May 20, 2011

Tying up a few loose ends before the Rapture

It's all over tomorrow, in case you haven't heard. It's a mathematical certainty, and I take a certain pride in emphasizing that it's a Bay Area man, Harold Camping, 88, of Oakland who made the gutsy call that The Rapture will happen tomorrow, May 21, 2011. He's run the numbers:

Camping, 88, has scrutinized the Bible for almost 70 years and says he has developed a mathematical system to interpret prophecies hidden within the Good Book. One night a few years ago, Camping, a civil engineer by trade, crunched the numbers and was stunned at what he'd found: The world will end May 21, 2011.

To give you a clearer idea what to look for tomorrow, let's go to the source: Revelation 4: 1.

"After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter."
That doesn't sound like something you'd want to miss. A door in the sky, a talking trumpet, a guided tour. This is why, as a kid lolling my way through endless, thrice-weekly sessions at our windowless church, I would thumb my way through Revelation as distraction. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Seven Seals, behold a pale horse, serpents, monsters, magic numbers of the Beast, phantasmagorical, hallucinogenic imagery on nearly every page. Cool stuff. Some have speculated that John, who wrote this William Burroughs-like story (I should say, rather, that William Burroughs obviously took his cue from John), was shroomed up or otherwise consciously altered when he penned Revelation. I don't know. I think he was just on a roll, invited to write what was obviously going to be the final book in the Good Book, and he let it all hang out.

He finished by daring anyone to change a single word. More than once, during those endless Sunday mornings, I wondered whether John hadn't written a satire. There's really nothing else like Revelation in the Bible. It was rarely mentioned in Sunday school or in sermons (and believe you me, there were a lot of sermons). You might say that if Revelation was quoted at all, it was quoted out of context, as if going into the whole story was a little embarrassing. It didn't really fit with the basic Christian message. What's all this stuff, suddenly, about the anti-Christ, and 666, and horses of four different colors, and seven seals, and on and on?

Simply musing to myself, I would wonder whether John wasn't putting people on. Hey, you believed everything else: people rising from the dead, water into wine, walking on water, virgin birth. Let's finish up with this. Let's go to a different level. And I dare you to change a word!

Oh well, I'm playing with fire (see: fire, lake of). A few minor cavils with the timing, of course. Why wait till after April 15? After both property tax bills are due? Just before summer? That's the thing that used to really get me down about organized religion and its mythology. The casual toss-off of this life in favor of the next one, and the next one was full of burning lakes, trap doors in the sky, bugles talking like people, and horses named Conquest, Famine, War & Pestilence.

I'm going on record right now. I'm going to make my call. The Rapture will not happen tomorrow. Harold Camping is full of shit. He couldn't calculate the End Times if his after life depended on it.

May 19, 2011

There Goes Florida

That soft thudding noise you hear in the background is the sound of a million bagels hitting television screens all along South Florida's Jewish Riviera. (I have special dispensation to make such ethnically-stereotypical remarks, the provenance of which I am not at liberty to divulge.) In one of his less meaningful of a whole series of utterly meaningless speeches, President Obama has told the world that in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist (plus a voucher good for dinner for two at one of Tel Aviv's nicest restaurants), Israel will agree to the creation of a Palestinian state based on "pre-1967 borders."

I have found it useful to employ the Bush Decoder Ring when analyzing an Obama speech these days. I'm a little rusty in its application, but the essential idea is that the actual position taken by Bush/Obama does not relate to the "merits" of an issue (if any), but can be understood only in terms of domestic politics. President Obama, like Ol' W before him, does not have any actual principles, which is why the many, many differences between his campaign rhetoric and his actual policies in office afford Glenn Greenwald a daily opportunity to catalogue the 180 degree reversals on virtually every campaign promise that Barack Obama ever made. (I saw a good bumper sticker the other day: "Change It Back.") It's simply too much work at this point to keep reciting the flip-flops. It isn't so much that Obama "tacks to the right," seeks common ground, splits the difference, or anything else. It's that he doesn't really take a position on anything. He sort of does stuff that he thinks might look pretty good. If that can be called a "governing principle," then I guess that's it.

That's what is so mysterious about this "pre-1967" stuff. To which domestic constituency is Obama playing? Clearly it cannot be the Jewish voters of South Florida, that perennial swing area in national politics. The Arabs of Dearborn, Michigan? Not enough voters to make a difference. Does Obama realize that Jewish settlements have been built in areas that would be affected by a reversion to pre-1967 borders? Does he know about Israeli missile complexes in that area, or the effect on water rights that occurs when land around the Jordan River is converted to new ownership?

I suppose the key caveat is the phrase "based on" pre-1967 borders. In 1998 in the Wye River Memorandum, a different Barak (Ehud, this time, the Israeli Prime Minister) agreed to cede about 95% of the West Bank to Palestine, with East Jerusalem remaining with Israel and the "right of return" of displaced Palestinians settled by reparations. Yasser Arafat appeared to go along with the deal, then realized it was a deal, and the Intifada of 2000 followed. A post-Deal Yasser would have no fun at all. So the ever-original Obama may be thinking that he can follow the Bubba-Hillary script and get Bibi Netanyahu to agree to the same deal, based on the pre-1967 borders, in exchange for a "recognition" of legitimacy, which worked out so well in 2000.

I think I'm getting closer to the answer to the riddle. This is Obama's Conciliation Disorder in florid manifestation - he's thinking that he can get the hardliner Netanyahu to come around to his way of thinking in much the same way that he thinks he can get the Republicans to support his domestic policy initiatives. If he can pull off that miracle, then he can add Settlement of the Israel-Palestine Issue to the impressive achievements of his first term, none of the others of which immediately leap to mind. In other words, this is another example of President Barack Obama really having absolutely no idea why he's doing what he's doing, other than trying to curry favor on all sides while he fails.

I don't suppose they're going to televise the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama tomorrow. That's a crying shame. One culinary note: don't serve bagels.

May 15, 2011

Caveman diaries, Part 2

Accustomed as I am to writing about the General Theory of Everything, I probably need some sort of transition to the self-indulgence (or -denial) of writing about a diet. So I'll fall back on Voltaire's useful admonition: "Cultivate your own garden." Covered that.

He was using "garden" more generically, I presume, although who knows. The French have always delighted in gourmandish habits. Anyway, the idea behind the paleolithic diet is pretty simple once you think about it. Building on an idea first popularized by Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape, paleo-nutrition is premised on evolutionary theory, and I apologize immediately to any Red State readers who must now resume watching prosperity-televangelism, starring Joel Osteen as the toothy Charlatan of Christ. Anyway, the hominid known as homo sapiens has been in its present upright, too-smart-for-its-own-good form for about two million years; however, agriculture has only existed for about 12,000 years. The Paleo-advocates reason that insufficient time has elapsed during the age of agriculture for any serious genetic adaptation to the new farm diet to have evolved, much as Morris a generation ago mused about the difficulties of the inner primordial man trying to make his way in the age of television and nuclear families.

Here then is the controversial part: what did humans eat in the prior 1,988,000 years? Since I'm sitting before this iMac, I can logically deduce that they must have eaten something, and it wasn't Oscar Mayer baloney on Wonder Bread with a dab of Best Foods mayo. Also, if you subscribe to the ideas of natural selection, one would also conclude that homo sapiens thrived or died based on adaptations to the available sources of nutrition. Thus, the hunter-gatherers who preceded in world history Con-Agra and Archer Daniels Midland killed animals and gathered plant material as they could find in nature. The animals included big game, small game, fish, shell fish, but also insects, worms, and other things not ordinarily found in the aisles of Safeway. The plant material included fruit, leaves, berries and other edible stuff. Dietary anthropologists have also determined that pre-history Man ate the whole animal which he killed, including all of the organ meats and the bone marrow; thus, our ancestors were not grading meat based on its fat content. Indeed, the more the merrier (and greasier).

The healthiness and naturalness of such a diet have been considered many times in the confrontation between "advanced" Western culture and aboriginal tribes, such as Dr. Albert Schweitzer's and Sir Albert Cook's experiences with West African tribes, which spanned decades from the pre-World War I era to the 1950's. While the African natives suffered routinely from infectious diseases such as dysentary, malaria, leprosy and skin ulcers, the "Western diseases" of diabetes, obesity, cancers of the alimentary tract, Alzheimer's, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease were virtually unknown. Schweitzer was almost retired in Gabon before he saw his first case of diabetes or colon cancer in an African. The distinction between the diseases of Western man and aboriginal immunity to such ailments has been repeated many times when West meets the native, such as the natives of South Africa, Native Americans (including the Eskimo, who naturally did not acquire heart disease even on a diet of 90+% blubber, the high-fat diet non pareil), the South Sea islanders and the Australian and New Zealand aborigine.

Agriculture of wheat and other cereal grains, rice, corn, and cane & beet sugar, when coupled with modern means of milling away the bran made possible by the Industrial Revolution, gave rise to the Age of the Refined Carbohydrate of the Western diet. Refined flour and sugar had enormous advantages, since they were easily stored and shipped dry and would keep until ready to poison the innards of those eating them.

The question presented is whether the refined carbohydrate has given rise to the full range of Western diseases noted above. This, and other questions, are explored by Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories. As I said before, the so-called Carbohydrate Hypothesis (which is further broken down into schools of thought which emphasize the role of fructose versus glucose) has a lot of research and good science behind it. The Saturated Fat chorus has a lot of Big Money, including Merck, General Mills, Big Ag, the AMA and American Heart Association, and the United States Congress behind it. The victory of Money over Science can be determined by the stark reality that the United States is now the fattest country on the face of the Earth.