Confession: No Longer Good For the Soul?

“WHAT?!  You lied?  To a priest?

Meg has really shocked me.

We’re chatting on the phone and I’ve shared that I’ve been reading John Cornwell’s “The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession”.

This led Meg and me to childhood reminiscences, and on to a discussion of Good Catholics versus Bad Catholics:

Bad Catholics

Pop Quiz: Which Do You Think THESE Are?

Good Catholics went to confession weekly, like we did. Bad Catholics showed up only once a year. Shame on those sinners, saving up all that dirt on their soiled souls!

“Ew!–Don’t brush up against us! Your dirty sins might brush off!”

We were on solid theological ground here:

Blessed is the person who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners… (Psalm 1:1)

I told Meg that while I waited each Saturday for my turn with the priest in the little confessional box, I used to do math to figure out my sin count: I’d estimate how many times each day I did something wrong to each of my siblings, and then multiply by seven days.

Lemmee see…I lie about once a day to Meg, twice to Paul (he was so young—it was just too easy). I don’t usually lie to Macy, ’cause I don’t really talk to her much any more…Then there’s the hitting…

The fact that I needed to go by number of times per day per sin gives a good indication of what a nasty little girl I was.

I seriously don’t recall that anything I did to the adults I lived with counted as wrong. Oh—wait! I DO remember something that I used to feel tremendous guilt about:

I would sneak food. Even emaciated as I appeared, and hungry as I always felt, my mom had weird rules about food and would make me feel guilty about eating. She would prefer I eat an entire box of Ring-Dings (non-food) than eat my preferred entire loaf of bread and quart of milk.

“I drank that quart of milk after school, God.”

My sin-counting was an arithmetic of anxiety—one which I took very seriously—because each week it re-emphasized what a bad person I was. And, if I missed only one sin, I would not be shriven [forgiven] of any.

Better to over-confess than under!

But now, here’s Meggy, confessing to me that SHE made up her entire confession!

“Meg! That means you actually would have told the priest a lie about lying!”


Wicked unrepentant chortles come from the other end of the phone.

“Well, I hope you remembered to add THAT to the list of sins you confessed, or you’re going straight to hell!”

We both laugh like demons.

Hyde Laughing Gif

I Look Different Minus Makeup, Don’t I?


Meg and I will have a lot of company down there. A lot of Catholic company. She and I are no longer Catholic, so of course we no longer worry about weekly or yearly confession, but, I just learned, neither do 97% of Catholics. In the U.S., you’ll only find confession going on in a bare handful of the biggest, best-attended cathedrals and churches.

Golly. All those important scenes in the movies inside the confessional box? Don’t happen. Not since the 1970’s.

Cornwell’s book had a bunch of interesting confession tidbits (as well as lots of other non-confession-related churchy facts not mentioned here). Warning: If you were born with normal non-nerd human genes, you may just want to stop right here, unless you’re hooked on catatonics.

Confession Is the Jews’ Fault

No—seriously. Ya’ know Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement? Even before that, for centuries, the tradition was that when you screwed up big time, you had to publicly show you were sorry by moaning and wailing, tearing at your clothes and yourself, and covering yourself with ashes.

Guess where the Catholics got the idea of Ash Wednesday from? Yup. THAT’s the Jews’ fault, too.

When the Christian church started out, there was no confession. Christ already died for everybody’s sins, except Adam and Eve’s original sin, and baptism took care of that. But over time, when Christians messed up big-time, by killing someone or doing something equally evil, like masturbating, the church needed a way to welcome them back. It had to be a big public something, or everybody would think masturbation, say, was no big deal.

(Of course I wouldn’t know, but I’ve heard that, in some cases, it CAN be a big deal. With inflatable embraces, or the proper electronic interfaces.)

So the Christians borrowed from their not-distant Jewish heritage and added a Christian twist: The ashy sinner had to walk up to the altar at the pre-Easter Lenten church service with a shaved head, and confess in front of everyone s/he knew.


Confession Is the Fault of the Irish

They’re the ones who decided it was better to whisper sins kneeling at the foot of a priest in private than to shout them out loud in front of your friends.

You’re thinking “That’s mighty thoughtful.”

Well, that’s where you’re wrong, boy-o. Or girl-o. Those private meetings enabled the charm o’ the Irish to apply itself in private. To privates.

A Little Too Much Closeness.  Interesting Sidebar:  Back Then, It Was Women, Not Boys, Who Were the Targets, And Not Girls:  An Average Age of 27

A Little Too Much Closeness. Back Then, It Was Women Who Were the Targets. And Not Girls: An Average Age of 27

The early church actually tried to address this. You’ll never guess how. Through designing a device which would keep priest and penitent apart while still allowing private, personal confession: The confessional box!

Pretty much backfired, didn’t it? Lots of diddling has gone on inside those boxes down through the years.


This post was gonna be longer–the book is good, and really deserves a read, and a more thoughtful post–but instead, it sorta peters out. And if you’re Catholic, or if you’ve ever been Catholic, or if you even have a friend who’s Catholic, you know whose fault THAT is. The same person whose fault EVERYTHING is:

“Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

“My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.”

Yes, the Bible was talking about the death of Jesus, but somehow Catholicism makes the guilt transferrable to every poor choice you or I ever made or may make.

Pardon me, while I go self-flagellate.

Ned Flanders Self-Flagellation

“One-Doodly-Ouch! Two-Doodly-OOO!”


Train Refrains for Nerdish Brains

I took my liddle wagon,
I pumped it very hard,
And then my tail was draggin’,
‘Cause handcar work is hard.


My Uncle Bill helped start the first train museum in Illinois. He loved trains, and so do I.
I remember my first train ride, when I was two. The clackety-clack sounds and the rocking motion were so relaxing. I saw an elevated subway train out the window of our real train that day, and was amazed that another train could be up so high in the air.

Elevated Traing Collision With Building 1960

Imagine If I’d Seen THIS That Day (In 1960, This One Oopsed and Hit a Building)

Do children still put pennies on train tracks to see them get squished?
Pennies Squished By Train


One time we got to ride back from Chicago in a Pullman: A sleeper car. We kids loved it. We each had a tiny bed with a curtain. The porter kept pulling on our curtains to ask if we were all right, but really he just liked kids, and was making us laugh.

My parents didn’t like the ride so much. If you have never seen an old-style Pullman, the beds are really tiny. A grownup would have had to keep their knees bent all night.

Pullman Blanket

Pullman Blanket–See the Adult’s Feet At Top Left? Tiny Blanket, Tiny Beds.

The best train-y thing that ever happened to me is when my sisters and brother and I got to ride on a real handcar: One of those little cars you push up and down on a handle to make go (they’re also called Kalamazoos–did you know that?).
Sheffield Handcar or Kalamazoo Replica

How It Looked At Day’s Start

Sheffield Handcar or Kalamazoo Original 1910

After WE Got Through With It

Someone we visited had an old length of abandoned track behind their property, and there was an abandoned Kalamazoo, too.

I had always wanted to use one–Didn’t you, when you saw them in the cartoons and movies? They look so fun!
They are! It was hard work, but we kids did have tremendous fun pumping our way up and down that short piece of track.
The funniest thing that ever happened to me on a train happened at my uncle’s train museum. We were touring a very posh velvet-seated private car.

My brother was still little, and when he saw the handsome mahogany toilet, all he could think about was wondering what happened to the “stuff” when you flushed. (He didn’t remember that Pullman ride.) I was more than happy to educate him:

“It falls right down under the train onto the tracks, where it sits all STINKY! (A small preview of my future teaching strengths!)

Paul thought I was pulling his leg–possibly, despite his tender age, I had already been guilty of doing so repeatedly. He wanted to look for himself.

Macy Girl lifted the beautiful golden lid. Our three older heads of molasses, cinnamon, and shiny butter leaned over Paul’s smaller sugar-white one as we all four stared down.
At the bottom of that fancy toilet, the museum people had thoughtfully placed an official museum label card with one neatly-typed word at its very center:
All these decades since that Pullman ride when I was a single digit old, I had remembered our funny porter’s name: George.

But I recently learned, to my dismay:

ALL train porters were named George. Porters, all black men, were required to set aside their own identities while on the job and answer as one to “George”. One, big, happy interchangeable set of Steppin Fetchits [think Jar-Jar Binks], as far as white people at the time were concerned.

When railroads first began using porters, they didn’t even pay them–it was tips only.

White bosses were so convinced that blacks were “no-account” that they tried entrapment: Female “passengers”–disguised railroad employees–tried to seduce porters, or “accidentally” left expensive jewelry behind to tempt black maids and waitresses to steal.

I learned this and other really interesting-to-nerds train facts from The Iron Road: An Illustrated History of the Railroad, by Christian Wolmar.

Trains were first drawn by horses.
Horse-Drawn Train Then and Not-Now
I’d known mine-mules drew mine cars, but hadn’t known about full-sized above-ground horsey-trains, on tracks, with freight or passengers. Had you? ALL of Austria’s trains were originally horse-drawn.

How did the horses manage walking over the spaced-out ties (the wooden boards) without stumbles? Was the distance between ties decided only by rail support, or by fewest hoof-trips per train-trip?

Germany’s first railroad existed because of classism and racism.


Snoot-snoot! Toot-toot!

For centuries, Nurenberg, in Hitler’s homeland, Bavaria, had not allowed mere laborers or foreigners to live inside the town. Such lower forms of life had to commute from a town miles away. A train in 1835 finally cut their commute time.

The Jews had to buy TICKETS to ride the trains carrying them to their deaths. (I was unable to type that without crying.) And this was a major source of revenue for the Nazis. It generated around 240 million Reutchmarks–201 million dollars.


I wonder, seriously, if the humorous expression “It’s like buying a ticket to your own funeral.” originated from knowledge of this horrible fact.

Using trucks would have “damaged the German war effort”. I guess trucks were needed for moving battle materiel and troops.
I’m also guessing that masses of stumbling women, children, and elderly travelling along open roads would have let the walking dead cats out of the bag. Possibly made killing them harder, although Armenians might disagree. So trains fit the tic…you know.

In the 21st century, several railroads have apologized.

Just like with the internet, the freedoms offered by railroads brought out Government Overlord syndrome. No one-way tickets were sold–you had to buy return tickets. Children under twelve (12) were not allowed to travel. All passengers were locked inside their compartments.

Governments wanted you to come home again–They didn’t want their citizens leaving permanently for greener stations in other nations.

Fish Leaving Bowl or Country For Greener Grass

“If He Asks Me One More Time Where His Socks Are…”

The locked-compartment policy changed after some horrific collision accidents in which entire trainloads of passengers, unable to leave their locked compartments, were suffocated or incinerated inside tunnel fires.

India and Russia protected their nations by train track widths. The world eventually settled down to tracks (rails) the same width apart–the same “gauge” [rhymes with cage]–4′ 8″. India and Russia, though, chose 5′ apart. They thought they’d be harder to invade if outsiders’ trains couldn’t cross their borders.

Prussian Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck quietly bought up shares in the railroads he was about to have nationalized. Tsk! Not what he Otto have done.

There was a Railroad Robin Hood!, Redpath (so aptly and artfully appelled! [named]) stole beaucoup [boo-coo–lots of] bucks from the railroads while he worked for them, by, for example, just adding the digit 1 in front of the amount on stock certificates (to increase their value).

Working On the Railroad and Robin Hood

Record Title: “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad–And Robin Hood”–Ha ha ha! And Redpath!

Redpath lived very well, but he also donated very well to the poor. These are his words in a ballad sung about him after his death:

I have one consolation, perhaps I’ve more,
All the days of my life / ne’er injured the poor.
I procured for the widow and orphan their bread,
The naked I clothed, and the hungry I fed…

Leopold (for that was his disappointingly non-alliterative first name) was finally caught and banished to a penal colony. Some of you Aussie readers may be descendants of this pioneering economist-slash-socialist who devised his own 1%-to-99% trickle-down distribution system. Be proud!

Thomas the Tank Engine not only WAS real–he still IS!

The Real Thomas the Tank Engine in India

Say Hello to Thomas 🙂

The Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway (DHR) is a specially-built narrow gauge (skinny track) railway made smaller to allow it to make smaller, tighter turns so that it can climb around and around the mountains it travels. The DHR’s tracks are only two feet wide, and they make tight loops for climbing.

Train Track Loop

The DHR’s Loops Are Teensy-Weensier

It is a very famous train line, traversing difficult, crumbling passes, and most of its engines from 1881 are still in use today (!). The Toy Train puffs and toots and thinks it can, and it does.

Thomas the Train in India

Am I Not a Thing of Beauty? Do You Not Wish You Could Ride Me Right Now?

1%-ers have disdained we lesser folk from WAY back. During World War II, railroads had gained expertise in rapid movement of people and materials. They learned that moving freight yielded more profit than people.
As soon as the war was over, they RUSHED to close most passenger routes–even in the middle of a day. Passengers who’d travelled 400 miles by train in the morning were left stranded 400 miles from home with no way to return that night. Niiiice.

If you are an absolute handcar NUT, you will love this fellow’s post, in which he shows an actual for really-real handcar he built as a KID, back in 1958!

Teen-Built Handcar Wheel 1958

He Did This Wooden Center With Hand Tools! (and…weeks… of… pa…tience…)

and another he built more recently.
Home-Built Handcar Replica

Do You Feel Like a Slacker? Or Do You Think SOMEone Still Has Too Much Time On His Hands?

Here’s a little (very poor-quality) youtube of him sailing along on it with a friend:

And if you know anything about Kalamazoos, you know there’s a famous one in Michigan, made even more famous by a song:

Which Came First: The Kalamazoo, or Kalamazoo?

The handcar was named for the town. The town was named for the river. The river was PROBABLY named after an Ojibwe (Indian) word. Or phrase. But no one agrees what that is, or what it meant. Perhaps “bubbling or boiling”, perhaps “smoky or smoking”, or perhaps “runs quickly” (like a fast river).

The Kalamazoo
Was the place where the who
Put the pot on to brew?
The Ojibwe,
That’s who!

Or the Kalamazoo,
Was when smoky fires grew,
And you heard “Ah-ah-choo!”
“Pardon me.”
“God bless you.”

Or the Kalamazoo,
Was the place where the crew,
Needn’t paddle canoe,
Because man,
Those boats flew.

This is not a Kalamazoo. This is a Kala Mazooka:

Kala from Jungle Book

The Hungry Half


The “Pam! Pam-Pam!” Half


If Kala fires his bazooka
at a moving handcar car,
And his marshmallow-projectiles
travel forty feet (so far)
And the handcar’s moving 20
miles an hour, pumped by bar,
If the car begins in Boise,
when will marshmallow meet car?

If a little boy in Illinois
does number two by train,
And the package sent, when it is spent,
drops down beneath the drain,
When do you think now a passing cow
will slip and ankle-sprain,
And be thus up-scooped;

Because of —,
a blameless beast is slain!
* * *
(Please don’t let it be,
Themes rectally,
Have become my blog’s refrain!)
Rest assured that modern trains have modern toilets.


Yakko’s Lookin’ For the Gold

If you like this post, you am one of us.
Welcome to the pocket-pencil club!
(No History fan?
Skip to Thumbelina Rashomon or
The “River-Bulldozer”)

Oh, Ba-by…


We’re Explor-iman-iacs!
We have pray for pay contracts;
When we land on someone else’s land,
We always say “It’s mine!”


Music (“The Mexican Hat Dance”),
Lyrics by O. Babe

Columbus gets credit, but Erik the Red, it
Was his son Leif Erikson who,

Departed from Iceland to find a more nice land
And landed where Scotia was New!

Big Deal. Looks Here Like It Only Took About a Day.

Bartolomew Dias and Vasco de Gama
The Cape of Good Hope sailed around,

Balboa left Cuba and crossed over Panama’s
Isthmus Pacifically-bound.

We got horses, sheeps, cows, and some piggies,
Bananas, pineapples, and cane,
Just try to imagine our life now,
Without those explorers from Spain!

    I Know There’d Be Fewer Chipotles–                           Is THAT What the Lyric is Say’ng?      

Of course, there’s Columbus, who started the whole fuss
Of trying to sail west for east,

Then a man named Amerigo found Chris’s error so
Circumference distance increased.

On Canada’s border in search for some water,
The Northwestern Passage the name,

Up the St. Lawrence went England’s John Cabot,
Then French Cartier and Champlain.

There was Ponce de Leon down in Florida,
Who was looking for Fountains of Youth;

And Hudson’s Half Moon up in New York,
Before all his men set him looth.

  That Ole “Monkey Paw” Rule:         There’s Always a Catch.  

Cartier struck it rich with some rocks in a ditch
That were shiny and sparkly and grand;

When he sailed back to France, they could tell at a glance
Those were fake jewels he held in his hand.

Champlain and the Hurons fired up friendship neurons;
Quebec started out with a bang;

And it didn’t much hurt that the stones in the dirt
Were real diamonds—How Cartier complained!

Quit Your Gripin’, Jacques–Why Didn’t YOU Bring a Cubic Zirconium and Newspaper Like Samuel Did?

We got rouge, and garage, and mirages,
And Illinois spelled Illi-noise;
Just try to imagine our language
Without that French je nais ce “quois”!

Along Mississippi, LaSalle took a trip,
He sailed all of the way north to south;

While French men were down there,
They founded a town there:
New Orleans we find at the mouth.

“A Delta Below Sea Level, On a Storm-Tossed Coast? Let Us Found Our Town Here!”

DeSoto looked east there, and west Coronado,
But neither one found a darn thing,

So please tell me why
We named cars for those guys,
And their names are what we have to sing?

We got horses, sheeps, cows, and some piggies,
Bananas, pineapples, and cane,
Just try to imagine our life now,
Without those explorers from Spain!

In Mexico, Aztecs threw bloody hearts down steps,
And Cortes’s swords took their gold;

In Peru, F. Pizarro brought on Inca sorrow,
And even more stole gold was sold!  (tsk! grammmar!)

Can There EVER Be Too Much?

Cabral missed a turn: In Brazil they now learn
Portugese ‘stead of Spanish today;

Cabrillo was really a man of the sea, and he
Visited Monterey Bay!

We got horses, sheeps, cows, and some piggies,
Bananas, pineapples, and cane,
Just try to imagine our life now,
Without those explorers from Spain!

I Wouldn’t Be Getting My Nooky–From Hottie-Boy Mexican Fang!

The Cath-o-lic leaders were selling forgiveness:
Indulgences let sinners through;

And young Martin Luther, a teller-of-truther,
Gave 95 reasons to boo!

So Protestants started, and soon they departed,
More freedom to have in the West,

And Puritans, Pilgrims, and Quakers, and Calvinists,
Even French Hu-ge-nots left!

We got Meth-odists, E-pis-co-palians,
Je-ho-vahs and Bap-tists galore,
Just try to imagine our life now,
Without those from Spain who explored!

We Maybe Would Get Along Better, ‘Cause Differences Would Be Ignored?


So Much Easier Than Galleons

Music traditional (Turkey in the Straw)
Lyrics by O. Babe


The Dark Ages were a-endin’
and the Renaissance begun,
And Prince Henry wanted sailor men
to have a little fun,

With their lanteen sails, their astrolabes,
and sextants in their hands,
Everybody took their compasses
and sailed for foreign lands!

Looking for the gold, gold, gold,
Spices to be sold, sold, sold,
Every European country wanted spices for their meat,
So it wouldn’t smell so stinky when it rotted in the heat.

“Or So Babes would Sleep With Men Who Never Bathed Or Washed Their Feet.”

Things accelerated quickly
when the Muslim Middle East,
Told the Christians that Constantinople
trading days had ceased,

If they wanted eastern spices,
they would have to sail around,
Down past Africa and its Good Cape
if Oriental-bound!

“Allah’s On OUR Side Now, Bubbeleh.”

Looking for the gold, gold, gold,
Spices to be sold, sold, sold,
So Bartholomew and Vasco set their sails and set their sights,
And they made it past the Cape and showed that they could do it right.

Then a little book by Polo
made the searching get more hot,
All of Europe learned that Kublai Khan
had everything they’d not,

Everybody got excited
and more countries joined the fray,
Ferdinand and Isabella
sent Columbus on his way!

Actual Top View of the Famous Pleasure Dome

Looking for the gold, gold, gold,
Spices to be sold, sold, sold,
Not even knowing longitude, or how far east or west,
Cristobal was good at measuring and guessing on his quest.

When Columbus showed the cool stuff
that the New World had to share,
Like tomatoes and potatoes
and the chili peppers there,

And they thought he’d proved by sailing west
that he had reached the East,
All of Europe salivated
for their spicy stink-free feast!

Hey–Don’t Point Fingers At ME. People Actually Get PAID To Write Textbooks With This Cr#p In ‘Em.

Looking for the gold, gold, gold,
Spices to be sold, sold, sold,
Columbus brought a little gold; they thought there’d be lots more,
So they started out for western shores and sailed here by the score!

The Opening Lines to Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Here’s the Entire Poem
2014-03-20–Added Kubla Khan poem and name of Mexican Hat Dance.
2014-03-20–I haven’t finalized or final-proofed this post, but I’m tired of looking at it and I’ve got stuff to do, so out the door it goes!

Hawaiian Cherries–Sarah Vowell and Others

Here is a Hawaiian blog that gets many hits each day (10,120 yesterday alone):  Cutest Kawaii Cat Gif Animations.  So, before you know anything else about Hawaiians, understand that they are not like the rest of us.

Rolling Cat, Apparently Found Only on the Island of Kauai

(Although, maybe “us” doesn’t apply.  There are only 10 of you reading this blog on a good day, and maybe each of you immediately signed up to Follow that kitty blog.)  (Okay, the bread-loaf kitty over there is cute.)

This post contains four of the more interesting details from Sarah Vowell’s book Unfamiliar Fishes, along with some more Hawaii stuff stuck in here.   Once you finish this post, you will be an expert on Hawaii and can be hired out to perform at nerd parties.  Mail or PayPal me your $9.95 and you’ll get your certificate saying so posthaste.  Would I lie to you?

Outlier Babe's Wholly Trustworthy Alternate Male Ego

This book was worth a read. To me, not as interesting as Sarah’s Wordy Shipmates (in another post), but I still got some fascinating cherry-pickings from it.  Here is a hint about the first cherry (if you’re a male still giggling every time you read that word, stick to the Disney site, and wait for your 18th birthday):

Spanking Smileys Emoticon Gif

Not Really Smileys, Are They?

Cherry 1:  He Who is Lashed First, Laughs Last

Had you already known that the elite Hawaiian school Obama attended as a child was also attended by the last of the Hawaiian royals? The fire-and-brimstone Christian who ran it back then didn’t give the three royal children enough to eat, and whipped them on their bare backs with a lash for sneaking out repeatedly at night.

Do You Think the Royal Kids Dreamed Up Revenge Fantasies?

The really sad thing was that they were sneaking out to find food because he was starving them so badly.  His harsh treatment caused the children to rebel. Instead of maturing into uptight, rigid Christians like he was, all three grew into fun-loving adults.  David Kalakua ( Ka-la-KOO-ah ), Hawaii’s last king, was known as the “Merrie Monarch.”  Hawaii’s last ruler, Queen Liliuokalani ( Lily-oo-oh Ka-LA-knee ), wrote the love song “Aloha Oe”, which must have made that old Christian missionary inside his grave look a lot like the kitty at the top of this post. Good on you, royal kiddos!

Cherry 2:  In Old Hawaii, Incest Was Best

Both Siblings AND Future Spouses?

This was a big surprise to me:  The old Hawaiians had great respect for incest; at least among their royals.  Brother-sister unions were thought to concentrate spiritual power, and children of siblings were “especially revered.”  When King Kamehameha (Ka-MAY-ha-MAY-ha ) died, the highest-ranking possible heirs were the son and daughter of one of his wives, and she was the daughter of siblings, too.  Some Hawaiians felt that Kamehameha’s children, who were 12 and 8 years old, should marry.  (Some thought they were already having sex, anyhow.  Ew.)

Forget cultural sensitivity.  Really disgusting practice.  Sarah and I agreed on that one.

Summer Glau, Perhaps Looking At Her Brother After Hearing About This

Cherry 3:  Traditional Hawaiians Place a High Value on Low Parts

Traditional Hawaiians have a high respect for their belly buttons and privates.  In the words of a Kekuni Blaisdell as quoted by Sarah:  The navel represents “each person’s anatomical attachment to [its] mother…each child is taught to respect [it], to make sure it’s clean and to reflect on its significance.”  Genitals are revered as the connection to one’s descendants.  Hawaiians even teach their keikis (KAY-keys), or  children, a little poem to remind them of these two things:

Keep your bell-y but-ton clean,
And your legs up in-be-tween;
Your bell-y-but-ton’s where you’re from;
The o-ther place?  Go ask your mom.

Okay, I lied.  The Hawaiians don’t teach their children that poem at all.  So sue me.

There is, for real, a specific genre of hula dance honoring royals, the hula ma’I, “that praises the genitalia of the person being honored.”.  In detail.  Giving sizes and comparisons.  Forget debates:  I’d like to see today’s presidential candidates stand up to that kind of scrutiny.   In my opinion, that is the one and only instance where the phrase “man up” would be non-sexist (always assuming male candidates, which this friggin’ sexist country IS always assuming).

Cherry 4:  Our Astronauts Brought Whales to the Moon

One Unfortunate Potential Consequence of Mission Failure

Revealed in Sarah’s section on the old whaling industry in Hawaii, here’s a factoid that surprised me even more than the incest yes-yes:  Whale oil was used as an officially-sanctioned lubricant by the United States government well into the space age!  Because it remains effective at temperature extremes, sperm whale oil was used by NASA for moon landers and other remotely-operated vehicles until the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986.

Imagine:   Greenpeace stealing a shuttle and trying to ram a moon mission lander…

The Theft of Hawaii

Part of Sarah’s book tells the story of Hawaii’s theft from the Hawaiians by the U.S. government.  But rather than using Sarah’s words, a very short YouTube video does a fine job of summing up the highlights:

The Foreign Country of Hawaii–Its Strange Language, Money, and Customs

But for the ultimate word on all things Hawaiian, this video contains everything you’ve ever wanted to know:


The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell

In 1630, John Cotton, the leading mega-rock star of his time, saw off the departing Puritans headed for the Massachusetts Bay colony with a sermon based on the idea that they were God’s new chosen people. 

It was okay to move to a land that was already occupied by other people (notice that these forward-thinking folk did fully acknowledge the equal humanity of the Algonquin Indians) because:

God had said it was okay when Abraham horned in on the Philistines without paying them for their land.  The God-given excuse back then applied now:

“There is room enough.”

The colony’s official seal, brought with them from England, pictured an Indian in a loincloth holding a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other, with words saying

“Come over and help us.”

No, Seriously. I Offer My Wrists Freely. Shackle Them. It Will Help Me.

It’s from a vision of St. Paul where a Macedonian says to him “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”  (Sarah adds some good snide commentary about how how unwanted help in the affairs of others became a U.S. speciality.)

“Come Over and Help Us Be Conquered By the U.S. Post Office”

How William Tyndale Got Double-Screwed

William Tyndale is the English Protestant who committed the crime of translating the Bible into English (in 1524, in case you’re a date freak).

Henry VIII executed him for this twelve years later, in 1536 (which was two years after Henry had broken away from the Catholic church because he wanted to f*ck Anne Bolyn so badly and get a legitimate male heir by her). 

Tyndale’s reported last words were “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”.

Clearly, his prayer worked, because in 1538, only two years after Henry executed him, Henry commissioned the first official Bible in English, the Great Bible.   Based mostly upon–you guessed it–the executed William’s translation.

Let's At Least Give Henry's (William's) Lovely Version a Glimpse

The Puritans Believed God Purposely Created Us Un-Equal In Order That We’d Love One Another

The idea is emphasized in a famous sermon known in brief as “Christian Charity” in which John Winthrop, the colony’s first governor, says that the colony will be “as a city upon a hill”–a model for others to follow.

Many politicians have quoted this.  Winthrop was quoting it from the Bible. 

He said God’s purpose in making us unequal was: “…that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.” 

Or, as Anne Bradstreet, a poet-wanna-be put it:

“As it is with countries, so it is with (people):  there was never yet any one (person) that had all excellences…God will have us beholden one to another.”

(What you’re bad at, I’m good at and can help you with, and vice-versa.)

Sarah Vowell’s comment on this:

“Because of the “city upon a hill” sound bite, “A Model of Christian Charity” is one of the formative documents outlining the idea of America.  But dig deep into its communitarian ethos and it reads more like an America that might have been, an America fervently devoted to the quaint goals of working together and getting along. 

Of course, this America does exist.  It’s called Canada.”

Why Roger Williams (Founder of Rhode Island) Doesn’t Get Enough Credit

Man, this guy was forward-thinking!  I had known he allowed freedom of religious practice in his colony.  But he didn’t even believe in ORGANIZED religion at all, and he also thought that the state should be so hands-off religion that even “the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish [Islamic] or Antichristian consciences” should be allowed.  
Back in that time in history, a man believed in tolerance toward ANTI-Christians?! 
Williams did believe that non-Christian religions SHOULD be fought against–but he thought the only weapon used should be “the sword of God’s spirit, the Word of God.”

What a cool dude.

At the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, This Goat is Free to Ruminate About The Great Unknown in Whatever Manner It Pleases

The other extremely cool thing about Roger, to this once-and-still Linguistics nerd, is that he made a dictionary of the Algonquin language that was so good, it was still able to be used in 1936–THREE HUNDRED YEARS LATER (!).

A guy made his way entirely across Canada using it, communicating successfully with various tribes who shared dialect branches.
Sarah Vowell makes fun of Roger’s bad poetry, citing as one example “righteousness” rhymed with “wilderness”. 
But Sarah may have made an errah. (Oooh, Babe… 🙂 )
Old and Middle English poem sound patterns were often based not on rhyming (“lazy” – “hazy”), but on alliteration (“lazy”-“lady”). Vowels alliterated more often than consonants, like the weak “e” in “ness”.  A matching line pair might end with “happiness” and “blessedness”.
Perhaps the average educated person in Roger’s time (1640-ish) was okay with newfangled rhyming line pairs mixed in with the older alliterating-vowel line pairs.
So there, Sarah Vowell!   And you have a funny last name!  (But I liked your book.)

Here’s one of Roger’s little poems about the Indians he met, where you can see that two lines rhyme (stranger/danger), and two lines do…something else (mat/sent):

     I have known them leave their house and mat
     To lodge a friend or stranger;
     When Jews and Christians oft have sent
     Christ Jesus to a manger.

That Sneaky-and-Sweet Governor Winthrop
The Massachusetts Bay colony expelled Roger Williams for his evil nasty nastiness regarding religion (“How DARE he be tolerant like Christ!”), which is when he moved to the Rhode Island area.
Well guess what? John Winthop, governor of the colony that kicked him out, gave him advance warning that the Massachusetts folk were coming for him. Withrop even told him where it would be safe to go!
Winthrop never dropped a hint of this treason in his own journals, but Williams revealed it in his. The two supposed enemies kept up a warm correspondence until Winthrop died.
(At which point, Winthrop would, one assumes, have learned the theological truth from the Big Horse’s mouth.)
(Or not…depending on which ruminating goat you are.)

1. Tyndale on Bible Reading

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