Jack and Jill

This is the second time in my life that I felt compelled to write down a vivid dream. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I dream, I have great dreams, colorful, adventurous and complex. This dream is in an entirely different category. I call it vivid because every detail is remembered and I don’t feel as if I had anything to do with it. The last time this happened I wrote it down and called it “The Letterbox”. This time it’s a little different. It may poke fun at some current social issues, and maybe it’s a little dark. But what the hell, it is what it is. Maybe I’ll figure it out later.

Jack and Jill

There was once a couple, very rich, with huge pedigrees, and always active in the most progressive movements.

They didn’t like each other, and never had, regardless of their common ground in social issues, politics, or sports teams. They just didn’t click. Perhaps it was a case of a socially arranged marriage gone wrong. Certainly the financial reward had more than doubled their net worth. With their combined wealth they could play in much better playgrounds.

They had long decided to live apart, he lived on a private cove on the island of Maui, and she had a few secluded acres in Montana. She used her family ranch as a base for big game hunting all over the world. Jill had enough money to purchase permits for even the most protected animals. She was tall, big boned and could pass for a Nordic shield woman.

Jack preferred the water. He had private beach access to some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world. Jack made use of it for most of the daylight hours. Unfortunately, Jack suffered from osteoporosis, similar to what the French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec suffered. Jack’s leg bones did not grow to full adult size, he was barely five foot tall. While walking on land proved difficult and painful, Jack found that he could use a dolphin kick in the ocean with no ill effects. He was a trim 140 lbs with heavily muscled legs suited for the dolphin kick.

Jill traveled the world gathering trophies, and expanding her interest in big game hunting by learning the art of dramatic taxidermy. She even went back to some of her early kills in order to mount them in a more exciting fashion. She had most of the larger, more dangerous animals, already bagged. She was now focusing on a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. She had a unique habit that she had developed over the years by giving a first name to all her target animals. They were always named Jack.

Jack spent most of his waking hours in the warm waters of Maui. He would even spend time at his “desk on the dock”, in order to keep abreast of his hundreds of foundations and trusts. He was not interested in relationships, perhaps his physical condition had a factor. The marriage of convenience was never even consumated except in financial terms. Divorce was never considered, not an option to lose half his power.

Jill had the same understanding. She did had a string of relationships but none of them could match her wealth, and the few that equaled were not that interesting. She did not find divorce as an option. She did consider being a widow as the result of an accident or disease. She often daydreamed of a contract hit-man. Of course, she was far too intelligent to give anyone the opportunity to blackmail her. Besides, Jack’s genetic condition did have an impact on his longevity. She could wait.

It was about five years into the marriage when something awful happened to both of them. By extreme chance they were both nearly killed in the same week, thousands of miles apart. Jack was, of course, in the water in his private cove, snorkeling at about fifteen feet deep in the clear ocean water. He could see a small dot coming towards him from the deep channel water. It was difficult to recognize what he was seeing but he did notice that most of the fish around him were heading in all directions to get away.

Before Jack could even turn to kick, the Great White had taken his right arm off between his shoulder and his elbow. A large cloud of blood immediately surrounded him. His training brought him up to his surf board while he gripped his stump to slow the bleeding. The shark had turned and was swimming through the cloud of blood looking for the rest of his meal. Jack managed to get to the shore while others got him to medical services.

Jill was high in the Rockies, on the trail of a Big Horn Sheep. Her target animal was on the next peak over. Her ram, named Jack, was probably 1,000 yards away, a difficult shot, so she worked herself down to the pass between in order to get above and on the same peak. She left her guide in place where she first saw the ram. She was in process of climbing down the talus to the pass when she saw the bear with the famous hump coming up to cross the ridge.

She did not carry a powerful handgun, she only had the scoped long rifle, and it was slung over her shoulder. The time and the distance was not right. The grisly could run 45 miles an hour up a 45 degree slope. Once he committed she only had a few seconds to bring the rifle around, aim, and fire. Jill got the rifle around, aimed, but did not fire. The bear took her right arm halfway between her shoulder and elbow, crushed in its jaws and nearly severed completely through. Jill fell to the ground while the bear stood over her and roared, reaching down for a few exploratory bites.

Jill froze and played dead, she had read that fighting back would just enrage the bear. Just as in the books and movies, the bear scraped a shallow ditch, dragged Jill into it, and covered her with dirt and brush. She had managed to forcibly grab what was left of her arm to reduce the flow of bleeding. The guide had heard the roaring of the fight and made his way to Jill’s shallow grave. It wasn’t long before they were down the mountain and safe into medical hands.

It was very odd that both Jack and Jill had lost their right arms in nearly the same place, at the same time. In some ways they were fortunate, medical help was nearby, and they were both left handed.

Jack found that his recovery was very quick, but it did have an impact. His efficiency in the water was reduced. One armed swimming was not ideal. After a time he developed a neoprene sheath for his legs with attached fins. Jack had become a merman. He even had a small prosthetic fin attached to his right stump to give himself some directional stability. Things then were even better for Jack, except for the constant watch for another shark.

Jill also recovered, and a variety of prosthetics attached to her stump. She tried the traditional fixed hand an elbow joint. It looked reasonable in a business suit, but did not help to raise a rifle in order to shoot. She tried the most complicated of small micro motors to control finger gripping. She could pickup a cup of coffee, but it made pulling a trigger awkward.

Jill finally resorted to a left hand holding a bow, and pulling the arrow back with her teeth. She liked that, but fly fishing was even better.

Jill found that going traditionally with fly fishing gear with a light motor assist was very satisfying. It wasn’t big game, but was a sport. She even tried some deep sea fishing with special belts and motor driven reels, but gravitated back to the long cast of a fly fishing rig.

Something happened to Jack after this accident. Instead of driving him away from the water, he was even more immersed. He had the money to try most anything, and he found some researchers that spent military dollars on developing artificial gills to allow breathing underwater. Initially the goal was to develop a box carried on the back to provide oxygen like a scuba tank that would never empty. The focused changed when they started looking at artificial gills that could be implanted in the human neck.

The immediate effect was that the funding stopped. Nobody was going to volunteer to have gills implanted. Jack found out about the research and volunteered. If it meant that he had more time underwater then he was for it. He didn’t care about the social impact, he didn’t care about his looks. He was all in.

It look several years, but eventual Jack made a break through and the gills worked. The world was taken aback, one of the powerful, richest man in the world was breathing water. Jill was not surprised. Good for him, now maybe he would be eaten by a whale.

Jack made another huge step the first time that he fell asleep underwater. Everything was fine except that he had shut his eyes and that even the smaller fishes were taking small nips of his skin because he was not moving.

This is where things got weird for Jack. His skin was taking a beating by being underwater so long. He started to pay for research that would develop a biological solution to his skin problem. He wanted fish skin, maybe with an extra layer of insulation for the cold water. He had already experimented with Botox to paralyze the blink muscles for his eyes. With contacts and being underwater, he longer needed to blink. One more reason not to get out of the water. The funny thing is that he still thought he was blinking when he was not. Sleeping meant shutting down the brain but waking up when anything swam nearby.

Jack finally paid for the working synthetic skin. He had a team to surgically fused his legs, knees, and ankles together, covered in this “skin” with built in fins. A different solution was used for his torso. The only thing left was dealing with his left arm. The natural solution was to amputate and create the symmetry that would make it easier to move through the water. However, the arm was his last connection to his humanity. Having at least one opposable thumb meant a lot.

Jack finally made the decision to be who was always meant to be. He lost his arm, and became the first trans-species on the planet. For old time sake he had his wedding ring hooked between his nostrils. He worked hard to gain the recognition of trans-species, and spent a huge amount of his fortune to be able to survive completely underwater.

The world slowly became convinced that trans-species could exist, but it seemed that the only example was Jack. There were a few bumps. Because Jack and Jill never divorced, there was precedent for inter-species marriage. So a few pets got married. What the world didn’t know was that this was already happening for some time.

Jill was still waiting for the whale, but meanwhile becoming one of the most accomplished fly fishers in the world.

Jack was finally told that the saltwater was destroying his synthetic skin, but living in fresh water should be much better. Jack made the move to a mountain lake , spring fed in Montana. Clear water that was artificially planted with every kind of fresh water fish. Jack still wanted a variety to swim with. He did not own the lake, but had a compound at one end where he could still do business.

Jill couldn’t believe that after thirty years they both lived in the same state. They still hadn’t seen each other after all that time. She kept busy with her various expeditions and foundations. One summer she sponsored a fishing contest that drew professionals from around the world. It was won by a Polish fisherman who hooked a 140 pound monster from the lake. The odd thing was that it had a gold wedding ring in its nose.

Jill presented the trophy and was pleased.

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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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I Had a Sister

I had a sister once. Well, actually I never knew her, she had died five years before I was born. She was born on June 10, I was born on June 11. She died on June 7, she was three days shy of her eighth birthday.

The death of a child from any cause is a family tragedy. Often, when looking at genealogical records one can see the various moves of the family were marked by a recent death, often of a child. Child mortality was considerably higher back then. Nearly every family shared in this story. Whether it was bad water, the flu, or accidents, the family often reacted by selling everything and moving someplace different. Someplace that offered hope, and safety. My family moved from North Dakota to California.

It doesn’t mean that they were free from the memories. My mother carried some guilt for nearly fifty years. Scarlet Fever was often a killer back then. It began as a sore throat and progressed to hemorrhaging ulcers. There wasn’t much that could be done. Caught early enough, with a good doctor, there might be a chance. Mostly not. My mother didn’t see a doctor until the end, and too late.

The sad thing was that there was a cure. Civilian doctors did not have access, but penicillin was available to the military, and it would have stopped the infection cold. This was explained to my mother, but it made no difference. She was not able to protect her little girl.

It was years before I knew that I had a sister. I wondered a little why my birthday seemed to make my mother sad. Later, my mother told me that she was terrified that I would be born on the anniversary of Gayle’s death.

As time went on I grew to accept my unknown sister. I did wonder what type of impact she would have had. I wondered about her possible future, the family she would have had. All I had were a few photos, less than a dozen. She appeared happy, bright, thoughtful. I know I would have liked her.

I tried a color pencil sketch, I think her hair was golden, but I can’t tell from the photos. In my mind’s eye it was golden.

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Vagus Nerve

Saw a film where the bad guy wanted children to stay young and play with him. A twisted sort of Peter Pan. His plan utilized a lobotomy with a Black & Decker. Gross film, don’t watch it. But it got me thinking about thinking.

I’d like to think that I’m cruising around using the higher parts of my cortex. I know that we generally use very little of our potential, but I take some pride in that I have kept my “lizard brain” in check.

Now I’m not so sure. Wait, I think the scaly thinker is still buried, but I may have descended even deeper.

The possibility exists that I have been cruising around accessing clumps of neurons around my heart, lungs, stomach, and even my throat. Expand the concept of thinking “with my gut”.

Supposedly the Vagus nerve takes these signals back up to that brain, where stuff is sorted out, and decisions are made before actions.

So, lately I find that I “wake” up looking in the refrigerator, trying to find the kale and Greek yogurt dip. I didn’t start out looking for that. I don’t even remember getting out of my chair.

There is a lot of thinking (and actions) going on, and I’m mostly clueless. Do a quick google search of Vagus Nerve and I bet you will have questions.

I only recently became aware of another aspect. While in the hospital they don’t want to let you leave until all your functions are normal. Constipation is not acceptable. However, they warn you to not “push” with vigor. Apparently the Vagus Nerve can give you a heart attack or stroke. Or maybe the brain just shuts down.

In conclusion, I think I thinking outside the box, I’m actually thinking outside the brain, and it’s a little scary.

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One Hit Wonders

I lived in Point Richmond, California on and off for about five years. Some apartments were converted hallways, some were the leftover spaces of a remodel. One apartment was actually an apartment on the top of a hill, at the end of a cul de sac. I didn’t have a view, but if I walked outside and crossed the street, there was a vacant lot, and I had the whole bay spread before me. I would often take my morning coffee there, sitting in the grass and slight breeze.

I had noticed another guy, a neighbor, that periodically walked around the area. He had a bar across his shoulder with two super 8mm film cameras mounted side by side. It looked odd and warranted a question.

Finally, after a few weeks I asked him two questions. 1) what are you doing, and 2) what do you do that allows you to be free most mornings. I had assumed that he had a swing job similar to mine.

His response was that he was trying to master 3D movie making, and he didn’t have a job, he just got a monthly royalty check.

Completely disinterested in his passion, I pressed on to ask “a check? For what reason?” Very rude of me, but I was young.

He said that he wrote a song.

I pondered this quickly. Could I write a song to allow for more free time? He said song, singular. That couldn’t be hard. So I asked the name of his song and did he make a record.

He said he didn’t sing it, he just wrote it. Then he said he really didn’t even write the tune, he just wrote the lyrics. Damn, I could do that!

Apparently he made enough money to live comfortably, buy a car, rent a nice apartment, and walk around with movie cameras. Okay, what wonderful song was this?

He replied, “Puff, the Magic Dragon”!

He became a multi-millionaire, not because of Puff, but Puff allowed him to become the world’s foremost expert on 3D, and his technology is currently in 25,000 theaters world wide.

I focused on the songwriting, the easy one hit wonder. I was young and… stupid.

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Intimacy

A friend used this word recently and I realized that I haven’t poked at the concept. I have used the word, and I believe I have been intimate, but I haven’t really defined the edges.

The secret ingredient to any successful relationship. By definition it is obviously mutual. Wait, a minute… only if it is mutual is it successful. What if intimacy is not mutual, what does it look like to both parties?

On the one side it is constantly being vulnerable, exposed the most tender parts of your soul. There is almost the suggestion of sharing secrets when you are intimate. When successful, both parties hold shared knowledge very carefully. When only one party is intimate then their inner most thoughts and feelings are not secure. They may or may not be disclosed because there is no expectation of any kind of special relationship. It looks very much like an abusive relationship.

On the other side, someone who expresses intimacy is stepping on boundaries. It is like you have discovered a stalker. Your suspicions are immediately in place. What do they want? Why do they want it? How come I’m being dragged into this unwanted relationship? This relationship seems wildly inappropriate and smothering.

How do you move from a good relationship to an intimate relationship? Hmm, slowly. Very slowly!

It starts with transparency, which suggests of sharing secrets or generally unknown factors. We all have a public persona, and relationships can be based upon that persona. You seem to be like able, attractive, and kind. Let’s get to know each other! Then the public persona evaporates like a mist and you are left standing in disheveled clothes, scratching your armpits, and passing gas.

I am not suggesting that openly gross behavior is the path to intimacy. But I am suggesting that the protective walls that we build up must be slowly torn down. It’s a scary process and it must be a joint affair. There are plenty of examples when both people are removing barriers, but one or the other doesn’t see that the removed barriers are equal in weight. This is probably the most significant way that intimacy fails. Both parties are trying, but not in the same mutual fashion.

My wife is very much a fan of “love languages”. It’s the concept that each of us have very specific important ways to communicate. You don’t need to share the same love language, although that is very convenient, but you must be able to translate on the fly. You must know the words and concepts that break through to the inner person. When this happens there is intimacy.

To recap…

1. Establish transparency, be honest and open, pay articulations attention to your goals and aspirations.

2. Learn each other’s love languages. Note areas that are commanded, but pay special attention to those areas that are not common. Become good at using words and actions that are meaningful to the other person.

3. Go slowly. Go very slowly, but show progress. No one likes a stagnant relationship. But nothing terrifies as much as a runaway train, particularly when you are the primary passenger.

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Numbers

We live by the numbers. We magically are able to drive when we get a certain age, we can imbibe alcohol at another age, and we can vote in our elections. There is no proof that we are truly qualified for any of this, we simply have reached a number that tells us that we can do them.

Of course these numbers are actually measuring time. Numbers can also be used in other ways. I am a size 12 for my shoes, a size 44 in a suit jacket. My pants have gone from a 46 down to a 40 (yay!)

People around the world are divided and categorized by numbers tied to mental acuity. Mensa requires that you have scored 132 or 148, depending. Mensa is a club for smartys. I’m probably sarcastic because I don’t belong. Wait a minute, I’m sarcastic because it’s my gift!

I’m focusing on numbers because of the implications towards life or death. Some numbers are life, some numbers are death. Eventually.

Every three months my blood is tested. When numbers rise it is a bad thing. There is not much to do about the rising numbers, there is no procedure, no cure. It just a measure of things getting worse.

I’ve been living with this process for about two years. For nine months the number was “zero”, that is called a win or remission. Then after the next three months it rose to .015. Not much difference, but enough to throw remission in the toilet.

So for about a year and a half the three month wait has been a fixture. In my better moments I have focused upon concept that life occurs during the waiting. It is a worthy thought, and it has helped for several months, until the next measurement when the numbers doubled.

It’s concept is still true but the numbers have a way of taking charge.

So, I just finished another three month wait and the numbers went down, went down a lot. What does this mean? No one is certain about the reason. Bad things sometimes takes a vacation? They weren’t bad things in the first place? The blood technician is drunk most of the time and unreliable?

In the end, I will live or die by the numbers. For the next three months I will live.

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Trespass the Eyes?

I’ve been watching a few too many YouTube videos. I’ve been struck by how often a narrative is used to justify behaviors. It’s also as if their has been a secret script passed around. Everyone has read the script, and most have memorized the script, so in actor’s terms they are “off book”.

It doesn’t mean that they have analyzed the words and their meaning, it just means they get to say it with conviction. For example I’ve watched a few “first amendment audits”. This is where people take their video cameras out in the public, and film what they can see. It stems from a Supreme Court ruling that the police cannot trespass the eyes. You can keep people off private property but you can’t forbid them from looking at private property. The point being that if you can see it, then you can take a video or a photograph of it. If you don’t like it, build a fence.

This was a huge decision because many people have strong opinions about privacy. Personal privacy and corporate privacy. The Supreme Court decision was based on a simple premise, if you were standing on public property, or in an area open to the public, then everything that you see is available to be photographed. There is no expectation of privacy in public, with a few minor exceptions.

There can be areas that are restricted, but they must be clearly marked. Some rooms in public buildings have restricted access. Some outside areas of public facilities are also restricted, but they must also have clear signage.

All private businesses that are open to the public have the right to ask you to leave or be trespassed. To be trespassed you must be warned to leave, if you don’t leave, or return, then the police can be called. When the police come they must warn you to leave as well, then if you don’t leave you can be trespassed and arrested. All this interaction can be filmed.

There is one rarely understood expectation of privacy in public. Speaking on a cell phone is not protected. Speaking on a pay phone, or a land line phone is fully protected. In the old days it was obvious, because you made the call from your house or business. Out in the public you called from a “phone booth”. Not only did you have the expectation of privacy, but you could change into a super hero costume. Later, pay phones would have these little “sound wings” on either side. Yes, they did cut down on external noise, but they also showed that what you were saying is private. If you take photos or video of people speaking on pay phones, then you are breaking the law.

Interestingly, I haven’t seen a pay phone in public for years. Everyone is talking on cell phones, and there is no expectation of privacy for them. You are using public bandwidth for transmission.

Back to the topic of “first amendment audits.”

There are literally hundreds of individuals that want to “re-educate the public, and public officials of this new ruling. Some of these photographers are pleasant people. Some of these are really obnoxious. All of them are legally in the right.

On the one side the secret script is peppered with the same phrases, “Am I being detained?”, “Is being suspicious a felony or a misdemeanor?”, “If I am free to go, then I am free to stay!” “I am not responsible for you feeling uncomfortable!”, “Your uncomfort does not trump my Constitutional rights!”

Perhaps the script is not so secret, because if you are going to perform these audits, then you will try to prepare yourself. You will watch YouTube videos, and say the same things in the same way. Nerves come into play so it may come across differently.

The curious narrative comes from the other side. It comes from the security guard, the official, the police, and sometimes the public. “You have to understand, in this day and age…”. Wow, this was a real shock because it is clear that while it is a script, it comes out so naturally. Somebody put those words together for the first time, and it spread like a virus.

It gives the opinion that the user has done the research, analyzed the facts, and has logically come to a rational conclusion. No wonder it is used so much. “In this day and age…”. Sometimes the phrase is punctuated with the additional phrase “… after 9-11”.

The problem is that it doesn’t take in the legal right. It may reference a policy, but policy is not law. It also may point to a moral issue, but you can’t legislate morality.

This is a built in conflict. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case one side is armed with a gun, and the other side is armed with a camera.

So words are very important, the script that we use can determine how we act out the drama.

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Prophecy and Prophets

I am not an expert here, but these are my thoughts.

Almost every believer in God would agree that being in the center of God’s will is what they desire. This simple concept has played out in scripture and secular literature.

The problem comes when we aren’t sure of the plan that God has for us. Without trumpets in the sky, a burning pillar of fire, or a distinct audible voice, we are often confused and often paralyzed.

There are several ways to approach discerning God’s will. First and foremost, is to practice the art of discernment. I know that this sounds like a circular argument, but it isn’t. Discernment is not something that you just turn on, and then use. It does take practice, as you won’t “get it right” immediately.

My experience is the same for most things in life. Practice with 10,000 events and you might get good at the event. Work fulltime at something for ten years and you might be considered professional.

Discernment for God’s will adds another factor, you must have a deep personal relationship with God. Obviously this requires that you believe in Him, but it also means that you communicate with Him. It may seem like a one way process for a time, but over time you can “discern” God’s response to your communication.

A huge part of understanding your “God Plan”, is to realize that God has a linear long view. By this I mean that with infinite knowledge comes infinite patience. The plan for your life is likely made up of slow development of a combination of natural gifts. Some of these gifts require a lot of practice before they can be used. Also, bear in mind, that God can suddenly make you a blacksmith with no warning. Generally though, if you carefully catalog the natural gifts that you are born with, then the plan for your life can almost be seen.

Lastly, I have been writing about an individua’ls quest for God’s plan. This has not always been the example we read about. Prophets and prophecies are God’s plans that are known through a separate individual. A human individual!

This has huge problems that are inherent. The Israelites had a custom of stoning to death individuals who said they were prophets, but ended up being wrong. Nearly all of the scriptural prophets started out with small accurate prophecies and then built up to larger prophecies.

So why do we have prophets? It could be that the culture had become so blind that they could not see God in their lives. But if this is so,then why would they even listen to God’s prophet? The answer is that they mostly didn’t, until it was too late. Having prophets is almost admitting that the general public is out of touch with God. Responding to prophets may call into question your personal relationship with God.

We mostly do not have individuals who call themselves prophets. This might be a good thing on several levels. It might mean that we rely are our own relationship and discernment. But just because they don’t call themselves prophets it doesn’t mean that they don’t consider themselves prophetic.

How often have you heard someone give their idea of the future, mostly in negative terms? I believe they do this for their own benefit. It is the old “I told you so” syndrome. They attempt to gain power and prestige by predicting the future.

What about those prophecies that are full of good will and encouragement? They are meant for the individual’s benefit! The motivations are completely.

These are confusing times, where answers are needed, but hard to understand. I fear that we are headed to a time of prophets and prophecies. Not so sure that is a good thing.

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Died peacefully…

Blogs are often filled with common and uncommon rants. Perhaps how we end up in the wrong lanes at the toll booth. Or maybe the wrong line at the market. We got behind the gentleman with 19 items in the 15 or less lane. He has coupons and he wants to pay with a combination of debit card and change.

I enjoy a good rant.

The blog doesn’t often raise life or death issues… unless you are older. If you are older nearly everything becomes life or death. It’s just a fact of life, or death.

I’ve been pondering the phrase “died peacefully in their sleep”. How do we actually know that? Sure, there appears to be a lack of trauma. No visible claw marks or bites, no amputated limbs. All we really know is that a person went to sleep and then didn’t wake up in the morning.

It is the classic “death”, desired by nearly everyone. I propose that what we are really asking for is a painless death. After a lifetime of reacting to a hot oven, we want to avoid any future pain, including death.

Well, there are many examples that meet that standard. Anything that comes at you faster than the nerve signals that go to your brain. An asteroid hitting your head, a nuclear blast, a plane crash (mostly), there are hundreds of examples.

Another less widely known fact is that some trauma to the body causes the body to shut down in the area, cutting off nerves and blood flow. Being eaten by a lion might not be a painful as you think.

Most of us are certain that dying in your sleep is the least painful way to go. I think we have gotten to used to the light switch analogy. You go to sleep and a switch is turned off, and then you don’t wake up.

I don’t know. I just had an apnea sleep study. Most apnea is just a blockage of the airway while sleeping. Easily fixed in a variety of ways. Some apnea can be a central switch in the brain that forgets to turn on the breathing process.

In my mind that might not be so painless. Suffocating is not a happy time, my experience is that it is filled with panic and unease. Perhaps it’s different if you are sleeping, but no one knows for certain.

I think it is better to simply say, “he died in his sleep last night”. “Peacefully” is dying before you know what’s hit you.

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It’s All Relative

It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for reflection, and a time for plans. Let us first address whether this whole deal is simply a human construct.

Certainly the ball dropping in NYC is a man made thing. Even the calendar is a man made attempt to organize what is seen in nature. The earth does indeed spin around the sun, we didn’t create that. I don’t believe that there is a naturally fixed point that is the beginning, then we travel for a year until we get back. So that is a problem.

For us to suggest that we have a new year is a little bit like saying we have discovered the beginning of a circle. We can conceptualize this, but it is a construct. The solar system has eight or nine objects that spin in orbits, each full turn could be called a year. We could calculate how many complete rotations of the planet it would take to complete one full rotation around the sun. But of course in actual time it would be different for each object.

So far I have no problem with these facts. The issue is that how do we know when it starts? How do we know it’s the New Year? This is a matter of perspective and relativity. Sitting in my comfortable home I can say the day starts when the sun peaks over the horizon. Yet I know that that sun never sets, that daylight is ever constant, just as night is simply the dark side, moving, but constant. I know this yet I ignore it so I can use the construct to measure something. It’s a little like, an inch isn’t an inch, it’s only the King’s knuckle bone.

This is a fact but it is not helpful. In my experience the sun rises and sets, and I mark this as a day. Using that measure I can project the knowledge that it takes 365 (plus a fraction) to completely orbit the sun, and this becomes a year. Arbitrarily, we set the beginning of the circle on Jan 1st. It’s all a fib, but it helps me place the ground for my fulcrum.

Technically, every day is the new year as far as the orbit goes. Perhaps at some point we can fix a reference point, like a brass ring on the carousel, and we can truly know where the circle starts and where it ends.

Until that time we live with our construct. 365 days that don’t exist, creating a new year that could be every day.

My head hurts…

For the sake of knowing, there is too much fact that isn’t fact at all.

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Practice

Hmm, practice makes perfect? Gosh, if only that were true. Practice all you want but if there is markedly no improvement then perfection is still a long way off. Besides, my goal isn’t perfection. Ha! Not even possible!

It should be “practice makes it better, providing there is some evidence of improvement.” Wow, that sure rolls off the tongue.

Practice is how you get to Carnegie Hall! Well, that works. Except that I don’t play an instrument, nor do I sing much. The concept is valid though. If you want others to enjoy your craft, you need to put the time in to make sure your product is successful.

Practice should not be avoided but it doesn’t mean it is not painful. The physical practice of getting in shape only works when the practice tears down muscle tissue in order to build up new tissue. That hurts.

I once heard a statement on “professionalism”. You are professional when you have done something for ten years or 10,000 hours. Oddly enough, I often told my students that after 10,000 (serious and thoughtful) photographs, then perhaps your images become significantly better.

The practice in image making is thought to be painless. I can assure you that it is not. I would be lying if I told you that I’ve saved all of my practice work. Some are so ugly and hideous that they were destroyed within minutes. Others were given to friends. I had to get them out of the house at all cost.

It only has been just now that I realize that some of my worst work is hanging on someone’s wall. Well, love my faults, and you will never be disappointed!

I’ve purchased a sketchbook. Let’s see how long I make use of it. How long does it take to practice 10,000 hours? Wait… oh yeah.

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Want to hear God laugh?

Tell him your plans.

i’ve been thinking about planning, which is our attempt to make sense of the world, and possibly change the future.

In the most common usage, planning is really quite easy. We plan to get up in the morning, and remarkably, we actually do that. But is this really planning? Plan not to wake up and see how successful you are! A lot of “our planning” isn’t really ours at all.

Even the concept of the approaching morning is beyond our ability to plan. Clearly we have parameters that we must work within.

Some things are the result of someone else’s plan. If you are married you may have experienced this. One evening you suddenly realize that you are in the car, dressed in some of your finer clothes, and you are heading to someone’s house (who you barely know) for a “get together”. You obviously remember talking about the “get together”. You don’t remember deciding to go to the “get together”. It is only now that you are in the car that you realize that plans were made and the future is just up ahead, and around the corner. You are in some else’s plan.

In my attempt to be a good and wise parent, I have offered to my children several phrases for them to ponder in their future life. One that comes to mind… “if you don’t have a plan for your life, because nature abhors a vacuum, some one else will provide one for you. And you will end up living some one else’s life.”

This sounds very wise. I hope they remember it.

We are constantly being bombarded with folks who are perfectly willing to plan for us. Isn’t all advertising an eventual plan for us to open our wallets to purchase an item? A television preview is a thinly veiled plan for you to put yourself in front of the television at a certain time, a certain day, and a certain channel. All that is required is for us to agree. Technically agreement makes the plan ours. But is this true?

I recall an old card trick where the magician offers choices. We keep choosing, he keeps offering. Eventually he produces the right card and we are amazed. Was it our plan? Or did the magician only offer the choices of his plan?

Going back to my adage, how much of my life is the result of my plans? On an average day, how much of the occurrences are truly my plans. This has altered a great deal since I retired. Going to work was sorta my plan, but ultimately it is the plan of my employer. I don’t go to work anymore so there is a vacuum to plan for.

That’s a lot of time to consider. 40 hours per week is a lot of vacuum. So far I haven’t replaced even 50% of the time with my plans. The good thing is that no else has stepped in to offer their plans. There is the potential, “Hey, since you’re retired, do you think you could…?” But I mostly avoid this by not answering the phone.

My wife will sometimes ask, “Do you want to go to the store to pick up some milk?” I respond that “it had never occurred to me, so, I guess no I don’t want to.” Obviously I will go, once I make a plan.

My final thought about planning is that I haven’t been very good about stepping up to “my plans.” It’s too exhausting, too challenging, and simply too difficult. I slide quite comfortably into the plans of others.

I tell myself that because I choose to do this then the plans are mine. It’s a lie. I’m just slothful.

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Colors

I found an amusing book that deals with some of the oddities of the English language. Here is a sample…

1. Every cloud has a——— lining.

2. ——- tape

3. He looks at the world through ——— colored glasses.

4. The star loves always being in the ——- light

5. People who hallucinate are said to see ——- elephants.

6. The committee gave her proposal the ——- light.

7. ——en oldies

8. the——— sheep of the family

9. a ——- letter day

10. a——- thumb

11. a—— neck

12. a —— guard

13. paint the town ——

14. talking a —— streak

15. Silence is ——-en.

16. to ——— wash the truth

17. to ——- bag it

18. Once in a —— moon.

19. A ——— bellied coward,.

20. Now try this, think about ten things that are both a color and a thing. Example: an orange.

From “The Play of Words”, by Richard Lederer.

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No Poetry Between

‘‘Twas the night before Christmas…”. Well, actually this is the morning after Christmas, but I was thinking about the poem. For many homes around the world it is a family tradition to read the poem to their children on Christmas Eve. The poem gets a lot of play on that one special day.

The day after Christmas? Not so much! The poem was written by Clement Clark Moore (1779-1863) sometime in 1823. Moore was an American Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature, as well as Divinity and Biblical Learning, at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in New York City. This was a pretty good gig, made possible due to the fact that the land was donated by the college. It’s still there on 9th Ave. between 20th and 21st streets.

Moore was finally interred in the Trinity Churchyard in lower Manhattan. His poem lives on and helps to maintain a Christmas tradition. While the poem had many editions that were illustrated, their image of Santa Claus did not stick.

It wasn’t until the advertising campaign of Coca Cola in the 1930s that we seem to have codified the chubby, red suited elf. Up until then, Santa was often tiny, gaunt, or tall and rather spooky looking. In England his coat is green and he is known as Father Christmas, although this might be an entirely different character. It might make a decent movie for the two to meet.

No poems are currently popular for the day after Christmas. It is still the Season to be sure. The time between Christmas and New Years is unique. It is the end of the year, a time for reflection, gatherings and parties. Just not particularly good for poetry.

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Fifty Years Ago

Fifty years Ago this week I was Santa Claus at our local Macy’s. I did not volunteer. I was happy to find seasonal work on the college job board. I was hired to sell womens shoes. It was a lot of running back and forth from the stock room, and very little sales, but I really enjoyed it.

One day the store manager came by, “Diestler, stand up! What’r you, six feet?” “Uh, six two.” “Fine! Fine! Come to my office.”

I had to ask where the office was. When I got there I saw a box on his desk. It smelled of moth balls. I had never smelled that before, but this must have been moth balls. Or a dead mouse.

“Here’s the suit, see ya on Monday, 11:00 sharp,”

It was a red velvet frock, with a white fur trim Santa Suit. Pillow not included! Apparently I had been drafted.

That weekend I watched “Miracle on 34th Street”, it was the seasonal marathon, and either “Miracle was on, or “It’s a Wonderful Life” 24 hours a day. So I dressed in my Santa suit, and watch both movies several times. I learned to love “It’s a Wonderful Life” and I grew a bond with “Miracle on 34th St. “. After all, I was going to be Santa at Macy’s, the very same company that had hired the real Santa Claus!.

That Monday morning was one of the most terrifying moments in my young life. I was up on the balcony where the dressing room was located. I could see Santa’s Throne down below. There was a line of children extending through the room, and out the doors into the street. I was two stories above, with a single strait staircase leading to the room. Each step took all the effort I could muster. The fear had produced a paralysis in my knee joints.

From below it must have looked like I was making a dramatic entrance. In addition to the fear, I couldn’t see the steps because of my “pillow stuffing”. It was all a blur for the next eight hours. Thousands of kids, hundreds of thousands of “Ho, ho, ho’s”, then it was over, until the next day. It was a three week gig, and I learned to love it. I still remember each Christmas! And to those who read this Merry, merry Christmas, from Santa

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Gut Life

I just watched a YouTube video, and I find myself again cursing the net, and adoring it at the same time.

This video made the bold headline statement of “35,000 Different Bacteria Species Living in Your Gut!”. This is disturbing on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. I’m almost wishing for a mini-stroke to wipe out my memory for the last half-hour. Would electro-shock work?

35,000 indentified bacteria. Who knows how many unidentified? I have written before on the problem of bacteria altering human behavior. The “Toxoplasma gondii” parasite that may help to create “cat lady syndrome”, and risky behavior in men, bothered me for weeks.

Knowing of the possibility that other “life forms” that may take over the host should be of great concern to us all. Getting mad at someone for a poor decision may be incorrect. The “gutbrain” May have stepped in to take control. We all have the possibility of becoming “gutbrain zombies” at anytime.

Now, the video I watched did spend a great deal of time explaining the wonderful benefits of hosting various bacteria, but that doesn’t mean that we are immune to the various toxins that are also created.

Some researchers are calling the general group of “gut bacteria” as another organ, vital to a healthy life. If so, this is a rogue organ that gives, and takes away, in a capricious way.

https://www.facebook.com/ScienceNaturePage/videos/371440086755568/

This link is to the video. The same organization has suggested that early removal of the appendix may prevent Parkinson’s Disease. Apparently toxins created there are directed to the brain, causing neural damage. More information to absorb.

The question I’ve had has always been the quality and accuracy of internet knowledge. Now I am considering the benefit of the shear amount. Is there too much for reasonable living? Can we stand the stress? Am I required to have a “first-name” relationship with 35,000 strangers living in my gut? How do I know that I’m in control and not some random toxin?

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Helping?

I’ve been pondering the word “help”. At first it seemed so simple, then it got way too complicated.

Helping is assisting. The perfect image definition is a man pushing a car to the gas station. You see this, you jump out of your car to help. He is using his hands, back, and legs to move the car down the block. You assist him with your hands, back, and legs. It’s double the effort, and the result is that it is easier to get the car to the gas station.

The difficulty shows up at the moment you decide to help. Let’s say you are old, with back problems. Maybe your “help” is standing in the road acting as traffic control. The pushing isn’t any easier, but perhaps it is safer. Worse yet, you decide that you can sit behind the wheel to steer. Now you have added weight to the push so actually it’s a little harder. Still it might be of some help.

Some of this occurs because the “help” offered is run through your personal filter. You decide what help you can manage, and it might not be the help that is desired. How much effort is used to determine the help that is desired by the individual? Some of us skip that step, due to some physical limitations. Too many of us assess the situation and provide the “help” that is more appropriate. We make an independent judgement.

I can imagine that in some cases that this might be the better “help”. Assisting a child in choosing healthy food to eat, or appropriate clothes to wear. We use our knowledge and experience to counter the child’s questionable decisions. Our “helping” takes a radical turn to a condition of “controlling”.

With adults it is much more complex. We know that helping by taking over is not very respectful, but we then offer help that is very conditional. We should probably use another word at that point, because “conditional help” is rarely help.

Probably the most confusing is using expertise in the process of helping. The person wants your strong back and legs, but you have a degree in engineering, and you offer a series of rope and pulleys. Your help isn’t appreciated because it isn’t understood, and they can’t help with your helping. Whoops, this is where it gets complicated.

How often does asking for help means someone else must take control? I have a heart attack, I need help. What I really need is for someone else to knock me out, open my chest and rearrange some arteries. Again, this probably needs another word than “help”.

Lastly, we often see a “Help Desk” in education or technology. What type of help is that? It is assisting? Or is it, “I am lost, I don’t know what I’m doing, please please make sense of my life!”

My pondering has left me with the conclusion that I rarely need the “come along beside me assistance.” Mostly I need, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Help!”

Next time someone asks for help, find out which help is desired.

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A Goal

Spontaneity, besides being difficult to spell, might be defined as action without a plan or purpose.

That’s a rough concept. It includes an image of a room of mouse traps and ping pong balls. Or if I was a Beatles fan, perhaps “Helter Skelter”.

The word is definitely action based. Something is happening, decisions are being made- decisions to make no decisions? Spontaneous eruptions are surprising, and unforeseen.

There’s another similar word, peripatetic. Go for a walk, bump into walls, wander trails. Never get to where you are going because you never had a destination in the first place. Hmm!

Can I truly be spontaneous? I think a goal to be more spontaneous is a worthy idea for most people. We are often too shaped by plans. The fun part of life is often the surprise. Planning is controlling, but not necessarily fun!

Yes, that is doable! Just move the needle of my life slightly more to the spontaneous. I can do that, my stomach doesn’t churn with the complete randomness that is possible.

We used to call it “avoid the ‘button down’ life”. Ha! I first rebelled by making sure my collars were unbuttoned, even that little one in the back.

Maybe the issue is to live a less linear life. I like the idea of a general plan, I just question the quality of predictability. And it is not the issue of a complete turnover. I don’t want to be fire, I just want to be a little warmer, and a little more spontaneous.

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Attack!

77 years ago a foreign nation dropped bombs and strafed our Continue reading

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What do you know?

What do you know, and when did you know it?

This was the major question during the Watergate investigation. The question was asked of President Richard Nixon. If he didn’t know anything about the Watergate conspiracy until much later, then he was just like us! If he knew something before everyone else, then he was culpable, and probably guilty.

We never quite got to the answer of what he knew or when he knew it. Possibly it was erased during the famous 18 minute gap on the White House audio tapes, even now this same question is asked of powerful people in times of crisis.

Often I hear of a defending response…What is “knowing”? “I can’t be guilty if I’m not sure if I know anything!” It is a viable response, sorta.

“Knowing” something seems at first glance to be in the realm of certainty. Once known, always known. The trouble is, that science has told us that things once known, can be known differently with further study.

What about the structure that is built on basic knowledge? If basic knowledge changes, then the entire structure shifts. Very disconcerting!

It is a real possibility that future statements of “knowing” should be modified with, “on the basis of the current information, I believe this about that! In my humble opinion.”

This seems way too “politically correct” and squishy. Why can’t we just state the obvious and be done with it. Rocks are not alive, they don’t think, and they certainly don’t speak.

I’m not certain that all geologists would agree completely. More knowledge chips away at basic certainties.

On a personal level I try to operate in both worlds. I generally agree with the basic truths, but I also entertain radically different realities. It is a practice partly of humility and also a potential hedge for new change.

I’m trying to envision the possibility of “knowing for certain”. We can put the words together, but does that mean it actually exists. We can say that this morning we saw “clouds made of rock”. Descriptive, words that are correct, but a concept that is impossible.

Unless you happen to live next to an active volcano, where pumice is being ejected into the atmosphere. Pumice is lava that is filled with air pockets. While they are not lighter than air, they are so light that they can form “clouds” that travel for miles before falling to earth.

Rock clouds do exist! Does this mean that every bizarre statement can be proven to be real? That’s a lot of phrases to think about.

I believe that it is useful to know that certainty is often subjective. That tears at the foundation of the word, and shakes the standard of “knowing”.

The end result is that existence is much more miraculous and surprising. That’s a good thing!

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Dancing Alone

Particles react to being watched. If no one is looking they go one way, if someone is watching they go in an entirely different way.

The observer effect is sometimes explained by Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor (e.g. Geiger counter) detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the cat.

The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

All this because someone figured out that particles behaved differently when scientists attempted to measure their activity.

This would be like a bathroom scale intentional adding a few pounds while pondering it in the morning. I can attest to this. Or several inches added to your height, just because you are measuring.

The ramifications to this are astounding and should add to the wonder of the world. Several questions arise. What constitutes “observing”.? Schrödinger’s cat is in a box, an object that is inert, the cat may be both alive or dead. If the box is opened when no one is in the room the situation remains the same. Opened or not doesn’t matter. If someone is there watching the situation collapses because of the observation.

What if the box is opened in the presence of a cadaver, whose sightless eyes are pointed in the car’s direction? Do the particles intuit active intelligence and the potentials that may be discerned? This must mean that particles have decision making thoughts. Scary!

This leads to other ideas…Do I act the fool in the presence of others, or do I dance as if no one is watching?

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Off the Grid

I willingly took part in “risky behavior”. Well, that might be a little strong. I took a path that was “risky”, but I did nothing to change it. In the first few minutes I thought, “I’m an independent guy, I can do this! In fact, I can make this a statement of freedom. I’m not a drone of the hive.” This worked for about five minutes, then doubt crept in. The “what if’s” began to overwhelmed me.

When I was younger I sometimes disappeared for three months at a time. I was living at home with my parents, going to college for most of the year, hiking around the Rockies during the summer. The “risky behavior” was how I got to the Rockies. Hitchhiking was never safe, but it seemed safe at the time. Everything worked, except that one year my Mother had heard a report about a “cannibalistic hitchhiker” that was caught with three fingers in his back pocket.

She was fairly certain that I was not the cannibal, but the fingers in the back pocket were definitely mine. She suffered for a long time. Risky behavior has its downsize. It was weeks before I made a call home to check in. Of course, until then I lived the life of a free, independent spirit, willing to walk the “risky behavior” path because I could. I was independent of the demands of others. I was carving my own future.

Forty-five years later I had briefly attempted to recreate that freedom. I had unintentionally left my cellphone behind. Because I was on a mission to pick someone up at the train station I realized that I couldn’t turn around without being very late. I rationalized that it was okay, that I wasn’t a worker drone, I had lived a very productive “cellphone free” existence for years. I had hiked the Rockies for months with a cannibal nearby.

This statement of freedom lasted less than a minute, approximately two blocks of residential homes. What if the train derailed or just broke down? What if the rest of my family knew something but couldn’t tell me? What if I suddenly had a heart attack? Nope, I didn’t go there, I had already had a heart attack.

How could I possibly pick someone up at the train station if all I had was the expectation that trains run regularly? I must have faith! That’s the real difference of the last few years. We no longer trust, not because the system has failed us. We no longer trust because we have to ability to verify. This is a scary thought.

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Relaxing in the New Age

Sitting in front of the fireplace, reading a few pages, and checking the internet.

Apparently the air quality index says that unhealthy air starts at about 60-70. At 3:50 pm it was 350.

I have been known to prep for a lot of things. This, I did not plan for. The fire up northeast is about 160 miles away. It’s horrible, the worst in our history. But the impact here in the Bay Area is a little like the frog in boiling water.

Is it too late to jump?

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My Friend…

I had heard that the best writers did their best work in coffee houses, in hip neighborhoods of New York, or Paris. It was 1966, I was not in Paris, nor was I in New York. This might have been the reason that my writing was filled with angst. Also, I was sixteen, and could not drive to San Francisco, where there were coffee houses.

I did the best I could. Within walking distance there was a shopping center, and on the out lying edge there was a pizza parlor that sold coffee. On most Friday and Saturday nights I made my way to this family casual restaurant, I bought a single cup of dark black coffee, which I nursed for a least three hours, while I scribbled in wire bound notebooks with a leaky Bic pen.

I rarely bought a pizza. Correction, I never bought a pizza. I had no money. There were times when I ordered a medium dough, no sauce, no cheese, no toppings. It was just a large cracker, with free catsup.

Months had gone by and I observed, quietly. Too shy to engage with the returning locals that I had come to recognize. I sat huddled in my pea coat, black turtleneck, stolen Levi’s, and Thom McCann sandals (with socks).

I had noticed a young man, possibly near my age, who came in periodically, he scanned the room, and then left. I guess he was looking for somebody. I noticed him because he was well dressed, suit and tie, and an English bowler on his head. Brave soul!

A few weeks later I noticed that he came in and did his usual scan. I got distracted by a thought that I needed to write down. When I looked up, the young man with a bowler, and an umbrella, was standing in front of me. He politely asked if he could sit down. I nodded in astonishment, surprised that I was visible.

He asked if I knew whether there was something going on at the college. The college was only two blocks away. Little did I know that I would end up working there for forty years, at this point I had been on the campus twice, walking through it to visit a friend on the other side.

“No, I don’t know of anything going on. Do you mean like a dance or concert?”

“Well, yes. Or perhaps a lecture?”

A lecture! Well, that was a thought. Why didn’t I think of that? Why I’m I sitting in a pizza parlor looking for cosmic answers? He looked at my inky hands and spiral notebook, and asked if I was a writer. How perceptive? And well dressed.

He was obviously a college student, and he thought that I must have been a college student as well. We had just never met in the Student Union.

It didn’t take long before I confessed that I was a bored high school student, trying to get out of the house. He laughed and said that he too, was a junior in my class. It was a big class, 900+ strong. We hadn’t shared a class or a lunch period. And he never brought his bowler to school.

This was my start with my friend Michael. Michael died this morning.

53 years of friendship. Unfortunately we grew apart over the last twenty years. We had different interests, and lived at some distance. For years he ran a custom hot dog stand, I would go to check in with him, and get a dog. We talked about getting together. We never did. But I loved him still.

I have so many great memories of him. Once, he showed up at my house, dressed in slacks and dress shoes. I introduced him to my athletic neighbor friend, and the conversation moved to sports. I was not contributing, but suddenly Michael suggested that he was pretty good at the 50 yard dash. My jock friend doubted this. Michael was well built, not a wire thin dasher. To settle things, he took off his jacket and toed the line with my friend in the middle of my street. Dress shoes and all.

I gave the signal and off they went. Within three paces Michael was a full body length ahead. At the end has was several yards ahead. Michael was wicked fast in dress shoes. I can still hear his leather steps on the asphalt.

Not every weekend, but several times a month Michael would join me for a cup of coffee. Sometimes he would borrow his sister’s car, and we would drive the neighborhood. Once we stopped at a church on the hillside. Michael had a key, and he ushered me in to the sanctuary without comment. I sat in the pew while he went to the podium on the altar.

He then opened the Bible at a random verse and began reading in a deep sonorous voice. I was mesmerized, it was nearly midnight and I was being churched.

Our vehicle excursions continued for years. Later, in college, his girlfriend was still in high school, and she had a car, and her father paid for her gas. Michael drove her to school, and then kept the car in order to pick her up after. He also arranged to pick me up for lunch at least once a week.

The thing was, we didn’t just go to a local restaurant. We drove at least an hour away to eat at the Nut Tree. We went so often that the waitresses knew our order. I don’t know what the father thought about the gas mileage. We didn’t ask.

I got married, Michael got married, we drifted apart. Michael got divorced with a child, I got divorced with a child. I named my son after Michael. We still drifted further apart.

I had introduced my oldest friend to Michael, and we three got along well. Some years passed, and my friend rented an apartment in Michael’s mother’s backyard. Eventually my friend married Michael’s sister. It was a fantastic occurrence, totally surprising.

And yet Michael and I still drifted apart, even as our connections grew more complex. It still didn’t lessen my deep appreciation for who he was way back then. I loved him then, and love him now. I will always carry my memories, the best of times. Michael, you will always be my friend.

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Tic Tac Toe

X’s and O’s

I used to have very cool racing slicks on my front tires. They were custom tires made for trikes, and I liked them very much. I was sad to see the threads in the center of the tire, because it meant that they were worn out. And the company no longer made those tires.

I’m not saying that I’m banned from bicycle shops, but I would say that I had to develop a relationship with my local shop. Being a trike owner puts me in a different category. They do not sell or service trikes, so I’m never going to upgrade. But I can buy accessories!

I went to my local shop and asked about my tire replacement problems. They had a solution. My front tires were the same size as a kid’s first mountain bike. So I could use tires from an eight year old’s bike. Hmm, fine. Tread is tread, I purchased two and put them on, they worked great.

One slight hiccup. The tread pattern was X’s and O’s in a tic tac toe pattern. The shop owner said it was easier for the kids to know that the tires were wearing out. If they couldn’t see tic tac toe, then the tire was gone. Plus it made a cool track in the dirt, endless tic tac toe marks.

Okay, it didn’t matter much to me, I couldn’t have my custom racing slicks, so I settled for tic tac toe. The tires performed well, I ran them for over a year and then I noticed I couldn’t see tic tac toe anymore, so I went back to the bike shop for another pair of the same tires and I put them on.

I’m now resting at a water stop and I’m looking at the current tic tac toe pattern and I notice that there isn’t much wear. I haven’t ridden nearly as much this year. The tires look almost new. This is where my thoughts went a little off track.

I had already worn a set of tic tac toe tires completely bald. There was no tic tac toe visible. I’m on the trail most every day, I haven’t seen any X’s and O’s laying beside the trail. Where did they go?

It was a fair question, when a tire wears down, where does the rubber go. There should be mounds of black rubber like sand every quarter of a mile. There is a lot of bikes on the trial, there should be rubber residue.

And of course, what about cars, and the freeway? Much more rubber, the mounds should be higher and more frequent. It’s true that I have seen chunks of retreads from truck tires laying on the freeway, but not the usual wear and tear of tires. Where does the rubber go?

Google to the rescue again. It turns out that a lot of the rubber is so fine that it is airborne, so we might actually have some in our lungs. Of course there are so many other breathable pollutants, that we don’t really notice the rubber. If the rubber particles are not fine enough to be airborne, they lay on the road, only washed off during the rainy season, and they end up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

So now I know where the rubber goes. It isn’t worn away, it isn’t rubbed off into a vacuum. Nothing can be destroyed, it is only changed. We are in a closed system. All atoms are already here, nothing new is created, nothing old is destroyed. Everything is in the process of being rearranged. Physics was explained while pondering tic tac toe.

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Hand or Heart?

I’m back on the trail. The weather is good, I’m coasting downhill at at a 3% slope. Life couldn’t be better, except that I have questions.

I have random questions, like… is it proper for a veteran to hand salute the flag, or use the hand over the heart method. This could have been a very random question, popping in from left field, but not so. A few weeks ago I was preparing to pass an older gentleman walking on the trail. It happened to be exactly where a flagpole had been erected in the backyard of a house next to the trail. The flag was several feet above the rear fence, so everyone on the trail always had a good look.

As I was about to pass, this gentleman performed a very snappy hand salute. I had passed that flag well over a hundred times and I never thought to do a hand salute. I was convicted, and I slowed to thank the man, and tell him that I would salute in the future.

The trouble was that I had some sort of protocol memorized that only active military can use the hand salute. The gentleman was wrong, and he should have placed his hand over his heart. Should I correct him the next time I see him? Who am I? The flag police?

I’m on the trail and the flag is coming up on my right side. What to do? Should I ignore it. Confusion reigned, so I did the most obvious thing I could do. I googled the exact question, “Is it proper for a veteran to hand salute the flag? The answer was immediate… when I became I civilian in 1973 I lost the right to use the hand salute. I should salute the flag by placing my hand over my heart!

However, in Oct, 2008 the federal law was changed that allows veterans and active duty military in civilian clothes to use the hand salute, if desired. The gentleman was not wrong!

So now my head is on the swivel, how many other flags do I pass on my daily ride. You can’t salute what you do not notice. How much is too much?

For now it is just the one flag, peeking over the backyard fence. I’m usually going at a pretty good clip, so it only takes a second, but it feels just right.

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Bob, the leaf

I’ve written about leaves before. There is much to be learned from taking the time to watch leaves. They spend their lives reacting to something unseen, yet powerful.

People revisit ideas and concepts in blogs when they have discovered something new, or perhaps they simply didn’t cover the concept quite completely.

I’m not sure I can ever do that. On my ride this morning I was convicted that I needed to write more. It’s possible that I could write about leaves every day for years.

I want to introduce you to Bob, the leaf. He began, like all of his siblings, as a shoot on this sturdy tree. Unlike the many evergreens all around, this tree was deciduous, meaning leaf bearing and eventually leaf losing. The tree was made to go into a sort of hibernation for the winter, so to save the energy necessary to maintain the foliage, the tree simply lets them go.

Bob, the shoot, doesn’t understand this yet. He is busy drawing nutrition from mother tree. Within a few weeks the shoot has grown, extended, and unfurled.

Bob, the leaf, sudden realized that his true purpose is to give back to his mother. In deep gratitude Bob gathers sunlight to react to his chemistry, and life energy is passed back to mother tree. It is the least he could do.

The process is so automatic that Bob doesn’t have to give it much thought. He can spend his days watching clouds, feeling the sun warm his surface, and growing stronger each day.

Bob begins to notice that strength is important. He has learned that there is an unseen force that sometimes shakes him, and spins him around. He has even seen a few of his siblings get separated from mother tree, they fly off never to be seen again. Bob wonders about mother tree being deprived of their life work.

The storms of spring subside and the leaves are stronger because of this. Now the great times began, the long days of warm sun, the gentle breeze that allows leaves to dance still attached. It seems as if this could go on forever. Bob is very happy, he feels content, he has meaning and purpose. This could go on forever, but it doesn’t.

Bob is vaguely aware that the temperature is changing. Mother tree seems to be cutting back on the life energy that is symbiotic. She doesn’t want his energy, and she stops sending energy to Bob.

This is a stressful time for Bob. He has never been down this road. He feels brittle, and dried up. His color has changed from lush green to a light tan. And he recognizes that it won’t stop there. His siblings all around him are changing as well some have gone to a deep red, and a few others have taken on a deep brown.

Bob can see that change is afoot. He has spent his life with a great vantage point. He can see far, and that tells him that other mother trees are going through the same process. Except for the evergreens

Eventually Bob begins to re-evaluate his purpose. Mother tree has shut down and doesn’t seem to even communicate with him anymore. He is left with his siblings stranded in the world. Each day the sun drys him further and his color changes. One day he notices that his connection to mother tree is weaker, not as strong as it was during the storms of spring

Bob didn’t know about the storms of fall or winter. He hadn’t lived that long, and none of his siblings knew this either. But Bob was observant so he could project that things were going to change.

Bob was midway up mother tree, high enough to have a good view but still protected from that unseen force they called “the wind”. Over time Bob and his siblings began to see “the wind” as the enemy. Everything would be fine if he was just left alone. Suddenly, at anytime of the day or night, this force would build in puffs and gusts. He first noticed that some of his siblings were lost each time. It wasn’t like the spring, these were mature leaves, leaves that have their lives in service. And now they were abandoned and left to this unseen force. It was the worst kind of nightmare. Suddenly snatched from there familiar place and taken far away. No one ever came back.

The weeks flew by, Bob could tell that his connection was weaker each day. He also noticed that he was completely brittle by now. Instead a a soft subtle surface that flexed with the wind, now he was stiff. The wind hit him and he no longer flexed. The wind spun him and twisted him to the left then quickly to the right. It seemed that the purpose was now to dislodge him from mother tree.

Bob has to study this very carefully. No matter what the past was, no matter what his purpose, it was obvious that this was different. Bob looked around to his siblings.

He found that the unseen force would separate his kin from mother tree but that they didn’t just disappear. For months they had learned to dance while still connected to mother tree. The unseen force took them left, right, up and down. But they always stayed connected.

Now the force broke them free, and they sailed away. But not without their skill of the dance they had learned. It’s true, they were falling to earth where their future was unknown… but briefly they were still leaves, showing their skills learned in dance. Only this time they were truly free to scribe they own path, truly free and un constrained.

The unseen force was no longer the enemy, it was the energy behind their freedom of flight. Bob, the leaf suddenly realized this one day, and began to accept his future. And he even planned some of his freedom movements. Bob knew that somehow time was extended the moment that he broke free from mother tree.

It wasn’t going to be a few short minutes of dancing and sailing, it was going to be a lifetime. Indeed, the very moment that Bob was separated from mother tree, he was forever known as Robert the dancer.

The unseen force known as “the wind” is also known as the “Ruach HaKodesh”.

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Dungeons

Dank, dark, something unknown moving over there, a fellow prisoner or just vermin? We don’t think much about dungeons today.

We have trivialized it in video and board games, but it once was a very real place. Of course most of us would never be in a dungeon. Not because we are guiltless, mostly because we aren’t rich enough to be kept alive.

Dungeons were often used as holding places while ransoms were worked out. I suppose there could always be some transients that stayed a few hours before the hangman arrived. Generally, dungeons were simply bleak, uncomfortably, and lonely.

Interesting that the general view of a dungeon is the basement of a castle, yet historically some of the most famous dungeons were castle towers. I am more the castle basement type. I’ve built several thousand dungeons and I never built a tower. Too much of a temptation to enjoy the view.

No, when I create the dungeon, it is a dark place, damp, the smell of rotting earth. A place of hopelessness, and punishment. It doesn’t matter that I’m the builder, I forgot to bring the key. I’m locked in without a timeframe. It could be minutes, it could be hours, it may even be days…

So how do I get free? When you build the mental dungeon it exists as long as the thoughts are fresh, the thoughts that created it. Sometimes it is a change of place, sometimes it’s a kind face. One thing I know, a dungeon is a lonely place, and being alone only extends the stay.

Rarely, but sometimes logic dissolves the walls, brings in the light. I say rarely because building the dungeon is intentional to keep reason out.

So are we doomed to be captured forever? Time heals all wounds is true so, time is an ally. It creates a distance that changes perspective. But it is not a vaccine.

I would wish for a “dungeon vaccine”, something that I could take to inoculate my future dungeon building activities. Or at the very least, let me build towers with a view.

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The Simple Things

Today I feel joy. Joy is within me, it is oozing from my fingertips, it is dripping from my beard… I am full up and overloaded.

Six weeks ago I had two feet of poly tubing in my chest, my sternum had been sawn in half, then wired back together, and my heart had been stopped, sewn on, and then started again.

One day later I was struggling down the hospital hall, gown flapping behind, dragging vials, bottles, and monitors on wheels. All that just seems like yesterday. Not particularly joyous at the moment.

But I should have been thankful for the joy that was coming. I had a loving wife, children, family and friends surrounding me. I had the promise of a future. It just seemed so far away.

Well, the future is here. There is still a long road ahead. I can’t sit in the front seat of a car, I can’t drive, and I probably can’t take a flight anywhere. A couple more weeks.

But I can ride my trike now! Wow, what a great feeling. Simple things like pedaling down the trail, grabbing a dark coffee at Starbucks… Is there anything better than being normal?

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Who is the Oldest?- Pando

I’m revisiting a subject that I wrote about a few months ago.

The Google Search term is “longest living organisms”. I’m not sure why I find this so interesting. Part of it stems from the remarkable possibility that there may be “immortal” organisms. This has massive theological ramifications, perhaps even an exception to basics laws of physics.

The Wikipedia article from the Google research is very interesting. The new piece of information for me is the grove of Aspens in south central Utah, near Fish Lake. It is a clonal organism, meaning that there is one central root system, providing stems, or shoots, that are exactly the same genetically. We are used to seeing this in BlackBerry bushes, or various ivy bushes. In trees we tend to known about trees reproducing individually from fertilized seeds.

The grove of Aspens in Utah appear to be individual trees, but they are not. They are all connected by a massive root system, covering about 106 acres, and weighing 6,600 tons. Clearly much heavier than a family of Blue Whales. The next surprising new piece of information is that it is estimated to be 100,000 years old, its a male, with the name of Pando! What?

So my updated list of the oldest known organisms is

1. 100,000- Pando, a male clonal Aspen grove, Utah

2. 10,000 to 80,000- Posidonia Oceania, a clonal sea grass in the Mediterranean Sea. (Some say it may be 200,000 years old)

3. 43,000- Lornatia tasmanic in Tasmania, a clonal shrub with no fruits or seeds, and has over 600 genetically exact individual plants.

4. 13,000- The Jurupa Oak Colony in Riverside County, California. A clonal grove of oak that only grows after a wildfire, the burned branches sprout new stems.

5. 13,000- a box huckleberry bush in Pennsylvania.

6. 13,000- Eucalptus recurve clones in Australia.

7. 11,700- Larrea tridentata, is a creosote bush named King Clone in the Mojave Desert, California

8. 9,500- Old Tjikko, a clonal Norway spruce in Sweden

9. 2,400 – 8,500 Humongous Fungus,a single specimen of clonal honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae)found in Oregon, covering 3.4 square miles.

10. 5,068- A Great Basin Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) is the oldest non-clonal tree. Secret location in California/Nevada/Utah.

One unique addition is a Judean Date Palm Tree, that came from a preserved 2,000 year old seed. The tree is in Israel and is now producing pollen.

And finally, during the 1990s, Raul Cano, a microbiologist at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, revived yeast trapped in amber for 25 million years. Cano went on to found a brewery and crafted an “amber ale” with a 45-million-year-old variant of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. His work inspired the movie Jurassic Park.

I don’t know where the immortal creatures fit. If the mortality rate of a species does not increase after maturity, the species does not age and is said to be biologically immortal. Many examples exist of plants and animals for which the mortality rate actually decreases with age, for all or part of the lifecycle.

If the mortality rate remains constant, the rate determines the mean lifespan. The lifespan can be long or short, though the species technically “does not age”.

• Hydra species were observed for four years without any increase in mortality rate.

Other species have been observed to regress to a larval state and regrow into adults multiple times.

• The hydrozoan species Turritopsis dohrnii (formerly Turritopsis nutricula) is capable of cycling from a mature adult stage to an immature polyp stage and back again. This means no natural limit to its lifespan is known. However, no single specimen has been observed for any extended period, and estimating the age of a specimen is not possible by any known means.

• At least one hydrozoan (Laodicea undulata and one scyphozoan (Aurelia sp.1) can also revert from medusa stage into polyp stage.

• The larvae of skin beetles undergo a degree of “reversed development” when starved, and later grow back to the previously attained level of maturity. The cycle can be repeated many times.

The idea of doing a Benjamin Button, going back to baby, was a movie idea. I didn’t know it really existed.

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I’m Listening

I find that I’m listening more. People assume that I’m retired so they often ask what did I do? More than likely I tell them that I professed. It is easier to generalize instead of picking one aspect of my college life. Ha, even when I was the college’s graphic designer or senior electronic technician, I was talking a great deal.

So now, on the other side of Wednesday, after staring into the abyss, I’m finding that I’m listening more. I should have done this earlier.

Today I visited the college. While waiting at a convenient bench to catch my breath, two students came to sit near me, close enough for me to hear the entire conversation. I was intrigued.

The first words spoken by the older student was, “This is a speech class that focuses on critical thinking, so it doesn’t have the space to get into specific speech topics brought up by the class.”

He was sympathizing with the student, providing a critical analysis of the situation. I was very intrigued because my wife probably wrote the textbook that the class was using.

The student was older, probably in his sixties, and he had lived in Washington DC for a few years. He quickly gave his take on the current political scene, and he used good critical thinking skills until the end.

“They are supposed to be elected to serve the people’s need. And we know that is not true.”

Truth? Ha, the old Greek question, “What is truth?” The potential of dropping into a mental coma is great when pondering truth, beauty, quality, etc. so, what is truth?

I first went to some obvious examples, particularly in math. Two plus two equals four. Seems to be true. True is an absolute, what is true is always true. However, forty years of graphic design and visual thinking, tells me that sometimes two plus two is twenty-two. Oh oh.

How about “the sun is shining because it is noon with no clouds.” Well, it takes eight minutes for the light to reach Earth. It was truth, but at this minute?

Truth is a slippery concept. Every time I hear someone tell me that they know the truth I am very interested.

At the end of the conversation the student said, “This White Supremacy is a thing.” I knew what he meant of course, he was using a convenient label to connect to a common understanding with the other student. It was not meant for me, I was eavesdropping. But it was not a great example of critical thinking.

I’m white, but not supreme. The good thing with labels is that it gets to the point quickly. The bad thing with labels is that it gets to the point too quickly.

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