Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ants and grasshoppers

Do you know the story of the grasshopper and the ants? It's a fairly simple one.

In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and was dying of hunger while every day the ants distributed corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer.

I remember an old cartoon in which the grasshopper danced and played a fiddle while the ants worked and stored up food for the long winter ahead. Come winter, the grasshopper fell at the doorway to the ants' home in the midst of a blizzard. He was nearly dead of starvation and hypothermia. The ants took him in, revived and fed the grasshopper and he repaid them by playing his fiddle and dancing with the ants in the warm comfort of their winter home.

I'll bet that when spring came the grasshopper went back out into the greening world and played his fiddle and danced the warm months away while the ants went back to working and saving. He hadn't learned a thing. He wasn't going to waste his time working throughout the warm and beautiful days; he knew the ants would follow their nature and store up food that he would share all winter long. They'd been generous with him before and he no doubt thought they would continue to be generous and there'd always be a handout waiting for him, so why change and give up having a good time?

That is all. Disperse.

Politics, guns and money

I'll keep this short since most of you are probably tired of all the politics and talk about money. Still, knowledge is power so power up.

New Deal vs Reagonomics.">Politics made interesting -- for a while.

Here's a thought to warm some of your hearts . . ...
From: Ed Chenel, A police officer in Australia

Hi Yanks,
I thought you all would like to see the available data from Down Under.
It has now been one year (12 months) since gun owners in Australia
were forced, by a new law, to surrender 640,381 personal firearms to
be destroyed by our own government, a program costing Australian
taxpayers more than $500 million dollars.

The first year results are now available:
Australia-wide, homicides are up 6.2 percent;
Australia-wide, assaults are up 9.6 percent;
Australia-wide, armed robberies are up 44 percent (yes, 44 percent);
In the state of Victoria alone, homicides with firearms are now up
300 percent as compared with the last one year period when
private ownership of a firearm was legal. (NB: the law-abiding citizens
did turn in their personal firearms, the criminal element did not and thus
criminals in Australia still possess their guns.)

While data for the 25 years preceding the confiscation of
privately owned guns showed a steady decrease in armed
robbery with firearms, this has changed drastically upward in
the past 12 months as criminals now are assured their
victims will be unarmed.

There has also been a dramatic increase in break-ins and
assaults of the elderly, while the resident is at home.
Australian politicians are at a loss to explain how public safety has
decreased, after such monumental effort and expense was expended
in successfully ridding Australian society of guns.

This story of well intentioned government intervention in the rights of
lawful individuals to own and possess firearms won't be seen in the
mainstream US media or on the American evening news.
President Obama who advocates a similar confiscation in the US will not
be reporting any of this to you.

But, the Australian experience speaks for itself. Guns in the hands of
honest citizens save lives and property and, yes, gun-control laws affect
only the law-abiding citizens.

As emotional as the above is, the facts don't bear it out completely, so check out the statistics for yourself.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Violence in the Age of Aquarius

Mike and I were discussing the perpetuation of violence and that there may not be a way to end it. I suggested a virus that targeted whatever hormones or DNA responsible for the violent response in humans, but that might end up in like Captain Kirk in Mirror, Mirror when he was split into the two halves of his personality (one violent and one passive reason), neither of which could live without the other. The same situation was used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Xander was hit by a demon's weapon and split into smart and confident Xander and silly, immature Xander, both of which would die if they weren't reunited. Instead of a transporter fusing the two, Willow reversed the spell. Willow said that it was the natural state of the two halves of Xander to be one. In both situations, the writers were saying that we are darkness and light, violence and reason, good and evil combined in one package.

The dichotomy of the two halves of human nature -- dark and light -- is the central theme in many stories throughout history and is most prominent in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Nowhere is the search to end violence and divide human nature more obvious than in Jekyll and Hyde, and that is one story that has been told and retold and cast in many different ways, even making the two halves of human nature male and female (Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde). So what is the answer? How do we control violence without cutting ourselves in half or castrating the population?


The tendency toward violence is inherent in all of us and religion certainly isn't the answer. Organized religion has fomented more wars, murder and destruction than any other catalyst in the history of mankind, and it's much harder to persuade a fervent believer that violence in the name of his god is wrong. After all, he has a mandate from heaven and he is the instrument of god's will, the results of which can be seen in radical Muslim suicide bombers. They have the force of Allah behind them and to deny Allah's will is unthinkable. Christianity isn't without its holy wars either and it's not even necessary to go back to the time of the Crusades in the Dark Ages to find proof. Hitler used religion to his advantage by targeting Jews, Gypsies and Christians that didn't follow the same beliefs. Even the Jews in their early days destroyed cities and put whole populations to the sword in the name of G_d. Instances of murder in the name of religion are very easy to find: Jim Jones, the Holy Inquisition, Joan of Arc (although Joan carried a sword, she never killed anyone, but her troops did), Cromwell, El Cid, Saladin, Richard the Lionhearted, the Children's Crusade, the Reformation Wars, David Koresh, Saddam Hussein, etc. I could go on for pages.

It is doubtful that violence can be reliably obtained through external means (drugs, religion, government) because each can be so easily perverted and turned from helping to fueling a more intense and destructive violence once removed or perverted. At the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, John Harvey Kellogg believed he had conquered the inherent predatory nature of a wolf by raising him to be a vegetarian, but I've little doubt that given a plate of raw meat the wolf would have reverted to type and become a dangerous predator. That much is evident in cats. A vegetarian cat will still chase, torture and kill any mouse that crosses it's path, its predatory nature hard wired in its DNA and its brain, and the same can be said for any predatory animal, including humans.

The only possible chance to curb the violent nature is to focus on the personality, the basic human psyche. Some people are more predatory than others (serial killers, abusers, murderers, etc.) but the instinct is in us all. It is the instinct to survive at all costs, as the members of the Donner party found when they were stranded in a snow storm while crossing the Rocky Mountains on their way to Oregon. The soccer players in the plane that went down in the Andes quickly turned to their dead fellow passengers to sustain them until they were found. The survival instinct is strong and I doubt it would exist without the inherent violence in human nature.

Humans can be tolerant and charitable and driven and reasonable, but given the right circumstances a mild mannered individual can become Superman or John Wayne Gacy.

As much as I would like to see peace on earth with good will toward all men, I doubt it will happen quickly and definitely not with religion, drugs or government intervention. You can lock up the criminals, but the most successful criminals never see the inside of a prison. We may not be ready for peaceful co-existence, as Kirk and Spock found out when they leapt through the time arch in The City on the Edge of Forever, which I discovered was written by Harlan Ellison. Edith Keeler had to die because her plans for peace were ahead of their time or it may be right around the corner.

At dawn on Saturday, February 14, 2009 the Age of Aquarius dawns when the Moon in Libra enters the seventh house of relationships, and Jupiter and Mars are aligned in Aquarius in the twelfth house of spiritual transformation. Sound familiar? It was a very popular song when I was growing up.

Whatever happens, we must find a way to use the violence inherent in the survival instinct, and the instinct to compete for mates, territory and possessions, to propel humanity into a new age of peace and prosperity without castrating human nature or ending up as ineffectual, weak-willed, intellectuals on the verge of fading away into nothingness. There has to be a way. Maybe the dawning Age of Aquarius marked in the eternal skies above this beleaguered planet will guide the way. The hippies of the 1960s were ahead of their time, like Edith Keeler. Maybe we have finally reached the time when peace will reign and violence will enhance our strength without robbing our minds and hastening the end of the Age of Man.

When the Moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars.
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars.
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation

I'll gouge you later

Since I work at home and everything I need is within walking distance, I don't usually drive my car. That means I save lots of money on gas (haven't filled the tank since October and I'm still at half a tank), wear and tear on the car, tires and machinery, and the battery tends to run down when it's cold. It was cold today and the battery was low.

I gave it some time to recharge but I still couldn't get the engine to turn over, so I called an auto repair shop that's about two blocks away and asked how much he would charge me to jump my battery. "Five thousand dollars," he said.

"Sorry, I'll have to call AAA. They're cheaper."

"Where are you?"

I gave him my address and he said he'd be right over and we could discuss it then. I knew he wouldn't really charge me $5,000, but he didn't give me enough time to ask if he took credit cards. I went to the bathroom and when I got outside he was getting out of his car with a portable battery charger, a sort of charged battery with cables. Since I've been eyeing a solar battery charger about the size and thinness of a mouse pad, I didn't let my eyes linger too long on the nifty tool. In less than five minutes, my car was running like a champ. I asked him what I owed him. "Nothing. I'll gouge you later on something else."

I appreciate his candor. I also told him I have some things that need to be done (flush & fill, A/C recharge, and tune-up), and he just smiled as he rolled up the cables and reminded me to leave the car run for a while to recharge the battery.

I've dealt with his company before and they are reliable and reasonably priced, so I don't take his gouging comment seriously. Then again, you never know quite what someone will do when you need their help, like my dad.

Adventures in driving

It was bitterly cold the night Dad drove his truck up to Worthington from Hilliard to see if he could get my car started. It wasn't the battery. He jumped the car and the engine sounded sick and run down. It just clicked. Alternator or starter -- or both. Dad had a heavy chain in the back of the truck and he affixed the heavy hook to the bumper of my 1978 Gran Torino to tow me back to Hilliard down I-270, one of the busiest freeways in the city. Even at night, cars whizzed by us, rocking the heavy Torino.

I had no brakes and the power steering was out since the engine wasn't running and there was no charge in the battery. Dad seemed to forget I was back there or that I was freezing. No engine means no heat and I was wearing a skirt. Even in pantyhose, my legs quickly turned to blocks of ice and I lost all feeling below the waist as I instinctively braked every time the chain went slack and the rear end of Dad's truck loomed in front of me. Just before I hit the back end of the truck, the chain would snap taut and we'd be off again, Dad driving at top allowed speed.

Hands on the wheel, sweat freezing on the palms of my hand and sticking to the plastic steering wheel, I rode behind my demented father's truck, jerking and slowing, slowing and jerking, trying to maintain a straight line with the power steering no longer working. It was like trying to turn a Mack truck with a kiddie car steering wheel and it didn't work very well. Teeth clenched, nearly frozen solid, I fought the wheel and prayed continuously until suddenly Dad's truck pulled away and my car slowed. I managed to get to the side of the road before the truck disappeared over the hill and I waited and waited and waited.

After what seemed like hours, someone tapped on the wheel just before hypothermia set in and my eyes had slid completely shut as I gave myself up to a long -- very long, terminal -- winter's nap. I jerked awake and rolled down the window. Dad laughed at me. "I got all the way to Roberts Road before I realized you weren't back there any more. I'll hook you back up and we'll be on our way."

I don't know what was worse, sitting there as the winter night wrapped subzero arms around me or being jerked at high speed down the freeway behind Dad's truck, but I survived, obviously. It was a night of terror for me and a big joke for Dad. Roberts Road is the turnoff about one mile from Dad's house where he was towing my car and me. He had nearly made it home before he figured out I wasn't back there and I nearly frozen to death. Getting warm again was a new experience in pain that sears those harrowing moments in my mind as I fought to stay in my lane, almost getting hit several times, and futilely hitting brakes that didn't work to keep from smashing into the back end of the truck. Sometimes power brakes and steering are more of a hazard than a help. But I made it through, although even after all these years (nearly 30 years), I still don't think the experience is funny. I don't think I ever will. Near death experiences seldom are, at least not to the one who nearly died.

It seems dramatic to say it that way -- I nearly died -- and it is in way, but it's also true. Some stubborn core inside me refuses to give up no matter what and that stubborn core has kept me alive more times than I care to count, which means I will probably end up in hell after all and will spend eternity in a world ruled by cockroaches, moths and Mom.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's a matter of experience

As I was reading about the latest in the POTUS's saga, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu. When Clinton ran for president his character and moral integrity were an issue -- at least for a lot of people. Clinton's backers said none of it mattered and America found out that character and moral integrity do matter. Fast forward to today when we have a president for whom people voted because they said his inexperience didn't matter and we are in the midst of Amateur Hour in a complex environment where government leaders around the world are licking their chops and rubbing their hands together because the POTUS's inexperience makes America seem like a lamb waiting its turn for slaughter. Kathleen Parker says it best. The first however-many days of Barack Obama's presidency have been a study in amateurism.

Experience, like character and moral integrity, matter, as I found out this morning. Chicken Soup picked up another of my stories for a new book to be published in October 2009: All in the Family. They wanted stories about family and I gave them the late Esther Sherwood, my ex-mother-in-law who died before I married her son, who in many ways is like my own mother who is famous for being late, although I doubt Mom will be late to her funeral. She chases Death just like her father did.

I can remember Grandpa saying he wouldn't be around much longer and I felt like he stayed around for me. I coaxed him with food and promises of firsts: first date, first grandchild, first time driver, first time honor student, first graduation, first wedding. I have one cousin older than I am and she was the first driver, first high school graduate and first bride in our family. I remember all her firsts because I was there and amazed my hair didn't turn white.

I was in the car when Uncle Bob let Laura drive their station wagon (this was before SUVs) on the I-71 freeway from Columbus to their house out in the country. In the back were baskets of mildew-smelling laundry, her brother and two of her sisters, and me. Laura was skittish at the wheel but anxious to prove to her father that she was a competent driver and could handle rush hour traffic on one of Columbus's busiest freeways. Uncle Bob urged her to speed up and keep with the flow of traffic and she did, the back end of the station wagon fishtailing wildly across three lanes of traffic while I sat in the back seat with her sister Bobbi Jean facing the oncoming traffic and praying I wasn't about to die. Laura finally got control of the car, but not before the rest of us found out what it was like to see our all too short lives flash before our eyes. It took all our strength and courage not to fall to the ground and grab up handfuls of earth and kiss them when we got out of the car, our legs shaking and our hearts still pounding after more than 20 miles. I don't think we even breathed until we turned onto to Old State Road where traffic was scarce on the two-lane country road that led to their little house across from the dairy farm. We all took deep breaths of fresh country air laced with manure and new mown green fields and released our white knuckled hold on each other and our seats.

I've had quite a few adventures in cars when someone else was in control of the wheel, like the night my father towed me from Worthington to Hilliard behind his truck on the I-270 freeway in the dead of winter. Dad loved that story and laughed about what happened, but I have never found frostbite and near death experiences all that humorous.

Experience matters. Whether it's to tell a good story that recreates a moment in time or someone's life or in knowing what and how to do what's necessary, even when it means people will revile and hate you when you make an unpopular decision, it's nearly impossible to get through the difficult times if you've never been through that way before. We all have to crawl before we can walk and then run. Fresh from the egg, we are little more than turtles racing to the sea beneath a sky full of ravenous and experienced predatory birds.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A new Holocaust! Are you next?

I love solving puzzles, but I need to kill Chili Bob for sending me this. It is supposed to tell the age of your brain. His was 33 and mine is 15, but I can't seem to get lower than that so I will have to remain teenager. Someone claims to have a brain the age of 3 years, but I suspect that's because she never grew up, despite her advanced age of 60+. Cheryl is the eternal child who demands the world revolve around her, so that's not a big surprise. I'd be interested to find out how all of you did with the test/puzzle/frustration. I suspect taking the test after a good night's sleep (something I haven't had in ages) would make a difference, and you can be sure I'll keep trying -- just not today. I have to work for a living.

I have my rituals in the morning -- playing one word game (I said I love puzzles), reading and answering email, checking up on the news and checking out other journals, but it seems I have less and less time to read blogs because I've been caught up in the Israeli elections and the news from the European front as Biden proves that the POTUS is just as much a prisoner of American policy as Bush was. Some things do not change and I wonder if we are caught in a data loop that no one will be able to break, but I suspect I'll find out a lot more when I check out George Friedman's latest foray into forecasting in The Next 100 Years. The interview I listened to on Authorlink was eye-opening and that piqued my interest. I may become a news junkie yet.

As an example, I read about the widespread violence against Jews in Britain that has ended with several universities giving in to Muslim demands to give scholarships to Gazan refugees with reciprocity between those same universities and the university in Gaza (the one that has been--and continues to be--used as a training camp for terrorists) and changing the curriculum to marginalize Jews and focus more on Muslim studies, a move that changed the focus of curriculum in at least one department. Even small Jewish children are being terrorized, having to run a gauntlet of their classmates who shout, "Kill all the Jews," a chant that is being repeated from Malaysia to Denmark and France and throughout the world where Muslims have a significant presence among the population. It is the same chant that began the Holocaust under Hitler and plunged the world into a costly and devastating war that targeted Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. It seems that people just don't get the meaning of the words, "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat the past." It ought to scare everyone that any group of people are being targeted in such a widespread way. Who's next after the Jews? Will it be the Gypsies and homosexuals or will it be you? We are all different in some way, but in a world where the courts uphold a middle-aged Saudi settling his debts by selling his 8-year-old daughter into marriage and terrorists use women and children as shields and human bombs, no one is safe.

In the meantime, there are new books to read, food to buy, bills to pay and work to do so I can pay the bills. Life keeps moving on with or without me and I really hate to be left behind.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, February 09, 2009

It pays to keep looking

I really need to subscribe to National Geographic again. Here's why.

The country is in a financial crisis that won't be quickly or easily solved. The world is in turmoil and hate abounds. Prices are rising and businesses are closing while the government gorges itself on pork.

In spite of all this, there are moments captured on film that take my breath away and remind me that anything and everything is possible, especially beauty, if we take the time to stop and look for it.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

First lunar eclipse of 2009

Grey-white sky above and grey-white roof tops below blending in a cold and silent landscape.

It's supposed to snow today and the sky smells of wood smoke and snow, dry and pungent and wintry, so here I sit reading and responding to emails, feeling like I'm the only one awake on this cold February morning less than a week since the groundhog, scared by his shadow, crawled back into his hole for another six weeks. I'm not averse to winter -- I actually enjoy it -- but I am hungry for the scent of budding trees and the sight of bright-faced crocuses and tulips winking above the frozen ground. I yearn for ice-edged breezes that give way to the warm fragrance of soft winds and trees filled with pale pastels in green and white and pink and blue and yellow, every color of a spring rainbow.

This week is filled with celebrations, ending with Beanie's birthday on Friday and Valentine's Day on Saturday. Birthdays and anniversaries and remembrances crowd my calendar and remind me it's time to get up and out, starting with the lunar eclipse tomorrow. The eclipse will be a penumbral eclipse, which is the weakest kind of eclipse, when the moon moves into the other edge of the Earth's shadow and some sunlight reaches it. It will be barely detectable even with a telescope, but mine will be set up and I'll watch anyway. The eclipse begins at 7:38 p.m. here in Colorado and ends at 12:37 a.m. The mid point will be at 9:38 p.m. when the eclipse is at its greatest penumbral point. (Penumbra mean under the umbra, or shadow.)

This year is going to be an interesting roller coaster ride that will end with a blue moon (second moon in a month) on New Year's Eve. Now that's going out in style.

For those of you not tuned into the effects of a lunar eclipse, I offer this little bit of astrological info.

We tend to be more emotionally expressive during a full Moon, and this time around, that bright orb in the night sky is no exception. Meaningful change is upon us. This eclipse in Leo emphasizes emotional reactions, and psychic sensitivity, spiritual instincts and emotional connectedness will all be heightened during this period. There will be feelings of freedom as blockages melt away. Let go of beliefs that don't correspond with your current reality and you'll be able to see the present in a new light. You're free to redefine your personality and your image. A new hairdo or new clothes would do you a world of good!

A old phase ends and a new one begins. Whatever part of your life is not in sync with your true life's purpose will be the most affected This is revealed by where this eclipse falls in your personal chart.

Now is the time to make changes in your life, to check your options and do a little spring cleaning, throwing out what no longer works and making room for better and wider possibilities. The world is full of possibilities, so if you've been stuck in a rut or feeling stagnant and immobile, now is the time to get up and get moving.

On a side note, this is my 1,003rd post in this blog. There is more yet to come.

That is all. Disperse.