Grace

Just in case you missed this one…

KBlakeCash

I started out with the concept of forgiving, and this is where it took me.

I would like to address “grace”. In many ways the two are connected. “Grace” is the ability to be tolerant, gentle, accepting and forgiving, among other things.

The scriptures offer guidance to grace, and forgiveness is suggested. Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” and Matthew 6:14 says “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” reinforcing the “Golden Rule” concept, how you deal with others will be how God deals with you, Matthew 7 begins “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”.

Hebrews 12:14-15 says “14 Strive for peace with…

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What’s wrong with GPS?

As part of the “Saturday Rewind” series.
Yesterday Gertrude took us to and from Red Bank New Jersey. Other than the Count Basie Theatre and Teak restaurant, I have no idea where I’ve been or how to get there.

KBlakeCash

Yes, if you’ve been following along, you can guess that there must be something wrong with GPS if I’m writing about it.

Being one of those XY types, I’ve never cared for asking for directions. Being one of those old fashioned XY types, I typically know where I am, and where I am going, before I start out. I once drove from New Jersey to California with only the knowledge that the interstate road system connected the coasts, I should drive West until I see the ocean then I can find where I’m going on the Pacific Coast Highway.

The United States Air Force decided to spend a fair amount of money teaching me how to read maps anyway. It was in that class that I learned that many people cannot read maps. Many people do not in fact have any idea where on the planet they are. I can…

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Living in the age of Star Trek

One of the interesting things about spending time in hospitals is the technology. I found the MRI fairly incredible, a giant magnet aligns the nuclei of cells, then a radio frequency is applied which causes alterations in the rotation of the magnetic fields, and this can be detected to create a three dimensional image of the interior of your body. My latest MRI came back as a DVD, and I could manipulate the view and magnification to observe any point within my brain on my home computer.

Pretty amazing stuff, when you consider that the non invasive diagnostic tools for multiple sclerosis involved submerging the patient in hot water to see if the symptoms worsened. My diagnosis took a few weeks, I met others who had been witting years. Technology didn’t actually save their lives, it prevented their suicides. Being told “it’s all in your mind” takes a lot out of a person.

When Emma had cancer I saw all sorts of technology. The simplest was a “port”. Because chemo and other therapies can wear out your veins, a tube can be inserted into a large vein (the Jugular in this case) and routed to a port in your chest. A special needle (Huber needle) is used to pierce the port to apply chemo. At one point, Emma was receiving chemo twenty four hours a day. there was a cassette with the drugs that pumped them into her day and night for a week. Sleeping around the tubes and cassette was not easy, but we got through it. My biggest worry was that she would wake in the night and head to the toilet, yanking the external tubing, that never happened.

Endoscopy, the practice of putting a tube down your throat (or up your rectum) is surprisingly complex. This isn’t just a camera, there are different tips for collecting specimens, blades, brushes, positive and negative pressure fluid to clean the path. What amazed me was the path the scope can take. They were able to place an endoscope down her throat, and work it down to her pancreas. I’ve gone over the anatomy, and I just don’t see that path.

I was amazed with the DEXA scan, a low level x-ray that can determine bone density (I have osteoporosis). Just a little scanner passes over your body and the density in critical areas can be analyzed.

Prior to her surgery Emma underwent a couple of PET cans. This is really amazing Star Trek stuff. The Positron Emission Tomography scan is an incredible mixture of technologies. The most amazing to me is the computation. In Emma’s case, four different “dyes” or positron-emitting radionuclides were used. each is attracted to a different substance within the body. As the “dye” goes through beta decay, a positron (which is an anti particle) is emitted, which then interacts with an electron, annihilating it. The annihilation produces two gamma photons, traveling in opposite directions. When two photons reach the scanner simultaneously, the point at which they were created is calculated, and the point of the positron emission is calculated from that. Millions of photons are detected, and a three dimensional view of actual functioning organisms is revealed. PET scans can see into your brain, and detect which sections respond to different stimuli. Everything about this is cool.

There’s a procedure called CardioVascular and Interventional Radiology (CVIR), or just VIR when the heart is not involved, in which a probe is inserted to clear a vein, or any vessel (in Emma’s case they were working on the biliary tree). Guided by a scan, the probe is simply pushed through the tissue. sounds rather barbaric, and oddly cloaked in secrecy. They don’t talk about it, and the people who do it are radiologists. Had we actually known what it consisted of we might have been put off, but then surviving is a carrot almost anyone will chase.

One procedure we did skip was a lung needle biopsy. There was a question about nodules in Emma’s lungs, repeated scans had determined they were scar tissue and not tumors, but the question kept nagging one doctor who wanted to do a needle biopsy. The needle in this case is about a foot long (I know, it’s the diameter that matters, right?) and is guided to the nodule by CT scan. Keep in mind that this cannot be done in the CT scanner, so the patient has to hold her breath and not move from the time of the scan to the placement of the needle. With that information you can figure out that the patient must be fully conscious. We felt there was adequate data showing the nodules to be benign, and skipped the procedure.

All the advances in imaging allow innovations in treatments, but technology can never take the place of the doctors who implement it. No machine can replace the wisdom of a compassionate physician.

笑って元気

We’ve had a visitor. Yuko is Lieve’s friend, they have known each other for twenty eight years. We see Yuko every year or so, she’s Japanese, and in addition to being soft spoken she doesn’t speak English very well. She’s always been intriguing to me, and I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Yuko I know, and I have to use that qualification because I don’t know her well, is a music Fan. Capital F. She lives in Japan, but comes to America to see concerts. Little concerts. The last time she visited was to see The Cure, this time, she’s seeing Monochrome Set three times, first in Philly, then in New York, and then in Bordentown NJ (we went with her to the show in Bordentown). I asked her why she would fly halfway around the world to see bands in tiny little venues, and she told me that’s just something she does on vacation. The real purpose of the vacation is to “get away”.

I thought that was the purpose of a vacation for anyone, but she explained further. She likes to travel to America and England (France and Spain as well) because they don’t speak Japanese. She can be in the center of a crowd, and not pick up bits and pieces of conversations. “I don’t have to hear about someone’s mother” she said. What an interesting concept. When I asked what she does to get away at home, she said “I don’t do anything special to accomplish that. I switch on the TV and have foreign dramas or films running when I’m at home. In a crowded train, I try to be lost in thought/reading/listening/reverie in my own world.”

camel

When we were walking in Philly I could see the release, the freedom she felt. As we were leaving the Reading Terminal Market, there were a couple of guys playing guitar, and they started “Blitzkrieg Bop”.  Her arm went up in the air and she danced the rest of the way to the car.

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Yuko met Lieve in 1985, when Lieve worked for Crepuscule Records in Brussels, and was traveling with the label’s tour in Japan. After the third night,  the tour group realized that the same young woman was always waiting around after the shows, talking to the bands. They adopted her as a translator and worked out arrangements for her to have a place to stay with them. Later, when Lieve developed a sore throat, Yuko took her to the hospital, and translated for her. I asked her how she can just start up conversations with bands, being such a demure individual. She said “I’m kind of shy, I would like to talk to bands but I don’t know what I talk about. So I usually don’t. I don’t approach bands aggressively, I talk to them the same as other fans after concerts. I would be happy if they could understand how much I like their music. When I was young, I think I was quite cheeky.( still now?!). I want others to see me as a compassionate / friendly person.”

BrightonYuko in Brighton 1986

When I asked Yuko what her favorite type of music, she said “I have a wide taste in music. When I listen to music, I don’t think of which type of music they are. I just feel that I like the song. It just happens that Alternative/classic/heavy metal/hard rock/Progressive/Punk/post-rock/jazz/Pop/New wave/dance…. (remember what I’ve said about labels?) When I was in primary school, I listened to The Monkees, The Partridge Family,The Carpenters and Bay City Rollers. Especially, I was interested in all musicians when I was a junior high-school student. As I could be possible, I listened to any type of music and went to see concerts (Kiss, Japan, Eric Clapton, Lee Ritenour, Rod Stewart,The Runaways, Rainbow, The Stranglers….)”

spoon

Not that I’m jealous or anything, she just managed to see most of the greatest bands ever. Her answer to “What are your favorite bands” sounds a lot like me, were I able to devote my life to following bands. She said “I have a lot of favourite bands. Too many…The Cure, The Monochrome Set, The Clash, Big Audio Dynamaite, Cosmic Rough Riders, Thin Lizzy, TOOL, Tortoise ,SigurRos, The Durutti Colmun, JosefK, Belle&Sebastian, Orange Jucie, Stump, Lou Barlow, Cheap Trick, The Bluebells, Kiss, The Shins, Neil Young, Ocean Colour Scene, Mogwai, Super Furry Animals, JasonFalkner, YoLaTengo, arco, the Sparks, Madness, Joy Division, New Order, Mice Parade, At The DriveIn, The June Brides, The Undertones, The Smiths, Eyeless In Gaza, AC/DC, Ben Folds Five, Jellyfish, Pernice Brothers, The Milk&Honey Band, Echo&The Bunnymen, Daniel Johnston, Oranger, The Sea&Cake, Sebadoh, 1000Violins, Carbon/Silicon, OKGO, The Flaming Lips, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ramons, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Gomez, The Decemberists, The LA’s, Jose Gonzalez, Nick Drake, The Vaselines, Arab Strap, The Monkees, The Partridge Family (David Cassidy)…….I can’t finish!”. Kind of like my “Whatever is playing now…”

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She says there was a period when she lost interest in music, “Suddenly, I was not interested in music. I was away from music in the 90s. Sometimes, I listened to classic music. I hardly went to see concerts, maybe a few ones in 10 years.(expect The Cure) Instead of music, I was into a play and Kabuki (Japanese traditional play). I go to the theatre a few times every month now. Again, I started to listen to music in 2000, and I listened to a lot of bands for filling the hole in 10 years.( like I was a junior high-school student)”

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Yuko visited Lieve through the years during her vacations in England and France, visiting her home in Belgium and later in Manchester. Yuko never married, and still lives with her parents. I asked her about that, as Americans seem to be getting back to multi generational homes. She said “It is common for adults to live with their parents in Japan. Most of people will move out when they get married, work at another place, go to university. But they think a responsibility to take care of their parents, so some of them move back home later. It’s also common that the son (mostly the eldest one) take care of his parents. He lives with them even if he get married or when his parents get old, they live together. It depends, anyway.” She says that she is happy living with her parents, they are getting older year by year and she can monitor that. She says that she doesn’t feel that living with her parents has hindered her life choices.

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She appears to be fascinated by everything. She’s one of those people who takes pictures of her food, and when we got ice cream she composed the photograph of her cone with the store’s sign, shaped like an ice cream cone, in the background. She laughs easily, and, maybe due to her size, has a child like aura about her. When I asked what kinds of art she enjoys she said “I like Modern Art and Pop art. I like Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall, Andy Wahol, Joost Swarte (cartoonist) and Nick Park (Stop Motion Animator).

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By all appearances she is a well rounded, happy person. When I asked What she would do if she could change anything in the world, she said “Plenty of smiles and full of laughter. Because positive vibrations is essential in life.”

Just being around Yuko brings all those things. She is a wonderful ambassador for herself. As she would say “笑って元気”, smiling, energetic.

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Medical marijuana

There has been a long term debate over the effectiveness of marijuana as a pharmaceutical. This debate was spurred by marijuana users, trying to get it legalized, so for the longest time I didn’t take it seriously. Over the last few years, I’m not sure what to take seriously, so I’ve reevaluated a number of debates.

I’m not going to get into the economics of hemp, and what a valuable and versatile crop it is. It’s not that I doubt it or endorse it, I just haven’t researched that area. Hemp is fibrous, and was initially used for ropes, and can be used for many purposes that other products are used for now. Poppies are pretty, but opium is still a hazard to society.

Marijuana is for the most part a recreational drug. Not so surprisingly, so are a large number of prescription drugs. In a world of  multi-tasking, why are we surprised that a drug can have multiple uses? Having gone through all the drugs Emma was prescribed during her cancer treatments, I found many of the drugs she was given had alternate uses. Except marijuana. She was prescribed Marinol, a synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the active ingredient in marijuana, to help with her nausea. I’ll never know if it worked better than the other drugs available (none of them worked at all), because I couldn’t get the prescription filled. When I showed it to the pharmacist it might as well have been on fire, he wouldn’t actually touch it. He backed away and said “You can’t get that here.”, and when I asked him where I could fill it, he said “I don’t know, not at any xxxxxxx (name of the pharmacy chain)”. As it turned out, I was able to locate a natural source from a compassionate friend, and I can verify that the natural product worked exceptionally well.

You might wonder why there is such resistance to a legal therapy. Marinol was a class 2 drug (now class 3), and I was able to obtain several class 2 drugs at the pharmacy. If you opened the link above on abused prescription drugs, you noticed that many of the popular drugs are class 3, 4, and even 5. Why such a fuss over Marinol? Well, it’s because of the fuss over marijuana. Marijuana is a class 1 drug, along with heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD),  3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.

If you’re over thirty, you have known people who use drugs. You know the difference between someone using heroin and someone using marijuana. You can tell from a block away. Our Drug Enforcement Agencies cannot. Not because they’ve never inhaled. Because they’ve never done enough research to determine that you have to inhale in order for it to work.

Again, maybe because the only people calling for research were a bunch of pot-heads, serious research was rarely conducted. Oh sure, they performed studies on other class 1 drugs, but marijuana was taboo. The main reason put forward in the 1936 film “Reefer Madness“, is that it can’t be controlled, anyone can grow it in their back yard. That is the fear, an unregulated drug.

A number of people have come forward and said that marijuana is the only relief they have from Multiple Sclerosis. There has been evidence it is useful in treating Glaucoma, nausea following chemotherapy, and even cancer itself. A few states have legalized medical use, and in states like California and Colorado you can obtain a prescription from any doctor. A recent study suggested that one side effect is forgetfulness, but again, this was not serious documented research. Dosage of Marijuana is not controlled well enough to determine if that’s a side effect, or if left to their own devices, people use too much.

In New Jersey, only certain doctors are allowed to prescribe marijuana (there’s one in my county) and they have to provide documentation that you are a long term patient, and follow up documentation on your progress. There is one dispensary (marijuana pharmacy) in the state. I haven’t bothered to obtain a prescription, even though I can say that it does have positive effects on not only my multiple sclerosis, but also my depression and brain function. Yes, my memory actually gets a little better, but that’s anecdotal and unsupervised.

I am not certain that legalization of marijuana would be a good thing. We have enough chemicals to abuse, and while stoned drivers tend to be safer than drunk drivers, I prefer sober drivers. I’ve never heard of anyone getting high and getting violent, but I’ve known people to become lethargic and waste away a weekend. What we need more than anything in this country is a “responsibility” license, maybe a badge, that says “this person can handle the responsibilities of intoxication”. No badge, no beer, or pot, or caffeine.

Because it’s not the drug, it’s the user.

Paula Deen

We’ve all had a lesson in tolerance this last week, I wonder how many learned from it.

Apparently, there are two crimes which have no statute of limitations. Murder, and using a word which is later determined to be offensive. Consider that for a moment. A word, which in context is descriptive, is later decided to be a racial slur. You never use the word again, but because you used the word when it was popular, your career is destroyed.

Words change over time, sometimes people do too. You have a relative who still calls the refrigerator “the ice box”, you probably say “tin foil rather than “aluminum foil”, you’ve heard the phrase “crank the car” even though cranks disappeared in the 1930s. Some words have changed in meaning and acceptance. “Pansy” isn’t a very strong insult, but in the UK the word “Wanker” is the fourth most offensive word in the language (I think “Dentist” is in the top three). The acceptable term for a dark skinned person of African heritage living in America has gone through negro, black, colored, African American (which is really funny when a black person isn’t from Africa or America)  and I really couldn’t tell you what the “correct” term is today. I kind of like first names, I don’t think anyone refers to me as “that white guy”.

There are a multitude of facets to this story, my biggest question is “Which “n” word?”. When a word becomes so vile that we can no longer stand to even say it, how do we know which words are “bad”?  My grandmother, for instance, called black people “nigras”. This was a degradation of the word “negroes”, which is a descriptive word, not an insult. It was the polite word to use back in her day. Considering that, was my grandmother a racist? I wouldn’t think so, one of the first songs she taught me was “Jesus loves the little children”, You know it, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of he world, Red and Yellow Black and White they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Doesn’t sound like a racist to me.

Is it the word, or the intent? When I take the bus through South Philly, and I can’t hear myself think for all the “Nigger”, “Bitch”, “Motherfucker”, going back and forth at high volume, it’s obvious the word itself has no sting. So was Ms. Deen using the word in an aggressive manner? According to one story, she was talking about a wedding, and how sharp a black man in a white tie looks as a server. Somehow, whichever “n” word she used, I just can’t see anyone saying how classy it would look to “have a bunch of niggers serving the guests”.  It seems far more likely that she used a descriptive word like negro or nigra. But then, she may have used another “n” word, perhaps “nightingale”. Who knows, or more precisely, who cares?

From what I can see, a bunch of uptight white folks care. In this age of Obama, where anyone can be a racist for any reason, I’m not hearing much from the black community about this. You see, the person bringing the complaint about racial slurs was white. The only black people I have heard talking about it were supporting Ms. Deen. The core of the issue is “white guilt”. We tend to act as if the United States, and only in the Southern United States, is the only place where slavery has ever been practiced. Perhaps we should ask the folks in Niger and Sudan, where slavery is practiced today, what they think about that. Perhaps we should consider the word “slavery”, and see how it compares to conditions throughout Asia.

Prejudice is not an American issue, or a Black/White issue. It happens everywhere people of different races or beliefs live near each other. Currently two factions of the Muslim religion are doing everything they can to remove each other from the planet, with slightly more vigor than they are trying to remove non Muslims from the planet. Different tribes throughout Africa are following suit. South America is doing little better. The various nationalities in Asia enslave and torture each other routinely. And yet, racism is an American problem. The pope was able to say pedophilia was an American problem for the same reason, we’re the only ones talking about it. Ms. Deen’s crime was being honest. 

I’ve always believed that talking about an issue was the path to resolution, I think Paula Deen may disagree today.

 

 

 

 

Courtney Love

A surprising number of people don’t like Courtney. And by “don’t like” I mean “despise”. So her show at the Theatre for the Living Arts was not sold out. That was fine, it was a fascinating crowd of true fans, and not terribly crowded. At points it was a sing-a-long, which seems better suited for campfires and the other types of artists I enjoy.

Not exactly Kumbaya, but it worked.

Music is an odd thing. It can bring people together or tear them apart. When the concert was announced, there were a lot of hate comments towards Courtney. The crowd at the concert was diverse, punkers and grunge types to families with children (that surprised me). We met a nice young man who introduced himself as “Big Gay Mike”, who was exceptionally friendly.

While we were waiting for the concert to begin, I was thinking how diverse the TLA is. Last month, Tom Jones played there. Next month, Hanson. Courtney isn’t exactly Lieve’s style, and I thought about the varied artists we have introduced to each other. Lieve had never heard of Laura Nyro when we saw “One Child Born“, she didn’t know Dar Williams or Booker T., she wasn’t familiar with the Left Banke, Alanis Morissette, Ian Hunter, Michael Nesmith, or Dr. John. Lieve has introduced me to bands I didn’t know, Citizen Cope, Kaki King, and The Monochrome Set to name just a few. Together we have found Tired Pony, Gary Clark Jr., and Sharon Van Etten.

We both have musical backgrounds, Lieve worked for a couple of record companies, including Factory, I’ve been a musician, trained on a variety of instruments and played in a few bands. We have slightly different approaches, I prefer a little raw edge, she’s more into new wave/techno, and we meet on female singer songwriters. Music takes you down unexpected paths. Largely because labels really don’t work in music. You can pretty much classify the majority of popular music of the late twentieth century as “rock”, but the sub-genres are almost as numerous as fans.

In a previous life I worked with a man named Guy Campo. Through the wonders of Social media I found that in addition to the place where we had worked together he’s performing throughout the area both solo and with his band, The Contusions. Lieve and I have seen him play, and also routinely run into him and his fiance at concerts. As I’ve gotten to know his fiance, we found that we had attended the same Allman Brothers concert back in 1976. Somehow you can see the tapestry of music and threads intersecting.

Music brings people together in ways never expected. Then there’s the other side, the “breakup song”. When you’re feeling down, there’s nothing like the right song to make you feel even worse.

My feeling is that it’s harmonic. As we exist as energy disguised as human beings, certain vibrations resonate. Vision, taste, and smell can all bring back memories, but music brings you back to the place, time, weather conditions, and mood, that you associate with a particular song. These feelings can be bad or good, and they may change over time, but nothing transports me like music. People who only like one specific type of music are impaired, there’s an incredible range out there, and it all has more in common than its differences.

I even like some rap.

Call no man your father

To start with, there is a reason I chose to not write about this last Sunday.

Years ago, Emma and I would attend Catholic Mass together on Sundays. She, along with a large segment of the population, was born and raised Catholic, and had since fallen away from the church. Like many others, she insisted that she was Catholic, yet she followed very few of the church’s teachings. Another “Half-Cath” I had dated once said about converting to another religion “You can’t just pick and choose what you want to believe”. It was okay to choose what you considered to be a sin, but not okay to go to a church where everyone felt the same way. .

I enjoyed Mass. Emma tried a Baptist service with me once and just couldn’t take it. People wanted to talk to you and were friendly, the service ran far too long. She said “I want my religion once a week in a thirty minute dose”. So we would walk over to Saint Nicholas (yes, that was really the name) and do the Catholic dance, and on the way home I would explain what the snippets of scripture actually meant in context.

On father’s day one year I opened the missive to see which scriptures they’d be discussing, and there was Matthew, 23:9. “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven“. A small smile crossed my face. “I wonder what Father John will have to say about this?” I thought. Father John was a charming guy, I genuinely liked him. He had a powerful presence, and a strong voice. If you watched The Sopranos, he was very reminiscent of Uncle Junior. He read the scripture, and then went into an incredibly unrelated sermon. I wasn’t sure exactly how I would approach the discussion on the way home.

Emma helped. Even she had noticed the lack of connection. So I began with “you have to figure that you’re not getting the entire meaning when the scripture begins with the word “and”, don’t you think?”. When we got home, we went over the entire chapter. I’ve reprinted the most relevant part here, but the entire chapter is not very long.

23 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

How amazing is that? It’s all about hypocrisy, and focusing on the hypocrisy within churches. Depending on your beliefs, these are the words of Christ, spoken years before the creation of the Catholic Church, or it is a fiction, created by the Catholic Church. Either way, the Church was aware of these words, and decided to create a hierarchy separating the faithful from God, and to call their teachers “Father”. Perhaps it is this scripture alone that is responsible for the Church keeping the Mass in Latin for so long, and frowning upon individual Bible study. Perhaps. I have another theory that I may or may not discuss on a later date.

I’m sure I’ve said it before and will most certainly say it again in the future. If you can handle a novel you can read the New Testament. At 138,020 words, It is longer than “A tale of Two Cities” and shorter than “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. It is very close to exactly the average word count of the Great Novels, which is 136,604 words. You don’t need someone else to tell you what it says, read it yourself. Church is like Cliff Notes.

Read the book. That was the writer’s intention.

Dancing with Shiva

I’m going to “reblog” articles that haven’t had many views, this one is from 17 April 2013

KBlakeCash

Change is not something most of us embrace. We get comfortable with things the way they are, and it seldom occurs to us that improvements are available. That’s largely due to the fact that we don’t really take notice when things get better, only when they get worse. So change gets a bad rap.

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Ham’s was a little bar just off base, right outside the Bellevue gate (stumbling distance). In a brotherhood of acronyms and abbreviations, Ham’s was called “Building H”. Besides, having the Colonel overhear you saying “meet you at the bar” doesn’t sound quite as professional as “There will be a briefing at 1730 in building H”. Yeah, the old man thought we were working late.

Ham’s closed a few weeks ago, it was a family run place, it’s been thirty years since I was there last and it was old when I arrived. I guess Ralph ran…

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Instant mashed potatoes

Cooking is an art. Two people can follow the exact same recipe, with ingredients and equipment of equal quality, and yet you can tell the two dishes apart. Tonight, I’m turning squid into calamari. I’ve never cooked squid before, but they looked so interesting I had to try them. Lieve is still a little put off by the appearance of raw octopus, so this is a first step.

In the protein aisle of the grocery store, I noticed they had mashed potatoes. Not instant mashed potatoes (well, maybe they were) but ready to serve mashed potatoes. I only assume that the culinarily adventurous will warm them in a microwave rather than consume them cold.

I was trying to imagine the target consumer. Walking down an aisle filled with things that require cooking, this product seems out of place, in fact an anathema to the other items. You can pick a channel on television at random, and you will either have a sports program, a cooking program, or a “making bigger fools of themselves” program. Who exactly is buying pre-mashed potatoes?

I know that I enjoy food too much. That is not a comment on my increasing mass, it is a reference to actually identifying and describing the aspects of food that I enjoy. I had thought the woman I used to live with who could only describe a wine as “good” or “not good” was an aberration, then I met my step children, who can only describe their desires as “something good” or “something healthy, like Monster and Slim Jims”.

I like to make Creme Brulee, and not just because I get to play with a torch. I make different flavors, and the Chai is infused with the proper whole spices, the vanilla has actual vanilla bean, the espresso has real espresso, made with Kimbo coffee. When I would make chili, the spicing of the oil in which the meat was cooked was as important as the chilies and meat itself. Beers are to be enjoyed on the same level as wines, and bread is best when made at home.

Packaged, pre-made food, has lost its freshness. It can only be stale or filled with preservatives, which add nothing to flavor.

A few years back on the television program Top Chef, Carla Hall made it clear that her most important ingredient was “love”. There is no love in pre-mashed potatoes. “Love” was the ingredient that took Carla to the finals, when she chose to make for Chef Jacques Pepin a plate of peas. Nothing more complex than peas, and love.

It’s easy to remove yourself from life. We take pills so we can eat things that we can’t digest, or cause heartburn. We buy prepackaged food so we don’t have to make a real meal. It’s so convenient that we don’t need to eat together. I have seen kitchens that were designed for nothing more than heating frozen foods and making coffee. The kitchen, and by extension the dining room, were supposed to be family gathering places. Parents taught children how to cook, lives were discussed over a meal.

The “crumbling” of family values doesn’t happen all at once. It happens one brick at a time. If you saw the World Trade Centers collapse, you saw the upper floors go, then the increased tension caused the floors beneath them to fall. The process was steady, the floors crushing each other from the top down. We’ve taken enough bricks out, and now we’re crumbling.

It’s bad enough that kids don’t know where meat comes from. They should at least know what a potato looks like.

Measuring equivalence

A few years back, I was in a discussion about the meaning of words such as “equal”, “equivalent”, “identical” and “same”. All those words appear interchangeable, but they are not. A substitute, by definition, is not the real thing. The question was asked, “If a boat leaves the harbor towing a barge containing all the parts to build the same ship, and during the voyage every part of the ship was exchanged with the parts on the barge, is it the same ship when it returns?”. Yeah, it’s amazing what you’ll talk about when you’re incredibly bored.

My step son isn’t terribly interested in attending school. He’s clever, and the phrase “if only he would use his powers for good” comes to mind often. Students are required to attend class, as well as get passing grades, in order to graduate, and there is a specific number of absences that are allowed. My step son knows that number. As far as he is concerned, that is how many vacation days he has during the year.

Schools are dependent upon funding, and funding is dependent on attendance and  passing grades. So, if you were motivated by keeping your job in the school district rather than by educating young people, your goal would not be impeded by a bunch of lazy kids who won’t pay attention in class. You would develop ways of moving the kids through, year by year, until they weren’t your problem anymore. I would suggest at this point that my step son is smarter than the system, not that it’s doing him any good.

All the numbers here are for example and only approximate reality.

Let’s say that the number of allowed absences are eighteen (per semester, over three weeks of missed classes). Let’s say that my step son missed twenty classes. Bummer. All that playing the averages with grades is about to go out the window (the kid could, does, get A’s, but only to balance the D’s he gets in the classes he’s not interested in). But not so fast, how can the school maintain its status if students don’t graduate? Oh, you can “make up” the missed time. Not the missed classes, or the missed information, but the time. So after school and on Saturdays, he spends his time in a room full of other kids who missed too many classes, surfing on his iphone. He “makes up” the time he missed, the school gets paid for “instructional” hours, and he graduates with a High School Diploma, which is literally worthless in the job market (for obvious reasons).

Somehow, when the school tells you that spending an hour in a classroom has the same value regardless of whether a teacher is present, it says a lot about the value of a teacher being present. You might come to the conclusion that the classes you did attend were equally worthless. Which in this case is probably true.

This would happen when I worked in the Philadelphia Schools. During inclement weather, school would stay open until one o’clock. The only reason was that if they were open until one they were paid for a full day. It wasn’t any mystery, they had to hold the announcement until twelve thirty, otherwise it would have been “obvious”. How obvious was it that regardless of the weather, school never closed at any time other than one?

My step son goes out into the world “knowing” that there’s always another chance to get by. His impression that school was simply incarceration and not education is reinforced. Should his children decide they would like to succeed in school and actually learn something, there won’t be a cheerleader at home cheering them on. There won’t be anyone to help them with their homework. If he should choose to attend college (he’s been accepted to the only school he applied to), he does not possess a secondary school education. He has learned how to get past a course, not how to pass a course.

If he were a slouch, I would be the first to say so. But he’s not, and had he been allowed to fail at some point he would have accepted the challenge and done what it takes to pass. Instead he was given chance after chance after chance. I don’t believe the world that is waiting for him will give him anything approximating the same leeway. I pray that the world waiting for him is not the same that was waiting for me, he would never survive.

It’s not that he’s alone. There were scores of kids at the school when we picked him up. And his school is not unique. Princeton High School has been investigated for falsifying attendance records. Test rigging is being investigated in Camden NJ and Atlanta GA, among other places. I had a colleague who used to say “You can’t manage a squadron into battle”. You also can’t manage a class into education. The profit in education is an educated generation. These are the people who will be paying in when I’m collecting social security, I’d like them all to get good jobs.

I know there are many dedicated educators out there, but they are outnumbered by “union members” and bureaucrats whose only interest is the money they receive. As bad as teachers are paid, it’s actually pretty good for babysitters. If we are to pay good teachers what they are worth, we need to cut the teachers who are motivated by their pension. Unrealistic goals, such as one hundred percent graduation and zero failing grades, undermines instruction.

Teachers are rarely less intelligent than their students. It seems everyone has figured out how the system works, at least how to make it work for themselves. The sad thing is, it doesn’t work. Unless we intended to prepare our kids to fail, without providing the tools to deal with failure.

If that’s the case, we’re doing a great job.

Menopause

If you have been following my blog, you are aware that I choose titles that rarely directly reflect the subject of the article. The reason behind that strategy is my desire for you to actually read the article. I have noticed people commenting on articles on every forum from NPR to FaceBook, and it appears that very few have actually read the article. Knowing that your readers have the attention span of a squirrel leads to writing titles that will give enough of a glimpse of your article that they will either be drawn to read, or at least will remember the title and your byline. For instance, consider these recent headlines:

Study: Menopause All Men’s Fault

Men ‘to blame for the menopause’

Men Force Women Into Menopause

You might fairly guess that all three articles were based on the same study. You might even correctly guess that all three articles were written by women. Taking into consideration the first two answers, you might guess that no refuting claims or even discussion was presented. You’d be wrong on that one, but in an analog world you would only be partially wrong.

While the discussion segment of the study doesn’t come right out and say “Based on the sexist and oedipally confused views of the authors”, it might as well. The correlations to other studies, and their use as corroborating evidence, are questionable at best, but the fact is that further research in this area is not likely to attract respectable biologists, so there will be no flurry of dissenting studies. Besides, this is a popular finding, and as with global warming, popular trumps accurate.

Popular? Of course! Regardless of your sex, those headlines started a conversation. You smiled, and either thought “Oh great, one more thing that’s my fault”, or “Oh great, something else I can blame men for”. At some point in time, science went from a source of education, to a source of vindication.

So as long as we’re on the subject, I’m a big fan of menopause. So are most of the women I’ve known. There are few things as life as annoying as a monthly period, some of them being the absence of a monthly period, or having a weekly period. The peace of mind that being free from birth control brings is another of the benefits of menopause. Sure, there are a few months when your loved ones think you’re losing your mind, but this just improves communication, because they always thought you were close to the edge. It weeds out the flakes, you know who your true friends are. Of the women I have been intimate with during menopause, only one actually lost her mind, and it wasn’t much of a loss for her.

Menopause is a biological function. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Your menopause will occur when you run out of eggs. If there were to be an evolutionary function, women with more eggs would produce more offspring who would produce more eggs, so menopause would occur later in life over the millennia. In no way are men involved in that process. I would guess that the women who wrote these articles have not reached menopause, and do not know the peace of accepting their place in the universe, preferring to see themselves as victims.

I had no desire to have teenagers at this age, much less infants. The process is supposed to be children move out, and bring their offspring to brighten your afternoon, and then take them back home. It’s not that I don’t like children, I just don’t want to go through all the steps again. I liked Afghanistan, but I have no desire to return.

So here’s the point. We live in an information avalanche. We want to stay informed, so sometimes we just scan the headlines. If this is going to work, we need writers who can capture the finer points of a study and determine if it’s worth reporting, then write about it in an accessible fashion, and then write a headline that reflects the reality of the research. Should the menopause study have been reported? Absolutely. It should also have been explained. Instead it was sold out. Exploited for headlines. So in the middle of this information avalanche, we’re distracted from productive research with misreported nonsense.

“Infographics” and “memes” are substituted for research. This is the natural evolution of “teaching the test”, we neither teach nor encourage understanding a subject, we just need the correct answer for the test. This is why an engineer at NASA said a few years ago that we couldn’t build the Space Shuttle today because it was “too complex”. It wasn’t too complex in 1975, what do you think changed?

We’re not moving forward or even standing still, we’re sliding backwards.

Finding a job

I am not independently wealthy. Well, not by the measure of most folks, notably my father. I am independent, and I measure my wealth as my ability to remain independent, not in currency or possessions.

As graduation time comes around again, I see everyone asking the young graduates “what do you plan to do?”, so I know I’m not the only one still looking for ideas. There have been times that I have thought that I’ve done it all, but the truth is that would be neither possible nor even desirable.

After Emma died, my initial plan had been to follow her, but she asked that I not, so I respected her request. She must have wanted some time alone anyway. I had a relatively large sum of money, and had I stayed in my little apartment in South Philly, I projected I would not need any additional funds for almost ten years. All my life friends, relatives, and total strangers had suggested I write a book. I love the world of words, more so than photography, in that words direct the reader into a line of thought they had not considered, where a photograph may only do so to those whose minds are open to the possibility.

I remember three distinct “discussions” with my father in the Spring of 1977. One had was centered on the reason my father’s other son (the good one) had moved to California. Obviously it was my fault (it was, but not in the way he thought). He thought it was because I had pierced my ear and tended towards somewhat flamboyant ear rings. I must be gay (actually, the word he used was “faggot”), and he was too embarrassed to live in the same house. The truth was that I had seen a girl’s phone number next to the phone and called her, made a date, and then developed a relationship with her. The girl was one that my father’s other son was pursuing, I thought it had been a message for me. To make matters worse, she had only been talking to him to get close to me. So yes, he was embarrassed by my sexuality, but it wasn’t because of any ambiguous desires.

Another had to do with my yearbook. There was a practice of taking quotes and having them printed under your picture. My quote was “To be successful in a group, one must first be an individual”. I was greeted as I came home with “What the hell is this supposed to mean?”, as my father, a rugged individualist, explained the virtues of conformity, at a volume that shared the information with anyone who might be within one hundred yards. I admit I did not have a proper response, it was only later in life I would learn to ignore fury and remain calm. I explained my meaning, that one’s value to a group is in having a distinct set of experiences and views, but on this day he wasn’t buying it.

The third had to do with what I wanted to be when I grew up. My response was “Happy”. Not good enough, as he spent a great deal of time explaining the intricacies of happiness and how it was not a goal, but the product of reaching one’s goals. Just a note here. If you ever find yourself trying to tell someone how to be happy, you’ll be more convincing if you appear to be happy yourself. Fortunately I decided not to share that jewel of knowledge at that point, and left the conversation with all my teeth.

{To be clear, my father only very rarely struck me, and I love him very much. Many of his lessons were time bombs. When I was nearing forty, I came to understand him much better. From that experience, I learned to be patient with my children, they’re starting to close in on forty now so we’ll see how that works out. Although he said many hurtful things over the years, I know he always meant well. I inherited from my father some wonderful qualities, he is a genuinely good man.}

When Emma died, I found that I was no longer happy. Not much of a shock to anyone. But I knew the path to happiness was in removing myself from society, and writing was a great way to do that. Unfortunately those pesky desires were still alive, so I sought out companionship. For better or worse I met the most incredible woman, and left Philadelphia behind. I altered my budget and still had five years in which to get things going, but I failed to recognize the expense of an ex spouse. My experience had been that the female tends to be on the profitable side. Take notice, that “rule” is not written in stone.

So finances went from black to grey to pink, and I’ve been actively pursuing employment for the last few months. It’s been an enlightening process.

My first application was responded to immediately. An animal shelter was looking for an experienced manager, but they were non profit and couldn’t pay what I was asking. I didn’t care, I took the job anyway because I love working with animals. I could see some obvious problems but was assured I could change anything that would make the shelter run more efficiently. I had never had a prospective employer lie to me before. Not only was I not the manager, nothing was going to change, and even providing appropriate care was not on the agenda. I left after two weeks.

I had a couple of other second interviews, surgical instrument repair, copier technician, and pizza delivery, but nothing really fit. I took the job at the farm, and a week later they told me they were cutting back. I started cold calling companies, and although they were polite, I don’t expect a callback. The most interesting was Chuck E. Cheese, they have a fascinating pre-employment test (really, you should apply just to take the test), and the kid who interviewed me was interesting. I keep trying to explain that I have no expectations of making anything close to my previous salary, but they get a little quiet when they realize your age. As if the twenty year old they hire will stay for twenty years.

A friend recommended me for a position in home care, helping a quadriplegic woman around the house and cooking. Sounded perfect, we liked each other, I completed all the background checks and such, and when I called her back she said “I read your blog, and you didn’t tell me you’re moving to Belgium”. Well, if I can’t find a job I will do so sooner rather than later. I can’t commit for the remainder of my life, that’s something spouses do. She could have least complimented my writing.

At anytime else in my life, I would be perfectly happy to face the possibilities, to play whatever hand is dealt, but for some reason I feel I have more responsibilities today than ever before in my life. I thought I was freer than ever before, but I am far from it. So I am less than happy.
That is not to say I am sad, but a number of disappointments have left me somewhat depressed. That feeling that accompanies the realization that you are finished changing the world. I did what I could do, and felt pretty good about it, but it’s messed up again and I feel left out sometimes.

There remain adventures ahead, and the maturity to appreciate and find the humor and beauty in them. And I have a wonderful companion with which to share them.

Schrödinger’s Cat

Everybody loves the phrase, most don’t understand it. Some of us find the greatest humor in those that don’t know that they don’t understand it.

I find the best way to explain quantum physics is to use a blackboard. If you don’t know what a blackboard is, imagine a whiteboard that is black. If you don’t know what “imagine” means, you’re on the wrong blog. This is largely the reason that many people do not understand quantum physics, they don’t know how to imagine.

Begin, if you will, with the concept of “duality”. If you need help with that think of Batman. Now think of Bruce Wayne. Are they the same person? Now, as you are defining “same” in your mind, you understand the need for a blackboard. Pictures and videos are great tools, and a whiteboard is a poor substitute, but a blackboard is the very best tool. Time to stop whining, sorry, back to Erwin’s fondness for cats.

ErwinErwin Schrodinger at the blackboard

Dr. Schrodinger served in the Army Artillery in WW1, and despite (or due to, there’s that duality again) the horror of war continued publishing his work in physics. Imagine rats in the trenches of WW1. Kind of explains something, doesn’t it? When WW2 came along Erwin was back in Germany, but as a Catholic he was able to see the horrors of Hitler’s antisemitism (smart people are able to apply one situation to another, like why cats are good to have around the house even though there are no Italians shooting at you) and fled Nazism as it advanced through Europe. During this period, he considered duality. And they say that science isn’t inspired by life.

cat-chases-rat

The infamous thought experiment (because the man really did like cats, and would never use them in reality) is in itself a lesson within a lesson. Let’s start with the issue it explains (or not). When you fire electrons at a phosphorous screen, the screen lights where the electron strikes. If you’ve read this far you have seen a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) television, which operates by the same principle. If you place between the source of electrons and the screen a shield with a slit in it, the electrons will illuminate a band, like a reverse shadow of the slit.

single

Before we get to the part that confuses most people, let’s talk about something more calming. Like a walk in the woods. We come across a pond, and try skipping stones across the surface. As the stones skip they make ripples, and the ripples interact with each other. Because you have a lot of time, you notice that the effect is based on the distance between the crests of the ripples (frequency), ripples reinforce (amplify) each other when the frequency matches, creating a pattern, ripples of different frequencies cancel each other out.  You start to realize how you can prove the electrons are particles.

ripples 2nosync

So when you get back home, you cut another slit in the shield. Electrons, being particles of matter, should create two bands on the phosphorous. Oddly enough, they don’t. What you see instead is a pattern of bands. You think of the pattern of reinforced ripples on the side of the pond. If the electrons are traveling in a wave, they will display a pattern on the phosphorous, as they are coming from the same source they will be the same frequency. But they’re electrons. Little tiny things, not waves. You walk in the kitchen for another beer. When you open the refrigerator you find that laying the bottles on their sides wasn’t a great idea, as they come tumbling out on your foot, one at a time. Eureka! you say (I don’t like to use profanities here).

interferanceElectron “wave” pattern

While waiting for the beer to settle before opening it, you devise a way to get your source to release one electron at a time. Now you can watch the two bands form, as the individual little things can only pass through one or the other slit. As the interference pattern slowly forms, you realize that it is definitely time to open the beer. After the third beer you come up with an idea that would have never occurred to a sober mind. The electron splits, becomes a wave, passes through both slits and interferes with itself, then rejoins to be a particle striking the phosphorous somewhere within the interference pattern. You hook up a sensor to see which slit the electron(s) pass through. You fire everything up, and now there are two bands. You yank the power to the sensor and the interference pattern forms. You empty the beer over the power source and call it a night. The smoke and arcing scares the cat, so you feed the cat and open another beer.

double particles

In the morning, another thought occurs, one that could only happen during a hangover. The electron was both a particle and a wave, and it determined which it would be based on whether or not you were looking. Sounds like the work of a God who would teach you how to make beer but not provide an antidote for hangovers. You realize the difficulty in explaining this concept, the superposition of being two things at once, both a wave and a particle, just as the cat scratches the sofa. Can you tell where I’m going with this?

cat1

One thing that most people accept is that there are different rules based on size. No, not as in big bullies and small fries, or even that the small ship concedes right of way to the larger, but quantum versus human size. The actions that take place on the atomic level simply are not confined by the laws of the rest of the universe. In much the same way that a single brain cell is nothing by itself, but conscious when in a crowd of a trillion, and still useless without a body to provide a way to express itself, one electron does not behave in the same way that a few trillion electrons arranged into a box do. Where did you put the cat?

cat2

Schrodinger suggested that you imagine placing a cat in a box, with a bottle of poison that will open if an electron is emitted by a beta negative (electron producing) source. The odds of this decay happening are, for the purposes of this experiment, considered to be 50/50. You won’t know if the electron has been emitted until you open the box. So until that time, the cat is both alive and dead, you don’t know which. Once you observe, and know, there is no changing. The cat remains in the state it was in when you saw it as you opened the box.

cat3

The error, of course, is that there is no need to kill and not kill a cat. Superposition does not apply to objects larger than a molecule, although duality does, so the cat is either dead or alive, but not both. That is the lesson within the lesson. Batman and Bruce Wayne, however, are the same person all of the time, which is what makes both of the characters interesting. Duality is that mild form of schizophrenia that people find attractive.

michelle-pfeiffer-catwoman-batman-returns-400a-091907

Which is why you all love me.

Fear

I usually don’t tell people not to be afraid. Not because there is no reason to be afraid (sometimes there is) but because fear is irrational. Fear cannot be controlled, it can only be avoided. I worked with animals for a while, and having learned to avoid fear I was pretty good with the more aggressive ones. No matter how tough you are, if fear enters your system animals can tell. None of this is to say that I am fearless, or even brave. I just know when I can allow myself to display fear. With animals, it’s easy (for me), I’m bigger than they are. An animal usually judges how “big” you are by the distance between your eyes and the ground. He knows you’re bigger, and just wants to show that’s he’s dangerous. As long as you remember that you’re bigger, there is nothing to fear. It also helps to “speak” the language, don’t let your language betray your size.

I fear certain things. I fear losing loved ones, because I love them and want them near me. I fear falling (not heights, just falling), so I stay away from places from which I might fall. I fear hurting people, because I have learned that some hurts can’t be undone.

I do not fear death. I have no desire for a painful death, but I have no fear of leaving the living behind. I have a variety of opinions of what my consciousness will experience consist of once my body assumes room temperature, and none of them are frightening. Most are actually attractive.

Jesus speaks of fear in Matthew 10:26-31:

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

There’s a lot going on there. Jesus is advising his apostles that there is nothing they should fear on Earth, damage to the body does not compare to damage to the soul. He tells them that their souls are safe with God.

This would be the definition of bravery. To recognize the danger and also the value of the “reward”. It’s why people run into burning buildings. Without regard, most humans will risk their lives to save another. And that is what Jesus was telling his apostles. They might risk their earthly lives, but they would be saving the eternal lives of others. There was no reason to be afraid, because their eternal lives were safe.

It’s not difficult to be brave. As long as you know what you are, and what you are not, risking. It sounds obvious, but it does require consideration. Consideration ahead of time, so that you’re prepared when the opportunity presents itself. So take a moment now to prepare yourself. Compare the risk and the reward for a couple of things you might hesitate to do.

What risk is involved in telling someone that you love them?

Smiling at a homeless person and looking them in the eye?

Holding the door open for a stranger?

Doing the right thing?

Now you’re ready.

Just do it.

The Monochrome Set

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrank Zappa said “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. While the experience of music is certainly irreducible, it remains possible to alert others to opportunities. I recently saw The Monochrome Set live at The Record Collector. In the past, I wouldn’t have done this, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, regardless of how cool I appear, I had never heard of The Monochrome Set before. The fact that they are made up largely of ex-bandmates from Adam and the Ants, and influenced such bands as The Smiths and Franz Ferdinand had not brought them to my attention. Another reason would be that I would never have found myself in Bordentown New Jersey, in the back of a record shop, for any legal purpose. It took a friend flying in from Japan to introduce me to micro concerts, and The Monochrome Set.

Picture 1Photo by Yuko Shimbo

It was, to say the very least, a fascinating crowd. One of the great things about small venues (in this case there may have been fifty people present) is the interaction with the band, and also with the audience. No one was there by accident.

For some reason the video is only coming up as a link

I have come to enjoy smaller venues. We routinely visit World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, to the point that when I buy tickets, I know our preferred seat numbers (section 503, seats 3 and 4). This was the most intimate setting since I played basements back in High School. Despite that, Yuko wasn’t close enough (that’s us in the second row) and stood by the speakers. You can see her at 00:38 on the far left, holding up her camera.

As Zappa had mentioned, here comes the architecture. The Monochrome Set possesses what I love about this type of music, in that this type of music is beyond definition. “Post-punk new wave indie rock” is a little closer than “Avocado Helicopter”, but only a little. It’s not the kind of stuff I can listen to all day long and still accomplish anything, which is probably why bands that play music you have to actively listen to aren’t popular with people who accomplish things. As with most music, you can still dance to it, but the lyrics and the compositions deserve a good deal more praise than they receive. Their playing was so tight it made their relaxed look seem incongruous, which is part of the “post-punk” bit, kind of like salt and chocolate. You now know why I don’t dance about architecture often.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The band was, if anything, too approachable. Yuko wanted to introduce me to her friend Andy, the bassist, but one fan had brought a couple of suitcases filled with 45s to sign, and I was in need of a beer. Downside to concerts at record stores, no bar. There is, however a restaurant just down the street, Jester’s, and they politely stayed open for the post concert group. If you find yourself in Bordentown, tell the staff at Jester’s that you have a schedule to meet, and they’ll be prompt. Otherwise, you will receive service at a pace perfectly suited to a quiet little town.

I would be remiss were I to fail to mention the supporting act. A band that opens for another is always in an odd position, on this night Janet LaBelle opened. What a sweet young totally out of place act she was. While she normally performs with a full band, this night she was solo, primarily on electric guitar, but also doing several songs on the ukelele. Beautiful voice, skilled player, not too good at improvising, as when the store manager asked her to play a little longer before The Monochrome Set came out. I have no idea how music works in other people’s heads, but I liked her music. I may have been alone in that particular crowd, but at least one other person spoke to her during the break.

This weekend I will either see The Bush Tetras at Robert Drake’s birthday party, or Guy Campo at Yachtstock, or I’ll just rest up for next week’s Courtney Love show. It’s unlikely that I’ll write about any of it, I’ll be dancing.

The man in black

You may have noticed my last name. I wrote about the first two earlier, my last name has been a constant source of interest and humor. There is a certain balance to my eyes, that along with a tilt of my head says “Yes, we are related, thank you for being the three hundred fourteen thousand one hundred and fifty ninth person to mention it. You are proportionately interesting”.

When I was much younger, there were two other Cashes. Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay) and Johnny Cash. I was ever so happy when Cassius Clay changed his name, it helped in avoiding a number of schoolyard fights, and gave me a deep understanding of conscientious objection. I am proud of my twisted connection to Mohammed Ali, he taught me how to stand up for my beliefs.

So did cousin Johnny. Yes, through a genealogy I have never seen on paper, I am related to the Man in Black. For the longest time I didn’t really believe it, but my Aunt Bernay confirmed it a few years before she died, and it is not within my imagination that Bernay would ever stray from the truth. There are the similarities, watching the video “Hurt” is like watching a movie of my father aging through the years. But the most important thing is, if Bernay said it is true, it is true.

Johnny provided a number of influences. Many people at the time (and perhaps still) fail to realize his activist nature, even “Ira Hayes” missed the attention of the masses. Johnny spent time in prison, not as a prisoner, but as a performer. He was a long time advocate of prisoner rights. He was, like me, a complicated and difficult to read person. We both use it to our advantage, but it also causes some less than pleasant consequences.

Some of you associate me with a different “MiB”. I found the irony of being on both sides of the double entendre exceptionally humorous, even using it as a screen name on a couple of forums in which a few people knew my name, but most were just science fiction fans, and almost no one knew about the third connection. Which is one reason that I so adored “Griffin” in the film “Men in Black 3”.

Of course, being social in the 80s, I actually did wear black quite a bit. I continue to do so, when I worked with printers black was a natural, my friends who wore white were typically wearing black by the end of the day anyway. It suits my figure and personality, and works as something of a trademark. Our friend Yuko brought a gift of a narrow black tie with skull and crossbones designs from Japan, I’ll be wearing it at the next appropriate occasion (though not a job interview, to which I typically wear a black shirt and a Jerry Garcia tie).

Being a Cash has its benefits, we are an unusually friendly bunch, and always happy to meet relatives whether we know the lineage or not. Rat’s restaurant (named for the character in “The Wind in the Willows”) has Chef Shane Cash in the kitchen, and Buddy Cash and I probably wouldn’t have met had it not been for the name.

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So the other day, some friends were laughing about fashion faux pas, with an article about wearing black the center of the discussion. Imagine my dismay. I don’t pay much if any attention to “fashion”, primarily because I can’t be bothered to care about something that is less meaningful than the art of speaking to trees. What you think about what I wear  can only be important to me if I care what you think, and if you spend your days worrying about what people wear…well you’re off to a bad start. Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.

I’m the man in Black. 

Apples and Orangutans and Helicopters.

Sometimes totally different events can be compared. Usually the comparison is more about differences than similarities. Today we will be comparing Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. The three men have only a few things in common. First, they are all men. Second, they all held security clearances at one time. Third, they all released classified information. They are also all licensed drivers, but that has less to do with the subject than the fact that only one of them has grey hair.

The subject is, as you might have guessed, the third similarity, releasing classified information. For the record, let me state that with the exception of accidentally mentioning the size of the Syrian Navy at a cocktail party, I have never released, nor do I in any way endorse releasing, classified information. Any statements I make have been officially declassified by the Department of Defense.

How does something get declassified? Glad you asked. It starts with why the item was classified. Once the why is no longer relevant, or the secret is out and publicly verified, the Department of Defense (or whichever authority classified the item in the first place) may declassify it. They may down classify, moving something from Top Secret to Secret, or they may totally declassify, making the item true and verified by the United States Government.

“Wait”, you say, “even after something has been publicly verified it could still be classified?”. That’s right. Because in the world of intelligence, it isn’t true unless the governing authority says that it’s true. At one time I had to declassify a briefing from Top Secret to Secret, so that it could be disseminated to Congress. The acceptable method at the time was to produce two examples of the information that had been published in national periodicals. I used stories from Time and Newsweek, showed that it had already been reported and published, and the briefing was classified Secret. Why? Because providing the information in a briefing to Congress was stating that the information was verified by the Department of Defense. As far as the public was concerned, it was still an unverified report.

So let’s look at Ellsberg, our apple. Certainly the brightest of the group, PhD from Harvard in Economics. He published the Ellsberg Paradox in 1961 as his doctoral thesis. An excellent commentary on decision making in adverse conditions. Then he found himself in adverse conditions. While working at RAND corporation he contributed to a project concerning the decisions, and the conditions under which they were made, in Vietnam. Although Robert S. McNamara should be applauded for commissioning the project, Ellsberg couldn’t follow why it was classified Top Secret. There was no information about future strategies, techniques, or resources. The document was classified because of what it said about the politicizing of the war in Vietnam. It was the little boy revealing that the Emperor had no clothes, and in this case, the Emperor had the ability to muzzle the little boy. Mr. Ellsberg tried to get members of congress to discuss the “Pentagon Papers”. When they would not bring the issue to the public he gave the papers to New York Times. Maybe he should have read his thesis. Fortunately for Mr. Ellsberg, the government went so far overboard  in trying to make a case against a man who surrendered himself to authorities, the judge threw out the case against him.

Next is Bradley Manning, the orangutan. Bradley had at least finished High School, but seems to have had some issues locating a direction for his life. Unable to find a steady job, he joined the army. As Bradley’s case is still being tried, we do not have the perspective of history, but if my opinion matters, I wrote about him here on 4 June. Bradley, as an analyst stationed near Baghdad, found the environment so boring that he became involved with an online “greyhat“, who assisted him in downloading classified material. Bradley then disseminated this material to Julian Assange, who published them on a little known outlet called the World Wide Web. The information consisted of reams of documents, from diplomatic cables to troop movements to intelligence reports and estimates to the identities of resources. When he realized that the World Wide Web happened to be a world wide enterprise, and that his superiors were bound to have facebook accounts, he emailed his sergeant that he was “gender dysporic“, hoping to get moved back to the states. He really should have read Ellsberg’s thesis. He was literally hours too late, not that initiating a medical discharge would have protected him. He released information that has and will continue to cost lives.

So what exactly does Edward Snowden, the helicopter, have to do with these guys? Edward didn’t finish high school, but he was clever enough to find work with Booz Allen Hamilton. Edward found himself, as many do, disillusioned with the procedures used by various agencies that he was contracted with, and decided to talk about it. Edward didn’t say “what”, he said “how”, and “how much” information was being collected from “who” and concerning “who”. You’ve read the stories. He said that the government was collecting specific information that you didn’t know about on you and everyone else. He said he was aware that he was breaking the law and expects prosecution. Let’s say he hopes for prosecution. The released information was classified much like the Pentagon Papers, they didn’t want you to know they were watching you. The reaction by the public has been similar to the reaction at the release of the Pentagon Papers. The reaction of the government has been a little scarier, at least to me. Last night on the evening news it was reported that Edward possesses the identities of over one hundred covert resources. This information is completely out of sync with the information he released. I’m not saying that he could not have had access to it, I’m saying that a guy who says “the government is collecting data on you” is not the same guy who says “and here is a list of people who are spying in a different part of the world for completely different reasons”. What seems infinitely more likely is that a list will be “found” and “returned” to Langley, along with the bullet riddled corpse of Edward, right after his “suicide”, proving that he was unbalanced and dangerous.

The helicopter is more like the apple than it is like the orangutan. You may quote me on that.

A Belgian evening

godivaOn our first date, I brought Lieve a box of Godiva chocolates. I had the feeling I would be buying more in the future, so I picked up a “Chocolates Rewards Club” card. It is the only card I have ever worn out. And I’ve worn it out twice.

One benefit is that I receive emails for special offers and events. A few weeks ago I received an email for an event in Manhattan, at the Godiva store in Rockefeller Plaza. Sommelier Marc Stroobandt would be hosting a beer and chocolate tasting featuring Stella Artois, a beer brewed in Lieve’s hometown of Leuven. I forwarded the email to her, but really didn’t think we had the time to go up to Manhattan on a weeknight. It was funny, because there was a special gift of two Stella Chalices, and I’ve been trying to get the free chalices through Stella, but every time I try I miss the offer.

The other day, when I was mapping out my schedule for the week, Lieve said I had an appointment Thursday night. I couldn’t recall what it was, and all she would say was “It’s a surprise”. I didn’t press, I like surprises. Sometimes she’ll get tickets to a concert or make reservations for a dinner, we’ve both surprised each other. When I was timing out the evening on Thursday she mentioned “We’re going to Rockefeller Plaza”, at which point I was fairly sure that we were going to the tasting.

The key to this story is Belgium. With a population of just over eleven million, it is half as populous as the New York Metropolitan area. running into other Belgians is not quite as rare as you might guess. Lieve met one of her friends in England, where a mutual friend had done the “Oh, this is Lieve from Belgium, you must know her” bit. The friend then moved to the states, and was able to help Lieve locate a place to live when she moved here because she had already settled in Princeton.

“Sir” Stroobandt, (holding an honorary knighthood by the Chevalerie du  Fourquet des Brasseurs of the Confederation of Belgian Brewers and the  title of Commander in the Order of De Roze Olifant(Pink Elephant)) took an immediate fondness to Lieve (she introduced herself in Flemish), and spent a good deal of time with us through the evening. He asked if I spoke Flemish, and when I said I was learning he replied with the deadpan humour of Belgium with “Don’t Bother”. He gave us a special Stella bottle opener and a bottle of Leffe “for later”, then introduced Lieve to the crowd as a “Special Guest”. He signed our booklet “Making Belgium Proud in NYC”.

sommelier

After introducing herself, which is something a little out of character for Lieve, she said to me “We’re (I love the way she includes me) probably the only Belgians here”. Not so. We met another couple, Elisabeth, from Brugge, and Go, from Japan. We spent most of the evening together, talking about our various travels and cultural experiences. Sommelier Marc joined us between presentations.

We picked up some interesting information. The new Stella Cidre isn’t available in Belgium, but we might find it here in the states, the apples used come from Washington State. The most interesting thing to look forward to is a multimedia event that will provide the sights, sounds, and smells of Belgium during a special dinner. It will be premiering in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and is still in the production phase. Sommelier Marc took my card and promised to keep us up to date on the progress and dates for the event, expect to hear more once it takes place. And, we may be featured in the Godiva events section, we had a photograph taken very carefully by the Godiva rep, similar to the one at the top but with all our glasses facing the right way.

It was a wonderful evening on several levels. It’s always nice when Lieve does something spontaneous, it was a great event, the chocolate and beer were nice and I always enjoy meeting new people. In a week that wasn’t too sunny, this was a high point.

Brew day

My friend Tom has a number of interesting past times, one that I particularly enjoy is brewing. He’s a member of a brew club and often prepares beers for special events to fit the theme. He once dedicated a brew to Lieve and I, and named it “Ring of Fire”. I’ve spent the day brewing with him a couple of times, and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. In my opinion, all young people should learn to brew beer, as the process requires cleanliness from start to finish.

Last week we had a number of tasks to accomplish, and although my job is usually to stand by and call 911 if something explodes, I do enjoy observing the process, turning water into beer.

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Tom creates his mash in a re-tasked cooler. He places a mesh stand and cheesecloth in the bottom, then fills it with milled barley. One time the barley had been milled too finely and blocked the cheesecloth, we had to siphon the fluid (wort) out. If you drink beer, and have some level of discernment, you are most likely aware that one of the more ingredients is the water. It’s mentioned in advertising less these days due to the way that national brands tend to be brewed at multiple locations, and there is no “Rocky Mountain Spring water” in Georgia. Tom uses water that he brings home from his parent’s spring in Upstate New York.

hot water

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The water has to be heated to a precise temperature. Brewing is, among other things, chemistry. The correct temperature allows the proper enzymes to break down the barley. Then it has to steep for the optimum time, maintaining that temperature. After the wort is ready, it is transferred to a larger pot where it is boiled, this is essentially where the “cooking” takes place. There is no unimportant step or ingredient, and you can destroy the product at any stage, but this is where the beer maker places his signature most boldly. Time to “get hoppy”, during the boiling, hops are added (in cheesecloth). Specific hops, at specific times, in specific amounts. This is often a secret part of the recipe.

hopswort

Now the wort is ready to be fermented, but yeast requires much lower temperatures. Tom ferments in glass bottles, which are first meticulously sterilized. Brewing is also agriculture. Anything other than yeast growing in the wort can produce a variety of results, from bad flavors to poison. Yeast, like the hops, barley, and water, is an element that creates the beer, not only flavors but appearance and feel. Specialized strains of yeast produce different brews.

finishedyeast

Once the yeast is working, it’s time to allow the fermentation to take place. The yeast grows and eats the sugars and other carbohydrates in the wort. it produces carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and alcohol. The yeast falls to the bottom of bottle, and the bear is siphoned into a container in which it can age. This is when the beer can be tasted! It’s not finished yet, but there’s an indication of it’s direction. We had a previous beer at this point the other day.

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In a few weeks, the beer can be served. Tom doesn’t usually bottle, he serves from home in a “kegerator”, a refrigerator with a tap to the beer kegs. He transports small quantities in “growlers” a half gallon bottle.

There are a variety of words that can be used to describe making beer. Brewing, building, creating, and cooking are all parts of the process. Some people do it for fun, some do it for the science, some do it for the art. It’s an interesting process, typically performed by interesting people.

Conflicting desires

Psalm 34:16 The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

There are times when we seek to rationalize our desires, and are tempted to go “all Old Testament” about something. In the Old Testament, God was much more severe than he is in the New Testament. Life was harsher, there was a need for black and white situations. We continue to struggle towards a more civilized world.

In America, our justice system allows for the penalty of death in some circumstances. Last year we executed forty three people (name one…). With fewer executions and more people condemned, the population of “death row” has swollen to 3,125. In most cases, this allows us to forget about them, and either be merciful or allow them to eventually die while appealing their case. Case in point, Richard Ramirez, “The Night Stalker”.

Our conflict in this case is our desire for swift and absolute justice, and errently putting an innocent person to death.

Matthew 7:  Judge not, that ye be not judged.For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

It is not our place to decide life and death, but we do have the need to remove threats. From a financial point of view, it is no longer less expensive to keep a prisoner for life than to execute him/her. The expense of appeals, both financially and emotionally, is a weight in excess of life imprisonment. But these decisions should not be made by such standards, we are, after all, providing public service, expense is not to be considered.

It has occurred to me that the appropriate sentence should be “Dead to the world”. This would be life in prison, without the possibility of parole, and without access to the media. No book deals, no film deals, no interviews. The sentenced would cease to exist in the eyes of the world.

This is what Yoko Ono desired for the murderer of John Lennon. I do not celebrate John’s life on the anniversary of his death, but on his birthday. I do not speak (or write) the name of his murderer. I cannot remember the name without some thought, which, other than right now, rarely happens. Ramirez had suffered a similar fate, in that he had faded from memory, Manson, on the other hand, never goes away.

By sentencing a person to “dead to the world”, we erase their memory from the Earth, but there is no opportunity to make an irreversible decision.

The best of both Testaments.

 

Age appropriate video games

A segment on ABC news, discussing the use of tablets to entertain babies, threw me a little, until I realized they were talking about ipads. Then I was really confused.

It would never occur to me that a four hundred dollar electronic device would be an appropriate plaything for a toddler. Not even for the three minutes it took the child to destroy the thing.

Some children are placed in front of tablets as early as ten days old. This is not the same as watching television as you give the baby a bottle at 3AM, this is literally a video babysitter. No doubt there’s already a babysitting ap. Not only is this replacing human contact, it is replacing the desire for human contact. Babies that are exposed to tablets end up preferring the screen to their mothers.

Many of us have bemoaned the lack of social skills in the age of social media. We recall the idea of “outside“, that place where things grew out of the dirt, and bugs and lizards lived. The place that had baseball diamonds, or maybe asphalt. The place that a growing number of preschoolers rarely see. The place that might actually ease ADHD.

In fact, studies have indicated a link between video games and ADHD. Why would anyone want to get them started earlier?.

We may have reached an evolutionary tipping point. Women, mothers and particularly pregnant mothers, have always been protective, if not overly protective, of their children. The “mother bear” analogy is first in our minds. Yet lately that seems to be changing. Listening to a BBC report on the controversy surrounding paint fumes during pregnancy, the thing most astounding to me was that there is a controversy. Alright, there hasn’t been any research completed, but why take the chance? My wives were the healthiest they had been in their lives when they were pregnant. They stopped drinking and smoking, ate properly, and took every imaginable precaution.

Watching the segment on the news, no one mentioned the use of television as a babysitter, instead they pointed out the hand/eye coordination benefits. In fact, they mentioned one study that indicated the effectiveness of video in teaching children, as young as nine months of age. That is in spite of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s official recommendation is no “passive screen time” for children under two. Let me say that again. The American Academy of Pediatrics says no video, not even Sesame Street, for children under two. There is no such thing as an “age appropriate video game” for a nine month old.

When my children were ten days old we couldn’t put them down, yet there are people who would place their ten day old child in front of an ipad? Did the child become boring, or was the child bored of the parent? I know that I look at life and relationships differently than most people, but if you don’t have time to hold and raise your child, why did you have a child in the first place?

When did our priorities shift from raising healthy kids to having twin SUVs? One thing that stood out to me was the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown Connecticut. There was an argument over armed guards in schools. We have armed guards in banks, but not schools. Kind of indicates which we consider more important. In its website on “How to select the best instructional video games for your kids”, Epica games credits the author of the piece with “Sarah is a qualified journalist. She has written many articles on free kids’ games, including the best games of 2013 and games to enhance a child’s education.”. “Qualified journalist”? Does that means she takes dictation?

Somewhere along the line, we switched from seeing 1984 and “Brave New World” as cautionary tales and began seeing them as instruction manuals.

Racism

Warning. This post contains words that some may find offensive.

The word “racist” gets used a lot. More than it used to be. I use it to display when actual racism is taking place, hoping that someone might notice what the word actually means. The job gets more difficult as language becomes meaningless.

Merriam Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. That’s the way I interpret the word. A racist would be someone who has that belief.

Recently, and by that I mean over the last decade or so, a new definition has come to light. Check out this definition from the “Urban Dictionary”: “If you’re a white man, this is what you are. It doesn’t even matter if your wife is black and you have an adopted child from India, or how many black friends you have, somehow you’re going to end up being a racist according to how the media portrays the white man as “racist whities”. All of this is funny because the white man is the one that is stereotyped as being racist, which is hypocrisy at its best. It’s racist to assume that white men are racists( emphasis mine). If you don’t get offended by racial insults, then you’re apparently racist too, but an actual racist would get offended by it. When you hear a certain word too much (I’m sure we’ve all heard “cracka” hundreds of times thanks to standup comedy) then you become desensitized to it.” This appears to be the new standard.

In the early 90s Spike Lee said “Black people can’t be racist, only white people are racists”. That has slowly turned into “White people are only racists” as in “All white people are racists”. As suggested by both the Merriam Webster and Urban Dictionary definitions, such a statement would in itself be racist.

The new definition of racism is that it requires prejudice and power, so “racism” is institutional. By that definition, individuals couldn’t be racists, but never mind, this wasn’t ever going to make sense. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I have any power. To assume such would be racist.

The real truth is that like any other insult, the actual word is meaningless. Which is sad, because real racism does exist, and there’s no way to identify it.

Think about profanities. Wouldn’t any father be a “Motherfucker“? Unless you take the time to think that the phrase initially referred to Oedipus. Other curses have developed into similar non-insulting meanings.

I was recently taken to task by a person who felt insulted by my use of the word “racist” in the blog titled “vegetarians”. She felt that I had misapplied the meaning. I thought that being Korean was a race, and that attacking Koreans for their cultural practices was racism. I was surprised, because I was under the impression that the word is so often misused and overused that no one took it as an insult anymore. You can read the conversation on that thread. She was certain that no animal rights person could be a racist. That’s the kind of blanket statement that could be interpreted as racist in some applications.

One of what I would call the benefits of the Obama administration is the dilution of the word “racist”. After calling everyone who didn’t vote for Obama a racist, and then calling all Republicans racists, they had called enough people racists that were most definitely not racists, the word meant next to nothing. That is not necessary a good thing, it would be nice for words to have meanings so we could communicate, but losing an insult might be a step in the right direction. Most recently the democratic chairwoman in Louisiana, a woman who most probably has actually encountered racism in her lifetime, made the following statement.

So racism is about disagreeing with one policy of one man. That seems to be about as far from racism as you could get, if the word wasn’t just a reworking of “Cracker”. It’s just an insult, a sound without meaning other than “I don’t like you”. The card has been played so many times that it is the only thing transparent in this administration.

We’ve done the same thing with other words, “Retarded” used to mean “Slowed”, so that “Mentally Retarded” was a clinical term. Calling someone retarded as an insult became so common that people who were actually retarded became insulted. Sorry, but that’s genuinely funny. The term will be changed in the ICD-11, and has been changed in official usage, but in ten or twenty years that word will be used as an insult as well. “Homophobe”, a term I’ve never felt portrayed its meaning properly, has become so politicized and overused that it has lost meaning, which was “anti-homosexual” and not actually “afraid of homosexuals”. We’re getting there with “terrorist”.

I prefer that words carry meanings, otherwise communication becomes more and more difficult, but insults fall into a category of undefined exclamations, like “ouch”. They should be regarded as having just as much meaning.

You’ll know if I intended to insult you. I use the word “Wanker“, because I like the way it sounds. And because it really annoys one particular wanker.

 

 

 

 

Depression

I’ve heard it said that all great writers are depressed. Watch out Hemingway, here I come.

I have always been a “look on the bright side” kind of person, but my ability to see all sides of an issue always had me aware of the dark side as well. I just ignored it. I told myself that was part of the life drive, to remain positive at all times.

I know my brain isn’t always honest with me. I don’t carry many unhappy memories. I can remember things that were bad, they just don’t inhabit my daily experience. If I don’t think about them, on some level they did not happen. At least the pain they caused did not happen. For instance, there was a period of my life that I remember rather vividly. It was filled with exciting events and good friends. If I really focus on it, I can remember the hell I was living in and how very close to death I came a number of times, how those good memories comprised a very small percentage of the actual tour. As long as I don’t focus on it, it was a really good time, but if those memories were in my mind all the time I would not be much fun to be around. Maybe I’m not, and everyone is just patronizing me.

When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis my neurologist mentioned that depression could be a symptom, and that fifty percent of people with MS get divorced. It occurred to me that fifty percent of people who get married get divorced, so I didn’t let it bother me.

When my second wife and I were later considering divorce, I went to a psychiatrist. My wife had told me I was crazy and I was looking for a second opinion. The psychiatrist asked me about my childhood and such, and then told me that I was very depressed, because I had had such a traumatic childhood. Really? I just couldn’t believe it. I had never thought of my childhood as anything other than good. My parents rarely beat me, we did happy family things, we were moderately well off financially, what was traumatic? He said it was because my family had moved so often and my parents divorced when I was thirteen. Lots of kids move about, hadn’t he ever come in contact with an upwardly mobile family? Or a military family? This was in 1994, wasn’t divorce rather common by then? It just didn’t make sense, but I’m not a doctor so I took his word for it.

My mother told me that depression ran on her side of the family. My grandmother had been bedridden for the last ten years of her life, and my grandfather took care of her twenty four hours a day. They never appeared outwardly to be depressed, but yes, I could see being depressed under those circumstances. She said she was “clinically depressed”, which I later discovered was a way of saying a doctor had confirmed that she was depressed. Well, so was I then.

A few years later I had a really bad incident, and started taking an anti-depressant, and it worked rather nicely. The only problem was that it interfered with my ability to enjoy alcohol, and working at a winery I needed to be able to drink on a regular basis, so I left the winery. That was more depressing. No win there.

I’ve gone back to the anti-depressants, having learned how to adjust the dosage when needed, and my daily depression has largely subsided. I still have days when I just cry for no apparent reason, and depressing events can get to me more than they “should”, and I tend to be much more emotional than I used to be, but I can tell that the pills do have a positive effect. My current psychiatrist is either a really good actor or he believes I’m handling the ups and downs rather well. He doesn’t tell me I’m depressed, he asks if I feel depressed. I usually don’t. On the other hand, I know that if I allow myself to laugh out loud at disasters he’ll want to give me something a little stronger. So maybe I’m the good actor.

All in all, I know I’ve weathered storms that have sunk others, I know I can make it to tomorrow. I also know that I have depression. I just try not to suffer from it.

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning’s trial began Monday, three years after his arrest. There are allegedly a number of ways to look at this case. I disagree. I feel the same way about Jonathon Pollard.

The stories are similar. Both men transferred classified material. Pollard, a civilian Naval Intel Analyst, was also working for Israel, our ally. Do you keep secrets from your friends? We do, and with good reason. Kim Philby. You may not recognize the name, but Kim was a British subject, member of MI6 and various British services, was also under the employ of the NKVD and KGB. He was able to use his contacts to transfer American Intel to the Soviets. From him we learned we can not police other agencies, so some information should not be shared. There are things we don’t share with Israel, and vice versa. It continues today. Just recently Mossad operatives were using covers as CIA operatives. That one really pissed off the folks at Langley, they had been using Mossad identities as cover.

Pollard’s defense was that we should not keep secrets from our allies. Had he read his copy of the National Security Act, or any of the dozens of documents he had signed in obtaining a security clearance, he would have known that he did not possess the authority to declassify material, or to determine to whom he may release such material. Oh, that’s right, he had. He was working for Mossad. But he had the best of intentions.

Right about the time Pollard was pleading guilty to espionage charges, Bradley Manning was born. Bradley had an interesting childhood, his father was with Naval Intel, and his mother was from Wales. When his father left the Navy and took a job in IT, the traveling associated with his job led to marital problems. After his parents divorced, Bradley moved with his mother to Wales, returning to the states when he felt that she was too ill to cope with him. He enlisted in the Army, and despite a variety of issues, received a TS/SCI security clearance and was deployed to Iraq in 2009.

Bradley has an odd personality. I am not a psychiatrist, but his history shows a number of “stability” issues. He displayed a strong personality when he was younger, declaring himself an atheist and refusing to say the words “under God” when reciting the pledge of allegiance. He told friends in America he was gay, but in Wales denied it, then lived as an openly gay man before enlisting in the Army. He claimed to have a nervous breakdown in Basic Training, but fought being discharged.

Bradley decided that he should release classified material to wikileaks, because if only the people back in the states knew what was going on, they would put an end to the war. At least that’s one of his stories. Being a rather bright young man who created his first web page when he was ten, he didn’t know that www stands for World Wide Web. But of course nobody in Al Qaeda looks at the internet anyway.

Bradley Manning is essentially using the same defense as Pollard, that he was entitled to declassify and distribute classified information because it was the right thing to do. It was not. Information is classified for a number of reasons, many beyond the understanding of a twenty five year old private first class. He did not just reveal a page or two about a particular event, he released gigabytes.

The information itself covered a variety of issues. But back to why, if it matters, information is classified. If I know that you know something I only told one other person, I know how you know. Releasing information gained through human assets reveals identities, not only of the source but also possibly the handler. There is no due process for collaborators or spies during wartime. Bradley’s releases may have cost untold lives of intel resources. Some information reveals strategies. Knowing your opponent’s strategy allows you an upper hand. Bradley’s releases may have cost untold lives on the battlefield. Some information reveals capabilities and technology. Once again, Bradley’s releases may continue to cost untold lives, both military and civilian.

Some people feel that his punishment does not fit his crimes. Last I checked the penalty for treason is death. He was well aware of the offense he was committing and the consequences. He didn’t just walk in off the street and was handed reams of classified information. Despite his boyish appearance, he is not a naive innocent child. He is not a whistle blower. He is not a Grey Hat hacker. He is not a persecuted homosexual.

Bradley Manning is a traitor, and should be imprisoned until fully debriefed, then executed.

Not that there is any likelihood of that happening. Despite popular opinion, America does not execute many people, forty three last year in a country of three hundred million. The last execution for espionage was in 1953, the Rosenbergs. Most spies in America receive prison sentences, Edward Lee Howard escaped to the Soviet Union, Robert Hansen, and Aldrich Ames, are both in prison for the remainder of their lives, as most likely John Walker will be, even though his plea deal saved him from a life without parole sentence (it did not protect him from throat cancer). The Judge in Bradley’s case has already stated that his sentence will be reduced by 112 days due to his “harsh treatment” when he was arrested, I don’t know how that would work with a life sentence. The people he betrayed will receive no leniency, although if they are Chinese citizens their families will no longer be charged for the bullet used to execute them.

I take this personally. I knew some of the faces that Ames and Hansen erased, we will never know how many faces will never be seen again due to Bradley, but they may very well be faces that you know.

 

The trigger

The latest country to erupt in riots is Turkey (as I write, there may be another by the time this is published). According to the BBC, this began when plans were announced for a project that would include converting a portion of Gezi Parki, one of the “few green areas in Istanbul”, into a shopping plaza. I will not display the photographs here that I have seen of blood flowing in the streets.

As the BBC and other services noted, there is widespread anger against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The protests have spread throughout the country, including Ankara, Bodrum, Konya and Izmir.

One thousand miles away, more or less, the revolution in Syria is spinning out of control. Hezbollah and Hamas are the principal players in a war without borders.

Here’s why you should care. Summer is here. There is a correlation between higher temperatures and violent behavior. There are a large number of people here in America who are unhappy with the government, on both ends of the spectrum. We should be able to recognize that revolution for revolution’s sake is becoming a popular pastime. This is a post on Face Book from the opening hours of the riots in Turkey, already calling it a revolution.

Istanbul, now!
IT’S REVOLUTION!
Turkey
01/06/2013
istanbul
URGENT/SHARE IT!! Hello (R)EVOLUTION

I’m from Turkey and now there is a very serious riot going on in my country. Our government is tryin’ to destroy a very old park called GEZI PARKI in the central of Istanbul to make a shopping mall. But people resist it. The police uses disproportionate force on us. One person died, many are severely injured. Even the animals which are living on the streets got affected from the pepper gas and the pressurized water. Our TV’s don’t even mention about it. But there is a serious war going on. The only thing we want is to have trees. We don’t want the government to destroy the nature. Please share these photos in your page so that the whole world can know about our cause. We are making a revolution right now. Please support us.

Starting with the “Arab Spring”, when the Tunisian government was overthrown following riots spurred by the self immolation of a cigarette vendor, violent anti government protests have plagued the middle east. Seeing that it worked in Tunisia, protests started and then flared in throughout the region. Our own “Occupy Wall Street” movement spread nationwide. The Watts Riots in Los Angeles began with a traffic stop and resulted in five days of rioting, thirty four deaths, and thousands of destroyed businesses. They introduced the phrase “Burn Baby Burn” to our vocabulary. Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,  riots broke out in cities across America.

We can see this coming. Our government is more oppressive than it was in the 60s, our economy is worse, and the threshold for violence seems to be lower than ever. We are sitting on a powder keg.

One thing that the non violent among us have in our favor is the wimp factor of today’s protestors. I remember the 60s. I know the taste of tear gas, and what it takes to get a police officer to start clubbing people. I remember Kent State. The photograph below was posted yesterday with the caption “Excessive use of tear-gas by the police some minutes ago, Istanbul.”

tear gasFirst off, I can see the pavement. Secondly, what is the “appropriate” amount of teargas? Did you think there was going to be a revolution and no one would scrape their knees? One person posted a picture of the riots with the caption “This should happen here! Without the violence of course”.

Social media brings the pictures into our hands. Every “revolution” will be televised from now on. But cheering them on is not appropriate. Last year in Egypt Hosni Mubarek was overthrown, in favor of “Democracy”. The newly elected president now faces protests as well, the people not understanding that democracy does not solve every problem, or solve any problem immediately. A large number of people have started blaming democracy for their problems, much like the former Soviets had done immediately following the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union.

My call is for education. Educate yourself and those you love. Educate anyone who you have influence upon. Advocating violence will result in violence. You might try Matthew 26:52 “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”. There are things worth dying for, but choose your revolution wisely.

Grace

I started out with the concept of forgiving, and this is where it took me.

I would like to address “grace”. In many ways the two are connected. “Grace” is the ability to be tolerant, gentle, accepting and forgiving, among other things.

The scriptures offer guidance to grace, and forgiveness is suggested. Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” and Matthew 6:14 says “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” reinforcing the “Golden Rule” concept, how you deal with others will be how God deals with you, Matthew 7 begins “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”.

Hebrews 12:14-15 says “14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled”, advice to not let the past interfere with the present, and Hebrews 8:12 says “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” bringing up the idea that forgetting is equivalent with forgiving.

I try to recognize the weakness that caused the “insult”. If I responded harshly and no insult was meant, forgiveness is automatic. If someone didn’t realize that what they did was hurtful, forgiveness is easy. When someone continues to find new ways to do damage, it gets more difficult. There is a spectrum of situations, and on very rare occasions I have had to acknowledge that forgiveness will not be forthcoming. I’m thinking there may have been three instances that meet that description. When Jesus speaks to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 “21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times”.“, how do we know seventy seven times have taken place if we’ve been forgetting each time? 

We should not forget, but we should forgive whenever possible. If forgiveness is to cease blame, then blame was there initially, if only for a second. I’ve found that the greater the insult, the longer it can take to cease blame, so in that way we do forget the sting of the insult. Simply forgiving every wrong eliminates both the grace of the forgiveness, and the lesson (for in all things there are lessons) to the one who has done the damage. How could they be expected to stop if no one told them they are wrong?

Forgiveness is a gift from which both parties benefit. The transgressor receives the opportunity to learn from their mistake and better themselves, and they receive the example of an injured person displaying grace. The transgressed, if you can measure such things, gets the better end of the deal. He is freed from the burden of anger, and receives what I can only call a “pat on the back from God”, the fulfillment of doing the right thing. The nourishment of the soul.

That is what I would call Grace.