The diversion of diversity

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Hi there. There’s been quite a bit going on lately, I’ve been taking notes, there is a lot to write about, but I will start with this week.

The Supreme Court of the United States revised the meaning of the word “Judicial” to include “Legislative.” In a five to four ruling, the court removed the right of the states to determine who may be married. There is nothing in the Constitution addressing marriage, nonetheless the narrowest of majorities decided the fourteenth amendment’s equal protection clause applied to sexual orientation.

What this means is even if your state decided through the democratic process to not allow same sex marriage, your state must not only recognize marriages performed in another state, it must allow such marriages to be performed within the state. While I have no issue with same sex marriage, I am strongly opposed to the way it has been forced on the states.

I was last married in a Quaker ceremony. Only two states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, allow Quaker weddings, but they are recognized throughout the world. Would it be appropriate for the Supreme Court to force every state to allow Quaker ceremonies? The Quaker church does not have the political clout (nor would it accept such) of the LBGT community, and is not interested in forcing its practices on others. Following the tactics of the LGBT community of late, will Catholic priests be forced to perform same sex marriages, in the manner bakers and photographers have been forced to participate in an event which runs against their personal moral code?

Human rights means respecting each other as individuals. It goes against human nature, xenophobia is an evolutionary advantage. The mature Homo Sapiens should be capable of supporting rights different from its own, xenophobia is the primal fear acceptance equals assimilation. It appears such a primal fear is warranted lately, lack of support for a cause is labeled fear of that cause. Socially, we are regressing. Forcing people to participate in something they are morally opposed to creates much more resentment than asking them to simply accept its existence. Texas is suggesting they will allow a balance of individual rights and Supreme Court activism, this is the petri dish to keep an eye on.

The other big story this week is a tangled mess of propaganda, misinformation, and intolerance. A young man opened fire in a church in South Carolina, killing nine people. Cue the politicians. Interestingly enough, gun control wasn’t immediately mentioned, there was a much more appealing subject. Photographs surfaced of the shooter holding a confederate flag, and the church was described as a “Black Church” (Actually it is an African Methodist Episcopal Church or A.M.E.). During all the conversations about racism no one mentioned churches have no color.

The racism angle was used to reinforce the concept the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. It is not. No more than the rainbow is a symbol homosexuality (remember the Rainbow Coalition?). Coexistence is no longer the desire, we must all be the same. The Confederate flag has never had more meaning, representing rebellion by the states over a tyrannical federal government. So of course, the Federal government supports banishing the flag, applying Orwellian tactics to deny rebellion. Democracy is again denied, as activists remove the flag wherever they can, justified by the belief they just cannot wait for the flag to be banned. The next flag in line? Ask Louis Farrakhan, who wants the American flag to come down. Taking down the flag isn’t sufficient for the Black Panther Party, which has made several appeals to “Kill all White people.” Racial harmony anyone?

The trend is alarming. I suspect I am like most Americans, I can get along with anyone who wants to get along. I cannot, however, get along with people who want to tell me how to feel or think. In the same sense I don’t see all Muslims as members of Al Qaeda, I don’t see all black people as members of the Black Panther party. I don’t think all people with alternative lifestyles are pushing an agenda on me. I don’t think all Southerners are racists, and know that many Northerners are. As a White man, I am more likely to have a Black neighbor in the South than in the North.

One year from now, we will be listening to the dozen or so people who would like to be our next president. Listen closely. Are they speaking about equality and fairness, or legislating their beliefs upon everyone? Are they appealing to fear or hope? Please do not waste your vote confirming the winner, vote your conscience. Demonstrate your personal beliefs. Be an American, while we still have an America.

 

 

 

Why I no longer support Anonymous

Maybe I don’t need any words of explanation at all, just the following image.

 

anonymous

 

This is what makes having friends of various political slants so challenging. I was exceptionally offended by this image, comparing those who gave their lives for their country to a group of criminals, in fact in the accompanying text the hackers of Anonymous were lionized as “true heroes,” the men and women who died in Vietnam were described as being “duped into going,” and lacking “the courage to stand against it.”

I knew people whose names are on that wall. I knew people whose names are on other walls. There is no comparison to people whose pictures are on the Post Office wall, although I’ve known a few of them as well.

 

250px-EdwardleehowardWantedPoster

 

I even have a copy of Lee’s poster, which at one time I had dreamed of getting autographed. Unfortunately he outlived his usefulness and was “retired” by the SVR. No one trusts a traitor. Except “Anonymous,” a misguided group of clueless idealists who believe anything that contradicts authority represents “truth.” One truth is “loose lips sink ships,” ships containing human beings. Another truth is “In order to be an idealist, you must have an idea.”

I suppose the big picture, the reason behind no longer supporting Anonymous or many of the plethora of anarchist groups out there, is because they are not anarchists. The definition “absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal” has been discarded (maybe because it was written by those in authority?), replaced by an ultra authoritarian philosophy. “Defy the current authority and do precisely what I say” has become the anarchists creed.

If one truly believes in personal freedom, how can they take this view? If one truly believes in freedom of expression, allowing the existence of other points of view would appear to be the the very first commandment. As it is, I face routine discrimination from my anarchist friends, racial slurs and negative stereotypes are applied to me daily. “Racial slurs?” Yep, hate to tell you this folks, but if you truly believed in ending racism you could start by not calling me a “middle aged white guy” in the same tone of voice the people you rail against say “nigger.” Don’t imply I have anything in common with my classmate Andy Fastow while complaining that all police officers judge all black people in the same way. Has it never occurred to you that in making such statements you are revealing you judge people based on a single characteristic, which is what you are complaining police officers and people such as myself do? Am I not your friend because I am different from others of my caste? I’m like these people because I am a middle aged white guy (and of course we are all precisely the same), but we should never judge the black kid hiding in the shadows as being like the other criminals hiding in the shadows? Doesn’t your brain hurt from shifting between forward and reverse without a clutch?

The hypocrisies of Anonymous and 0ther anarchist groups who attempt to align themselves with “The Left” appears to me more egregious than the hypocrisies of alleged “Religious” and “Patriotic” groups that attempt to align themselves with “The Right.” Don’t get me wrong, they all are extremists calling for individuals to participate in a nonexistent “main stream.” The far right groups just don’t camouflage their intents with a false garb of freedom. The extreme right comes right out and says “You should not be allowed to do this,” the extreme left says “You should not be allowed to think this (and I know you already do think this)” while holding banners reading “Freedom” and “Tolerance.”

One person said looters are not protestors, and should be shot on sight. I said I was in partial agreement (still hanging onto the trial by jury concept). The anarchist pops into the conversation with “blah blah blah and so should you idiots!” Thank you, I will take your comment as seriously as you have expressed it.

Freedom requires more than lip service. It requires action, and sometimes blood. Nathan Hale understood this, Edward Snowden does not. Ed, you might want to consider why you feel a country with one of the worst human rights records is a good choice in which to take asylum. You have successfully leapt from the frying pan to the fire. Brilliant display of your superior insights.

As we have seen repeatedly, some people jump on the protest band wagon because they want to raise hell. In doing so, they degrade the effect of a protest movement. It takes time, Watts was in ’65, Boston in 76, and a new generation has allowed peaceful protests to be subverted in Ferguson MO and Baltimore MD in the last year. One lesson I learned fairly early is “The conversation is over when the shooting begins.” The same holds true for burning your neighborhood. If we are going to have a conversation that improves society, we can start as soon as you stop hurting people to get my attention. You have my attention, and all I can see is a rowdy mob bent on destruction. Which ideals are you standing for?

 

Passion is not a substitute for intelligence, neither are the two mutually exclusive. Struggles can only be resolved by integrating the two.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rape

A gang rape has taken place, it was widely reported but the victims will not receive closure and the rapists will not be punished.

I’ll be releasing the name of the victim, I know that does not keep with current practice, but her sister, The Truth, happens to be a fellow victim and feels some sunlight needs to shine on this crime. The victim’s name is Journalism, and the rapists are Sabrina Rubin Erdely (AKA Sabrina Rubin), Will Dana, Jann Wenner, and everyone who spread the lies of “Jackie.” For some reason, “Jackie’s” true identity is still being protected, even though in one of the most bizarre cognitive twists her fellow rapists are now blaming her for their crimes.

I haven’t much cared for Rolling Stone magazine since they started stapling the pages together, a few years back a friend gave me a gift subscription of which I read one issue. Rolling Stone lost its soul at some point, moving its headquarters from San Francisco to New York City. No longer even publishing on newspaper, the glossy ad packed mutant is indistinguishable from the other gossip and fashion magazines.

Even in these days of cut and paste journalism, Erdely’s story raised eyebrows. Other publications did not pick up an otherwise attractive (in the sensationalistic sense) story. Within a week of publication, Richard Bradley published an essay questioning the story, followed by Reason.com’s Robby Soave’s piece calling the initial story a “gigantic hoax.” Jonah Goldberg of The Los Angeles Times said in his op-ed column, “when I say the story is incredible, I mean that in the literal, largely abandoned sense of the word. It is not credible — I don’t believe it.”

If these people could see from the polished, published story enormous holes and leaps of logic, how is it writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and editor Will Dana missed them? Jann Wenner, who displayed his idea of sensitivity by moving the magazine away from the “cultural backwater” of San Francisco, apparently feels the story fits his masthead of “All the news that fits” as he has no intention of firing either Erdely of Dana.

Rolling Stone has retracted the story, five months after publication. They said they were sorry, even though a simple apology has never been adequate when they have been offended by others. In point of fact Rolling Stone first made the statement “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” just two weeks after publication, blaming what at that time was believed to be a rape victim for their shoddy reporting. Three more apologies were issued before the article was retracted (On Easter Sunday), but most of us know that once a story is out there it develops a life of its own, five months later it has grandchildren.

Still treating “Jackie” as a rape victim, both Rolling Stone and Erdely refuse to identify her, although Erdely continues to blame “Jackie” for Erdely’s failure to do any investigation or even analysis of the raw story. “Jackie” has retained legal counsel, weeks after the story was published, a good move as the fraternity her lies dragged through the mud is now threatening legal action against Rolling Stone, and Rolling Stone has shown no hesitancy in throwing “Jackie” under the bus.

The University of Virginia has made no comment, they lose whatever happens. Option one, a rape culture in fraternities damages enrollment. Option two, a false rape story damages the credibility of actual victims, parents cautious about enrolling daughters. Option three, the university overreacts to a blatantly false rape accusation, parent cautious about enrolling sons. Maybe better to just stay quiet for now.

The absolute and continuing lack of journalistic integrity has even Rolling Stone alumni Hunter S. Thompson spinning in his grave. Those who agree with Jann Wenner’s appraisal of Manhattan’s cultural superiority will continue to purchase the magazine, the opinions of such people are largely unimportant anyway.

As Wenner has refused to take responsibility, it becomes our responsibility to hold him and his magazine to journalistic standards. I begin by calling for a boycott of Rolling Stone, although most of us already have for other reasons. To my colleagues I beg you to never employ Sabrina Rubin Erdely in any capacity other than housekeeping.

We all have a basic responsibility to journalism. As writers we must uphold the standards, as consumers we must demand those standards are met. Anything less results in a meaningless media.

 

Life

I have not written in a month. A great deal has been happening, much of it beautiful, all of it fascinating. Someone else was making plans, I was living.

Today, 1 April, is the sixteenth anniversary of my wedding to Emma. So much has taken place since then, meeting her family, moving to South Philadelphia, discovering the mysteries of pancreatic cancer. Emma now watches over me from an urn on the shelf, having witnessed the five years of my life since her departure in relative silence. I would so like to hear her opinions.

After Emma left I retired, focusing on a life of writing, letting go of the stress of the world in which we had lived. You know me, the dreamer. I wrote a book, kept a daily blog going, learned a new language, and gained a score of pounds as I discovered Belgian beers.

New stresses were waiting around the corner. C’est la vie. This is, after all, where Emma wanted me to be, alive, doing what she could not. My retirement savings were designed for a solitary life in South Philadelphia, after watching them evaporate I find myself back in the workforce, writing less and less often, and once again single.

Today is also an intermediate step in the marriage I entered after Emma moved on. The divorce papers are being delivered, with which my current wife and I will attempt to convince the State of New Jersey to end our marriage. These are melancholy times, I do not have ill feelings towards my wife, in fact in many ways I still love her, but time and space never quite placed us on the same plane. It’s so much easier when your ex is the object of disgust, divorcing someone you love is counter intuitive.

Emma steps in to help again. I loved her, but I moved on. So again, I move on.

I had largely lost the desire to live alone, that has not changed. Other people have come into my life, one of them quite a bright star at the moment. I would like for that to develop into a relationship which would rival mine with Emma, but I have learned that promises are not always fulfilled. I have also learned that tomorrow is not even promised, so today is all I have. And today is far more interesting than I had expected it to be.

Which brings us to today, April Fool’s Day.

Emma and I were both the others third spouse. She had been widowed twice, we entered quoting Oscar Wilde, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” This being each of our third, April Fools day seemed a natural. She was supposed to out live me.

My friend used to love “practical jokes,” yet they were neither, usually just rude and crass. This was sad, because John was such a warm and loving family man and trusted friend. One year when he was at lunch I placed a “While you were out” note on his desk, saying a witness wanted him to call, the name was “Coati Mundi.” There was a phone number, that of the small mammal house at the Philadelphia Zoo. I happened to know the person who would answer the phone and hear him say “Hello, this is Detective Murphy, may I speak with Coati Mundi?”

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

 

They both laughed about it later. That’s what life is about. Being able to laugh about it later. Make it easier by laughing today. What purpose is served by any other action?

 

Laugh.

 

 

Sex

Just in case you had not guessed, there will be “frank” speech is this article

 

Just checking, I knew the title would grab your attention.

A recent article in The Telegraph about Debbie Harry was titled “Debbie Harry on punk, refusing to retire and sex at 69.”  Brilliant. A great article about a punk icon, and feminism in music, but the headline hook of “Sex at 69″ drew the most attention, at least the most comments. You cannot look at those words and not imagine Debbie Harry rolling about in your bed.

Outside the author of the article fawning over her, Debbie is quoted once about sex, she speaks of Victorian realities.

The comments, nastiest in misogynistic Britain but repeated in other fora, focus not on her music, but on sex with the elderly, one person stating it’s all over for women once they pass thirty two. I’m guessing the commenter was far from reaching thirty two. I am far more attracted to women my age and older than young women, would it be fair for me to suggest women do not become attractive until they are in their forties? Attraction derives from many factors, probably why there are so many different people. There were a few younger women in my life when I was in my thirties, but I’m pretty sure it has been at least twenty years since I have been with a women younger than thirty two. Okay, on edit, I remembered a few, but not many, and twenty sounds better than seventeen in the phrase.

Young people. So sure they are the only ones who have ever been alive.

Perhaps Star Trek influenced my outlook. Exotic is always alluring. I have known women who turned out to be vapid self-absorbed androids. They remained alluring. In the end, they made excellent examples in the “What to look for if you will never be in this town again” manual. But they are still nice to look at.

 

 

Apparently the fascination with differences is not rare. The subject has enough interest to show up routinely in fiction (and life), which gives me the opportunity to share an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, filmed twenty five years later. This because it has this scene with Bebe Neuwirth, who happens to be from Princeton and is only two weeks younger than me. The bit at 2:15 is elegant in its unspoken acknowledgement.

 

 

The attraction to those who are different is pervasive, as obvious as guys with beer bellies thinking the latest supermodel might be interested in them. So why is it some impenetrable barrier exists at the border of our comfort zones?

A few weeks ago during the “Fifty Shades” buzz (glad that passed quickly), I wrote a simple and straightforward explanation/defense of bondage and domination. A friend was exceptionally offended, and suggested (in public) I seek help. I have no desire to know the details of his love life, but I cannot imagine I would be offended by them. I would never suggest someone seek help unless they were a danger to themselves or others. I have been told the truth is dangerous.

The age thing doesn’t cross all barriers, but it remains a taboo subject. Each generation seems surprised their ancestors procreated. The thought of their parents involved in the act stops most people in their tracks. Why? Did they think they were delivered by storks? Did they think the age would arrive at which they would lose all interest? I pity their partners.

I spent a few years with a woman fifteen years my senior. I did not know until our second date her age, and I was surprised. All of our friends assumed we were the same (my) age. Bodies vary, and age differently. Isn’t this the exotic that we should find alluring?

I don’t know what happens in these peoples lives. If your partner is no longer attractive, what does that say about you? Is this not the person you loved last week? Is there a mirror handy? If you were only attracted to a set combination of features, why not buy a doll?

There is a person in there. It is the person, not the body (but yeah, usually also), you should find attractive. Yes, I know, I said there is a way you should feel. Twice. I could give a couple of dozen other examples but I believe I have conveyed my sentiment.

We are given this universe to experience. Every sense we have is designed to attune to a variety of stimuli. Any logic would bring you to “every stimuli is to be expected.”

There is so much tearing us all apart, do we need to worry about how each of us give and receive pleasure? The fact we do indeed give and receive pleasure should be the emphasis.

Sex should be about rejoicing in another. That joy is tainted if one is distracted by the joy others are experiencing.

 

 

 

 

 

Hearts and Minds

I am not your typical Christian, if there is such a creature. I’ve read the Bible a few times, the New Testament several, from which I believe I understand what God expects of me.

There are some parts which may be more significant than others, I shed tears when I get to Acts 5:30 “30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

Jesus’ words are the most important part, and his most profound and simple message is expressed in “The Sermon on the Mount,” recounted in the various gospels, of which I prefer the writing of Matthew. In Matthew’s fifth chapter, verse 17, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (emphasis mine).” He makes several examples of a “that was then, this is now” nature, culminating with my favorite verses; “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew finishes with Jesus’ final instructions in his 28th cahpter “19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

This is the call to proselytize, the foundation of mission work. Note that Jesus told the disciples to “teach,” not belittle the beliefs held by others, or torture them into submission. One definition of “proselytize” is “to advocate or promote (a belief or course of action).

Obviously, some people misunderstand Jesus’ gentle ways, missing the message of Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

You can capture hearts with love, and minds with knowledge, but when you simply attack someone’s beliefs you should expect them to be defensive. If in your attack you misrepresent their beliefs, it’s time to go home. You lose. Think how you would respond to the same behavior. Offer the truth, and if you are turned away, turn away.

Presently the Muslim culture has been hijacked by terrorists, who distort their religion to justify acts of hatred and violence. So far the terrorists have been successful in convincing the Western world they represent Islam, routinely murdering any Muslims who dared to disagree. This is the forced conversion, from Islam to Al Qaeda, that results in resentment, and the eventual overthrow from within. Eventual.

Fearing the terrorists’ and their brand of Islam, Christian missions in the Arab word have flourished. This is not in response to Jesus’ call to teach, but true “Islamophobia.” Islam is not the problem, terrorism is. The two are different. Proselytizing as a political weapon is not what Jesus had in mind.

Recently I came across an article claiming pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam. No, not any more than it is a cornerstone of Christianity. There are events in the Quran that could be called child molestation if they happened today, fortunately the Old Testament doesn’t mention ages in all that “begetting.”

Luke gives the most details about Jesus’ mother (Mary), from which it has been calculated she was 14 at the time of Jesus’ birth, and may have married Joseph at age 12. Judged in the same light as Islam, Christianity would include a cornerstone of child molestation.

We simply cannot judge a civilization of two thousand years ago by the standards of today. Are there Muslim pedophiles? No doubt in direct proportion to the number of Christian pedophiles. Oh, you’ve been in the same cave with the Pope? Pedophilia has more to do with power than sex. It is not an “American” problem, it is a “Human” problem.

When our missionaries attempt to convert Muslims by spreading lies about their religion, they are no different than the terrorists. Hearts and Minds follow attractive examples, Jesus (to me) is the best example of how to live. His message appeals to one third of the world’s population, he didn’t touch that many souls by lying to them.

Spreading lies and distortions are hate mongering. Anyone doing so in the name of any religion has missed the teachings of their religion. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t like that, and there is no avoiding his judgement. Our lives in this world are finite, choosing to live those lives opposed to God has consequences that last for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

What if?

John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem Maud Miller, gave us this simple lesson;

 

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

The poem is a study in irony; the dreams, based on false impressions, incited by a chance meeting and lamented for a lifetime. I know the perils of this story, yet I still embrace my dreams.

For me, “What if?” is a lovely place. “What if she is the one to open her heart to me?” is not answered by sitting in the dark. The possibilities must be explored. Risks must be taken. Finding the answer to be “no” is not a failure. Never knowing is the failure, the answer might have been yes had only the question been asked.

I was speaking with a friend the other day and commented “You don’t hear ‘yes’ as many times as I have without hearing ‘no’ quite a few times.”

“What if?” is often faced with fear, the antithesis of my hopeful outlook. The question is usually completed with a negative outcome, “What if the plane crashes?” “What if I spill wine on the white carpet?” “What if my family doesn’t accept my choices?”. “What if?” is a toss of the coin, an admission the future is unknown, so why not envision a positive outcome? If the bad thing happens, it will happen. There will be no choice other than to deal with it. Worrying about it now will not alter the outcome, why throw good moments away in anticipation of bad moments?

In his poem My Psalm Whittier writes;

No longer forward nor behind

I look in hope or fear;

But, grateful, take the good I find,

the best of now and here

My usual response to negative “What if?”s is “What if the cat turns into a dragon and eats your family?” in an attempt to point out the futility of anticipating negative outcomes. Don’t tell me anything can happen if you’re not willing to accept the fact anything can happen. A positive outcome is just as likely as a negative outcome.

Far too many phrases have become meaningless from overuse. “What if?”, a useful consideration when preparing a course of action, has become the impediment of action, the “You’ll shoot your eye out” of the emotional realm.

Meaningless phrases was actually my idea for this article, the degradation of meaning and its impact on communication. You know me, I get sidetracked from time to time.

I was struck earlier this week by the false bravado of “I’ve got your six,” often expressed as “I’ve got your back.” As someone who has covered others six and depended on those covering my six I find the misuse of this term offensive. Sure, there was that time in Dallas I had to remind an officer he was covering my back and I would appreciate him allowing me to handle what stood before us, nothing is more discomforting than turning to your backup and seeing the muzzle of his weapon aimed through you, but what I am referring to is the thoughtless, careless misuse of “I’ve got your back,” using the phrase with the sincerity of “Have a nice day.” Don’t suggest I can depend on you unless I can actually depend on you, coming up short on backup is far more serious than finding you left your wallet at home.

Taking a break from “military” jargon, “I’ll think about it” is not supposed to mean “I would prefer to keep your hopes up, but the answer is no.” I’m not certain why so very many people believe deception is healthy in a relationship. The little white lie is in no way synonymous with la petite mort. True communication requires honesty, so few people are capable of accepting negative responses that it has become preferential to avoid the truth. I lived with a woman who repeatedly lied to me because she “didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” I never figured out how she thought I would feel when I eventually discovered not only the truth, but that she had been lying to me. As might have been expected, she was long gone by the time the truth came out. This has happened too many times for it to be an aberration, unless I just seek out women like her. I can blame myself for being forgiving, she continued to toy with my affections for months.

One more military phrase. “Copy” means “I acknowledge your transmission.” It does not mean “yes.” It is not a response to a question outside “Did you hear me?” Another non response is “I don’t know.” When did this become an acceptable answer? Saying “I’m sorry, you mispronounced ‘I’ll find out and get back to you ASAP,’ that is what you meant isn’t it?” doesn’t seem to help.

Presently I am faced with some major decisions, and without a clear view of the possibilities before me I am faced with simply throwing my fate to the wind. I’m okay with this.

What if I live happily ever after?

There’s at least one Golden Ticket still laying about, maybe I should just keep it.

Let it snow

SNOWFLAKE

My first memory of snow is from, of all places, Texas. I was younger than four, living in Trinidad Texas. I had done something which was going to result in a spanking, so I ran out the back door, and was unable to move. Must have been a drift, there was snow up to my waist. I recall the confusion, the unexpected barrier was both scary and fascinating. After the inevitable spanking, my mother made ice cream with the snow.

I can look back on the experience (which is rather amazing in itself, I have about a dozen distinct memories from Trinidad) and see it as a formative moment. An entirely new substance, which fell from the sky, which could turn into ice cream. What an incredible planet I found myself on! As I got older and examined the incident it became even more interesting. Living on an island in Texas named for a Caribbean nation, hydrogen bonds creating hexagon based crystals which lock together turning an inch of rain into a foot of snow. Memories of a three year old that remain strong fifty years later. A lifetime of incongruity.

It snowed a few more times while I lived in Texas, once in Dallas we built an igloo. Twenty years later I found myself back in Dallas as an adult, four inches (10cm) of snow causing panic, without snow removal equipment the city was a catastrophe, tire chains were placed on the Police cars to handle the “treacherous” road conditions. In the interim I had been skiing in the mountains of several states, and lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through some heavy Winters. The biggest road hazard was not the snow, it was the other drivers.

The severity of a snowstorm is best measured by the affected area’s ability to adjust. Snow in the Northeastern States is routine, they are better prepared for snow removal than areas in which snow is rare. As a young man in North New Jersey I drove a car with a four inch ground clearance (and a pointed nose) through drifts higher than my bumpers, driving in snow was an excellent exercise in inertial navigation. My Subaru makes it far too easy.

Imagine my dismay upon returning to the Northeast a few years later. I might retain memories for a lifetime, but my neighbors could not recall how to deal with snow from one year to the next. The first snowstorm each year is a disaster, even a dusting is more than some people can handle. There is another “tradition of ignorance” that amazes me even more, which I refer to as “French toast syndrome.” Rooted in the days before commercial bakeries and dairies, the days before a forecasted storm there is a rush on the grocery stores as families stock up on bread, milk, and eggs. The supermarket I frequented in South Philadelphia placed those items near the door in winter so people could grab everything and get out quickly. People who don’t even use these staples anymore go out and buy them before a storm.

Which brings me to today.

We’ve had a few inches of accumulation, and the forecasts suggest there may be a foot (30cm) of snow tomorrow night. I probably won’t go to Gallucio’s, my typical Monday night of music and dancing will most likely take place at home (If anyone would care to join me, the couch folds out to a bed). Most annoying, it is time for my weekly shopping trip, and crowded grocery stores remove the joy (yes, I love shopping for food) from the excursion.

The cold still paralyses me, shutting down my motor control and causing immense pain from direct exposure, but I do love the snow. I can bundle up, looking rather healthy in heavy clothes, and adapt to the environment. A warmer climate would probably be better for me, but then I couldn’t dress like this.

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If you live in this part of the country, relax. Snow is an above ground reservoir, allowing moisture to slowly melt into the ground for next Spring’s seeds. It absorbs sound, muffling humanity’s noise allowing an undisturbed view of nature’s beauty. With any luck it will knock out the power, forcing you to actually talk with your loved ones. Get out and make snow angels, make a snow Al Gore, make ice cream.

 

 

Beauty

Plato said “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” meaning beauty is subjective. We each find different things attractive, but there are some societal standards. Being obese was once a sign of wealth and surplus, today the preferred image is, in Tom Wolfe’s words, “starved to perfection.” One thing I find beautiful is a person who is comfortable with themselves. Confidence is wonderfully sexy.

Men in general find women attractive, the standards are still based in evolutionary values, good mates will make babies. Wider hips for easy birthing and larger breasts implying ample nursing (untrue if you didn’t know, breastmilk quantity is not dependent on the size of the breast). Breast size is almost universally seen as the measure of a woman, even my beloved Emma (who had rather large breasts), would make disparaging remarks about flat chested women.

My own taste in women seeks a different beauty, even though each successive wife has had larger breasts than the last, it was mere coincidence. When I met Lieve on line (without seeing her) she described herself as “ample.” I thought she meant she was heavy. I see a beauty that is not skin deep, in fact having nothing to do with skin. It is the soul which shines through and captures my attention, which is why I have been involved with women of every body type and ethnicity. My “type” is “real.” I may prefer certain noses and shoulders, but the sparkle of a gentle soul is what attracts me.

Two stories captured my attention the other day. A stunning contrast just inches apart on my Facebook page. I will start with the story of a beautiful woman.

I attended High School with Gail Chovan, who survived breast cancer the year before Emma had pancreatic cancer. Photographs of Gail, proudly bald from chemotherapy, helped Emma approach chemo. That is not all of Gail’s story, she carries the soul of a warrior in the body of a ballerina. Her children, the twins Zelda and Creed, were born with congenital toxoplasmosis, and have severe medical issues. Had these children been born in a different home they could not have the resilience growing up with a Mother such as Gail imparts. Last year Zelda was in the hospital again, for about six weeks. When the nurse came into the room and said Zelda would be released that day, Zelda pulled the intubation from her nose and said “Let’s go!”

Recently Gail participated in Lily Mandelbaum and her mother Elisa Goodkind’s “The What’s Underneath Project,” a series of videos focusing on self image. If you are disturbed by mastectomy scars you may want to close your eyes near the end of the video, but you should listen to Gail’s story.

Beauty, strength, and talent all in one body. Precisely what you would expect from Gail. She doesn’t need to meet anyone’s standards, because her standards exceed them.

The other story is about Mayra Hills, who goes by the name “Beshine.” I might find Mayra beautiful, if all I saw was her face. She has a nice nose, deep eyes and pleasant lips. Most people probably don’t notice those features due to her “enhanced” breasts. By enhanced I mean ten litres of saline each, a bra size of 32Y, and she’s planning to increase the size again this year. The only thing of which I am certain is she will be spending more on back surgery than breast implants as she ages. Her first impression fades fast, as she claims in recent interviews to be 27, yet she was born in 1983. I’m not sure why she would choose to lie about her age at 32, it appears she is not happy with who she is. I can’t imagine going through such crippling surgery (she can’t tie her own shoes) for any reason other than she thinks this is beautiful. She certainly elicits a second glance, but usually it is so people can see what they’re laughing about. She says she loves her breasts, but she obviously has some difficulty with reality. I wonder where her real breasts are? Did she start out large and just obsess? There are few career openings for someone with her disability, and the revenue from porn will certainly drop beneath the level of her medical expenses as she continues to remodel herself.

What we find to be beautiful says more about ourselves than the objects of our desire. What a person does to appear beautiful says more about them than the final product.  Gail is beautiful with or without her breasts. Mayra would be vacuous with or without her breasts.

Attraction, were it logical, would be based on characteristics that will last as long as the relationship. Having written that, I can see it is. Gail and Evan are a life match. Mayra’s fans will disappear as she ages, because beauty may not be skin deep, but attraction to that type of beauty is.

 

 

On Pens and Machine guns

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I am Charlie

As most of my readers are American, they have probably never heard of Charlie Hebdo prior to the mass murder that took place on 7 January at the magazine’s Paris office. It is not the type of publication that would be popular with most Americans, or for that matter, most people. I am not Charlie, nonetheless Je me tiens avec Charlie. Free expression is an alleged cornerstone of American and other free societies, I often find myself defending the rights of people I would never shake hands with. My heroes have been the Marquis de Sade and Larry Flynt, not for what they published, but for their ability to be published at all. One of my favorite quotes of Larry is “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have suffered to insure our rights.

Charlie Hebdo is a rather adolescent publication, perhaps satirical, perhaps simply another incarnation of the insult humor of Don Rickels. The humor often is more of a “I can’t believe you said that” reaction, or “That’s really going to piss off the X,” where X equals any group. Charlie Hebdo didn’t single out Islam, they poked everyone, Islam just rose to the top of the list of favorite targets by lacking any sense of humor. In America we give the same honor to North Korea.

The Charlie Hebdo attack contains some interesting points many will miss. The first Police officer on the scene, Ahmed Merabet, was from an Algerian family (Algeria being a formerly French territory). He happened to be Muslim. After being wounded by the terrorists he begged for his life and was then shot to death. Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but Ahmed’s brother makes the point that terrorists are not Muslims at all. Al-Qaeda and ISIS may wrap themselves in Islam, but if you truly believe in an all powerful God, what use does your God have with your machine gun? Can’t God take care of its issues without assistance?

This is not a religion

This is not a religion

This may be the catalyst for separating terrorists from Muslims, even though Magritte’s surrealism was lost on this artist. My prayers continue.

Another point to consider is the response to the murders. One French newspaper ran the headline “12 morts, 66 millions blessés,” as this was an attack on France. The terrorists were hunted down and killed in days. This was also an attack on the arts community, which has come out strongly supporting freedom of expression (no real surprise) with the pencil versus the machine gun theme.

“Artist” is a vague description, after years of being described as an artist I have accepted the title, but I still maintain everyone is an artist in their own media. Many of my fellow artists take the title more seriously than I take them, one illustrator commenting “Are there ideals worth dying for? Certainly. But does blood need to be shed? I think not,” demonstrating why his chosen media is pictures rather than words. This is a tough one for my generally mild mannered colleagues, dying involves spilling blood. We can celebrate the brave martyrs who stand up to the terrorists, but please do not claim to be willing to die for your beliefs if you are going to whine about scraping your knees. Do me a favor, stand behind me, not beside me. Just because the pen is mightier than the sword we are not guaranteed to survive every battle.

Free expression is the essence of free society. Each and every one of us has the right to say whatever we feel. The celebration of that right is allowing it to those who offend us. It is not an expression of free speech to tell someone to shut up, free speech is the recognition you can respond to any statement with a statement of your own. You don’t need to kill them, nor they you, due to a disagreement. This is often referred to as civilized behavior.

This is where we draw yet another lesson from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on free expression is an attack on free society, and the attack is not just being waged by radical Muslims. One of the beauties of free speech is its ability to highlight the sensitive and the obscene. Every time one group speaks of the annihilation of their opponents they expose themselves as intolerant to the degree of being uncivilized. Certain elements attempt to shut down speech they find offensive, which in itself is the greatest offense. Charlie Hebdo probably could not have been published in America, where tolerance is defined as being intolerant of offensive views. Maybe it is because I am a writer, a musician, a communicator, an educator, one of my strongest beliefs has always been “silence is death.” By surrendering our basic rights in the name of “political correctness” we have failed to nourish the practice of critical thought and debate, leaving violence as the only response for the simple minded.

Remember the words of Larry Flynt, and apply them to the poem by Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the free thinkers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a free thinker.
Then they came for the Cartoonists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Cartoonist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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Review

It is that time, the week between Christmas and the New Year, a week designed for introspection.

That is not to say I do not spend time examining every aspect of my own life through the year, in order to understand the universe you must understand yourself, adjusting your measurements for your own biases. This week, balanced between a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of death, is designed to cause even the most narcissistic wanker to examine his path.

The courage to act on such an examination comes from an unexpected place, which may be why such action tends to be rare. In the same way we fill this week with events designed to distract us from introspection, we fill our minds with concepts designed to distract us from taking action.

We call the distraction “maturity.” We believe the child is inferior, and actually exalt “synaptic pruning” as a path to clearer thinking. Machiavelli was a clear thinker, is his the mind you would emulate? It is the child who acts, believing in change, “maturity” is often code for “not making waves.”

In a previous chapter of my life, I was a digital technician. As new products were introduced, I would attend technical classes to learn the intricacies of the product. One year my Senior Technician (Dennis) and I were returning from a class in Maryland, and stopped for lunch at Burger King, which was selling goblets promoting the “Lord of the Rings” film along with children’s meals. The goblets contained an LED and batteries in the base, and lit up with a lovely rose hue. I bought two. Emma and I often drank wine in bed, the light would make the goblet easy to find in the dark.

Dennis was an excellent technician, when he approached a problem he wanted as little information as possible, in order to avoid any preconceptions. He saw the two “toys” and said “Isn’t that just a bit…childish?”

I was surprised, and responded “No Dennis, not childish. Childlike.”

Maybe it is just my brain, my particular collection of synapses, that prefers the wild growth of neural connections; they serve me well. As Multiple Sclerosis does its best to block my neural paths, the ability to reroute the data is invaluable. I am certainly capable of reducing a problem to its simplest elements, but grand, complex solutions require seeing every aspect of the situation. There may be several correct answers, but there is only one best answer. Such an answer is rooted in the balance of every issue involved, such a balance cannot be recognized if those issues have been eliminated in the name of reaching the answer more quickly.

You may think me simple. Perhaps I am. I am a man who has repeatedly accomplished that which was deemed impossible by others, although there have also been a few colossal failures. It remains ever so rare for success to result from a lack of trying.

As I review 2014, I recall hundreds of beautiful moments. I was married to a woman I loved with all my heart. I attended a number of great concerts. I met some wonderful new people, and reconnected with some others from my past. I created a couple of fabulous new recipes. I visited a couple of museums, feeding my mind with visions of beauty created by other artists. I learned a number of things, most notably the lesson Lu Ann tried to give me thirty years ago, love is a second hand emotion, giving love to someone does not create a debt they must repay.

I have seen many of the horrors of inferior intellects, yet I choose to judge humanity by its high points. Individuals reserve the right to prove themselves unworthy, but I still require that proof. I do not mind being slapped on the head and called foolish for believing in the power of love, even when such beliefs fail to achieve the desired results. Being a good person is its own, and sometimes the only, reward.

I enter 2015 with my mind as open as ever. The Dalai Lama is credited with saying “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.” A friend reminded me the situation is more immediate. All we have is this very moment, there is absolutely no amount of time budgeted for waste.

Be kind, you may never have time to make amends for being less.

The cover of a book

Let us get this out of the way from the beginning. I prefer that my cover tells nothing about the contents. You may assign that trait to any part of my development, then think about it again. I prefer my cover tells nothing about the contents. What you think about the cover is what I find interesting. After you discover the contents your reaction is the very best part. One friend said “It’s not what you think, it’s never what you think.” That said this article is inspired by a shotgun blast of reality today.

I’m fairly complex, as I suspect many people are. I cannot be judged at first glance, so I try not to judge others by the first glance. Nonetheless, many people do. I was talking to a friend today who had made a career choice based on his appearance. He had wanted to be an interpreter of American Sign Language, but he has a less than “usual” appearance, tattoos, ear gauges, that sort of thing. Although Smith has all the qualifications, and the hearing impaired community has few prejudices, the interpreters guild is much more conservative. The guild would have problems with his appearance, but his other career choice would not. The losers? Those of us who need an interpreter for American Sign Language.

My outward appearance has varied, I rather enjoy it when I am not recognized, I’ve even had people tell me stories about myself, not realizing who they were talking to. That is so much better than finding people who only judge the cover, recognizing you are listening to someone who didn’t even get a good look at the cover.

Smith recognized me today, I haven’t seen him in four years, back then I had long hair and was walking with a cane, I wore a nice (not to brag, but $100) tie every day tied with a perfect Full Windsor knot. Today I was far more casual, short hair and a sweater with jeans, walking fine in my Doc Marten’s, beret pulled back to my left. He wasn’t expecting me, but when he saw me he came out from the kitchen and hugged me. I haven’t been touched that deeply in awhile.

He made me a lovely brunch, the atmosphere was very comfortable, relaxed, it suited us both. I invited him and his bride to visit, I love to cook for guests and they really should get out of the city occasionally. Smith hadn’t even seen a tumbleweed in Ft. Worth, but you can see his soul is in tune with the universe. Don’t over think that.

I come home and find as I scan the news sources that racial tensions are at an all time high. Excuse me? How did that happen? How many divisions do we need to create? When do we get to the point of accepting at the most basic level, what makes us the same is the way each and every one of us is different?

I asked Smith’s advice about a piercing, so while I was near South Street I stopped at Infinite Body Piercings. It isn’t a huge community, my first body piercing was done at Infinite. I had a piercing in which I wanted to wear a piece of jewelry that had belonged to Emma. I had taken her ring out, and the hole had shrunk. I started the process of widening the hole, I’ll have her ring in by New Year’s Day. But it’s not like anyone could see it. I have a tattoo, same story. If those decorations were more conspicuous they would be more offensive, why? They would be on parts of my body which by every definition are less intimate.

Kurt Vonnegut had said “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” I pretend to be happy, it usually works. Popeye said “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” I am in control, I am confident.

Who cares? All some people see is that which they fear. Xenophobia at the pinnacle of its expression.

I am so very very sad.

I expected so much more from humanity. I had not realized the upward swing was that of a pendulum (why does that theme keep occurring?). This is where it gets creepy.

I find it alarming that those so dedicated to natural processes refuse to accept humanity as natural. This is simply the way it is supposed to be. You cannot forestall extinction events, they will depend upon the gene pool. If all traces of civilization are destroyed, how civilized will any survivors be?

You want to know about me? Ask. At the same time I was wearing $100 ties I was wearing $30 shoes. Is who I am based on the altitude of the observer’s gaze? I’ve done some fairly crazy things but most people think I am a conservative. Is who I am based on the fourth dimension of time as it intersects your inspection?

You know that “Judge not, yet ye be judged by the same measure” bit? Matthew 7:1 ? The advice has been out there for over two thousand years. The negative effects of not following that advice have been obvious for far longer. There is no excuse, it all begins with you.

You really can change the world. Just by changing yourself.

And the band played on

Last night, as I entered my usual Monday evening hang-out, there was a chill in the air.

Not the weather, in fact it had been an unusually warm day, with a high of twenty two, freakish relative to tomorrow’s predicted snow and low temperature of one degree below zero.

The normal buzz of the crowd was hushed, and rather than Monday Night Football, the televisions were tuned to CNN. The Grand Jury in St. Louis Missouri was due to return their verdict in the case of Darren Wilson, a police officer who had shot and killed Mike Brown, a teenager, in Ferguson Missouri last August.

The case had drawn a great deal of attention, Wilson and Brown were of different races, so to the smallest of minds the only motivation could have been racial hatred, because racial hatred is all those minds contain. As the prosecutor explained the case and findings, tensions were at their peak, some people traveling hundreds of miles for the opportunity to loot liquor stores and burn businesses as a reaction to the obvious legal conclusion the Grand Jury had no choice but to reach.

It was 2030 in Ferguson as the verdict was read. There was no evidence an indictable offense had taken place. Almost immediately there were police and ambulance sirens fourteen hundred kilometers and one time zone due East, in Wilmington Delaware.

The band continued setting up.

A few hundred people in Ferguson expressed their interest in justice by burning police cars and firing over one hundred and fifty gunshots (Police data indicates no shots fired by officers). Meanwhile, the Earth continued to spin on its axis, the remaining seven billion inhabitants dealt with their own lives. During the four and one half minutes of symbolic silence Mike Brown’s mother had requested before the random violence would begin, eleven hundred babies were born and four hundred fifty people died in the world. Somewhere a couple met and fell in love, somewhere else a relationship ended. People celebrated their good fortune and mourned their losses. Were you to be watching a television, you might think the world was ending, eighty people arrested in Ferguson and thousands across the country, as innocent families watched their livelihoods burn to the ground. In fact more people worldwide were making love at the moment, but that did not make the news.

In one of those moments of synchronicity, I had woken that morning with the song “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church in my head. I had suggested to my friend Buddy his band should perform the song, and Lieve mentioned as we were discussing the arrangement The Church had announced a tour. One stop is in Philadelphia, at one of my favorite venues, and I was able to get tickets, not my favorite seats but one row behind them.

As I watched Ferguson burn out of the corner of my eye, the band played on.

It was a pleasant evening, several guest musicians, a couple of conversations with a few of the other regulars, then I drove home under the clear sky, the Milky Way above me, hidden by the lights of Philadelphia but exposed as I arrived in the darkness of Princeton.

In other times, justice was local. Witch trials and lynch mobs were a horror we told ourselves could not take place in our civilised system of justice, providing more rights to the accused than any other country in the world. Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth using a pendulum, fixing the relationship of the eternal spin of the Earth and the opposing and shifting points of amplitude of the pendulum. Media attention can make a local issue a global one, uninterested professional protestors bear a great resemblance to hooligans, more interested in the fight than the cause. The concept of innocent until proven guilty has given way to trial by uninformed public opinion.

What is important to remember is while hundreds were throwing bricks in Ferguson (where do these people find bricks on city streets?) thousands were making music, hundreds of thousands were dancing, millions were laughing with a friend (a good percentage of which who were of different races).

Rather than focus on a few angry trouble makers, remember the billions of people dedicated to spreading joy and love.

 

Life Lessons

Someone said to me at work the other day “you’re a pretty smart guy,” to which I gave my usual response “Well yes, I am.” I am not conceited about my intelligence, so I softened the response with “In measurements of IQ I’m a genius, in measurements of relationships I’m stupid.”

Kurt Vonnegut said “You learn about life by the accidents you have, over and over again.” You learn when you realize they are not accidents. The choices I have made are not poor choices, they are my choices. This is just what I do, these are situations I am apparently comfortable with, and when they turn out the way they usually do I have no one to blame other than myself, because I am a pretty smart guy. I not only  see the mistakes in retrospect, I can see them on the road ahead and run towards them.

I can’t really call them mistakes when I am fully aware that I’ll do the same again.

I had dinner with a friend last night, and one of the nicer things about the evening was finding I’m not the only one who consciously embraces hopeless causes. We see the flaws in our desires, yet we chase them anyway. Another, perhaps more pragmatic woman simply slapped me on the head (a couple of times) a few weeks ago. While I greatly appreciate her opinion, I simply am not the kind of person who seeks revenge when events don’t work out as I wish, I may ignore the flaws in a situation, but I am not unaware of them. I do not become a better person by replicating the behavior of people who have hurt me.

We all work from our life experiences, my results have been mixed but the most important lesson I have learned is to be true to myself. Each of us must determine what “the right thing” is for us, I was once of the opinion that giving money to street people was wrong, it only enabled them to stay where they are, and they would probably spend the money on booze. Later I realized that giving is not about what the receiver will do with the gift, it is a measure of the giver. There is a Biblical verse about this, but I cannot recall the precise location of the verse.

It has taken a long time to find peace, and it often runs off and hides in the fog. Having found it I know it exists, I will find it again, and I know it is hardest to find when I surrender myself to depression. The easiest way to remain positive is to do the right thing, no matter how much that thing may seem to be contrary to my best interests. My best interest is being a good person, living in a state of grace, the right thing is never contrary to those goals.

 

 

Peace on Earth begins with peace in your heart.

 

День ветеранов

Today marks the cessation of hostilities (for a few decades) on the “Western Front,” between the Allies of  The Great War (later numbered as WW1) and Germany. That armistice began on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, back when we could be poetic about warfare. Hostilities continued on other fronts, this was the beginning of the end of the war.

This year we mark one hundred years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este, the trigger for the great war. It is ninety six years since the signing of the armistice bringing to an end “The war to end all wars,” and two days ago, 9 November, was the twenty fifth anniversary of the onset of physical demolition of the Berlin wall.

Pronounced "veteran"

Pronounced “veteran”

 

To be a veteran is to be misunderstood by the general public. It is nice to hear “thank you for your service,” although there is often a subtext of “thank you for selling your soul, you heartless murderer.” I would like to hear, just once, “Thank you for doing what I wanted done but didn’t have the fortitude to approach.”

There are as many different feelings about being a veteran as there are veterans, largely because veterans are just people, we’re not some special breed. We have dealt with our lives as other people deal with theirs, sometimes with grace, sometimes with terror. We carry the scars just as you carry yours, some of us are better at it than others. The Soldier (Airman, Seaman, Marine) seeks to avoid conflict. You may call this self preservation if you wish, but most have no desire to end the lives of other human beings who just have a different uniform.

History gives us a series of conflicts, one leads to another. The crushing losses of World War one led to the February Revolution in Russia, which led to the October Revolution. The terms of the armistice of Compiègne set the groundwork for World War two. Defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan  led to the rise of the Taliban. Oppressive regimes fall, and there is always another brutal dictator waiting in the wings. Good people strive for peace, and are outnumbered every time.

The veteran volunteered to play a losing hand. The veteran genuinely believed they could have a positive impact on the conflict in which they are involved, literally changing the world. The veteran risked his or her life and sanity to protect you from having to do so. The veteran respects his or her bothers and sisters in arms, regardless of uniform or victor in the conflict.

In America, there are approximately twenty one million veterans, or roughly one out of every fifteen people. For perspective, there are more than twice as many veterans than there are Jews in America. They inhabit every sector of the socioeconomic spectrum. You know veterans, you are friends with veterans, statistically ten of my American subscribers would be veterans.

Today when you think about veterans, think about how you think about veterans.

 

 

Boats against the current

Most of you recognized from the title the last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Also known as the creed of the lost cause, I have grimaced at this phrase for decades. Why? Because I don’t give up, even after I’ve lost. Mirroring the words of Isaac Asimov, “In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate,” I seek out lost causes and hang on long after a healthy person would walk away. I know I’m doing it, I know it will end in tears, and I dive in anyway.

I first read Gatsby because my girlfriend was reading it in her English class. Some fifty years after it was written, I couldn’t picture the New York and New Jersey described by Fitzgerald. I could picture Daisey though, and so could my girlfriend. They had many similarities, a lack of self awareness being the most obvious. Some forty years later I see the same flaw in myself, wrapped in the noble concept of “compassion.” I have serially become involved with damaged women, helping them to be strong enough to rip my heart out. I see it happening and I keep doing it.

committment-is-an-act

It is not just my love life, I embrace “the good fight” in several aspects of my life. It’s like a gambling addiction, losing only makes me fight harder, those rare victories spurring me on. I live at peace, with the self assured smugness I detest in others. My veneer is flawless, hiding the scarred troubled soul within. Why do I take comfort in smiling through the tears, when I could have avoided the tears altogether?

Today my wife has informed me she wants a divorce. Not a big surprise, but I’m still devastated. I had to expect I wasn’t being very endearing by pointing out her lies and inconsistencies, but there was no way to make things better without acknowledging the issues. She lacked the emotional depth required for self reflection. I can imagine that rather than embrace a growing experience, “finding herself” as she said she intended, it was much more comfortable to continue to deny any responsibility, or even concede that some things are simply the way they are. It was easier to blame me for her unhappiness, I’m not sure how she reconciles the unhappiness she has experienced for most of her life, I only met her four years ago.

I can’t be angry. Love is like that. This is one of the reasons battered wives stay with abusive husbands. A lot of it is my fault. I believed in her, I thought she was the person she told me she was. I thought she was deeper and more intelligent. I had faith, supported by nothing other than my positive opinion of her. I was at least as blind as she is.

Although I have no desire to do so, I suspect I will carry on, perhaps find someone else to break my heart. My capacity to trust, always a rare commodity, is all but gone now, but I’ll do something stupid. I always do.

I was talking with a friend today, and she said she thought I was still mourning Emma. I always will. I’ve been thinking of Emma more than usual these last few months, partially because Lieve chose to announce her intention to separate on the anniversary of Emma’s death, probably more so as contrast to my relationship with Lieve. Sharing love until the last breath as white against the marriage of convenience black.

I have known love. Perhaps cherishing the memory would be more satisfying than attempting to find it again. I need to give love, and although loving is an end within itself, it is ever so nice when it is reciprocated. Right now I would settle for a warm embrace, so I need to get past that and not mistake it for love, as I did this last time.

 

find-what-you-love

It is said writing is easy, you just open a vein and bleed. That’s how easy it was to write this.

 

Music

Music is an integral part of my life. It serves as a refuge, and it affects me in a myriad of ways. My experiences creating music began at age eight with piano lessons, then saxophone, drums, flute, and bass. I can pretty much pick up anything and make music with it, I bought a trombone because I thought it would look nice on the wall and ended up learning to play it. My first wife wanted to play the harmonica. I bought her a nice one in C major and she struggled with it for a while. One day I came home from work and “Piano Man” by Billy Joel came on the radio, her harmonica was right there so I picked it up and played along. She never touched the harmonica again.

I may not be a great dancer, but music flows through me and my body moves with it, I found a report card from first grade and the teacher had commented  “Blake doesn’t walk, he dances.” I like to use that phrase now when I have trouble walking, “I didn’t stumble, I’m dancing don’t you know.”

The most wonderful thing about music is no one owns it, anymore than they can own the air around them. Sound is a vibration, a wave traveling through the air, you cannot stop it or cage it. Sure, people control the ability to make money propagating music, but anyone can sing to themselves,  and harmonize with others. One of my wives found it annoying that my fingers trace the patterns in music, caressing her body like an instrument without any thought. Others have found it quite pleasant.

Music can tie itself to a moment, bringing a memory whenever it is heard. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was playing when Emma learned of her first husband’s death, twenty years later she was still disturbed every time it played, even though she loved the song it brought sadness.

There are people who believe they must be the only ones to enjoy a particular band, once the band becomes popular it isn’t “cool” anymore. Such people don’t comprehend music, and they don’t comprehend cool. There is no status attached to being the first to enjoy a song, and if the only enjoyment comes from some sense of superiority, it has nothing to do with the music. The waves travel through the universe, touching everyone in a unique way. Sharing is at the heart of music.

Music has no age, songs do not go stale. I listen to new music and songs from my childhood side by side. I saw a chart a few weeks ago comparing intelligence to the type of music a person prefers, suggesting some music makes you stupid. According to the chart, I was too intelligent to like any type of music. The truth is music only affects your intelligence if you’re making it, countless studies have shown that music education leads higher test scores in all subjects.

I’ve recently taken to following a group of musicians in South Eastern Pennsylvania. You’ve heard me refer to my “brother,” Buddy Cash, who plays with several different line ups, giving me the opportunity to hear an array of arrangements. One of my favorite venues is Gallucio’s, a small restaurant and bar in Wilmington Delaware. The crowd is eclectic, families and singles, young and old. This week a young fan lifted my heart.

Buddy had started the evening at Tom and Jerry’s in Millmont Park Pennsylvania, a weekly happy hour gig from 1700 to 2000. It’s a nice venue, Emma had worked there so I’ve been meaning to stop in some night. Following that was a special Halloween gig at Gallucio’s. Buddy thought I was following him to his place between shows, I thought he was going straight to Delaware, so I arrived before him, and he spent some time waiting for me back at home. George decided to get things going so he started an acoustic set, and Callan Brown, age two, who had been staring at me up to this point (okay, I was dressed like a pirate) was mesmerized by the music.

 

Buddy showed up, and joined George. Callan was enjoying every minute.

 

 

Callan reached his bedtime, but I stayed up well past mine as the band built up.

 

Music is like that, it wakes me up, it gives me life. The guy who is in bed every night at 2000 stays out until 0330 if there’s live music.

Music is not a line of work for those seeking wealth. The hours are long, the pay is minimal, the equipment is expensive. Yet there are thousands of musicians in every city. There is a currency in music far more valuable than any other, love. The love of music is felt by the musician as well as the audience. It feels good to make music, it feels good to make other people dance and sing.

The woman who didn’t like me to “play instruments on her” was a classically trained vocalist and horn player. She teaches High School music somewhere in New Jersey. She never really understood the joy in music, she approached it with a clinical precision. The woman who enjoyed my touch loved to dance, and though she had a horrible singing voice loved to belt out her favorites. She was the love of my life, carried with me in every song she loved. I can’t even remember what the other woman looked like.

Currying flavour

Tuesday has become my weekly cooking day, I make something I can take into work for lunch all week. Last week Jorge made his debut processing the dough for tamales, this week it’s just me, my knives, and a ten litre stockpot. The name we give this week’s dish is “Curry,”  for the complex blend of spices I’ll be using. There is a resemblance to some Indian dishes, but this is an “a la Blake” recipe, with international influences.

I’ll be trying a new mix of vegetables this week. My last curry was a dead on Baingan Bharta, my Indian friends at work complimented the smell of the dish but wouldn’t try it, I got that “who does this white boy think he is, making Baingan Bharta?” vibe.  So this week will be my own invention, substituting some ingredients and adding others.

Here’s what you need:

1 medium red onion chopped coarsely

2 medium leeks, rinse well and chop coarsely

1 medium eggplant, cubed

2 bell peppers, one orange, one red, chopped coarsely

1 bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped

10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed

1 pound okra, cooked (use ghee or a high temperature oil, cook until crisp)

1 pound paneer, cut in 1/2 inch cubes ( if there is no Indian market near you, substitute queso de freir)

1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes

1 15 oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

2 Bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

12 whole cloves

10 green cardamom pods, crushed

Piece of ginger about the size of your palm, diced

6 garlic cloves, pressed

1 tbsp chili powder

2.5 tbsp ground coriander

2 tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp tumeric

Olive oil

You’ll want to serve with rice, I recommend Jasmati rice made with one teaspoon of cumin seed per cup of rice.

Prep your work area first. Cook the okra, chop the vegetables, cube the paneer and set out your spices as follows. In one small container place Bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom. In another small container place the ginger and garlic. In another container place the chili powder, tumeric, coriander, cumin and garam masala.

In a large stockpot, heat three tablespoons of olive oil. Add the leek, cook until tender then add the onion. Once the onion becomes translucent add the Bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. cook for about a minute.

Add the peppers, ginger and garlic, cook until the peppers soften (a few minutes). Reduce heat.

Add the chili powder, tumeric, coriander, cumin and garam masala, stir for about a minute, add the eggplant and tomatoes, stir and cover.

Light the fireplace.

Add the spinach, okra, chopped cilantro, and chickpeas, cover and simmer for half an hour, stirring every five minutes or so. Start the rice, continue simmering the curry.

Sit in front of the fire and open a beer. I chose Nostradamus tonight.

When the rice is done, turn off the heat on the curry, remove the Bay leaves and cinnamon, and add the paneer. Stir well, let sit at least five minutes.

Makes Tuesday night dinner and lunch through Sunday.

This came out a bit bland (for me), next time I’ll increase the chili powder, cumin, and garam masala by at least twenty five percent. There is a pleasant mix of textures and colours, and nutritionally it covers all the bases.

Next week? I’m thinking of roasted vegetables and a soy sauce/orange marinated tofu over cous cous, kind of a Moroccan feel, but anything could capture my imagination. Now if I can just find someone to cook for…

 

Fear of change

It is ever so easy to become numbed by the status quo. We complain about our lives, but do little to change them.

I once worked as an Animal Control Officer. It was a comfortable job, I loved working with animals and educating the public on living with wildlife (why did they move to the suburbs if they didn’t want raccoons in the garden?). I reported to the Chief of Police, which is to say I was largely unsupervised, spending my days roaming the ‘burbs enjoying the natural beauty just outside most people’s field of vision.

One day the Borough decided to privatize my position, contracting a private service to respond to complaints, eliminating patrols. After seven years I had grown quite comfortable with the routine, but my MS was starting to make me question the reliability of my ability to deal with the more dangerous situations. I wasn’t sure what to do next, and responded to an advertisement for job training available to unemployment recipients.  An eight week course on photocopier repair with a placement service upon completion.

Pretty much everything you need to understand about repairing photocopiers you can learn in sixty seconds. If you can’t pick it up in eight weeks you can still find employment, I knew people who had made their living in the field for twenty years and never understood the basics, struggling with each new system as if it were a new universe to be memorized piece by piece. There is room for everyone, but in my second week of the course a representative from a local photocopier corporate office spoke to the class about “the business” and briefly spoke to us individually. The next week I had a job offer from his company. When my classmates graduated I had been employed by Minolta for a month.

The change was good, I was still on my own in the field, my mind was engaged by the occasional unique problem, and the vicious snarling dogs were replaced by vicious snarling customers who were much easier to placate. I moved on to Pitney Bowes, less money and less stress, after two years with Minolta, and over fifteen years had a wonderful time exploring the refinements as photocopiers moved from analogue to digital imaging. I never looked back at Animal Control, except for a brief stint at a “shelter” a few years ago when a friend was completing extra curricular courses for her Veterinary degree.

Life is like that. Sometimes the scary unknown is the most welcoming of doors.

So I started this article to tell you about my new toy and got distracted by the introduction, but it all fits together.

A few months ago I said goodbye to a dear old friend. My Cuisinart food processor was almost thirty years old, had seen me through three wives and a girlfriend who didn’t know not to place it on top of a hot oven. Facing the move to Belgium and 220 volt appliances, I had to let go of Margo (yes, I name appliances). Then, (surprise!), I didn’t move to Belgium. I wouldn’t have replaced Margo had I known I would be staying in the land of 110 VAC, but I was pressed to adopt a new food processor.

I was planning to make Tamales, gathered the ingredients, and realized my favorite tool was missing. I have yet to name him, but I’m sure this food processor is masculine. Maybe Jorge, we’ll see how he does Tuesday when I prepare the Tamales. He appears to have an Hispanic background, and lacks the gentle curves of Margo.

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Jorge?

 

It still feels odd having Black and Decker appliances in the kitchen, makes me think of carving a turkey with a circular saw.

Change is supposed to be a good thing, we get away from the familiar and expand our understanding of the universe and our place within it. I was bummed out when I left the Police Department, but it led to a successful career and a number of experiences I would have never encountered otherwise. Margo is deeply missed, we had a lot of good times together, but Jorge has additional features and appears to be up to the job of replacing my old friend.

I’m still trying to define what other things in my life I need to let go of, and whether or not they should be replaced. It is scary, but it shouldn’t be.

 

 

Old friends

I woke up this morning thinking of an old friend. I think of him from time to time, wondering how he’s doing.

I met Smith on my fortieth Birthday (not his real name, but he preferred to be called by his last name, and to be identified as male even though biologically he was female). He (she at the time) was working as a piercer on South Street in Philadelphia, I was having my tragus pierced to celebrate my birthday and some recent life changes.  I noticed his belt buckle, a Texas star, and asked if he was from Texas. He said he was from Euless, a little town between Dallas and Ft. Worth. I had a cousin living in Euless, and friends in the area, and I told him we used to call it “Useless Texas,” to which he said “Why do you think I’m here?”

I saw Smith a couple of times on South Street, when Emma had her first piercing I made sure Smith was her piercer. The shop where Emma and I purchased our wedding rings (and other items through the years) published a monthly newsletter, and it was in the newsletter I first saw Smith dressed as a man, as a participant in a “Drag King” event. When we were ready for some more piercings we found that Smith had stopped working as a piercer and was cooking at a local restaurant.

A few years later I ran into Smith in my neighborhood, he had moved to an apartment a block away from me and was cooking in Fishtown, riding his bike the six miles to work every day. I saw him often, walking his dog “Sookie,” sometimes dressed a little flamboyantly, one particular outfit stands out in my mind, yellow corduroy pants, a green shirt with a purple corduroy suit coat, big black framed round glasses, and a green Hamburg hat. He had shaved his head (which he did from time to time) and you could see the tattoos which adorned his scalp peeking out from under the Hamburg. He didn’t quite fit into the neighborhood, but Emma always made him welcome at the restaurant where she was working at 9th and Jackson, and I know the baker she lived next door to, Joe, was always friendly when we walked by his window.

I saw him last when Emma was ill, he was very kind and displayed the one feminine quality I always loved about him, a concerned look with pursed lips, a soft voice as he said “I’m so sorry” and gave me a hug. With Emma’s treatments I lost track of life in the neighborhood and missed Smith’s departure when he moved closer to work. I found him about a year after Emma died through a mutual acquaintance, we emailed a few times but our lives had gone in different directions.

Yesterday a friend at work commented on my tragus piercing, I wear a diamond there now and it gets noticed once in a while, that’s probably what has me thinking about Smith. He lives not far from a venue Lieve and I have been to a few times, maybe I’ll see him at a concert sometime; we like the same kind of music. I think he enjoyed as much as I the fact we were such friends but led such different lifestyles. Two transplanted Texans trying to make sense of these silly Northerners.

Smith made the choice to present his gender in the same sense that you might choose to wear a tie one day and a sweatshirt the next. His gender perception never came across as an issue of sexuality, in fact I know nothing about his love life, it was simply the way he saw himself. He was the best of what you would want in a human being, a strong woman and a gentle man, more simply a good person.

 

An evening with Buddy

You meet people in the oddest ways. Last year my friend Guy Campo mentioned playing with a guy named Buddy Cash (these are actual names, a guy named Guy and a buddy named Buddy). There aren’t many people out there with my last name, so I initiated a conversation on FaceBook with Buddy, who turns out to be an incredibly talented musician and genuinely nice human being. We met in person at the premiere of a film featuring Buddy (with Guy as well), and found we had many mutual ideas about life.

COVER featuring Buddy Cash

COVER featuring Buddy Cash

This is when I cut my beard, someone had noticed a picture of Buddy and I and asked if I was his father, when in fact Buddy is a few years older than I.

The Cashes

The Cashes

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Buddy play live, that is I haven’t had the time, Buddy plays five or six nights a week at various venues with various lineups. Last night I drove down to Wilmington Delaware to catch his Monday night gig at Gallucio’s with a couple of friends. This gig is called “Open Mike Night,” which turns out to be all requests and the opportunity to get on stage and sing lead vocals in some cases. It was amazing. Not only could the band play anything requested, they played it well enough to be mistaken for the original artists. I don’t mean they sounded like the album version of the song, they had the feel of the artists. When they played a few Led Zeppelin songs, Buddy and Jim sounded like Jonesy and Bonzo. When they played “Something,” Buddy’s bass line sounded more like George Harrison playing bass than Paul McCartney, he totally captured the feel and intent of the music.

The range of songs played would probably be mind numbing to most people. I’m not good at categorizing music, and when people have asked what kind of music Buddy performs I usually say “good.” That word doesn’t fit now that I’ve seen him play, and superlatives are usually dismissed, so I’ll say “Come along and hear for yourself.” I can see myself at Gallucio’s most every Monday night from now on, and Buddy has asked me to see him at Tom and Jerry’s in Milmont Park Pennsylvania a couple of times because he lives nearby and we could hang out at his place with his family and pets (he has five cats and a pig) after the show. I’ll have to to take a Saturday off for that one, the gig is on Friday and I don’t expect to be wide awake at 0500 the next morning. Emma had once been a waitress at Tom and Jerry’s, so there are a couple of reasons the gig is  attractive to me.

COVER’s producer, Kevin McQuiston, has made the film available online for $2.99, I can’t get the link he provided to work for me, but here it is. I’ll need to contact Kevin soon, because I seem to have given away all my copies of the DVDs he was selling at the premiere. When I hear from him I’ll update that link.

One more from last night, if you see me at one of the gigs come over and say hello.

 

 

 

 

Beware of Darkness

Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly
Beware of Maya

 

 

This happens to be my favorite recording of this song, Leon Russell’s verse stands out as a life lesson in itself. File this under “Are you listening yet?”

But this article is not about George Harrison or Leon Russell, maybe a little bit about Bangladesh, but not in a direct way. Today I write about Maya, as I do most of the time. The veneer which many accept as reality.

Our National leaders are a measure of the consensus of gullibility. When Obama was elected his charisma was palpable. For those of us who have experienced cult behavior, the parallels of his blind followers and the Jonestown Massacre were frightening. As the years passed, most intelligent people have been able to see him for what he is, a deluded puppet with no understanding of politics, leadership, or the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, intelligent people are a minority.

How he was re-elected at the point his approval rating was at an all-time low astounds me, and as polls show his increasing irrelevance (those who “strongly approve” of his performance decreasing while those who “strongly disapprove” rising) they also indicate the polarization he has reintroduced to American society.

For some reason, the adage “Politicians lie” is accepted by an increasing number of people, the more disturbing subtext is the number of people who don’t care that politicians lie. Obama’s inability to accept the responsibilities of the office he holds has me fuming this morning. In two years and four months he’ll be gone, but it appears he intends to do as much damage as possible before he goes.

A man who is so widely accepted by his followers as being incredibly intelligent has been able to use the “I didn’t know about that” defense for years. I take that as an indication that his followers are equally uninformed, as anyone with a passing familiarity of the subjects he has claimed ignorance about knew more than he claimed to know. One would assume that during his daily intelligence briefings he picked up more than golf tips. I guess that’s the down side of having followers who believe anything you say, being honest becomes unnecessary.

In case you’ve been playing golf for the last couple of years, there is a group who call themselves “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” abbreviated as ISIS, ISIL, IS, and also known as “those freaking bloodthirsty maniacs” by almost everyone else on the planet. When Al Qaeda calls a group “too extreme,” they might be worth tracking. Somehow, a retired intelligence analyst in Princeton NJ is more aware of their threat than the President of the United States. I am certain his sources are better than mine.

He is not. The rise of ISIS, which began in Syria and flowed into Iraq over the last few years, was an absolute surprise to POTUS, the man who actually had wanted to support them over Assad last year. Rather than stating he underestimated them, he blames the intelligence community for not informing him of their fanaticism. He blames the CIA for overestimating the Iraqi army’s ability to fight ISIS. Who would have ever expected the army that surrendered to journalists in both 1991 and 2003 to actually fight radicals? A few lines from the film “Full Metal Jacket,” (Emma’s favorite) comes to mind, “I’ve got some ARVN rifles, never been fired and only dropped once”, and “yeah, I’ve seen plenty of the local troops, most of them were running the other way.”

A leader takes responsibility for his team. Six years into his term he is totally responsible for his advisers, yet he still blames failures on them instead of either admitting he wasn’t paying attention to them or he made poor choices in appointing them. I wish I could feel pity for this pathetic fool but right now all I feel is disgust. If you can’t trust your intelligence, try tuning into BBC, CBC, Al-Jazeera, or even your media pet CNN. How is it that the President of the United States is the only person on the planet that underestimated ISIS, and somehow that is the fault of his intel team?

Okay, maybe it’s a soft spot for me, Clinton decimated the intelligence community and then bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade due to bad targeting intel. The waves from Clinton’s purge still affect us today, it can take decades to build assets in societies that are closed to Westerners. But Bill Clinton did not blame the agency he had torn down for their subsequent failures, personally apologizing to Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Obama misses news that is available on the street corner and blames his intel sources? Is this why intruders keep “slipping by” the Secret Service, gaining access to the White House? Just wondering…

A friend had a saying when the Air Force was undergoing a “management overhaul,” in which officers were promoted based on their management skills. Carl would say “You don’t manage a man into battle, you lead.” Over the years the entire concept of “leadership” has devolved into “management.” I see it everywhere, but when the President stops being a leader and is just another manager, dodging responsibility and stealing the limelight from true achievers, the attitude spreads throughout society’s expectations of their leaders. It seems unlikely that our next President could be worse, but it is altogether possible considering what the American public will settle for.

I was just Skyping with Lieve, and she mentioned an incident in which a two year old ate some mushrooms, and had to be rushed to Lieve’s father with an uneaten mushroom so he could identify the species. The baby had been left under the supervision of his five year old sister, who was being berated for not watching the baby closely enough. If you think it is appropriate to make a five year old a babysitter, is it really the babysitter’s fault if something goes wrong?  Responsibility lies upon the top authority figure, in this case the Father, he made a foolish choice entrusting his baby’s safety to another child.

We, as citizens of the United States, are ultimately responsible for the performance of our elected officials. I didn’t choose Obama, but I accept my responsibility as a member of a democracy to accept his authority. I just wish my fellow Americans could accept their responsibilities in choosing a leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn

The Autumnal Equinox is today, 22 September at 2229 EDT (23 September 0229 UDT) . I try to note the passing of the seasons, not with the sadness for the season that has passed, but with the anticipation of the wonders of the new season, knowing the last season will be back in about nine months. The cooling of Autumn allows the trees to rest, turning beautiful colours and then losing their leaves, before the Winter snow weighs down those leaves and takes down the trees. The Winter snow is a reservoir, moisture slowly melting into the ground to feed the growth of Spring. Spring brings new life, lush green vistas, fading into the heat of Summer, outdoor activities, long evenings with the crickets, and then again the colours of Autumn.

I’ve had two cats named Autumn, the first because he was born on the Equinox, the second because Emma thought she looked like a pile of leaves. I can’t say I have a favorite season, but the slowing of pace and gentle earth tones allow introspection, this for me is the ending of the year, a time to reflect on the past year.

The season lends itself to melancholy, the fading vibrance of summer colours and appearance of the reds and browns feels like death to some, when it’s really just the adorning of bed clothes. Back to school often means an end to Summer romances, later we learn that romance can be mortally wounded at any time. I’ve certainly had my share of joy and terror this year.

The thing I like best about Autumn are walks in the woods, the silence makes the deer comfortable enough to not run away. Important moments in my life have occurred during these months, probably not more than any other season, just more memorable. Hope you’re reading this someplace comfy Jean ;~)

Life does not last forever, nothing does. Our lives continue beyond our days as the influences we have had on others, I believe our love lasts far longer than we do. On the other hand, several people have said I am a hopeless romantic.

The changing seasons teach patience and faith. The Earth will continue around the Sun, shining either more or less on our hemisphere on a regular cycle. The days grow shorter, then they grow longer, then shorter again. Over and over. Each year we long for Summer in the snows of Winter, and long for Winter in the blazing heat of Summer. We could not have one without the other, the wise among us learn to respect each for its unique charms.

My work will occupy a great deal of time this Autumn, but one good part is my days off are weekdays, and getting up at 0500 becomes a habit. There will be walks, with mist on the waters, deer and heron, and no people as they scurry off to work. I will be considering the past and its lessons, and planning a future built on the changes. Not that many of my plans go as designed. I will be exercising faith, and hopes, and a few dreams.

 

 

A Day for Danny

One question often asked is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I have come to the conclusion that things in and of themselves are neither good or bad. They simply happen, the measure of the person they affect lies in their reaction. Matthew 5:45 states this well, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

We can all be crushed by circumstances beyond our control, rising above our personal pain is what makes us good people. If you have never been tested, you are only potentially a good (or bad) person. One person who is currently being tested is Dan Scimeca, retired Chief of Police from Manasquan New Jersey, and husband of a High School friend of mine, Colleen (Walker) Scimeca. Not that he has not had other tests in life, and proven himself thoroughly, but as “Q” says to Captain Picard in the final episode of Star Trek; The Next Generation, the trial never ends.

Colleen has worked for years raising funds for ALS, being involved with the Valentine Plunge each year. In an amazing twist of irony, Dan was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year. They are both weathering this storm with grace.

Yesterday was a day of that rare event, Karma making itself obvious. Over eight hundred of Colleen and Dan’s friends gathered to raise funds for Dan and others who have ALS, packing Leggetts Sand Bar for “A Day for Danny.” It was quite amazing, the building was overflowing, and despite the great music from Ronnie and The Engineers, far too crowded to dance, or even move through the room. A small group of Colleen’s High School friends managed to stake claim to a table outside, driving in from as far away as Iowa. That’s me in the lower left corner.

 

The gang from NPHS, almost forty years in the making

The gang from NPHS, almost forty years in the making

Yes, we had fun, we always do. We are also comfortable supporting friends in need, there is a charitable streak that runs through this group, championed by Tim Sickel (who is not pictured because he took the above photograph).

I don’t know what the final tally for funds raised is, a low estimate would be $40,000, a drop in the bucket when it comes to the special needs of a family dealing with ALS. The love shared is immeasurable, just a wonderful thing to witness.

Your financial situation has nothing to do with your charitable contributions. You may not have money to share, but you have a heart to love others with. If all you can do is smile then do that. Helping a stranger find something in the grocery store doesn’t cost anything, kind words are free, why not share them?

We are all human, we have more in common with each other than we have differences. We are family, lifting up a fallen brother will never cause you to fall.

 

 

 

 

 

Things she left behind

 

I took Lieve to the airport, helped her with her baggage and watched her pass through security. I drove home to an empty house, what was supposed to be our home, as she flew to what was supposed to be our new home.

She takes with her my heart, what was left of it after Emma died and she nursed me back to health.

As I pulled in the drive, the neighbors were on their way out and met me, the cats had become a problem, attacking one of theirs, so we’re trying to figure out what to do. Just a little more added stress.

I had looked forward to moving to Belgium, I had made friends there and was liked by her family. But she needs some space, and the only way I could show my love was to let her go. Letting go is about faith, I have faith that when she finds peace, she will remember our love, and rejoin our marriage.

She leaves behind more than just me, she had made friends in America, and has two cats which I now look after. She leaves her beloved hummingbirds, “Colibri” in Flemish. I will always remember her excitement when she saw the first one, losing English and just shouting “Colibri! Colibri!” with the most beautiful smile, the smile that makes her so memorable to strangers. At the shore last year one man who we were helping didn’t recognize her until she smiled. On her last birthday I gave her a custom blown glass hummingbird feeder, a heart with a red leaf, which she left behind, no hummingbirds in Belgium. She took the hummingbird ornaments and earrings I gave her, perhaps they will carry some happy memories.

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Now there is just the empty chair she would sit in to take pictures of the Colibri, who still come around.

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She left a garage full of empty cardboard boxes, the ones we were going to pack when I moved to Belgium with her. I try to sleep in our empty bed, she’s not here, and I’m not really here either.

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Today I’ll probably take down the Belgian flag I flew outside the door, I’ll put up my pirate flag and try to find my inner pirate. I used to take the month of November as a vacation from society, a month to reflect on the year, looks as if that vacation has been moved and extended. I do have plans to see friends, but it will be strange without my wife.

 

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Her beautiful antique map of Belgian railways is still hanging in the living room, as are the concert posters and other traces of her. I’ll make the bedroom “mine”, putting my clothes away in her dresser, arranging the room that is now empty. I’ll set up her keyboard, I’ve tuned my bass, and I’m planning to fill part of the void with music. I never really cared for audiences, now I can play for myself.

In this vacant space I hope to find time to write about something other than the vacant space. Right now that’s all I have, the emptiness. I get home too late to watch the news, I catch the BBC once in a while, I’m aware that no one can decide what to call the terrorist group that is over running Iraq, one commentator referred to them as “Terrorists”, “ISIS”, “ISIL”, and “IS” all in one statement. That might make a good article. I haven’t even had time to read my friends’ articles, so I stuff my weekend with catching up from the week. Next week I’ll spend a day of the weekend working overtime, better to start while it’s still voluntary, maybe that will put off the inevitable move to mandatory overtime. Any news about the Ukraine is speculation or propaganda so I can wait a bit on that story. Putin should be wise enough to stall any major escalation until Winter, using the weather as a weapon just like Alexander and Stalin did.

My new roommate should provide some interesting insights , he’s a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology from Iran, a very pleasant young man who I rarely see.

Most of the time I will simply be patient. Without devoting my life to the pain of being abandoned, maintaining my hope that Lieve will find her way back to us. It may take months, maybe a year, but part of marriage is having faith in your spouse. My first two marriages I failed, I learned my lessons and went into this one with the dedication I shared with Emma. I won’t give up, but I can’t argue, she has to decide whether she wants to be committed to this marriage or not, all I can do is wait.

 

 

The Ice Bucket Challenge

If you had not before this Summer, you have certainly by now heard of ALS, sometimes called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Raising money and awareness through the Ice Bucket Challenge has placed ALS in the spotlight.

I hope.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons in the Central Nervous System (CNS). “Amyotrophic” can be translated to “No muscle nourishment,” what is actually happening is the neurons which control the muscle have died, meaning the muscle can no longer be controlled voluntarily. “”Lateral” describes the portion of the spinal column in which the neurons are located. “Sclerosis” is a term for scarring,  referring to the hardening of areas in which the neurons have died. As ALS progresses in a patient, the degeneration of the motor neurons causes paralyses, If you recall Stephen Hawking, 40 years ago he was wheelchair bound and mildly spastic. He was able to father children and have a relatively normal life within his accommodations. Today, his communication is limited to a synthetic voice controlled by a computer, which he operates with his cheek muscle, one of the few muscles he is still able to control.

Like Lou Gehrig, Stephen Hawking is a famous person putting a face on the disease, which is relatively rare, affecting about two of every one hundred thousand people, about 140,000 people in the world, 6300 in the United States. There is no cure or treatment to end or reverse the degeneration, but a drug from Sanofi-Aventis, Riluzole, may slow the progression of the disease. It’s hard to tell with statements such as that. Stephen was diagnosed with ALS over fifty years ago, life expectancy is rarely more than ten years after diagnosis. My own experience with chronic disease has been some drugs work for some people, each case is different. I was diagnosed with MS twenty five years ago, none of the drugs that have been developed work for me (in fact a few made me worse), but my outward symptoms are barely noticeable. On the other hand, one woman who was diagnosed at the same time as me died within six months.

I have a friend who has been raising money for the ALS foundation for years. Every February she is involved in a “Valentine’s Day Plunge” in Manasquan New Jersey, in which people are sponsored to jump into the Atlantic surf to raise money for ALS research. In a bizarre twist of fate, her husband was diagnosed with ALS last year. She has organized a benefit for her husband Danny, and will continue with the Valentine’s Day Plunge, but she also has made popular among our circle of friends the Ice Bucket Challenge, which has now “gone viral.” I don’t know where it started, but we were doing it before it hit the news.

The idea behind the Ice Bucket Challenge is to raise money, but in popular culture it has turned into “raising awareness.” Well, a lot of people now know about dumping a bucket of cold water on themselves, but I don’t know that many know about the disease or are making contributions. Thus this article.

No amount of cold water or awareness is going to curb ALS, or any other disease. Awareness is certainly nice, with eighteen times as many patients, MS is largely misunderstood and I do find it quite annoying when people misinterpret my condition. Since I was diagnosed eight treatments for MS have been developed, none of which work for me. There is one drug for ALS, if it doesn’t work for you you have no other avenues. It could be worse, I had a friend in the Police Department I worked in who developed a disease only three other people in the United States had. He was the only guinea pig when research needed to be done. He vacationed at the NIH each year, no drug companies were interested in a drug that would have a handful of customers.

There is more than research that your donations provide. Most organizations provide support for patients as well. The American Cancer Society provided transportation for Emma to get to her Chemo and Radiation treatments, and provides wigs for patients who lose their hair. The MS and ALS foundations have outreach programs to assist with the daily needs of families affected by the respective diseases. Government funding is drying up, so not only do contributions go directly to research, they also pay for lobbyists to promote funding in Congress.

Being aware is not enough. Caring is nice, but only a sociopath doesn’t care. Money is what will make a difference. This year the Ice Bucket Challenge has inspired a flood of donations to the ALS association, $94 million so far. In reality that isn’t much money when you consider the price of laboratory equipment and facilities on top of the daily assistance provided to ALS patients, it amounts to roughly $671 per patient (worldwide).

 

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If you do not have the money or time to give, at least educate yourself about these diseases. Understand what that friend of yours is going through. That alone can make a world of difference.

Solving Problems

Some of you may be aware that I have started a new job, working in one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers. I know fellow independent authors, “the enemy.” Amazon has not been very kind to independent authors, the royalty rates are paltry, but it’s a huge market and they own it. My ranking in their top 100 is #3,621,641, but I was never looking for monetary wealth.

I do need to pay the bills, so now I make sure other authors’ books get out into the marketplace. One of the dangers of working at Amazon is seeing all the books you didn’t know about, in fact even products you didn’t know existed. I’ve already come home from work and gotten on the computer to order something I saw going into the warehouse. I’m still waiting to see a copy of my book go by (not bloody likely), if I do I’ll be tempted to pick it up and sign it.

Life goes on, the path has curves but it is still the same path. My second day I was moved into the position of “Problem Solver” (one of the perks of having started the first day the facility opened), a fitting place for me. I’ve held a variety of positions in my life, but I’ve always been a problem solver, a “fixer,” the guy who makes things work. Ironic in timing, my personal life is beyond repair, my last wife died in my arms, I can fix other people’s problems but not my own.

The work is fascinating. Not so much the work itself, although the problems I resolve vary enough to hold my interest. The warehouse is largely robotic, all the items are stowed in bins that are moved by Kiva robots, then the pod of bins is stored and moved to the person filling an order when that item is needed. Our robots are a little sleeker than the ones in this video, and our pods are four sided and not just open shelves but a series of “bins” on each side, each bin is a unique address in some monster database that maintains the inventory.

 

One of the robots took a liking to me last week, it entered my work area without a pod, stayed facing me for a minute or two, then started flashing its blue headlights at me, as if it was fluttering its eyelashes, then it moved around into my immediate workspace, which it shouldn’t do without a pod, by which time the master program discovered its presence and sent me a message to release the robot into the available pool. If I was just a bit crazier I might believe that #5936 was flirting with me. I have been feeling rather lonely, but not that lonely.

The software that makes all this work must be millions if not billions of lines of code, tracking each item, each location, bringing the ordered items to the packers, and I’m fairly sure I might have done a better job in coordinating the processes. I just like watching the robots dance though. If one has a problem and stops, the other robots move around it, like cars in traffic. I had a line of robots waiting to enter a zone that had been shut down, and the robots behind the first in line kept shifting order as they tried to get past.

My job is finding lost items, making sure the virtual inventory matches the actual inventory, kind of a liaison between the real and virtual worlds, treading through maya. I am comfortable, in my natural environment.  It remains an interesting testament to man’s self doubt that errors are blamed on humans, even in the face of multiple computer faults, so another part of my job is giving feedback to the humans connected to mismatches, trying to help them reduce the number of errors even when I know that more than half the time it wasn’t their fault.

Amazon is a quirky company, looking both forward and backward. The founder, Jeff Bezos, started in his garage fifteen years ago, using a door laid across saw horses for a desk. Today, every desk is made of a door. No one carries a briefcase, they use backpacks. No ties (how I miss wearing a tie!), everyone in T-shirts. The facility, the largest Amazon has at the moment, is over one million square feet of floorspace, and situated within a 100 mile radius of the largest concentration of Amazon customers. My thoughts are it is in anticipation of the ability to deliver by drone, that radius allows a maximum flight of 200 miles, and the rooftop could be a droneport.

The hours are a little rough, a ten hour day (plus a half hour lunch) means I start at 0700 and finish at 1730, four days a week. The overlapping shifts mean you have a variety of people to interact with in a week, we all have different “weekends”, but the night shift follows the path of all night shifts, they leave the place a mess every morning and there is no way to communicate with them. I’ll never get to see another “Free at Noon” concert in Philly again, they are always on Friday, and as we head into the Christmas or “Peak” season, there will be overtime, in some instances mandatory overtime, possibly 60 hour weeks. Don’t expect to hear from me after Black Friday until New Years Day.

I’m not allowed to carry a camera or cell phone because I have to pass through a metal detector to leave, or I would take pictures and video of some of the amazing technology at play. Keeping track of thousands of employees’ cell phones to be sure they didn’t pick up one off a shelf would be maddening, not only to security but to employees who would like to leave the building within an hour of quitting time.

So I take a break from retirement, gathering new experiences to write about, enduring the pain of Lieve leaving me behind, using the time to reacquaint myself with me, or at least discover who I am now. I’ve spent the last four years trying to stop being a “type-A” personality, now those skills are coming back.

I am still here

I have been having a rather rough time lately. I write from my heart and my heart has been broken.

Today, 16 August 2014, is the fourth anniversary of my first my first date with Lieve. It was the evening, and remainder of the date, that changed my life. I was struggling for meaning, and I found someone who believed in me. We connected on every level.

In a few weeks she leaves for Belgium. We had planned to go together, but she changed her mind and decided to “take a break,” so I will be staying behind, wondering how long her break will be. I remain hopeful, but there is reason to believe she will not be coming back, at least not to be husband and wife.

I’ve been to seek counseling, have seen psychologists and psychiatrists, have started taking anti-depressants again and stopped crying. Better living through chemistry.

I’ll be writing again, maybe once a week at first to share my insights and experiences. I’ve started a real job, working for Amazon, it’s rather interesting if not terribly challenging. I’ll have a roommate, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology from Iran, which promises to produce some interesting conversations, and maybe some new recipes.

So just taking the moment, an anniversary of when I started living again, to let you all know I’m still alive and will be around more.

Oh, and I saw Sharon again…

And I cut my hair.

Hurt

I like this video for a number of reasons. It’s hard not to be a fan of a family member, and one tied so close by genetics creates a special bond. When I watched this video for the first time, after getting over the shock of Johnny covering a Nine Inch Nails track, I was taken by the resemblance to my father. Over the years people have commented that he looks like Johnny, but I would always have a classic image of each of them in my mind and didn’t see the resemblance. The video, containing images through the years, was like paging through a family album, and I watched my father age before my eyes.

Then there’s the lyrics. I had a friend once who identified me through the last line of the first stanza. It’s true, “But I remember everything”. Johnny’s delivery of that line illustrates the pain of remembrance, There is so much I wish I could forget. Not just the horrible things, but also some of the happy things that are now out of sync with reality. The joy and love of someone you cared for who later betrayed you is better forgotten, it just makes the betrayal sting more.

At this point in my life, I feel a great deal of hurt. I have given everything, all of myself in every measure. There is nothing left but the pain. My friends have died or moved on , my children have discarded me, the love of my life has died, and the person I placed my trust and love into has decided there is nothing she needs from me anymore. I was feeling I couldn’t fix anything after Emma died, and then I found this unhappy person and thought I might be able to fix her, But there is nothing that I can do other than leave.

I feel that nothing I have done has made a difference. That’s just depression, I know the changes I have made, the lives that I have touched, even the growth within myself. None of that means anything to me right now, there is one thing that makes living bearable, and that has been taken away. If I had lost Emma twenty years ago, maybe I would believe that I could start over one more time. Instead I can just be thankful for these last four years and the good times within them, bonus years I didn’t really deserve.

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

[Chorus:]
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

[Chorus:]
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

In my entire life, I have been in love twice, and I know that I have been loved at least once. That’s enough. So that’s it. Last post, thanks for reading.

Football

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It’s football time again. No not that pointy ended American football, the round type we call soccer and the entire rest of the world calls football, because the primary way of interacting with the ball is with your foot. Being one of those guys who usually identifies sports by the equipment, the difference between Football and  Voetbal seemed obvious to me.

Voetbal hasn’t caught on much in America. We call it Soccer, and while we do have a league of teams that draw more fans than the entire populations of other World Cup nations, it suffers from being associated with political correctness. Soccer was popular with the political correctness movement in the 90s, because games often ended in a draw, and “everybody won.” Not enough people were good at the game, so there was the equality of mediocrity. Individual merit won out in the end, “winning” could not lose its appeal in a nation built on competition.

American football is a brutal sport, analogous to war. Each play has a defined beginning and ending, every movement designed to move the ball from one end of the field in a straight line to the other end. This might explain why America has done so poorly in wars during the last half of the twentieth century. The path to victory is rarely a straight line.

American football is the source of injuries on a routine basis, but studies are indicating that head butting a soccer ball does as much damage as head butting another player. Both teams have eleven players, but the dimensions of a soccer field are more flexible than an American football field, FIFA rules allow a length between 90 and 120 meters (100 to 130 yards) and a width of 45 to 90 meters (50 to 100 yards). Were it me, I would train on a larger field to improve endurance. Just sayin, England

Fans (derived from the word “fanatic”) are probably similar everywhere, my limited experience with fans of American football turned my lack of interest in the game even more sour. There is a rivalry between Philadelphia (The Eagles) and Dallas (The Cowboys), but my disinterest in the sport prevented me from noticing when I first moved to Philadelphia. Over the years I picked up on it, another Philly thing, hatred taking the place of jealousy over the Cowboys’ winning record. One afternoon my companions’ son was watching a football game (I was cooking) and I heard him cheering. I asked if the Eagles had scored, and he said no, a player for the Cowboys had broken his leg. The Eagles were not even playing the Cowboys, he had seen the news on the ticker across the bottom of the screen, and it evoked more joy than his own team scoring a goal. I can not fathom that level of being a fan.

Emma, having been born in Philadelphia, was a natural fan of the Eagles, but on the odd instances we watched a Cowboys game that did not include the Eagles, she would cheer the Cowboys. Most of our friends knew our origins, and also knew my lack of interest in sports, but on the days the Eagles played the Cowboys they acknowledged the difficulties (which did not exist) in our household.

A survey by the New York Times showed an interesting aspect of football fans. Of the nineteen countries surveyed, sixteen (84%) thought Brazil would win. Americans thought America would win, displaying not only American nationalism, but also a lack of understanding of the game and our place in it. We also display our level of self loathing, as America is the team most Americans will be rooting against (actually a very tight race there, with only 5% against America being the highest total of nineteen possibilities).

All of these issues culminate this afternoon, as Belgium and America face each other in the World Cup. With sixteen teams left, it was a surprise America could make it this far, and a twist of fate they would be playing against Lieve’s home country. Not that either of us are vested in football (futbal, voetbal, soccer…), but we will likely go out and watch the game. Americans are not terribly interested (and will lose all interest if the American team loses), so there is a good chance we won’t be the only ones cheering the Belgian team.

Our biggest challenge is finding a bar that will have the game on with a good selection of Belgian beers…

Zot! made in Brugge, displayed as a Belgian flag

Zot! made in Brugge, displayed as a Belgian flag

 

Not One More

This one is a little tough to write. I’ve given a great amount of thought to whether or not I should even publish these thoughts, as of late I have seen such polarized thinking I have considered giving up any hopes of changing minds altogether.

You are doubtless aware of the killings in Isla Vista, a student community of Santa Barbara California. An incredibly disturbed young man stabbed his two roommates and a visitor to death,  then he drove to a sorority house (which refused to allow him entry) where a few women who had refused his advances lived. Stopped by a locked door, he shot three women across the street, killing two. He then drove to a convenience store, firing multiple rounds inside the store, striking one man multiple times lethally. Sheriffs showed up at the store and the young man fled before they could determine he was the actor. He drove about on the wrong side of the road, running down bicyclists and pedestrians,  firing at and missing at least three people before encountering a sheriff with whom he exchanged fire. He then ran down a bicyclist, and fired into a crowd injuring three people. He shot one more person before a group of sheriffs caught up with him. They fired several shots into his vehicle as he sped off. He struck one more bicyclist before crashing into some parked vehicles. When the sheriffs removed him from his car he was dead of an apparent self inflicted wound.

That is what happened. Six dead, thirteen injured. Half of the dead killed by stab wounds, some of the injured assaulted with a motor vehicle. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown summed it up at a news conference hours after the incident “I think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”

Comments from those who knew the killer ranged from “It wasn’t a surprise, I wish I could have done something to stop it,” to “There was nothing I could have done, he was a troubled kid.” His parents were devastated, joining with the families of the victims in their grief. While they had been quite aware of his issues, they were unaware of the depth of his illness. Authorities had seen “warning signs,” but he failed to meet the criteria for involuntary institutionalization.

Why do I speak of this subject on a Sunday?

You are likely aware of the story of Cain and Abel, children of Adam and Eve. A jealous Cain kills Abel, and when asked where Abel was by God in Genesis 4:9 Cain replies “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain was punished, exiled to the land of Nod, but he was not killed, in fact God protected him saying in Genesis 4:15  “Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” Cain went on with his wife and procreated, founding the village of Enoch.

We are our brother’s keeper. It is natural for a parent to fail to see the sociopath child, I suspect every heinous villain in history has had his mother say “boys will be boys” about aggressive behavior. The rest of us do not have the excuse of parental ignorance. There is something we can do, and saying “I wish I could have done something” is perhaps the most pathetic of all statements. This young man was not an insane Norse warrior killing everything in his path. He was stopped by a locked door. He ran from confrontation. All that was required, all that was ever required, was for someone to stand up to him.

One victim’s father has made an effort to assign blame and responsibility. I understand his grief, and make allowances for his judgement. Elliot Rodger was a severely disturbed young man, multiple psychiatrists have stated so, everyone who had contact with him, even his parents, concur. The NRA and/or “greedy politicians” were not responsible for this young man’s actions, they did not place the knives, guns, and car keys in his hands. Sending postcards saying “Not One More” has not stopped the several hundred homicides that have taken place in the intervening month. Expecting “someone else” to solve the problem will only result in more victims.

“There was nothing I could’ve done,” the neighbor said. “Maybe I could’ve postponed it, but he was a troubled kid.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpufI think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

Jesus repeatedly told us to love one another. He did not say “hope things work out” or “wish for the best” or “wait for someone to do something.” He called us to action, the simplest action, the easiest action. Love. Love can be defined in many ways, but what is more simple than helping the injured soul? Action for young Elliot would have prevented his suffering, the suffering of his victims, and the suffering of his victims’ families. It was obviously not an easy choice, his parents could not bring themselves to it, the authorities required a more clear and present danger, but everyone knew he needed help. No one felt they were his keeper. For some reason it is more appealing to chase the evil giants than to deal with issues on a personal level. One approach works, the other never will.

Elliot Rodger was our brother. George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, and Weihan “David” Wang, were our brothers, Katherine Breann Cooper and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss were our sisters. The thirteen injured physically, and the thousands injured emotionally are our brothers and sisters. By failing Elliot, we failed all of them.

All it takes is a word or two, and enough love to intervene.

 

 

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf