Friday, May 15, 2015


Last weekend at a bar in Hamilton, which is a sometimes fancy and rather nutty part of Montana west of the Rockies, there was a passion-packed weekend.  Both idealistic love and religious piety caused gunfire to ring out.  Monte Hanson, 59, was outraged when Joe Lewis, 29, the bartender, served him a red beer with Clamato in it instead of tomato juice.  Hanson claimed he was Jewish and that clam broth is an offense against his religion.  The more he thought about it, the more he became righteous, though the bar was now closed.  He went over to Lewis home to get revenge, saying he intended to shoot him to death.

The love part was that Lewis’ “red nose” pit bull, which had recently had a toe amputated, was in a cast and had to be carried outside to pee.  That’s when Hanson fired.  The bullet hit Jackson, the pit bull, in the head and was deflected enough to go into Joe Lewis’ ribs and out his back without hitting major organs.  He will survive.

Who wouldn't love a face like that?

Lewis was not at the ritzy end of the class structure.  He cut wood and tended bar.  A tough guy, he’s out of the hospital but he’ll be out of work for at least three months.  Monte Hanson is in jail with bail set at $250,000.  No information on whether the jail meals are kosher.  He has a public defender.  Some think the bail is too low.

On the one hand, this is so ridiculous and backwoods that it’s just a joke.  On the other hand it is very, very real.  More than one guy is attached to his dog more than any other living thing and more than one guy uses some ancient “religious” jot-and-tittle rule to justify being out of control and stupid in the first place.  I can understand loving a dog a lot easier than understanding an ancient Hebrew god who forbids clam juice to the point of shooting someone.  But then, “Monte” (which is not exactly a traditional Jewish name) also claimed he had the right to kill Joe.  He’s been watching the news about “Sharia” law.

Monte Hanson

There’s a lot of this kind of stuff going around, esp. during a cold late spring in a dark timber valley saloon.  But the incident is useful in terms of reflection.

First, let’s look at the love of the dog which was NOT shot at the bar, but in the hallway of an old brick building converted into apartments where both Monte and Joe had apartments.  Monte fired five bullets but only hit the dog and Joe once, the single bullet penetrating both targets.  Joe had a girl friend in residence.  The two men knew each other.

Pit bulls are sturdy, protective, strong-jawed dogs often trained to fight each other.  People who buy them might want to represent power, and self-protection.  When I was at animal control, we often held them in protective custody.  They came in lean, mean, scarred, and scowling.  Since we enjoyed coaxing them by sharing bits of our lunches and because the trial system works slowly, they often went out fat, sleepy and grinning.  Dogs respond to the way they are treated.  How this dog lost a toe we are not told.  He was not attacking, but held by Joe against Joe's chest -- you might say over his heart.

Joe Lewis and Jackson

Monte, in his claim that Clamato was against his religion must have been thinking of Leviticus, where rules for healthy living include a taboo on shellfish.  Leviticus 11-12
“Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you.”  Leviticus and Deuteronomy are full of good advice that fit those times and the convictions of authority figures, but the times change.  The prohibition on mixed fabrics can hardly apply to spandex and fleece.  The prohibition on homosexuality comes in part from these lists.   Some people are as emotionally dedicated to the evils of gayness as Monte is  convinced of the evils of Clamato -- enough to want to kill the bartender.

Most of what we call “religion” is systematized understanding that arose in a specific time and place, inspired and endorsed by certain convictions about how to act in order to survive.  Clams can be toxic at certain times of year and in polluted water can harbor harmful bacteria.  Monte’s idea probably came from the practice of trying to torture prisoners mentally by forcing them to break taboos.  In both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, Islamic prisoners --whose taboo systems are much like Old Testament rules because their habitats are similar -- were forced to eat pork.  In Africa where the Biblical taboos are not known, such strategy is escalated to making kids fuck their mothers.  This specific incest taboo has a deep biological source meant to protect families.  Christianity succeeds in places where the values of sustaining family integration are a key to survival.  This means much of the symbol system is portable, less dependent on ecology as in the tribal and often war-like Old Testament.  

TV fans the flames.

The books of the Old Testament were largely written in a time when erosion of the land and tribal rivalry meant that warriors were valued.  Power counted.  Monte sort of senses that in his muddled way. Today's times are shrinking economically and he is sinking into old age.  He wants power and figures that if he aligns himself with religious patriarchs, that will trump Joe -- young, handsome, and, as the bartender, the boss of the tavern at that moment. 

I doubt Joe had any intention of offense by using Clamato.  They don’t think much about clams in Ravalli County.  More probably he thought Monte had had enough and cut off his supply.  Monte then wanted to claim he was the righteous victim and was clever enough to resort to an old religious instruction.

Pigs/pork is taboo because they need a lot of water which may not be in abundance, because they are enough like humans in physiological terms to swap diseases with humans (a bridge from bird flu, for instance), because they can be big dangerous animals, and because they and pariah dogs clean streets in primitive places -- that is, they eat shit and corpses.  Even in our modern supposedly sanitary and inspected circumstances, we are advised to cook pork thoroughly.

It’s interesting that Old Testament laws are often meant to push women down under the power of the patriarchs, so they will be compelled to stay home and have babies.  We are still struggling with those assumptions.  In places with Sharia law, women are still stoned to death, flogged, amputated, for taboos the rest of the world consider perfectly normal behavior, like driving a car or going around unmasked.  But if you look at the video linked above, it’s clear that both the judge and the public defender are female and attractive.  They have the power.

Poor Monte -- he no longer fits the world.  He wouldn’t like Sharia law since there’s a major taboo on alcohol.  Joe is a known and liked local boy with a protective brother and a community that’s already building up a fund for his hospital costs.  No one is taking up a collection to defend Monte.  Why would they?

One of the effects of globalization is that religious systems get torn into pieces and then mismatched for purposes they were never meant for.  Right now a new system that is not under the control of institutions, even churches, is emerging from loose family and community life, like Joe’s. It looks like Monte is going to find a community behind bars.  The tragedy is that he’ll probably fit right in.

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