Previous month:
May 2008
Next month:
July 2008

Few Odd Fellows But Plenty of Weirdos

Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I blew into Ithaca just as the whole city was about to “stand up for peace.” Of course, we didn’t know they were going to do that. We’d just come down to catch the tail end of the three day music festival. But we hadn’t been in town more than half an hour before some counterculture type person urged us to get to Stewart Park where, at 3 PM, folks would congeal into a giant peace sign. They planned to photograph it from the air and submit it to the Guinness World Record organization. Instead, we risked being seen as warmongers and stayed in the Village Court section, where a cajun band called Bayou Road Krewewas playing.

For a quick mini-excursion, you can’t go wrong traipsing down to Ithaca. My wife and I do it a lot. Just 90 miles southeast of our Rochester home, Ithaca is a college town. SUNY (State University of New York) at Ithaca perches high on the hill to the south and Cornell University straddles the eastern one. The city proper is crammed on a shelf at the foot of Cayuga Lake, but it doesn’t really fit, so it flows up into the surrounding hills, climbing as if ivy. Up there, the streets…commendably gridlike on the shelf…throw off all restraint and writhe here, there, and every confusing where. Descending one of those hills on a snowy day is no job for an atheist.

Four or five creeks cascade from the heights into Cayuga Lake. “Ithaca is Gorges” say t-shirts and bumper stickers. It’s true. Gorges cut deep into the earth right through the heart of the city - two of them pass through Cornell itself. Students bustle on campus above while, two hundred feet down, others hike the gorge as if in a different world. Within ten miles of the city can be found over one hundred waterfalls…I’ve heard some say as high as 150 (Mrs Sheepandgoats and myself strive to find them all).….and some of them are truly spectacular. The local earth museum highlights the fossils and sedimentary layers thus exposed. Try visiting sometime, as I have, with Tom Pearlsandswine. Hear him muttering throughout about the “wiles of Satan,” and challenging museum staff at every exhibit. You’ll want to bury your own head in that sediment.

So alluring is Ithaca that some graduate from the colleges and stay put. They obtain four year or six year degrees, then they hole up in some commune on the hills growing organic food. Or work at the local bookstore. Or start an earth-friendly “green” business. According to this webmaster, Ithaca’s been called "One of America's Most Enlightened Communities" and one of "The Top 10 Places to Drop Out of Society." Perhaps the two titles aren’t as mutually exclusive as they at first appear.

An eclectic bunch….some of them. Generally quite pleasant, though you can’t be one who clucks his tongue at unusual characters. Opening day parade for the music festival consisted of “an automotive ballet composed of a procession of Volvos in synchronized driving formation. A group of burly He-Men toting chainsaws as if they were trombones…..A distinct absence of Odd Fellows, but no shortage of weirdos,” according to the Ithaca Journal. I’m told by the local congregation that these folks tend not to be real receptive to the Bible’s message, perceiving it as a ploy to restrict their freedom. I once worked with a young woman whose divorced father turned up years later as a nudist in Ithaca. So I’m not so sure I want to run down to Stewart Park and make a giant peace sign with them. Besides, what would Winged Migration Man (WMM) say? Were any of his old buddies among those who called the peace sign the "footprint of the American chicken?"

WMM is the retired fellow who spent 24 years on a nuclear submarine (see comment section) keeping the world safe, he maintains, by deterring Soviet attack. It sounds plausible enough to me. And if he plays the “Neville Chamberlain” card, I will absolutely acquiesce to him. Mr. Chamberlain was the British Prime Minister…there were several like him… who “stood for peace” just prior to WWII. He reached agreement after agreement with the tyrannical Nazis, each of which was broken, yet each time he was lauded to the heavens as a great peacemaker. But history judges him harshly. Had he and his peers stood up to Hitler early on, tens of millions might not have died. Unfortunately, hawks tend to see Hitler everywhere, and are ever ready to strike. Many say the current President is like that. Only in hindsight do we know which concerns were appropriate and which were overrated.

Besides, an aerial peace sign strikes me as a frivolous gesture…..appropriate for a music festival, okay - but for a serious political statement? What if it had rained that day instead of the picture perfect weather that was really had? Would even half of the participants have shown up? You must understand that I come from a people (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that have stood for peace when it cost them their freedom and, in some cases, their lives. Over 10,000 Witnesses were incarcerated in Nazi Germany for their neutral stand during the 1930‘s and 1940‘s. In the United States, 4300 were jailed for refusing military service. To this day, our draft-age people in certain countries are routinely incarcerated for their peaceful stand. So having seen people really stand for peace, I don't read too much into a human peace sign on a sunny day of leisure.

About 6000 people assembledfor the big sign. It will be a record if Guinness accepts it, since they’ve not yet kept track of peace signs. An organizer enthused that "we're not going to trash any weapons because of this, but if everybody has the same idea in their mind, that they are coming together in peace and unity, then there's a community started." Um….yeah….I guess....whatever that means.

Actually, there is one circumstance in which I gladly would have taken part. If I could have driven down with a busload of my friendsfrom the home. It would have been a win-win for all. My friends would have had a ball…..they’d each have gotten a peace sticker. Since about half are in wheelchairs, they'd take up more space when seen from above, a plus for the organizers. Civilians could easily be drafted to wheel them around, especially in Ithaca. And if Carolyn decided to indulge in her favorite ranch dressing and milk beverage, or if Jackie ate her peace sticker, no one would bat an eyelash. They’d chalk it all up to our beautiful diversity.


Wolfgang Kusserow, a 20 year old German executed by the Nazis for refusing to go to war, made this answer to the military tribunal:

“I was brought up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to God’s Word contained in the Holy Scriptures. The greatest and most holy law he gave mankind is: ‘You shall love your God above all else and your neighbor as yourself.’ Other commandments read: ‘You must not kill.’ Did our Creator have all this written down for the trees?


******  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'

Things Younger than McCain and the Governing Body

We know now we‘re in a sexist country.

We know it because the first woman ever to campaign for President was rejected. What reason could there possibly be other than sexism?

But there is yet one more “ism” that will condemn us before we’re through. Racism, if Obama goes down. Ageism, if McCain is defeated. Such is the nature of this election. It’s a win-win-lose for the politically correct.

Opponents are painting McCain as too old to be President, same as they did two or three elections ago with Bob Dole. Back then, someone pointed out that Dole’s social security number was 6. Of course, it was actually much higher. Similarly, some wise guy has come up with a website collection of things that are younger than John McCain……things like Scrabble, polyester, the minimum wage, teflon, and duct (or duck) tape. I read about this site in the Economist magazine. In fact, since two of the things younger than McCain (Mildred Loving and LSD synthesis) are two things prominently featured in recent Economist issues and nowhere else, and since the website itself is only 2 months old, I suspect the author reads Economist. Perhaps he is even an employee.

Now this “younger than McCain” idea is intriguing to me because I have often thought of doing the same: putting together a list of things that have come about during my lifetime.

Tamper-proof bottle caps, for example. I well remember how you could once buy a bottle of pills or anything else and simply pop the cap and take one. You didn’t have to be a safecracker. It was inconceivable that anyone would tamper with a product. Oh, you might want to poison a specific person, like in an Agatha Christie novel, but to contaminate a product so as to harm random people? It had never happened and was impossible to imagine.   

The Tylenol scare changed all that. In 1982, someone laced bottles on Extra-Strength Tylenol with cyanide. Seven people ultimately died. Johnson & Johnson pulled the product promptly, redid the packaging, and we’ve had to dynamite open containers of anything ever since.

I am also older than airline hijackings. It used to be you could park your car at the airport, buy a ticket, and hop on the plane. Nobody wanted to strip search you. You didn’t have to walk through wands and buzzers. Show up ten minutes before departure time? Not a problem.

According to this report, there were 15 hijackings worldwide between 1948 and 1957, one a year. Between 1958 and 1967, it was about 5 a year. But in 1968 alone there were 38, and the next year 82! For the next ten years: 41 per annum.

Strictly speaking I am not older than all hijackings, but almost. I am older than all hijackings in the western world. The first instances here involved flights to and from Cuba. I vividly remember public dilemma following one of them….how old could I have been? The hijackers had made some demands. This was a new tactic. Nobody in the media knew what to do. Should they report every tidbit of information they learned? Or, by providing a stage, would that only encourage future hijackings? Maybe they should treat the hijackers as simple thugs, and publicize neither their demands nor cause.

The uncertainty lasted a day or two. Then the news people decided to spill all, moralizing that the public “had a right to know.”  I’ve often thought the popularity of hijackings would have fizzled had they not played along.

I have no idea if a young person makes a better President than a old person. I suppose you can’t be taking your afternoon nap when some crazy launches World War III, though the Economist reports that McCain’s indefatigable energy leaves the kids covering his campaign panting and exhausted.

But in a spiritual organization, age is a great virtue. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is comprised of people who are old. Sometimes ancient. The downside, I guess, is that they don’t know much about ipods and reality TV. But the upside is that they don’t go carrying on as if skyjacking and lacing medicine is normal. They’re old enough to realize human society is getting sicker and sicker, and they’re human enough to realize that increased gadgets and technology don’t compensate for that.

Over the years, the governing body has delivered on its promises. Unlike politicians, they've not promised that the world will get rosier and rosier. They’ve said all along that world conditions are rough and will get rougher as humans display their total inability to govern themselves. The present day reeling in view of energy and food spikes is entirely in keeping with the Bible’s take on the “last days” and just one more evidence of human ineptness and mismanagement. “Light at the end of the tunnel” does not shine from any human leaders, but from God’s promise of renewed conditions on earth under Kingdom rule. Focus on those promises, despite unceasing and deafening claptrap about human efforts, and the specific accusations of some soreheads that the GB is out of step with modern times, is a monumental achievement.

Human leaders usually don't lead. More typically, they figure out which way the wave is flowing so as to ride the crest and give the appearance of leading. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has not been afraid to lead, pressing ahead with a message distinctly unpopular with those who put all their trust in human efforts. Telling about the four horsemen....on the gallop for most of the past century....doesn’t win you friends from that crowd. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell it.


I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.

When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.    Rev 6:2-8  NIV


Sure, the politically correct today would have the second horseman wailing about sexism, the third ageism, the fourth racism. But the ailments afflicting humankind go even deeper than that.


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'

The Emotional Theory of Evolution

There is much evidence that can be cited in support of evolution.

But it doesn’t add up to much. It may imply its conclusion, but it hardly proves it. Its like a huge mound of pennies: substantial in its bulk, but you’re not going to retire off it. To make up for the lack, factual evidence in support of evolution is complemented by a liberal dose of emotion, and the two in tandem account for evolution’s dominant position in popular thinking. Is not emotion, rather than factual evidence, the more influential of the pair?

Science, by it’s very nature, is ill-equipped to reach conclusions regarding our origin. It is too constrained by its own scientific method, the self-imposed modus operendi of scientists:

Observe what happens; based on those observations form a hypothesis as to what may be true; test the hypothesis by further observation and experiments; and watch to see if the predictions based on the theory are fulfilled. If they are, your hypothesis is strengthened. If not, you’d better rethink your hypothesis.

The emphasis is on things that can be observed. And manipulated. And experimented upon. Experiments should be repeatable so that others can verify any conclusions. These requirements lend themselves to physics and chemistry and such, but they don’t suit the search for our origins very well, for that search is a matter of history. History can’t be repeated, it can’t be experimented upon, it can’t be observed. Sure, clues can be examined and probed a bit….some tentative conclusions can be drawn….but science is left without it’s most treasured weapons.

Americans today watch a lot of CSI television shows. The steel-resolved (but attractive) heroes of those stories come armed with microscopes and lasers and test tubes and God knows what else. They solve whatever riddle and always nail the villain. If high tech cops can catch crooks this way, surely, scientists can do the same with our origins, viewers figure. But alas, our origins are infinitely more complex and clues are contradictory.

And if the scientific method cherishes repeatable experiments, it also disdains testimonials and anecdotal evidence. This type of evidence is inherently unreliable, say those champions of the scientific method. Yet what is history if not testimonials and anecdotal evidence? And again, our origin is history.

As to the emotional content of evolution, is it not revealed in this comment of H. S. Lipson? (Physics Bulletin, 1980, Vol 31, p 138, and reproduced in one of the Watchtower publications, which collects such statements) He discusses some dilemma or other regarding origins and concludes: “The only acceptable explanation is creation. I know that this is anathema to physicists, as indeed it is to me, but we must not reject a theory if the experimental evidence supports it.”

He uses a curious word: anathema. Is it a Freudian slip? It’s a word you might not expect a scientist to use. Are not members of that group coolly unemotional, unswayed by feeling, moved only by hard facts? “Anathema,” however, conveys intense emotion. Accursed, detested, and loathed would all do nicely as synonyms.

The primary support for evolution is emotional in nature, not factual. That’s not to say that facts cannot be garnered in support of evolution. They certainly can be. But those facts are not weighty or substantial enough to account for evolution’s rapid ascendancy and its present iron grip on modern-day thinking. Emotion accounts for it. Specifically, the emotion of anathema Lipson spoke of…..anathema towards religion with all its sordid history.

If creation is correct, then it puts religious leaders in the driver’s seat, and they are a smug, abusive, sometimes ignorant bunch. The times they enjoyed most authority is the time history records as the “Dark Ages.” They brought us the Crusades. They brought us the Inquisition. They brought us a virtual ban on reason and discovery. We all know the opposition Copernicus and Galileo encountered when they ventured that the earth was not flat and was not the center of the universe.

Of course, clerical ignorance was not the Bible’s ignorance. The Bible’s statements on earth’s position and shape are up to date:

He is stretching out the north over the empty place,
Hanging the earth upon nothing……He has described a circle upon the face of the waters, to where light ends in darkness…….
Job 26:7,10

No reasonable person wants to cede authority back to these guys. Coming into more modern times they preached unqualified support for World Wars I and II.

Moreover, had they stuck with the Bible’s reasonable explanations regarding deathand suffering, they might have had something with which to counter the present “age of reason.” The Bible explanations may not be scientific, but they certainly make sense. But no! religious leaders long ago jettisoned such appealing teachings for doctrines that are incomprehensible, if not repugnant: doctrines like trinityand hellfire.

The emotional appeal of evolution is that, in one blow, religious leaders lose their authority. The rug is pulled out from under them. No longer are they the Guardians of Ultimate Truth. Instead, they become Guardians of Children’s Stories and Fairy Tales. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch. But alas, so thoroughly have religious leaders identified religion with God that people cannot separate the two, a point of constant frustration, though not necessarily surprise, to Jehovah‘s Witnesses.

So long as evolution maintains its grip in explaining our origins, religious leaders remain relatively toothless….a mere shadow of what they once were. The teaching will remain dominant for that reason. Any supporting facts will be sung to high heaven. Any non-supporting ones will be shunted aside, if not shouted down. Nobody wants to bring on Dark Ages II.



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'

A Willowbrook Legacy

When my nephew was small, the family lived far away, so I didn’t see him very often. Every time I did see him, therefore, I had to get reacquainted. Young children are shy and it does you no good to cozy up during a short visit; on the next visit you’ll have to start again from scratch.

So there I was trying to warm up to the child, showing interest in his activities, doing goofy things and so forth, and the look on his face plainly said “get this creep away from me!” Obviously a new tack was needed.

“Mitchell,” I ventured, “let me tell you about my friends.”

The boy looked like he might put up with it.

"I have one friend named Carolyn who likes to make herself a cold drink when she gets home from work. Do you like cold drinks? ……My friend goes to the refrigerator and pours a glass half-full with milk. Do you know what she pours for the other half?” The boy looked up.

“Ranch salad dressing! Does that sound like a drink you would like?” The lad looked wondrous, as if I was from Mars, and shook his head emphatically. I had his attention.

Carolyn loved ranch dressing and would have drunk it all day if we had let her. We didn’t, of course. She’d make raids to the kitchen and grab the two ingredients. Sometimes she’d get so far as to emerge one jug in each hand, but we’d always intercept and send her off, to howls of protest.

“I also have a friend named Jackie,” I said. “Do you know what she eats?" The boy shook his head. “Anything,” I answered. “Even if it’s on the floor. Even if it’s not food. She’ll grab it quick and put it in her mouth.” The boy looked at me as if I was from Venus.

She’d also eat paper clips and screws and tacks, so you had to follow her around and watch her very closely. If she spied some….say, dryer lint….she‘d lunge….it was unbelievable how strong she was at such times, so you were wise to clear the area beforehand. It’s a condition known as Pica….who would have thought there’d be a name for it?
She’d also talk non-stop, but only about a dozen phrases said again and again and again. You couldn’t help but like her, and you couldn’t help but regard her as a mischievous child, same as Carolyn. Always active, she used to wander around the house constantly, and staff would have to follow her, lest she ingest carpet, knickknacks, paper, what-have-you, like a giant vacuum cleaner. But she fell ill and spent several months in a coma. (something she ate?) In the hospital, I’m told, they didn’t move her too often and the weight of the bedcovering pressed down on her feet till she could no longer straighen them. Discipline meted out to lots of people, of course, but it didn't do her any good, did it? Thereafter in a wheelchair, she'd talk constantly of going to work and would almost shake her chair apart in excitement when the van showed up. “Go to work,“ she’d repeat, banging fists together up and down, like hammer on anvil……the sign language gesture for “work.“ At work, they told me, she’d speak of nothing but going home.

Then there was Christopher. Christopher couldn’t walk either, or talk, but if you set him on the floor he could hop about and cover surprising ground. I got in the habit of reading stories to Christopher, shamelessly overacting the characters when I saw how much he liked it. He’d rock back and forth and positively howl with delight. You could also give commentary on the TV, as over-the-top sportscaster, for instance, and get the same enthused result. Other times, in the early morning we'd roll out onto the deck and listen to the birds.

The second part of Christopher’s life has been much more pleasant than the first, thanks to the Willowbrook Decree. As a kid, Christopher was placed at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. Places like this were once hailed as panacea for the developmentally disabled. Not only would they live in happy bucolic surroundings and get plenty of care geared to their needs, but they would be far away. But in 1972, Geraldo Rivera snuck into the school with hidden camera and detailed shocking conditions: children packed in like cattle, cowering naked and filthy. Feces on the walls. Urine all over. Frequent and violent deaths. The place was, as Robert Kennedy had declared a few years before, “not fit for even animals to live in.” Geraldo’s on-air reporting (which earned him a Peabody Award) jarred consciences. Investigators investigated, hearings were heard, speeches were spoken, and groundbreaking legislation was legislated. All 5000+ residents were dispersed and relocated in small communities. They also received and are still receiving  life-long oversight to ensure personal wellbeing.
The present trend to place individuals with developmental disabilities in community residences, the birth and spread of day programs and special education in New York, then in other states, then in other countries, can all be traced, at least in part, to the Willowbrook hearings. So Christopher, former member of the Willowbrook class, is a hero, a pioneer of sorts, though I doubt he is aware of it.

My nephew enjoyed hearing about my friends and we became chums again. And in calling them friends, I really don’t misspeak. They became friends. I might pull up a chair in Doug‘s room, for instance, and watch some TV with him. This was a challenge, since it was his set, he had the remote, and he’d flip through channels as if spinning a roulette wheel. Still, considering what‘s on these days, it was probably just as well.

Sometimes when I assisted these folks in their daily routines, I would imagine seeing then again in the new system, with sound body and mind. But for dumb luck, life might easily have turned out differently, with them assisting me. In many ways, working in the disabled home was the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had. And it changed my overall conduct. Now, if I am invited to a party or someplace, I will put my hands in my pockets, murmur some niceties to whomever I must, and then go search for some mentally retarded persons to hang out with.


All names have been changed of course, even that of the nephew. Only my own, Sheepandgoats, is rendered accurately.

update available here.

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'