Sunday, May 31, 2020

Cannabis Used to "Stimulate Ecstasy" Found at Ancient Shrine - To The Goddess Asherah?

Two altars found at the Arad shrine on display at The Israel Museum. 
An altar at a Judahite shrine dating to the 8th century B.C. was used to burn cannabis for ecstatic effect, researchers Eran Arie, Baruch Rosen and Dvory Namdar report. The discovery was made by performing a chemical analysis of residue found on the smaller of two limestone altars found at the entrance to the "Holy of Holies"(the inner sanctum) at the Arad shrine in Southern Israel. The second, larger altar was used to burn frankincense, a widely traded incense that was highly valued at the time (as was, presumably, cannabis). Fifty similar altars have been found in the southern Levant.

The shrine as discovered in 1963.
"It seems feasible to suggest that the use of cannabis on the Arad altar had a deliberate psychoactive role," the researchers state, writing in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. "The frequent use of hallucinogenic materials for cultic purposes in the Ancient Near East and beyond is well known and goes back as early as prehistoric periods (e.g., Rudgley 1995; Merlin 2003; Guerra-Doce 2015*)....These psychoactive ingredients were destined to stimulate ecstasy as part of cultic ceremonies. As shown in this study, 8th century Judah may now be added to the places where these rituals took place." This is some 200 years after the fabled Temple of Solomon with its many incense burners.

The discovery lends credence to Polish anthropologist Dr. Sula Benet's 1936 doctoral thesis ''Hashish in Folk Customs and Beliefs,'' which theorized that the biblical incense kaneh bosm, meaning "aromatic cane" was cannabis, mistranslated as "calamus" in the modern bibles. "Taking into account the matriarchal element of Semitic culture, one is led to believe, that Asia Minor was the original point of expansion for both the society based on the Matriarchal circle and the mass use of hashish," Benet wrote.

Ke(d)eshet, the Egyptian goddess related to Asherah,
standing on a lion. (British Museum.)
"Previous scholars have theorized that the two altars were devoted to two deities who were worshipped at the shrine, possibly a divine couple," Arie, Rosen and Namdarwrite. In other shrines where two incense altars were found together, "the same conclusion about multiple deities worshipped has been drawn."

Shards of pottery with the name "Yahweh" have been found at the shrine; his consort was the Goddess Asherah, to whom incense was burned, described (and decried) in the Hebrew Scriptures. "Inscriptions from two locations in southern Palestine seem to indicate that she was also worshiped as the consort of Yahweh." ( Pictorial evidence has also been found.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Watch How Phyllis Schlafly Waged War on Women in "Mrs. America"

Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan debates Cate
Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in Mrs. America
The FX/Hulu series Mrs. America is an eye-opening, skillfully produced and acted story of the women who advanced womens' rights in the 1970s, and the woman who took them down: Phyllis Schlafly.

I had thought Schlafly was just a wing-nut like the anti-gay Anita Bryant, with a single cause: the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. But in fact, she was a foreign policy expert whose influential book, A Choice Not an Echo is thought to have been instrumental in Barry Goldwater winning the California primary and Republican nomination for president in 1964. A shrewd political strategist, Schlafly parlayed her STOP ERA campaign into enough political power to swing the Republican party so far to the right that it embraced Ronald Reagan and his "Just Say No" wife Nancy and so much more, all the way up to Trump, whom Schlafly supported before she died in 2016.

Portrayed impeccably (as always) by Cate Blanchett, who co-produced the series, we watch Schlafly forming alliances with rabid anti-abortion, anti-gay hate groups whose drivers turn out to be KKK members; finding out that her eldest son is gay and lecturing him about controlling his impulses; crossing swords with fellow Republican Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) and the ultra liberal Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman); and getting a pie thrown in her face just like Bryant did.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Tommy Chong Bong Song, Johnny Cash, and Me

Hear the Tommy Chong Bong Song.
It was September 2003, and Tommy Chong was being sent to prison for selling bongs.

I'd written so many articles about people being caught up in our unconscionable war against a plant over the years, I just couldn't bring myself to write one more. There were so many injustices involved, including the fact that Chong was targeted because of the irreverent Cheech and Chong movies he'd made, in a country that is supposed to revere freedom of speech.

So I decided to write a song instead.

Because the "Operation Pipe Dreams" that took Chong down involved 1200 officers in raids of head shops and distributors across the country, leading to 55 arrests, the lyric began:

While the terrorists were knocking on our front door
Twelve hundred policemen didn't have much more
To do than round up 55 in their dragnet
For sellin' a giggle on the internet
We can't find Bin Laden and we're stuck in Iraq
But we've got Tommy Chong under key and lock 

Tommy Chong, Tommy Chong
Servin' nine months in prison for selling bongs
To you I sing this song 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Of Jean Seberg, and Jeanne d'Arc

I thought it was a little over the top that the opening scene of the Amazon film Seberg showed actress Jean Seberg being burned at the stake while playing Joan of Arc. But after watching the movie, starring Kristen Stewart in the title role, I realized it was perfectly appropriate.

Jean Seberg was a 17-year-old girl from a small town in Iowa when she was entered in an international talent search to find someone to play Joan of Arc. Director Otto Preminger cast Jean after reportedly testing 18,000 young women for the title role in the 1957 film St. Joan, with a screenplay by Graham Greene from the George Bernard Shaw play of the same name.

Seberg was badly burned filming the scene where Joan is put to death, but she later said the emotional scars she endured were worse. Those she got from the critics and from working with Preminger, who was notoriously abusive to his actresses. (Robert Mitchum once slapped Preminger on the set, after he demanded repeated takes of Mitchum slapping actress Jean Simmons.) Seberg went on to become a darling of the French avant garde cinema for her role in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, and also starred in Hollywood pictures, like Paint Your Wagon and Airport.

Jean as Jeanne
Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) was also 17 when she announced her calling to fight the English invaders in France. Among the many accusations against her were that she danced as a child at a "fairy tree" at Domr√©my, and that she used mandrake and other "witching herbs." The two saints who spoke to her were St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret the Virgin. Some modern scholars think that the legend of Catherine was based on the life and murder of the Greek philosopher Hypatia, (with reversed roles of Christians and pagans). As Saint Marina, St. Margaret is associated with the sea, and possibly the goddess Aphrodite.

Like Jeanne before her, Jean stood up for causes she believed in, namely the Black Panther Party, which was funding schools and meal programs, as well as engaging in more militant rhetoric and activity. Dialog from Seberg about the violent mistreatment of blacks by police echo in protests of today over those ongoing abuses.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Something to Watch if You're "Bored to Death"

From the opening credits of "Bored to Death"
I was feeling a little, well, bored to death while sheltering at home, so it seemed like the kiss of Kismet when I noticed that Amazon Prime is running the 2009-2011 HBO Series Bored to Death through 5/21.

I knew I would like it right away when, in the cartoon-drawn opening credits, Ted Danson's character George hands a joint to Jason Schwartzman playing Jonathan, an insecure writer who tries his hand at being an "unlicensed" private detective after reading too many Raymond Chandler novels.

The show almost has social distancing
down (with Olivia Thirlby).
In the pilot episode Jonathan loses his girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby, from The Wackness) because he won't stop drinking and smoking pot. He cuts down to white wine, but smokes in almost every episode with his friends George, a womanizing magazine publisher, and Ray, an infantile cartoonist played by the always-funny Zach Galifianakis, who's probably most famous for lighting up a joint on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Jonathan hilariously captures his prey with kindness, acting more as a psychotherapist than a detective much of the time. But as the series evolves he finds his courage, as does Ray, whose spoofy cartoon character "Super Ray" gains his powers when his huge penis touches a subway rail. (Yes, we're in New York City.) Ray and George bond over some weed-fueled revelations while they wait for Jonathan on a stake out, leading to more madcap adventures.

Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) and Stella (Jenny Slate) on a date. 
One of the girls gets to have her ganja fun when Jonathan meets the pro-pot Stella played by comedienne Jenny Slate. "She's beautiful, she's Jewish, and she's got a great vaporizer," he says after Stella invites him over to try her new Volcano vaporizer.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mothering and Marijuana

UPDATE: Finn has responded to her critics in a second oped: "MY KIDS WATCH ME DRINK WINE. PRETTY OFTEN. IS THAT A PROBLEM?"

The website of a mother who objected to legal cannabis in the LA Times. (Accessed 4/13/20.)

While we're all homebound during the COVID crisis, the usual "Mommy Needs Her Wine" memes have proliferated, with lines like, "Can anyone recommend a good breakfast wine?" and the ominous prediction, "You think it's bad now? In 20 years our country will be run by kids who were home schooled by day drinkers." There's even a Facebook group, "Mommy Needs Vodka." But mothers who use cannabis haven't reached this level of acceptance, despite a new study finding that 16 percent of moms say they are using cannabis to cope with COVID, compared to 11 percent of fathers.

Meanwhile, the LA Times has seen fit to publish for 4/20 an op-ed from a mother irate about the presence of cannabis clubs and billboards around Los Angeles. The author Robin Finn, a “Writer/Coach/Inner Peace Enthusiast,” displayed at the top of her website (at the time) a picture of herself with a glass of wine in her hand with the headline, "Be right there. I'm working...." apparently shirking her parental duties to do some drinking. Finn, who has a public health degree, is addressing our current crisis with weighty articles like, “What is the proper footwear for a Global Pandemic?” “Why A Global Pandemic is not a Good Time to give up Your Anxiety Medication” and “This is Not About Coronavirus. It’s About Tits.”

Ms. Finn frets about her kids becoming drug addicts if they try marijuana, as I'm sure a lot of parents do. She mentions the movie Beautiful Boy, in which a father (played by Steve Carrell) admits to his drug-addicted son that he used drugs in his past, but fails to take the opportunity to discuss the important differences between hard drugs and marijuana, or the value of moderation.

Jennifer Connelly talking with her son (Nat Wolff) in "Stuck in Love"
This is strikingly different from movies like 9-5, Peace Love & Misunderstanding and Stuck in Love where mothers or grandmothers are able to talk to teens about these important distinctions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Review: "Grass is Greener" from Netflix

The Netflix marijuana documentary “Grass is Greener” is a milestone in the form, told from the perspective of the African-American community that has been so hard hit by the War on Drugs.

Directed and narrated by Frederick Brathwaite, better known as “Fab 5 Freddie” who DJed a hip hop show on MTV, the film features interviews with Snoop Dog, Damian Marley, B Real, Killer Mike, and others, as well as women like Reggae artist Jah 9.

With awesome graphics, music, and archival materials throughout, it starts with the history of cannabis use and prohibition in the US, interviewing pioneer authors Larry "Ratso" Sloman and Steve Hagar, along with Criminal Justice Professor Baz Dreisinger.

The connection between marijuana and music is made right away, starting in New Orleans with the story of Louis Armstrong, and interviewing old-time musicians who have used cannabis for 60 or 70 years. Mezz Mezzrow, the Jewish jazz clarinetist who supplied Harlem with "reefers" back in the day is compared to the modern Mezz, a dealer named Branson who has been extolled in dozens of rap songs.

Everything from the 1944 Laguardia Report, to Nixon's burying of the 1972 Shafer Commission report and subsequent racist comments made by him and his aide John Ehrlichman, and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign to the rise of pro-legalization Reggae artists Bob Marley and Peter Tosh are given their due.

These are familiar themes, but where "Grass is Greener" departs and breaks ground is where it goes from there, starting with examples of Hip Hop songs that warned against hard drug use, and Snoop's admission that, as a cocaine dealer, he grew distressed at watching the damage that drug caused. Weed, however,  was "fly" and he made it his mission to turn the world onto the better drug. Soon Cypress Hill was smoking weed on SNL, Dr. Dre released his CD "The Chronic," and there was no putting the ganja genie back in the bottle.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Chrissie Hynde Remembers the Kent State Shootings

It's 50 years today since the Kent State shootings, when the National Guard shot 67 bullets at college students, injuring nine and killing four.

A 15-year-old Hynde in her Ohio backyard. 
One student who witnessed the shootings was the 18-year-old Akron native and Tokin' Woman Chrissie Hynde, who went on to move to London, have a kid with Ray Davies, and front her band the Pretenders. She knew the shooting victim Jeff Miller, who was dating a friend of hers.

Hynde describes those "four days in May" in her 2015 memoir, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender. "We were proud that KSU was a recognized 'antiwar' University like Berkeley in California," she writes. "The war was a terrible blight on our certainty that we were making the world a better place—more conscious, more inclusive, more free."

"The real problem was that none of us understood why we were actually in Vietnam. No one seemed to be able to offer a clear explanation. The spread of communism was the reason given," she wrote. "Seemed a little abstract to us pot-smoking peaceniks."

"The draft system was devised in such a way that the offspring of the affluent would never have to got to war," she continues. "The only song I remember that addressed this omission was 'Fortunate Son' by Creedence Clearwater Revival."

After the shootings, Crosby Stills Nash & Young released their single "Ohio."


Hynde writes,"A couple of weeks later on the radio, we heard a new song by Neil Young, "Ohio," about the horrible event. That made us feel better; we needed to be acknowledged. It was a big element in easing us out of shock."

The line, "What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?" from "Ohio" referred to the 20-year-old student Sandy Scheuer, who was walking to class when she was shot. The others killed that day were Bill Schroeder, 19, who was also walking to class and not part of the protest; Allison Krause, 19, and Jeffrey Miller, 20, who were protesting the US Cambodian invasion.

A beautiful online remembrance from Kent State happened at noon today and can still be viewed. It begins with a vocal performance of Stephen Stills' composition "Find The Cost of Freedom" that was the B-side to "Ohio." A bell was rung six times, for the four Kent State students who died and the two killed at Jackson State in Mississippi eleven days later. They were Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, and James Earl Green, 17.