Monday, March 5, 2018

Relax. It's Not the End of the World

Evangelical Christians, who I have a lot of fun with only they don't know it, believe that Donald Trump's election is one of the heralds of something they like to call "The End Times."  Based on a totally sideways reading of the Book of Revelations,  it's a time when the world will be divided up into warring nations all following false prophets, the environment gets wrecked, some kind of beast shows up (Roseann Barr?) as does Jesus, everybody living and dead will be judged, and 1,000 years of peace and prosperity will follow -no word of what happens January 1 of year 1,001.  To answer this claim, I quote the late 20th century philosophers Frankie Goes to Hollywood and say, "Relax."  Sure, things aren't too spiffy now, but we -as in humanity -have been here before.  And we've pulled through.

It's me, Akhenaten, and really not an alien
Take the New Kingdom period in Egyptian history.  Things were finally looking up for the Two Lands: foreign invaders had been repulsed, monumental building projects resumed, the weather cooperated, and all looked peachy keen.  Until the reign of Amenhotep IV.  Five years into his rule, the Big A got this crazy idea that Egypt's polytheistic religion was a bunch of water buffalo poop and decided to do something about it.  He closed all the temples except the sun god Aten's,  moved the capital from Thebes to a city he was in the process of building, changed his name to Akhenaten (Everything's Great with Aten), and spent all his time bonking his wife, the fabulously beautiful Nefertiti.  Well, you can imagine what happened next! All the out of work priests were pissed, the people were terrified of offending the traditional gods, the new capital at Samarna royally sucked, and Nefertiti got bored with the Big A and took up papyrus origami.  If it wasn't the end of the world, it was pretty darn close.

Luckily, Akhenaten died and after a fumble or two the throne wound up in the hands of an eight year old boy called Tutankhamun -King Tut to you and me.  Now the Egyptians were really screwed, right?  It turns out no, because Tut's vizier was a capable career civil servant named Ay who really had a knack for ruling.  Under Tut/Ay, the capital was moved back to Thebes and the temples reopened, which earned the priestly class' undying gratitude.  And so things went on swimmingly on the banks of the Nile, right up until the 1180's BC, the next time the world turned into a festering pool of excrement.

For many reasons way too obscure to go into here, the entire greater Mediterranean world fell completely apart in the late Bronze Age.  How bad was it?  The Egyptians were totally whupped by a bunch of nasties collectively called the Sea Peoples, but that's not all.  Troy fell -for the fourth or fifth time, I lose track -Mycenaean Greece entered the Dark Ages, the Hittite Empire vanished, Assyria and Babylon were trashed, and even the mighty Phoenicians left town for Carthage, safely far away in present-day Tunisia.  Not one, but several end-of-the-world scenarios were being played out during this time.
Hey, we're the Sea Peoples.  So, Egypt... wassup?

However, eventually the Greeks got it together and invented philosophy, drama, democracy and baklava.  In Mesopotamia, the Persians put together the largest empire humans had managed to create up until that time.  It turned out that the move to Carthage was just what the Phoenicians needed, because they got staggeringly rich pedaling dye, grain, wine, olive oil and adult marital aids all over the known world.  And although Egypt wasn't the world-striding colossus it was during Ramses the Great's time, at least it turned into a peaceful backwater.

Let us next consider Rome, though let's skip the Grandeur part and go right into the Decline and Fall.  After Emperor Marcus Aurelius went on to join his family ghosts on the Elysian Fields, the Roman Empire lurched from one crisis to the next until the whole shebang wrenched apart and the Western half folded like a chump holding only a pair of sevens in a Texas hold 'em game.  Sure, the Eastern half would keep the lights on until the 1453, but for everybody in Spain, Italy, France, England and other smaller bits of Europe, life was shit that just kept on getting shittier.  Barbarians?  You bet: Huns, Vandals, Goths and Picts.  Disease? Yup.  Starvation and hopelessness? Ditto.  End of the world?  Not quite.

Know why it was called the Dark Ages? Because of all the KNIGHTS!!  Bwa-Ha-Ha!

For all the headaches of Western Europe's so-called Dark Ages, a vibrant culture emerged commonly called the Medieval world.  Knights, ladies, monasteries, great cathedrals and tales of chivalry were all hallmarks of this period.  Granted, life was difficult, but it went on all the same.  During this time, the seeds of all the wonderful qualities of Western Civilization were sewn: scientific inquiry, commercial capitalism, nation-states, engineering and exploration.  Democratic liberalism and rational medical treatment still had a long way to go, but at least they were on the right track.  The society produced was even strong enough to survive a series of events that, to their contemporaries in the 1300's, really did look like the end of the world.

In 1347, a merchant ship pulled into Genoa harbor from a trading post on the Black Sea.  The boat had left under fire from the Tatars who were besieging the port.  Among its cargo was the deadly virus Yersinia Pestis, a disease carried by the fleas that infest rodents like rats, mice, gerbils and hamsters, but can also attack humans.  The disease hit Southern Europe with the force of a bomb blast.  After several years of increasingly deadly outbreaks, 30-60% of Europe's population died.  For those that survived, their world view was warped by so much death, starvation, war and sickness that one wonders today how they found the strength to go on.  End of the world yet?  Close, but not yet.
Renaissance Man: six-pack abs and stone junk

Europe shook off the death shroud and donned a cloak of real radiance during the Renaissance
period.  Painters sculptors, poets, playwrights, businessmen, kings, princes, Popes, adventurers and even some ordinary people burst forth in an explosion of creativity whose echoes are still being felt today.  That's really what I admire the most about humanity: push us to the limit and we often show you human spirit at its best.  Granted, the Renaissance was mostly a cultural movement of Europe's political and social elites, but in cities like Florence, Italy, individual citizens were becoming important and valued for their contributions to society.  The years that followed were crowned by scientific achievements in industry and medicine, increasingly participatory governments and even greater artistic creativity, until it all almost destroyed itself in the 20th Century.

Starting with the Great War in 1918 and pausing at the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the blood-soaked 20th Century  actually had the ability to bring about the end of the world as we know it.  World Wars I and II brought industrial efficiency to the practice of killing soldiers and non-combatants alike, with  such crackerjack tech as the machine gun, attack aircraft, poison gas and submarines, finishing up with ballistic missiles and atomic bombs.  The ensuing so-called Cold War brought about a horrifying build-up and proliferation of ever more powerful atomic weapons and rocket delivery devices.  For the first time, humans had the ability to kill off entire populations within hours and to poison the whole planet with radioactive fallout.  Scientists even postulated a "nuclear winter" scenario affecting the climate, leading to mass species extinctions not seen since the KT-Boundary extinction event that wiped out the large land dinosaurs.  End of the world?  Believe it or not, no.

As of this writing, the world and humanity are open for business.  Since 1945, not one nuclear bomb has been used in war, although the USSR and USA came close during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I am also pleased to report that we have passed the dates for the end of the world set my the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mayans and the Heaven's Gate cult.  That said, there are some ominous signs: drug resistant diseases, climate change, the proliferation of radical politics, and the growth of intolerant hate groups.  But there are some hopeful signs as well: recognition of the human role in climate change and the first attempts to slow down and mitigate the damage; the growth of multi-racial, multi-ethnic nations and families; advances in communications technology that literally puts in your pocket the ability to talk to the whole world, at least one person at a time. 

Sorry my evangelical friends. Donald Trump, although he has a highly inflated opinion of himself, isn't the end of the world.  When or if it ever comes, the real end of the world will be way more bigly, really yuge, believe me!
Now?  Is it the End yet?  Ready for me?  Sigh...

Friday, March 2, 2018

Rotten Weather Saves the Day!

There is a Nor’easter screaming up the coast right outside my house, which naturally brings to mind the times that rotten weather saved people, armies and even a couple of entire nations.  So shake out your umbrella, wring-out your socks, grab a cozy seat by the fire and some mini-marshmallows for your coco because shit’s about to get real.  Remember the time when

1. The Israelites Crossed the Red Sea

You know that 4” fish you caught and how it morphed into an 18” monster with each retelling?  Yeah, that kind of stuff happens all the time with history and historical accounts.  There is always a fact or two at the bottom of these inflated stories, but people’s imaginations can take those facts and stretch them to ridiculous lengths.  Fact: the Israelites lived in Egypt, but wanted to leave.  Fact: the Pharaoh at the time didn’t want to lose such a useful, industrious people, so he told them no.  Here’s where things get a little fuzzy.  The Bible’s account says the Israelites followed Moses to the banks of the Red Sea and then crossed over dry ground after Jehovah parted the waters for them. And the army that Pharaoh sent after them?  They drowned after Jehovah closed the sea again.  A little incredible, especially given the fact that nobody slipped on stranded fish or sea weed. What really might have happened isn’t quite as cool as a divinely created sidewalk through the sea, but is pretty cool too.
Let's go, everybody!  You too, Mr. & Mrs. Glickstein.

The northern arm of the Red Sea is bordered by salt marshes with really tall reeds growing in them.  That part of North Africa is also home to these sick rogue winds.  Similar to Southern California’s Santa Ana Winds, these tempests start as superheated air boiling off the Nubian and Libyan Deserts and then barrel towards the cooler seacoast with the force of a freight train. When they hit the salt marshes, all those thick reeds are flattened, making the otherwise impassable marsh doable for people on foot, leading a few domestic animals and one wiggy prophet of God.  An army following later would become hopelessly mired, forcing it to give up the chase or drown in a sea of mud.

So did a freak wind storm get the Israelites out of captivity and on the road to the Promised Land?  Maybe.  But there is no question at all that

2. The Kamikaze Wind Saved Japan from the Mongols

A modern military historian once likened the Mongol armies to American mechanized armor battalions without the tanks.  A lot of the time, locals took one look at the Mongols and gave up.  The few that decided to fight were ground up and shat out the other end.  Ever heard of the Islamic Khwarazmian Empire?  Yeah, they fought and lost. China resisted too, but even its Great Wall was no match for Genghis Khan and his hairy horde.  From Krakow to Korea, the yak-tail standard of the Mongols waved supreme.  All that was left to complete their 16-0 season was to take care of a couple of islands near Korea the locals called Nippon, the Land of the Rising Sun.
Mongols on the way.  We so fucked.
As great as the Mongols were on land, they weren’t too good on the water –not too many lakes and oceans in the Gobi Desert –so they strong-armed the Koreans into building them a respectable invasion fleet in order to deliver their can of whuppass to Japan.  The Daimyo and Samurai grimly sharpened their swords and donned their armor, fearing the worst.  The Shinto priests, however, sent up an urgent call to the kami, or spirits of nature, for a little help.  What they got was the Kamikaze, or divine wind –a typhoon, really  --which sent the Korean-built Mongol invasion fleet to Davy Jones’ locker.  Any Mongols that made it ashore were promptly dispatched like maki on a sushi bar, and Japan would remain unconquered until 1945, when a different sort of kamikaze couldn’t stop the USA from nuking two cities and firmly cementing baseball as Japan’s most fan-crazy sport.

Another badass ocean storm hit off Ireland in the 1500’s, when

3. The “Protestant Wind” Smashed the Spanish Armada

After the Protestant Reformation in Europe, a person’s religion wasn’t so much an individual choice as it was a political statement: Catholics were for the Pope and Spain, and Protestants were for England, the Netherlands, Northern Germany and Scotland.  It was just a matter of time before Philip II of Spain made a move against England and her heretic queen, Elizabeth, in part to return good Englishmen and women to the bosom of Mother Church, but really to stop England’s “Sea Dogs” from raiding Spain’s treasure fleets from Mexico and Peru.  His Most Catholic Majesty cut down an entire forest in order to build enough giant ships to link up with the Duke of Parma, who had just finished pounding the Netherlands, and land a huge army in England, just so that England didn’t miss out on the fun of the Spanish Inquisition.
Francisco, I told you to pee BEFORE we left Cadiz.  !@#*
Before things started, Sir Francis Drake came ashore in Lisbon and burned tons of barrel staves.  Big deal, right?  Yes it was, because all ships’ provisions were stored in barrels, which had to be constructed of properly seasoned staves.  This resulted in 1. a shortage of barrels, and 2. barrels made of greenwood staves, which rotted the food and skunked the water that was stored in them.  The Armada’s commander, the Duke of Medina y Sidonia, was a great general but a rotten sailor who spent the entire time seasick, leaving some critical decisions to his subordinates.  Things got worse once the Armada sailed into the English Channel, where it was subjected to the indignities of English long-range naval guns and burning fire-ships.  Still and all, things weren’t a complete bust.  The Duke decided they’d just sail around Scotland and Ireland, and whack the heretic English in Wales or the southwest coast.

How you like me now, puto?
But this was the North Sea those Spanish galleons were sailing in, and when the Armada pulled up on the west coast of Ireland, they were hit with a howling storm spun right off the North Pole which drove the leaking, crippled ships onto the Irish beaches, where any surviving sailors were rounded up and either executed or ransomed if they were nobles of means.  What remained of the once mighty Armada was left to limp and bail its way home to Spain.  Back in London, Queen Elizabeth celebrated by drinking sangria and eating paella –wait, no, she took everybody out to the pub for darts, bitters, snooker, bangers ‘n mash, and bubble ‘n squeak.

Sometimes just ordinary crummy weather can change history, like the time

4. New England’s Snowy Winter Helped Kick the British Out of Boston

After the battles of Lexington and Concord, part-time druggist and army deserter Benedict Arnold had a brilliant idea: flounce up to Fort Ticonderoga, overpower the garrison and steal all the nice cannons, mortars, powder and shot.  He asked the Massachusetts Committee of Public Safety for permission to do just that and they agreed, because after all, what's safer than letting some sketchy guy from Connecticut have a whole fort full of artillery (!)  Along the way, Arnold ran into Ethan Allen who said HE was on the way to Ticonderoga to do the same thing, so piss off.  But piss off he did not do.  Arnold and Allen took the fort with no problems at all, and Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys went back to doing what they did best --drink, swear, screw farmer's daughters and generally cause a riot wherever.  Arnold left a few Massachusetts militiamen in charge at the fort and then beat it back to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to report on his success and become instantly famous.

The new general in charge at Cambridge, some Virginian named Washington, was trying to do two things and coming up short on both.  Firstly, he had to get the militia surrounding Boston to stop drinking, cursing, bathing nude in the Charles River, and to start showing up regularly to the war.  Secondly, he had to remove the British from Boston.  Bunker Hill gave the Brits a bloody nose, but was still technically a loss for the Americans  What to do?

Asa Wooding's sled ran over my foot again!
Fortunately, also at Cambridge was a portly ex-book seller, self-taught artillery genius called Henry Knox who knew just what to do with the cannon Arnold and Allen had captured.  He set off through central Massachusetts and eastern New York until he arrived at Fort Ticonderoga, whereupon he put his plan into action.  He loaded all the cannon onto barges so that he could get them across a river, then muscled them onto sledges and waited for it to snow.  And boy, did it ever snow!  With all the rutted, rock-strewn roads covered by a slick coating of white, Knox bought or stole every team of oxen he could find and began gliding the whole hot mess back to Cambridge.  Along the way, recruits from towns he passed swelled the ranks and goodwives filled the soldiers with hot food until the whole operation started to look like a sleighing party.

The guns were mounted on Dorchester Heights, whereupon the British occupying Boston all took a collective dump in their britches and then sailed away to Halifax, never to return. 

Weather was to come to America's rescue again in Long Island, when

5. Washington's Entire Army Vanished in a Nor'easter

After getting his ass handed to him at the Battle of Long Island by British generals Howe, Clinton, Cornwallis and Percy, George Washington retreated to the western end of the island with about 9,000 troops and the East River at his back.  His plan was to, I don't know, coax a UFO to land and fly his army out of there?  What happened was almost as improbable.  With a superior force in his face and without control over the waterways, Washington managed to ferry out his entire army across a stretch of water notorious for its tides and sandbars and somehow kept the American Revolution in business.

The day before the Miracle on the East River, the greater New York area was battered by a Nor'easter, keeping Admiral "Black Dick" (hee-hee!) Howe and his fleet busy trying to keep their ships afloat.  The night of the evacuation was dead calm, giving some help to General John Glover's sailors from Marblehead, Massachusetts (a quaint drinking town with a fishing problem), as they ferried men, horses and cannons over to Manhattan.  At one point during the night, the commander of the troops who were supposed to keep the campfires burning so that the British sentries would believe the Americans were still there, received orders to pack up and go way before the evacuation boats were ready for them.  He and his troops ran back, stoked the fires, and kept the deception going.

As morning dawned, all of Washington's troops including Washington himself were not yet across the river.  As if in answer to his prayers, a thick fog rolled in, totally blinding the British to what ol' George was up to.  Once the fog lifted, General Howe and company were astonished to find the entire American army vanished, leaving behind only burned-out campfires and disabled cannon.  In the words of General Sir Hugh Percy, "E's buggered-off!"

You've lost the entire American army?  Did you look behind the sofa?

Some places have really nasty weather all the time, like the country of

6. Russia, Whose Weather Defeated Both Napoleon and Hitler

I'm not sure even Russians like living in Russia.  When it isn't raining and all muddy, it's hot and humid and full of flies.  And when it isn't that, it's colder than a nun's nasty.  It is so cold in parts of Russia that most people plan to stay indoors from November to April.  When the Mongols conquered Russia, they put the local princes in charge of collecting tribute and moved to the sunny markets of Tashkent and Samarkand.  When the Tatars conquered Russia, they did the same, substituting the Crimea for Samarkand.  The Swedes, no strangers to cold weather, tried to invade Russia and just lost interest.  So why the hell did Napoleon Bonaparte invade Russia?  Not enough tundra in France?

It seems that Napoleon was angry at Russia for violating something called the Continental System, a fancy name for their boycott against England.  And that was something that Napoleon would just not tolerate.  He gathered an invasion force of about 400,000 and marched into Russia on a bright summer's day, bearing his message of a personal "Mange merde" to Czar Alexander, whom he hoped to find defending Moscow.  Once there after a few cursory battles, Napoleon found Moscow surprisingly empty --there was, in fact, nobody who offered to surrender the city to him, although he was in possession of it.  As the weeks, then months dragged on and without any response to his angry letters to Czar Alexander, Napoleon decided to quit the city altogether, mostly because Moscow was burning around his ears.  Through a combination of carelessness, neglect and outright arson, the spiritual capital of Russia was fast turning into the world's biggest ashtray.

The French troops were weighed down with tons of plunder as they made their way west over roads choked with mud and rivers swollen with autumn rains.  Then it turned cold.  Then it turned bitterly cold.  Then it got so cold that even Russians said, "Shit, it's cold!"  Then the Cossacks attacked.  Then it got even colder.  Then the French started to burn their officers for warmth at night.  Then it got reeeeaaaallllyyy cold.

Was eet zees colde when we made l'invasion?

Napoleon, being the stand-up guy that he was, left his army to get back home as best as it could, while he waited in the Castle Fontainebleau for his one-way ticket to Elba to arrive. 

You'd think that 120 years later, Hitler would have remembered Napoleon's little misadventure and stayed away from Russia, but he too invaded.  In Hitler's great plan for Aryan world-domination, the Germans would kill and enslave the Slavic peoples of Europe and take their land because the Master Race needed plenty of real estate.  This is why Hitler violated the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact by invading Russia in June of 1942.

At first, things went swell.  Stalin was caught flat-footed and the three German armies plunged deep into Russia and the Ukraine.  Kiev fell, Leningrad was encircled, and old age pensioners began to dig tank traps outside of Moscow, when winter arrived.  Both sides slowed down, stabilizing the front and giving the Soviets time to dismantle entire factories, ship them to the Urals by rail, and reassemble them.  The following spring and summer, the armies fought and maneuvered to no clear advantage when against his generals' advice, Hitler staked it all on taking the city of Stalingrad on the Volga River.

Under aircraft and artillery bombardment, the city turned into a giant heap of rubble, which gave its defenders excellent places to hide and snipe at the Germans.  Then it got cold.  Sound familiar?  It was so cold that surgeons performed battlefield surgery without clamps or cauterization, because blood vessels froze in place.  Soon it is the Germans who were on the defensive in Stalingrad as an encircling Soviet army draws its noose tighter around the blasted city.  What happened next was almost unthinkable: the surrender of a German Field Marshall and his entire command, one-third of all the armies on the Eastern Front.  Months later, with Soviet Marshall Zhukov's troops in the Berlin suburbs, Hitler took his own life in a bunker under the Reich Chancery building.

So the next time you get crummy weather, don't forget that your rotten day might be somebody else's saving grace.  Because when the Mother of All Battles begins, you don't want to also be fighting that bad ol' mutha, Mother Nature!

Monday, June 12, 2017

That's Just Impeachy

Sure, we all know how we GET a president.  In November, we walk into a little cubicle with a curtain, color in a bubble on a form (a VOTE) and whomever has the most bubbles, erm, votes, wins!  Usually.  Ok, not if you're Al Gore.  Or Hillary Clinton.  See, they flunked out of the Electoral College.  Bet they both wished they had stayed awake in ol' Ex Proff's class, eh?  Then they too might have been president.  But who cares how we get 'em?  The hot topic today is how we GET RID of them.  Hypothetically, what if the man anointed by the Electoral College turns out to have, I don't know, colluded with a foreign power to steal the election through information theft and a massive campaign of propaganda and disinformation.  Let's say further that the "President" then used the office to enrich himself and his family at the expense of the national interest.  Oh, and finally, what if the individual in question is a real douchebag?

The biggest, best, most un-be-lievable douchebag ever seen...
Why, just impeach them, I hear you cry.  Weeelllll, not reeeeeaaaalllllly.  The real answer is that nobody's all that sure, because since our nation's founding, we've never had to get rid of a president before today.  Wait a minute, you say, what about Andrew Johnson?  Richard Nixon?  Bill Clinton?  Weren't they all impeached?  Wrong again.  Only Clinton and Johnson were impeached.  Nixon probably would have been impeached but he resigned first.  Clinton was acquitted, and so was Johnson, though the latter was just one vote short of being convicted.  But all this isn't to say we haven't gotten rid of presidents before.  The only problem is that they've all been assassinated.  And I don't care how big a douchebag anybody is, nobody deserves to be assassinated.  I think.  Unless you're talking about someone who's really, really horrendous -a complete threat to our democratic way of life.  And is a colossal douchebag, a literal douche-pontoon-aircraft carrier.  So, back to our original problem: how do we get rid of Tr-- err, a hypothetical Douche-Bagger-In-Chief?

I think it should start with Impeachment.  That much is certain.  That's how to get rid of recalcitrant executive department officials that won't leave when asked, and Federal judges who would rather take bribes than do their jobs.  Not just anybody can be impeached, however, The Constitution specifies that in order to be impeached, the impeachee must have committed a "high crime or misdemeanor."  What this means is that they had to break a law slightly greater than sidewalk spitting.  Heck, that's easy.  Any crooked cop can plant some pills on an unsuspecting traffic stop and presto, the defendant goes to trial.  However, what the Clinton impeachment shows us is that in order to get rid of the President, you have to have the votes in Congress --a super majority at that.

I was NOT convicted by THAT Congress
So, impeach, then try them by a Congress that will convict them, then,,, then what?  Again, nobody knows for sure because it's never gone this far before.  There are a few very important "what ifs?"  Let's start with this one: what if the President leaves the country for, I'm just spitballing here, Russia and claims that they're the victim of a legislative coup d' etat and they'd really appreciate Russia's help at getting them back in the driver seat over at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave?  What if a lot of other countries around the world believe it too?  What if the United Nations weighs in, calling the impeachment trial "problematic" or "of suspicious motive?"  Does Congress then defy the world?  What if the convicted president doesn't skip the country; who arrests them?  The Capitol Police?  Supposing they are arrested; where are they held?  Or is it enough that they have been kicked out of being president?  Do we just forget about those high crimes and misdemeanors that cost them the job, or does some attorney general or other indict them in front of a grand jury and then go try them --in which court?  Federal?  The state court where the crime took place?  The Washington DC Municipal Court if it happened in DC?

So many questions... I have the best questions... my questions are spec-tac-u-lar...
Once again, nobody knows.  We'd be making up all this shit as we went along.  That said, there have been judges who have been impeached and subsequently prosecuted for their crimes, so Congress could just copy what happened in those events and apply them to the problem of what to do to a wayward president.  But these questions pale in comparison to the one, big, unstated question:  what the heck do we do if he just won't go?

This is not as far-fetched as it seems.  At the beginning of our republic, John Adams was convinced that Thomas Jefferson was getting ready to unleash the horrors of the French Revolution --complete with guillotines in the public squares --onto the American people following his election in 1800.  There was talk, some of it quite heated and serious, of Adams barricading himself in the White House and summoning the army to arrest Jefferson and his supporters.  Adams took the high road, however, choosing only to leave tacks on all the seats in the East Room and swipe all the soap and monogrammed towels.  Jefferson did the same to Madison, by the way.

I also left all the chamber pots full.  Of poop.  Haha!
What I'm getting at here is the very real possibility that an impeached president just may try to brass-balls-it-out and go on national TV or, let's just see here, Twitter, and complain that it's all the result of a Deep State Conspiracy against him, engineered by Obama, with the collusion of the Fake News industry, and all True Americans need to help their legally elected president by taking their constitutionally protected guns and hurrying to Washington.  If this happens, about half of those NRA KKK MAGA* dipshits would head for Washington state and get arrested by a bunch of Washington State Police, but the other half would spread murder and mayhem all over the country until downtown Sheboygan resembled the Kabul Green Zone.  While they were doing that, their political allies and apologists would do everything in their power to aid and abet them from the sidelines, until the country settles down into a comfortable civil war.  And let's remember how much fun the LAST one was: 650,000 soldiers dead, famine, disease, social upheaval and foreign meddlers on the doorstep just itching to step in and carve the United States up into spheres of economic and political influence.  Planet Earth will then be lead by another power (China probably), while the United States enters a period of cultural, economic and social decline, from which it may take centuries to recover.

*National Riflemen's Association, Ku Klux Klan, and Make America Great Again

Introducing North America's next great Superpower...
But let's not let a little thing like uncertainty stop us from doing what needs to be done.  If a president acquires the office through the collusion of a foreign power, they must be removed.  If they use the office for their private enrichment and their family's gain, they must be removed.  If they are too dumb to do the job or too lazy, then they should resign.  Either way, Donald Trump should resign or else be impeached.  But that doesn't stop the problem that created Donald Trump.   If they want to hold onto their jobs, Democrats and Republicans need to see to the good of the American voter who voted for Trump.  Some meaningful constraints must be placed on the real fake news, ie., Breitbart, Fox and the dark, racist corners of the web, in order to silence the lunatic fringe's propaganda machine.  And finally, American politics needs to purge itself of rancour and ideology and raise high the moral standard of public service.  The American Presidency is not a prize to be fought over by billionaires.

I WON'T live in the White House, Mummy!  It's to old and small
and there are NO gold toilet seats!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Trump & Hitler Had a Lot of Help

Please, America, please have been awake for my Nazi class...
How many times have you heard a variation on this historical-content-laden polemic: "Hitler killed seven million Jews during WWII" --at least seven hundred times per Western Civ. II class?  Wow, that A. Hitler must have been one busy little fellow!  If we take the number of seconds per year (31,536,000), multiply it by 5 (175,680,000) and divide that by 7,000,000, we get an astonishing kill rate of one Jew every 22.5 seconds.  Not bad for a middle aged Austrian politician who was also a vegetarian, hypochondriac, and a devout believer in the occult.  And that doesn't include the Allied soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians he killed as well.

Relax- I am not trying to cry "shenanigans" on the Holocaust.  It totally happened and we should never forget that it did, indeed, happen.  All I am doing is making the point that Hitler did not personally go out and whack 7 million Jews, or any of the other 53 million people who died directly because of war, or indirectly because of its associated outbreaks of disease and famine.  In fact, as unlikely as it seems, Hitler very probably never personally killed anybody during his life, except for himself at the end.  This is because one of the psychoses he suffered from was hemophobia, fear of blood.  So, how'd all these people die?  They died because Hitler had help --a LOT of help.

"Zere just veren't enough hours in za day to kill 60,000,000 peoples!"
And who might these helper have been, I hear you cry.  The worst of the worst were grabbed by the British-American-Free French at war's end were put on trial in Nuremberg and included Herman Goering, who slipped through the hangman's noose by poisoning himself when the outcome became certain.  Then there was Rudolf Hess, a.k.a. Vice-Fuhrer, a.k.a. the Nazi official who flew to Scotland in 1941 in order to negotiate peace with Great Britain, a.k.a. Spandau Prison's last and mostly only inmate.

Another bunch were grabbed by something called Operation Paperclip, flown to the USA, and ended up putting Neil Armstrong (no relation to Lance) and "Buzz" Aldrin on the moon.  One last bunch made the move to Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina and lived the South American life in exile, only to spend it forever looking over their shoulders for agents of Israel's Mossad who wanted to have a chat with them over in Tel Aviv.  One guy, and I SWEAR I am not making this up, moved to Norwood, Massachusetts in 1955, got a job at a car assembly plant in Framingham, and lived until he was finally outed in 1994, stripped of his US citizenship and put on trial for his crimes against the Jews in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Norvood... Why didn't I ever move to Vestvood?  #&*@ing Jews...
Hitler was also helped by lots of ordinary Germans who, for one reason or another, were so totally brainwashed by Nazi propaganda or were so afraid of disobeying orders to do terrible things to fellow human beings, that they up did them anyway.  To be fair, a lot of these people just were cogs in the Nazi Engine of Death and either had no idea of the implications of what they did, or consciously turned away from the horror of their own small contributions.  Many Germans served in Germany's armed forces and did so honorably, performing the soldier's duty that sometimes includes killing enemy soldiers.  A few Germans worked for the Underground, helping Allied spies and escaped prisoners of war and concentration camp escapees, putting their own lives at risk to help strangers.  But then, you also had this fine bunch of Aryan women:

"Klaus invited me to a 'party in his pants.'  What do you suppose that means?"
Of all the guards at Nazi death camps, about 10% of them were women.  Now just a minute here!  Aren't women supposed to be the moral compass of the human race?  Aren't women supposed to stick up for each other?  How does one explain the cruelties, savageries and petty acts of unkindness perpetrated by these women on their women charges in the camps?  Again, relax --I am not going all misogynistic on you, just simply pointing out that Hitler's helpers included women as well as men.  And this is not even including the women at home who had as many Aryan babies as they could so that they could get get something called the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter, A.K.A. the German Mother's Cross of Honor. It came in three classes: bronze, silver and gold, and to get one, you had to give birth to and "appropriately" raise at least four children so that they could serve the fascist state.

"Vill dis cross make mien boobies look bigger?"
Hitler's helpers came from every race, religion, social class, educational level, ethnicity and country of origin in Western Europe.  They included lots of Germans (duuuh!) and lots of French, Norwegians, Finns, Danes, Czechs, Slavs, Russians, Poles, Italians, Rumanians, Albanians, Spaniards --you get the picture.  These collaborators had various motives.  Some only wanted to preserve their country's existence within the ever expanding Nazi Empire.  This was probably the desire of French WWI hero-turned-Nazi-puppet, Philippe Petain.  Others were more interested in trying to out-Nazi the Nazis who now ruled their country.  This was probably the plan of the notorious Vidkun Quisling of Norway.

At this point, we should all pause and ask ourselves, What would I have done if I had lived under Hitler's rule?  It's all well and good to sit in judgement of ordinary people who did terrible things in the mid 20th Century, here on our high perch of the 21st Century, where we all live at the Sky Pad Apartments, have flying cars, talk-screen telephones, robot maids and have cool neighbors like the Jetsons.  Ok, so we DO ACTUALLY have talk-screen phones, but my point is What Would I Have Done?  And you know, constant reader and fellow bloggers, I have no idea what I would have done.  I hope that I would have found the courage to at least passive-aggressively resisted Hitler and his minions, but the pressure to conform would have been immense and the penalties for non-conforming would have been so severe, that I just don't know if I could have had the cojones to resist.
The Face of a Collaborator?
Or just some goofy guy?

But here's the thing, and the greatest tragedy of the 20th Century: nobody should have ever have had to decide which side to be on, Nazi or Human, because Hitler never should have been allowed access to the German political-military systems he then perverted to serve his ghoulish aims.  He could have been prevented from doing it all not through the firing squad, but through the BALLOT BOX.

Adolf Hitler was an Austrian national whose party, the German Socialist Worker's Party or Nazi party, was elected in a legal election held in a democratic manner in the Republic of Germany. The German people sincerely believed that he could "make Germany great again," especially after its humiliating loss to the Allies in WWI and the crippling effects of the Great Depression.  They liked the message Hitler was putting out there: ultra-nationalism, blame the Jews for undermining German greatness, xenophobism towards the rest of the world --especially people not regarded as "True Germans" --and vows to re-arm and throw Germany's weight around again.

Vote for me, or else no strudel for you! 
The German people also liked the way Hitler campaigned for his party.  He flew all over the country in an airplane, still kind of a novelty at the time, making speeches before big crowds where he would denounce his opponents as "losers, whiners, communists, degenerates, un-German" and such.  This was a big departure from politics as usual, in an age where politicians were expected to be polite and act like statesmen.  Hitler looked like he was having an orgasm or a seizure in front of the microphone, depending on your angle of view.

There were others who helped Hitler at this stage, who stuffed his campaign bank account full of Deutschmarks, people like the industrialist father-son duo Gustav and Alfried Krupp, whose company, Krupp Iron Works, went on to manufacture tons of tanks, guns and cannons before being bombed into tiny bits of rusting iron by Allied air raids.  There was the financial genius, Emil Kirdorf, who was such a Hitler fanboy that he published an early Hitler speech as a pamphlet that he circulated among fellow financiers.

The list goes on and on, including but not limited to companies that used slave laborers during WWII in order to produce war and consumer materials, and not all of these companies were headed up by the likes of Oscar Schindler.  Make no mistake about it: Hitler was good for both business and  the working man.  In Hitler's Reich, the only unemployed were the very old, the very young, the very Jewish or the disabled (disabled through accidents at work --the physically or mentally handicapped were sent to the camps to be exterminated or experimented on).

Never forget.  Never.  Never forget what Hitler did.  And.  Never forget that Hitler Had Help.

Now we come to our own age, one where the demagogue this time is an American, but the message is the same: make America great again; my opponents are losers, whiners, un-American; foreigners are to blame for America's problem, especially foreigners who are here illegally from Central America so that they can live without fear of organized criminal gangs in all but failed states, raise their children in safety and a degree of comfort, make a pile of money through hard work and then retire to Florida.  The supporters of this demagogue use the media for their propaganda war against the government of the United States of America.  Here is one example of their graphic work:

Um, quote taken slightly out of context
The obscenity above comes from a very scary site called, the self-described "Leading Firearms Forum."  If you visit the friendly folks there, you can chat with Eric (whose profile pic is a hideously grinning ghoul-thing), DonGlock26, or ChuteTheMall.  I hope to God the FBI and ATF and the Secret Service are all watching these gun nuts.  But maybe they aren't.  Maybe they are instead investigating Anonymous for a hacking they didn't even do.  Meanwhile, look at how Mainstream Media handled the whole thing (sorry if you're a fan of The View, but they just crack me up sometimes!  Again, not being a misogynist, just reporting what's out there)  Granted, there was a fair, balanced discussion by the co-hosts, but the fact remains that they got taken-in too, with 4/5 of them reacting with fear and distaste, while TOTALLY MISSING THE POINT: America, jittery from its war on terrorism, will go running to and defend any demagogue who "has all the answers" or "makes them feel safe," even if we have to sacrifice our liberty and freedom in the process.  Because we're scared.

I urge you all to fact-check every lie passed off as fact that issues from candidate Donald Trump's mouth before you cast a vote for him, either in the primary or the general election, unless the Republicans can get their asses together and stop the man who could prove to be the beginning of the end for the American Republic.  I urge you to laugh along with the late-nighters like Jimmy FallonJimmy KimmelJohn Oliver and Seth Meyers, but also do what the co-hosts of The View suggest and VOTE.  For anyone.  Except.  Donald Trump.  In my opinion, an America lead by Herr Drumpf would be as intolerable, as brutal, as morally corrupt a place as Germany was under Adolf Hitler.

Don't be one of the little people who helped Der Donald.  Learn something from history for once in your life and stop him before he turns this wonderful country of ours into the next incarnation of Nazi Germany, circa 1942.
No caption necessary.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Idiocracy? It Can Happen Here

Since nobody was paying attention last class,
consider this a remedial session.  Ahem!
Have you all seen this wonderful B-grade movie, "Idiocracy?"  It's got a marvelous premise. Essentially, people in the future are really, REALLY dumb, but the United States is still a democracy, so instead of electing smart leaders, the idiots in this "idiocracy" elect leaders who are slightly smarter, but way more flashy.  Check it out:

This begs the question: can our republican democracy prevent the U.S. from electing a really dumb, silly, dangerously uninformed, mentally unbalanced or otherwise five-fries-short-of-a-Happy-Meal president?  To answer this question, we will have to go back to the writing of the U.S. Constitution.

In or around the year 1787, democracies were rare in the world: we were pretty much it.  Even the much talked about Dutch Confederation still had at its core a hereditary prince called a Stadholder, who was usually Orange --that is, usually the Prince of Orange.  There was a decent reason for all this aristocracy in the world.  Only aristocrats had the free time to become educated and thus make wise, informed decisions about what a country should or should not do.  They had all this free time because the reason for their existence had pretty much evaporated.  You see, the aristocrats were at the top of the social heap because they were supposed to spend all their time training how to kill and maim people while riding on a horse.  Since kings now used smaller, professional, paid armies, all tricked out with the most expensive new killing technology (black powder muskets with --wait for it! --bayonets on the end!), there wasn't a reason to call out the feudal host any more because someone would probably blow them all sky-high with a cannon.

Come to think of it, going to Kings College, Oxford sounds a good deal
more jolly than going to the Holy Land and having my balls cut off en route.
And most of the time, these aristocrats did make good decisions.  What the English aristocrats didn't count on was the fact that their ugly stepchildren in America --or at least the part that wasn't owned by Spain, France or Indians --were so damn cheap and stingy that they didn't want to pay any taxes at all which their colonial assemblies didn't, ahem, vote for.  The nerve!  Things got so bad that the otherwise sensible King George III fought a terrible war with the Americans over this issue, and he lost, first the Colonies, then his mind, then he got it back again, then he lost his life to old age.

For all their talk about democracy, America's Founding F-ers shared the same reservations about unbridled democracy as the Brits did, because let's face it: the average American in 1787 believed every word in the Bible was literally true, was pretty sure that grand-dad had done him a solid when he burned all the witches in the colony, and that Indians could fly, change color, sprout as many arms as they wanted, and probably had at least one parent that was a horse.  In order to stop the Ship of State from being skippered by these bumpkins, the Founding F-ers had a few rules about who could vote and for whom they were allowed to vote.  For instance, of the newly minted Federal Government, only Congressmen were elected by the voters.  And those voters had to be male, white, over 21, and own a certain amount of "property," which could be real estate, money, or even people, just as long as those owned people were black.

See if you can spot the new American Voter!
Hint: it's no one on the top row!
Senators were elected by the members of a state's legislature, who had to pass all the other qualifications as a regular voter, plus be one of the "popular kids" back home.  And the President of the United States?  Here's where the Founding F-ers got really, really creative.  Each state had a number of people chosen as Electors.  How many Electors a state had was based on its population, plus two extras thrown in just for giggles.  These people would gather after a Presidential Election and cast their own votes for president.  Whichever candidate had the most votes would be the President; whomever had the next most votes would be Vice-President.  And it was this half-assed shit show that elected Washington and Adams as POTUS and VPOTUS not once, but twice.

Over the years, the system has been tweaked around a bit, but it is still the Electors who actually elect the President and Vice President.  Sure, there are formal and informal rules that pretty much say that Electors must vote for whichever candidate gets the majority vote in the state on Election Day, but things are sort of vague about what happens if an Elector goes off-script and votes for someone who --and I'm just speculating at this point --the Elector believes would actually make a good president.  I'm guessing they have to pay for their own lunch at the meeting of the Electoral College (I am so not making this name up!).

So okay, now this guy is running for President:

Whoops, wrong country, wrong election.  Wait a sec... ah, here he is:

Long story short, he makes "Idiocracy's" President Commacho look like Abraham Lincoln by comparison.  And who do the Democrats have lined up to run against him?  Either Hillary who for some reason is liked less than her skirt chasing husband, Bill "Bubba" Clinton, or some old, transplanted to Vermont New York dude who has an actual Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream flavor named after him (again, so not kidding!)  There is a very real chance that this dipshi-  uh, Donald Dude could become our next president,  Who can save us?  Superman?  Batman?  Nope, they are for reasons still unclear to me squaring off to fight each other this year.  Well, can the Supreme Court?  Nope, they're too old and they're down a member besides.  Who can help?  I'll tell you who: The Electoral College!!!

Horse and I would help, but you're not in the
British Commonwealth of Nations any more.  Sorry!
I'm telling you, if Trump does somehow manage to win in November, we've got to go to the one firewall standing between us and worldwide ignominy.  We've got to make sure that the Electors elect someone, anyone else.  Hell, at this stage Sarah Palin would be a better risk.  She at least had been a state governor --in a state that has more caribou than people, and more Arctic fox than minority people, but at least she can hire a bunch of handlers with some solid experience, while the Donald would probably move a bunch of his corporate ass-lickers and hatchet-men into Cabinet level positions and stack the Supreme Court with Celebrity Apprentice fails. 

So give it up for the Electoral College, my peeps!  And be sure to know WHO THEY ARE from your state and threaten them with an infinite number of noogies and purple-nurples if they cast one friggin' vote for Trump.  Because although they were flawed men, the Founding F-ers usually knew what they were doing.
Your Electoral College at work: Electing Presidents since George Washington.  We could be America's last hope :-0

Thursday, December 10, 2015

It's Time to Go All-Roman

We have reached the point in the country's latest war --the war on everybody who doesn't make a million bucks net per year --where one side or the other has got to give in.  On the right, there is 1% of the population who owns, I dunno, about 22% of everything worth anything in the entire United States, including 90% of the Senate, 99.33% of the House of Representatives, and 5/4ths of the Supreme Court.  Just slightly to the left are the other 9% of the top 10% who own, according to CNN, about 65% of the rest of the country's wealth, including just about all the rest of government, industry, farming, manufacturing --you get the picture.  On the left, we have 90% of Americans (plus all those undocumented workers who work for the top 10% under the table) who own about 23% of America's wealth, including Senators Boxer and Sanders (D-CA and D-VT respectively), US Representative Nikki Tsongas (D-3rd Cong. Dist. MA) and maaaybe one other Congressman from either Ohio or Michigan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg on her more lucid days, President Obama, but not on his golfing days -or when he's busy making a speech after the latest mass killing -or when Michele, a.k.a. The Flotus, is bugging him about all the fat kids in America -or on days when he's forced to grovel before the Republican Congress to, like, KEEP  THE  UNITED  STATES  OPEN.  Oh yeah, and a Taco Bell in Fresno.  Oh, and a couple of late model Chevys and one Subaru.

To be fair, it looked a whole lot better back when I had a job

I know what you're thinking: if it was a tug-'o-war instead of a class war, the left would totally kick ass.  There is one small problem: this ain't no tug-'o-war.

"Over? Did you say it's over?"
You see, the right has managed to buy the media, government, legal establishment (except for one legal aid clinic in Newark, NJ), the police, the military, the health care industry, all the farms and grazing ranges, all the mines, oil wells, and even most of the other 90%, or at least the 90% who work for the 10% and are regularly cowed into silence by the ever looming threat of unemployment.

To put this in perspective, the unequal distribution of wealth in contemporary American society far surpasses even that of France's Ancien RĂ©gime just before Louis XVI literally lost his head during the French Revolution.  So is this our fate?  Must we set up la guillotine in places where Occupy America, um, protesters pitched their quaint camps and go 10% head huntin'?  I think not.  For one thing, Americans don't go in for killing people unless they do it with one or more of their legally owned, Constitutionally protected guns that take clips of 20+ rounds.  For another thing, the downtrodden of today can institute meaningful economic and social change by doing as the Romans did a couple thousand of years ago: leave.

The year was 494 BCE; the place was what was then modern Rome, but is in fact that which we today call ancient Rome (try translating that tortured syntax into Latin!)  The Roman underclass, the so called Plebeians, were sick and tired of getting shafted by the Roman 10%-ers, the so called Patricians.  I mean, they were paid literally in bread and salt, had no legal rights, couldn't even run off and join the army, and had literally had it up to here, when some wily Plebeian had a stroke of genius: let's all just fuck off and leave the stupid Patricians to fend for themselves.  Which they then proceeded to do,  The whole lot of them -men, women, children, old folks, transvestites and a dog named Rex -left Rome and set up camp on the nearby Sacred Mount.  Days, then weeks went by, Patricians in their nearly empty city, all eyes on the Plebeians, who in turn watched the Patricians, who finally freaked-out when somebody started a rumor that the Gauls were on the way to administer a little elective surgery upon the persons of the Patricians.  In short, they caved-in, gave the Plebeians rights, officials called Tribunes and welcomed them back with open arms.

So here's my plan for today: how about the entire 90% of America go on vacation for a whole month, all at the same time!  We could all go to Mexico, unless the undocumented bunch want to go somewhere else like, um, Canada.  We'll all pool our meager resources and rent a nice but not too expensive thousand square miles of Manitoba for the month, eat breakfast at Tim Horton's every day, watch hockey every night, say "eh" a lot, and watch the CBC for reports of how those spoiled rich bitches and bastards are doing back in the States.  I just bet that Paris Hilton will crumple in the first hour, Kanye West might make it a week, and that blow-hardest of the blowhards, Donald Trump, will be Donald-please-oh-please-come-home-you-losers by the end of week two.

So, who's with me?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Separation of Church and State

Today's post focuses on those times and places in human history when government and religion either got along or didn't, or maybe they didn't even notice each other for a while, or maybe, like, Religion got all weirded-out and did some stuff that got the government all p-o'd and junk, which made Religion behave even weirder until government was all like, "Yeah, no, you can't ever do that again, so we're just gonna kick you and all your followers out."  So Religion was all like, "FINE, what-EVER, just don't go bother us right before you DIE and want to be saved from the ultimate unpleasantness that awaits you on the OTHER SIDE, because we'll probably just ignore you, so HA!"

Not very mature for a venerable institution like Religion, which actually predated government in the chronological order of sociological institutions.  This is because the first of what we might call governments were probably extensions of the family's extended cousin, the clan.  Humans are similar to dogs, cats and naked mole-rats in that they are social animals who like to live together in groups.  There are genetic and psychological reasons I won't go into here that evolutionarily favor species that can live together without killing each other or eating up all the food in sight, so until early humans figured this out and set up actual rules for living together in groups larger than a clan, Religion had the whole place to itself.  This is because humans are the Earth's only animals that practice religious rituals.  Note, for example, the complete lack of synagogues inside a termite mound.

How do we know humans practiced religion?  A combination of two things: they way they treated their dead, and the pictures they drew on rock walls.  As far back as 50,000 years ago, people were burying their friends and families underground, arranging the corpse carefully, and including stuff the dead person owned along with the body.  This implies a belief in some sort of an afterlife, where the deceased person will need his stuff in order to get along.  What would you like to be buried with?  If
Ok, there's Fred, Jacquie, Wanda, Billy, your Mom and some random dude,
but WTF, who is that HUGE guy-thing on the right?!?
you believe the song, Willie the Wimp was buried in his Cadillac Seville.  Now, about those cave-rock wall- rock overhang drawings: they seem to show supernatural beings interacting with primitive people.  Could these be ancient aliens? --or could they be Supreme Beings conjured from the minds of primitive artists?  Also, among the animal paintings at Lascaux cave in France, there is a picture of a fearsome cave lion that had been struck thousands of times.  This implies a ritual --a ritual killing of a powerful predator in this case.

Government and religion ultimately collided in that totally man-made, artificial environment called the city-state.  These places were breaking out all over the Near East (as opposed to the Way-the-f*ck-over-There East) in places like Jericho and Sumeria.  Historians are fairly certain that the earliest governments of these places were priest/kings.  Why?  Because up to that point, only religious leaders could convince that many people to do things they might not ordinarily do, such as dig and maintain irrigation canals, not immediately kill people who offended them in some way, or construct these really weird statues and temples dedicated to gods and goddesses,  In Sumer, the priests even had a corner on the sex-trade market.  The temple of Ishtar was staffed by priestesses who were literally prostitutes.  For a price, men could lie with a priestess who was specially trained in the arts erotica.  Even amateurs got into the act.  If a Sumerian girl wanted a husband and wasn't rich enough or pretty enough to get a lot of suitors, all she had to do was to hang-out at Ishtar's temple and give it away for free --just as long as the guy took her home and raised a family with her.

My victory over these infidel unbelievers is made all the more complete
by using my wind-up horse chariot to smash the city's idols!  Mwa-ha-ha!
Religious leaders had to take a back seat to military leaders once cities started raiding each other for scarce supplies, but religion was still important.  What would make an army fight even better than usual?  Why, a special blessing from a priest!  However, there was trouble on the horizon.  See, whenever a victorious army broke into the walls of an enemy city, the second thing they did was to trash that city's gods by smashing the idols and killing the priests.  The first thing the army did was, of course, wipe their hobnailed boots on the corpses of dead enemies.  Thus began humanity's first religious war, a war that has been raging off-and-on for about four thousand years!

Sometimes, religious leaders and government leaders in the same city got into spats.  These usually worked themselves out with select banishments or a few well-chosen executions.  Sometimes religion won; sometimes government won.  This was the state of things when the Roman Empire was forced to deal with a new religious cult that had started in one of its eastern provinces.

Colosseum cat-food time!
On the whole, Romans thought of themselves as very open-minded when it came to the subject of religion.  There was, in fact, a temple in Rome called the Pantheon that had idols of every god/goddess/religious-type-thing worshipped in every corner of the Empire.  Romans had their own religion, of course, which was bits borrowed from the Etruscans, Greeks, Carthaginians and stuff they had pulled right out of their own toga-covered asses, but they generally left the different peoples within the empire alone when it came to practicing religion, except when that practice included human sacrifice which, strange as it may seen what with their love for gladiatorial contests and public executions, the Romans totally hated.  Because the Celtic Druids were big into the old kill-em-for-piety's sake rituals, the Romans got rid of Druids wherever they found them.  So what were they supposed to do with this weird messianic cult of ex-Jews who reportedly ate flesh, drank blood, and nevertheless professed to love their neighbors?

The first Christians were, of course, Jews who followed the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, an itinerant rabbi who had his own problem with the Roman state --it crucified Him.  After Saul of Tarsus' conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul, as he was now called, enlarged the Christian communion to include Gentiles, ie., guys who still had their foreskins attached.  Pretty soon, there was even a bunch of these Christians living in Rome itself --they had followed the Apostle Peter there and helped him set up a church.  All went swimmingly until the sect began to grow and flex a little political muscle among the Roman plebeians, the working stiffs of Rome, with whom the new cult was very popular.  Slaves liked it too.  Emperor Nero came up with the idea of blaming the Christians for the great fire during his reign ("Woah, I've seen fire during my reign," he reportedly sang from his own private stage during the worst of the flames), and thus kicked-off a kind of free-for-all on Christians.  Things got so bad that Christians were driven literally underground into these burial vaults called catacombs, where even there they were sometimes ratted-out by a jealous neighbor or total dipshit.

The Mass is ended.  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  And Tiberias? Tell your mom to keep her big, fat mouth shut!
However, Christians hung in there (some at the end of their ropes) and eventually were made the official religion of the Roman Empire.  There was only one small problem: the Roman Empire kind of sucked at this point.  It was invaded by a bunch of Germanic tribes and one Central Asian bunch called the Huns, until nothing was left but the Greek part which historians later called "The Greek Part of the Former Roman Empire," shortened to "Byzantine," just because.  So now that the Church was still relatively ok and the State was on life-support --at least in the West --the Church busied itself with setting up a hierarchy because it knew that the state would come around sooner or later and have it out with the Church at some point.

Note to self: don't piss-off Henry I-
he's a really mean drunk!
And a mere 604 years later, trouble broke out between Pope Gregory VII and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over something called investiture.  Basically, this bit of silliness was over the question of who got to hand out Church offices like Bishoprics and Archbishoprics: the Pope or the Emperor?  To be fair, the Church was well-meaning, attempting to curb the practice of Simony, whereby Church offices were sold by the nobility in the district, the offices often going to friends of the nobles.  When Gregory's reform-minded clergy told the Holy Roman Empire's nobility that Church offices were no longer for sale, the Emperor himself got into the fray, sending off some nasty-grams tot he Pope wherein he called the Holy Father, "Hildebrand, not-Pope but false monk," and other such neener-neenerisms that made Pope Greg hopping-mad.  The issue darkened the relationship between Henry I of England and Pope Paschal II, resulting in Henry's pal, Thomas `a Beckett, getting sliced-up by a quartet of Henry's knights in the basement of Canterbury Cathedral.

It wasn't until 1122 that H.R. Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II settled the whole unpleasantness with the unappetizing-sounding Concordat of Worms.  The meat of the Concordat is something like this:  kings and emperors and, I don't know, Grand High Poo-bahs, have this stuff called secular power, with which they can make Bishops in their territory help equip an army if the place gets invaded.  Popes have this stuff called sacred power, with which they give Bishops the power and authority and the duty to go out there and save some souls for Jesus.  So yeah, after all the pushing, shoving and at least one murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, it all came down to a compromise between Church and State that puts Bishops under both authorities.  Still want to be a Bishop?

Now you would think that with this kind of sensible solution, there would never again be a problem between the Church and State, right?  I sure thought that!  But alas and alack, this was not to be.  See, there was this little dust-up called the Protestant Reformation that brought out some... issues... that had been swept under the ol' altar rug for about 350 years.  In England, a different number Henry --number VIII --completely kicked the Catholic Church out of England and set up his very own church just so he could get a divorce.  And that new church, the Anglican Church?  Yeah, the English King was in charge of it.  In Germany, there were a couple of small wars (the Schmalkaldic Wars) that ended with the Peace of Augsburg, which basically gave German princes the right to pick Catholicism or Lutheranism as the official religion of their territory.

Things got positively out of control with religion and the state with the 30 Years War, which lasted, um, 30 years.  It pitted the Protestant nations of Europe against the Catholic nations.  Nobody really won, lots of people got killed, but the French --who entered the war late and on the Protestant side, which is weird because the country was run by a Catholic Archbishop --kind of came out on top by not losing as badly as everyone else did.  They even got to thrash their next door neighbors, those miserable Spanish, in the process.  Hooray for religious wars!

Those are the Spanish on the horses, wisely choosing to not make horse-kebabs on the ends of French pikes.
Church vs. State conflicts became a bit more subtle after the 30 Years War, and it mostly had something to do with how much influence States allowed the Church to have in their countries.  There were countries like Spain and England where a person's religion was basically ordered by the State.  In 1492, Spain kicked all the Moors and Jews out, then created the feared Inquisition to find people who had fake-converted to Catholicism but were still secret Jews or Muslims.  The Catholic Church would hang onto this much influence in Spain until the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the 1970's.  In Elizabeth I's England, she didn't really care of some English people were Catholic, just as long as they showed up once a month to an Anglican service.  The Stuart Kings followed harder lines: James I kicked the Pilgrim Separatists out, first to Holland, later to Plymouth, Massachusetts, North America.  His son, Charles, got his head cut off because 1. he married a Catholic; 2. he probably was a Catholic; 3. he pissed-off the Puritan Parliament.

In America before our revolution, Church and State had a mixed relationship.  New England started out pretty much as a theocracy lead by fiery Puritan Calvinist preachers, which went great until Salem and some other towns were convinced they were besieged by witches from within their communities and hanged a bunch of mostly harmless old women who had a few too many pet cats.  In Virginia, they allowed so-called "dissenter meetings" such as Presbyterians and Baptists, but they had to pay a tax which was used to support the Anglican clergy in Virginia.  Maryland was basically set up as a place that English Catholics could go and, if they didn't starve or get killed by Indians, live in relative peace and quiet.  However, Maryland was soon overrun by Protestants, and Catholics had to put up with not being able to openly go to Mass without being molested by their neighbors.

I am Thomas Jefferson.  #*$! religion!
Enter Thomas Jefferson.  He was a young man who traveled in Europe, was a good student of Enlightenment authors, and although a nominal Anglican himself, was kind of bugged by Virginia having its own "official" religion.  I guess some of his best friends were Quakers, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Catholics, or Presbyterians.  He drafted Virginia's Religious Toleration Statute, which was basically copied and stuck into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights which, along with Article IV, made the United States of America the very first country in the entire world that explicitly separated Church from State.

Over the years, lots of Supreme Court cases tested and further refined the "Establishment," "Free-Exercise" and "Religious Test" clauses of the Constitution, which has had the effect of really pissing-off the fundamentalist Christian right-wing wack-o's who basically want to unite Church and State and have THEM in charge of BOTH.  On the other side of the coin, atheists get all bent when they look at the money in their pocket and have to read, "In God We Trust," or send their kids to a school where the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, especially the "One Nation, under God" part.  There's basically just no pleasing some people!

Go in peace, and thank you very much.
There are a lot of religions in the United States today, some familiar, some exotic, some weird, and at least one completely preposterous religion.  I am referring, of course, to the Chapel of the Church of the Divine Elvis Presley, a "religion" that was invented by my friend, Voga Wallace, as a way to get out of paying his city property tax by claiming part of his apartment was a religious shrine devoted to --you guessed it --Elvis.  A small room that was probably supposed to be a pantry was outfitted with four Elvis posters lit by a dangling black light, an old guitar was set up on a trunk, into which people were encouraged to leave free-will "Love Me Tender" offerings, and the perpetual "Elvis Light," a candle stuck inside an Elvis drinking glass, was always lit --whenever Voga remembered to do it.  And I am completely not making this up when I tell you that the city bought this charade, even listing it as one of the city's "places of worship"  on some grotty official publication.  That, despite the fact that the whole time I hung out with him, there was never one, not one person who visited Voga's stupid shrine!

Lastly, let me just say this: even though our state and religion are separate here in America, that doesn't mean that Americans aren't friendly towards religion in general.  Just look at the parking lots that surround mega-churches on a Sunday morning and you'll see what I mean.  So Iran can just suck it whenever they try to pass us off as the Great Satan or whatever.  I bet you there are more mosques in America than there are in Iran, tons more synagogues and tons-squared more churches to boot.  We just don't think our religious leaders should have a say in fixing potholes in the streets, or whether or not to go to war with some country whose religious leaders call us the Great Satan.  Get it?  So here's to religion and government: may they peacefully coexist as separate institutions because bad things tend to happen whenever they team-up.