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A Key Old Person and Joe Jennette

Thanks to Ken Burns, old people are hot today. No longer are they geezers who drone on and on and on about the good old days and you'd kinda wish they'd just shut up already since they don't even know what an iPod is. No longer are they the crotchety codgers who grouse about how (per the New Yorker) for the price of a lousy postage stamp today, they used to be able to buy a whole damn Cadillac.

They once were all this and more but Ken Burns changed that with his WWII documentary The War, which recently aired on PBS. Spanning 15+ hours, he told the story of the epic war through interviews with the real live participants, not the bullet-headed generals or the egg-headed historians. Today those participants are pretty old and, for the most part, still ordinary Joes. But they held center stage for those 15 hours. The long buried memories they brought to life were absolutely riveting. Turns out the good old days weren't so good for several very bad years. Like….was it Eisenhower who told how after Normandy, you could walk hundreds of yards and step on nothing but rotting human flesh?

When Mr. Burns’ documentary recorded victory over Germany and then Japan, I knew the story was over. But I also knew there would be some epilogues, some “wrapping up” by the old people. And, dog tired though I was (did I not have to get up early next morning to report to the Institute?) I figured I owed it to these old folks to hear them out. You couldn’t help but connect with these people.

But old people remember lots of things, not just war. Today, the hottest of all old people may be our family’s own Violet, profiled in Violet in the Old Folks Home.Of all living persons, she has the most vivid family memories of the boxer Joe Jennette. This, it turns out, is a critical asset since a TV sports network is making a documentary tribute to Joe. And it’s about time. Long ago, Joe used to routinely fight Jack Johnson, the first black World Heavyweight Title holder, and there’s plenty of people who think he would have captured the title himself had Jack given him a shot. But Jack didn’t. Why should he have? Winning the title himself, he had nothing to gain and everything to lose by fighting black challengers. Wouldn’t he, at best, get bruised up to no purpose? But having broken into the white boxer’s domain, all he had to do was stay there. He could pound white boy after white boy to his heart’s content. He dominated his years in the ring.

All this, of course, was too bad for Joe. It consigned him to the footnotes of fighting. But now TV sports wants to do their tribute. They’re poking around for people to interview and came across the white family Joe married into (my family) through this blog!They even thought they might interview me, Tom Sheepandgoats, but it turns out I don’t really know anything. I’m merely the chronicler. Yes, I saw Joe a few times when I was little, he probably carried me around some on his shoulders, but I really don’t remember. No, better to put the TV people in touch with our family historian, a cousin. But they will really hit pay dirt if they can talk to Violet, Joe’s niece through marriage. It might be good for Violet, too. Old people love to think their memories are valued. Has she yet had her 15 minutes of fame?

Alas, her health has taken a turn for the worse since my post about her. The clock is ticking toward midnight. Pop’s visits are more frequent. Will her memories of Joe be sharp as ever? Will she imagine Joe is still around? (That might be good for an interviewer) Or will she tell them that it’s simply none of their business? That’s unlikely, but you never know, especially if they descend upon her all full of themselves because they're on TV. Violet was always a down-to-earth person

Joe and Adie would drive out in his fine car, a rare sensation, on his way to visit Adie's sister and family in the boondocks. We had one of those country families where everyone gathers around the huge kitchen table for hours on end, trading stories and gossip. By all accounts, Joe cut a fine figure. The neighbor kids were impressed. Who was the rich person with the chauffer? they wanted to know. “That’s no chauffer….that’s my uncle!” Pop replied.

Decades later my own sixth grade daughter searched for an African-American person to write about for Black History Month. She trotted out all the regulars: Martin Luther King, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglas, and so forth. All perfectly fine candidates. Nothing wrong with any of them. But none were family. So I told her the story of her great great uncle Joe, passing the torch of his memory to another generation. Did she not earn an "A" with her report? Would I not gladly embarass her and put it online if I still had it?

From time to time people hit on that post about Joe. The TV writer, for one. But also a couple of young women who are descendants of Joe’s black family, through his brother. This is all welcome. We’ll now be able to link both sides of the family. I wasn’t able to trace his family when I wrote the post. They used to be in Connecticut, I heard. But googling the name, there were more Jennettes and Jeanettes (a misspelling that stuck...even the Jersey City street named in his honor is misspelled Jeanette!) in Connecticut than you could shake a stick at, so I gave up.

We never knew much about Joe’s family. Maybe Violet will remember it all, if they reach her in time. I used to think it was on account of racial tensions. But the old guy (another one!) I work with every morning says, no, all families used to be like that. You seldom kept close to both sides of a family. You’d identify with one or the other. Travel wasn’t so easy as it is now, telephone not so reliable or cheap (people had party lines back then...the neighbors would sometimes listen in), email not so existent, and so you tended to lose touch with one or the other side.

But now, at long last, we can glue it together! We'll do Joe proud.

More on Joe in the books GoWhereTomGoes, and Tom Irregardless and Me.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Turning the Hose on Hell

To swelling crowds the shiek rails against “the traitor Souleiman Ghali” and called for jihad....holy war....against Israel and U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He works the crowds to fever pitch. "Our killed ones are in paradise, and their killed ones are in hell!"

How come the really mean groups always believe in hell?

Is it that hell appeals to mean people? Isaac Asimov called hell "the drooling dream of a sadist" If unlimited retribution for limited wrongs [80-90 years at most, and that assumes you were an unmitiaged louse through and through] strikes a warm and fuzzy chord…..well, hell is your doctrine.

Or is it that the hell teaching makes people mean? After all, if God’s going to fry your enemy forever, why….what objection could there possibly be to getting a few licks in yourself?

Either way, there could be no finer a service to humanity than to put out the fire. Which is exactly what Charles Taze Russell did, Jehovah's Witnesses founder. In his lifetime he was known as the man who “turned the hose on hell and put out the fire.” Not that big of a deal now when only zealots take hell seriously, but a huge deal in the late 19th - early 20th century, when general society thought it axiomatic. Jehovah's Witnesses have never bought into the hell doctrine.

Putting out the fire is not so hard as one might imagine, at least from the Bible’s perspective. With a single exception, all instances of “hell” stem from only one of three original language words. Find the meaning of those words, and you’ve found the meaning of hell. Easier still, two of those words mean the same thing: the Hebrew “sheol” [Old Testament] is rendered into the Greek as “hades.” [New Testament]

For example, this scripture in the Old Testament [Hebrew]: “For you will not leave my soul in Sheol; you will not allow your loyal one to see the pit.”    (Ps 16:10)    is quoted this way in the New Testament [Greek]: “…because you will not leave my soul in Hades, neither will you allow your loyal one to see corruption.”    Acts 2:27

Both words simply mean the grave. Not the individual grave where this or that individual is buried, but the common grave that is waiting for all of us. There’s no distinction between good and bad…..all end up in sheol, or hades:

All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going   Eccl 9:10

This leaves only the third word: gehenna. All instances of hellfire stem from gehenna.

“And if ever your hand makes you stumble, cut it off; it is finer for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go off into gehenna, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot makes you stumble, cut it off; it is finer for you to enter into life lame than with two feet to be pitched into gehenna. And if your eye makes you stumble, throw it away; it is finer for you to enter one-eyed into the kingdom of God than with two eyes to be pitched into gehenna, where their maggot does not die and the fire is not put out.”       Mark 9:43-48

That doesn’t sound pleasant at all, does it? Still, it’s not because gehenna was a place of eternal torment. In fact, it was a garbage dump - in the valley surrounding Jerusalem. Fires were kept burning always. Worms crawled through the crud. Its history was more sordid still. It had once, centuries ago, been the location of child sacrifice:

And he [Ahaz] himself made sacrificial smoke in the valley of the son of Hinnom [Hebrew term, translated into Greek as gehenna] and proceeded to burn up his sons in the fire, according to the detestable things of the nations that Jehovah had driven out from before the sons of Israel.     2 Chron 28:3

In time, Jesus used gehenna...everyone knew what it was on account of garbage day.... as a symbol for persons so despicable that they might not merit a resurrection. Just heave their dead carcass into gehenna!

Three words…..sheol, hades, gehenna....and not one of them means eternal torture! Yet these are the three words which Bible translators render as “hell.” Some transations do so at every single instance. More frequently, they pick and choose, sometimes rendering the word hell, sometimes grave, sometimes death, pit, or what-have-you.   The New World Translation makes matters simple. Each time "sheol" occurs, NWT renders it sheol. Each time "hades" occurs, NWT renders it hades. "Gehenna" likewise transliterates to gehenna. This methodis so intrinsically honest one wonders why it is not more widespread. It makes hell easy to track, and when you do so, the fire promptly goes out!

To be sure, there are a few backeddies, fakes, fades, asterisks, and addendums, but nothing that changes the big picture, especially if you know not to take obvious metaphors literally.



More here and here (second part)


Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Blood Transfusion, Oxygen, and Nitric Oxide


As if offering a pinch of incense to the gods, the article begins: "Blood transfusions have saved millions of lives." But doesn't the very next phrase almost douse the flame?

"yet stored red cells may be less effective than hoped for because they can quickly lose much of their ability to deliver oxygen."

They can? They do? If so, blood transfusions haven't saved as many lives as they are credited with, perhaps not any more than simple saline solution or any other fluid that aims only to replace lost volume. Jehovah's Witnesses have no objection to the latter. They do, however, for religious reasons, decline the former. They are well known for refusing blood transfusions.

If I had a nickel for every news article or web post lambasting us for our transfusion stand....some going so far as to call it tantamount to murder....I could buy myself a Maserati. And another, even fancier car for my wife, Mrs. Sheepandgoats. Blood substitutes are no good, they scream at us, because only the real thing, only real packed red cells, delivers the life-saving oxygen to the body. Yet according to this article, they don't!

The problem is that transfused blood needs nitric oxide to keep the blood vessels open, otherwise, the carried oxygen never reaches the tissues. But nitric oxide begins to break down within three hours of storage, and donated blood is presently stored up to 42 days. To be sure, researchers think they can remedy the problem. But that does nothing to improve the effectiveness of blood transfusions already given, each one of which was hailed as "life-saving," yet few of them actually qualifying as such, at least not any more so than saline solution, which offers no danger of rejection. We all know that the body spots foreign tissue in an instant, and tries hard to get rid of it.

Oddly, there are two versions of this AP story by Randolph E Schmid. One leads with the butt-kissing "blood transfusions have saved millions of lives" and one doesn't. I suspect Mr. Schmid, who is a science writer, did not include it. But somewhere along the line, some pious editor unable to tolerate the blood transfusion idol besmirched, added the phrase. Versions that have the phrase are here, here, and here. Versions that do not are here, here, and here. (I've included so many because some sources don't archive their stories very long....I hope some of them survive.)

All this reminds me of Bruce Spiess, addressing the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists a few months ago. He declares blood transfusions have hurt more people than they've helped. Transfusions, he observes, are "almost a religion" because physicians practice them without solid evidence that they help. "Blood transfusion has evolved as a medical therapy and it's never been tested like a major drug," he said. "A drug is tested for safety and efficacy, blood transfusion has never been tested for either one."

Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witnesses steadfastly refuse blood transfusions (for religious reasons, not medical) and have created hundreds of Hospital Liaison Committees composed of members who interact with local hospitals and doctors. As a result, some in the medical field have pioneered bloodless techniques. By eliminating the risk of foreign tissue, human error, and blood-borne diseases, these new techniques offer a safety margin that conventional blood transfusions do not. The film Knocking states there are over 140 medical centers in North America that offer some form of bloodless surgical techniques. Might the day come, or is it even here already, when the number of lives saved through such medicine will outnumber those lost by a few members of a relatively tiny religious group that stuck to its principles amidst much opposition?

***********************  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Start Your Own Religion!

At the Whitepebble Religious Institute, awed students hang on every word dropping from the lips of esteemed and pious instructors like Tom Weedsandwheat, Tom Loavesenfish, and even Tom Pearlsandswine. These guys make the religion game look so easy that students begin to imagine they can do it too. Of course, they can't, so when the inevitable handful of pupils timidly approach an instructor to ask how to start their very own religion or at least a sect, or if need be, even a cult, our responsible staff always discourages it. It's not as easy as it looks.

Sure, the perceived perks readily present themselves. As founder of a religion, you can assume any title you want. Make one up. The longer the better. Moreover, replacing the second or third syllable of your name with the 'ou' sound (pronounced 'ow'), accenting that syllable,  then appending an "ism" generally makes for a respectable and pious-sounding name. Not always, of course. Thomousism sounds downright ridiculous, but that is only because of the rodent, a contingency that will not present itself for most substitutions. Girl names, especially the trendy ones ending in "i," fare especially well. Let's face it, "girl" religions are hot today; the founders generally ask, not so much if  they can do better than guys, but how can they do worse? All the same, as a purely practical measure, we do not recommend starting one's own religion.

The trouble is, having started a religion, you have to go and find disciples. Now, you may think that you can find cool ones, but hard experience shows that the cool ones are already taken, and you will get stuck with pinheads and oddballs. Of course, they are disciples and so you have to teach them stuff, but, as pinheads and oddballs, you will find they are absolutely impervious to knowledge, much as are fenceposts, and they will consume every minute of your time. Plus, they continually embarrass you by loudly pronouncing judgement on everyone in sight. You also have to take them on field trips...not merely to the zoo or the fish hatchery, but to mountaintops and desert plains, preferably during extreme weather. How are you going to keep any semblance of a social life with all that running around? True, as a religious organization, all that mountain climbing gear is tax deductible, but the challenge of documentation is formidable. And to top it all, if they really get nutty and start to do things like, say.. commit mass suicide so as to hitch a ride on an incoming comet, the government comes in with tanks and flamethrowers and destroys you, your compound, your disciples, and takes away your tax exemption! Decidely, it is not worth it.

The Whitepebble Institute has always assumed such stern counsel has had it's effect on our students. But we don't know it for sure. They're  our students, for crying our loud, not our kids. You can't follow them around everywhere. Recently, though, we've been scratching our heads with regard to a certain former pupil.

It turns out that the next Judge First, Ask Questions Later religious conference is to be held in Krukordistan, a wretched little country if ever there was one. Organizers, however, were offered a good price. So we at the Institute bought a travel book in order to become familiar with the place, and we came across this remarkable paragraph under the heading Religions of Krukordistan. It seems the fourth most populous faith in the country is "Kathouism."

The guidebook describes the group as "relatively recent in appearance. Most scholars fix the date of origin within the past 100 years, but the really smart ones give a time period much shorter....say, just a few years. A very strange religion, its members, mostly cool, though there are some oddballs and pinheads, are forever trekking through deserts and climbing mountains in rotten weather. (the weather in Krukordirstan is always rotten...doubtless that is why the faith has caught on here so quickly.) It's founder, a young woman with a braid, (which her disciples are constantly pulling, much to her exasperation) absolutely insists on being addressed by her full self-assumed title: Most Laudable Audible Very Litigious Double Dutch Duchess of the Sky! Her only formal training appears to be from some half-baked religious institute in the USA, and she is known to keep several irons in the fire in case she may someday tire of religion."

Kathi used to sit in the back row, quietly. Sometimes she would sleep. Sometimes she'd fuss with her hair. Nobody ever dreamed she was paying the slightest bit of attention.



Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'