Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why We Have a Bill of Rights


Here's a quiz:

Until relatively recently, it was illegal to read the Bible aloud in which country?

  1. Saudi Arabia
  2. Pakistan
  3. Somalia
  4. Great Britain

Of course, you knew it was a trick question. And by "relatively recently" I did mean the 16th century.

But it's true—at one time you could go to jail for reading the Bible aloud—in Great Britain!

That little episode began when Henry VIII withdrew from the Roman Catholic Church and assumed his role as head of the new Church of England. It only seemed right that the new church should have its own Bible—in English. So Henry authorized a new translation which came to be known as the Great Bible.

But he didn't understand what he was unleashing. Having the Scriptures in their own language aroused a spiritual curiosity in the English populace. As one historian of the time put it, "Everyone who could bought the book and and busily read it or got others to read it to them."

That posed a threat to the king's authority as head of the church. He soon found himself indulging in the same repressive behaviors he had condemned the Pope for.

As Barbara Tuchman recounts in her 1956 book Bible and Sword:

King Henry and the bishops were soon aghast at the flood of Lutheranism let loose by their authorization of the Great Bible. Henry himself was a Protestant only to the point of getting rid of the Pope, not in doctrinal matters.

Henry wasn't really a tolerant fellow, and knew he had to act. The other elites were only too glad to cooperate. Soon, an act of Parliament made it unlawful for "unauthorized persons" to read the Bible aloud.

If that seems absurd now, things only got worse as Catholics and Anglicans took turns persecuting each other—along with the Puritans, Nonconformists, Covenanters and other deviants.

This was just one of the traumatic memories in the minds of America's founders when they added a Bill of Rights to our constitution. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion—those weren't abstract concepts to them. They were life-and-death issues.

Too bad, some of us today think freedom of speech means the right to spout obscenities or publish videos of people copulating.

Have we degenerated as a society?

Perish the thought.

And quit bugging me about it—it's almost time for Desperate Housewives.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Evolution of a Song

It's the Womack Brothers out of Cleveland, Ohio.

They became popular as a gospel group under the watchful eye of their father, Friendly Womack.

After Sam Cooke heard them, he invited them to come record for his SAR label. So they drove a beat-up Cadillac to Los Angeles and recorded this gospel tune, "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" in 1961.

You can already hear Bobby's dynamic, distinctive lead--with the sweet, innocent voices of Friendly, Jr., Curtis, Harry and Cecil backing him up.



The Womack Brothers have followed the lead of their mentor Sam Cooke and gone in a secular direction.

They're now known as The Valentinos. And "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" is now "Lookin' for a Love."

Bobby still sings lead.

It hits number eight on the R&B charts.


It's 1974—the Disco Era!

And Bobby has released an updated solo version of "Looking for a Love." It's a big hit.

Here he is, dancing and lip-synching with all his might on Soul Train ...

Bobby was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 (by Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, which had a big hit with Bobby's composition "It's All Over Now"). The surviving members of the family were present.

Bobby Womack died in 2014.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Universe Doesn't Care about You

Tell me if you've heard somebody say something like this:

"The universe must be watching out for me!"

Or, "The universe must have something in mind."

Obviously, they're attributing personal, godlike qualities to the cosmos—usually without really examining their presumptions.
It's actually a hangover from the sloppy pantheism and mysticism that were common in the '60s. But don't tell them that.

(Thank you, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Paramahansa Yogananda, Steve Gaskin, Richard Alpert, etc.)

But it's worth asking: Does the universe really care about you?

Here's a thought experiment: Imagine you actually "slipped the surly bonds of earth" and ventured out into the benevolent universe, far from the atmosphere and gravity that we're all used to.

What would happen?

Your body would explode into billions of undetectable particles. And you'd be gone.

And the universe wouldn't bat an eye.

Even if it had one.

Here's the thing: The universe doesn't care about you.

God does.

By the way, most of us first heard those words about "slipping the surly bonds of earth" when Ronald Reagan uttered them after the Challenger space shuttle disaster--in a beautiful speech written by Peggy Noonan.

They came from a poem written by Canadian aviator John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Soon thereafter he was killed in a training flight with the RAF. That was December 1941.

He was nineteen.

Here's the whole poem:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

5 Great Words That Don't Mean What You Think They Mean

  1. Bombast. Maybe it’s because it has that word bomb in it, but bombast is often misused to describe harsh, exaggerated, or over-the-top rhetoric. Actually, it refers to speech that’s pompous or pretentious. Originally, bombast was a name for the cotton padding used in clothes. So when you hear a speech with lots of padding or filler—that’s bombastic. Or, (ahem) it could describe writing that has the same qualities.
  2. Hypocrite. We all know that a hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. Right? Well, actually, no. The word derives from the Greek word for a stage actor—someone who’s pretending to be someone else. So, if you‘re not living up to your own standards—that just means you’re human. If you’re pretending to do so—then yes, you’re a hypocrite.
  3. Diffident. This word is sometimes used as a synonym for arrogant or aloof. Actually, it describes someone who is timid or shy (dif-fident—the opposite of con-fident).
  4. Stereotype.When we hear this word, we automatically think of ethnic or racial stereotypes. But it originated in the printing trade, referring to a plate of type made of cast metal—so the printed image it produced was always the same (from Greek stereos, or solid, and type—meaning, well, type).
  5. Hackneyed. Book reviewers love to skewer hackneyed—meaning trite or stale—prose. And we've all heard the shortened version: hack politicians, and so forth. But the original definition is much more noble. Hackney refers to a breed of high-stepping English horses that were once used to draw carriages. Their use in such a common activity eventually led to the derogatory connotation.

So, impress your friends. Use these words; just use them right. Please.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Power of Language

Bob Dylan
People have spent years analyzing the song lyrics of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, looking for hidden messages.
But the real deep content can be found in the pop and doo-wop records of the '50s and early '60s.

Take a look at these lyrics.

Recite them, out loud. Preferably with other people around.

Do it over and over.

Then, you'll understand ...
Shoobie doobie wah doowop eewobbie wobbie
Shoop shoop shanga langa shingabop
Wop wop padda padda wop wop shoobop doobop
Dum di di dee dum de dum dee dee dum di di dee dee dee dum
Dum dum diddly dum
Doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo
Doolang doolang doolang
Yakadula yakadula
Dum dum dum dumbie doowah
Sha la la doobie wah dum dum dum
Bo bo bo dimbodeeay Da dee da dee da deeyah
Dum dum dum dumbie doowah oh yay yay yay ah oh wo wo wo-ah
Sha na na na sha na na na na
Shoo doo shoobedoo
Scoobie doo
doo wop group

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Some Words Are Just Funny

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

That quote has been ascribed to nineteenth-century actor Edmund Keene, and various other sources, but its truth is borne out by the many people who have tried to be funny and bombed.

A corollary is that humor writing is hard too. Making people laugh at words on a page may be one of the most daunting tasks a human can undertake—right behind parallel parking.

Fortunately, there are some words that make it easy. They sound funny all by themselves.

Here are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

  1. Snorkel
  2. Brouhaha
  3. Gherkin
  4. Diphthong
  5. Hornswoggle
  6. Bungee
  7. Hooligan
  8. Aardvark
  9. Platypus
  10. Kerfuffle
  11. Carbuncle
  12. Pollywog
  13. Boondoggle

The list grows.

And life is funnier because of it.