Things that you’re NOT liable to find in the Bible

Louisiana state law now requires that the Ten Commandments shall be posted in every classroom. But if you compare the Ten Commandments found in the Bible with Louisiana’s Ten Commandments, you quickly see that they are not the same Ten Commandments.

Where did Louisiana’s Ten Commandments come from? Apparently, in the 1950s “representatives of Judaism, Protestantism, and Catholicism developed what the individuals involved believed to be a nonsectarian version of the Ten Commandments because it could not be identified with any one religious group” — Anthony Flecker, “Thou shalt make not law respecting an establishment of religion: ACLU v. McCreary County, Van Orden v. Perry, and the Establishment clause”, St. John’s Journal of Legal Commentary, vol. 21:1, p. 264 footnote 136. (This Patheos post gives another take on the same story.)

In other words, the Louisiana version of the Ten Commandments may be inspired by the Bible, but it is not Biblical. If you’re a Biblical purist, you could say that Louisiana’s rewriting of Exodus 20:2-17 is actually a type of graven image or idol — something that seems like it comes from God, but is actually made by fallible humans.

Below the fold, I’ll include several translations of the relevant Bible passages so you can compare them.

Continue reading “Things that you’re NOT liable to find in the Bible”

Plan now for Pee-on-Earth Day 2024

In just two days, it’s time for everyone’s favorite holiday — Pee-on-Earth Day!

When you flush your urine down the toilet, you use a gallon or more of drinking water. From there, your urine enters the stream of wastewater, typically joining human feces to be processed in a wastewater treatment plant or a septic system. By treating urine like feces, our society wastes clean water and energy (energy to purify the drinking water, and energy to run the wastewater treatment plant).

Here in the northern hemisphere, human urine doesn’t spread pathogens. And human urine actually makes a pretty good fertilizer, for plants that want a lot of nitrogen. So instead of flushing urine away, you can spread it directly on plants, although urine is such a concentrated fertilizer you probably will want to dilute it so you don’t give the plants fertilizer burn.

Pee-on-earth bumper sticker. Image (c) Carol Steinfeld, used by permission.

The one problem with human urine as a fertilizer is that First World humans tend to eat way too much salt, and excess salt gets processed out of our bodies through our urine. There are a number of ways to deal with this problem. First, you could eat less salt, which would be good for your health. Alternatively, you can spread urine on a compost pile; some salt will leach out during composting, plus the addition of other compostables will lessen the concentration of the remaining salt significantly. Composting is probably the best alternative, because when you compost urine you can adjust the inputs to the compost to balance the high nitrogen content of the urine.

My spouse, Carol, who writes about ecological pollution prevention strategies, invented the term “peecycling” to describe recycling urine as a fertilizer. She peecycles year round, using urine collection bottles made of used plastic juice bottles (thus turning a single-use plastic bottle into a multiple-use peecycling jug). We’re apartment dwellers, but we have a tiny side yard where we have a compost pile. Then we use the compost to fertilize our tiny eight foot square garden.

However, not everyone can peecycle year round. That’s why Carol has declared June 21, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, as Pee-on-Earth Day. Everyone can save at least some of their urine and return it to the earth on Pee-on-Earth Day. Find or make a peecycling jug now, so you’re ready for June 21!

Learn more in Carol’s book, Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine To Grow Plants. Order her book online here. UPDATE: Carol’s webhosting service has bonked her website — if you want a copy of the book, leave a comment or email me and I’ll make sure you get one. (If you order it through Amazon, Carol gets almost nothing from the sale, so if possible please order direct from her.)

(By the way, I’m the one who coined the phrase “liquid gold” to describe reusing urine, some thirty years ago. It’s my one claim to literary fame.)

Emblem saying "Urine Charge — Take Life Full Circle!"

The wisdom of P. T. Barnum

The great Universalist showman P. T. Barnum once said his success was due in no small part to self-promotion: “I thoroughly understood the art of advertising, not merely by means of printer’s ink, which I have always used freely, and to which I confess myself so much indebted for my success, but by turning every possible circumstance to my account….” (Struggles and Triumphs, ch. VIII)

Donald Trump has been convicted of felonies, and it’s the best thing that could have happened to him because he knows how to turn the circumstance of this guilty verdict to his own account. He gets lots advertising for which he pays nothing. And now he will be able to appeal the verdict, thus garnering even more free advertising, right up through the November election.

By contrast, Joe Biden doesn’t seem to know how to turn every possible circumstance to his account. As the incumbent, he should be grabbing headlines, but he’s not. He needs to learn from P.T. Barnum.

P.T. Barnum never actually made the statement, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” But it’s a principle by which he lived his life. People today could learn a lot from that sly old Universalist showman.

From a 1907 book

The Public Domain Review website posted a summary of the 1907 book Capital and Labor written by Christian socialist Rev. W. S. Harris, with illustrations by Paul Krafft (Brantford, Canada: Bradley-Garretson, 1907). They included scans of the entertaining illustrations in the book.

Sadly, some of the illustrations are just as topical today as they were 117 years ago. Like this one, titled “The Monster of Monopoly”:

Illustration of an alligator eating a map of the United States

“Monopoly is rapidly swallowing the whole country. We are thankful, however, that all this greed cannot and does not escape the public eye. It is to be hoped that very soon public opinion will deal a crushing blow to this monster.”

I also like this illustration, titled “Montain of Money,” showing a rich man with too much money:

Illustration of a rich man ordering others to count his piles of money.

“It is time to call a halt when the income of one man is so great that he could not handle it himself in cold cash, while the income of his workers is not enough to keep them decently alive.”

But my personal favorite of all the many illustrations in the book is this one, titled “The Idol of Monopoly”:

Illustration of a huge idol being built.

“The workers of America have made unto themselves an idol called Monopoly, which many of them still admire and worship. Oh workers! This is not your god.”

I’m sure that Rev. Harris felt that even the golden calf of old was not worshipped with such devotion as the idol of Monopoly.

Happy May Day

On May 1, 1886 — 138 years ago today — the American Federation of Labor called a general strike to demand the eight hour day. The strike culminated in Chicago with the Haymarket Massacre a few days later. As the demonstrators were peacefully leaving the demonstration, someone exploded a bomb. The police fired wildly into the crowd, killing and wounding both police officers and demonstrators. Eight people were arrested, even though there was no evidence that they were involved with the bomb, and four of them were executed. In 1893, it was finally declared that all eight were innocent —far too late for the four who had been unjustly executed. Unitarian Universalist blogger Patrick Murfin tells this story better than I can.

Eventually, the eight hour day was established as the norm for workers. But that began to change in this twenty-first century. With hardly any workers in unions, many corporations have been been emboldened to do whatever they want. Amazon delivery drivers are often forced to work 10-12 hour days (I used to hang out with an Amazon delivery driver, who told me this). Walmart employees are only given part-time work (which means no benefits), then forced to work irregular schedules that don’t allow them to pick another job. By the 2010s, Google hired contractors to run its infamous Google buses; the contractors paid crap wages and forced the drivers to work split shifts. As for the big executives, they just kept giving themselves raises. By 2020, the typical CEO was paid 351 times the salary of the average worker. There are still lots of great companies out there, places you’d want to work (some ofwhich are owned by Unitarian Universalists), but on the whole the conditions for workers are getting worse, not better.

As for the two political parties, neither one of them seems to care much about the shrinking wages of the middle class, lower middle class, and working class. The Democrats used to be the party of Big Labor, but with the demise of unions, I guess they figure they have little incentive to deal with workers’ issues. The Republicans at least pretend to pay attention to the needs of workers, and I give them credit for that — but when push comes to shove, they always seem to support the big corporations.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has never been a strong supporter of the needs of workers. The denominational magazine often carries articles about supporting the rights and needs of people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ folks, and women — all of which is great, we need that. But there aren’t many articles about workers needs.

I understand. It’s just not our thing. I can accept that. We’re a small denomination. We can only do so much; we’re probably overextended as it is. If the UUA doesn’t want to support unions, or workers’ needs and rights, that’s OK with me. Focusing on a few things is a good idea.

But personally, I support unions and unionization. I spent 12 years punching a time clock in various jobs in the residential construction business, and another year and a half punching a time clock in a health food store. While I never worked in a unionized workplace, I was grateful for eight hour days, overtime pay after eight hours, workers compensation, OSHA, and benefits packages — all of which, as I learned from older workers, only happened because of unions. Even though I was never a union member, I would have been much worse off financially through my twenties and thirties if it hadn’t been for unions.

Anyway. Happy May Day.

Why I need to get rid of Microsoft products

Microsoft no longer supports Office for Mac 2019. They no longer sell or support anything under the Office brand. No more standalone software. They want you to buy a subscription to Microsoft 365. So now every time I open an MW Word document, I get this little error message telling me that the software “needs updating” — an error message that now will never, never go away. They really want to annoy me into buying an MS 365 subscription.

But the subscription model for software doesn’t work for everyone. It most certainly doesn’t work for me. First of all, subscription software costs more — way more — for low-level users like me. MS 365 costs $100 a year. I bought MS Office 2019 for something like $125 and used it for 5 years, so MS 365 is about four times as expensive. Second, even though MS 365 uses an open file format, I don’t trust Microsoft. It would be all too easy for them to decide to emulate Adobe — when you stop subscribing to Adobe’s software, you lose access to all your work. Third, I actually don’t want my software constantly upgraded to the latest version with all the bells and whistles, I just want to use the same software version that I know and with which I’m comfortable, and with which I’m most productive. Fourth, I have subscription fatigue: I. Don’t. Want. Any. More. Subscriptions.

And finally, the only part of Microsoft’s office suite I really use is MS Word. So if I want to escape Microsoft’s evil clutches, all I need to do is find an alternative word processing program.

I’ve been working down the list of word processors. I’ve tried Scrivener and Nota Bene, but both products are too specialized for my needs. Both Google Docs and ApplePages both strike me as not quite ready for prime time; they certainly don’t meet my needs. I skipped over many other word processors, including Nisus Writer and Apache Open Office, because they appear to have such a small user base that I don’t trust them to be around for a long time.

I’ve finally gotten around to LibreOffice. So far, it does what I want it to do. It has an installed user base of about 200 million (small compared to MS Word’s 1 billion, but still…). There are some things about LibreOffice that annoy me, but so far it’s less annoying than MS Word. I like that it’s free and open source, and because I’m a regular user of GIMP and WordPress I’m accustomed to the quirks of open source software development communities.

I think I like LibreOffice enough to invest the hours needed in order to become as productive with it as I currently am with MS Word. I’m actually relieved at the prospect that if I can get fluent with LibreOffice I’ll never have to use MS Word ever again. I’ve always hated Word, I just felt stuck with it.

Even though I’ve always hated Word, I’m mightily resentful that I’m being forced to learn how to use a new word processor. For no good reason except that the corporate executives at Microsoft need to support their lavish lifestyles on the backs of their customers.

Teacher of the year

De’Shawn Washington, teacher of the year in Massachusetts, came to Cohasset at the 20th annual breakfast honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Washington is a fourth grade teacher at Maria Hastings Elementary School in Lexington, Mass.

His was one of the best talks I’ve heard in a long time. He spoke about how Martin Luther King’s message continues to inspire and inform his own teaching practice. But he really shone during the question and answer period after his talk. Of course you’d expect a fourth grade teacher to be able to think on their feet. What I really appreciated, though, was that he kept his focus on children and their families. His worldview is both humane and child-centered.

Washington is speaking frequently across the state this year. If you get a chance to hear him, go. We’re luck to have him representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as our teacher of the year.

Washington’s talk was sponsored by the Cohasset Diversity Committee and the Cohasset Clergy. The hosting congregation this year was First Parish in Cohasset.

Man standing at a podium draped with the Pan Afrian flag.
De’Shawn Washington at the podium

(I had this post written then got caught up in work responsibilities and forgot to post it on Wed. So the post is dated Wed. but was actually posted on Sat.)


Christian Cooper, a self-described gay Black nerd, writes:

“Some African Americans — some of the ones who aren’t LGBTQ — dismiss the gay experience because, unlike Black folk, gays can blend in at will…. Being Black and gay, I find the ‘Who’s More Oppressed?’ sweepstakes exasperating. There can be no winner, and it creates the false impression of a stark divide between communities. (It also ignores a special case where the gay and Black experiences are remarkably similar: the situation of light-skinned African Americans who hide their heritage to ‘pass’ as white, which maps closely with the experience of being in the closet.) The reality is that these experiences live together in the brown-skinned, queer bodies of hundreds of thousands of people, including me.” [Better Living Through Birding, pp. 25, 26-27]

As a gay teenager, Cooper found refuge in the nerd worlds of birding, and of science fiction and fantasy. (Coincidentally, he and I were both at Noreascon in 1980 worldcon, which is the only worldcon I ever attended.) Which is kind of interesting, since both birding and science fiction fandom are astonishingly White.

Happy Tea Party Day

Today is the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. There’s a big re-enactment going on in Boston today, but who wants to fight the crowds who will show up to watch (not me). As a replacement for fighting the crowds, here’s a little history about our town’s connection to the Tea Party. This is from E. Victor Bigelow’s 1898 book A Narrative History of Cohasset (p.284):

“It is no small honor that three of our young men [from Cohasset] were among those who boarded the vessels in that last manly endeavor to maintain the bulwarks of fundamental human justice.

“The oldest was Jared Joy, of Beechwood, then twenty-four years of age and afterwards a soldier of the Revolution. His tombstone is in the Beechwood Cemetery, where he was buried in his forty-third year, receives annual decoration at the hands of the grand Army.

“The second was Abraham Tower, twenty years of age, the grandfather of our current town treasurer, and after the Revolution owner of a large commerce at the Cove.

“The third was James Stoddard, a lad of seventeen, afterwards ‘major’ in the local militia. The bits of tea which lodged in his clothing and shoes were scattered upon the floor at his boarding house in Boston the next morning, and caused him no little alarm lest he might be discovered and punished. But honor and not punishment is now measured to all three of these Cohasset boys….”

I especially like the anecdote about James Stoddard. It gives insight both into Stoddard’s emotional state, and insight into the real possibility of punishment for those who participated in the Tea Party.

I knew you were going to say that

Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist based at Stanford University, has published a new book in which he upholds the doctrine of hard determinism, asserting there’s no such thing as free will. Which makes me want to say: “I knew you were going to write that book.” To which he could respond, “I knew you were going to make that bad joke.”

In any case, Adam Plovarchy has written a response to Sapolsky for The Conversation, “A Stanford professor says science shows free will doesn’t exist. Here’s why he’s mistaken.” Plovarchy, a philosopher, concludes:

“Showing nobody is responsible for what they do requires understanding and engaging with all the positions on offer. Sapolsky doesn’t do this…. Interdisciplinary work is valuable and scientists are welcome to contribute to age-old philosophical questions. But unless they engage with existing arguments first, rather than picking a definition they like and attacking others for not meeting it, their claims will simply be confused.”

I have a different, but related, observation regarding Sapolsky’s book. The question of free will vs. determinism gets so much traction in Western culture because of our intellectual history. Western thought has been dominated by Western concepts of a transcendent powerful deity (concepts which predate Christianity, going back at least to Aristotle). During the Enlightenment, John Calvin and others came up with the notion of predestination, a species of hard determinism that has had a major influence on thought in the United States. Given our Calvinist past, Sapolsky’s arguments are likely to have a great deal of emotional resonance for people in the U.S. — arguments for hard determinism are an integral part of Calvinism. No wonder, then, that his book is getting so much press.

This is actually unfortunate, because Sapolsky’s arguments play right into the arguments of the worst of popular Calvinism in the U.S. Our popular understanding of Calvinism has us believing that if you are prosperous and happy, that’s a sign that God has predestined you for heaven; if your life sucks, that’s a sign that God has destined you for hell. And there’s nothing to you can do about it, although those who are prosperous and happy are obviously the ones whom God has chosen to rule over all the others. Indeed, in a 2021 interview with Psychiatric News, Saplosky even says something quite similar to these pop-Calvinist notions:

“[Sapolsky] suggests that those of us who have received a lucky roll of the evolutionary, genetic, and psychosocial roll of the dice have little choice but to take up the task of repairing the world. ‘Eventually it can seem hopeless that you can fix something, make things better. But we have no choice but to try. If you are reading this, you are probably ideally suited to do so. You have amply proven you have intellectual tenacity, you probably also have running water, a home, adequate calories, and low odds of festering with a bad parasitic disease. You probably don’t have to worry about … warlords or being invisible in your own world. And you’ve been educated. In other words, you’re one of the lucky humans. So try.’”

Instead of the Calvinist God, Sapolsky substitutes an evolutionary, genetic, and psychosocial roll of the dice. Aside from that substitution, this sounds similar to popular U.S. Calvinism. If you wind up as a Stanford professor, you’re one of the lucky humans who gets to try to show others how to live. I guess you could argue that Sapolsky is, in fact, correct — he has been shaped by a psychosocial roll of the dice, so no wonder he winds up sounding like a pop-Calvinist. I just wish he would try a little harder to learn more about the intellectual heritage which has shaped him, apparently without much awareness on his part. Which is the point that Plovarchy is making — at least try not to be ignorant.