Check out my new book, Gods and Heroes

Its full title is Gods and Heroes: myths around the world.  It has cool stories and lots of pictures – a must for any book of mine.

Why a book about myths?  (from the Introduction)  “Myths are the traditional stories of a culture… we can see a reflection of the people who wrote them – what they thought of the world and themselves, how they were different from us, and how they were the same… (and) why might this culture have thought it was important to continue telling this tale, year after year, generation after generation.”

Think of today’s stories: George Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” about the cherry tree; Lincoln walking miles to return change to a customer; Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill; even JFK and PT 109. Whether myths or historical facts, they reflect who we are or want to be.

What separates history and myth? Probably time and who’s doing the telling.

My book describes myths and heroes from thousands of years ago in stories that reflect past cultures and, in small ways, tease the cultures of today.

For example, before there was Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio, there was Heracles (p. 107), “the most popular hero to come out of Greek mythology”. Somewhat like the Eagles’ 17 game path to the Super Bowl immortality, Heracles was given 12 tasks to accomplish for personal immortality. Instead of demolishing the Cowboys 27-13, though, one of Heracles’ tasks was to clean all the stables and grounds of King Augeas, “who owned the largest animal herds of all of Greece as well as the most poop-filled stables.”

(Did I mention my book was written to entertain and educate middle schoolers? Works, doesn’t it.)

Like Boston’s shock at 2ndstring Nick Foles’ superior passing, which immortalized him in Philadelphia, King Augeas didn’t expect Heracles “to divert a river to do the cleaning for him”, which immortalized Heracles in Greece.

There is the story of Leizu (p. 140), wife of the Yellow Emperor of China. “One afternoon she discovered some cocoons in a mulberry tree.” When one fell into her tea, “the hot water made the cocoon unravel, and she pulled and pulled at the string… to make silk threat and fabric”.

Far-fetched? How long will it take for the more recent story of making thread from a spinning wheel to feel like a myth?

And then there is the Greek god Zeus (p. 285), “god of kings and king of gods…ruling gods and mortals alike with a muscular arm and a fist full of lightning bolts.”

Being a god didn’t make Zeus a good guy, though, because, “while he may be married, Zeus had enough affairs and children to put him at the center of any Greek family tree.”

Today’s parallel? I just read about Eddie Murphy having 5 wives and 10 kids. (Just saying…)

The Romans liked Zeus so much, they copied his myths for their own god, Jupiter.

You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the Achilles’ heel. (p.10) “It’s named after Achilles, a Greek hero from the Trojan War (in which Greek soldiers hid in a large wooden horse statue which they gave to the Trojans and then, at night, climbed out and killed all the Trojans.” Thus the “Trojan Horse” of today.)

Anyway, back to Achilles. “When he was a baby, his mother dipped him in magical water that would make him invincible…except the heel she held him by. He grew up to be one of the greatest warriors of his age, undefeated until he was shot in the heel with a poisoned arrow during the Trojan War.”

And let’s not forget Inanna (p. 115), “the subject of one of the oldest love poems in human history, but it’s a little too risque to repeat here.” (Middle schoolers, remember).

I recommend you get this book, not because it’s my book, because it really isn’t. Well, it is, really, because I bought it the day it came out. On the other hand it isn’t, because I’m not the one who wrote and illustrated it. I can’t draw – a thing – and I sure as heck can’t write 300 pages about anything, especially gods and heroes.

However, I did bounce on my knee the young Briggs who grew up to write and illustrate it.

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“If it’s painful for you, think what it does to us.”

I have heard some versions of that phrase for a number of years now, whenever the subject of child rape comes up, and not just from Catholics. While the Catholic Church is in the spotlight again this week, and has been on and off for decades, maybe even centuries, it isn’t alone.

A few years ago, my old high school sent a letter to alumni admitting to sexual abuse of students. It wasn’t alone. The Chicago School System had child abuse at its schools, as did LA and other cities. To a lessor or greater extent, so did many other schools, none of them Catholic: St. Paul’s, Choate-Rosemary Hall, Exeter, to name a few. Horace Mann in New York had 62 cases. “Me” and “mini-me”, compared to the Catholic Church, of course, but not in terms of the harm: the non-Catholic kid suffered just as much as the kid in CCD or PSR.

In most cases people who love those institutions – from school alumni to lay board members – share the “if it is painful for you, think what it is to us” sentiment with outsiders. And then continue with their lives as though nothing had happened.

Child sexual abuse is bad; knowing about it and doing nothing to stop it is horrific.

My old high school recently admitted to instances of child sexual assault and rape that first occurred over 30 years ago. They spent the following two years investigating the extent of the claims and sending letters dripping with remorse (written by a national PR firm) to alumni and parents. Not once during those two years did they write about a plan for preventing future abuse.

They used some of the same lawyers hired by the Catholic Church in Boston, the subject of the movie “Spotlight”.  And they applied some of the same tactics to those initial victims: delayed responses, threats of brutal cross examination in court, contentious settlement negotiations, invoking statutes of limitations – effectively wearing down the victims until they broke and gave up.

The good news: the school eventually did the right thing. It settled with the 40 victims and is providing them with long-term therapy and support. The better news: they finally have a detailed plan to prevent future abuses, something they should have done 30 years before.

The problem of pedophilia is not limited to the Catholic Church. But, because of its size, because of its centralized authority from Rome to the US, Europe, Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, and because of its claim of ultimate morality, the Catholic Church is far more hypocritical and sinister.

Every organism, from the tiniest plant to the biggest carnivore, has one over-riding desire: to keep living and to continue the species. Organizations do the same thing.

Which explains some of the thinking behind “If it is painful for you, think what it is to us”. As any Christian will tell you, Christianity doesn’t promote child abuse; it promotes protecting children. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven”, said Jesus. Its a sentiment echoed throughout all religions. Accordingly, pedophile priests are aberrations of a superior morality; the Church itself is good, and noble. To preserve the overarching mission, then, instead of purging these priests, Church leaders transferred them to other parishes, sent them for therapy, and/or retired them. What they didn’t do was send them to jail.

At the same time they protected the pedophiles, they fought the victims tooth and nail in the courts. The victims got brutalized again.

Now, imagine a different approach. Imagine all those in power protecting children, instead of the institution. Imagine pedophile priests being culled out, publicly tried and sent jail. Imagine protocols in place for screening and reviewing priests’ behaviors, overseen by lay parishioners.

Imagine parishioners holding their Church accountable and either leaving it or staying and giving donations to other charities until the Church starts protecting children. Imagine parishioners speaking out – loudly – against the pedophile priests and the bishops, archbishops, and cardinals who covered for them. Imagine Pope Francis doing more than talking; imagine him defrocking or excommunicating Church leaders who don’t practice the morality they preach.

Imagine Catholics not having to say – ever again – “If it’s painful for you, think what it does to us”.

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An “Enemy of the American People”

A few days ago, The Boston Globe proposed that, on August 16th, newspaper opinion writers write about Donald Trump’s “Enemy of the American People” description of the media. As I write this column, 200 other papers have decided to join the Globe.

If Trump walked up to a guy in a bar (assuming no Secret Service to protect him) and started calling him an “Enemy of the People”, “dangerous and sick”, a “stain on America”, “fake news”,  “very dishonest” – which he’s called the media – he’d very soon be looking at the world through his belly button. But because he’s the President and he’s insulting reporters, those same reporters take the insults and don’t react. Why? Because it’s their job to report the news, not be part of it. So, except in rare instances, they don’t respond to their President, a man whose priorities are a constant tan, fake hair, junk food, and a nearly constant stream of lies, especially about reporters.

How long would you take that kind of treatment if you were a reporter? Small wonder they keep a running tally of his lies.

The biggest lie, of course, is the one about the media being the “Enemy of the American People”. Unfortunately, it is a lie so “colossal”few would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truthso infamously”. (The quotes are from Hitler’s 1925 book Mein Kampf, in which he outlined his strategy of using The Big Lie against Jews).

Let’s examine Trump’s “Enemy of the American People” claim, just for a bit. That would include Walter Cronkite, who first brought the America people the truth about Viet Nam. That would include the New York Times, which published the Pentagon Papers and exposed the lies the American government told its citizens about Viet Nam. That would include Woodward and Bernstein, who exposed Nixon’s crookedness. That would include the exposure of Wells Fargo for stealing from its customers. That would include reporting on the thousands of children abused by priests of the Catholic Church for decades, including this week’s stories about 70 years of priests hurting kids in Pennsylvania.

Anyone can post “fake news” on the web, as Trump does. Not so real reporters. Real reporters, working for real newspapers, have real rules: facts have to be verified, usually twice; stories are screened by real, professional editors. Newspapers do this so readers can rely on them for the truth. Do they always get it right? No. But unlike Trump and other purveyors of really fake news, newspapers correct even minor misspellings, immediately. Check any major paper and you’ll see notes to that effect at the bottom of articles.

Which is why the media are not Enemies of the American People; they are Allies of the American People.

Hey, Mr. President, want to see some real “Enemies of the American People”?

How about the opiod Crisis? How about our crumbling infrastructure? How about Russia, climate change, economic inequality and the shrinking middle class? How the World Healthcare ranking of American healthcare as 37th in the world and the US Educational System ranking of 24th or below, worldwide? How about local gerrymandering and a federal government that tears children from their parents? How about banks that steal from customers, a health system that ignores 27 million Americans, etc…?

How about attacking those – real – Enemies of the American People, Mr. President? How about doing something to actually help the country instead of lashing out like an angry 12 year old?

I’m not talking about policy here, by the way. Debate over policy is healthy, as American as the flag. Debate over policy is the friend of the American People, not the enemy. That’s how we choose our leaders, and how, when, why and where they should take this country.

Nope, I’m talking about personality, not policy. I’m talking about one personality who uses lies against truth, who deliberately turns Americans against each other and against a world we once led and helped make safe, who is damaging the very soul of this country.

I’m talking about President Donald Trump.

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When fear begets anger

Say you come home after a long day at work. Your husband is at the kitchen table with the bills and you sit down for the monthly “which bill should we pay and which should we ignore?” discussion.

Just then Little Joey runs into the kitchen screaming in pain. He got into a fight in the playground and a lower front tooth is tilted outward and dripping blood. The calculator in your mind ratchets up thousands in dental bills and you wonder how you’ll pay them and still eat.

That’s fear.

Then your husband starts yelling at Little Joey for getting into a fight.

Little Joey starts crying. His tooth drops to the floor and, as you dive for it, your calculator goes into overdrive and you scream at your husband that he’s just condemned the family to mac ’n cheese for the rest of your lives.

That’s fear begetting anger.

Politicians have, since the dawn of time, fanned fear as a way of getting voters to vote – for them. Both sides do it. It’s kind of like pharmaceutical ads that target old folks with stomach problems. “Here’s a protein drink that will keep you healthy AND unclog your intestines!” Old guys in retirement homes think, “Hey! I can add a little vodka, drink my dinner – and…! Hey Martha! Let me buy you dinner!”

Trumpites promote the fear of immigrants, people of color, the EU, China, Iran, North Korea, children with binkies (OK, that’s a joke). Democrats promote fear of the Koch Brothers, the end of Obamacare, police shootings, racism, and QAnon (not a joke. Google it).

Each side gets frightened, then angry. Where we once debated policy, we now exchange eye darts and worse.

You have to go back a long way, but there were some presidents who did the opposite. In the 1930’s Roosevelt actually calmed Depression fears with one line: “What we have to fear is fear itself.” (Wouldn’t that be great to hear today?)

Other countries weren’t so lucky in their leaders.  Germany, riled up by Hitler’s fanning fear of the Jews, started WWII. Lenin, and later, Stalin, used fear to take over Russia. Today, dictatorships are spreading from China to South America, as frightened populations vote for strong authoritarian leaders to protect them.

Fear is more than a vote getter; it’s a great way to take over a country.

Today Latin America has 8 percent of the world’s population, but 33 percent of thehomicides. Of the 20 countries with the highest murder rates, 17 are Latin American.  Guess where the people go to escape? US.

Part of our country welcomes them; part hunts them down. Fear and anger flourish on both sides. And now anger is entering voting booths across the country. Anger, unfocussed, can lead to surprising results.

Let’s go back to Little Joey. The bill for re-rooting one tooth is a couple of thousand, but it seems the rest of his teeth also got slightly repositioned in the fight and he’ll need a series of evolving braces over the next two years. The bill is ten thousand or more and your insurance requires you to pay the first $13,100 of medical expenses.

Within a year the stress of pinching pennies gives you chronic intestinal problems. Fear of bankruptcy stalks the family. One day your husband, in an attempt to lighten the stress, plans a weekend at the Mystic Seaport for your family and your best friends. You’re very excited. But he screws up the dates and the friends can’t go. You flip out, accusing him of screwing up deliberately so he won’t have to do the driving. Mouth agape, he reminds you he loves to drive. You spend the weekend yelling instead of going to Mystic. Eventually your miss-directed anger permeates your whole life.  You lose your job, the family declares bankruptcy, and you divorce. Little Joey is so traumatized he never goes to the dentist again.

Now imagine your town is Congress. There’s a family up the street we’ll call the Congressional Healthcare Committee. One member crashes their only car and they scream at each other all day instead of discussing healthcare insurance. Up the street from them is the Armed Services Committee. They’re flipping out over who gets the chair by the window instead of reviewing a new cyber defense system. Near them, the Finance Committee is fighting over who gets best parking spot. And so on.

That’s our government. Fear elected them and anger motivates them.

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