Ladies.. the most important thing in life is to keep your man distracted.

22 01 2014

I think few women genuinely appreciate the importance to any society of keeping its men distracted. Certainly, in the age we live in, it appears that women spend much of their time trying to prise men away from distractions. Things like working on old cars, playing with toy trains in the basement, collecting human body parts in chest freezers and spending too much time on facebook games that involve gorgeous women with impossibly large breasts having equally impossible fascinations with automatic weapons. Now, it is possible that after the last sentence you are either a) a typical male now mesmerised with the mention of boobies b) a slightly disturbed woman thinking that I know your love interest a bit too well or c) Dexter wondering whether he left the chest freezer open last time he was down there.

body parts

You see the problem is that men are, as Douglas Adams was wont to say “mostly harmless” if left to their tedious but otherwise innocuous pursuits. They just get dangerous when they REALLY get an idea in their head. You see whilst men joke about the length of their… urethras (while in comparison, sans UTI women hardly spare a thought!) they don’t actually like comparing them, certainly not with any reliable measuring device handy, because we all know that if you look at another man’s penis you become gay. So, long ago men devised ways that they could outdo other men. One simple game is called ‘Climb the tall thing’. It is rather simple, you just climb the nearest tall thing. Now once your son, your great Uncle Ralph and your mud hut was scaled, groups of men tended to look further afield (and get out of there before you had to deal with Uncle Ralph’s broken back or your wife screaming about the new hole in the grassed roof of your house).

So men would climb trees. Some in Vanuatu would actually JUMP off trees as a rite of passage. It was also a convenient way of getting rid of your enemies, as long as they were poor at estimation skills, by cunningly making the supporting vine to the ankles somewhat longer than the actual fall to the ground. Brilliant those men! Trees get dull, so you try waterfalls, cliffs, large mounds of dirt with grass on them or.. mountains. So men would climb mountains. “Why?” Sir Edmund Hilary was asked after completing the first documented ascent of Everest with his faithful Sherpa, Tenzig Norgay. His answer? Often documented as “because it was there!” but apparently, according to a source I have yet to make up, his original answer was “because my wife is not!!”.

edmund and Tenzig

Yes, climbing a summit makes you a man. Can you climb stairs? Well, son, you can climb a mountain. So men do. Now, what people fail to realise is that a LOT of dishes pile up whilst one is away doing lame-arse things like climbing mountains (when, after all, you just have to go back down again and you’ve seen all that bit before, right?). Apparently Sir Edmund Hilary’s wife had to rent a second home to store the dirty dishes that accumulated during the year and a bit that the first ascent took him.. She did apparently negotiate a dishwashing machine afterwards so the expedition wasn’t completely pointless.

The problem is that once men start climbing things, they tend not to stop. So to avoid too much purchasing of unnecessary crockery, whole societies actually moved further and further up mountains. Yes, in every continent on the planet you will find Indians, Tibetans, Nepalese and, of course, the indigenous people of what is now known as Papua New Guinea.

Now these tribes long satisfied all desires to climb to the top of mountains. It long since became a rite of passage since the majority of babies in such tribes tended to be born right on top of such things. A more difficult rite of passage was not falling down of one of these perilous peaks that tribesmen and women decided to live on. Silly, some might even suggest. Well, perhaps, but each family had only one set of crockery and the dishes were always done, so the women were hardly complaining.

That was until the men stopped getting distracted. This was always going to be trouble. So one day, an alpha male starts lamenting about the taro and pork all the time. “I’m so sick of @#$% Taro and Pork!!! I’m so #$% ^&* hungry I could even eat your mother-in-Law, Buntu!!”. “My mother-in-Law, hey? Hmm.. I’ll tell you what, there is a Taro lager and a kilogram of bacon if you do!”. So it was that the “other, other” white meat was sampled and found to be well, pret-ty darn tasty. As an added bonus, the constant whining around camp was minimised a little as well.

cannibal jokeThe problem is with cannibalism is that you end up eating your labour, really. Yes, in an exciting Master-Chef-Style ingredient challenge, it was a bold flavour and freely available but there comes a point where there is no one much around to do any other food gathering and you just get a bit, well, on edge! So people generally tried to steer away from descending down the culinary road of cannibalism. Of course, because of the difficulty of achieving sound sleep but also the truly awful jokes:

Cannibal daughter to cannibal mother: “Mummy! Mummy! I hate Daddy!”, “Well, leave him, dear and eat the Taro.”

Cannibal daughter to cannibal mother: “Mummy! Mummy! This clown tastes funny.”

You see what I mean. So cannibalism is a pretty serious slippery slope for society to head down.

Modern societies, of course, substituted mountains for skyscrapers but this was hardly a challenge, as long as the lifts were actually working. Even when they weren’t, it became a fashionable competition, from New York to Addis Ababa (purely an assumption, but, why not?) to have stair climbing races to the tops of skyscrapers. The thing is that feminism had LONG been invented by then and we were roundly chastised that “Women can do anything!”. As it turns out they pretty much can… well except for scratch their balls, play good lead guitar, achieve mainstream success with stand up comedy or beat your average man at putting together a MALM bookcase, An EXPEDIT unit or, the piece de resistance, an entire FAKTUM kitchen. So the stair thing died a sorry death.

Yep, men raised on a solid diet of Lego to distract them from connecting power socket to fork to baby sister spent many hours deciphering the 3D hieroglyphics in the verbal desert that is a Lego instruction manual to make pirate ships, Millenium Falcons or properly operating flush toilets (didn’t your house have a Lego toilet??). Now, blind Freddy could see.. no, well, perhaps he was one who clearly couldn’t, but almost everyone else would see the clear similarity with Ikea instructions. Men also knew how to hold those notoriously tricky allen keys supplied!

So modern men can pretty much take or leave mountains (unless they perhaps had a Legoless childhood). Or perhaps if they happened to have a Legolas childhood and got a fanging for some of ‘dem New Zealand peaks!! However, I digress. Yep, modern urban man can build IKEA and this is a blessing.

Sure our houses might have enough storage, OK maybe it is 7.6 times easier to get into a POANG chair than out of one (according to a study I conducted in my home last Tuesday morning) and perhaps it is a pain in the neck trying to remember which box in the EXPEDIT shelving that you left the cat because it was, well, an annoying cat. Ladies, a cautionary tale, however, is on this ver blog. Please go to work. Please let him buy that PAX wardrobe. Leave him alone on the floor with those 19 pieces at the end that were worryingly left over and the Crownie in his hand… At least he is not thinking about how !@#$%^& bland your @#$%^&*(  Tofu salad and whole grain croissant tastes. If he does, you might find yourself waking up catching a glance at a dirty glass door once every three seconds or finding out that your Gaggenau oven really DOES keep an even temperature all over. It is imperative to stop men rediscovering Cannibalism. The more you push your men to avoid skin cancer (or the outdoors entirely), the more you make him love that lamentable metrosexual on the YOUI commercial, the more you sermonise about your food that tastes like Rainforest Puke, you are driving him closer and closer to exotic carnivorism at an apartment near you. VERY near you.

Faktum Kitchen

Actually,  evangelism is in order. It is probably time to get such pasty-faced almost men out and doing a bit of exercise and I wholeheartedly recommend introducing the joys of IKEA furniture construction to the isolated tribes of the Sepik river in New Guinea. Imagine the relief in the faces of those who face horrific lives there if they knew that a) they could finally sleep knowing that their men are maniacally distracted by hexagonal metal and whiteboard and b) that if the women didn’t like their kitchens, they’d have 90 days to haul them back down the mountain to Port Moresby for a ‘no questions, money back guarantee’! Of course, we’d run out of Cannibal jokes and some have suggested that Muslim jokes are on the rise.

I’m not so sure that is a good thing, really.

 

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Be careful what you wish for…

14 01 2014

My daughter came to me with a verse of Scripture that she had been reading and wanted some clarification. Of course, like any Dad, I was flattered, but the passage was intriguing and, when I understood that the version of the Bible was the King James Version, I could appreciate her difficulty in understanding it:

16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.

17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. 18 And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord.  Genesis 19:16-18 KJV

The context was the escape of Lot and his family from the location known historically as the “Cities of the plain” of Canaan. We tend to know them by two dominant cities: Sodom and Gomorrah. How Lot came to be there and how these cities came to be destroyed has intrigued many since the event presumably occurred.

Genesis 13 tells us that Abram and his nephew Lot were blessed with many herds and possessions but the extent of their livestock was causing disputes amongst their workers in the area they were settled, so Abram does quite a noble thing for a Middle Eastern patriarch of the era: he gives the younger man the choice of where to settle:

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lorddestroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company.  Genesis 13:10-11 NIV

The character of Lot is immediate throughout a reading of Genesis: he is an opportunist. The easiest way to raise livestock is on flat plains with abundant grains and grasses and good access to irrigation, a no-brainer. In contrast, the rocky mountains and hills surrounding makes raising, herding and protecting livestock much more difficult, so Abram certainly got the rougher end of this ‘deal’. Notably, Genesis makes significant reference to the proximity of the ‘cities’ to the plains possessed by Lot. Subsequently, we see Lot camped ‘near’ the city of Sodom (Gen 13:12) and close enough to be carried off (along with his possessions, Gen 14:12) when a rebellion broke out in Sodom, Kedolaomer, who had defeated the kings of the plains and kept them subdued for 12 years, quashed it. When Abram is alerted, he takes on this army to rescue Lot, is successful and the king of Sodom meets him on the plains:

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you,not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

 Again, this is extraordinary. Entitled to (all) the spoils of victory, when Abram is confronted by a vanquished king asking for his people back (servants, workers, concubines and relatives) and is offered their ‘goods’, he not only relinquishes his right to take everything, but accepts nothing. Abram clearly is wealthy but not motivated by it. Instead, he sees the snare that such greed could be, leading to resentment by the impoverished people of Sodom which could come back to bite his (predominantly) agricultural bottom. Note here a connection with Jesus in an often misunderstood passage in Luke 16:8:
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.   Luke 16:8
Furthermore, Jesus commends us with our ‘possessions’:
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.   Luke 16:9
So Abram refused to live with, deal with or be indebted to the ‘Cities of the plain’. Not so, Lot. Indeed, far from seeing the clear and present danger of living so close to populations of people that had frequently attracted war and invasions by nations greedy for the filthy lucre of this fertile area, Lot actually moves into the city of Sodom itself (Genesis 19:1) and has his house inside the city walls. The people of Sodom are referred to as ‘his friends’ (Genesis 19:7).
Now much is made about the kinds of activities that seemed to be common in these cities of the plain at the time. We even use the word ‘Sodomise’ to refer to homosexual male rape still in the 21st century. Here is where a greater understanding of the depth of depravity needs to be understood about this region at this time. There are a great many sins mentioned throughout the Bible that relate to the people of Canaan and, more specifically, ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’.
Goddesses ‘Asherah’ (also ‘Ashtoreth’) and ‘Ishtar’ were commonly worshipped throughout Canaan and archaeology in the 19th and 20th centuries has revealed an abundance of artifacts that attest to this. Asherah was often referred to as the “Queen of Heaven”, a consort of Baal but was also adulterated widely by Israelites later as a consort of Yahweh, the most high God. She is often depicted holding ‘the sea’ or being able to walk over the sea.
Ishtar represents the rather bizarre combination of goddess of both fertility and of war. Such Goddesses were largely borrowed from both broader (and older) Mesopotamian and Egyptian traditions and were, amongst other things, worshipped through ceremonial, ‘sacred’ or paid, religious sex. Men, it seems, are always pretty good at inventing religions that satisfy one or more of their primal lusts: ‘gold’, ‘girls’, or ‘glory’ (see Scientology, Raelians, Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints). The result in an era long before effective contraception was, unsurprisingly, children, some of whom were not really wanted by church-sponsored prostitutes.
ashtoreth
Here is where some of the practices of the ancient Canaanites appear a lot less than ‘quaint pagan cultural practices’. Enter ‘Molech’ (also called ‘Chemosh’) was quite a frightful addition to the pantheon. With a name vaguely referring to simply ‘king’ (Molek) but often intentionally mispronounced in Hebrew as ‘Melek’ (or ‘shame’), parents would sacrifice their children to Molech, often represented as a large Bull-like creature which outstretched arms, into which were carved steep ‘slides’ which terminated in a furnace where the god’s ‘belly’ might be. Other depictions show the bull-headed god’s outstretched arms over a fire:
molech altar
In either case, the parents were to deliver their child to the attending priest and, according to some accounts, were not to make a sound or cry when their (usually) infant child was ‘passed through the flames’ lest the sacrifice not be accepted by this horrific deity. Afterwards, it was common for the parents to bury the bones of the child under the threshold of their home as a reminder of the promise of coming prosperity. Indeed, the sacrifices seemed to be motivated by convenience (an unwanted child) or a deep sacrifice in return for ongoing prosperity from the god.
I need to mention at the point that to my daughter I completely glossed over the practices in the last few paragraphs. It is clear that if the Bible were given a censorship rating, Genesis would almost certainly be given an M15+ rating!! Suffice it to say that I told her that if you were to devoutly worship this god in Australia (or most countries on the planet) today, you would be rightly thrown into jail for a considerable time. Yet this was de rigueur for the peoples depicted here in Genesis.
When I share this from time to time with older students and friends, there is often a combination of revulsion and anger, particularly from parents as they consider that anyone might kill their own children for convenience or to secure ongoing prosperity. Yet, in some chilling irony, the two most substantial reasons for abortions reported in a 2004 study of 1209 women who underwent abortion were:
“..having a baby would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%) or was having relationship problems (48%).”
(note that mothers in this study were obviously able to cite more than one motivator in the interview/survey).
Interestingly, the proportion of women seeking an abortion due to incest and/or rape is consistently shown to be between 0.5% and 1%. The incidence of such vile acts seems to me to be still appalling high for supposedly ‘civilised’ societies like ours. Whilst there arguably a few differences in the two practices, nevertheless parents are making decisions about the comfort and convenience of their own lifestyle over their children’s lives. In Australia, more than 25% of pregnancies each year end up this way. However, this is not an inflammatory debate about abortion, so let’s consider again our context: Sodom and Gomorrah and the family of Lot.
One can only shudder about the possible prevalence of events involving the sacrifice of children and depraved violent sexual activity, including rapes that occurred in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis gives us some insight to this, since Lot, was opposed to the agitated, insistent and violent intent for the men of Sodom to desire to rape the male guests that Lot welcomed into his home:

They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” Genesis 19: 5-8

It would be hard for most of us in our middle class, suburban homes to even imagine an event as confronting as this occurring to us. Note the depravity here. Lot is opposed to the proposition for the ‘men of the city’ to rape the male guests but offers to these same people as an appeasement his two virgin daughters to them to do with what they wished. I think that any father reading this would be hard pressed to see any situation where he would be prepared to negotiate like this. Let me be very clear here, the homosexual desire of the men depicted in this passage is far worse than consensual male intercourse but brutal, violent rape. It is hard to see how Lot is any more noble than the men of the city, yet this was the culmination of his desire to acquire. Nothing was more important to Lot than ‘stuff’, even the safety and security of his own family. Sobering stuff, yeah?

Now, when I teach about this from time to time, it is very hard for any of us in the 21st century to read Genesis and feel comfortable at all with what appears to be the decree of God to ‘wipe out’ some populations of people from this ancient world and it is usually criticised as “God sponsored Genocide”. Credit where credit is due, sometimes a cool title for an argument can seem a nice substitute for logical reasoning. However, the judgement of God is declared in Genesis 19: 12-13:

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

If we can divorce from our thinking the ‘noble indigenous’ archetype prevalent in our post-imperialist and (deservedly) guilt-ridden minds, then we can perhaps see some sense of justice here. Note firstly that this judgement clearly indicates a volume, magnitude or consistency of outcry which would justify such extreme action. Secondly, note that ‘genocide’ as defined in our era refers to a race, creed or culture systematically exterminated purely on that basis. Finally, I think it took me until I was a parent to fully understand the depth of love that one can have for children, their relative innocence and the surprising capacity to sense ‘righteous anger’ or deep sorrow when our children are threatened or in pain. Now, I think I understand how much more it might be possible for a Holy God to have more extreme feelings and motivation to act than even my own.

I can’t help but wonder how deceived we are to follow wealth, financial security and the insatiable desire to follow (and purchase) the latest trends in fashion, electronics and appliances until our wardrobes break our TV units are full and our kitchens are littered with expensive ‘gadgets’? Simple materialism is not necessarily the villain here, no, it is deeper. We feel incomplete and ‘itch’ for accumulation to grant us relief, comfort and an easier life on Earth. All things which perhaps seem pretty reasonable in a post-modern, secular and economically developed nation. After all, the saviour of the developing world appears to be the steady growth of the ‘middle class’ as a means out of poverty. The economic guiding principle here is substituting ‘work’ for ‘stuff’, a subtle shift from the ‘work’ for ‘food’ subsistence of the poor. Nevertheless, we deceive ourselves if we think this economic model will come without conseqences for ourselves and our relationships, which leads us to the final, puzzling part of this passage which specifically relates to Lot’s wife:

“15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”” Genesis 19:15-17

The intent was clear from the visitors (now revealed to be angels), that Lot should literally get the heck out of there! It is the situation with Lot’s wife that always had me puzzled. You see, my children’s bible, as a kid, had massive  coloured pictures that showed Lot’s wife, having apparently disobeyed the angels’ command not to “turn around” and instantly became a statue!

Pillar of salt

 

Of course, this situation was always possible but I felt that it seemed a) a little arbitrary and b) a little “Harry Potter” (or maybe “Doctor Who”?). Actually, the angels’ command mentions several times the admonition not to ‘muck around’ but simply “get out of there!!”, it wasn’t the ‘looking’ but the ‘tarrying’ that caused her demise. Neither Lot, nor his family, it seemed, was in any hurry to get out of the place that had caused them to be distracted from holiness, taken captive, had Lot offer his daughters to animals and now the very real possibility of death.

The next part is pure speculation but much is written in these few chapters concerning Lot about possessions. They caused the quarrels in the first place with Abraham’s servants, they caused Lot’s family to move closer and closer to Sodom, eventually living inside. Even when they make their escape, what did they bring? Why was Lot’s wife already lagging behind? How hard was it for her to leave her ‘life’ behind?

Now the ‘pillar of salt’ I had to explain to my daughter carefully. Not a ‘statue’ as often depicted in children’s Bibles, like mine, no translation of the phrase ‘netziv‘  נְצִ֥יב מֶֽלַח׃ ‘ can be rendered as ‘statue’. If it were the case then it is likely that ‘Pesel’ (a graven image) or ‘Tammunah’ (a likeness) would almost certainly have been used.

Actually, this is where I get to have fun as a chemist! Now the text uses the phrase “..it rained down burning Sulfur..” (Genesis 19:26). This is unambiguous, in English and in Hebrew. It is a phrase used to describe a volcanic eruption. This is not conjecture either. Below is a picture of archaeological remains uncovered at Bab Edh Drah in modern Israel in 1979:

 

ash remains SodomWhat was uncovered over fifty years in this region of Israel were exactly five cities, replete with an abundance of “shaft tombs” where many thousand people were buried. Even some grapes in winepresses have been preserved in the desert dryness. What is more telling, however, is the thick layers of spongy ‘fly ash’ that is consistent with volcanic eruption and the multitude of unburied bodies (and parts thereof) at such sites, dated at the same time.

So, it appears that far from being a cautionary tale about obedience and sin, this event was history and volcanic in origin. So what of Lot’s wife? Well, she was a ‘Netziv’ of ‘salt’. When organisms burn that have internal skeletons, high proportions of proteins and meet a demise with very hot reductants like sulfur is the likelihood of an abundant of white ‘salts’ and ash, from oxides of potassium, calcium and an abundance of various nitrates.. all white and similar in appearance to table salt. See here a well preserved human specimen from pompei:

pompei man

So, can we suggest a similar demise for Lot’s wife? It is certainly possible. If she really did drag behind in the valley during an eruption then could she have ended up as a pile of inorganic ash & salts? Very likely.

What message is there for us, then? I find the most sobering part of this record that both parents were more consumed by the need to possess than the very safety of their family and, a very distant third, their pursuit of holiness in deference to a just and Holy God. Far from being genocide, this appears to be God’s patience, over a long period of time with the destruction of innocents finally stretched to breaking point. I think it is macabre irony that many adults met their death after centuries of passing their children through the fires of Moloch and storing their ashes on their thresholds by being burnt alive, many on the threshold of their own homes.

I often write that comfort is not good for us as people, or as Christians. God is merciful (note here that Lot’s family is certainly not worthy of saving but Abraham pleads for them) but if we pray for a ‘good day’, ‘safe passage’ and for ‘things to work out OK’ he will often, though not always, meet our request. However, we do well to toil, to labour, to find ourselves trusting in Him for our food, shelter and personal safety because we grow into resilient spiritual beings. Paul tells us we’d be mad to pray for suffering, though, ironically, it is how we become better in this fallen world. Certainly, though, we should be very careful about decisions made in the guise of some other ‘noble’ purpose that have the ulterior motive of making our families more comfortable, accumulating more ‘stuff’ and taking our eyes of those whom we apparently love on Earth more than anyone or anything else.