Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In this photo from 1977, Lynda Carter gets it done as one of many Wonder Woman.
Photo:  Warner Brothers/Getty Images
In this photo from 1977, Lynda Carter gets it done as one of many Wonder Woman.

Dear Wonder Woman:

I know we're not close. I am not much of a comic-book reader, and back when you were being played by Lynda Carter from 1975 to 1979, I wasn't quite old enough for that to be up my alley. I did always admire your invisible jet, which I knew mostly through the Superfriends cartoons.

I've seen some of your costume reboots (no pun intended). While you don't know me, I believe you know my dear friend and comics guru Glen Weldon, who has discussed your jacket and so forth in the past. I realize that you have often been asked to embrace the ridiculous, the silly, the impractical, the spangled, the swimsuit-y, and the downright inappropriate.  You have been through a lot.

But Wonder (can I call you Wonder?), you deserve better than this.

Now granted, that — your latest look for your new pilot at NBC — is better than the original version underwear, is an improvement. we saw. You have dark blue pants instead of electric blue pants, and they gave you back your red boots. And, of course, the fact that you have pants at all, rather than star-spangled

Nevertheless, lady, these are not clothes for butt-kicking. They are clothes for high-kicking, specifically in a Rockettes Christmas show where you and sixty other women just like you are playing the part of an entire shipment of Wonder Woman Barbies that Santa had to throw away because they were deemed too naughty for the kids on the "nice" list.

Tell me the truth, Wonder: If I asked you to participate in a 50-yard dash, and it were you against someone you really wanted to be beat, is there any possibility you would say to me, "Sure, let me run inside and get my red plastic bustier that sucks me in like Scarlett O'Hara and supports fully 30 percent of my natural blessings?" THERE IS NO SUCH POSSIBILITY. You would not do yoga in that top. You would not run to catch a bus in that top, unless you crossed your arms over your chest the whole way there.

Look, there was a time when it had to be this way. There was a time when nobody understood that women could be good at fighting and also hot. There was a time when functionality had to take a back seat to fashion, and this is when your star-spangled undies were invented, you see. There was a time when you couldn't have it both ways. But now you can! Linda Hamilton didn't wear fishnet stockings in Terminator 2, did she? Did she? (...Did she? It's been a while.) There's nothing in The Hunger Games about Katniss wearing stilettos in battle. Buffy didn't slay vampires in a tube top and I think you get my meaning. They have really improved sports bra technology since the late 1970s, and there's no reason you should deny yourself its benefits.

I am all for you being gorgeous. I am all for you embracing your right to be a sex bomb and a crime fighter at the same time, but that doesn't mean a strapless corset made of plastic. Not only can you not use your lasso in that outfit, you can't raise your arm to hail a taxi in that outfit. I understand that you have an invisible plane. Or maybe in this version you don't. Maybe you have an invisible Vespa because of the urban environment. (I apologize for the fact that I have just envisioned you wheeling along on an invisible Segway, and it was really funny.) But you still have to get from one place to another, and that's just not a travel-friendly outfit.

All I'm saying is that you are an iconic crime-fighter. You have a job to do, and your job is to protect me from ... well, I don't know who, actually. Um, Hatchet-Head? Is that someone? Circus-Face? I don't know, I'm just taking shots in the dark. But my point is that the sorts of people you are charged to fight represent a grave, grave threat to all of us. We can't afford to have you distracted because you're yanking up your top all the time like a poorly-fitted bridesmaid at a hastily planned wedding. If you wouldn't wear it to step class at Bally's Total Fitness, don't wear it for battle.

I am only thinking of you. And, of course, the possibility that you will fail to defeat Circus-Face because you will be stuck on a sidewalk with your boot heel in a street grate while you yank on your bustier (classically described by Sandra Bernhard as designed to "boost your yays") and treat yourself with baby powder for a serious case of full-body chafing. And then Circus-Face is left to destroy us with his trapeze ray or his clown button or his elephant gun, and that's the end.

If this is how we all go down, I'm blaming your wardrobe.

(Source:  NPR

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Truth or Consequences: The Organizational Importance of Honesty

(Author Erline Belton is the CEO of the Lyceum Group in Boston. She has been identified by clients as an organization healer, and feels honored to be of service as she practices organization development from her heart and head.)

“We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable.”—Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize Winner, Soviet Writer and U.S. Citizen 

We have all experienced the public lie that goes unchallenged. It may be baldly untrue but somehow accepted as the basis for action with life and death consequences. Some of our experience of public lies may be based on differences in values or perceptions, but sometimes what is said just simply violates the facts—this is disheartening and drives people out of public participation.

The same may be said of organizations. A nonprofit may, on the surface, be making every effort to promote teamwork and “the higher good,” but if its people continue to perceive a culture that supports a different and less reliable set of operating norms and assumptions than what is written or espoused, they will not bring themselves wholly to our efforts.
Here are some typical reasons for telling lies:
  • to avoid pain or unpleasant consequences;
  • to promote self-interest and a particular point of view;
  • to protect the leaders or the organization;
  • to perpetuate myths that hold the organization or a point of view together;
Regardless of why they are told, untruths and lies can cause people to disengage—and they can also diminish the spirit people bring into the workplace. This leads to a sometimes massive loss of applied human intellectual and physical capital assets. A disinvestment of human spirit results in what I refer to as a Gross National People Divestiture (GNPD).

The GNPD index in any organization or society can be directly related to the prevalence and magnitude of untruths told and allowed to stand. GNPD occurs when your organization’s tolerance of untruth creates a climate of cynical disbelief engendering a lack of trust in information and relationships. This automatically creates management problems that are sometimes difficult to put your finger on but are often very powerfully present nonetheless.

Our challenge is to buck the culture and engage people in building a climate of truth telling that will lead to a newly revived work ethic and heightened individual and collective energy. In order to do this effectively, we must understand the conditions that support the emergence of truth, and understand and eliminate those that routinely undermine its presence in our organizations.

Staying Safe: Are You Avoiding Pain, but Inviting Extinction?
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, our strongest mutual instinct is to be safe from harm and to protect our sense of well-being. It is this instinct that guides us to avoid risk (or what we perceive to be risk), and to respond cautiously to changes in our environment, relying heavily on familiar patterns of behavior in an effort to promote and sustain a sense of equilibrium. As coworkers or managers, this instinct often propels us to play it safe and go along with the program. Ironically, in a quickly changing environment this is obviously counterproductive. Thus, too often, we opt for the illusion of stability in order to promote a sense of psychological well-being. This sense is acquired in exchange for at least a fragment of the whole truth; and since we all know “the truth” is relative anyway, we hardly notice the cost. It is true that we all seek solid ground when in doubt. But does that solid ground need to be sameness? Solid ground might be, for instance, a place to stand for something we can believe in and whose integrity we can rely on when all else appears undependable and unpredictable.

Over time illusions dissolve and evaporate. When they do, those who have used them for grounding are left less safe, less secure than ever. And those who have allowed even the smallest of illusions to inform our management decisions, have placed entire organizations, teams and ourselves at risk.

Because of the diversity of perspectives and information available in any group, a collective organizational “truth” has the potential to be stronger and more accurate than any one individual’s truth. But it is only when we have the combination of individual as well as collective seeking of truth, that organizational potential is realized. This requires an open atmosphere where people can depend upon one another to engage honestly, respectfully, and with spirit intact. It requires the testing of personal assumptions among people and that requires a level of trust.

More often than not, organizational potential is not realized. Why? Team meetings, team coordination, and team feedback all involve a diversity of people and personalities that have at least one thing in common: they don’t want to get hurt; they don’t want unpleasant things to happen; they want to feel safe; and they want to contribute. We, as fallible individuals create the environment, and environmental conditions can support either truth or lies.

Conditions That Support Untruths
Groupthink: The tendency to just go along with the crowd, avoid drawing criticism to ourselves, and assume that everyone agrees, is so subtle and unconscious that we are generally unaware of it. As a result, we often all wind up somewhere nobody really wanted to be.

For instance, imagine the scenario of an organization trying to decide on whether to apply for a major contract. Most staff members are in favor of going forward while a few are privately concerned that the organization does not have the capacity to handle the work or the money. The push toward acquiring the contract is so strong that the isolated few remain silent for fear of being characterized as pessimists or naysayers. The organization lands the contract and finds itself in terrible straits trying to handle the management challenge. One variation on this is situations in which everyone knows something but there is an undercurrent of pressure not to state it aloud. Colluding in lies can be crippling.

In one organization I know, the staff was asked about the biggest lie inhabiting the organization. After much hemming and hawing, one man finally blurted out, “The lie is that we provide good services that the community wants. We don’t, and we treat any client who complains like a troublemaker.” He went on to provide examples. Everyone else around the table nodded agreement immediately. Consider the enormous cost of having kept this silent for years! This was a key organization, serving an isolated immigrant community. Unfortunately the dialogue group did not include the executive director or board members who later did not allow the conversation to progress further. This was seven years ago, and to this day, funders see the organization as “chronically in trouble.”

Imaginary conflicts: People often choose their words and edit their facts to protect themselves from anticipated reactions. One person’s imaginary conflicts can warp the way information is exchanged. In a team, the distortion is amplified by the processes of repetition and groupthink. Eventually, the distorted facts may culminate in a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where our worst fears materialize precisely because we acted in fear. Think about the executive director that everyone soft pedals around for fear of hitting one of her sacred organizational cows. Rather than gently prodding for potential change or aiming for a more open debate about organizational myths, staff members assume that some topics are “off limits” and live in silence with the uncomfortable consequences. Of course, this only fulfills the idea of the executive director as a leader entrenched in her ways, and prevents her from getting accurate feedback—and so it goes.

Hidden agendas: When individuals have their own interests at heart, or believe that something is true but fail to disclose this fact, seemingly straightforward discussions have a way of going wrong. Unexpected disunity and conflict can undermine team spirit and group confidence, preventing the group from working efficiently and effectively. Self-interest isn’t so bad in itself, but when kept underground it acts like a dark matter pulling everything in its direction—down. The most distressing of these situations occur when individuals see themselves as self-righteous warriors using any means necessary in their “struggle for justice.”

The Spectrum of Everyday Lies
Exaggerating or underplaying the truth: This is often done for one’s own benefit, for that of the team, or for a teammate. These lies usually reflect (or exceed) desired expected outcomes.

Shading the truth: This is usually done to make a point or to protect yourself, your team, or your teammate. Again, such a lie is used to make the impression that things are more like you want or expect them to be than they actually are. These lies are often used in a noble effort to protect others from the truth.

Beating around the bush or throwing up a smoke screen: This is a delay tactic used to enlarge the insulation or cushion of safety between you and somebody who makes you uncomfortable. This category includes situations in which you withhold an opinion, or fail to tell a person where he or she really stands with you for fear of creating complications or undesired reactions. It also includes instances when you fail to say no directly, when no is what you mean.

Pretending certainty or expertise: There is a lot of pressure in the workplace to provide answers now, to know the facts, the status, the scoop. These lies are often passed off as bravado, but they create unfounded expectations and dependencies in others, thus setting them up for unpleasant surprises.

Not letting others know your true position: Especially in times of ambiguity or controversy, there is a temptation to cover yourself by either making your stand unclear, or stating it in such a way that it sounds as if you are in agreement with others when, in fact, you are not. This is a common feature of Groupthink and often leads to outcomes nobody really wanted, but everybody assumed they did!

Consciously withholding relevant information: This is often used as a kind of power play to leverage the value and impact of information that you have. By not fully disclosing your knowledge, you are in fact manipulating people for your own purposes (whatever they may be).

Perceptions of powerlessness: Especially in teams with strong leaders, people may feel they have no legitimate voice and are vulnerable (by proximity) to the “powers that be.” Opting to assume that others know best, some people often let others make choices and decisions for them, and withhold information that might influence the discussion. Once this happens, these people have made themselves powerless to do anything but accept the consequences.

Perceptions of invulnerability: Belonging to a successful team can be exhilarating—so exhilarating that maxims such as “success sows the seeds of its own failure” seem irrelevant and only applicable to somebody else. There is a strong sense of being “in the know” and having a unique advantage over others who are outside the circle of your team. This can lead to carelessness, letting perceptions, communications, and facts slide by without diligent examination and discussion.

Misplaced loyalty or dysfunctional rescuing: Relationships that have longevity often interfere with the ability to be objective about performance, and ultimately one’s competence to do the job.   Loyalty to these relationships can cause individuals to look the other way and avoid listening to obvious data that suggests that either the person is in the wrong position, or that it is time to move on. Silence on the issues of lack of performance is a major untruth. If unacknowledged it creates disharmony and reduces leadership’s credibility. Once acknowledged, and once actions have been taken, an environmental unfreezing occurs that revitalizes human spirit and performance.

Failing to give due credit: A common way of self-promotion in a group setting, this denies or diminishes the value of others’ input and contributions. It disempowers people and leads to the inappropriate use of human resources.

Deluding yourself—self-deception: This is perhaps the most common source of everyday lies. You have both conscious and unconscious internal mechanisms that operate to protect you from cold hard facts in the misguided belief that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. These self-deceptions set you up for hard falls, and introduce faulty information into whatever team dynamic you are part of.

Conditions That Support Truth Telling
Individual examination/accountability:   Individual organizations and teams can “build better truths.” Since untruths can be intentional, the truth must be intentional. Collective truth for a team is the result of individual encouragement through consent that is informed, uncompelled, and mutual. The leader has a critical and essential role as role model and must understand that his or her behavior is under more scrutiny and will be given more weight than that of the others. If the leader fails at this, the organizational setting will also fail.

Visible commitment to truth telling: Relentlessly stating that truth telling has value is only the first step. Explaining thoughts, acknowledging the power of our words, and being accountable to one another for our actions will demonstrate that concept. In spite of our fear about telling the truth, relationships can be consistently strengthened with truth as the foundation.

Collective truths and collective responsibility: All team members need to collaborate in a dialogue that sets the foundation for an agreed-upon definition and description of “reality.” This vision of reality is not complete until each member gives explicit consent and can accept the idea that the view of reality presented, even with qualifications, is one that they can sign on to. Once there is ownership and a feeling of collective responsibility, a future can be created. This kind of dialogue requires personal risk, courage, and time.

The Whole Truth: Access to reliable, solid, and truthful information is the one commodity every person, regardless of role or position, needs in order to succeed. As people who live or work together, we require information that is communicated openly and freely. Information based on the “whole truth” informs decisions, actions, behavior, and dialogue to support an outcome. Organizations that support truth telling understand that there are are four critical components to the whole truth, and to laying the foundation for achieving outcomes that have meaningful results and credibility: information must be complete, timely, accurate, and true.

Information Flow: Information creates its leaders’ legacies and the values they stand for. Consider an organization’s values and beliefs in the context of its history and current reality. All available facts and information (including personal stories, feelings, and visible and invisible reactions) are on the table in an accurate and accessible way; all information is understood and shared.

Free choice, sustained environmental spirit, safety: In organizations that value truth telling, each individual is free to evaluate and decide based solely on the merit of available truthful facts; there isn’t even a hint of social, political, or economic coercion. The environment must show evidence that it is “safe” to tell the truth. There must be visible examples of situations where the truth was told, acknowledged, and acted on—and the consequences were not punitive. This does not mean that the truth may not bring a fallout; that could very well happen. People will leave organizations in which they don’t fit, and that is a positive thing for the organization and the individuals involved. Running an organization based on truth requires—and demands—the taking of personal risks and time. The perception that time is limited, or the fear that the truth will hurt us, or hurt someone or something we care about, are perhaps the greatest obstacles to organizational truth telling.

Laying a Solid Foundation
Busy men and women are always looking for shortcuts and abbreviations to help speed things along. But truth lies at the very foundation of a successful organization, and you can’t lay a solid foundation when you cut corners; doing so places the whole structure in danger of eventual collapse. But if your culture now includes a tolerance for and comfort with lying (as it is described in the above “spectrum”), you have to be explicit about changing your culture and about what the “whole truth” must include. And then you must patiently and persistently inch your way toward it, in practice.

Organizational healing and reconciliation are the natural first steps toward restoring a culture where truth telling is a value. It is through the process of making the change as an organization-wide effort that we reclaim the vital human spirit necessary for renewing our organizations, communities and country. Truth telling leads to freedom. Freedom requires that we challenge the way things are in organizations if we truly want them to accomplish what is in our collective hearts.
Source:  Non-Profit Quarterly

Our garden - 2011

Garden - 2011
Unfortunately, pine cones are not a feral cat-deterrent.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Plants from friends & family = LOVE

Peach tree from Al & Lisa Childs

Alana's clematis, "Clemmie"

Alana's jasmine

Baby Jew and baby garden

Dr. Bob Specian's flowers in our front yard

Bob Specian's tree in our back yard

 Buddha of the Rosemary

Chris & Noma Fowler-Sandlin's succulents (with neighbors, Buster & Lucy)

Robin Rothrock's Buddha

Figgy, our fig tree

Sculpture with limestone from Rand & Susan Falbaum's house

Mama June's (Dyson) climbing roses

Our Nadine (Charity) tree

Sunflowers from neighbors, Pat & Boz

Steven Soffer's cactus plants

Steven Soffer's "Moses in the Bullrushes"

Wildflowers outside Alan's office window

Indoor window with key from Dorothinia Kristin

Outdoor Composition (2009)

Outdoor Composition, originally uploaded by debchrisjoseph.

Planting a garden is an act of faith.

Cayennes, originally uploaded by debchrisjoseph.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Texas Avenue Makers Fair!


Warning:  some language; intense humor; local source.

How Women Became Citizens

March 21, 2011 by Ellen Chesler

 It’s hard to fathom today, but for most of recent history, and even into our own time, it was simply assumed that women had no need to acquire identities or rights of our own–except, of course, those enjoyed by virtue of our relationships with men.

This principle was central to defining American women’s claims on citizenship at the country’s founding. And it stuck around at the heart of the long and fierce opposition women encountered in seeking rights to inheritance and property, to suffrage, and most especially, to control over our own bodies through legal access to birth control and abortion — a right now ever precarious. For African American women, those fights for equality went on even longer. Even violence against women was for many years condoned under the principle of male “coverture” that defined women’s legal identities. If you can believe it, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1910 denied damages to a wife injured by violent beatings on the grounds that to do so would undermine “the peace of the household.”

To be sure, there were challenges to this prevailing point of view. Mary Wollstonecraft’s visionary 1792 tract, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, claimed on behalf of women the natural rights theories of the French Enlightenment that upheld the sovereignty of the individual. And in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton enumerated a long list of injuries against women at Seneca Falls and launched a suffrage campaign that she did not live to see through to its agonized victory an astonishing 72 years later! Hats off as well to the one really good guy of this era who spoke up for women — the venerable John Stuart Mill, whose 1869 Essay on the Subjection of Women asked for the first time whether home and family are women’s only natural vocations, or whether in a world where formal employment was moving outside the home, wives must necessarily follow.

Still, deeply entrenched assumptions about gender roles were hard to overcome. Even when women finally won the vote in 1920, one of the most powerful arguments propelling them to victory was the claim that modern government, in assuming obligation for the education and socialization of children and for the general social welfare, had taken on traditional responsibilities of the household. For many Americans this became the compelling rationale for why women finally needed a voice in their own right.

That same year Margaret Sanger helped inaugurate a modern human rights conversation that moved beyond traditional civil and political claims of liberty on behalf of women to establish reproductive and sexual rights — realizing her claim that no woman can call herself free until she can decide whether and when she chooses to be a mother. Yet in order to gain widespread support for her cause, even a firebrand like Sanger wound up abandoning polarizing rhetoric about birth control in favor of a more sanitized, public relations-savvy sales pitch that put families ahead of women under the banner of Planned Parenthood, the organization that remains her global legacy. Nor can we forget that as Sanger lay dying in 1965, the Supreme Court argument that at long last provided constitutional protection to the use of contraception (and later abortion in 1973) focused on the protection of marital privacy. Scarcely a word was mentioned about women’s equal rights.

So, too, when Progressive-era reformers first sought to protect women workers, they argued that women had responsibilities to households and families and therefore needed a cap on their hours and a floor on their wages. With the best of intentions, the protectionist measures formulated under Muller v. Oregon essentially condoned sex discrimination in employment as the law of the land until the 1970s and 1980s, when Ruth Ginsburg and other then-young women’s rights lawyers cobbled together equal protection doctrines and opportunities for women ingeniously derived from Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the act that had finally given African American women the legal equality they deserved.

We need to remember these developments. Public policy, we know, is largely path dependent. How we think and act today is often determined by a past we don’t fully understand. This is particularly true for women who have for so long been denied fair recognition as historical actors. History is to the body politic as memory is to the individual, as veteran historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. once observed. We need to keep our engagement with history lively, as we are bound to lose our way without it.
We need history to help us navigate our own troubled times. We especially need it now as we try to unravel the remnants of “coverture” that still constrain women’s civil status and as we do so in the face of an intensifying backlash against women’s equality.

The litany of injustices women still face in this country is by now familiar. On the one hand, nearly half of all American workers today are women, and more than a third of them are single heads of household. Their low earnings depress wages overall. On the other hand, in two-income households (though sadly a declining percentage of the total) female earnings are beginning to reach parity with men. In 1980, two thirds of families depended on only a male breadwinner and less than a third of married women with children worked. Today that number is exactly reversed. Yet the myth of traditional domestic arrangements as a norm still persists in our public policies.

Almost alone among Western democracies, the US provides little or no subsidized childcare and few maternity benefits to women. There is no federal legislation beyond a hard-won mandate for unpaid pregnancy and medical leave, which covers only workers in large organizations. Only a handful of states require paid family leave or flexible hours to cover personal obligations. School hours and educational calendars pay little attention to the absence of parents in most homes. Tax policy, wage scales, Social Security benefits, and health insurance formulas all still discriminate in multiple and often devious ways against working women.

To add insult to injury, the impulse to push women out of public roles and back to the private sphere now informs the radical misogyny at the core of the social policy agenda of one of the country’s two established political parties. However veiled by claims of fiscal responsibility, the reactionary goals of Republicans now serving in the U.S. Congress are transparently clear.

American women are better educated than ever before. Fewer marry, and those who do wait until they are much older than in generations past. The average size of families has decreased markedly. Labor force participation, as well as civic and political involvement by women, is up despite the many obstacles we still face in balancing obligations at home and at work. Women are driving small business formation and economic growth in this country. They are voting in greater numbers than men and often far more progressively, with significant gender gaps recorded in all but two elections since the 1980s (when anxieties about terrorism in 2002 and about unemployment in 2010 narrowed the divide).

What women in polling and focus groups continually say is that we need more of a helping hand from government — measures to enforce equal pay, improved benefits for education and health care, and more spending on the social sector. Instead, under the cover of scare tactics about fiscal doom, we get policy calls to end affirmative action policies and crush the public sector unions that provide secure jobs in traditional roles like nursing and teaching, and in non-traditional, better paying sectors as well. Women say we need more and better reproductive and maternal heath care.

What we get instead are bills to eliminate birth control subsidies for the poor, defund Planned Parenthood, recriminalize abortion, and convey rights to fetuses that are then denied to children once they are born.

True enough, the GOP is not telling American women we should no longer vote, or go to college, or own property, or hold a job. But the Republican platform quite clearly opposes the core public policies and legal remedies that have secured us these rights through two centuries of struggle. If given their way, the forces of reaction in our country today would restore a patriarchal order that has taken 200 years to overturn.

The message is clear. The stakes are high. Women’s basic claims as citizens in our own right are again at risk. Either we speak up more passionately and reclaim our own historical agency by overturning these injustices, or we condemn our daughters to refight the very battles we once had every reason to think we had won.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Did God have a wife? Scholar says that he did.

Asherah's connection to Yahweh, according to Francesca Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in the Bible and an 8th-century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud.
By Jennifer Viegas
Discovery Channel 
updated 3/18/2011 3:57:10 PM ET

God had a wife, Asherah, whom the Book of Kings suggests was worshipped alongside Yahweh in his temple in Israel, according to an Oxford scholar. 

In 1967, Raphael Patai was the first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshipped both Yahweh and Asherah. The theory has gained new prominence because of the research of Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who began her work at Oxford and is now a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter. 

Information presented in Stavrakopoulou's books, lectures and journal papers has become the basis of a three-part documentary series, now airing in Europe, where she discusses the Yahweh-Asherah connection. 

"You might know him as Yahweh, Allah or God. But on this fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians, the people of the great Abrahamic religions, are agreed: There is only one of Him," writes Stavrakopoulou in a statement released to the British media. "He is a solitary figure, a single, universal creator, not one God among many ... or so we like to believe. 

"After years of research specializing in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colorful and what could seem, to some, uncomfortable conclusion that God had a wife." 

Stavrakopoulou bases her theory on ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria. All of these artifacts reveal that Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess. 

Asherah's connection to Yahweh, according to Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th-century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud.

"The inscription is a petition for a blessing," she shares. "Crucially, the inscription asks for a blessing from 'Yahweh and his Asherah.' Here was evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair. And now a handful of similar inscriptions have since been found, all of which help to strengthen the case that the God of the Bible once had a wife." 

Also significant, Stavrakopoulou believes, "is the Bible's admission that the goddess Asherah was worshiped in Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem. In the Book of Kings, we're told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her."
J. Edward Wright, president of both The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, told Discovery News that he agrees several Hebrew inscriptions mention "Yahweh and his Asherah." 

"Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors," he added. "Traces of her remain, and based on those traces, archaeological evidence and references to her in texts from nations bordering Israel and Judah, we can reconstruct her role in the religions of the Southern Levant."
Asherah — known across the ancient Near East by various other names, such as Astarte and Istar — was "an important deity, one who was both mighty and nurturing," Wright continued.

"Many English translations prefer to translate 'Asherah' as 'Sacred Tree,'" Wright said. "This seems to be in part driven by a modern desire, clearly inspired by the biblical narratives, to hide Asherah behind a veil once again." 

"Mentions of the goddess Asherah in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are rare and have been heavily edited by the ancient authors who gathered the texts together," Aaron Brody, director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, said. 

Asherah as a tree symbol was even said to have been "chopped down and burned outside the Temple in acts of certain rulers who were trying to 'purify' the cult, and focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh," he added. 

The ancient Israelites were polytheists, Brody told Discovery News, "with only a small minority worshiping Yahweh alone before the historic events of 586 B.C." In that year, an elite community within Judea was exiled to Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This, Brody said, led to "a more universal vision of strict monotheism: one god not only for Judah, but for all of the nations."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shreve Memorial Library's NEW E-Branch

"Wouldn't you like to sit in the comfort of your home and download e-books, music, and movies without the worry of an overdue fine; get homework help on demand, with a live tutor; learn or refresh yourself in a foreign language; introduce reading to your preschooler in a fun, interesting and exciting way?"

It's free - all you need is a library card!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand

Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand
(Photo: Dan DiMaggio)

Author, Chris Hedges, is a fellow at The Nation Institute and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of “Death of the Liberal Class.”
The liberal class is discovering what happens when you tolerate the intolerant. Let hate speech pollute the airways. Let corporations buy up your courts and state and federal legislative bodies. Let the Christian religion be manipulated by charlatans to demonize Muslims, gays and intellectuals, discredit science and become a source of personal enrichment. Let unions wither under corporate assault. Let social services and public education be stripped of funding. Let Wall Street loot the national treasury with impunity. Let sleazy con artists use lies and deception to carry out unethical sting operations on tottering liberal institutions, and you roll out the welcome mat for fascism.

The liberal class has busied itself with the toothless pursuits of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, identity politics and tolerance—a word Martin Luther King never used—and forgotten about justice. It naively sought to placate ideological and corporate forces bent on the destruction of the democratic state. The liberal class, like the misguided democrats in the former Yugoslavia or the hapless aristocrats in the Weimar Republic, invited the wolf into the henhouse. The liberal class forgot that, as Karl Popper wrote in “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

Workers in this country paid for their rights by suffering brutal beatings, mass expulsions from company housing and jobs, crippling strikes, targeted assassinations of union leaders and armed battles with hired gun thugs and state militias. The Rockefellers, the Mellons, the Carnegies and the Morgans—the Koch Brothers Industries, Goldman Sachs and Wal-Mart of their day—never gave a damn about workers. All they cared about was profit. The eight-hour workday, the minimum wage, Social Security, pensions, job safety, paid vacations, retirement benefits and health insurance were achieved because hundreds of thousands of workers physically fought a system of capitalist exploitation. They rallied around radicals such as “Mother” Jones, United Mine Workers’ President John L. Lewis and “Big” Bill Haywood and his Wobblies as well as the socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs.

Lewis said, “I have pleaded your case from the pulpit and from the public platform—not in the quavering tones of a feeble mendicant asking alms, but in the thundering voice of the captain of a mighty host, demanding the rights to which free men are entitled.”

Those who fought to achieve these rights endured tremendous suffering, pain and deprivation. It is they who made possible our middle class and opened up our democracy. The elite hired goons and criminal militias to evict striking miners from company houses, infiltrate fledgling union organizations and murder suspected union leaders and sympathizers. Federal marshals, state militias, sheriff’s deputies and at times Army troops, along with the courts and legislative bodies, were repeatedly used to crush and stymie worker revolts. Striking sugar cane workers were gunned down in Thibodaux, La., in 1887. Steel workers were shot to death in 1892 in Homestead, Pa. Railroad workers in the Pullman strike of 1894 were murdered. Coal miners at Ludlow, Colo., in 1914 and at Matewan, W.Va., in 1920 were massacred. Our freedoms and rights were paid for with their courage and blood.
American democracy arose because those consciously locked out of the system put their bodies on the line and demanded justice. The exclusion of the poor and the working class from the systems of power in this country was deliberate. The Founding Fathers deeply feared popular democracy. They rigged the system to favor the elite from the start, something that has been largely whitewashed in public schools and by a corporate media that has effectively substituted myth for history. Europe’s poor, fleeing to America from squalid slums and workhouses in the 17th and 18th centuries, were viewed by the privileged as commodities to exploit. Slaves, Native Americans, indentured servants, women, and men without property were not represented at the Constitutional Conventions. And American history, as Howard Zinn illustrated in “The People’s History of the United States,” is one long fight by the marginalized and disenfranchised for dignity and freedom. Those who fought understood the innate cruelty of capitalism.

“When you sell your product, you retain your person,” said a tract published in the 1880s during the Lowell, Mass., mill strikes. “But when you sell your labour, you sell yourself, losing the rights of free men and becoming vassals of mammoth establishments of a monied aristocracy that threatens annihilation to anyone who questions their right to enslave and oppress. Those who work in the mills ought to own them, not have the status of machines ruled by private despots who are entrenching monarchic principles on democratic soil as they drive downwards freedom and rights, civilization, health, morals and intellectuality in the new commercial feudalism.”

As Noam Chomsky points out, the sentiment expressed by the Lowell millworkers predated Marxism.
“At one time in the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, a hundred and fifty years ago, working for wage labor was considered not very different from chattel slavery,” Chomsky told David Barsamian. “That was not an unusual position. That was the slogan of the Republican Party, the banner under which Northern workers went to fight in the Civil War. We’re against chattel slavery and wage slavery. Free people do not rent themselves to others. Maybe you’re forced to do it temporarily, but that’s only on the way to becoming a free person, a free man, to put it in the rhetoric of the day. You become a free man when you’re not compelled to take orders from others. That’s an Enlightenment ideal. Incidentally, this was not coming from European radicalism. There were workers in Lowell, Mass., a couple of miles from where we are. You could even read editorials in the New York Times saying this around that time. It took a long time to drive into people’s heads the idea that it is legitimate to rent yourself. Now that’s unfortunately pretty much accepted. So that’s internalizing oppression. Anyone who thinks it’s legitimate to be a wage laborer is internalizing oppression in a way which would have seemed intolerable to people in the mills, let’s say, a hundred and fifty years ago. … [I]t’s an [unfortunate] achievement [of indoctrination in our culture].”

Our consumer society and celebrity culture foster a frightening historical amnesia. We chatter mindlessly about something called the “American Dream.” And now that the oligarchic elite have regained control of all levers of power, and that dream is being exposed as a cruel hoax, we are being shoved back into the cage. There will be hell to pay to get back to where we were.

Slick public relations campaigns, the collapse of public education—nearly a third of the country is illiterate or semiliterate—and the rise of amoral politicians such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who posed as liberals while they sold their souls for corporate money, have left us largely defenseless. The last vestiges of unionized workers in the public sector are reduced to protesting in Wisconsin for collective bargaining—in short, the ability to ask employers for decent working conditions. That shows how far the country has deteriorated. And it looks as though even this basic right to ask, as well as raise money through union dues, has been successfully revoked in Madison. The only hope now is more concerted and militant disruptions of the systems of power.

The public debate, dominated by corporate-controlled systems of information, ignores the steady impoverishment of the working class and absence of legal and regulatory mechanisms to prevent mounting corporate fraud and abuse. The airwaves are saturated with corporate apologists. They ask us why public-sector employees have benefits—sneeringly called “entitlements”—which nonunionized working- and middle-class people are denied. This argument is ingenious. It pits worker against worker in a mad scramble for scraps. And until we again speak in the language of open class warfare, grasping, as those who went before us did, that the rich will always protect themselves at our expense, we are doomed to a 21st century serfdom.

The pillars of the liberal establishment, which once made incremental and piecemeal reform possible, have collapsed. The liberal church forgot that heretics exist. It forgot that the scum of society—look at the new Newt Gingrich—always wrap themselves in the flag and clutch the Christian cross to promote programs that mock the core teachings of Jesus Christ. And, for all their years of seminary training and Bible study, these liberal clergy have stood by mutely as televangelists betrayed and exploited the Gospel to promote bigotry, hatred and greed. What was the point, I wonder, of ordination?  Did they think the radical message of the Gospel was something they would never have to fight for?  Schools and universities, on their knees for corporate dollars and their boards dominated by hedge fund and investment managers, have deformed education into the acquisition of narrow vocational skills that serve specialized corporate interests and create classes of drone-like systems managers. They make little attempt to equip students to make moral choices, stand up for civic virtues and seek a life of meaning. These moral and ethical questions are never even asked. Humanities departments are vanishing as swiftly as the ocean’s fish stocks.

The electronic and much of the print press has become a shameless mouthpiece for the powerful and a magnet for corporate advertising. It makes little effort to give a platform to those who without them cannot be heard, instead diverting us with celebrity meltdowns, lavish lifestyle reports and gossip. Legitimate news organizations, such as NPR and The New York Times, are left cringing and apologizing before the beast—right-wing groups that hate “liberal” news organizations not because of any bias, but because they center public discussion on verifiable fact. And verifiable fact is not convenient to ideologues whose goal is the harnessing of inchoate rage and hatred.

Artists, who once had something to say, have retreated into elite enclaves, preoccupied themselves with abstract, self-referential garbage, frivolous entertainment and spectacle. Celebrities, working for advertising agencies and publicists, provide our daily mini-dramas and flood the airwaves with lies on behalf of corporate sponsors. The Democratic Party has sold out working men and women for corporate money. It has permitted the state apparatus to be turned over to corporate interests. There is no liberal institution left—the press, labor, culture, public education, the church or the Democratic Party—that makes any effort to hold back the corporate juggernaut. It is up to us.

We have tolerated the intolerant—from propaganda outlets such as Fox News to Christian fascists to lunatics in the Republican Party to Wall Street and corporations—and we are paying the price. The only place left for us is on the street. We must occupy state and federal offices. We must foment general strikes. The powerful, with no check left on their greed and criminality, are gorging on money while they busily foreclose our homes, bust the last of our unions, drive up our health care costs and cement into place a permanent underclass of the broken and the poor. They are slashing our most essential and basic services—including budgets for schools, firefighters and assistance programs for children and the elderly—so we can pay for the fraud they committed when they wiped out $14 trillion of housing wealth, wages and retirement savings. All we have left is the capacity to say “no.” And if enough of us say “no,” if enough of us refuse to cooperate, the despots are in trouble.

“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms,” Frederick Douglass said in 1857. “The whole history of the progress of human history shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of struggle. ... If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. ...”

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

(Source:  The Huffington Post - March 3, 2011)

This article was co-authored by Phil Zuckerman, Professor of Sociology, Pitzer College in Claremont, CA, and Dan Cady,assistant professor of history at California State University, Fresno. He publishes on the history of the American West, music, and religion.

The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ( reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one's money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation's poor -- especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of "socialism," even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training -- anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.

What's the deal?

Before attempting an answer, allow a quick clarification. Evangelicals don't exactly hate Jesus -- as we've provocatively asserted in the title of this piece. They do love him dearly. But not because of what he tried to teach humanity. Rather, Evangelicals love Jesus for what he does for them. Through his magical grace, and by shedding his precious blood, Jesus saves Evangelicals from everlasting torture in hell, and guarantees them a premium, luxury villa in heaven. For this, and this only, they love him. They can't stop thanking him. And yet, as for Jesus himself -- his core values of peace, his core teachings of social justice, his core commandments of goodwill -- most Evangelicals seem to have nothing but disdain.

And this is nothing new. At the end of World War I, the more rabid, and often less educated Evangelicals decried the influence of the Social Gospel amongst liberal churches. According to these self-proclaimed torch-bearers of a religion born in the Middle East, progressive church-goers had been infected by foreign ideas such as German Rationalism, Soviet-style Communism, and, of course, atheistic Darwinism. In the 1950s, the anti-Social Gospel message piggybacked the rhetoric of anti-communism, which slashed and burned its way through the Old South and onward through the Sunbelt, turning liberal churches into vacant lots along the way. It was here that the spirit and the body collided, leaving us with a prototypical Christian nationalist, hell-bent on prosperity. Charity was thus rebranded as collectivism and self-denial gave way to the gospel of accumulation. Church-to-church, sermon-to-sermon, evangelical preachers grew less comfortable with the fish and loaves Jesus who lived on earth, and more committed to the angry Jesus of the future. By the 1990s, this divine Terminator gained "most-favored Jesus status" among America's mega churches; and with that, even the mention of the former "social justice" Messiah drove the socially conscious from their larger, meaner flock. 

In addition to such historical developments, there may very well simply be an underlying, all-too-human social-psychological process at root, one that probably plays itself out among all religious individuals: they see in their religion what they want to see, and deny or despise the rest. 

That is, religion is one big Rorschach test. People look at the content of their religious tradition -- its teachings, its creeds, its prophet's proclamations -- and they basically pick and choose what suits their own secular outlook. They see in their faith what they want to see as they live their daily lives, and simultaneously ignore the rest. And as is the case for most White Evangelical Christians, what they are ignoring is actually the very heart and soul of Jesus's message -- a message that emphasizes sharing, not greed. Peace-making, not war-mongering. Love, not violence. 

Of course, conservative Americans have every right to support corporate greed, militarism, gun possession, and the death penalty, and to oppose welfare, food stamps, health care for those in need, etc. -- it is just strange and contradictory when they claim these positions as somehow "Christian." They aren't.

NEA + SRAC = Another Dog & Pony Show

NOW, I understand the sudden need for SRAC to host an "IMPROMPTU" show featuring lots of local artists, and a big ol' cash prize!!

They have to make it LOOK LIKE they are really supporting local working artists for the NEA chair....and we artists bought it again - hook, line & sinker.

"On Thursday, NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman will visit Shreveport to discuss how SRAC and the city of Shreveport are demonstrating the NEA's vision — 'Art Works.'" (Source: The Times)

 You can read the mission statement of the NEA/"Art Works" program here:

SRAC's description of it's own mission statement: "The Shreveport Regional Arts Council was founded in 1976, as the "arts arm" for the City of Shreveport with the purpose of developing, nurturing, producing, presenting, promoting, and educating the public about all disciplines of art, while ensuring access to the arts for people who would not ordinarily receive programs and services." (Source: 

Nothing in there about supporting local artists, is there?  They DO occasionally route grant $$ to local artists when they HAVE TO, in order to fulfill the demands of certain grant guidelines.

Yet again, local artists are the dutiful performers in another SRAC dog-and-pony show.

SRAC uses local artists like Kleenex, then throws us away when they're done. 

When they need us to make them look good for grant purposes, they promise us the world -  if ONLY we'll GIVE them a piece of our art. 

When the show du jour is over, they go right back to doing whatever their 30-year-tenured board of directors WANTS to do....whatever it takes to get those grant $$ for their own pet projects - while we artists are shoved back out in the cold to starve until SRAC throws us another measly bone. 

I've quit participating in their shows because they USE trusting, naive artists who keep believing that, 'This time SRAC will change - they will love us, and value our work & our contributions to the community.  We just know things will change THIS TIME.....' Well, duh.

The ONLY reason I committed to show a piece in this exhibit is the UNUSUALLY GENEROUS $2000 prize!

Other arts councils around the country help create thriving, tax-producing, tourist-enticing cultural programs.  Why can't SRAC??  Because they're STUCK in the 1980's, and won't put forth the effort it takes to change their leadership structure & mission in order to grow Shreveport & it's cultural economy!

We artists need to stand up for ourselves!!  The local Chamber is ready & willing to work with us to recognize our work as a vital, important part of the economy.  I just spoke with them about this LAST WEEK!  They want to do what they can to put local art in government buildings, and work with the DDA & SBCTB to promote local, quality cultural events (this DOES NOT include XXXMas in the Sky, btw).

WE ARTISTS need to quit trusting SRAC to work in our best interests....they are MISSION CREEPERS, and will do whatever it takes to get those grant dollars!!  That's the bottom line with them....just read today's Times article about SRAC & notice how many hundreds of thousands of grant $$ they've received throughout the years. What does our community have to show for it? 

You tell me if it looks like Shreveport has invested that much money in its cultural economy.