Monday, April 20, 2015

It's Fundamental

Indulge me for a moment and consider this scenario. There's a community of Ultra-Orthodox Jews headquartered in Crown Heights, Brooklyn called the Chabad Lubavitch. It's a Hassidic sect that believes in strict adherence to the Torah, (the first five books of Moses), and the Talmud, (5000 years of rabbinical commentary on the Torah). Their outreach efforts to reach disaffiliated and non-practicing Jews have made it one of the largest and fastest growing religious organizations in the world, reaching seventy countries and forty-nine of the fifty United States. There's even a chapter in Memphis. Now imagine if the Hasidim and their return-to-roots philosophy picked up enough momentum to translate into political power and their leaders were elected into positions of authority. Then suppose they used that authority to declare the Torah as the "official book" of as many states as they could round up. Nothing wrong with that, right? Christians also believe in the Old Testament, so they would have no objection to following its tenets. But if we're going to do it, let's do it right and strictly observe the written law.

Jewish dietary rules come with a few restrictions. First, Kosher food must be prepared in accordance with Jewish law. Animals and birds have to be killed in a specific manner, so no more hunting unless accompanied by a Jewish butcher. All blood must be drained from meat and poultry, so if you like your steak medium rare, you'll have to cross state lines. Also, no grape products prepared by non-Jews may be eaten, so say goodbye to all non-kosher wine, Welch's grape juice, and Boone's Farm Grape Jelly. The Torah says it's forbidden to "boil a kid in its mother's milk," (Ex 23:19). Generations of rabbis have interpreted this passage as meaning that meat and dairy products should not be mixed, which means no more cheeseburgers or burritos. Then there are the animals the Torah mentions specifically as forbidden for supper. No pig means no more Bar-B-Que, so there goes our festival. Other no-no's include all shellfish, including lobster, oysters, shrimp, clams, and crabs- not to mention crawdads. But Leviticus 11:13 says its OK to "eat any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud," so that's a good thing. And the Jewish sabbath is from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, so that's it for high school and college football. I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. Just as preposterous as it would be to impose Jewish laws, why do the right-wing Christians continue to attempt to codify their beliefs into state and federal law?

Tennessee made the wrong kind of national news when the State House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill making the Bible the state's "official book." The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sexton, is a former pastor from Bean Station, again proving the antipathy these country-ass rubes have for the big city. Fortunately, the State Senate saw the blatant unconstitutionality of the proposal and killed the bill. Rep. Steve Cohen said on MSNBC that "It's been a hundred years since the Scopes monkey trial and we have not progressed that far from Dayton, Tennessee." Perhaps Preacher Sexton envisions himself as William Jennings Bryan incarnate, but similar bills have been introduced in Arkansas, and Indiana, which has problems of its own. Their governor signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Even the title implies that if religious freedom needs to be restored, it must have vanished somewhere. The original RFRA was a 1993 Democratic initiative to "ensure that interests in religious freedom are protected," in all faiths. Now, however, the act is interpreted as payback for same-sex marriage and open season on gays whose existence offends the Christian beliefs of any auto mechanic or pizza joint owner. Didn't we settle all that, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone," business in the sixties?

The tomato is Tennessee's state fruit. The state mineral is agate, and the racoon has been designated as the official wild animal. But now that the Bible has been disqualified as the official state book, I have a few suggestions that may suit our faith-based legislators' mentalities. The obvious choice is "A Confederacy of Dunces," but there are so many other possibilities: "Of Mice and Men," Dostoevsky's "The Idiot," "The Sound and the Fury," "One Flew Over the Cuckoos' Nest," and of course "Fifty Shades of Grey Goose Vodka," which the House Republicans must have imbibed before passing this idiotic bill. I just don't understand why the evangelical Christians are so persecuted in this country. A minister in Tempe, Arizona recently preached, "I hope that God strikes Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy," thus proving that the problem isn't Christianity or any other religion- it's fundamentalism. We could argue about this but what's the point? Former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently predicted the return of Jesus due to Obama. "We have very little time left before the second return of Christ," she proclaimed. If Jesus comes to Tennessee, I bet He'll be upset to see the Holy Scriptures placed in the same category as "The Valley of the Dolls."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring Fevers

You can tell it's springtime in Memphis when all the cars turn green- and everything else for that matter. It's not the welcome green of seasonal renewal, but those damn fuzzy worm-like things that cling to everything they touch. If you cross a parking lot, you have to make a break for shelter before they cover you like something from a horror movie. When you return, your car is blanketed in a layer of dust. There's no point washing it because it will just be filthy the next day. And it seems like it happens so all of a sudden. One day you're outside taking your first deep breath of fresh spring air, and the next day you can't breathe at all. It reached inside my house indirectly through my wife. She had lunch with a friend and it was such a nice day, they sat on the patio of a local eatery. Four hours later, she sounded like a lifetime whiskey drinking, chain-smoker. I thought I was sleeping with Clint Eastwood. Then the symptoms hit hard- sore throat, burning congestion, sneezing, and a head that weighs fifty pounds. We had suffered horribly through flu season, even though we both had the shots. (Thanks Obama). But since my wife and I pass illnesses back and forth like hippies pass a blunt, I woke up only to find I couldn't swallow. She said it was allergies, but how do you catch an allergy?

When Melody asked on social media if anyone else was sick, her phone nearly blew up. It seems like everyone else is sick. Pardon me, I had to step away to get a hit of Afrin. I don't care, I snort Afrin like Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet." And I insist on the menthol kind, not that lame beginners' stuff for people with their sinuses still intact. But back to the Memphis city-wide plague- our metropolitan nightmare is pollen. There, I said the p-word. Especially tree pollen from oak, birch, and willow trees. You know that song "Willow Weep For Me?" The lyrics say, "Bend your branches down along the ground and cover me." That pretty much sums up what's going on around here. Memphis is a city of trees, particularly oaks, which are the main culprit. Those furry green strings on your patio furniture are called oak catkins, in case you were curious. The foliage may be lovely in May, but according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation's annual list of the ten worst U.S. cities for allergy sufferers, Memphis ranks number eight. We're number eight! We rank just lower than Knoxville and Louisville, but higher than Baton Rouge. You'd think all that Spanish Moss would have kicked them up a notch, but I've heard Cajuns are made of alligator hide. Memphis is the perfect incubator for pollen- lots of trees, warm temperature, gusting winds. We should all start wearing those surgical masks like the Japanese and Michael Jackson.

Since we've just been sitting around wheezing, I've had the chance to watch a lot of television- a whole lot- and I noticed that just at this time, the airwaves are filled with so many commercials for Claritin or Zyrtec, or any of the hundred more remedies on your pharmacist's shelf, there's hardly any room left for programming. The drug companies tell you in their ads that their concoctions will relieve the symptoms, so you know they're bound to be right. Pardon me, I need a tissue. We've been going with Claritin, but the directions say to just take one pill a day. I eat a fistful of pills every day anyway. What's some microscopic tablet going to do for me? The only thing to do is tough it out for the next two months, stay indoors and watch TV, applying periodic doses of Visine. Watch that Scientology expose on HBO. That will take your mind off of your nasal cavities. Melody also has me hooked on a show called, "Chrisley Knows Best," about a Georgia family where everyone is a laugh riot. I find that watching too many news programs provokes wracking fits of violent coughing, so I've taken to a steady diet of Netflix revenge fantasy movies where the protagonist hunts down and kills the people who wronged him in some grotesque way. The earthquake was interesting. Not the one along the New Madrid Fault, but the Memphis quake when Kentucky lost to Wisconsin. I haven't seen so much schadenfreude since the Watergate hearings

The bad news is that it's going to get worse. According to the experts over at, the forecast for Memphis indicates pollen levels in "the extremely high range." This means if your one of the fifty million people suffering from seasonal allergies, it will be "difficult outdoors." So bust out the Benadryl and suffer along with the rest of us. There's lots of rain in the forecast. Some people believe that when rain pours down on the tree pollen, it somehow lessens the effects. It doesn't. It's allergy season and rain can't stop it, so get used to breathing through your mouth. Buy tissues in gross since you'll need them and try not to shout at the TV every time Ted Cruz appears on the news. Come back outside at the end of April and enjoy the trees in bloom, shed of their fuzzy creatures. It's been said that from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow. I think we've got about all the oak trees we can take. Maybe Ronald Reagan was right when he said that trees cause pollution. Those killer oak catkins are messing up the paint job on my car. You'll have to excuse me now. It's time for another Afrin hit.