Friday, March 26, 2010


I find it depressing that for such a long time there have been only two choices for defining women; Madonna or Whore. The exception, of course, is Madonna, who has made a career out of playing the whore. But the social definition of womanhood for the last hundred years has remained Queen Victoria. She took the throne in 1837 and made such an impression that ever since women have been forced into one of two boxes marked either “saint” (like Victoria) or “tramp” (un-like Victoria). Aphrodite was not so neatly compartmentalized, and neither were the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome. And no more, it seems, is Miss USA. Could we have reached a tipping point in the evolution of the feminist movement?
The Assyrians first recorded a female deity associated with Aphrodite more than 4,000 years ago. The Phoenicians liked her so much they transported her to Greece via Cyprus and from there the Romans adopted her, although they changed her name to Venus. She was the goddess of love, both of the mind and of the body, but mostly of the body. During the festival of Aphrosdisia, when ritual prostitution was practiced, having sex with the high priestess of the temple was a sacred act; which must have made their church fundraisers a lot more popular than a Lutheran ice cream social. It may sound odd to modern ears, but parents in ancient Greece would have been proud to learn that their daughters had been accepted into the priesthood. At least the were learning a marketable trade.
At the other ancient extreme were the Vestal Virgins of Rome, charged with maintaining the ritual “fire of Vesta” which according to the official religion of Rome, protected the city. These were the original keepers of the flame. But reality was accommodated. The Virgins were only required to remain virgins for thirty years. In return they got the best seats at the coliseum and they were the only women in Rome who could own property and vote. On the down side, if convicted of a sexual indiscretion they would be thrown in a tomb with some water and a few pomegranates and left to starve to death in the dark.
In 394 A.D. the newly Christianized Emperor Theodosius I ordered the pagan Vestals out of their temple and the last one to leave was supposed to put out the light. But at some point Theodosius’ niece, Serena, slipped back into the deserted temple and stole a necklace from a statue of Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus. Out of nowhere an old virgin appeared and, in a scene any graduate from a Catholic school can imagine, laid such a curse on Serena (and Rome) that she would have nightmares for years to come. Worse, the curse seems to have taken. In 409 A.D. Serena was sacrificed in a desperate attempt to placate the angry Goddess Vesta. It did not work, and shortly thereafter the Goths burned Rome to the ground. It may be sacrilegious to point out, but Rome had never been so completely destroyed before the Christians came along.
And then came Victoria; the epitome of virginal motherhood, who gave birth to 9 children and outlived her husband by 40 years. In fact she was spoiled, stubborn and demanding, and as governed by superstition as she was by religion. As a Queen, Victoria fashioned herself after Heathcliff from Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”, but I find her more like Lady Honoria from Dickens’ novel  “Bleak House”; arrogant, conceited and obsessed with her own reputation. When Prince Albert died in 1861 Victoria’s widowhood established Victorian morality definition of womanhood as the cultural norm; absolute and contradictory, just like its namesake. The only problem was most women were not widows.
More recent events seem to offer a hint that perhaps the Victorian custom is shifting, and the mileposts of this shift may be the outcome of scandals involving the Miss USA pageant, with three mileposts, the first in 1950, the second in 2006 and the third in 2009.
The Miss USA pageant was created in 1950 to fill the desperate need created by not enough women wearing swimsuits and high heels in public. Specifically, the problem was neo-feminist Miss America, Miss Yolande Bethbeze, who refused to pose in a bathing suit after winning the Miss America pageant that year.
In response to this “Women have brains and are not simply sex objects” foolishness, Miss USA contestants would not be required to display a talent of any kind, but instead to wear swimsuits as often as possible, preferably while also wearing high heels, as impractical a wardrobe combination as one can imagine. High heels on the beach are an impossibility. And bathing suits in a dining room are an invitation for spillage and burns.  
It was thus inevitable that billionaire pseudo-personality and creepy old toupee-head Donald Trump would buy the pageant in 1996. What better property could a spooky old man buy than a spooky old anaronicstic beauty pageant? A decade later, this would make 17-year old Dallas teenager Tara Conner, The Donald’s problem.
Tara Connor won the Miss USA tiara on April 21, 2006. By December the grinding schedule of personal appearances and swimsuit and high heel wearing, combined with Tara’s approaching 18th birthday, drove her to 'partieee'.
On December 14th, 2006, that bastion of public morality on the Hudson, The New York Daily News,  published a photo of an obviously plastered Tara Connor swapping spit with Miss Teen USA, Katie Blair. There were also reports that Tara had been sneaking men up to her apartment in the Trump Tower, specifically Katie’s boyfriend. This raised the question of Tara’s virginity, and the underage Katie’s too. The idea that teenagers, with their young firm bodies and raging hormones might be stupid enough to drink alcohol and be sexually adventurous at the same time was so unprecedented that Mr. Trump felt his personal tower had been belittled.
Miss Connor had her tiara publicly removed (in public) and was forced to tearfully enter rehab, all the while making a public apology for endangering Mr. Trump’s investment in her. And she was prohibited from ever again appearing mostly naked in public while representing Donald Trump’s Tower. There were tears and drama and cleansing of the soul and forgiveness from the father confessor, The Donald.
Clearly, Miss USA might look like a high priced hooker, but professionally she was to remain a virgin.
Flash forward to 2009 when, during the finals of the Miss USA pageant, Miss California, Carrie Prejean, was asked on stage if same-sex marriage should be legalized. She still had to display no talent, and in fact showed no talent in blathering a run-on two-faced answer to this question. And that, some have alleged, is why she lost the competition. The question was asked by a proud gay man-judge, who was qualified to judge a Miss USA Pageant because gay men make up a substantial percentage of the audience. But I can not imagine such a shockingly socially relevant question being asked of a Miss USA  even five years before. I can not imagine such a relevant question being asked of Yolande Bethbeze. Because she would have simply told the truth about how she really felt. And I cannot imagine why anyone would want the answer to such a question from someone whose work clothes consist of a string bikini and high heels.
The response to such a relevant social question from Donald Trump would have been just as valid as Miss Prejean's was, and I certainly don't consider "The Donald" qualified to pass judgment on gay marriage, either. In fact I was more interested in the Donald’s reaction to the hyped broo-ha-ha, as expressed on “The View”, where "The Tower" himself admitted the controversy was a good thing for his tower; “No one is talking about the young woman who won. Nobody knows who she is,” said "The Tower". Oh, good point Donald!
She was Kristen Dalton of North Carolina and she was at the time the privately owned and privately paid public Vestal Virgin of Mr. Donald Trump. That's you, Donald. You just insulted your own product. The Toupee went on to say, “We went back and added up the scores, and she (Carrie Prejean) would not have won anyway.” Does that remark seem a little “catty” to you? Cause it sure does to me. But then, who won the Miss USA title the year before?  Who won it this year? You remember the controversy, not the winner. And it turns out, that is The Donald's real product. 
It seems to me that somewhere history has taken an unexpected turn, at least in America. It is a turn which would have amused Aphrodite and maybe even Queen Victoria, too. Somehow it seems that where we were talking about women, looking at women as sex objects and Madonnas or both, we are suddenly talking about gay men. And does that mean that discussing the sexual definition of straight men and women can not be that far beyond? But that should not be a surprise. We have been talking about tramps and Queens, and men fit into  those categories too, one way or another, at least as often as women do.  The roles they are a-changing, but they are still just roles, not the totality of who we are.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I began reading “The Fundamentals; A Testimony to the Truth”, the seminal work of Christian fundamentalism, wondering how such a document had come to exist. The very first sentence of the very first of the 90 essays sought to explain it all. “In 1909 God moved two Christian laymen to set aside a large sum of money for issuing twelve volumes that would set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith…” Upon further investigation I discovered that the two anonymous Christian laymen were Lyman Stewart and his younger brother Milton. And their personal history may provide some insight into the movement they fathered.
Lyman Stewart was the deeply religious eldest son of a tanner. He hated his father’s business and wanted to be a missionary. But, as Jesus before him, Lyman would need funds to support his ministry. Then, on the morning of August 28, 1858, almost in Lyman’s own backyard, the foreman of the Pennsylvania Oil Company spotted fresh oil standing in the 69 foot drill hole he had decided to abandon the night before. Within a few weeks this well, outside of Titusville, would be producing the unheard bounty of 20 barrels a day. Jonathan Watson, the man who had leased the site to Penn Oil, became the first oil millionaire. Lyman  saw the hand of God in this miracle. .
It was a risky business. The towers of Ancient Babylon had been constructed in part with asphalt. But in 1859 there was no explanation of how petroleum, or “rock oil” was created, nor why it was found where it was. Even today three out of four oil fields are first located because of surface “seeps” of asphalt. Searching for oil beneath the ground remained a matter of pure luck and, if you asked Lyman Stewart, divine intervention.
On December fifth Layman used his life savings of $125 (equivalent of $3,000 today) to buy an option on a section of land not far from Penn Oil’s big score. But Lyman’s lease proved to be a dry hole, and it took him two years of work to save up enough cash to finance a second try. In 1861 he joined with other investors in buying another lease. This time Lyman hit oil, but over-production drove the price down to ten cents a barrel, and Lyman and his partners lost their lease.
By now chemical analysis had determined that oil had once been living plants and animals. From this it was theorized that oil was never found in the rocks in which it had formed, the “source rock”.  Instead it flowed into a permeable “reservoir rock”, which was always found beneath an impermeable “cap rock”.
If there were no cap rock and the oil made it to the surface, it formed a seep. Geologists still had no idea how old oil was, but connecting the work of Scottish geologist James Hutton and the English Naturalist Charles Darwin, whose “Origin of Species” was published in 1859, hinted that it might be unimaginably old.
In 1866, after serving in the Civil War, Lyman returned to the oil fields. He opened an office in Titusville, helping other wildcatters negotiate leases from local farmers. On some of the better looking leases, Lyman waved his fee in exchange for a share of any oil found. By 1868 he had made a small fortune and a reputation as a savvy oil man. By 1869 he was broke again. But he remained convinced that God would not let him fail.
In 1877 Lymen teamed up with a roustabout from the Pennsylvania and California oil fields, named Wallace Hardison. Hardison had made enough money in California to fund Lyman for one more try. And Layman hit the black gold again. This time, when they were on top, the pair sold out to Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. In 1883 the Stewart brothers and Hardison packed their bags and moved to California.
The desperate search for oil drove capitalists to take a hard look at the pulverized rocks drawn up from both dry and successful holes. It was the only emperical evidence they had. They found these cores to be filled with Foraminifera. There are some 4,000 species of these single celled aquatic creatures in today’s oceans, from the surface to the bottom mud, from the artic to the tropics. But the fossils of 275,000 Foraminifera species were coming out of the drill holes.
Obviously the vast majority of these little creatures and plants had gone extint. By studying what fossils were found with the oil in past well cores, the capitalists could better judge their chances of finding oil in any new drilling hole. Eventually, oilmen could depend on Foraminifera fossil species to lead them toward the oil.
The move west did not change Lyman Stewart. He forbade his normally profane roustabouts from cursing on the drilling site, and earned his first site in California the title of “Christian Hill”. Still, even with the Lyman’s piety, it took seven dry wells before Lyman and Harding produced their first gusher in Santa Clarita. But by 1886 the Hadison and Stewart Oil Company was producing 15% of all the petroleum in California.
In 1890 they merged with three other local oil companies controlled by Thomas Bard, to form the Union Oil Company of California. Bard was named President of the new company, Lyman was named Vice President, and Hardison became the treasurer. The company’s headquarters was established in the pretty little town of Santa Paula, at the corner of Main and Ojai streets, surrounded by the nodding mechanical donkeys, pumping oil.
Success and wealth merely confirmed Lyman’s faith in his own righteousness. He had no doubt that God meant him to be wealthy and wanted him to expand his empire. Wallace Hardison was not so certain, and in 1892 he sold out. 1894 Bard resigned over fights with Lyman. And finally Lyman Stewart had reached the top of the mountain. He kept drilling new wells, to feed the growing demand for his product. He built pipelines and refineries. He built a fleet of tankers to carry Unocal oil up and down the West Coast. He opened a string of service stations, to sell his gasoline. Company profits went from $10 million in 1900 to over $50 million in 1908. California production was now producing almost 78 million barrels a year. The following year, Wallace Hardison died in Sun Valley, California, when his car was struck by a train. It seemed that God was truly smiling upon his favored son.
Now at last Lyman Stewart had the fortune to fund his ministry. Lyman and Milton endowed $300,000 for the publication of 12 volumes (90 essays) in defense of what he believed were the five fundamental tenets; the total absolute accuracy of the bible, the divinity of Jesus, his death for humanities’ sins, and his second coming, which was expected soon, perhaps in the lifetime of people then living.
However there were a few other points made in the fundamentals, in particular a listing of the enemies of Christianity, as detailed later by Robert Wuthnow, of Princeton University. These enemies included “…Romanism (Catholicism), socialism, modern philosophy, atheism...Mormonism, spiritualsim,...and Darwinism, which appeared to undermine the Bible's authority.”  Formed originally as a response to "modermism", the foundations of Fundamentalism are primarily negative, insisting upon what they against, rather than what they seek to be.  It is impossible to decipher early 21st century conservative politics without an understanding of “The Fundamentals; a Testimony to the Truth”.
The first target of the Fundamentalists was the growing acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection. William Riley, writing for the World Christian Fundamentals Association in 1922, declared “We increasingly realize that the whole menace in modernism exists in its having accepted Darwinism against Moses, and the evolutionary hypothesis against the inspired word of God." There are hundreds of teachers, Riley argued, who were pouring the poison of Darwinism into youthful minds where their evil teachings could "take root in the garden of the Lord.”
By the 1920’s Union Oil geologists had realized that Foraminifera could be used to measure ancient ocean temperatures, and the amount of oxygen in the ancient seas. And they were now basing multimillion dollar drilling decisions at individual well sites on the fossilized shells of now extinct microscopic creatures found in drilling cores. And these decisions were making oil companies like Union Oil, richer and richer.
And thanks to Layman Stewart’s largess, millions in profits from this oil provided for the Los Angeles Mission, which has helped to feed and shelter tens of thousands of homeless and lost souls, and a Fundamentalist Christian collage, which explicitly teaches that those creatures used to find that wealth had all died in a great flood, which had occured, at most, a few thousand years ago.
In 1923 Lyman Stewart died at the age of 83. May he rest in Peace.
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Sunday, March 21, 2010


I believe Bob Fowler was confident on September 23rd , when he took off from Colfax, California, (alt. 3,306 feet) in the Sierra foothills. He certainly looks confident in his photo. His confidence was, however, seriously misplaced. At six thousand feet altitude up the Sierra Nevada mountains Bob hit headwinds that his 40 horsepower Cole motor couldn’t overcome, and he was forced to return to Colfax.
That same day (September 23rd) back East, James Ward was following the “iron compass”, as pilots referred to following railroad lines. In this case he was tracking the Erie Railroad westward out of Middletown, N.Y. James refueled as he had planned at Callicoon, N.Y.(above), at 10:05 A.M. He refueled again at Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, and took off again at 2:15 P.M.
Two hours later, after avoiding crowds waiting for him at other landing fields, James touched down on a farm outside of Owego, N.Y. Here James hitched a ride into town, where he ate a quick dinner while a local mechanic refueled his plane. He wanted to make Corning, N.Y. before dark, so he hurried his take off. But as James Ward lifted into the air his engine coughed, his wheels snagged a fence and he was yanked to an abrupt halt. His lower left wing was bent, his wheels destroyed. James Ward was unhurt, physically, but it would take a crew from Curtiss Airplane almost two days to repair the damage.
 Back out in California, bright and early on the September 24th , Bob Fowler tried again to get over the Sierra. This time he got as high as 7,500 feet, as high as Emigrant Gap just below the Donner Pass, before the headwinds again forced him to retreat to Colfax.
On the 25th Bob reached 8,000 feet before running into those darn headwinds again. This time Bob decided to land at Emigrant Gap, in order to get an early start the next day. But flying at high altitude was a skill not yet mastered by anyone, including Bob, and while turning around he plowed into the forest. They had to send out a search party to locate him, and when they did he had two broken wings and and two broken propellers. Bob himself was somehow uninjured, but for the time being his intercontinental flight was… waiting for repairs, again.
Back in Owego, the repaired James Ward’s Curitss airplane managed to limp into Corning and then on to the village of Addison, N.Y. (above) late on September 25th. He was now 300 miles and 10 long days out of New York City. At this rate it could take him the better part of a year to reach California. Anxious to make up for lost time, at 7:18 A.M. on the twenty-sixth, James took off from Addison. And about five miles west of town he crashed again. He had to walk almost the entire way back to town. This was getting really hard.
To make it seem even harder, at a local hotel, Jimmy‘s wife, Maude Mae, overheard gamblers taking five-to-one odds that her husband would be dead before he reached Buffalo, New York. Now, as Buffalo was still 60 miles to the west, and since at the rate James was making progress toward California he could have been outrun by a Conestoga wagon, and even though he was not actually planning on heading to Buffalo, Maude Mae figured it was still a pretty good bet he wasn't going to make it that far,...alive. She decided to be practical - leave it to a woman to destroy a daredevil sporting event with practical thinking. Maude Mae  spoke to James that night. And after his long walk and his two crashes over the previous four days, Jimmy was inclined to listen to advice from his wife.
Jimmy's manager announced his decision to drop out of the race to the press the next day. Later, Jimmy Ward would explain his problems in pragmatic terms. “…it was a plain case of a jinx” he said. And then he went on to prognosticate. “Rodgers is a mighty fine fellow, " said Jimmy, "and I wish him all kinds of luck, but he won't reach the coast within the specified time. To win that $50,000 he's got to complete his journey by Oct. 10. He can't do it. He'll get through all right, but not by that date.” Given this skill at foretelling the future, I am surprised that James Ward seemed to have no inkling that just seven months later Maude Mae would have him arrested in Chatanooga and charged with bigamy. She had discovered that James had never been legally divorced from his first wife, and would later file for an annulment of her own marraige to him. Poor Maude Mae. Poor, Jimmy Ward. And  he may have been the pilot with the most brains. Without his brains, the race went on. 
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