better place. Philadelphia will do.

As you may have noticed in the above clip, Mae West was mighty handy with a six-shooter….but in yesteryear’s wild and wooly West, female marshals were scarcer than beer and whiskey drinkers on the wagon in a one-horse town with two saloons — a sobering thought, indeed. Thus, it mae be necessary to put up wanted posters in order to uncover additional famous marshals (preferably female).

Well, that didn’t take long; there WERE female marshals in the Old West. Here they be:

https://glitternight.com/tag/female-marshals/

That appears to be the extent of their ranks — out of hundreds of marshals/deputy marshals, only four were of the fair sex. But that seems only fair. After all, 99% of the ‘bad guys’ were just that — ‘guys’ — so why should women be charged with maintaining law and order in the Wild West when almost all of the lawbreakers were men….though it’s no stretch to assume that certain upstanding citizens weren’t above regarding certain ladies as ‘hardened’ offenders:

As Jesus and mistermuse not often say (therefore it bares repeating):  Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stein.

Needless to say, I’ll drink to that!

 

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SET IN STONE

I think, therefore I am. –René Descartes

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You will (hopefully) recall that my last post, STONE COLD DEAD, featured some of my favorite epitaphs published 4 years ago on SWI (a blog due to bite the dust in November). Ah, but the best laid plans….  The SWI editor announced on 9/1 that he would now need to pull the plug first thing on Sept. 6; thus today becomes SWI’s last full day on this earth.

This sudden passing prompts me to salvage another of my previously published posts from that body of work: a poem which poses a question I believe naturally arises out of STONE COLD DEAD. Unlike that post, it ain’t funny, but perhaps the poem’s saving grace is that what it lacks in humor, it makes up in brevity. It’s the least I can do on Labor Day.

LUCKY STIFFS

Are the faithful
dead better positioned
to be saved
than those who
lived with doubt?
Even a God
can’t help being
what He thinks.

 

 

DO IT…BUY THE BOOK

Among the books I’ve owned for some time and not found time (until now) to read is one which convincingly illuminates how America has evolved (some might say retrogressed, in the case of our politicians) over the years.

When I say “evolved,” most people (at least, those who don’t regard it as a dirty word) think of it in the Darwinian sense as gradual development from primitive to more adaptive or advanced stages….as, to take a human example, from very brutish to veddy British — or, from restive barbarians to festive Bavarians. But one would have to be blind not to see that human evolution isn’t a straight forward, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats proposition. In other words, what you sea is what you get (even my puns have their ups and downs).

Then there’s the history of rights withheld, an early example being what American colonists determined to address. The British, loathe to let go, weren’t there yet…and neither are many of us there yet when it comes to the rights of others — speaking of which (for illustrative purposes), here’s a clip with reference to California’s 2008 ballot Proposition 8 denying same-sex couples the right to marry (an issue of no concern to me whatsoever except as it pertains to ‘affairs’ which some people — especially religious conservatives — can’t bear the thought of, even though it’s no skin off their nose):

Coincidentally, 2008 is the same year the book I referred to at the start (THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON by Susan Jacoby) was published. Here is a review of that book:

http://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2008/05/i-admired-susan.html

Though I’m in tune with that review for the most part, I take issue with the reviewer’s belief that “Jacoby is overestimating the role of religion in America in the decline of Enlightenment rationalism.” Furthermore, the reviewer states that “the number of true fundamentalists is probably not that significant: she [Jacoby] conflates fundamentalism with evangelism” — a contention which leads me to question whether the reviewer did more than skim through Chapter 8 (THE NEW OLD-TIME RELIGION), which takes pains to differentiate between the two — including such distinctions as The main difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals….is that not all evangelicals regard the Bible as literally true but all fundamentalists do. That chapter, detailing the role of evangelism and fundamentalism in America past and present, is alone worth the price of erudition….eminently readable erudition, I might add.

If you want to add to your understanding of the forces and factors that have created THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON, do it….buy the book.

 

 

THE WICKED WHICH OF BEGETS*

Which is more naïve (naïver?) —
to believe poetry that rings true
….or….
to be a true believer?

Which takes more courageous thinking —
to whistle in the dark of faith
….or….
to face reality without blinking?

Which lays more cards on the table —
the persuasion  of the power of babble
….or….
the allegory of The Tower of Babel?

Which is the bigger cancer —
the answer that brooks no questions
….or….
the questions that beget no answer?

*with apologies to The Wicked Witch of the West (played by the late Margaret Hamilton in THE WIZARD OF OZ). In addition to her film career, it seems that Hamilton was also (according to Wikipedia) a Sunday School teacher in the 1950s, which carries my apologies beyond my title-play-on-words to the poem itself. May her Maker be as real as the great and powerful Wizard was a humbug, and more wonderful than the “whiz of a wiz” who Dorothy and her friends were told they’d see at the end of the yellow brick road:

 

 

A GOOD DAY TO WONDER

I was going to title this awkward post GOOD FRIDAY FARE, but thought better of it (a little too light to fill the bill). Or I could have titled it REALLY?. Really? I may be an ex-Catholic, but I still respect the meaning of Good Friday for the hundreds of millions who take the premise of this day at faith value. My breach of faith is not with the faithful, but with the premise of their faith — as explained in the poem which follows this paragraph of Christian apologia:

What’s So Good about Good Friday? asks Episcopal priest Justin Holcomb in a recent article. The origin of the term, he says, is debatable, but “Regardless of the origin, the name Good Friday is entirely appropriate because the suffering and death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s plan to save his people from their sins….all in accordance with what God had promised all along in the Scriptures.” We can all agree, can we not, with the gross understatement that people have been sinning since time immemorial? But….

DIDN’T THE ANCIENTS EVER WONDER?

One of the earliest questions which presented itself to my youthful mind was that of election: Why had God chosen the Jewish people as the sole recipients of  His divine revelation and of the messianic promise? By what creative caprice had he excluded all others? –Morris West, Catholic novelist & playwright (1916-99)

After the Lord God said Let there be light, there was no one
to share the scene. God looked down and beheld a creation
too wondrous to keep to Himself. Flesh forward.
Adam, meet Eve.
But, inevitably, Adam and Eve stray.
They have a bad day.
‘Twas the serpent, they say.

Boys and girls, welcome to hard times
where life becomes a chance bet
begetters scatter and beget
until they forget
without regret
where they came from and divine not
what they’re about

until at last there emerges a Chosen People on
whom it never dawns that revelation comes with
implications: were untold others not equally in need
of deliverance from their benighted nature? If
what you don’t know can’t hurt you, why now the
Voice in the wilderness….and if it can hurt you,
how was silence justified? You see we still live
in the shadows of tribal primitives, still die in
the wake of unasked questions….save for He who
would die to save us from our sins, without asking
if the creator was in need of saving from His own?

Did my poem blaspheme, or did it pose a serious question (or did it blaspheme in posing a serious question)? Does your answer depend on whether you believe in an ALL-PERFECT, ALL-LOVING GOD, a MIGHT-MAKES-RIGHT GOD, or NO GOD at all? How far would you go to try to convince or force (as if belief can be forced) others to believe as you do? Isn’t it sad enough when members of one family can’t agree to disagree, much less the human family writ large? How much longer would you and your god have the world pay the price of religion’s aggressive side?

Peace, however awkward, be with you on this Good Friday.

 

 

 

TRIBES AND TRIBULATIONS

tribal, adj. Of the nature of, or relating to, a tribe.
tribe, n. 1. A unit of sociopolitical organization. 2. A political, ethnic, or ancestral division of ancient states and cultures [such as] a. the three divisions of the ancient Romans. b. the 12 divisions of ancient Israel.
–Webster’s New College Dictionary

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If anything seems clear from the seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it is that tribalism and religion are at the heart of the madness. This is not to suggest that tribalism is confined to the Middle East (far from it), or that other forces haven’t played a part. But buried beneath the overlay of foreign intervention in the region (or meddling, if you prefer) are roots with a “history as old or nearly so as that of humanity itself” –Edward O. Wilson, biologist, naturalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

In his book THE MEANING OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, Wilson posits that tribalism and religion are inextricably bound together by what he calls “the instinctual force of tribalism in the genesis of religiosity. People deeply need membership in a group, whether religious or secular.” In a chapter titled simply “RELIGION,” Wilson states:

The great religions are inspired by belief in an incorruptible deity–or multiple deities. Their priests bring solemnity to rites of passage through the cycle of life and death. They sacralize basic tenets of civil and moral law, comfort the afflicted, and take care of the desperately poor. Followers strive to be righteous in the sight of man and God. The churches are centers of community life [and] ultimate refuges against the inequities and tragedies of secular life. They and their ministers make more bearable tyranny, war, starvation, and the worst of natural catastrophes.
The great religions are also, and tragically, sources of ceaseless and unnecessary suffering. They are impediments to the grasp of reality needed to solve most social problems in the real world. Their exquisitely human flaw is tribalism. It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thought of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.
Unfortunately, a religious group defines itself foremost by its creation myths, the supernatural narrative that explains how humans came into existence. This story is also the heart of tribalism. No matter how subtly explained, the core belief assures its members that God favors them above all others. It teaches that members of other religions worship the wrong gods, use wrong rituals, follow false prophets….

Food for thought — but thought that leaves questions to chew on: if “love makes fools of us all” (to quote Thackeray), does it follow that tribalism makes blind fools of us all? Are we unwitting tribalists to the siren song of political/religious saviors, some of us to the extent of becoming tribal or religious fanatics? Are tribal/religious fanatics born or made (nature vs. nurture)? And, given that all religions are invented by man, does that entitle Wilson to tar them all with the same brush?

For example, Wilson regards it as a mistake to fold believers of particular religious and dogmatic ideologies into two piles (moderate versus extremist), because “The true cause of hatred and violence is faith versus faith, an outward expression of the ancient instinct of tribalism.”  While that may be true, I question the notion that all religions/tribes wash out equally. For example, in pre-colonial times in North America, there were both peaceful and warlike Native American tribes. And so it is elsewhere. Aren’t secular humanists equally guilty of bad faith who don’t recognize/won’t separate the wheat from the chaff/laissez-faire from doctrinaire? Who and what have incited and fed religious wars and persecutions throughout history? It’s not the likes of the Quakers, nor is it directives from the heavens.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

 

 

 

 

30 NOVEMBER — TO THE SWIFT

As 3o days hath the month of November,
Today marks the end of a month to remember.
Swift doth the day pass into December,
Ere the twain shall meet….in a glowing ember.

The above is my Lilliputian ode to two literary giants who were born on this day: Jonathan Swift  in 1667, Mark Twain in 1835. This post celebrates the former, the latter having been extolled in a post one year ago today (THE UNIVERSAL MARK TWAIN).

Jonathan Swift’s pièce de résistance, of course, was GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, a book I gobbled up when about 12 years old (in an abridged version for children), and still own. However, at that age I didn’t fully appreciate that it was much more than a grand adventure tale — it’s also a masterpiece of parody and social/political satire, as exemplified by the enmity between the empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu over which end of an egg should be broken first before being eaten — a conflict which put Gulliver in the middle between the Big Endians and the Small Endians. Well, I suppose that makes just as much sense as real people fighting over whose god is the Big Enchilada.

Let us turn now to three quotations from the unabridged GULLIVER’S TRAVELS:

Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed; their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free license give to all acts of inhumanity and lust, the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers, employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony, sent to convert an idolatrous and barbarous people.

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his god, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities, to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of decreeing accordingly.

I close with three more Swift quotes, the last of which I intend to inscribe on a club to beat anyone who would disparage my stunning cunning punning:

When the world has once begun to use us ill, it afterwards continues the same treatment with less scruple or ceremony, as men do to a whore.

Words are the clothing of our thoughts.

Punning is a talent which no man affects to despise except he that is without it.

 

–30–