In Search of Truth

Diogenes was noted for holding a lamp during the day, saying he was looking for an honest man. He often disrupted the teachings of Socrates and Plato, by bringing food and drink to their lectures. He even criticized Alexander the Great to his face. He was a founder of the school of Cynicism.

Finding truth was like finding an honest man in daylight with a lantern. It’s not impossible, but the tools you use don’t help.

Many will say, “I know the truth when I see it!” There is an element of truth to the phrase. But does this mean that a blind person cannot know the truth? Does visible evidence guarantee truth? There are thousands of magicians that hope people will only use their eyes to know a truth.

A friend often uses the phrase “sufficiency of the evidence” in knowing the truth. Yes, but when is it sufficient? Don’t most people set a limit, and when the limit is reached, then truth is found. Is it the same limit for everyone?

“I know because I saw, I know because I read a book, I read three books, I took a class at a community center, a college. I know because I have a degree, I know because I teach, I know because I once knew for certain, and now I’m not sure!”

The worst of all proof is, “I feel it in my bones!” But isn’t that the most honest answer?

I’m not an expert on Bedouins, I’ve read very little on their culture, and spent less than an hour listening to a young woman explain the Bedouin life to a tourist group. Something did ring true to me during the discussion. Bedouins have embraced technology and the modern life. They have engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. but they also have a deep connection to the “good life”, the life of a tribe. Living with little technology, sleeping in tents, tending herds, praying, and drinking strong coffee. Simple truth may be found in a simple life.

The “good life” can also be seen as the intentional simple life. The world is often too much, and causes a confusion in value systems, “What is the value of this? Is this important? If I embrace this, will I be a slave to this in the future?” These are good questions.

Why do we need a written code of conduct that determines the truth of things? Because we have been given the gift (or curse) of rationalization. All things are subject to interpretation.

Life is sacred. What about war? What about self defense? What about the impact of one absolute right, when it conflicts with another absolute right? In our culture today we handle this by making one of the absolute rights as false. Both can’t be true, so one is false. Weirdly enough, that actually might be true, but it might also be false. What are we to do? How can we know truth?

Sadly, I go back to, “I feel it in my bones”. This is dangerous because I must be honest about the things that I’ve experienced, the things that I have read, I must know that I’ve looked at the possibility that I’ve been manipulated, or that I have not seen correctly, I must look at how much that I “absolutely know” something.

“I believe, help me in my unbelief”.

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End of Trip

Jerusalem

We have been back for two or three days. Somehow with the international date line, we may have missed a day. The last few days were a blur but I will try to summarize.

It was a great trip, a worthy trip, a life changing trip in ways that were unexpected. It’s not fair to say that I was a tourist, although I’m sure the visa made that distinction. It’s also true that I was not on a pilgrimage. The truth was somewhere between.

We did many things that are on the tourist list, the ruins, the churches, and the camel rides. We also made pilgrimages to places that we have read in scripture, and our intention was more spiritual than touristy.

Mostly it was about places and the feelings that came with it. Not very scientific, feelings are difficult to analyze. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was historic and important, the Garden Tomb felt right. I can’t prove that either is the absolute reality. Yeshua was buried somewhere, and rose as the Savior.

The walls of the city were impressive and evoked feelings, does it matter that most of the walls that we see are from the Ottoman Age?

The conflict between the Israeli and Arab citizens is real, does it matter that the living conditions are remarkably the same?

The Green Line to the north with Syria, and to the west with Jordan is quite distinct. Developed and green on the Israeli side, blasted and bleak on the other side. The land is the same, the people are mostly the same. Is it intentional? Is it the result of history?

I would have expected a Green Line in the Palestinian communities on the West Bank. We traveled several days throughout dozens of villages and I saw no physical evidence. Things seemed prosperous and normal. Was I able to “feel” a spiritual or political “Green Line”? Perhaps, or was it a preconceived state?

The last day was spent going to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. I have spent nearly fifty years reading about the event. Not every day, but certainly several weeks a year. I have at times lightly viewed all the available photo graphs, I have dived deeply into the written accounts. And certainly watched most of the cinema productions.

Still, being there in person, seeing what I have already seen, was overwhelming to me. I found that my steps were quickening, the displays were becoming more of a blur. Basically after three fourths of the display, I fled the building.

There were some things that I have not seen, but some were very familiar. I thought that I would have been inured, but I wasn’t. It was just too much information with no emotional break.

I’ve been told that anyone from another country, either business or political, cannot have a meeting unless first going through Vad Vashem. The country must be seen through the lens of the holocaust.

Fortunately the last stop on our tour was with the Joseph Project. This is a nonprofit that collects clothing, goods, and furniture to be distributed to all who are in need, regardless of political, religious or cultural differences. Most are brand new donated, some are slightly used, some things are broken in shipment and need repair, and some things can’t be repaired. We sorted!

It was very hot in the warehouse, I sorted boys underwear and kitchen items. It was wonderfully healing to give something back, and to bind the wounding of the mornings experience.

We had a farewell dinner in a Lebanese restaurant in an Arab village. Later we boarded a nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to San Francisco.

Apparently we flew over Greenland.

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The Ladder

Jerusalem

I’ve been here several days, and I will stay several more. It is a city of contrasts. In many was it is like most modern cosmopolitan centers. It has traffic, noise, the bustle of people. It also has history, and history upon history.

It is a destination of pilgrims of three faiths, it has ruins to ponder for everyone. It has places to worship and think about the historical events around that worship. It also has contention between faiths, and inside the faiths. It must make God wonder.

There is no better sample than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I’m not referencing the battle for the historical truth of the site. Helena, Constantine’s mother, came to the area during the 300s and asked where Jesus was buried. Someone said, “Here!”, and she built a church. It’s been there ever since. It’s hard to see that it was once outside, the church is big, and musty, and full of incense. Maybe it is the place, maybe it isn’t.

What is the most obvious truth is that multiple denominations are responsible to take care of the place, and over the last thousand years they have learned to mistrust and dislike each other, with plenty of shoving and fisticuffs to prove it.

The saddest proof is the ladder. The way to the church is narrow with twists and turns. When you finally break out into a court yard you can see a ladder on the second story just below a window. Apparently the window at some point needed repair, hence the ladder.

The responsibility of the church changed orders, the repair was finished, but the ladder remained. The next group refused to take it down, so did the next group. When the original group that placed the ladder came in charge, the other groups refused them the right to take it down, because they had not agreed to put it up in the first place. The ladder has been there around three hundred years. They have agreed to replace some rotten wood in the ladder, but they have not agreed to remove it.

It has become to me the symbol of man’s dysfunction.

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The Garden Tomb

Jerusalem

The city is filled with wonder, places of history, places suspected of history. When the British general Charles Gordon was here, he brought a piece of land that he felt was important. People had said that this was Golgotha, the place of the skull, and the site of crucifixions. There was a twenty foot cliff that had the impression of a skull. Today only the eyes and nose are visible, the mouth is covered by the construction of a tour bus parking lot. Apparently Gordon should ave purchased a little more of the land.

Today it is assumed that the site of the crosses was near the gate to the city, were people could see the offenders and abuse them if they wanted. It would probably be in the middle of the bus parking lot.

The main parcel that Gordon bought was the garden with a large family tomb carved into the cliff side. The entire area was a working garden with a wine press. Archeologists have found the remnants of a wine press. While the trees of the original garden were all cut done during the Roman destruction, there are many trees replanted, and some that may be sprouted from the roots of the originals. It is a lovely place.

Again, there is no direct proof that this is the place, but it feels absolutely right. I can sense that this is a place of peace and wonderful expectation.

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Three Things

Okay, I have three things to ponder; living water, being hopelessly trapped and living the good life.

I am currently in the Judean Wilderness, it’s not sand dunes, it’s ankle twisting, barren brown desert rock. It’s an intimidating place, made bearable because I am in an air-conditioned bus. I know it is challenging because about every hour we get out and try to survive 105 degrees.

One of the first stops this morning was the En Gedi spring and waterfall. There is nothing but blasted earth for miles in every direct. The only visible water is the Dead Sea miles away.

From the parking lot we have been told that after a short hike towards the ridge, we will find a spring and a waterfall. Yeah right!

Two hundred yards up the trail there is nothing. There is a creek bed but it is dry as a bone. I’m becoming dry as a bone. I would have turned around but wet kids in bathing suits kept coming at me,

Six hundred yards, and I could hear water running. The sound of water running means “living water”, water that can purify, water that can be used for religious purposes.

I see nothing, but I hear it underground, I walk further and there is a hint of water in the creek bed. The sound is greater.

Suddenly there is a rush of water falling twenty feet. The pool is quite small and maybe six inches deep. I want to take off my sandals, but I fear the pebbles will make me unsteady. I wade in and I’m immediately refreshed.

Its like the desert didn’t exist. The cells of my body are bloated with the living water. I am no longer desiccated.

Water is life!

The next morning we head to Masada. It was built by King Herod as one of four hidey-holes. Not a palace to live in, but a fortified refuge to hide from the coming trouble. I suddenly have some additional PTSD. It reminds me very much of Site R in Pennsylvania, except this hidey-hole was attacked.

When Herod died the place was occupied by a detachment of Romans. They were attacked at night by Jewish Zealots. The Zealots won and dug in.

The Romans had bigger plans afoot so at first they did nothing. Then in 70 AD the war began, the Temple was destroyed and all Jews were dispersed. Some of the refugees came and joined the Zealots on Masada.

Three years after the war was over, the Romans became aware of 900+ Jews living in Masada and declaring themselves Independent Judea.

The Romans couldn’t stand that, so they sent fifteen thousand troops and five thousand slaves, to take the place back.

The Jews did not surrender. The Romans built an eight foot wall completely around the fortress on the mountain. They built huge catapults to lob great stones to the top of the mountain.

The Jews splashed in the water cisterns, telling the Romans that they had something that they didn’t. Water!

The Romans began catapulting live slaves against the walls of the fortress.

The Jews had two or three years of food and water, stored there by King Herod. They first thought they could outwait the Romans. Then the Romans started to built a great ramp up the mountain to the walls. It took several months.

The Jews knew what was in store for them, it was death or horrible slavery. They were surrounded, they could not surrender and they could not escape.

Since the pay of the soldiers was the plunder and selling of slaves, the night before the Romans broke through they destroyed all their valuables in fire, then the head of each family slit the throats all his members. Then ten men by lottery, slits all the throats of the men.

Then one man slit the throats of the nine men. By Jewish law they could not commit suicide, so only one man had to fall on his sword. The Romans broke through the next morning but there was no one there.

We walked around the ruins and pondered living and dying at Masada.

The next stop was a Bedouin village. Bedouins have been in the land long before they were converted to Islam. Some older traditions still hang on. The tribe is the family, the village is a mix of multiple families, the city is a mix with everyone. The speaker wanted to emphasize that Bedouins are a modern people with technology, medicine, and business concerns. But she also spoke of the “good life”, the simple life of living in the tribe, living in tents, and moving to better pastures. No electricity, no refrigeration, and no technology. The Good Life!

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Golan Heights

This is a place of conflict. Conflict in the past, and likely conflict in the future.

We were brought to an outpost that looks over the natural path for an invasion of Israel from Syria. It was used in 1948, 1967, and 1973. The last actual conflict occurred in 1974. Yet, the Golan Height title implies tension 24/7.

Golan Heights is a place of cherries, Druze bread, and a cool breeze.

The echoes of violence is still present. It brought forth a feeling that I haven’t really felt since the DMZ in Korea in 1973.

The tension of waiting for something to happen. How will I react, will my training overcome my fear?

Looking out towards the cease fire line lets you know exactly where it is. It’s called the Green Line because the Israelis farm the land right up to the fence of No Man’s Land. On the Syrian side there is nothing but mine fields, desert, and scrub brush.

It is a depressing sight.

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Peter’s House

The church in the air. I am in Capernaum, the famous village on the shore of the Galilee Sea. It is the town of Peter and his fishing home port.

There is a ruin of a Beit Knisset, or synagogue, and a collection of house ruins nearby. One is called the house of Peter. Interesting that we know this because the area had a continuity of families until Helena came visiting. The people had no difficulty in pointing out Peter’s mother in laws house, because it has always been so. An octogon church was built surrounding the foundation stones. It lasted several hundred years, then fell into a ruin.

A thousand years later Israel came into existence. They did not seize private property so the church kept their property. The ruin of Capernaum was being uncovered by the church and the government.

The church had a plan to build a large church with the house of Peter as the centerpiece. The Israeli government allows the possession of property but ancient ruins can’t be touched. They said no!

A compromise was to build a church over the house but suspended on pillars. The house remains underneath and untouched.

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Galilee

On the shore for several days. Ruins, boats and a kibbutz.

Largest body of fresh water below sea level. It’s the truth, but I’m not certain of the meaning. Clearly in scripture this was an important area. Even in a rough land this area was considered the Wild West, or the Wild North.

I ponder the way of the foot. It was a long time without water, but the sea was fresh, and the Jordan flowed in and out of it. The paths of humans did not stray far from it.

It’s curious about the echoes of the past in the dust of the trail. How many footsteps, sandals owned by who, traveling for what purpose.

So much fresh water, so much dry desert scrub.

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Nazareth

Many people believe that something unique happened here. They believe that Joseph, the carpenter had his shop here, and raised his family. They believe that his wife Mary was visited by an angel and something wonderful was told to her.

Nazereth is a city of churches. It’s a very modern city today, most of the ancient ruins have been carted away or covered by construction. There are no ruins for tourists. There are churches!

The two major churches are both named after the Annunciation to Mary. They both claim to be the exact spot where God’s angel stopped to tell her about her future son. The older church (1700s) is Greek Orthodox. The newer church (1990s) is Ronan Catholic. They both claim to be correct, and play politics to gain more tourists.

Interesting that some scholars say that the title Nazarene may not mean someone from Nazareth, but someone that made an oath like Samson.

There is a truth, but it is one of those cases where the opinions of some makes up for the unknown facts.

Helena, the mother of Constantine, the Roman Emporer, took a tour of the Holy Land. She was a devout Christian and wanted to see the places she read about in scripture. This was several hundred years later. Once she arrived she simply asked the locals where did this happen, they said, “Here!”. She built a church.

Hey, it happened somewhere, does it matter that it may not be exact?

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Acco

My readings of crusader history always mentioned Acre. I did not know that it was known before, and later, as Acco.

We are in Acco, on the shore of northern Israel. The area is beautiful, the sea is warm, enticing, there might even be a cool breeze periodically.

Acco was the last stand for the Latin Kingdoms that began with the crusades. Almost three hundred years of fighting, conquest, and defeat, ended here at Acco. It was an issue of math.

The knights were few, the Moslem armies were greater.

It could be said that the crusaders were never meant to be successful here. The land was vastly different from their home countries. That might be true, but many crusaders eventually were born here, generations never knew the Europe their fathers came from. This was their country now.

Pushed out of Acco they fled to Cyprus, pushed out of Cyprus they went to Rhodes. They fled Rhodes to go to Crete. They left Crete to finally end in Malta, where they stopped the advance.

We spent a few hours in the medieval fortress at Acco. It was dark and dank inside. The humidity from the sea was ever present. The vaulted ceiling could have been from any country in Europe. They brought their architecture with them.

This was the golden age of defensive walls, before gun powder. They did have catapults hurling great stone with force, but not the wall busting ability of artillery.

Sometimes I have felt the presence of history. The voices were long silent here. Too much wind, sand, and nearly a thousand years of neglect.

They have worked to bring it back, swept away the debris, but it has left the place clean of whispers, with little memory.

Still, I’m glad to have walked the halls.

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Via Maris

We are on the famous Via Maris, the Way of the Sea. For thousands of years, people, traders, and armies, moved from Egypt to Lebanon, and Phoenicia to Damascus, keeping the Mediterranean on the left, or the right, depending on if you were going north or south.

Today much of it is paved over with tar or gravel. It remains a major highway for the Levant.

Herod needed a port city to ship the wine, olives, and other produce back to Rome and other cities. There was only straight beach front, but Herod sunk barges of rock covered with Italian pumice, and that made an early marine cement. In a few short years there was a functioning harbor. Herod named it after the Roman emperor, and when the Romans took over Israel it became the provincial captital, sitting right on top of the Via Maris.

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Netanya

Landed in Tel Aviv on Saturday early evening, I bet it took two hours to get off the plane, through passport, and through baggage. And then it was another hour to get to the hotel up north.

We are on are way to Caesarea and Mt. Carmel. This is close to Phoenician turf. Weather has been great, mid 80s. In Switzerland this week it was 95. Ha!

14 hours on the plane, a two hour nap in the hotel, and now I’m wide awake. I need the six hours of sleep before heading off on the tour tomorrow morning.

Gotta say this hotel room is amazing. Two bedrooms, two baths, huge living room and a good size deck on the 15th floor overlooking the beach. Go Ramada in Netanya.

The sun is rising now so maybe my internal clock is connected, because I’m awake when I could be sleeping. Stuff to see, stuff to do.

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Spinning in Less Than a Week

In less than a week, actually in four days, we will climb into a tube, breathe recycled air, rise in the atmosphere. and the Earth will spin beneath us. It will spin showing us the Sierras, it will grow dark spinning the high desert, the Rockies will be a line of dark peaks, the plains a quiet sea. The cities of the midwest will signal us with with lights, we will go on past the coast that is East, and have the Atlantic spin beneath us with whitecap tops. The sun will rise,and the sun will light the coast of Europe, it will be French,or perhaps Spanish. The sun will be close to setting over the Mediterranean when we have Asia spinning beneath us. We descend in our tube after fourteen hours and we arrive in Tel Aviv, Israel.

It’s a lot of spinning.

For ten days we will be in a series of buses, hotels, deserts, and historic places. We will likely return changed people, tired, sunburned, eyes that have stopped blinking. I’m looking forward to this.

Every year at Passover, we say a prayer after the Seder, ‘next year in Jerusalem”, well, this is the next year. It will be a packed ten days. And I will try to document it with images and words. At least that is the plan, I’m taking enough technology to require a camel, and if somehow that fails, I have a sketchbook and pencils. (If I remember to pack them).

This might be an odd thing to do at 70, and on the backside of a heart attack. Meh!

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Fear the Intermittent

Something has gone wrong. It’s okay, nothing works forever, it isn’t a perfect world. And we have gifts, talents, abilities… We can fix things!

All we have to do is to have the right perspective. We need to approach the problem with an open mind, analyze the issue, look for the obvious, track the flow, watch for the break… Then we make the repair, replace the part, mend the tear, heal the wound.

Unless the problem is intermittent. I fear the intermittent.

This is unreliability at its worst. It is the father of instability, and for me, it is the birth of despair.

I want a world where I go to the car in the morning, I turn the key, and the car starts. It starts every time, until it doesn’t, then I fix it, and it starts again for another year or two. Then it breaks and I decide to fix it or replace it. Want I don’t want is a car that sometimes works, then sometimes doesn’t. I don’t want the intermittent flaw.

You can’t plan with intermittent flaws. Not that plans make sense anyhow. The world can change in an instant, we certainly need to approach things with a “God willing…” attitude. But intermittent throws a complete curve at you. It says that things aren’t working at the moment, but everything might be fine in a few minutes, and stay fine for several minutes, hours, or days. It’s maddening.

And you can’t fix it, because while you are looking for the break, there isn’t any. It’s gone, it mysteriously vanished. It’s the worst.

Cars, electrical appliances, anything that has three or more parts… all these things that are made can be intermittent. We just had a microwave go south, it passed through the intermittent zone on its way. It was interesting to watch. The first step was that the turntable would start to turn as soon as the door was opened. That was fine, I can adjust to that. The next time the door opened, the turntable turned and the microwave engine turned on. That’s not so good, the door acts as a shield for microwaves so that was a problem. Time to fix or replace the microwave. The next morning everything is forgotten and the door is opened, the light goes on, the cup of water is placed inside, the timer is pressed and the microwave engine starts.

Everything works like normal! My mind wakes up and I realize I’ve witnessed a resurrection. The microwave has remembered the years of faithful service, wants to continue being helpful, and has fixed itself. It works for several days, then stops dead. Complete heart failure. Because intermittent is not intermittent forever.

What is true for our appliances, for our vehicles, is also true for people. People are reliable as well, but there are times when an intermittent flaw appears. It’s not always there, but sometimes it is, and it’s hard to deal with. It’s hard to fix from the inside, and it’s hard to adjust to from the outside.

Unlike the microwave, the solution is not to replace the people. We live through the intermittent, we encourage, we find the stability of the past, and we try to extend that stability.

We learn to adjust, we learn to yield, we learn that intermittent means that this too shall pass.

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Father’s Day

It was a good day, all my children remembered, and wished me well. Mostly they remembered good things, some even great things. Some things were suspicious.

For a lot of years I had a later start in my day, so I made them breakfast and packed their lunch. They were not great breakfast eaters. Many times I had to deliver to their rooms if they ate anything at all. I suspected that my lunches were left in their lockers most of the time. Who knows what they ate?

One time, for somebody, I decided to pack a baggie of uncooked brown rice. That seemed a little light, so i also threw in a can of stewed tomatoes. No can opener. Nothing else. Later on i learned that my lunches were generally eaten, except on that day.

Sometime later i gave my son canned chili, no can opener. I am perverse.

Proof of that was the chicken feet incident. My wife had purchased a kosher chicken. She screamed in disgust when washing it for cooking. They had packed the inside with sweet meats and chicken feet. She asked me to take care of the extras. Later, when the kids were all in the next room watching TV, I was washing dishes and cleaning up. I said something loudly about the water being too hot.

Then I screamed in pain and said “Help me!”, the kids came rushing in. I had tucked the chicken feet up my sleeves, while grimacing in pain. I said I was perverse.

Then there was the mop head incident. It was some Saturday where the game was to follow Dad everywhere and bug him. I decided to duck into the garage. Sure enough, seconds later the brood was charging in. Except they found a tall creature wearing a mop on his head with outstretched claws. They fell back into the room in a ball.

Ah, Father”s Day! Good memories!

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Eidolons

At the moment of the physical death of the body, the ancient Greeks thought that the essence of the person was separated from the flesh. The eidolon.

First, we know that death is complicated. Sure, the heart stopping is clearly a good indicator that something big is happening, but not everything in the body dies on the same timetable. Apart from explosions and vaporizing, the body has a staggered evacuation.

I’ve had a thought that this two or three minute transition time is created so that we might pack up for the next event. Certain parts are not ready to go, nails and hair still want to grow, new skin cells still want their seven days.

It must be a horrible job to let everyone know that this is it. Certainly the electrical thoughts, memories, and feelings are watching the fading discharges. “Let’s get out before the bacteria gets us. They’re independent and have been waiting patiently for years. Let’s move!”

So, the concept of the eidolon is created. Somehow the lifeforce finds a way to split from the flesh, to travel on its own, but to where?

And what discharge timetable are we now on?

My thoughts dissolve in about a minute inside my flesh, how far can I get outside? What about GPS?

And for what purpose? To stand in mournful woods, and moonlit beaches? Providing wispy futures for those left behind? Why?

Nothing more is created, nothing is destroyed. Things can be made, things can be changed. Perhaps an eidolon is just change.

Change is coming… I don’t like it!

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Growing Old in Berkeley

I dunno, I think I was a sophomore in high school, so that would be 1964, or there about. I had spent the summer going without the monthly haircut. It wasn’t long by today’s standards but wow, it was long in Richmond.

That was okay, I saved the allowance and spent it on paperbacks. I was consuming paperbacks at a voracious rate.

Unfortunately my selection was determined by the library at “The Hole in the Wall” junk store.

I think the owner found most of the books in local dumpsters. I was buying books that had been thrown away. More importantly, I was reading books that had been thrown away.

I suppose science fiction was considered disposable then, because I found a lot of sci fi. This is how I found it useful to read everything by an author that I liked. Robert Heinlein was king.

Every now and then I would find something like “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts. Powerful stuff but I couldn’t find anything else by him. Then I found “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller.

Well now, banned in Boston and sexy as all get out. And sure enough, somebody threw out “Tropic of Capricorn”. I was on a roll.

One day I scored “Sexus”, “Plexus”, and “Nexus”. I had reading material for weeks. The books were no longer sexy but banned anyway. It seemed that all were published by Grove Press. I couldn’t find a local bookstore that carried Grove Press. A clerk mentioned the only store he knew was in Berkeley.

Berkeley was only fifteen miles south, but it might as well have been 400 to a non-driver who didn’t know how to transfer from a bus.

The junk store kept getting repeats of the thrown away books. I had to brave the bus lines to go to Berkeley. After looking at a map, I found a bus line that got me to University Ave. I could get off, and easily walk the two or three miles up to the business area where the bookstore was. Or I could get a transfer and take a second bus. I walked.

The bookstore was on Telegraph Ave., the center of the college student universe. I would buy a couple of books, then walk over to the campus to start reading.

There was a guy, a student leader, named Mario Savio, and some sort of “Free Speech” organization. They talked a lot to the crowd. I was intrigued.

For the next year or so, I went to buy books from Grove Press, read on campus, then protest on the edge of the crowd. I then got older.

At sixteen I was in the middle of the crowd, being pushed and clubbed, and tear-gassed. I got much older.

At some point I read a book by Henry Miller called, “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare”. It was first published in 1945 and was about Henry Miller taking a cross country tour of the US, from an ex-patriot’s point of view. Let’s just say that Henry had a unique perspective, long before Jack Kerouac’s, “On the Road”.

I thought, I want to do that! Then my English teacher told me about the Beats, and Kerouac. I was back at Cody’s bookstore for more education. I didn’t go to UC Berkeley, but I would say that I had my education on the streets of Berkeley, and Cody’s Bookstore.

I came of age on Telegraph Avenue. Sometimes now I think I grew older too soon.

I’m in Berkeley today, not much left from those days. Bookstores are gone and replaced. Coffee shops are conquered by Starbucks and Peet’s. Change is afoot, proving that I am older and remember too much!

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Sparky Left

The power is off… again!

The utility company warned us that it would cut power in case of fire danger. There is no fire, or fire danger. Power is just gone in a patchwork pattern through the countryside.

We have no power because something broke, and it keeps breaking.

What if we are on the edge of a general physics breakdown. That mysterious quality of electricity just stops flowing.

It can’t be all bad, we had civilization for a couple of thousand years and electricity for only a couple of hundred.

I think the problem is the name we gave it…Power! Going without Power seems disastrous. We have been kidnapped by our lexicon. If we had named it “sparky” it wouldn’t seem so concerning.

Today is the third day without power for at least most of the day, I’m doing powerless things while waiting for power. I’m napping, reading, and cooking thawed food. But mostly I’m waiting. Waiting for power!

I want power to freeze my frozen things, to light up my entertainment boxes, to shine light into the dark corners of my life.

Was life so different two hundred years ago?

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Please Yield!

Okay, so this is basic driving 101. If you hit a pedestrian you immediately fail the driving test. Seems fair.

If you fail to yield you also immediately fail the test, even if you didn’t hit anyone. Ha, and if you did hit someone the very first thing you will say is that you didn’t see him! Because you are not a psychopath, you would have yielded if you had seen them.

Not so…

A thing I have noticed more and more is the lack of yielding. Yes, on the highways for sure. If I know that the other car has a yield sign I know that it will be ignored. If it is a “yield” situation, never expect it and I’m safer because of it.

But it is viral and not in a good way, it has transitioned into everyday interaction between people. No yielding… it is weak, and you will lose something. What? If you yield in traffic (which you don’t) do you lose several pistons? Are you condemned to be in the back of the line forever?

First off, you yield because you see somebody. You yield because you put somebody ahead of you. Not forever!!! You don’t lose position in the social structure, you are not forced on the “B” list for parties. Yielding does not make you invisible! Yielding makes sure that others are visible.

Yielding reminds you, “that it’s not about you!”

Yielding takes practice, you don’t have to practice to be selfish. Yielding is living life artfully. Be artfull! Make Art!

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Next year in…

I have a headlamp. I haven’t always had a headlamp, but I was told I should get a headlamp. Because it is dark in Hezekiah’s Tunnel. I am going to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel… well, wade through the tunnel. There is water in Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

All this is happening because I will be in Jerusalem for the first week of July. Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. And Galilee. And Mt. Carmel. It will be a packed ten days.

It’s a shame that I can’t go to Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Italy, Germany, etc. I mean, once you have paid the price of fourteen hours in a plane you should go everywhere. Nope!

And ten days will still be too short. I will see the walls of Jerusalem. I will think of the Ottoman Turk workman who placed the stone where the Arabs had torn them down, where the Crusaders had built them up after they had torn them down, where the Byzantine had replaced what the Romans had built after they had torn them down, where the Jews had built them and called it Zion. I will see the evidence of history created by the people of history. It will be an exciting time.

Meanwhile, I struggle with the realities of July in Jerusalem. I am reminded of the adage, “You are what you carry!” Why is it that who I am is so heavy? I must be a lighter me. Go into backpack mode, trim the borders of my maps, shave my toothbrush handle.

Maybe I can leave most of it in the hotel, or bus. Are both of them air-conditioned?

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Colleagues

I’ve been thinking again,

Always a potentially dangerous activity. A friend of mine is considering retiring from the same college where I retired. He put in forty years, adding his years as a student. I put in forty years, adding my years as a student. No wonder we were/are friends.

It would be simple to describe the job as the things that we do, or in my case the things that I did. And often, when I think back, I do remember the details, the specifics. And clearly when someone asks what it was that I did at the college, I pick and choose, relating some aspects of my time there. But I also remember my mother. I have held at least a dozen job titles at the college, some of them related, but some of them are wildly different. When I asked my mother if she knew the latest career path that I was on, it was always the same answer. “Do you know what I’m doing now Mom?”. “Yes, you are working at the college!”

No truer thing could be said. It was amazing! If I had the money available I would have gladly treated my salary check as a bill, I would pay it in order to continue doing the work I had. I probably should have told financial services that.

So, what actually was the college? Certainly it was a place, and it would be natural to associate it with a building. But buildings change, they get old, sometimes they are torn down. The edifice that was my high school, is shattered brick in some landfill. Yes, there are memories of the bell tower and the ramps instead of stairs. But mostly high school memories are of people, classmates and teachers. It is the same with the college.

The problem arises when longtime staff no longer remember the shoulders that they first stood on. The college is people. First, it is the students, but they are gone in the blink of an eye. That’s as it should be, and it’s okay, because there are more coming. Fresh new faces with dreams and aspirations. It’s a little like a river, it’s water, always water, but it’s not the same water. And you can only cross a river once, no matter how many times you cross it.

And of course there are your colleagues, they are around longer than the students. They are the heart and soul. It is so appropriate that you have colleagues at the college. They also die and change. Some grow old and bitter, some grow quaint, some just get tired of fighting the same old battles. Yes, when I think of the college, it is not brick and mortar, it is my colleagues.

And like some battle weary veterans, I miss those that are shared foxhole members. I don’t know the replacements that show up. I can’t even remember their names. But I remember Sam Chapman, Pat Anania, Paul Pernish, Wolterbeek, Robert Pence (who always wore an ascot), Tarp, Orr, Horner, Oberst… so many others.

And they are all gone, the college I knew is gone. And one more member now is going to be gone. I miss them all.

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Voetica Poetry Spoken

I’m very happy with how the songs stood on their own, without the melodies.

Voetica Poetry Spoken
— Read on voetica.com/voetica.php

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The Women…

Their great-grandmother…

Their great great grandmother…

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What do I know???

Gosh, apparently it’s less and less as time goes by. Well, I once knew, but then I didn’t. In most cases it is not a matter of dementia. At least not yet! It is just that I had a certitude about things, and I find that the years have been chipping away at that. Since I’m not certain, then I can’t possibly know.

Some of those things were not exactly popular ideas. In fact, I found a certain popularity by being unpopular. I think this is a common thing for youth, although I may have carried some things into middle age. And now?

Well, hell, I’m long past middle age, but I only just realized it.

I recently read an interview of Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the occasion of his 100th birthday. The reporter knew full well of the background of the beat literary figure, and wanted to pry some nugget of wisdom after his long years on earth.

Ferlinghetti simply stated, “There’s a serious error that gets passed around, something about the older you get, the wiser you are. Well, it’s just not true, when you grow older, you grow stupider.”

There is something that is true behind Ferlinghetti’s statement, beyond the obvious dementia of an aging brain.

I find that “knowing things” requires a lot of passion. Passion takes energy. I am now in the mode of conserving energy for the really important things. Knowing social expectations takes energy. It takes energy to profess the “right” things, it takes energy to oppose the “right” things.

I am no longer a “firebrand”, I’m not even a burning ember.

Take capital punishment. I can remember that I once “knew” it was barbaric, a holdover from the Middle Ages. Then I remember that I “knew” it was a combination of deterrent and revenge, and I was good with that. And now? I don’t know anything!

Has every “social burning issue” been regulated to the ashbin? No, of course not. I give my opinions when asked. It’s just that I’m never quite sure what they are until moments before I answer. It’s lucky that no one asks.

Here is another example, “What about torture?” Don’t be idiotic, torture does nothing in finding the truth. You will say anything, and be anything if the right pressure is applied. Of course I’m against torture. I can see that I’ve joined a popular held belief, but wait… while I don’t believe in torture, I believe in the “fear of torture.” I’m much more likely to tell the truth if the consequence of telling an untruth results in being impaled. Wow, I’ve gone medieval!

I am so glad that no one asks my opinion.

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Abram

Who was he? Where was he? When was he? These are very good questions for the patriarch of three of the worlds great religions.

Unfortunately it is not clearly answered by the historical evidence. We have not found a cuneiform tablet giving Abram’s biography and the date when he left Ur. There has even been some suggestion that he wasn’t even at Ur in Sumer, but some other Ur up in modern day Turkey. It is worthwhile to revisit concepts in light of new research.

A very good paper written by Matt McClellan in 2012, brings to light several interesting findings in the current search for Abram.

For years I have been thinking of a narrative that made sense to me. I had placed Abram living in Ur of Sumer, because I believed he kept the core beliefs of literacy he learned in Sumer, while he traveled to Canaan.

Sumer had developed an alphabet and also had developed schools, called “edubbas” where scribes could learn to use the alphabet to write down lists, keep records, and write down cultural proverbs. All this took time, and much of this took place in the Early Dynastic periods from 2900-2330 bce, while it was still a growing Sumer.

The second part of the narrative was later when Sargon conquered Sumer, he did so as an Akkadian.

Akkad adopted the written language, the culture, and everything important in Sumer. The Northern barbarians became the ruling class over the Sumerians.

I had thought that perhaps when Akkad invaded Sumer they may have brought along some allies, such as the people of Haran, who lived next door.

This made good sense and was logical. We know that Abram’s father was named Terah, which appears to be a Sumerian root name. Wikipedia has 1678 bc as Terah’s deathdate, that’s a few years after the decline of Akkad.

As an ally of the Akkadians Terah and Abram would have been among the ruling class and well educated, and perhaps wealthy enough to take an extended trip back to their homeland in Haran. We don’t know how many generations were born in Ur, but they weren’t the native Sag-Giga.

Certainly they knew of the custom of having wisdom literature. While there are significant differences in content when comparing Biblical proverbs with Sumerian proverbs, the fact that both cultures had a history of wisdom literature is interesting.

Another literary connection may be in the Sargon biography story. SARGON became the first King of the dynasty of AKKAD. He was born in Azupiranu, (the saffron-colored city on the banks of the Euphrates). His mother was a high priestess, who brought him secretly into the world, placed him in a basket (made waterproof with pitch) and put him into the river. He was saved by a drawer of water named Aggi, who adopted him, raised him and taught him the trade of gardener.

This is very similar to the tale of Moses. Obiviosly if Abram was a citizen of Ur of Sumer before Sargon, then he could not have known about the reed basket.

So, I’m thinking that Terah and Abram were citizens after the fall of the Akkadians. They would have tried to fight off the barbarian Gutians, and perhaps helped push the Gutians back out to the mountains.

After the fall of the Akkians it would make sense that their allies might feel more comfortable going back home.

Everything works neatly with this narrative except for the experiences of Abram and the Cities of the Plains once he gets to Canaan.

Mostly the cities of Canaan were preliterate. We don’t have the useful King lists, because they didn’t write them down. We can’t find any correlation because no one wrote anything down. Except in Ebla!

The Ebla Tablets are a collection of as many as 1800 complete clay tablets, and 4,700 fragments found in the palace archives of the ancient city of Ebla, Syria. The tablets were discovered by the Italian archeologist Paolo Matthiae in 1974! They date between 2500 bce to the final destruction of the city in 2250 bce. It does appear that the archives were destroyed first, and the city went on for sometime afterwards.

The tablets were discovered just where they had fallen when their wooden shelves burned in the final conflagration of “Palace G”. The archive was kept in orderly fashion in two small rooms off a large audience hall (with a raised dais at one end); one repository contained only bureaucratic economic records on characteristic round tablets, the other, larger room held ritual and literary texts, including pedagogical texts for teaching young scribes.

Many of the tablets had not previously been baked, but when all were preserved by the fire that destroyed the palace, their storage method served to fire them almost as thoroughly as if in a kiln: they had been stored upright in partly recessed wooden shelves, rectos facing outward, leaning backwards at an angle so that the incipit of each tablet could be seen at a glance, and separated from one another by fragments of baked clay.

The burning shelving pancaked – collapsing in place and preserving the order of the tablets. remarkable!

The translation of the tablets went carefully and slowly. Because of this there were fantastic claims in connection with Biblical history. There has been some impact but most of the claims were wishful thinking.

Ebla was uniquely positioned to provide some evidence of the political structure of Canaan. It also had some interesting King Lists and a great list of cities through Mesopotamia. Of course the list of early kings had reigns approaching 40,000 years, so perhaps they weren’t that helpful. But the list has been helpful during the early Bronze Age.

The first big change is in rethinking the dating of Hammurabi. The first part of the 20th century everyone seemed to agree that Hammurabi was close to Abram and was around 2300 bce. Now, the current view is that Hammurabi is dated around 1780 bce.

Abram has been seen to be during the Ur III period, around 2100 bce.

Also, he is believed to be around 1950 bce. Yet another scholar places him in Canaan in 1875 bce. And Bishop Usher has 2136 bce.

The article by McClelland makes a good case of pushing Abram back to the Early Dynastic period around 2750 bce.

This would place Abram in Sumer when the first kings were establishing Eridu, Uruk, Ur, and Lagash. Perhaps they came as tough mountaineer mercenaries to help with wars between the cities. It could still explain why they wanted to leave Ur.

Either they lost or they won, but it was time to go. It cannot be ignored that Abram had much skill as a military commander.

I suppose there is nothing that forbids having two Abrams. 0ne that was an early mercenary that went back to Haran and on to Canaan. Then another Abram that stayed through the Akkadian Empire, absorbed both Sumer and Akkad cultures, then left to join his family in Haran and Canaan. And perhaps he was more widely known as Abraham.

One thing seems relevant. Abram was not a simple shepherd. He was literate, he was a tactician, and a leader of a trained fighting force.

When famine forced him to enter Egypt, it was a big enough thing that Pharoah took notice. Abram wasn’t simply a wandering family.

By the way, the Sumerian language developed in the early Dynastic period? It lasted as an official, formal language into the first century AD. That’s about 3000 years.

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The First Author

I have never really thought about who the first author was. I suppose I’ve always known that it was knowable, I just didn’t know it. Hmm, knowable. That implies that there are things unknowable. That seems to be a fact. Oh oh, what is a fact? Maybe it is really just an opinion. Can we operate in a world based upon opinions?

These are worthy questions but let me back up to knowing and not knowing.

Everything that can be known is divided in the world into two camps, the knowing of a thing and the not knowing of a thing. Which camp do you fall in? Obviously that depends upon the subject of the knowable. For example, let’s use Christopher Columbus. Who knows that he discovered America in 1492? There will be people who don’t know this. Some of these people knew it once, but then forgot. Some of these people heard this, but it never registered as a fact, some people never heard this at all.

On the flip side, some people know this because they visited Spain, looked at the archives, and read where he wrote the action and the date. We call this a primary source. We can’t be there directly as a witness, so the only way to “know” something is to trust in a “primary source” for evidence. It’s not an opinion, but it’s also not a direct experience.

So, yes, I fall in the camp of knowing that Columbus discovered America in 1492. I trust my sources. Not only that, I know that he discovered America on October 12, 1492. I know this because I trust the more complete information obtained by experts who read the original logbooks. Except the original logbooks were given to the Spanish Royalty in 1493, when Columbus returned, and they haven’t been seen since. Uh oh.

That’s okay because before they disappeared the royals commission a copy to be made, its called the Barcelona Copy and one was given to Columbus for his other voyages, and he had it in his possession until his death in 1506. No problem, the Barcelona Copy passed to his son, and Fernando used it to compose a biography of his father in 1538. In 1530 it was used by Las Casas to compose the Diario. This is the earliest document that can be found that tells us about discovering America. Uh oh, the Barcelona Copy has not been seen since 1584.

All experts are referencing the “Diario” as the only existing primary source. All history teachers are referencing other teachers who are referencing other teachers who are referencing other teachers who have read the existing primary source. This is how facts are known. Except that it is not a complete fact. America was not first discovered by Columbus. The Vikings are Northern European and they seem to have visited Nova Scotia hundreds of years before Columbus. There is some factual data in literature and physical archeological evidence to back this up. In addition, there is some who have an opinion that some Phoenicians were blow off course while rounding the coast of Africa, and ending up in Central America, bringing the concept of pyramid building to the New World. Not Europeans, but the Mediterraneans discovered America. This is still opinion, not a fact.

All this to say, is that the concept of “knowing” is very tenuous, and at various times the number of people that know something is much smaller than you think.

So today, I happened to revisit a website (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/#) that uses primary sources to publish the writings of Sumer. I’m interested in Sumer, probably the first known civilization, based upon the written record they left behind. I can’t read Sumerian, I recognize the cuneiform letter shapes, I have studied them. But when they are combined to form words, well, then I’m lost. I have to rely on experts who have learned to read the cuneiform. The good thing is that I have read several different translations and they are all basically the same. I trust their opinion and I have accepted it as fact.

I have previously posted in a blog a sampling of Sumerian Proverbs. It is a very popular blog post and continues to receive the most hits every year. So today I was randomly reading some additional translations from this primary source website. I came upon this translation, “My king, something has been created that no one has created before.” Well now, that piqued my interest very much!

This was composed from 37 different tablets found in Ur. It was written originally by Enheduanna, 2350?-2270? bc, the daughter of Sargon the Great, King of Akkad, 2340-2284 bc. We get the spelling of Sargon from the reference made in Isaiah 20:1, and that was referencing Sargon II, 722-705 bc. There is still some debate if this is accurate. It may be that Sargon should really be translated as Sarru-ken, meaning “king established”. Ha!, pretty much seems to mean a title, so we still don’t know his name.

Sargon was married to Taslultum, and they had five children. This is important because Sargon appointed each of his children to high positions in their culture. They remained in those positions through several generations. The children were Manishtusu, Rimush, Enheduanna, Ibarum (Shu-Enlil), and Abaish-Takal.

Rimush took his father’s place when he died, and he ruled for 9 years, then his brother Manishtusu took his place and ruled for 15 years. His son was Naram-Sin, and he ruled for 56 years. Apparently Enheduanna was appointed by her father as priestess of Inanna, and Nanna temples, served her father, both brothers, and even her nephew Naram-Sin. She had a long career, was exiled for a time, but reinstated by Naram-Sin.

In her role as high priestess, she conceived that it would be a good thing to have standardized hymn’s in all the various temples throughout the empire. It may have been this book of hymns known as “The Sumerian Temple Hymns” that Enheduanna was referring to when she wrote her father “I have created something…” That qualifies her as the first published author. While this was work related (ha!) she also published “The Exaltation of Inanna”, a personal devotion to the goddess Inanna. This would definitely establish her as the first published author that we know.

This is the first twelve lines of “The Exaltation of Inanna”

“Lady of all the divine powers, resplendent light, righteous woman clothed in radiance, beloved of An and Uraš! Mistress of heaven, with the great diadem, who loves the good headdress befitting the office of en priestess, who has seized all seven of its divine powers! My lady, you are the guardian of the great divine powers! You have taken up the divine powers, you have hung the divine powers from your hand. You have gathered up the divine powers, you have clasped the divine powers to your breast. Like a dragon you have deposited venom on the foreign lands. When like Iškur you roar at the earth, no vegetation can stand up to you. As a flood descending upon (?) those foreign lands, powerful one of heaven and earth, you are their Inana.”

I am glad that today I am knowing a new thing.

My intrepation

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16 Great Lines in Music

1. My friends are gone, my hair is gray, I ache in the places where I used to play- Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song

2. I wanna be safe, safer than I am now- Ilya Anderson, Personal

3. Second floor living without a yard- Feist, Mushaboom,

4. Beneath the stars came fallin’ on our heads, But they’re just old light, they’re just old light. Regina Specter, Samson

5. There are heroes in the seaweed, There are children in the morning. Leonard Cohen, Suzanne

6. Driving away from the wreck of the day, And the light’s always red in the rear-view. Anna Nalick, Wreck of the Day

7. Remember to let her into your heart, Then you can start to make it better. Beatles, Hey Jude

8. Six no-good men took her shine and more, Left her youth near Sausalito. Brooke Fraser, Jack Kerouac

9. Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m sixty-four? Beatles, When I’m Sixty-Four

10. It’s not even light out, Suddenly, suddenly, Oh, you’ve somewhere to be. Imogene Heap, The Moment I Said It

11. I got no plans I ain’t going nowhere
So take your fast car and keep on driving. Tracy Chapman, Fast Car

12. And so you see I have come to doubt,?All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you. Paul Simon, Kathy’s Song

13. Jimmy as if you didn’t know by now, Let me tell you a thing or two
Everybody might have someone
But everyone falls in love with you…Shawn Colvin, The Facts About Jimmy

14. If you hear something late at night, Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight, Just don’t ask me what it was. Tori Amos, Luka

15. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife. Alanis Morissette, Ironic

16. Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And all the things that you do. Coldplay, Yellow

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We Can Create Falsely

Humans are remarkable. We have the ability to observe reality and document its existence by writing it down, freezing it for all time. This includes the things we see in the physical world, and also things in the emotional world.

This ability can also be seen as something unchecked. We can “document” things that don’t exist! Or another way of saying it, “the only evidence of existence is in the content of our words”.

Examples? Hmm… All of scripture tells us that God cannot lie. Yet I can write that “God lies”. I suppose that is proof that I am not God.

Another example is when I write, “that thing is entirely hopeless”. It is not true! Hopelessness is not loosed in the world! But we can create the concept, we can deceive others into thinking that it is hopeless, by using words.

The more that I ponder the concept, I see that hopelessness is a false reality entirely created by man, either in frozen words or live action. Hopelessness is not in nature, it is a pessimistic view of reality.

How often are reactions based upon things that don’t exist, or more accurately, only exist in the construction of our thoughts and words? Truly, we are challenged to use discernment far more often than should be necessary.

What can we do about this? We can make a conscious effort to not be a party of the creation of things that do not exist. Ha, if only I had a good list to remind me.

Okay, the first thing is to make your own list.

1. In every challenge there is a seed of hope and encouragement.

2. Is it true? Or is it an opinion?

3. What is the evidence?

4. Is this something that I can know, or must I trust others?

5. My desire for truth is greater than my ego.

6. I practice to know the difference of when I am open or when I am closed. My desire is to remain open.

7. Our public posture should be positive, there is enough natural negative to go around.

8. Even the immoral can choose good.

9. Do not wait to be perfect.

10. It’s not about me.

11. Learn to yield.

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Hope

Such a simple word, and everything about it is complex.

The most famous of the Greek myths is the story of Pandora’s Box, or more accurately, Pandora’s Jar. (Jar was mistranslated to box). Hesiod is credited with telling the story of Pandora, who was given by Zeus to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. It seems that Zeus was still miffed that Prometheus had given humanity the gift of fire. Zeus had reasoned that a vessel that Epimetheus had would be compromised by the curiosity of Pandora.

The Earth was pretty much a heavenly place. Now that they had fire, people were quite comfortable. All the evils of the world were safely locked away in the jar watched over by Epimetheus. Pandora changed all that. She removed the lid and in an instant everything escaped the jar, except hope. Pandora replaced the lid, keeping hope contained within.

my take on Rossetti’s Pandora

When you look at this story it doesn’t make sense that hope was living in the jar with a ton of evil. In fact, there was a ton of debate in Ancient Greece about this myth.

Hope is also translated as expectation. There was the belief that containing expectation meant that humanity still had access to it because is wasn’t flying around the world. It does not explain why hope was in the jar with evil.

Another suggestion was that it wasn’t expectation, it was deceptive expectation! Now that makes some sense. It wasn’t hope trapped in the jar, it was hopelessness. If all the evils were loose in the world, at least hopelessness wasn’t with them.

The Greeks also represented hope as a young woman named Elpis. Often the hope she represented was related to some kind of suffering. If we suffer, then at least we have hope. Thank you Elpis!

Where do we find hope? It isn’t lost, it isn’t locked away in a jar (that was hopelessness). So where is it?

Many find it within their family and friends. The practical expression of hope is solace. Your family and friends are great sources of solace. They know your story, they know your challenges. Words and expressions from your family and friends are a great source of comfort.

Hope can also be found in the printed word. Reading scripture is obviously a wonderful resource. It is a good idea to know those passages that are already familiar. There are thousands that speak directly to hope, even if the word isn’t directly mentioned. This is a particularly powerful tool because it can be accessed by choice.

Another great source of hope is found in the printed word of your own journals. You may have to bring discernment, but reading your past thoughts can be either supporting, or a message of encouragement. I have always believed that journaling is the most powerful tool for positive change. And in that there is hope!

1. Establish a family tradition of prayer aloud when hearing sirens. People gather hope when there is evidence that there is caring for others.

2. Establish a family tradition of publicly offering a blessing over meals, not loudly, but not under your breath. People gather hope when they see that believers surround them.

3. Be positive! Notice how much that you choose to see, or feel, the negative. The truth is yet to be reveled but you choose to think the negative for defensive reasons. Don’t over correct and risk being delusional, but don’t create a negative reality out of fear. Our hope is our refuge, and we choose it first.

4. I am a customer at a coffee shop not because it is the best coffee (it’s still pretty good!). I go there because I am guaranteed to receive multiple smiles. Not enough genuine smiling going on in public. I am encouraged and hopeful because of a genuine smile.

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Challenges

I’d like to say that I’ve been thinking about challenges. I have not. I avoid the thought because I am completely overwhelmed, inundated, and surrounded by challenges. And the list grows by the minute.

The list ranges from, “Will I make odd sounds when I sit down? Will they be even odder when I stand up? Can I even stand up? Is there a plan for my life? Am I even close to the trail? Am I going in the right direction on the trail or have I somehow got turned around?

Alright, maybe I have looked a little at challenges. So what do I do about it, about them?

I could take the time to announce to the world the complexity of my challenge. I have a trick knee. It stops me from running because I never know when I will fall on my face. It is painful and debilitating, I have received compassion from many folks. Even one legged veterans! I can complain… I am allowed to be an idiot.

First, it’s not a bad thing to cover it all in prayer, several prayers. Be careful not to pray for the removal of challenge. It maybe the one thing that you need most. Muscle is not built by relaxation, muscle is built by exercise.

1. So, the first physical thing to address challenges is to show up. Gosh, that sounds so simplistic, but it’s true. Most of us have a natural tendency to react to challenge and stress by simply ignoring it. Make it go away, don’t look at it!

Showing up counters that natural reaction and positions you to take proactive steps.

2. The next thing is partly analysis and partly containment. Any good puzzle solver will tell you, “Find the edges, fill in the border.” This works because of two things, 1. You know where the puzzle stops. 2. It’s easier because the possible solutions are less in number.

I can’t emphasis the importance in finding the edges of any challenge. It contains the problem, gives it shape, and may give you clues to looking at the solution from a different angle.

3. And finally, seek help. Yes, we can often address our challenges on our own, but a deaf, dumb blind girl can also use some help in order to become Helen Keller.

Rethink! Maybe the first thing to remember is the fact that we are never alone. Yes, we can think that we are, and we can act as if we are, but that is not the reality. We are told, that as Christians, the Spirit is always with us. In Greek the term is Paraclete, standing along side, holding us up.

This Passover season I was once again reminded of the Israelites in the desert complaining. “I don’t care if we are free, I want to eat melons! There are melons back in Egypt!”

I have spent years thinking badly about the unfaithful and ungrateful. But here is the thing. They were challenged and they did not have help. In the Tanakh the Spirit existed and fell upon individuals, kings, and prophets and regular folk. The Spirit also left them suddenly without warning. Without the Spirit, they had no chance for help.

That is not the case for today’s Christian. The Spirit is accessible and you are not alone.

This does not suggest that you do not need help from others, or that you are not called to render help to others.

Challenges can be a group effort. Family bonds, friendship and accountability groups are all wonderful tools to assist in the solution. You might find that a rigid and monitored solution is best. You might also find that just a helping hand works wonders.

Know this, that you are not alone. The challenge can be defined and contained. The solution to the challenge is often the choice you make in how to react to the challenge.

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Encouragement

I’ve been thinking about encouragement for a few days. Actually, not true, I’ve been thinking about it for several years.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is an incredible healer in most, if not all, circumstances. Weirdly, most of the encouragement comes from people, and most of the discouragement also comes from people.

I’m not saying that prayer and reading scripture isn’t a great source of encouragement, and I’m not saying that media isn’t a powerful source of discouragement.

I am saying that we are being hammered right and left and we need help. Yes, we can be proactive and go to sources that provide encouragement. But wouldn’t it be great if a percentage of people up the ante, and provide spontaneous encouragement?

I have a friend who has memorized nearly seven thousand verses, he has pastored at least four churches over 30 years, and given a lifetime of faithful service… and it has now been distilled down to Proverbs 3:27. One thing!

Of course it is tangential to everything.

He feels his mission is to bring a public awareness to acts of encouragement. Yes, it does feel good to be encouraged, it is the healing to the most common wounding in the world. But interesting enough it is reflective. As you extend encouragement, it changes you, and healing occurs all around.

Be proactive! Are you discouraged? Extend encouragement to others and you will be healed!

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70 Quotes

I have done a little research in finding quotes for the list of articulate names, the names that I periodically drop. Some are famous, most are obscure. Several are very contradictory, but as Walt Whitman said, “ I am large, I contain multitudes.”

1. Homer- “Be still my heart; thou hast known worse than this.”

2. Xenophon- “The sweetest of all sounds is praise.”

3. Plato- “Love is a serious mental disease.”

4. Aristotle- “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

5. Herodotus- “The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over nothing.”

6. Moses- “Have you forgotten God? Even if you have, He has not forgotten you.”

7. Marcus Aurelius- “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

8. Ovid- “If you want to be loved, be lovable.”

9. Josephus- “Truth is a thing that is immortal and eternal.”

10. the Bede- “All the ways of this world are as fickle and unstable as a sudden storm at sea.”

11. Thomas Mallory- “We shall now seek that which we shall not find”

12. Dante Alighieri- “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!”

13. Niccolo Machiavelli- “Politics have no relation to morals.”

14. Marco Polo- “I have not told the half of what I saw.”

15. Lao Tzu- “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

16. Martin Luther- “Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”

17. St. Francis of Assisi- “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

18. St. Augustine- “Better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.”

19. Geoffrey Chaucer- “Time and tide wait for no man.”

20. William Shakespeare- “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

21. Hugo Ball- “…blago bung, blago bung, bosso fataka..”

22. Henry Miller- “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”

23. Frank Herbert- “Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”

24. Ann Frank- “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

25. Buckminster Fuller- “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”

26. Ivan Ilyich- “At the moment of death I hope to be surprised.”

27. Arnold Toynbee- “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”

28. Barbara Tuchman- “The unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard.”

29. Ayn Rand- “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”

30. Alexis de Tocqueville- “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

31. James Madison- “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. ..”

32. George R. Stewart- “Men go and come, but earth abides.”

33. Samuel Clemens- “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

34. Walt Whitman- “Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”

35. Gregory Corso- “If you have a choice of two things and can’t decide, take both.”

36. Lawrence Ferlinghetti- “The paintings may communicate even better because people are lazy and they can look at a painting with less effort than they can read a poem.”

37. Alan Watts- “rying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

38. Robert Persig- “The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.”

39. Richard Brautigan- “I’m in a constant process of thinking about things.”

40. Maya Angelou- “You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.”

41. Isabelle Allende- “Write what should not be forgotten.”

42. Franz Kafka- “You are free, and that is why you are lost.”

43. Nikos Kazantzakis- “A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.”

44. Sun Tzu- “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”

45. Paul of Tarsus- “…but we rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope…”

46. Siddhartha Gautama- “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

47. Edgar Allan Poe- “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”

48. Annie Dillard- “You can’t test courage cautiously.”

49. Dee Brown- “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”

50. Robert Heinlein- “Specialization is for insects.”

51. Kurt Vonnegut- “Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”

52. Jerzy Kosinski- “As I go to sleep I remember what my father said-that one can never be sure if one will awake. The way my health is now, this is becoming more and more real.”

53. George Orwell- “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

54. Elie Wiesel- The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.”

55. Carl Sandburg- “Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”

56. Jack Kerouac- “My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”

57. Giorgio Vasari- “It is the custom of Venice to paint on canvas, either because it does not split and is not worm-eaten, or because pictures can be made of any size desired, or else for convenience… so that they can be sent anywhere with very little trouble and expense.”

58. Leo Tolstoy- “If you want to be happy, be.”

59. Arthur Rimbaud- “-But I’ve just noticed that my mind is asleep.”

60. Kahlil Gibran- “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you.”

61. Voltaire- “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.”

62. Pablo Neruda- “Peace goes into the making of a poem as flour goes into the making of bread.”

63. James Clavell- “Always remember, child” her first teacher had impressed on her, “that to think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world.”

64. Steven King- “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

65. Ernest Hemingway- “In order to write about life first you must live it.”

66. Nathaniel Hawthorne- “Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.”

67. Tim Severin- “A truly awesome sight loomed up out of the dark just downwind of us – the white and serrated edge of a massive floe, twice the size of Brendan and glinting with malice.”

68. Leonard Cohen- “Yeah, my friends are gone and my hair is gray, I ache in the places where I used to play…”

69. Charles Dickens- “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

70. Ray Bradbury- “Life is trying things to see if they work.”

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Dropping Names

Homer, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Moses, Marcus Aurelius, Ovid, Josephus, the Bede, Mallory, Dante, Machiavelli, Marco Polo, Martin Luther, St. Francis, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hugo Ball, Henry Miller, Frank Herbert, Ann Frank, Buckminster Fuller, Ivan Ilyich, Arnold Toynbee, Barbara Tuchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, James Madison, George R. Stewart, Samuel Clemens, Walt Whitman, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Alan Watts, Robert Persig, Richard Brautigan, Isabelle Allende, Franz Kafka, Nikos Kazankakis, Sun Tzu, Paul of Tarsus, Siddhartha Gautama, Edgar Allan Poe, Annie Dillard, Dee Brown, Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, Jerzy Kosinski, George Orwell, Carl Sandburg, Jack Kerouac, Giorgio Vasari, Leo Tolstoy, Arthur Rimbaud, Kahlil Gibran, Pablo Neruda, James Clavell, Steven King, Ernest Hemingway, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tim Severin, Leonard Cohen, and Charles Dickens.

Whew, I just wrote until the names stopped coming, in a few cases I had to research the name by referencing the title of the book. I’m getting older and the connection between the two is not always automatic. But the list could go on…

This is my customized list of name dropping. I sometimes tap into it during a conversation, but mostly I go there with the written word. This is far better because I can do a little deeper research to include a relevant, or at least pithy quote. One must be careful not to overdo this. One or two name drops seems about right. More than that seems forced and pretentious. Ha! It’s all a ruse!

What is closer to the truth is that all name dropping is probably less than honest. So why do writers, or speakers, flee to this particular tool?

I can only search my own reasons, and none of them are very ethical. I was told that the “Fear of being found a fraud,” is universal, and almost as common as the fear of height.

It is a very power drive to establish credentials, or gravitas, when speaking, or writing. “I am not a fraud, here is my resume to prove my worth,” Awkward. Dropping a name or two solves several problems. If the name that is dropped is familiar, then there is an immediate connection. It is almost like an icon shortcut. Quote a famous line from a Star Trek episode and you have won over hundreds of Trekkies. Currently, I have seen quotes from The Office as a bonding agent.

It is also possible that this drives a further wedge, either because they actively dislike subject of the name drop, or worse yet, they have no idea what you are talking about. For example, I never watched the movie Twilight, nor have I seen an episode of Friends. Yet both are on some people’s name dropping list.

This use of name dropping doesn’t really have a suspicious motivation. We want to communicate better, we want to be understood, and maybe even effective. Making a connection with the audience is a proper thing to do. The difficulty is that there is another side of the coin. Name dropping can “gang-up” in the conversation. It isn’t just my opinion, but here is a quote from so-in-so that proves my point. Of course the context is rarely given so you don’t really know anything.

And in addition, the fact that you drag someone famous into the conversation builds your reputation as someone that is knowledgeable. In many cases this is like a secret handshake. The name dropping provides mutual entry into the temple of the elite.

I have seen this as a particularly useful tool in giving sermons directed to millennials. The pastor gets you, the pastor is one of you. It’s only a little manipulative.

The potential for name dropping as a tool to build your ego is great.

The truth is that I would like that beginning paragraph to be present before everything that I write or say. I have used each of those individuals as cornerstones, building blocks, or lintels in the structure of my being. The friends who know me, know this already, strangers do not. I could drop a name or two and maybe that works, but it would be a guess. Force everyone to read the entire list might catch the odd and terribly weird connection that will make a difference.

My favorite Richard Brautigan quote is, “For fear of being alone, I am so many things that are really not me.”

For fear of not communicating, I drag in so many articulate people to prop up my weak presentation.

Maybe I need a new list.

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Suddenly Eternal

We have the word “eternal”.. This led me to the word “perdurable”, which is defined as enduring continuously; imperishable…”a composer creates a perdurable aesthetic object”. This is a new word for me. I have not heard it said, nor have I read it in any works. A new word isn’t that remarkable, but for some reason this word surprised me.

I’ve been thinking of the concept of time, and that which is timeless. There is the conundrum of defining something by the absence of something. “Timeless” still uses the word “time”.

We speak of nothing, yet it could be said that “nothing” is “something”. What is an example of “timeless”?

For many women it can be the classic “little black dress”. Obviously this is really not eternal. Timeless could be expressed as a well crafted phrase. Again, not really truly eternal.

What is true is that we can be in part finite as well as infinite. For some we have the belief that our spirit is eternal, but most certainly our physical bodies reach a point of diminishing returns. In other words, we are dying, and not immortal.

A quick refresher in physics can remind us that the entire universe was created in one burst of reality. Nothing has been destroyed or eliminated, nothing has been added or created since that beginning. Everything is in a process of change. But our existence is technically eternal, just changed.

It might be said that all creation is trapped within the concept of time. The constant of change can be measured. Atoms and molecules come together to create matter for a time. They break apart to create energy in a never ending cycle. Existence is perdurable.

While we might not fully understand “timeless”, we do have several words and phrases that attempt to describe the concept. Probable the best example is the concept of God.

Most cultures embrace a concept of God. In most of the concepts, God is eternal, perdurable, God existed before time, and in truth, God is described as creating time. Ultimately, God is the only thing that exists completely outside of time.

The interesting dilemma is that for many religions, the purpose is to bring humanity back into the presence of God. The debate is not whether we are eternal beings. We are eternal- the issue is where we will spend eternity. In God’s presence, or without His presence, still eternal but forever lonely?

In one sense we can define ourselves as being like circles. We didn’t exist, then suddenly we exist without beginning or end, suddenly eternal.

Perhaps this mystery is the driving force behind procreation. It’s not so much that we love children. We just want to be part of an eternal example. Maybe everyone who “creates” is actually trying to freeze a moment of existence, hopefully something that lasts longer than our lifetime. Ha!, “lifetime”, the word defines a limited existence.

My guess is that at some level we doubt our perdurability. We create, breed, write, draw, leave paintings on cave walls, because we must leave something behind, after we are no more.

I believe, help me in my unbelief.

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Judging by How You Know

This is a follow up to the previous blogpost.

First, I want to think about how we know things in general. Are there things that we know instinctually? We certainly know we have to breathe, and we have “fear and flight” responses. I’m not certain that we can include this type of knowledge in the package of gained knowledge.

In general, I’m thinking about knowledge that exists outside our body, and gets into our cortex through our senses. Once that happens we mess with it and sometimes we act upon it.

The five senses; we see, we hear, we smell, we touch, and we taste.

Smell is clearly the worst used sense, and taste follows pretty closely. Although I would consider licking the Mona Lisa.

See, touch, and hear. Does it matter how we construct how that happens. One could be entirely natural experiential. We naturally observe the world around us, then come to some conclusions.

This takes us only so far. The next level is to change the environment for the purpose of knowing more. We drop a feather and a cannon ball to measure the effect of gravity and resistance. We take apart a clock to see how it works. We develop tools like microscopes, or telescopes, to see further than our natural abilities.

None of these things imply an issue with ethics. Although in some cases just doing something different crossed some sort of social norm. People were burned at the stake for different thoughts…

Fast forward a few years to WWII. The Nazis murdered millions. They also experimented upon hundreds of thousands. They wrote it all down. How much cold can humans stand? Removing organs has what effect? What are the limits to medicines?

When the notes to these experiments were found, there was a debate on whether they should be used. Some said it honored those who died, some said it doesn’t matter, knowledge is knowledge. And finally, some said it mattered to the culture how we obtained knowledge.

I supposed the question becomes “At what cost?” If we ignore facts that could save millions, is that more ethical than to use hideous knowledge?”

Considering the Polish sculptor that cut apart his dead father to learn anatomy. Could Szukalski have learned anatomy from another source? Other artists did. Was Szukalski set in a path from that experience which made him less a balanced human?

That’s a tough one. There are lots of manufactured learning experiences that change people forever. Most of them have ethical issues.

Let’s say that a scientist/researcher has an idea that he/she could solve the serial mass murder problems. All that has to be done is get the subject through some intense scanning and bloodwork. Oh yeah, he/she also has to become a serial mass murderer for a time.

It would be phenomenal to finally solve this for Mankind. Literally millions of lives could be saved, and tens of millions would never go through that pain.

Umm.

A moral choice is never based upon results or consequences. It is for the value itself.

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Szukalski

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

I watched a film on Netflix, produced by Leonardo de Caprio, about the Polish American sculptor Stanislaw Szukalski.

Wow. First, I had never heard of him. Now that is not a terribly new thing, but in general I’m pretty good at remembering a little something about significant artists. Okay, he was very popular in Poland during the 1930s, this is not a period or place that I have researched.

He was also a part of the Chicago Movement, something that I was fairly familiar with. The film grabbed me and I watched entranced.

It is now three weeks later and I am left remembering four facts.

1. He was talented. Compared to Michelangelo, Rodin… he was up there. Powerful forms, intense imagery. Shocked that I had never heard of him.

2. Completely nuts. Spent 40 years and 75 volumes of writing to prove that humans have been battling the offspring of Yeti from the beginning, and that we all come from Easter Island.

3. Nearly all his early work ended up in a state sponsored studio/museum in Warsaw in 1939. It was bombed the first day of the war. He, and his wife, and two suitcases made it to the US. All of his life work was destroyed.

4. Someone asked him, “How did you learn anatomy?” He replied, “From my father…” Apparently his father died in Chicago, while Szukalski was an art student there. He went to the morgue and convinced them to release the body to him. He then took it to his studio and performed a complete dissection.

Whaat? Good grief, what a disturbing thought. I can’t get over it, and I can hardly look at his sculpture now, knowing the source of his knowledge.

Okay, he didn’t murder his father, but was he patiently waiting like a vulture? This doesn’t seem like a spontaneous thought. I dunno, I struggle with knowledge gained by weird activity.

So apparently I not only judge by what you know, but how do you know it!

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The Worst

Roid Rage

For some this may be the worst, most disturbing subject that I’ve ever written about. Have you every had a physical reaction to watching YouTube skateboarders wipeout? It’s kinda like that. Small muscles tighten, stomach turns over slightly.

I get needles in my eyes!

No, they are not pins that are hanging around, so I don’t do it for fun. And I’m not using my eyeballs as an alternate to shooting drugs between my toes. (I wonder?)

I get medicine placed in my eyeball juice in order to reduce the edema behind my retina. Yes, that sounds icky!

A few years ago I noticed that the center of my vision was slightly out of focus, naturally I went for new glasses. Oh no, I had to go to a specialist. Right off the bat I knew I was in trouble.

After dilating, scanning, and generally shining lights in my eyes, he said that my diabetes has caused some fluid to build up behind the retina. A little edema pimple! No problem, he has some medicine to fix that.

Great, I’m not particularly good with eye drops, but I bet they are.

Then he said the injection is expensive but it works very well.

Injection? Whaat?? Like needles squirting fluid? Through my pupil? How else can it get in? What if a have a spasm halfway through and the needle starts spinning around like a dervish? Gawk! My sphincters!

I didn’t vocalize all this, but he read my face. “We numb the white of the eye, we inject the medicine and we are done!”

“What if I blink? When I panic I tend to blink a lot, I can’t control it!”

“Oh, no problem, we put a clamp on your eyelid.”

What? Like Clockwork Orange? This is getting worse.

Fast forward 1.5 years. Eyeball shots once every four weeks, both eyes. Vision is almost perfect but the medicine slows way down. I can see the medicine for about an hour. It looks like a multi colored amoeba.

Then I have the heart attack. Suddenly that becomes the major focus. The hell with the eyeballs. However, whenever a nurse comes by for blood or for an IV, I tell them don’t worry, I get regular eyeball shots. Sometimes I see their hand start to shake.

Okay, so I’m recovering from cardio, and I notice that I’m out of focus again. Time to go back for more shots.

“Sorry John, the medicine that worked so well has a slight chance of causing another cardio event.”

Great, now what?

“The good news is that steroids can work very well. We didn’t use it before because it can cause glaucoma, but we can watch it control it with eye drops.”

Hmm, I don’t like this, but okay…

“So we are going to numb your eye with an injection, then insert the implant.”

Stop! What? Two injections, why the change? Insert implant? What are you talking about?

“The steroid is like a little rocky chunk of medicine that dissolves over three months. It looks like a little submarine floating in there.”

Whoa, wait… how does it get in? Bigger needle!!

So I get the right eye done three weeks ago, and yesterday I get the left eye done. I won’t have to go back for about three months. I like that! I do see the little submarine shadow now and then.

Yesterday we had a little problem, my eyeball was bleeding like a stuck pig. It finally stopped, but now I have “red eye”.

I keep thinking that I could get roid rage in my eyes. I could join Mr. Potato-head with his “angry eyes”. And one of mine is now red!!

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Boustrophedon

So, I haven’t exactly been jumping back in the saddle, more like dipping my toe in the water. I have been subbing for a journalism class a couple of times in the last month.

It’s a basic class in design, touching upon typography, layout, gray scale, etc. I’m shocked at the amount of weird information that I have collected over the thirty to forty years of teaching. Sometimes it is so esoteric that only serious majors in the field would be remotely interested. And barely then!

The above is a perfect example. It is well known that the Greeks borrowed the letterforms from the Phoenicians. What is lesser know is that the Greeks were not constrained in how they were used.

The entire world had adopted written characters that were meant to be read from right to left. There are several theories to this. One that I like is that the scribes wanted a clear view of where they were going, and a right-handed scribe could easily see the future end of the line.

I don’t know if a problem existed with the hand smudging the ink, but the Greeks decided that they would write from left to right. They also liked the idea that were different from everybody else. (The Egyptians generally went from right to left but weren’t constrained to that, they were trained to read into the “faces” of the character. If the character was flipped they read in that direction.)

Then the Greeks compromised for about three hundred years. They wrote paragraphs in a unique pattern. They called it writing “like oxen plowing a field”, or boustrophedon. Or every other line went backwards!

This went on for three hundred years, characters written in one direction then flipped to be written in the next line going backwards. And by the way, at this point in time there were no spaces between the words. How difficult was it to invent a space?

So I bring this up for two reasons, for one it is a historical fact, interesting for those who like the history of things. And the other reason is to explain why some leters are flipped from their original design.

At some point the Greeks just bit the ballet and decided they would right from left to right. Maybe the ink smudging just drove them crazy. In the process of doing this they determined that some flipped letters looked better than others.

By the time that the Roman’s stole the letter forms, the “E”, the “R”, and some others were flipped around.

It this important to know? I suppose it depends. Does it change how we use typography? Probably not. But it is knowledge that can be known.

In any case, it turns out that I have collected thousands of weird, very esoteric pieces of information, and if I’m not teaching, then this stuff just sits there, waiting for the opportunity to vomit forth, with some violence.

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Life and Death

It’s all around us. News media keeps an ongoing record of accidents and mayhem that end in death. It is so dramatic and traumatic, particularly when there is a lot a mayhem.

The death inside our bodies is even more dramatic, but less reported upon. There is a common fable that every seven years we are a new person, because by that time every cell in our body has died and been replaced. I say fable because there is no real evidence for this, and at times you will hear that it is every ten years. Again, no evidence.

What is true is that death is going on every second, around the clock, inside our body. Blood cells live on the average about four months, they don’t die all at once or that would be catastrophic. At any given time, some are new, some are middle aged, and some are old. But generally each individual blood cell has a four month life span. Of course that’s only red blood cells, white blood cells live about a year.

Skin cells live about two to three weeks, and when we age the skin cells are not replacing themselves with accuracy. Apparently something gets tired, and each future copy shows the wear and tear. The real loser in this battle is the colon cells, they die off about every four days. We are not certain about the health of the replacements.

There are about 50 to 75 trillion cells in the average body, depending upon the size of the body. All the cells have different clocks, and are hopefully being replaced with brand new cells that know what they are doing. This is a helpful perspective to the process of aging and while it is attractive to think of our selves as new every seven(or ten years), it is a fable. What is true is that we are in the process of renewal every day!

Researchers have recently determined that our brain neurons are not replaced. From the time we are born the number is fixed. Except that various activities can kill off brain cells which probably isn’t a good thing when we only have a finite amount. So technically you are the same throughout your lifetime. No new brain cells.

The final fact to ponder is that our cells get the eviction notice at different rates. Our bodies generally stop moving, but our cells go on pretty much as if nothing has happened. Eventually of course they get the message, the lights are out, the trash stops being picked up, and the furnace grows cold. That’s when every cell gets on the same timetable.

It truly is a work progressing…

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What is a Song?

What is a song? It’s good to ask simple questions now and then, because we learn the edges of things sometimes. And sometimes that’s good.

A song is a blend of lyrics and melody. What about instrumentals? Hmm, it is definitely music, but technically is it a song? Songs are sung. You do not sing instrumentals, except maybe skat. Such a fine distinction.

A song without lyrics is still music, but a song without melody is… poetry.

It is the nature of songs to sing along, and if we don’t know the words, we just plow ahead. In some cases the words we choose are wrong, it doesn’t matter, except to purists. People still fight over the correct lyrics to “Louie, Louie”.

In fact, the melody is often so powerful that the balance between lyrics and melody is shifted. We can say the words, but we don’t spend much time thinking about them. “Yummy, yummy, yummy, I have love in my tummy…”. Okay, maybe there is not much to think about.

Unless it is referencing the neurons linked to the Vagus Nerve, that allows thinking and feeling to take place outside the cranial space of the skull. Wow, deeper lyrics than I had first thought.

I’m revisiting this concept that I first raised a few months ago. I challenged the readers of this blog to read the lyrics of a few songs by Leonard Cohen. I wanted them to be read as poetry. He had been a published poet for some ten years before he turned to music.

If you weren’t familiar with his music, then this might have worked. For me, I couldn’t read two lines before the music was in my head and the melody took over.

I think I missed something.

This month I am recording Leonard for a poetry website. The original poetry is going very well. Recording his songs as lyrics without the melody is not going as well.

I want to bring the power of the lyrics to the listeners. Reading the lyrics with a hint of the melody seems odd, and off putting. Why not just sing the song? Ha! If I only could!

My belief is that there is something additional to be learned by focusing on the words instead of the melody. But the connection to the melody is so strong.

This might be an imposable task, and not worth the attempt. I’m in a quandary. Stay tuned!

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