Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

I visited Philadelphia yesterday. We have a visitor, and we wanted her to see the Magic Gardens. I dig Magic Gardens for a variety of reasons. One is because it’s where Lieve and I were married.

Magic Gardens is hard to explain. It’s a gallery for the art of Isaiah Zagar. It is the art of Isaiah Zagar. In some ways, it is Isaiah Zagar.

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Isaiah’s presence can be seen throughout the gallery, the ever present derby shows up in figures both recognizable and not. There is a small indoor gallery, in which smaller pieces and work by other artists is displayed, but the marvel is a 3,000 square foot multilevel sculpted space, covered with his signature style mosaics.

You see his work all over Philadelphia, sometimes just little bits, sometimes an entire wall, particularly on South Street. You know South street, even if you’ve never been to Philly.

South street remains “where all the hippies meet”. It has been a counter culture center since the sixties, when Isaiah first arrived. It was the place the punks hung out in the eighties, stores like “Zipperhead” and “Skinz” were the place to find clothes, and clubs like JC Dobbs and Theatre of the Living Arts had the latest music. Music was everywhere, it wasn’t uncommon for a band to plug into a store for power and play on the street. Then came Mayor John Street. There is nothing that I can write about his regime that is both accurate and suitable for all ages other than he made Rizzo look like a flower child. You may not know that Tony Hawk’s video game was based on a real place, because Mayor Street banned skateboarding in the place responsible for bringing the X-Games to Philly. Music in the street was obviously not part of Street’s vision of Philadelphia. Apparently he never met Martha Reese OR The Vandellas.

Isaiah had a studio next to a vacant lot at 1022-1026 South street, and in the nineties used the lot to create a garden. When the owners of the property decided in 2002 to sell it, the community banded together, formed a non profit group, and purchased the land, saving Isaiah’s work and creating Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

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Isaiah can often be found at the gardens, he was there the day we married. A petal fell from the rose on my lapel, and he handed it to me saying “I think this is yours” with the cutest smile. I invited him to join us, but he was busy with other things. We stopped by the spot where we married, it seemed much smaller than I remember. And warmer. The day of our wedding the air temperature was about thirty five degrees Fahrenheit, with a brisk breeze. There had been other people in the area, and I told them we were performing a wedding ceremony and they were welcome to stay. Our ceremony was in the Quaker tradition, unique to Pennsylvania. No officiator is required other than two adult witnesses, so two of our friends, and Lieve’s children, stood by and took pictures while we made our vows. As you can see in the video, it took just over a minute.

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A friend found several of Isaiah’s sculptures in the woods one day. No signs or anything. I recognized the style but he still believes there’s a different kind of magic there, so he won’t reveal the location. Magicians can be like that.

After we visited the gardens, we took our visitor on a tour of South Philly, seeing more of Isaiah’s work scattered about, the neighborhood where I had lived, and lunch at Marra’s to complete the experience. We picked up cheesecake.

Last week, when we went to the Punk Rock Flea Market, I felt a little sad. Some punks haven’t aged well, but they’re keeping the spirit alive. When I came home from Philly, I saw that Courtney Love is playing the Theatre for the Living Arts in June. I bought tickets immediately.

Prose sample

This is cheating. I kept this on hand in case I didn’t have a blog written, so since you’re reading it, I must have run out of articles. This is the first page of an unfinished novel I started a few years ago. A chapter down the path I came to a rape scene, and couldn’t get it. The first draft was too erotic, and I couldn’t combine the violence and sexuality in a believable way so I left the project.

Sophia turned the key. The click of the lock was more felt than heard, but in her state of excitement it sounded like a rifle shot. She slid through the doorway, trying to move so smoothly that even the air would not be disturbed. The lamp just inside would not cooperate, it crashed to the floor, shattering, stained glass that would never refract its gentle tones to a lover’s closed eyes again spilled across the floor like the blood that had been spilled earlier. Silence might be desired, but if anyone was in the house they certainly heard that.

She sat on the bed, her hand over her mouth as if that were the source of the disturbance, as if there was a way to pull back the noise. No sound, no steps, no indication of reaction. How many minutes had it been, five? More like one, better to wait a touch longer before moving again. She thought of Stewart, waiting for her, sleeping without an inkling of where she was, what she had done. He would have to be told, but not now, not soon.

It was safe now. She rose, sliding her feet to avoid the glass, making a slight rustling noise. There was no way to hide the fact that someone had been here, that opportunity passed about an hour ago. Her mission now was to hide who had been here. Part of that would be to hide why she had been here. She removed the desk drawer, setting it on the bed. Taped to the back of the drawer was another key, a key to another lock, part of a chain of secrets. She took the key and placed it in her pocket. Two more stops and she could leave, back to Stewart, never to see this house again.

She moved slowly, silence the better habit, reinforcing her attention to detail. She closed the door, locking it, placing that key in her breast pocket. The thought of Stewart’s lips on her breast, echoed in her touch, made her pause. The memory of Michael’s touch shook her back to reality. Sophia made her way down the hall, down the steps, into the library. The key from the bedroom drawer fit a small wooden box. She opened the box, knowing what was there but needing to confirm. The words on the paper more than she could bear to read, she recognized the signatures, there should be a disc, there, nothing else of importance, but she would take it all anyway. She placed the keys in the box and closed it.

She walked out the back door, the box under her arm. The sky still dark, one more stop before Stewart’s bed.

That’s where it sits, Sophia is the heroine, victim of Michael’s abuse from which she may have recovered. Stewart is her lover who knows nothing about the past incident. Keys and locks are recurring symbols, and it appears that Michael may be dead downstairs, having interrupted her break in, in which she was recovering the evidence that he was using against her (or maybe was going to use against Stewart) in a blackmail scheme.

I’ve done this a number of times, I’ll get a fabulous first page, a hook that will get the reader to turn the page and continue, but I just don’t get the story to work. That appears to be changing. I’m still not interested in trying to write a rape scene, but my imagination should allow me to get around that roadblock.

Ah, the rationale. We have a guest, so rather than writing we’re entertaining. Today is a trip to Philly for cheesecake  and some sightseeing, I think tomorrow’s subject may be our guest, a charming woman from Japan.

Cheesecakes and cheesesteaks

Philadelphia is famous for many things. It is a center of arts and culture (not the plasticized, marketing idea of arts and culture emanating from Manhattan). Its cultural diversity is masked by its segregation, as it is a city of neighborhoods, there are no gates but a native knows which block belongs to whom. A Laotian friend was able to break it down even farther, pointing out which block was Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, and his Laotian neighborhood. One elementary school I worked in had parents who spoke eleven different languages.

All these ethnic groups provide Philadelphia with its greatest claim to fame.  Touching far more lives than the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, The Free Library, the First Zoological Gardens, its numerous art museums or even Rocky, Philadelphia has an incredibly diverse selection of cuisines, and there are many popular dishes that originated in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a food city.

Philadelphia has some wonderful restaurants, and I’ve eaten at many of them. Lieve and I have been to Panorama a few times,  Le Bec Fin will be closing next month, and Deux Cheminees closed in 2007, but still going strong since 1930 is Pat’s King of Steaks, and their friendly rival, Geno’s (which has only been around since 1966).

PATSGenosThese are the official publicity photos of Pat’s and Geno’s. In real life, Pat’s is a little dingier, Geno’s is a little glitzier. You could see the light of Geno’s neon from my apartment, nine blocks away.

Back when I would eat meat, I preferred Pat’s. It’s just more authentic, more South Philly. Joey Vento, the owner of Geno’s, made world news when he posted a sign in the window saying “This is America, order in English” (Pat’s had always had a sign instructing how to properly order a cheesesteak, written in “South Philleese”). He was a great guy, and could usually be found at the restaurant. Regardless of your ethnic background, if you lived in Philly you were either a “Pat’s” or a “Geno’s” person.

Being a largely Italian neighborhood (the Italian newspaper only recently started publishing in English), another great source of controversy was the choice of bakeries. Varallo Brothers had the best cannoli (At Christmas time, a guy in a Santa Suit directed traffic on the corner), Frangelli’s had the best doughnuts, but Termini Brothers has the best cheesecake. Yes, Termini’s makes that fluffy New York style cheesecake, but their pan cheesecake sets them apart. This is an Italian style, with “baking cheese” that is simply amazing. If you visit Philadelphia, Termini Brothers have locations at Reading Terminal, the Comcast Building, and Packer Park, but as long as you’re in South Philly picking up a cheesesteak, you might as well stop in the original bakery on Eighth street for a cheesecake. On a good day, you might get some live music to go along with it.

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When I was first dating my wife, I would always have a Termini Brothers cheesecake and a bottle of sparkling wine in the refrigerator for breakfast when she spent the night. Now that we’re an hour away from Philly, I don’t make the trip over to Eighth street as often. I’m told it’s a healthy decision, I was starting to put on weight.

A fair amount of humor was generated in the confusion of cheesecake and cheesesteak, being a devout vegetarian a few eyebrows raised when Lieve would tell her friends I had gone to Philly for cheesesteaks.

Other foods originating in Philadelphia, according to Wikipedia, include:

  • German butter cake—A very rich type of pound cake with a buttery, pudding-like center. Not to be confused with the traditional butter cake or the St. Louis version.
  • Tomato Pie—Essentially a cheeseless pizza two feet by three feet in size, with extra oregano. Tomato pie is normally served cold or at room temperature. It is more often found in the Northeast section of Philadelphia and at bakeries in South Philadelphia. Joe Villari at Tenth and Winton was the best in the neighborhood, but I think he left the business.
  • Cheese sauce —A gooey, orange, dairy condiment carried by many street vendors. In general, Philadelphians often add cheese sauce to inexpensive food items, such as French fries and pretzels. The vast majority of “cheese sauce” served on Philadelphia foods is the nationally recognized brand, Cheez Whiz (“Wiz” in Soft Philly).
  • Pork roll, although developed and mostly produced in Trenton, is considered part of the Philadelphia culinary tradition.
  • Scrapple, a processed meat loaf made of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, is perhaps the most iconic of Pennsylvanian breakfast foods. It’s thou roughly gross, but as long as you don’t think about what’s in it it’s great.
  • Peanut Chews, a popular candy produced in Philadelphia since 1917.
  • Spiced wafers, a type of cookie traditionally sold in the autumn.
  • Stromboli is reported to have originated in 1950 in Essington just outside of Philadelphia. It is a type of turnover made with Italian bread dough filled with various kinds of cheese, Italian charcuterie or vegetables. Panzarotti is a trademark for a type of deep-fried stromboli.
  • Tastykake is the most well-known snack brand native to Philadelphia. Since 1914, the Tasty Baking Company has provided the region with its line of pre-packaged baked goods; best-known varieties include Krimpets, cupcakes, Kandy Kakes (wafer-sized chocolate and peanut butter cakes), and Tasty Pies. Emma’s first craving after surgery was for a cherry Tasty Pie.
  • Herr’s is also a Philadelphia-area snack brand, maker of such things as potato chips.
  • Soda pop. In the early nineteenth century Dr. Philip Syng Physick and John Hart of Philadelphia invented carbonated water in an attempt to simulate water from natural springs. In 1807, Philadelphian pharmacist Townsend Speakman sold fruit juice and carbonated water, inventing the first soft drink. In 1875, Charles Elmer Hires invented root beer by mixing sarsaparilla, sassafras, wild cherry, wintergreen, ginger, and alcohol. He sold it at his drug store in Philadelphia.
  • While not listed on Wikipedia, Cream Cheese is so closely associated with Philadelphia that in some countries the words are interchangeable, as in this deli in Leuven selling “Stuffed chicken filet with cream cheese”.

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Most of these cause natives to make routine pilgrimages, Tastycake and Termini’s will ship their products, and a couple of independent companies will ship cheesesteaks. “A Taste of Philadelphia” will ship care packages anywhere in the world to Philadelphians who find it hard to exist without real food.

The advancement of science

I’m not sure where we’re going. “Science” has been celebrated for the last century, we have gone from horses and wagons to the International Space Station. We have landed on multiple planets, and cured diseases that once decimated communities and destroyed lives. “Science” has been suggested as a replacement for religion, with many less than intellectual atheists believing that the two are incompatible.

Science requires an absence of self importance, the need to begin a mission with the idea that you might fail. Perhaps that’s where science started to lose its hold on society, the “me” generation could not be true to the principles of science. Curiosity has certainly taken a beating lately, questioning authority is not seen as a healthy lifestyle choice.

Then something like this happens. Back in April, Kiera Wilmot  was a sixteen year old student at Bartow High School in central Florida, less than an hour’s drive from Disney world. Now she attends a school for children who have been expelled from public school. Kiera was expelled for doing her homework. Really. Sarah was assigned the task of completing a chemistry experiment. Her chosen experiment was to see what would happen if Sodium Hydroxide (lye), the caustic agent in drain cleaner, was mixed with aluminum foil. Being sixteen, and a “good student”, she did not know. Rowdy kids like me would have known.

What happens is that the two chemicals react to produce Hydrogen gas (H2). In an enclosed space, expanding gas will eventually burst the container. This is how any explosive works. Kiera had unwittingly built a bomb. I do not take this too lightly. An exploding container of drain cleaner and Hydrogen can ruin anyone’s day. I honestly believe that Kiera truly didn’t know what she had built. She has stated that she knew it would expand, and was intending to create a “volcano” effect. Which in fact is what happened, as she did not seal the container.

Kiera brought her project to school to be approved, but before arriving in class her friends wanted to see what would happen. She set the water bottle on the ground and mixed the chemicals. She says “The lid popped off and smoke started coming out”. This would indicate that the “lid” was either simply snapped in place or not screwed on, otherwise it could not have “popped off”, the bottle would have exploded. The school principal was standing nearby. She did not run away. No property was damaged, and no one was injured.

Despite the Principal’s statement that he didn’t think she was trying to hurt anyone (if she was, maybe she would have taken cover?) and had never been in trouble before (quite emphatically, “She has never been in trouble before. Ever.”) Kiera was handcuffed and arrested for “making, possessing or discharging a destructive device and with possessing or discharging weapons on school grounds.”, both charges being felonies.

Fortunately for Kiera, most experimenters are familiar with blowing things up. The science community was outraged, and as we’ve been saying for years, “don’t piss off a nerd”. The people who actually did invent the internet knew how to spread the word. Kiera’s expulsion has not yet been revoked, but the charges have been dropped. She has been given a scholarship for a program at the United States Space Academy and she is being showered with geek love.

So in the end, science wins the day over ignorance. Largely a happy ending, even though Kiera’s a little hesitant about experiments, has a fair amount of legal expenses, and still can’t attend her High School, although that last one might not easily be seen as negative.

I would like to believe that the idea of teaching science may have been shaken around in a few educators’ minds, so curiosity might be encouraged and even rewarded, but then, I’ve always been a dreamer. And a nerd.

Gay Boy Scouts

As you watch the Boy Scouts march by in the Memorial Day parade, how many of them are gay? Gallup suggests the number to be in the area of ten percent. Last month, when being openly gay was not permitted, that percentage may have been a little lower. Next month, with gay scouts allowed and thus some scouts perhaps leaving, the percentage may be a little higher.

If for some reason you believe sexuality is a democratic process, you should know that if asked the above question, fifty eight percent of Americans would respond “It doesn’t matter”.

Unlike the Girl Scouts of America, the Boy Scouts of America has not allowed “avowed homosexuals” to be members of its organization. Apparently, the section of the oath when Scouts pledge to be “morally straight” was interpreted as “sexually straight”. No more. The Boy Scouts have reversed their earlier interpretation and will allow gay members to fulfill the Scout Law of being “trustworthy” by telling the truth about their orientation. Until they become adults, when they will be banned from leadership roles if they are gay.

I was a Boy Scout, and to tell the truth, I cannot recall ever discussing sexual orientation. There was no merit badge for dating, safe sex, or relationships. The subject just never came up. I didn’t go past Second Class scout, because by the time I was interested in sex, I was no longer interested in scouting, they just didn’t go together. In fact, in that less than politically correct time, it seems that the common perception among us “cool” kids was that all scouts were “gay”.

As it turns out, it was probably closer to ten percent.

An interesting thing about polling data, the number of people who acknowledge unpopular practices tends to skew the results. In other words, regardless of how respected a polling agency might be, a percentage of people will not be honest. If the subject matter could be taken as pejorative, that percentage increases. I’m only assuming here, but I suspect that if acknowledging I was gay would prevent me from being a scout leader, I might be dishonest about it. This would lead me to believe that about ten percent of scout leaders are less than honest, an uncomfortable place to be when you’re insisting on honesty from your scouts.

As there has been absolutely no correlation between homosexuality and child molestation, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on honesty rather than sexuality? Kicking out those gay scout leaders will just make room for the straight child molesters.

Some groups seem to understand this, predicting a “mass exodus” from the Boy Scouts after the decision. No, I got that wrong. They predict a mass exodus due to the presence of gay scouts (as if they were not already there). These people appear to believe that not only is homosexuality a disease, it’s a communicable disease. But then, these are the same people who say it is a choice to be homosexual, so it can’t be a disease. Because if it’s a choice, why would their kids be more susceptible to becoming gay due to gay scouts? Unless it’s an incredibly attractive choice. I can only guess that they’ve encountered this choice themselves, and want to protect their children from it. At least the ninety percent who aren’t gay.

Because that is simply the way that it is. No one waits for permission to be gay, they just are. It’s not a choice, it’s not communicable, It cannot be “cured”, and it cannot be eradicated. To break down the delusional fantasies, the same way a pair of lesbians would have no interest in a male partner, homosexual men have no interest in straight men.

A large number of these “anti-gay” parents claim to be Christians. Christ taught love and tolerance. Christ taught that it is most important to love those we disagree with, as anyone can love those who agree with their point of view.

Homosexuality is not nearly as dangerous as ignorance.

How could God do this?

There was a man whose town was flooding. The police issued an evacuation order, but he stayed home because he knew God would take care of him. The fire department went door to door to make sure everyone was out, but he refused to leave saying “God will take care of me”. When the streets flooded The Red Cross came to his door in a boat, but he wouldn’t budge. When the water was up to his second floor, he went to the roof, and a National Guard helicopter tried to rescue him, but he refused “You have to have faith, he said, God will take care of me”.

After he drowned, he found himself face to face with God. “Where were you?” he said, “I had faith, I waited, I told everyone you would take care of me! Where were you?”

God said “I sent the police, the fire department, the Red Cross, and the National Guard, what were you expecting?”

We face disappointments every day. There are tragedies around the word. The world is no stranger to injustice. This last week there was a series of Tornadoes in the mid-West. In one location, twenty children died. All this despite all the celebrities who tweeted their prayers. Has God abandoned us? No, of course not.

To start with, you are not in heaven. Your world is not supposed to be perfect. To appreciate light you must experience darkness. So it is with life, to appreciate good you must experience evil.

Your measure as a soul lies in how you respond to evil. Do you give up, abandon your faith, become angry with God? Or do you use the experience to help those less fortunate? I had a friend who had a miscarriage at four months, and had to carry the child to normal delivery, knowing it would be stillborn. She dedicated her life to helping other mothers raise healthy children. Another friend lost his home to Hurricane Andrew in Florida. He has dedicated his life to helping others rebuild after natural disasters. When you climb out of the debris of a disaster, whether that disaster be physical or emotional, and thank God for surviving, that is faith. Blaming God for evil is abandoning faith.

God does not punish sinners on Earth. You have your entire life to make amends, you just don’t know how long your life will be, so don’t plan on waiting until the last minute. God promised judgement after you die. What happens on Earth, stays on Earth.

The works of evil, wars, violence, injustice, the fact that there are more fruits in my shampoo than on an Ethiopian’s plate, these are all conditions of living on Earth. If you want to get away from this stuff, you aim for heaven. You do it every day. Your prayers are for the strength to deal with evil, not that evil will cease to exist. You don’t just click “like” or tweet your prayers, you actually talk with God, and let him direct your strengths to help those who are barely holding on.

gervaisIt’s so easy, even an atheist can do it.

Decoration Day

Monday, 27 May 2013, the final Monday in May, is Memorial Day. It was originally called “Decoration Day”, after the practice of decorating the graves of the dead. It is not Veterans Day on which we honor all veterans, or Armistice Day (for which we remember the end of hostilities with Germany in 1918) or Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) which is the UK equivalent of Armistice Day. Memorial Day is a day in which we recognize those who lost their lives while serving in the military. A veteran, in America, is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount of “up to and including my life”. Memorial Day honors those who have had that check cashed.

Traditionally, Memorial Day has been celebrated on 30 May, but in 1968 with the passage of “The Uniform Monday Holiday Act”, the observance was changed to the last Monday in May. The “unofficial beginning of Summer”. Another three day weekend. Some people may fly flags (I do) but many have no idea of the significance of the holiday.

Decoration Day is a uniquely American day. It honors the dead, following the conflict in which, by far, the most Americans died, as many as three quarters of a million people, because both sides were Americans. Memorial Day has as much to do with honoring brothers as it does with honoring soldiers. It is the recognition that regardless of which direction your rifle was pointing, we were all fighting for America. In a larger sense, I have seen Memorial Day as a day to honor the fallen on both sides of a conflict. Both were fighting for ideals they believed in.

vn memThis many people, times five, died in the Civil War

Memorial Day has been celebrated in many ways, in Charleston SC there was a memorial in 1865, honoring the Union Prisoners of War who had died in that city. This celebration was organized by freed slaves, or “freedmen” as they were called at the time. Southerners celebrating the sacrifices of Northerners.

You may notice my use of the words “people” and “soldiers” as opposed to “men”. While the overwhelming number of those lost are men, it may make the sacrifices of women stand out even more. Men are in some ways expected to put their lives on the line, women who choose to do so are a special kind of special. There is a memorial in Washington DC to the women who died in Vietnam,  and by extension to all women who have given their lives. The women who were lost in Vietnam, all nurses, 7 Army, 1 Air Force, are commemorated just off the main Vietnam memorial.  The memorial is surrounded by 8 Yellowwood trees. The effect of the falling blossoms is that of tears.

nursesI prefer this angle, displaying anguish.

There are many memorials, and many definitions of what “giving one’s life for their country” should mean. To me, it doesn’t matter which uniform you wear, you have written that blank check to your country. You took the risk, in order to defend what you believe in. I respect those I have faced as much as I respect those who stood beside me (and far more than those who sat behind me, in their wood paneled offices). Any who fall have fallen for their country.

ohb-lobby-cia-memorial-wall-219Not many have the honor of pausing at this memorial.

When the eleventh day of the eleventh month rolls around, I’ll write about those who lived to tell the tale. On Monday, please step away from your barbeque, or remember when you give prayer, or at least stand up and properly salute when the flag goes by, in honor of those whose cared enough about us to run towards the fighting rather than away from it.

Oppression

If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. (James Madison, in letter to Henry Lee June 25, 1824.)

Any arguments?

Following 9/11, the Bush administration passed the Patriot Act. Or, as I call it, “The Federal Witch Hunt”. In order to remind you just how corny things were back then, the USA PATRIOT act is an acronym, “Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001″. How many of you knew that?

Besides having one of the stupidest names since Gerald Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” campaign, even in the days just following an attack on our soil in which nearly three thousand Americans died the act was recognized as oppressive. Well outside our concept of liberty, but just inside our desire for revenge, the act was designed to expire, but was approved again in 2006 with the same “sunset” provisions.

There are a few things that prevent George W. Bush from being a “Great” president, this is one of them. Two hundred and forty years previously, Benjamin Franklin had said “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”. When something like, oh, let’s say indefinite detention, is wrong, it remains wrong regardless of the circumstances. I am not a follower of Catholicism, but I was taken by Pope Paul VI’s comment on changing the churches view to “keep up with the times” when he said the laws of the church are eternal, they do not change with the styles of the day. Then he went ahead and let Catholics eat meat on Fridays, so what did he know?

President Obama was elected because a large number of people believed that he would reverse the oppression that they blamed on the Republican party. Such has not been the case. Not only did he fail to repeal the act, he extended three key provisions. I agree that “Roving wiretaps” are common sense. If you can tap my phone, it’s me, not my phone, that you’re after. The other two are a little more disturbing, as they are doorways to abuse. Expanded abilities to search business records, and the ability to conduct surveillance on individuals not tied to any terrorist activities is asking for trouble. The most recent “victim” of this “lone wolf” provision is Cameron D’Ambrosio, an eighteen year old high school student, who is being held for making terroristic threats. Various reports indicate that he is being held without bail, or with a one million dollar bond (pretty much the same thing), for publishing violent rap lyrics on Face Book.

A couple of other things have been in the news lately. The Internal Revenue Service, one of the more frightening branches of the government from the perspective of the average American, acknowledged that they had targeted certain groups based on their names. Those names were anything containing “Freedom”, “People’s”, or “Tea Party”. They may have been within their regulations, they’re not sure.

The Department of Justice seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters for “an unspecified criminal investigation”, and had the reporters at Fox News under surveillance.

The handling of the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi has been criticized, more for the cover-up, changing stories and out right lies than the actual failure to rescue an embassy under attack. (Nixon’s impeachment was for the cover up, not the actual break-in at the Watergate)

The Attorney General’s comments on the legality of a drone strike, targeting an American Citizen on American soil, were just a little more chilling, following the execution of Americans overseas, one of whom was a sixteen year old (whose execution was justified because he “would have grown up to be a terrorist”).

Various government organizations, including the National Weather Service, purchased huge amounts of ammunition, and the Department of Homeland Security put out a bid for “Personal Defense Weapons” that mirror in description what they were trying to outlaw as “Assault Weapons”.

Add to all this reports that Obama is dismissing Senior Military Officers who will not fire on American citizens, and you might be a little cautious about criticizing the administration. That of course, is the point. Oppression doesn’t require violence, just the fear of violence. If you think that the reporter taking your story is being watched, you might choose not to talk. If you think that by just making an offhand remark you could end up in Guantanamo Bay, you might choose not to make that remark. If you think that publicly opposing the government could result in the deaths of you and your children while you sit at the dinner table, you might choose to keep your opinions to yourself. Suddenly, there is no opposition, everyone agrees. Big Brother is Good.

Have a few stories in the news about the police shooting people who they were only questioning, and everyone will profess to love Big Brother. Heck, why not just repeal the 22nd Amendment?

I once had a supervisor whose management style was “you can do whatever you want until someone makes you stop”. I believe he works within the Obama administration now. be seeing you

Cats

I grew up with dogs. Big dogs. For the most part they were not terribly intelligent, but I didn’t expect much from an animal with a brain the size of an apple. They were always very affectionate, and that made up for a litany of transgressions. My last dog liked to wake me up, so I needed to move my chessboard farther from the bed as his tail swept it clean. He had no idea what playing fetch meant, he would cock his head and look at me as if to say “So, you don’t want that anymore?”, and even though we lived near the beach, he had no interest in playing in the surf.

My second wife was a “Cat person”, and as I’ve been mostly living in apartments since then I have found some benefits in cats as pets. They certainly take up less space (as do their brains), but they are largely parasitic, giving little to the relationship. They are affectionate, on their terms. That was also the issue with my second wife, but the cats don’t seem to realize the fine line they’re walking.

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My cat, “Autumn”, was born feral. She was rescued with her litter off of Interstate 495 near Wilmington Delaware, and clearly taken from her mother too early. Eight years later she is still a kitten in her mind, she tries to nurse from anything soft and warm, usually the shirt I’m wearing. My last wife and I got her as a “mouser“. Emma was deathly afraid of mice. One time she called me at work from atop a chair, where she remained until I arrived hours later, because she had seen a mouse. In Philadelphia, she was convinced that one mouse in particular was taunting her, she said it would come out, look directly at her, and dance in circles before disappearing behind the furniture. Enter Autumn. Autumn was a good mouser, and enjoyed the view from our apartment. She would sit in the window, watching the birds and the traffic on the street below. I had always thought that when we moved to Princeton, she’d want to go outside. Two years later and she is still hesitant.

Autumn has always been a “fraidy cat”. When Emma was alive, Autumn was always by her side, except when we had guest. Then Autumn would hide. Once when a nurse was visiting for my infusions, she sat down on the couch after spending maybe fifteen minutes of setting up the IV and all. It was maybe her third visit, and like everyone else she had never seen Autumn. As she sat down we heard Autumn yell from under the couch. A week after Emma died my neighbor visited, and Autumn came out. It was the first time she had ever been around another person.

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My wife has two cats, Leroy and Rascal. Alright, they’re really all my cats, because I take care of them, I’m just describing their origins. Rascal is actually fairly small, but he has long fluffy grey hair so he looks large. He was the dominant, “Alpha-Cat”. When I first moved to Princeton, Rascal was unsociable. He did not care to be petted, he would just stand by the door when he wanted to go out, and stare at you, as if to say “Whatever are you waiting for? Can’t you see I have an appointment?”. I have seen Rascal run across the street in order to confront a dog. The dog backed down. When Autumn first started getting to know “the boys”, Leroy and Autumn would hiss and run and swing at each other. Rascal might be bothered enough to look up to see what was going on.

When we first moved to the new place, we were coming home one night and saw Rascal trotting across the road and down the adjoining street. The “road” is a minor highway. Now he stays at home (he still goes outside, I just don’t think he roams as far). He has mellowed and has become very sociable. When I go outside he follows along, and will sit with me. He’s still the Alpha-Cat, he’s just confident. He doesn’t need to knock the other cats around, he just does as he wishes.

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Leroy is actually the largest of the cats. He’s a mostly white short hair and very muscular. I suspect he’s the cat that would bring small animals home, not entirely dead. One day he had brought home a living bird, and strewn the feathers all over the dining room. It’s amazing how many feathers are on a bird. Leroy has always been the “lovey cat”. Particularly when you’re wearing black, which we often do. No matter how much I brush him, he can still shed enough to turn a black shirt grey. He has an odd stomach condition, not hairballs surprisingly, but he just randomly vomits. I have changed his food, tried treats and medicines designed to ease weak stomachs, nothing works. Last week, he threw up the “sensitive stomach treats”. I also think he’s switched sides, and is now a mouse benefactor.

We had gotten tired of finding mice, or pieces of mice, in the hallway, so we decided to get a trap. We didn’t want a traditional mousetrap for a couple of reasons, they can hurt the cats, they’re gross, etc. So we got this live trap, with the intention of letting the mice loose outside in the presence of the cats. The cats still get to chase and kill the mouse, they just wouldn’t do it inside. The first time it worked perfectly. The next time, the mouse got away. The third time, I brought both Rascal and Leroy out together. Rascal had no interest, but when he saw Leroy pouncing on a spot in the ivy he pounced on Leroy. That mouse got away as well. Lately, I’ve found the trap knocked over and the bait gone. At first I thought that the cats were attracted to the sound of the mouse and in trying to get to it had set it free. I’m starting to think that Leroy is just letting the mice go on purpose.

When we moved to the new place, I went out and bought a “Cat Castle”, three beds and a platform connected by a scratching post. I placed it by the window so that the cats could see outside from the beds. They chose their positions. Leroy is usually on top. Rascal tends to take the centre position, because it’s even with the windowsill and he can just walk into it without climbing or jumping. Autumn sleeps under the china cabinet, but occasionally will sleep in the bottom bed. The cats get along reasonably well now, but once in a while when no one is looking, Autumn will take one of the other beds. Leroy won’t attack, he’ll just take a place on the sofa until she comes down. He will, at times, simply lay his head over his bed and vomit on the beds below. His brain might be the size of a peach pit, but he’s doing some of this on purpose.

We may have to make a decision when we move to Belgium. I have no idea what we will do.

Cults

There seems to be a rise in cults lately. Let me reword that. There seems to be a very large cult insidiously taking foot today.

My introduction to the concept of cults was the Manson Family, in 1969. I was living outside Los Angeles, and the murder of Sharon Tate was in the news, then it became the “Tate/LaBianca Murders” and eventually we all got to know Charles Manson. Before that, the only time I’d heard the word “cult” was in reference to the Catholic Church (more on that another day).

It was a time of young people looking for guidance, and charismatic opportunists began having a field day. Weak minds and popular drugs made recruitment relatively easy, and soon every parent of a  young person who had run away to find themselves was able to blame the problem on cults. Sometimes that was accurate, more often it was just that running away was much more fun than mowing the lawn.

The next big cult story was the Children of God. As young people literally disappeared from the face of the Earth into this cult, families fought back with “Deprogramming“, in which the loved one was kidnapped from the cult, and subjected to treatment not too dissimilar from the techniques used in “A Clockwork Orange“. Deprogramming became troublesome, in that the cure was more than likely worse than the “affliction” in most cases. Bringing someone back into the fold by force is an ethical challenge, and some people thought it might be a cure for what they felt was “deviant” behavior of any sort. Deprogramming was attempted on homosexuals and others who were considered “abnormal”.

In the seventies, other cults began forming and/or growing. Marshall Applewhite started “Heaven’s Gate“, ending with the suicides of the remaining thirty seven members in 1997. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s “Unification Church” which is still going strong. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh brought his ninety three Rolls Royces to Oregon and began a commune, culminating with the first bio-terrorist attack in the United States (not counting blankets given to native Americans). My worst memory  is of “The People’s Temple“, as I happened to be working as a security guard, by myself, with only a radio and a gas heater as I listened to the reports unfold from Guyana.

Cults are not always religious in nature, but there are of course core beliefs, and because they are believed fanatically, the concept of cults in general being religious groups became common. This is in some ways unfortunate. The word “cult” has become pejorative, so there is a negative association with religion in general whenever a cult hits the news. Additionally, whenever a new cult is noticed, it takes on religious terms.

Coronations are rarely as majestic, and he’s just being nominated. Today we have the Cult of Obama. I have no idea how this happened, except that, as in the seventies, there were a large number of people who were unhappy with their lives in 2008. Hitler blamed the Jews, Obama blamed the Republicans. Do not believe that I “Hate” Obama. I am not an extremist, and actually, I admire his brilliance as a politician. I also admire Timothy McVeigh, and no, I make no parallel.

I was pro Obama in the early months of 2008. I believed that a black man could lead this country away from racial stereotypes. I knew that there would be people forced to face their own prejudices, and I saw this as a good thing. I bought his line about transparency. By late Spring I could sense that something was wrong. His supporters were fanatical, which always sets off alarms for me. As questions arose about his background, rather than address the questions honestly and openly he would act as if he was above being questioned. His supporters ridiculed rather than responded. The level of hatred expressed by his supporters was genuinely frightening. More than a few friendships ended, open discussion was not to be. Cracks could be seen, but even suggesting the possibility of Obama being less than perfect resulted in being shouted down, and slandered with accusations of being part of any number of extremist groups. Any detraction of Obama is responded to with “Racist”, “You must have heard that on Faux News”, or anything other than a thoughtful response to the issue.

By 2010, I thought we were on the road to recovery. Some of Obama’s most vocal supporters were recognizing that he had not measured up to his promises. The radical left began to turn against him, as his actions showed a man who was just a little to the right of the opponent he had beaten in the election. Some of my friends came back, and we laughed about it. As we approached 2012, it seemed that the “line” had moved, but was deeper than ever. The new mindset was variations on “What does it matter?”. In many ways, they were right. He had been elected and filled the position of President of the United States for four years, his lack of actual credentials was no longer important. It seemed altogether possible that he would not be reelected. But, as I mentioned, he is a brilliant politician. That is to say, by targeting specific precincts he was able to turn a popular vote margin of three percent into a much larger electoral victory. The result, as seen in the Bush v. Gore election, was a polarizing effect, laid upon an already polarized nation.

Carrying forward his “What does it matter” rhetoric isn’t working quite as well, but as there is little rational discussion, it doesn’t matter. The scandals grow, the cracks spread, and the cult grows more defensive. One of the many recent scandals involved the Internal Revenue Service, which, although a part of the government and thus his responsibility, he could easily distance himself from. Instead, after the IRS publicly apologizes for misconduct, Obama says in a press conference “If this happened”. Yes Mr. President, it happened, the IRS has already apologized, too late to deny.

Four years ago, Barack Obama could read the telephone book from a teleprompter, and thirty million American voters would hear whatever panacea they sought. That is changing. But there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal, even when that animal is already a lame duck. Cult members don’t usually just wake up one day and say “Oops! I was wrong, sorry”, and I don’t expect to see it now. It is a time for grace. The words “I told you so” can be sympathetic and consoling if the phrase begins with “I’m sorry”.

I am hopeful, that since only fifty seven percent of eligible voters make it to the polls, and only fifty one percent of those people voted for Obama, we will not see a huge swing to the right in the next election. In many ways we can thank Barack Obama for breaking the left/right barrier down. I would like to see, but am not holding my breath, a reasonable, honest discussion. I would like to see, not the programs, but the government Obama promised. Regardless of who implements it.

My first week on the farm

One week at the farm and I’m still alive! I feel like it’s a perfect fit, I hope my boss does as well. I can feel the tension in my biceps, and the tan on my face, plus they pay me!

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I started off simple, gathering eggs. There are two hundred (more or less, free range means predators) chickens, and despite the provided roosts, sometimes they just leave eggs lying about in the weeds. The egg hunt everyday can be fun, although I hate stepping on eggs that I didn’t see. IMG00075-20130514-0922

Usually during the hunt, I’m joined by at least a few chickens. In the open they surround you, but most of them know you have no plans of feeding them when you’re wandering in the weeds. IMG00095-20130515-1214

After gathering and washing the eggs (for some reason we make no attempt to sort them, a dozen will include varying sizes) I fed the pigs. The pigs are fed a mixture of the whey (a byproduct of cheese making) and feed. Pigs are very friendly, but being rooting animals, it’s relatively difficult to get  them to look up, other than when you’re holding the first bucket of feed. IMG00071-20130513-1345

Once the pigs reach market weight (300 lbs) they are butchered (not my job). “Whey fed Pork” is apparently desirable. Next year’s little piglets are kept separately, or they would be crushed at feeding time.

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The cows are what the farm is all about, and the unconventional nature of the farm is one of the many things I find attractive. We don’t sell milk or beef. The milk the cows produce is used in cheese making (on site), and the whey left from the cheese feeds the pigs. The cows are mostly grass fed, supplemented by feed because our soil is low in calcium. Feed arrived yesterday.

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The feed arrives in a big truck, and is loaded into large bags (left). The bags are stored in one of the barns (right). You’re looking at one truckload, about two months of feed for eighty adult and twenty little pigs, two hundred chickens, and sixty cows.

You’ve been waiting for more pictures of cows? I didn’t take any pictures of the milking process, but since cows take up the most space, I wanted to start with the smaller guys first.

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We’re building the herd, so we’re hanging on to calves, which are normally sold. I had never before noticed how much baby calves look like deer.

Adult cows are pretty freaking big, I have owned smaller cars. Fortunately, they are very gentle.

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This one on the right has “brindle” markings, which I have never seen on a cow before. For the most part, the cows go where you ask them to go (it does help to speak cow), and they prefer not to be handled much. They will shy away so you can “push” the herd, and a minor amount of training has them entering the milking parlor on their own (there is feed in the stalls). They each have their own personality, and we have a device called a “kicker” for the few cows that kick when being milked. It’s a harness that goes on their legs and makes them feel unsteady on their feet, so they don’t kick.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG00081-20130515-1012The cows spend the majority of their time in our two hundred and thirty acres of certified organic pastures. This is a really peaceful space, and while working on the fences for the new pig enclosures on the South end of the farm, I came across a flock of wild turkeys. The wildlife is beautiful, but not always welcome. We have a couple of dozen cats to keep down the rodents around the feed, but there’s nothing we can do about the hawks and owls that swoop in for a chicken once in a while, although we are putting up more secure fences around the chickens to keep out fox and coyotes. I never thought about coyotes in New Jersey, they are bigger than the coyotes I’m used to, more wolf size.

Our source of water is a well, and our source of hot water, and heat in the winter, is a wood fueled boiler. We harvest the wood, largely fallen trees from the monstrous storms we’ve had the last few years, and split it (mechanically, I’m no Abe Lincoln).

IMG00074-20130513-1536There is another farm, “up the road a piece”, where we have sheep and goats, I haven’t been there yet. We do have a few goats and sheep on our property as part of a “petting zoo”, across from our market where we sell our artisan cheeses, eggs, and meats. We also sell honey, we don’t make it but we do have about six hives on the farm, and will be expanding in the coming years.

The overall concept is “sustainability”. The bees fertilize the grasses in the pasture, the Sun provides the energy for photosynthesis to create the grasses, the cows eat the grasses and provide milk for the cheese and whey for the pigs, as well as fertilizer for the pastures. The concept of cycles, the cycle of seasons, the cycle of life, the cycle of energy is all very appealing.

It’s good to feel like part of the cycle.

All in God’s time

There is a story of a man who spoke to God, and said “Is it true that to you, a penny is the same as a million dollars, and a second is the same as a million years?”. God replied, “Yes, that is true”, to which the man said, “Well then, would you give me a penny?”.

God said, “In a second”.

If there is an order of importance in our perceived dimensions, I would suggest that the most important is time. Without time, there is no past or future, no measure of life. We regulate our existence in terms of time. Our methods of measuring time are in many ways themselves a measure of civilization. At first, we measured time in days, by the passage of the Sun from horizon to horizon, the intervals of day and night. As we progressed, we recorded the cycle of seasons, the moon was our calendar.

With industry and travel, the need to break the day into hours became necessary. Sundials gave way to mechanical clocks, and we realized that the sun was directly above us at varying times, so we developed conventions of local time so everyone in a town would observe the same hours and minutes. In travel, we found that our clock did not seem to remain accurate as we traveled East or West. The establishment of Greenwich Mean Time in 1675 created a “universal” reference, crucial to navigation, but useless as a world time, the Sun rises in New York around noon GMT. As technology advanced, particularly the railroads of the United States, time zones were established to allow specified regions to maintain a local time in sync with other regions. Without timezones, transcontinental train service would have been disastrous, with train schedules based on points of origin intersecting trains would have been prone to collision.

Today, we can measure time in increments so small that we can measure the interval of travel by photons between two points on Earth. We can measure our past with a certain sense of accuracy back to the creation of the universe, and in doing we can see that without time, there is no universe.

All of this brings me to a central argument among religious denominations, and most fiercely with the non religious. Did God create the world in seven days? The non believer extrapolates the argument to be “If he didn’t do it in seven days, he didn’t do it at all”. Evolution is considered proof of the period of time involved in creation, and therefore proof that God did not create the Earth and the Universe. It is all, essentially, an argument about time.

You may be among the enlightened, who can understand that if Jesus could openly discuss the fact that he spoke to the masses in parables, it is altogether possible that as God laid out the old testament and the story of creation, he was using parables as well. A reading of the first chapter of Genesis seems to have the aspects of creation in order, and even though “Let there be light” is commonly understood to be the creation of our Sun, I see it as the “Big Bang”, the beginning of time. The stars, our sun, and our moon, are not created until the fourth day, so I’m taking it God wasn’t using a sun dial to measure those first three days.

That’s right. When it says “and there was evening and morning, one day” all it really says is that there was an interval between the “days”. It doesn’t say at all how long the “days” were, nor does it refer to time in any way, such as “Round about noon God created birds”.

If I tell you that I’m making curry for dinner, do I need to explain the process? There are a number of ingredients, and they must be prepared and mixed and heated in a particular fashion, but all the information you need is “The curry will be ready by six”. So it is with the creation of life. If you are a “creationist” do you know the process God used to create life in its various forms? If it was as simple as God just blinking his eyes, would he not have created all life in one blink? If you are an “evolutionist”, same question. Does the possibility that God directed evolution to create human beings negate your beliefs? Is the fact that Dinosaurs are not mentioned in the Bible any different than me not mentioning that I let the dough rise and then punched it down when I tell you that I made bread?

Are we all just characters in a Swiftian war of Lilliput and Blefuscu? The simple fact is we exist. If we believe in God, then we should not be arguing amongst ourselves about one of his acts over others. If we happen to believe in Evolution, it serves as no excuse for disbelief in God. If you don’t believe in God, first off thank you for reading this, and secondly, is there any point in arguments about proof of God? Don’t you recognize the impossibility of the position of proving a negative?

Are the differences in all our beliefs worthy of a single tear? If anyone is superior, shouldn’t they be be capable of finding a peaceful resolution to the differences?

Just because I believe differently than you doesn’t mean I believe you are wrong.

Exercising the neocortex

I started writing this blog just over a month ago. I’m doing it for a variety of reasons, but like anything, there have been benefits that I did not expect. Exercising my mind has been the most wonderful personal experience, thank you all for reading. I started with the desire to publish an article every day on a different topic, encouraged by my wife who, while not bored, could see that I needed to get my thoughts out to someone other than her. I scaled back in that I take Saturday off now, and I have published a few entries that were under my eight hundred word goal, but I look at writing as a job, and not just a project. I derive a certain amount of joy watching the statistics on my blog, as of now I have forty one followers, largely people I have never met, and have readers in twenty countries, circling the globe.

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Unlike other endeavors, I have yet to encounter “office politics” (which I have even noticed on the farm) in writing. Quite the opposite. I have met the most supportive group of people, and have become open to a world in which colleagues understand that there is no loser in self expression, everyone who participates wins.

I met Barry Parham on the internet a few years ago, when I was working on “Surviving“. Barry and I enjoy parallel political views, and I would like to think I have his level of wit. Although his work is mostly humorous (with the current administration he has an abundance of material) the piece that assured me that I needed to work on my writing skills was “Clay Pigeons”, completely removed from his typical work. Barry has been a constant encouragement, and a wonderful introduction to the world of writers. Barry has published several books and also writes a weekly humor column, and still has time to interact with people like me.

Lucy Pireel has so many projects going I may not be able to mention them all, only out of ignorance. Most importantly, she is an absolutely tireless promoter. She is constantly promoting the published works of her colleagues, as well as her own, not to mention writing her own books, poetry, and blogs. Lately, she’s started a publishing service to enable more writers to publish. I do not have that much energy. One of her favorite expressions is “Wheeeeheeee”, similar to the sound my wife makes when I take a corner at higher gees than she is accustomed, so I think Lucy is on the ride of her life. Two of her latest books, “Bound” and “Red gone Bad“, display her versatility, “Bound” is a fresh, feminine view of the world of BDSM (do not confuse “feminine” with “sheltered”), and “Red gone Bad” is a delightful twist on faerie tales. Neither is for children.

There have been several writers I have met online, each and every one of them have been supportive. I hate to mention any for fear of leaving any out, but Cheryl Nicholl, A.M. Sawyer, Norma Beishir, William KendallLeanna Harrow, Timothy Hurley, Mari Collier, and Mike Saxton are only a start. Feedback from other writers is crucial, and I have found that just discussion, off topic jokes and such, with others who are fluent in the English language has improved my writing. Improving my writing is one of the many purposes of writing this blog. The historical goal of a good writer is publishing, and publishing traditionally infers a book. Another goal is to write another book.

One of Lieve’s dreams is to escort me to book signings, and to fend off my “author groupies”. Writing a book that people buy will be essential in fulfilling that dream. My first book, “Surviving“, allowed me to share the experience of my previous wife, Emma, and her battle with pancreatic cancer. It was largely culled from the blog I began shortly after her diagnosis, and was never intended to be a best seller. The original intention was to continue writing, but life got in the way. I am back on the path again, thanks in no small part to you, my readers. I have found not only the tools that I need, but the processes I need to refine, and ways to refine them.

I’ve always been a sponge for information, but my experiences in the business world have caused me to shy away from seeking out my colleagues when looking to advance myself. There was always the competition, jealousy, and flat out back stabbing. Now I share my experiences, and learn from the experiences of others. Last night, I saw Steve Schirrripa (best known as Robert “Bobby Bacala” Baccalieri, Jr. on “The Sopranos”) with my wife and a friend. He was signing his latest book, and spoke interview style for quite a while with the audience. Aside from agreeing with his point of view, he was exceptionally entertaining. His sense of humor and sense of priorities were excellent. I felt thoroughly inspired, Steve has had several careers, and is about my age, so I have confidence that I can proceed as an author. He signed my copy of his book, and I gave him a “Save the Dinky” button (my wife had designed the buttons), Bobby Bacala was a train enthusiast. IMG_1400Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Tribble McKinnon

It was a nice moment, we spoke about writing for a bit, and he mentioned learning from the experiences of others. Something my grandfather has mentioned on several occasions. It always comes down to seeing the lesson in every experience.

Incarceration

Try not to think less of me, but I have been in jail. It was one of the more fascinating experiences of my life, but it’s not for everyone.

It all started innocently enough. My then wife and I were living outside Philadelphia PA, in a not too nice part of a not too nice town. Our landlord (I’ll call her “Salome”), was part of a family that had been in the town for at least a century. They owned a number of properties, her brother (I’ll call him “Charles”), a legendary delinquent, lived next door. After a few years of asking for some minor repairs (the water in the shower was controlled from the pipe access in the wall, among other things), we gave our notice and started looking for another place.

Suddenly, Salome couldn’t stay away. Not only was she going to perform the repairs, she was going to make improvements! If only we wouldn’t leave. Charles showed up one day with a new front door. Maybe the only thing we didn’t need. A week later, after spending most of that time with no locking door and one full day without any door, it was ninety five percent installed. There were now gaps that at the top and bottom of the door, and the finish work on the frame needed to be done, but Charles was very proud of himself. We told Salome that we would keep looking for another place.

Salome realized that she would need to actually repair something, preferably something that needed repair. She interviewed “handymen”, apparently having placed an ad at the local half way house. She asked my wife to meet the new person she had hired, so she could show him the apartment. While they were standing in the yard talking, the handyman (I’ll call him “Lenny”), passed out and fell on his face. Salome did not consider this to be inappropriate behavior.

Lenny said he’d be by Monday morning to look at the plumbing. Monday afternoon he called to reschedule to Tuesday. On Wednesday when he called to reschedule for the third time we told him not to bother, it would be easier once we moved out. Salome called within the hour to say that Lenny would most assuredly be there on Friday morning.

Thursday evening Charles called and said he and Lenny were almost out of beer, and they’d stop by to look at the plumbing on their way to the beer store. I ever so politely told Charles that we had an appointment with Lenny for the morning, and that we were about to go to bed. He argued a bit, seems a few six packs are the best way to prepare for plumbing work and he didn’t want to waste his progress. “What difference does it make if it’s tomorrow or tonight?” he asked. “I’ll be in bed tonight” I said, “Don’t come over”. We went to bed. Fifteen minutes later there was a pounding on the front door. I wasn’t sure the hinges could take it.

And then I made the first (if you don’t start counting with moving there) mistake. I pulled the pistol out of my bed stand and put it into the pocket of my robe. I told my wife (Emma) to call 911, and I went to the door. Charles was shouting “We’re here to fix the shower”. I shouted back, “Come back tomorrow”. Then Charles started trying to come in through the window next to the door. I make mistake number two. I opened the door, staying inside with the screen door closed. Emma had come into the room and I told her to go back to the bedroom and wait for the police, hoping that the word “police” would shake Charles enough to send him home. It didn’t.

Charles and Lenny were standing on the landing, Lenny holding a pipe wrench in his right hand, slapping it against his left hand. I said “Charles, go home” in my authoritative command voice. Charles said “We’re coming in”. This went back and forth maybe three times, a little louder each time. Mistake number three. I drew the pistol, pointing at Charles. I don’t know that he was sober enough to see it, because he didn’t react until Lenny said “You can’t point a gun at him!”. Charles charged through the door. Mistake number four, I didn’t shoot Charles.

Charles tried to wrestle the pistol away from me and I yelled at Emma to get back to the bedroom. She never was one to do as I asked. She jumped into the middle of the fight, and we all fell onto a couch, the gun pointing down. With everything going on, I knew I was going to lose control of the pistol, and being an automatic there was also the possibility that it could go off from being banged about. The only good thing was that Lenny, still on parole, ran away. With the pistol against the couch and as far as I could see pointed away from anyone, I pulled the trigger. Charles punched me in the face, grabbed the pistol, and ran out the door.

The bullet had pierced Emma’s calf. Now the Police arrived. I’ve worked through situations like this, I know that you have to secure the scene first, so I wasn’t surprised when they had us lay down with our hands behind our backs. I wasn’t terribly surprised when they put handcuffs on me and took me to a police car (with my robe open), before they took Emma to the ambulance. I was surprised when I first stepped out the door and saw more police vehicles than the three surrounding boroughs had parked in the street, but I wasn’t truly stunned until the officer driving me to the Police station spoke. His first words were “The best thing you can do is get out of town”.

This was a perversely corrupt little town, and they had no shame in acknowledging it. They did their best to intimidate me, isolating me in a cold cell with no clothes and making threats. I had trained air crews to survive POW camps and was completely unimpressed. Sometime in the middle of the night they brought me some clothes and told me Emma was okay. The clothes that they brought included Emma’s keyring, which they held on to and returned to me when I was eventually released, never realizing there was a handcuff key on the ring. When I was returned to my cell, I cried tears of joy for the first time in my life.

The next day, I was arraigned. The Judge patted himself on the back for being so understanding when he set my bail at $49,500. $50,000 would mean that I was a “dangerous offender”. He also set as a condition of bail I could not go within one thousand feet of the victim. Yes, Charles was a victim now. There was no way I could return home after making bail.

I spent the most fascinating week in jail, while I arranged for bail and a place to stay once I got out of jail. I met people who, for rather obvious reasons, I would never have had the opportunity to meet. My first two days were spent with a young heroin addict. I learned so much about his life, he was exceptionally well spoken for a man that had spent almost half of his life incarcerated. The best was a guy whose life had mirrored mine, in a fun house. We had lived in the same places, been married to women from the same towns. He asked where I had been born and then said “Yeah, I’ve been to Corsicana. Got busted with six hundred pounds of weed in my car”. Like I said, a fun house mirror. From him I learned how to get by should I end up staying longer than planned. Jail is a fairly simple society, and if you have a few brain cells, you can survive nicely. If you have a few more, you can stay out altogether.

Around ten o’clock in the morning each day the new prisoners were brought in from processing. It was like a high school reunion. Everyone knew everyone else, so it was mostly jovial “Hey, where ya been”s, with a few “Keep your eyes on that guy”s. Jail is a revolving door. Most people who end up there are stupid enough to end up there again. I had decided that if I couldn’t make arrangements to make bail, I could get on quite nicely and spend my time writing. But I did make bail. I had about thirty charges, my attorney said if I was found guilty I could expect to spend fifty years in jail. Emma and I lived with her brother in Philadelphia while I awaited trial.

After almost a year of legal games, I plead no contest to disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment. I was sentenced to an additional ten days in jail which I could serve on the weekends, and two years of probation. I would have to wear an ankle monitor for six months. During my weekends, I had adequate time to read the entire New Testament and the more interesting books of the Old Testament, and also met people who had no idea what to do with temptation. One guy got arrested for drunk driving on the way home from the first weekend. One guy who didn’t smoke got in trouble for smoking, he said to me “Now I have to spend the rest of my sentence in general population (the main, full time, jail) just because I have to do what I’m told not to”.  House arrest was really the most stressful. You are open for search at any time, twenty four hours a day. Emma couldn’t stand it. She couldn’t relax thinking that at any minute there might be corrections officers at the door. We couldn’t keep wine in the house, even though my offense hadn’t involved alcohol. No one ever showed up, which only made her more nervous, thinking they were due any moment.

Emma recovered beautifully, if there is such a thing as a “perfect” bullet wound, she had one. The bullet passed through her calf without damaging any bones, blood vessels, nerves, or muscles. Charles, emboldened by the episode, stormed into another house. This time the guy had a baseball bat and beat Charles nearly to death. The Police told him he had used his last favor and filed no charges. He remains in the same town, where he is now a full time meth head. Lenny ended up back in Jail. Salome tried to run over Emma when the judge told her that she couldn’t sue us for moving out, no charges were filed.

I gained the experiences of an absolutely corrupt legal system, a week in a real prison, five weekends in a bizarre world of weekend confinement, six months of “house arrest”, the probation system, and my brother in law’s house. There are dozens of stories in there.

It was fascinating, but it was not for everybody. It was more than a decade ago, and I can laugh about it now. It has become the basis for my advice to young people, “Living on the edge is the best, falling off the edge is what you make of it”.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

I don’t know if more people are pondering the end of the world lately, or if it’s just more popular to talk about it. I recall the “duck and cover” drills when I was in elementary school, believing that hiding under my desk would protect me from nuclear annihilation, but by doing so we were pretending that we would avoid the end of the world. Sometime during my teens I decided that I really didn’t want to survive, knowing that it would be the end of the world as I knew it. The end of civilization. If Disco was the best we could do, I was rather looking forward to an end.

Punk Rock came along and I regained my will to survive, and even though I worked on war plans to most efficiently end the world in the Air Force, I was reasonably sure that MAD, or “Mutually Assured Destruction” (That’s almost an onomatopoeia, when something sounds like what it is), would prevent anyone from actually using the arsenals at their disposal.

Then we won the cold war, and all those weapons in the Soviet Union were up for grabs. Most folks focused on the nukes, but there were loads of chemical and biological weapons that remain unaccounted for. I suspect some of them ended up in Iraq and Syria, I’m fairly sure some made their way farther south on the African continent. Some twisted cycle there in some sense, weaponized viruses returning to their land of origin.

And then…The hype began about Global Warming. Having been an early environmentalist, spurred by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring“, I found the idea of Global Warming an odd turnaround. Rachel had warned against Global Cooling. Looking back farther, I found warming scares earier in the twentieth century, when the ice caps were melting and Manhattan was going to be flooded by 1940. Nonetheless, respected scientists confirmed that there was indeed a warming trend, traceable to millions of years before the existence of thermometers. Scientists who disagreed were no longer burdened with funding, their evolutionary path was certain.

It only took a few nasty winters, replete with snowmen wearing Al Gore masks, to change the tune to “climate change”, the phenomena previously known as “weather”.  Even though this climate change was still portrayed as a global event, that would involve warming temperatures, the name change had to take place. Public Relations means never getting laughed off an airplane, even when it’s your private gulfstream. Oh yes, climate change was still due to pollution, most notably that evil building block of life, carbon. You know that your propaganda is working when people are afraid of pencils. I had a woman ask how to dispose of used toner cartridges. I told her she could simply throw them in the garbage, but she thought they would need to go to a toxic waste dump because they contained carbon. I explained that they were empty now, the carbon was on all the pages she had printed.

There are the numerous asteroid collision fears and an odd group that quite seriously believes there is a rogue planet that will collide with Earth. There are fears that the Sun will explode, or send flares so intense they cook the Earth. The Mayan calendar ended last December, throwing millions into a panic, but the Mayans had succumbed to Global Warming thirteen hundred years ago. My calender ends every December, Barnes and Nobles has a nice selection.

End of the world cults started popping up a few years ago, I never understood these people. They believe the world is going to end, so they commit suicide. Were they trying to save God the trouble? Or were they just terribly embarrassed when the world did not end at the prophesied time? (Literally embarrassed to death). I don’t mind so much the cults that kill them selves, but I’m annoyed by the ones like Aum Shinrikyo, the one in Japan that used Sarin gas in the subways, because apparently they didn’t think God could pull it off on his own. There’s bound to be a word for that level of faith, but all that comes to mind is “moronic”. My feeling on Armageddon are based in believing that if God wants to end the world, he will, with the ease with which he created it. He doesn’t require assistance, and nothing is going to stop him if that’s what he wants to do, so why worry about it?

There are people who worry about it. People who worry not about Armageddon, or the end of the world, but the end of civilization. I’m tempted to say “too late, it’s already happened”. All you have to do s spend a day in a major city riding public transportation to know that civilization is just a rumor. Nonetheless, there are people stockpiling food and weapons so that they can survive when the lights go out. I’ve met some of these people and I don’t care to have them as neighbors in a post apocalyptic world.

There are a few things that I know for certain. If the world comes to an end through some cataclysmic event, literally destroying the planet, there is nothing I or anyone else can do about it, and most of the scenarios would be over before we are aware they happened. If the planet becomes uninhabitable for humans, whether by simply a geological change or by the hand of man, it will happen no matter how much anyone pays in taxes. I believe that human beings are animals and have as much right to inhabit the Earth as the Dinosaurs did. If we run out of petroleum, and have chosen not to develop other forms of energy, it’s going to get a little quiet on the internet. We will, as we did on the way here, adapt. There may be a couple of tough generations, but as I recall, there has been no civilization based on small groups of survivalists in the history of mankind. We do best as a herd, even when that best is Donna Summer, because we know there will be another season in a few months, and it might bring Joe Strummer.

Prom season

Oh it’s that time of year again! I managed to attend three proms, my girlfriend’s Senior Prom, and my Junior and Senior Proms. The Prom was the major social event of the year, girls planned for weeks ahead getting just the right gown and making sure their boyfriend coordinated his tux and flowers with the gown. It was a formal event, in fact some places called the event “The Formal”.

my junior

Not the best picture, but this was my Junior Prom. That’s me on the left, I have always preferred my hair long. My first experience of gowns and tuxedos. I thought my father might pass out by the third tuxedo store, but Katy had to have me match her gown perfectly, while Dad thought “Blue is Blue”. As you can see, it wasn’t strictly black tie, in that we wore tuxedos of various shades. It was a relationship barometer, you didn’t take just anyone to the prom, it was something special. There was a professional photographer, because it was a night you would never forget. Katy kept the professional pictures, so I’m left with these, which are more meaningful anyway. The next day we dressed in the same outfits, went for a drive through the countryside and visited a graveyard. We bought marzipan candies at a market and had dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, where long pants was usually considered “well dressed”.

katy senior

Here we are a few weeks later at her Senior Prom. Yes, hats have always been a staple in my wardrobe. We went to an “after party” at a friend’s house, hosted by her parents. Katy and I drove down to Seaside Heights to watch the Sun rise over the ocean. It was cold and a little foggy, we were alone save a few fishermen in the surf. We came home and slept all day, in our respective homes. That is not to say we were virginal, but spending the night (day) together would have detracted from the event.

My senior

This is my Senior Prom. Katy had gone off to college, so I took my friend Helene. We had a wonderful evening, my best friends were a couple so we all sat together. It was an extravaganza, twelve piece band and loads of dance music. The appetizers looked like swans, with necks and heads made of bread. We used a variety of intoxicants, and we all got home safe.

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Strapless Chiffon Ruched Short Bridal Prom Dress Cheap

That’s not the way it works anymore, at least not around here. Kids of all ages are admitted, gowns are short, and ties are rare (and God forbid you expect anyone to know how to make a proper knot). Dates are people you met last week. Girls still spend exorbitant amounts on dresses, and couples take limos. After parties are at hotels, or undisclosed locations at the shore.

I believe this is a result of the increasing blandness we teach children. Our over protective zero tolerance society has resulted in a generation of jaded posers. Games with no winner to protect the feelings of the loser remove the drive to succeed. Getting whatever is asked for because “everyone else has one” encourages both envy and a need to conform. When nothing is denied, nothing is special.

Without it being special, the prom is just another dance. It costs more, and you can dress nice if you want, but it’s nothing like the proms I attended. I am sorry for the kids who will never get the experience, sorry they cannot appreciate a special evening, and sorry they think this is a prom.

I am so very happy for my memories. Thank you Katy, thank you Helene.

Vegetarians

I have been a vegetarian (depending on your definition) since 16 August 2010.

It’s not that I have anything against eating meat, but my wife is a vegetarian, so when I met her, I adopted her diet. I figured that if I had made a decision not to eat something, I wouldn’t be too attracted to the person sitting opposite me if they were eating it. The majority of my life was spent eating meat, in as close to a raw state as possible.

Lieve’s definition of “Vegetarianism” wasn’t as severe as others. We eat seafood, and when I come across an interesting meat she doesn’t mind if I try it. A few years ago in Belgium, “Paard” was on the menu, so I ordered it. A lovely steak, I quite liked it. It wasn’t an experience to share with everyone, as later that week we visited a cousin, and they kept horses. Which brings to mind something my Grandfather would say. “Don’t name your food”.

Where we fit in the food chain has always been a source of interest to me. There are very few animals I have not eaten, or dishes I haven’t tried. I have hunted and killed food, as have the majority of my family. I cannot to this day understand why some people find certain foods disgusting simply because of its source.

Some of my first pets were guinea pigs, and in learning about them I found that they are eaten in South America. The thought that struck me was not horror, but humor. In my mind I saw a herd of guinea pigs running through a forest. When my two guinea pigs became forty guinea pigs, I suggested that we eat the surplus. My mother didn’t care for that idea.

When I worked in Animal Control, I noticed that there were no stray dogs in the Korean neighborhood. A colleague pointed to a rack of long brown strips drying in the Sun and said “There they are”. I read a couple of articles from animal rights groups denigrating the Koreans for eating dogs, and I could hear my Grandfather’s words. They were upset because their pets were another person’s livestock. It struck me as racism. Maybe the Koreans are disgusted that we eat chickens. Hindu’s don’t frequent McDonald’s.

The other day, in a group that is normally level headed and allegedly involved in world peace, someone posted a story about a market in China that serves cat. The responses were astounding. “Inhuman” and “Scum of the Earth” were some of the milder comments. I know that some of these people are from countries with cuisines that would not be accepted in America, so I was perplexed. They were most upset that the animal was cooked alive. Apparently none of them had ever eaten lobster.

I would never eat veal. I won’t go into how it is raised (although I have, at a table where someone ordered veal, gone into a description of the life of a veal calf), but perhaps knowing what you do about what I will eat tells you enough. I completely understand the difference between aesthetically unpleasant and inhumane, and the treatment of veal is inhumane. Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of wanting an animal to live a peaceful, gentle life right up until the moment it is herded to slaughter, but I also know that a cat is not terribly humane in the way it treats a mouse.

Humane is largely in the eye of the beholder. Halal, the only method of slaughter acceptable to Muslims, is considered inhumane by many people, mostly those who have never seen the inside of a slaughterhouse in America (and also probably people who just don’t like Muslims). Most of my friends cannot understand hunting, I guess they assume that cattle are simply lulled to sleep before they are killed, under a tree overlooking a valley of flowers. Euthanasia of animals is rarely understood, and even though ethicists argue over methods before they can be certified as humane, some methods that I would never employ are still legal. I believe that much of this is because as mortals, we are fearful of death, and want nothing to do with it, including understanding it. 

Food in general has become sanitized. The majority of school children, when asked where milk is from, say “Bottles”. Despite the call for “Organic” food, most people want “perfect”, unblemished fruits and vegetables, cleaned before reaching the consumer. Meat is butchered and wrapped in plastic before most people see it. It is widely recognized that in a major disaster, starvation will be the number one cause of death, as people simply don’t know how to feed themselves without the assistance of the “food industry” (as an example, some people have felt their only recourse is to call 911 when McDonald’s can’t fill their order).

I am an animal. My teeth and digestive processes were designed to consume other animals and plants, I can eat what I choose, and the Earth is my Supermarket.

God’s voice

This one is short, mostly homework (reflection, I don’t do tests). It is popularly stated that people who talk to God only need to worry about it when he speaks back. I would worry if he didn’t.

God speaks to all of us. Sometimes he whispers, sometimes he shouts, and most of the time, no one is listening.

Part of the issue is recognizing God’s voice. Very, very rarely, your rhododendron will burst into flames, accompanied by a booming voice that is not directing you to call the fire department. The overwhelming number of times, you’ll need to pay a little closer attention.

God is unlikely to tap you on the shoulder. He tends to come across on all frequencies. By that, I mean you will hear him in several different ways, a synchronicity. A snippet of a song, a piece of an overheard conversation, a sign on a bus, a series of unrelated events with a common thread. Finally, you take note. Do you laugh, mention it to a friend? Or do you think “Perhaps there’s something there“?

Maybe you remember that God is present in all things (you know, having created them). You may remember Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”.

Here is the hard part. You are part of “all things”. Sometimes the message, after making it all the way into your conscious mind, is not what you want. The “good” may not be your immediate good, but it is God’s good. Follow God’s word, everything is connected, any good is good for you. Sometimes, you are supposed to be part of a message for someone that you don’t even know.

Perhaps this article has been part of God’s message to you for today, either in the immediate sense, or for you to contemplate later.

Now get out there and enjoy the day, be a part of it in every way!

Life on the farm

I’m not certain how this will affect my ability to write a daily article, but I have taken a job as a farmhand. I still have resumes floating about, and one small company has offered a part time position I may still take in addition to the farm, but this will be my vocation.

My Grandfather had a farm, after he retired from his position as superintendent of schools he built a little place on a lake and was largely self sufficient. He raised Black Angus cows, and had a few acres of vegetables. He and my Grandmother would trade with their neighbors, I don’t think they purchased many food items at the grocery store.

I took a different route, actually several different routes, but I have always loved working with plants and animals. I have had wonderful gardens and canned my own vegetables. I worked as an Animal Control officer for at least a decade, and had run ins with a variety of livestock and even exotic animals in addition to every imaginable blend of dog breeds. For the last fifteen years or so my career has involved wearing a tie every day and being an “electronics whisperer”. This will be a change.

The folks at Cherry Grove Farm, right down the road, are willing to pay me to work with their animals and be a “farm hand”. Being that money comes in handy once in a while, I’ll be spending my days there.

Cherry Grove Farm is “organic”. That is, their pastures, from which the cows and sheep graze, are certified organic. I always thought that any carbon based life form was organic, but words have drifted into different meanings. They don’t sell milk, they make cheeses, and have an interesting cheese maker who makes some unusual varieties. The whey is fed to their pigs. They also have chickens and sheep, and they’re starting some bees, six hives so far. In addition to the livestock and farm work, they also have a pond which is stocked with bass, for “catch and release” fishing (employees only). There’s a clowder (herd) of feral cats, some of which can be approached, which keep out the rodents.

I am just not capable of getting up at 0300 to milk the cows, but I’ll be there for the afternoon milking. The heat and hot water comes from a huge wood burning heater, so I’ll have the opportunity to cut up trees and split wood. All sorts of manly activities involving chain saws and axes. I’ll be building fences (coyotes are getting chickens, mostly because the chickens escape from their their area), driving a little bulldozer thing, feeding all the animals (including calves which receive cows milk in big bottles with funny nipples for a few months after birth), and all the little chores which keep a farm going. There’s talk of a “petting zoo”, with retired animals that are more sociable, and maybe a pony and an alpaca from a neighboring farm. That might be too much fun.

I know it will be physically difficult, but I’m looking forward to it immensely. I can get back to the land, and I don’t need to cut my hair.

Aside from the ethical issues…

Listening to the radio today, during a discussion about the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, one person’s statement began “Aside from the ethical issues”. His meaning was that if the ethical issues are overlooked, everything else about his statement was acceptable.

What has happened to us? How can overlooking ethical issues even exist as an option?

The question they were discussing had to do with the forced feeding of prisoners who are holding a hunger strike. This is Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A little patch of hell on an otherwise tyrannically repressed island that we have leased since 1903. Our modern variant of the Black Hole of Calcutta, replete with new horrors gained from our society’s advancements. The primary ethical question should be “Why are we using this place as a prison?”. We’ve had to put many ethical issues aside in order to get to this point, why not keep it up?

In the days following 9/11, suspected terrorists were detained world wide. We were not technically at war (nor were we in Korea or Viet Nam), so we couldn’t hold them as Prisoners of War (besides, if we did we would have to comply with the Geneva Conventions). The fact is, we couldn’t hold them at all. So we dug up the term “Enemy Combatant”, but if we brought them to America we would be constrained by Constitutional Protections. So we found our own little Black Hole, outside of the jurisdiction of anyone we might care about.

This works better than renditions. We get to maintain custody, and there are no constraints.

A brief aside. We began to openly acknowledge a difference between “Legal” and “Moral” in the 90s, “Moral” meaning “Well yeah, in a perfect world, but I’m not legally required to be moral”.

Questioning of prisoners was not restricted to any of the rules of the American Constitution, or the Geneva Conventions, or Human Decency. Triple play. Information leaked anyway, and the American public debated whether water boarding was a legitimate interrogation technique or torture, but who cares? We could do whatever we wanted anyway.

Another brief aside. As a person trained in interrogation techniques, I can unequivocally make the following statements. Torture is in the hands of the interrogator, anything can be torture. Torture does not produce meaningful intelligence. Performed properly, water boarding is not torture.

Along comes a Presidential candidate, and he promises to close Guantanamo Bay. The rationales are endless, but the essential reason is never stated. It is immoral to hold human beings indefinitely and with no restrictions as to their treatment.

That was in 2008. Now it’s 2013. Guantanamo Bay is still open, and people are starting to realize just how long “indefinitely” can be. Of the original 779 prisoners, over 500 were released prior to our current President taking office, leaving 242. Of the 166 prisoners still being held, 86 have been approved for release, but no one will take them. Forty six human beings have been designated by the Obama administration for indefinite detention with no charge or trial.

Presently, one hundred prisoners are on hunger strike.  Rather than let them starve, which would be…unethical? they are being force fed, which is…unethical. What quandaries you find when you go dancing with the Devil. When you need to start by using restraint chairs, a device that is so inhumane that not only human rights groups, but even the severe Maricopa County Jail has banned their use, you should have a clue you’re heading down the wrong path. When you recognize that medical personnel will not participate in a medical procedure (intubation) due to ethical restraints, maybe you need to rethink your procedures. These are the issues you run into when you maintain your very own Black Hole. Simply creating new euphemisms for illegal practices can’t work forever.

Long ago I learned that humane is not equal to aesthetic. Very good things can be horribly ugly. This applies not only to the visual realm, but also to our souls. This process works both ways, the Autumn Crocus is exceptionally poisonous. Way back in 2001 using Guantanamo Bay as a prison seemed like a reasonable idea, aside from the ethical issues. Five years ago most of us had realized it was a bad idea. If we cannot tolerate twenty dead children in Connecticut, how can we fathom one hundred prisoners, some already cleared for release, still being tortured? Is there any reason for Guantanamo Bay to be open, at all? And yet, it appears to be out of the President’s hands.

Violating our beliefs does not get better with time, it gets worse. When we step away from being ethical, we step away from being human.

Beer, Wine, and Art

I was always a “wine guy”. Back in High School (the drinking age was eighteen), I would drink wine, not “Annie Greensprings” or “Boone’s Farm”, but real wines, like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. I never developed a taste for beer back then, possibly because my father drank Schlitz, although I did try a variety of (American) beers and cared for none of them. I would drink Guinness if it was on tap, but that was the only beer that interested me.

In my thirties I worked for a winery in Pennsylvania. No, that’s not what got me away from wines. Chaddsford Winery (at least back then) made the best wines in Pennsylvania, and some of the wines rivaled California, Oregon, and France. Really. At that time the owners, Eric and Lee Miller, were immersed in every aspect of the winery. The staff was like a family, we felt invested in the wine and the customer’s experience. Eric would take us on trips to other wineries and held classes on wines from different regions. We learned how to pair foods with wines, and how to tend the vines (since then, the winery has become more commercial, what we would have called a “McWinery”). We would have festivals and concerts on the property, and one summer, after the guests had left, Eric brought over a cooler full of beers for us to try as we were relaxing after the cleanup.

I found that like wine, there were different kinds of beers! I still preferred the darker, malty types, but there were different beers for different occasions. A light, hoppy brew could be refreshing on a hot day. Just as I had always taught in my tasting sessions with wine, “good” is subjective. Today when I go to the liquor store, I see ratings of beers on a numerical scale, like those that became popular for wines in the 90s. A brewer friend tells me the ratings are based on how well a beer fits its particular style, but I’m sure there are people who are just looking for the higher number, the “better” beer.

That may be fine for most folks. As I said, the experience is subjective, so if drinking a number is more important than the complexities of tastes, go forward. At the tasting bar, someone would always ask “which is best”, to which I would reply “the one you like”. When I started writing, one writer raged on and on about the faults of being self-published, her main issue was that “no one has evaluated whether your work is any good”. She could never understand that for many, writing isn’t about obtaining some arbitrary third party’s approval. We do what we do because we love doing it. Every great author saves the rejection notices so they can laugh later, after another publisher has made their book a best seller. Good work will shine through, the size of the audience is secondary.

My mother’s other son went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art with me one day. He could not comprehend much of anything outside of classical painting. Even the impressionists had him a bit flustered, he scoffed out loud at Mondrian, but I was actually embarrassed when we came across an exhibit of functional art and he said in a full voice “This isn’t art!”.  It’s subjective. I have a rather bohemian attitude, and am often asked “Are you an artist?”, to which I would typically respond “Everyone is an artist”. My mother’s other son is not an artist.

On our first extended trip to Belgium, my wife arranged for us to spend a few days in Brugge. We prepared by watching the film “In Brugge” (very funny, a bit dark) and had a wonderful time visiting the sites from the film. We took a tour of the canals and toured a brewery, wandered through town and saw a number of interesting sights, but what caught my imagination was the first pub we stopped in.

beers

Seven hundred and fifty beers. Try as I might, I couldn’t make a dent in the menu. I gained an appreciation for the diversity of Belgian beers. Unlike America,  with three hundred million people and maybe fifty major breweries, Belgium’s eleven million people support almost two hundred breweries. It’s not just the “neighborhood brew”, beers are appreciated, and each has a special glass.

glasses

At this pub, the “Cafe Metafoor” (I dig Flemish) in Leuven, it took the barmaid longer to locate the glass than the beer. It was here that I found my favorite, and I’m fortunate that it imported in America. St. Bernardus Abt 12 is wonderful. So today, if you ask me which is best, I might still say “whichever you like”, but it’s possible I’ll say “You’ll like St. Bernardus Abt 12”.

Censorship

Alright this isn’t about food. Beverages will be tomorrow, pending beer review (that’s a pun).

“Censorship Sucks  is very nice.”

If you haven’t noticed, I am a strong supporter of free speech. I prefer to never censor anyone’s point of view or expression thereof, how else can I hope to know what is going on? There are times when certain language is inappropriate, or doesn’t fit the discussion, and at such times I will step in and point out why it is inappropriate, and were it to be over the top I might delete it, I’ve never had too but I’m aware that decision will have to be made one day. I would rather follow the advice of Abraham Lincoln, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” and let others prove their intellect.

A number of things centering on the same topic came to me in the last day, so instead of writing about wines and beers or telling you about my new job at an organic farm, I’ll be making some points about censorship today.

My interest in censorship began at an appearance by Barry Hoffman, founder of Gauntlet magazine, at a Barnes and Nobles. Barry was speaking about censorship, and how his publications were protesting against it. Gauntlet discusses and reprints articles that have been censored in various publications, and by doing so has been censored (in the form of being banned) in a variety of markets. He brought up a statement by Larry Flynt, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like; it protects speech you don’t like”.

I spend time and money supporting speech, some of which I don’t like, and some I have grown to like. Some of the artists I enjoy, I was originally interested in because they had been censored. Eminem and Everlast come to mind, two “rappers” with incredible messages and unique talents in word crafting. It was hard to follow their rap with words cut out on MTV, so I bought their albums. Salmam Rushdie, on the other hand, was given the opportunity to prove to me what a boring writer he is. You never know unless you investigate the subject yourself.

The other day, President Obama gave the commencement address to the graduating students of Ohio State University. In it, he instructed these apparently bright young university graduates, the leaders of tomorrow to not listen to voices that warn about government tyranny. I don’t care what your views are, the immediate image was “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. What kind of leader tells people to not listen to other points of view?

This morning, a friend who writes and edits Planet Princeton, an online news source focused on Princeton New Jersey, mentioned that the town is no longer indexing Planet Princeton on their website, using other sources for community news. Could this be because Planet Princeton remains independent, reporting from a neutral point of view, not just repeating anyone’s personal agenda? Yes. Recently a series of articles were criticized as being “negative”. Being “censored” in this fashion is a two edged sword. It is a badge of honor for a journalist to be singled out as reporting the inconvenient truth, but the loss in readership hurts. I’m thinking of putting together a QR code and pasting it on everything in town, starting with the police vehicles (Note to Princeton Police Department, my fingerprints are on record, have proof before you knock on my door).

People can be oversensitive to censorship, but again, their voice is telling something. A complaint means to listen more closely, sometimes it’s a valid point. A few weeks ago a friend posted something and I asked if she had vetted her source. Her angry response was “don’t censor me”. The subject involved was very close to her heart, and she is not a journalist, so I may have needed to use a gentler approach. I don’t view questions as censorship, but a sensitive person may.

Censorship can have many forms, from blacking out text to banning a book to eliminating the author. Censorship can take the form of simply not carrying a product, as Walmart has done with music, or as in the case of Princeton not indexing a particular source. Censorship can be seen as the choices of news directors, what gets covered and what doesn’t. Censorship can be the process of alienating an activity, as was successfully done with smokers, to reduce their acceptance. Censorship can take the form of obfuscation, or of vilifying individuals with alternate points of view. This practice is insidious, and growing. From what I’ve seen lately as debating tactics, the last few have become popular. It’s one of the reasons I wrote this article. When discussing if a particular tactic was censorship, one argument was that since the publisher had not been shut down, he wasn’t being censored.

Don’t buy it. In any form, Censorship really does Suck.

The Versatile Bloggers Award

My friend Lucy Pireel nominated me for the “Versatile Bloggers Award”. Lucy is a wonderful, tireless promoter of independent writers, and a published author herself. She provides publishing services and moral support for authors in addition to all her other responsibilities.

Thank you Lucy, I’m…surprised.

versatile-blogger-award

Rules of The Verstile Blogger Award, should you choose to accept it. You don’t have to if you don’t want to:

1. Display the award logo on your blog.
2. Thank and link back to the person who nominated you.
3. State seven things about yourself.
4. Nominate fifteen bloggers for this award.
5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination by linking to one of their specific posts so they get notified by pingback.

 Seven Things About K. Blake Cash
1.This may be where I just link you to my blog. I am an open book.
2. I speak English, Pirate, and Sarcasm fluently, A little French and Flemish, enough Spanish to survive in Mexico, and I’ve done my best to forget Russian.
3. I play several musical instruments, some well enough not to scare people.
4. My favorite beverage is St. Bernardus Abt 12. It is so very much less expensive than Chateau Margaux.
5. I’m tempted to trip people who insist on walking on the left of a stairway/sidewalk.
6. I once caught a ricochet shotgun slug in my chest. I still have the slug.
7. I really am related to Johnny Cash.
Right, so now for the ones I would like to nominate.Trying to nominate only fifteen is really hard when you spend so much time writing that you don’t have time to read. Or wash the dishes.
The Fifteen Nominees (in no particular order):
I’m absolutely sure I’ve missed someone, but I’m a little pressed for time, I have an interview at a dairy farm.

Why I cook

I love to cook. As a child I was fascinated by Graham Kerr, “The Galloping Gourmet”, who was having a blast cooking fabulous dishes. My first self assigned topic in public speaking was “How to make a pumpkin pie”, which was also an exercise in editing, covering the process from raw pumpkin to finished pie in ten minutes.

From that experience I gained an appreciation of nourishment. It felt good to have other people enjoy something that I made, there was more to feeding people than just satisfying their hunger. Today, most of what I make is for the mind, thoughts to induce cogitation, but I had the opportunity to cook for a gathering over the weekend and came away well nourished. I once worked at a winery, and would make lunches for the staff on the weekends. I was single, and there was no way I could cook the proportions I had when I had been married for myself, so I’d make a dish of chicken enchiladas and bring it to work. When we had a “bucket party”, a party after bottling where we would drink the left over wine from the processing buckets, I brought marinated chicken for the grill. I was invited to every function after that, “as long as I brought ‘that’ chicken”.

Over the weekend a friend held a Cinco de Mayo party. Actually a Cuarto de Mayo party, Saturday was a better evening to stay up all night. Princeton being the culturally diverse community it is, there were guests from France, although I’m not certain they were aware we were celebrating the defeat of French forces by the Mexicans at the battle of Puebla.

I made Enchiladas con Mole, which must have been popular as both pans were clean rather quickly. Being a vegetarian, converting my old meat based recipes has been interesting, and in fact for a block party a few years back I didn’t even try. My chili just doesn’t work without meat, I use about six pounds (I’ve included that recipe below) and there were no leftovers. I spent six years adjusting that recipe to win the approval of my late wife, who was a chef. The enchiladas last weekend were a blend of rice, corn, peppers and other vegetables with cheese wrapped in flour tortillas baked in a mole sauce. But what to do when someone asks for the recipe? I made it up with what was in the kitchen, measuring ingredients based on what looked like a good blend. It got me to thinking of the various styles of cooking and I realized that my techniques have always been intuitive.

When I was younger I would add cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to tuna salad. My mother did her best to encourage my experimentation, but it was clear she didn’t care for many of my creations. Recently, as I started working on Indian cuisine, I was amazed at the similarities of spices to some of my old concoctions. I had been making Marsala variants, but for the wrong audience. The word “audience” resonated for a bit, and the idea that cooking is a performance. The brulee isn’t the best part of Creme Brulee, and although I spend a good deal of time making interesting custards, the best part is the torch (well, the Chai Creme Brulee did get great reviews).

Food is entertainment when it is prepared properly, and I love to entertain. Emma used to say “First you eat with your eyes”, and once I got past the vision of teeth in the orbital cavities I came to appreciate the concept. Food excites all of the senses. It should appeal visually, not only the colours but the overall presentation of the dish. The scent should be noticeable from a distance, I had scampi in garlic in a little place in Nuevo  Vallarta and could smell the garlic in the air before the server entered the room. Sounds contribute to the experience, “selling the sizzle and not the steak” is a common phrase. Textures, both to the fork and mouth, can make or break a dish. Taste shouldn’t even need a mention, and the remaining sense, imagination, brings the experience, the performance, together.

When I met my wife, I was a little apprehensive about cooking for her family. Call it “performance anxiety”. She’s vegetarian, but will eat seafood. Her daughter is vegetarian, but very picky about which vegetables she will eat. Her son is an unapologetic carnivore. Dinner was a challenge, and as I embraced vegetarianism I put together some interesting dishes that worked with meat on the side, and everyone was happy. Now that it’s just the two of us, I’m back to making smaller quantities, so eggplant rollatini is no longer on the menu and I don’t get as creative as I used to. There’s really no excuse for that. Feeding my wife is a source of joy, why hold back?

The Recipes:

Vegetarian Enchiladas con Mole, 2 pans, one spicy one mild.

One jar Mole sauce (I prefer Dona Maria)

8oz Monterrey Jack cheese, grated fine.

About 20 Flour Tortillas (8-10 inch)

1 cup frozen corn

1 can black beans

1 or 2 Bell peppers (I prefer bright colours, red, orange, yellow)

1 bunch Cilantro

1 cup (dry) rice (I like the mixed wild rice)

3 Green Onions

1 Lime

3-5 mushrooms

12 oz. Soft Soy Chorizo (unless you’re a carnivore, then use the real thing)

2 large glass baking pans.

Start the rice.

In a dutch oven, warm the mole sauce over a very low flame, stirring regularly. The directions on the jar suggest a dilution of five parts water, I prefer seven. You will need a bottle opener to pry the top off of the jar.

Dice the green onions, mushrooms, cilantro, and peppers. Rinse the corn, shaking excess water from the colander. Remove the pulp from the lime and dice it finely (the pulp).

Heat oven to 400f

Fork cooked rice into a large bowl. Add the corn and mix with a slotted spoon. Rinse the beans and add them, mixing with the slotted spoon. Add the remaining vegetables, mixing until uniform. Add the grated cheese slowly, mixing it in evenly.

Place a couple of ladles of mole sauce in a glass baking pan (mine is about 9X15). Place a handful of the filling mix at the edge of a tortilla and roll it into an enchilada. place the enchiladas seam down in the pan, loosely against each other. When filled, place a few ladles of sauce over the enchiladas, leaving no dry surfaces.

Mix the chorizo with the remaining filling, prepare another pan with these enchiladas. This will be the spicy pan.

Cover pans with aluminum foil, and bake for thirty minutes.

You of course can alter the recipe, adding chilies, red onion, or anything else to the filling, A protein like cooked shrimp or chicken, shredded, would probably work also. Any left over filling would be nice in stuffed peppers, so don’t hold back, fill the bowl.

Stir fried chili

Items marked with * are 1/2/3 ingredients. 1x for mild, 2x for spicy, 3x for fiery

1 lb ground beef
1 lb beef tenderloin
1 lb pork loin
1 lb chicken breast
1 lb Italian sausage
1 lb slab bacon

2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 19 oz can black beans

1 lg red onion diced coarsely
* fresh jalapeno pepper diced finely
* fresh habanero pepper diced finely
1 lg red bell pepper diced coarsely
1 head garlic, cloved and cleaned
1 medium piece of ginger

Chili powder
Cumin
Dry Mustard
Rosemary
Brown sugar
Tabasco chipotle sauce
Salt

Peanut oil

Preparation:

We’re going to stir fry each meat separately. Prepare each meat by cutting into approximately 1/4 inch cubes, crumble ground beef, remove skin and crumble sausage. Toss each meat with 1* tablespoon cumin and 2* tablespoons chili powder.

Stir Fry:

In large wok place two tablespoons peanut oil, two thin slices of ginger, and 1 crushed clove of garlic. Heat until garlic starts to turn golden. Add one meat and brown all surfaces. Remove ginger, put meat into large stockpot (cooked meat is stored together), clean wok and repeat with next meat. Bacon will render a lot of fat, cook until cubes are crispy.

Take a nap.

In the large stock pot, add tomatoes, beans, peppers, and onion to the meat. Slice remaining garlic paper thin and add.

Place pot on very low heat and stir every few minutes. While stirring, add the following spices:

4* tablespoons chili powder, 2* tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon Rosemary, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 3* tablespoons Tabasco Chipotle sauce, 1 teaspoon salt.

Cook, covered, at very low heat for three to four hours (or until the onions disappear) stirring every 15 minutes. Adjust spices to taste.

Remove from heat, remove cover, stir every half hour while cooling.

Refrigerate overnight.

To serve:

Depending on number of servings, you can heat the entire pot or just the amount you need for the meal. Remainder can be frozen, but don’t be hasty, there may be no left overs.

Heat slowly over very low heat stirring frequently.

Serve with grated cheddar cheese and side of cornbread.

The nature of Heaven

What does Heaven look like?

All the descriptions of Heaven I’ve heard have been based on the idea that we would maintain our personalities after death. Almost all are so rooted in our sense of self that they refer to our physical needs. As an example, you’ve heard “In Heaven you can eat whatever you want”. Some go further, “In Heaven everyone appears to be 33”. Once after a roommate failed to pay the gas bill, I said “In Heaven there are hot showers”.

All these descriptions are extrapolated from scriptures that describe the perfection of Heaven. From our earthbound point of view, it can be hard to imagine an existence not tied to our experiences. The practical side of me suggests otherwise. Perhaps Heaven does exist in an extra dimensional space, but it seems more likely that all the souls that have passed before have stayed within our own universe. That could just be my own failure of imagination, but when people speak of white mansions and robes, I’m pondering “who does all that laundry?”. No physical presence in heaven makes sense to me. To be more precise, no existence of ego makes sense to me.

There are just so many concepts about the afterlife that make no sense. Assuming we’re there for eternity, wouldn’t seventy two virgins be insufficient? If we are to appear as we were at a certain time in our life, what of those who we met later, or before, we were at that stage? Which brings up the question of relationships, and the web of spouses and in-laws that would arise.

Consider this description of perfection. “Like God”. What does that mean to you? It doesn’t say to me that I’m eternally 33, at a grand picnic with every other soul, jamming with Jimi Hendrix and Beethoven (although I had that dream once, Jimi preferred the orange m&m’s). It does say that I would be beyond my present level of understanding. I’ve been thinking of how this might work and have developed an idea that fits all the descriptions for heaven that I’ve heard so far, as far as its physical appearance.

The core of this concept is that it all comes down to semantics. Our definitions of what we are and what Heaven is are based in our ego and our desires. As I look at the scriptures, the recurring message is that to be like Christ, we should put aside our egos and desires. Being “in tune” moves to another level, assuming there is anything behind the Schumann Resonance.

Here’s my idea. When your body dies, your soul continues to exist. Your soul is that which caused your body to be alive. It is that remnant of God’s breath given to Adam. Following that line of thought, your soul is already “like God”. It is the only part of you on Earth that is truly a part of God. Heaven is when your soul rejoins God. Hell would be when it doesn’t.

Your soul is undefinable and immeasurable by Earthly means. Although there are those that claim that the soul can be measured, assigning the soul a mass of twenty one grams, there has been no scientific assignment of these measurements. Your soul has no desire other than to be complete, as in rejoined with God. In the same way you could describe a compass as being “happy” when it is pointing North, your soul is happy when it is in Heaven. It is merely following the path of nature, that of least resistance, a concept that when examined is universal.

Your soul has no personality. Your own ego and desires are functions of your physical body. When we rejoin the “body” of God, we are where we “should” be, in harmony with all things. We are with all the other souls that have rejoined God. We exist in a state of perfection.

It appears to me that these conditions would be met if the soul existed as energy. Not created or destroyed, existing as a wavelength, in, or out, of tune with God. After life, we are part of the universe (which is God), our energy connected to everything it resonates with. That which is not in Heaven,  out of tune with the frequency of creation, could very well be “Dark Matter”. This is one of the reasons I love theoretical conceptual physics, I don’t need to do any math (yes, I know, it’s called philosophy. The mind is still part of the physical universe).

After reading through this, please find a concept of Heaven that does not agree. Heaven is all around us. The dead are still with us. Heaven is being one with God. Hell is the exclusion of God’s love.

As no one has returned with a report of the conditions, all that really matters is how we conduct ourselves here on Earth. Would it not appear that as faith in an afterlife declines, effort to make this life as pleasant as possible should rise? I would expect atheists to be filled with a joie de vivre, as it is the only experience of life they believe they will have.

So you say you want a revolution?

I apologize for the political nature of many of my posts recently. I promise to write about less controversial subjects next week. Besides, there hasn’t been any discussion in the comments, which either means you all agree with me, or I’m scaring people away.

There was an article today that grasped my imagination more than usual. Farleigh Dickinson University released the findings of a poll that suggests three in ten Americans believe that an armed rebellion will be necessary in the next few years to protect civil liberties.

Not being a headline believer, I found even more interesting information in the article. The same poll revealed that one in four Americans believe the Sandy Hook shooting occurred in order to advance a political agenda. That is to say, it was an act of the government, not a mentally unstable young man. The relationship between the two percentages seemed an odd coincidence. Although the sample was 863 registered voters, I’m having difficulty believing it was a random representation of Americans. It is possible that registered voters do not represent the average American, I would tend to think that in the non political sense, registered voters tend to be more conservative, believing in democracy.

A look at conspiracy theories finds that if someone believes one theory, they are more likely to believe in other conspiracies. This does not mean these people are paranoid, it means they find conspiracies more comforting than the idea of random crazy individuals. I’ve often thought this was the reason the JFK assassination theories are so popular. It’s easier to believe a massive plot is required than to believe that one lone gunman can assassinate the President of the United States.

I have known a variety of ersatz revolutionaries, and a few real ones. Seeing the real thing tends to make you very aware of what is missing in the posers. Were an armed rebellion to take place, my experience with the American on the street indicates that the populace will support whoever appears to be winning at the moment. It’s much more fun to wave a flag than to be on the front lines. We’ve become a nation of internet activists, clicking “like” is in no way equivalent to exchanging fire with your countrymen. The current epidemic of post traumatic stress syndrome appears to validate the notion that taking a life in reality is not as gentle on the soul as playing a video game.

War sucks. It sucks so much that it should be our very last resort. I had thought that watching footage from Viet Nam every evening had convinced a generation of that fact. Unfortunately, that was two generations ago, the generation in between came to see war zones as video games, this generation is paying the price for that naivete. President Clinton eviscerated the intelligence community and believed he could just fire cruise missiles. In the ensuing years our Presidents (and in a more extreme sense their targets) have paid the price for inaccurate targeting. Armed rebellion mean dead people. Dead neighbors and relatives. Not just on television, but blood on the living room carpet.

I hear the talk. I’ve spoken it myself in the past. I’m not really worried about people who stockpile weapons. I don’t own any firearms, I am perfectly capable of defending myself and my family with what is left behind after the first skirmishes. I just don’t think it will ever get that far. I know how to survive, working with animals taught me the principle of “being the bigger dog”. Big dogs don’t bark, they just bite. It is my belief that all the barking about armed rebellion is coming from the chihuahuas.

I do worry. I worry about those caught up in the rhetoric. I worry about those who become caught up in the moment and commit acts they can never wash away. I believe the lesson to learn from the recent bombings in Boston is not what two misguided young men can accomplish, but the psychological impact that the bombing has on the surviving brother.

There is the very real possibility that we’re on the eve of destruction, and even though when Barry McGuire rewrote his song last year he didn’t include the allusions to nuclear war, the threat still exists. North Korea shows no awareness of the effects of nuclear weapons. Iran continues to press the envelope of diplomatic relations. India and Pakistan nearly started a nuclear exchange a few years ago. Our biggest post Soviet era fear was that nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union would fall into the hands of criminals, the underworld,  or terrorists. As we look at the current war in Syria, we see a society that has broken down, it’s not just “anti-government” forces, every feud between groups is being fought simultaneously. Unstable nuclear armed states are the scariest of current scenarios. In case anyone forgot, we’re a nuclear armed state. There’ll be no one to save, from a world in a grave.

 

(In)tolerance

Maybe it’s just my rosy view of the past, but I seem to remember a world in which there was more tolerance than there is today. Not always acceptance, but tolerance.

People will always have differences of opinion. A natural product of free expression is that we hear opinions we don’t agree with. A cornerstone of a stable society is the ability to disagree without the need to eliminate opposition. I had thought that the desire to destroy those who differ was largely restricted to those messy uncivilized third world countries. I had thought that as the world became “smaller”, civilization would be the driving force. Not the only time I’ve been wrong.

I can recall heated discussions at parties that my parents held. I also remember the same guests being invited to following parties. It was possible, perhaps even preferable, to have differences of opinion, it kept the conversation “lively”. People were not considered inferior due to their differences, and “preaching to the choir” was considered boring. This was a predominantly conservative crowd, yet I was still under the impression that the “liberals” were more tolerant. It was part of the “rules”, conservatives were rigid, liberals were flexible.

So we moved from our conservative enclave to the bay area, just in time for the “Summer of Love”. We were a tourist destination as our friends would visit just for the tour of “Haight Ashbury“, I felt a connection to the philosophy of the hippies, I believed they had discovered what I thought America was all about. I do my thing, you do yours. Years later I was saddened by the decay of that philosophy as I watched cut throat capitalists selling tie dye souvenirs. They were doing their thing, pretending to be doing mine, and making a profit.

I found myself increasing isolated. Most of my views were based in conservatism, but my lifestyle was more liberal. At first, I thought I was demonstrating how the two “sides” were not mutually exclusive, the things accepted by liberals could be tolerated by conservatives. The exclusiveness came from an unexpected direction. My liberal friends couldn’t tolerate my conservative friends. Things got worse.

The “revolutions” of the 60s and 70s created revolutionaries. Unfortunately, once the revolution was over, the revolutionaries still needed a fight. Race relations improved immensely in America for a decade or so, but I would argue that today things are worse than they were in the mid 60s, and in some ways as bad as the 50s. One (black) friend relates that his family despises Bill Cosby, because they believe that his portrayal of the Huxtable family was unattainable, propaganda by an Uncle Tom.  The sexual revolution became the war between the sexes. Anything denied to a woman was evidence of the “War on Women“, even when it had nothing to do with sex. Great advances in equality were followed by hatred rather than grace. While gay rights made strides, anti gay groups became more vocal, and violent. Gay rights groups refuse to accept anything less than equal verbiage, “Marriage”, a religious term adopted by the state, must be what unions between couples are called. Even in European countries that allow gay unions, the official documents are referred to as Civil Unions. Everyone calls them “marriages”, but that’s not good enough in America. “Justice” became “getting even”, beginning with affirmative action, followed by “reparations“.

We not only stopped accepting, we stopped tolerating. When the Taliban destroyed the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, tolerance died. I do not entirely blame the Muslim influence, but I do believe that they have turned the level of intolerance to eleven. With help from the news media, the existence of tolerance has been eliminated in the minds of the general public. With the advent of twenty four hour news stations, “fair and balanced” became a joke. Each outlet has it’s own views, preaching to its own choir. The only balance is when you split screen two opposite viewpoints. We call people of different viewpoints “sheeple”, as if “we” are somehow different. We used to believe that a person was innocent until proven guilty, now once a suspect is announced lynch mobs appear.

Politics have become downright ugly. Political figures are hated, decades after they leave office. There is no reflection or redemption. Despite Margaret Thatcher’s achievements, she was largely hated upon her death, some twenty five years after leaving office. “Ding Dong the witch is dead” hit number one on the BBC. Five years after leaving office, Dick Cheney is the first person to come to some peoples’ minds when asked “You know what I hate?” during a conversation that has nothing to do with politics. Move on became a mantra for people who refuse to move on. Claims against President Obama stay alive years after they become moot, and really, in a country that allegedly separates politics and religion, who cares if he is a Muslim or Mitt Romney a Mormon?

Not to be left out, the scientific community, after centuries of distancing itself from public opinion, becomes embroiled in the “Climate Change” debate. I was disappointed enough when I heard that the Space Shuttle was “too complex” to be built today, the scientific community acknowledging we are not as intelligent and creative as we were in the 70s, but the abandonment of the scientific method in favor of popular consensus is truly disheartening. I feel like Galileo facing the Pope.

This is not the world I want to live in. One in which “disagree” means “hate”, “disagree with a person of another race” means “racist”, “tolerance” means “I tolerate those who agree with me”. I’m well aware that I’m a dreamer, but I cannot be the only one. Our level of understanding one another is supposed to be increasing, not decreasing. We can’t get there without talking.

42

I started off several hours ago with the idea of writing about life, the universe and everything. That got a little complex, so the draft will remain in the polishing bin and I’ll give you the short version.

Albert Einstein said “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”. He also said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself”. The correlation being that everything should be simple enough for a six year old to understand. If he had not had such faith in humankind, would he have been able to live with the creation of nuclear weapons?

One of the things I really dig about that video is that it shows some great minds without the veneer of greatness. They are, as we are, human beings. Feynman loved the bongos, and Neil deGrasse Tyson really is that edgy. His line at 2:10 echoes within me.

We are all connected. Whether you approach creation from Genesis or a Humanistic view, in the beginning there was a void. Then, either by God’s command or a quantum vacuum fluctuation, there was light. Big light. Big Bang. Everything that is, every particle in the universe, was created in that instant. Following the principle of Quantum Entanglement, any particles that interact are connected, so everything is connected to everything.

That may be too simple, in that it applies to molecular size objects and not larger objects. Or maybe not. I am connected to every person that I have spoken to, and they are connected to me. The relationships and experiences we have cause us to be us. There is a layer of reality, a veneer, called “Maya” in Hinduism. It is the illusion of reality, what we see instead of reality. Maya is why we see solid objects rather than a collection of molecules, which are predominantly empty space. Maya is the fabric of reality, the Emperor’s clothes. We see what we want to see, or more precisely, we see what we are capable of comprehending. A simple illustration of the distortion of our actual vision, what we see with our eyes, is to but on a pair of coloured lenses. After a few minutes, you can see normal colors again, take the lenses off, and the “filter” that your mind was using to balance the lenses will tint the world to the opposite side of the colour wheel for a few minutes, until your brain realizes that you no longer are wearing lenses.

There is the psychological side of that, or synchronicity, our inability to see connections. There is also the physical side, our eyes contain thousands of sensory cells, some see light (black and white) others see colours. When I look out the window, I don’t see a collection of data points, red, grey, blue, black, green, grey. I see flowers and trees and sky and clouds. I may not have the same sensations that you have, but my sensation of what I call “Blue sky” is the same every time I see a blue sky. So is yours. So even though our sensations are different, the sky is the same, so we both call it a “Blue sky”.

My last wife believed she was psychic. I do to, but not to the extent that she did. She was able to interpret something, some connection between the particles that are entangled, and was right in her interpretations far more often than she was wrong. Except when buying lottery tickets. It wasn’t something she could control, it just happened.

I believe that we are connected to each other, and to everything in the universe. Explaining that in a clear manner, simple enough for a six year old to understand, with references and footnotes, is going to take longer than one day, but we can start here.

E = mc^2 \,\!

Energy equals mass at a ratio of the speed of light. Neither energy or mass can be created or destroyed, they just change into the other form. All that exists has always existed. We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon.

simple enough, or too simple?