Abram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The First Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My intrepation

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16 Great Lines in Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Can Create Falsely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. What is the evidence?

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

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

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

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

8. Even the immoral can choose good.

9. Do not wait to be perfect.

10. It’s not about me.

11. Learn to yield.

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Hope

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

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

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

my take on Rossetti’s Pandora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Encouragement

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

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

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

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

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

Of course it is tangential to everything.

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

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

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70 Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dropping Names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I need a new list.

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Suddenly Eternal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe, help me in my unbelief.

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Judging by How You Know

This is a follow up to the previous blogpost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Umm.

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

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Szukalski

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Worst

Roid Rage

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

I get needles in my eyes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What? Like Clockwork Orange? This is getting worse.

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

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

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

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

Great, now what?

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

Hmm, I don’t like this, but okay…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boustrophedon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Life and Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It truly is a work progressing…

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What is a Song?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think I missed something.

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

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

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

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

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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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