Friday, June 19, 2009

Take my breath away

This morning someone asked me what I like to show family and friends who visit me here in Colorado. It's an easy answer.

There are so many things to see here in Colorado: deserts, mountains, wildlife, nightlife and history. My favorite place to take people is the spectacular beauty and grandeur of the view from Wilkerson Pass west of Colorado Springs up I-24. It always takes my breath away.

That is all. Disperse.

All fired up

Fire warms and cooks and provides romance on a cold, snowy night. Fire lights the way and cheers when glowing through a window on dark nights in a solitary landscape. Fire destroys and in that destruction provides nourishment for growth.

In the July/August issue of Grit an article about prairie fires caught my attention. A couple decided to buy land in the Midwest and reclaim the land. Part of the reclamation is controlled burning every 2-3 years, something indigenous people did regularly to nourish the land and increase its productivity and diversity. Animals flee as the fire races across the prairie devouring everything in its path. The ground is blackened and plant incursions by competing species are ash that enrich the soil. When the flames die, native plants grow quickly supercharged by the life-giving sun, its heat concentrated by the blackened earth, reaching quickly toward the sky and once again covering the prairie. Animals and insects rapidly return and ecological stability is maintained and preserved.

The same thing happens with forest fires. Forest floor litter is consumed and the ash enriches the soil. Seeds safe in the earth from the fire grow unimpeded, no longer choked by the thick undergrowth. Small trees consumed by the flames allow sunlight to stream down through the remaining trees. Pine cones open in the intense heat and release their seeds and indigenous trees with thick cobble-stoned bark protect the inner layers that contain the circulation that provides nutrients and water that keep the tree alive and thriving. Fire is nature's spring cleaner, weeding out the weak and nourishing the strong and it works for writing, life and relationships as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chasing Armageddon

Because of the movie, which I have not yet seen, I decided to read The Watchmen, the 1980s graphic novel and so far it's interesting and provocative. No, not in a sexual sense, but in a provoking thought sense. The whole concept of a human being bombarded by nuclear material reassembling himself over several days into a blue skinned, blank-eyed hunk is quite startling and innovative, but the idea of costumed adventurers battling for good and evil is even more so and it makes me think about the state of the world now.

Ozymandias's plan to bring the world to the bring of nuclear war to create peace is not a new concept and could have been taken from Star Trek, the original series, when Gary 7 detonated a nuclear warhead about 10 miles above the Earth's surface. The same idea was put forward in the war with the Shadows on Babylon 5 where two separate factions from ancient races battled it out with the universe's races and the Shadows believed that all out war brought out the best in humanoids so they were forced to evolve quicker. But where does all this evolution and using the threat of nuclear annihilation take us?

For some reason, it took me into a dream of driving down a hall where children were frantically and gleefully ripping books off shelves, throwing them onto the floor and stomping on them. My partner and I stopped the vehicle even though we were in a rush to question the children. I wrote down their names and tried to get information on their families while deciding whether I should contact their parents by phone, letter or in person. I was appalled that the children would treat books in such a fashion and despaired of the human race if that kind of behavior continued. That scenario is probably a direct result of having talked about a similar subject with Lynn yesterday.

I have trouble understanding why when I was in grade school a teacher could handle 30+ students without paras and aides and all the extra staff needed today. Granted, Lynn works with mentally retarded and developmentally disabled children (MRDD), but even in regular schools the teachers need help. Why? Because children are out of control and their parents are becoming less and less involved in teaching them social skills and discipline.

The first response on my lips when someone tells me about a child or teen who has talked back to a teacher or abused an adult is that I wouldn't be here today. My parents believed in corporal punishment, although I got less of it than my brother. Jimmy seemed to need a minimum of twice daily spankings: one in the morning when he got up to remind him to behave and one at night before he went to bed for anything he did that was missed and not punished. (It's only partly a joke.) Soap was my mother's favorite tool of punishment for because caught with the taste of banned words and a chair facing the corner or one of us standing in the corner with our nose to the wall the second favorite form of punishment. There were spankings with belts, switches (we had to cut them ourselves) and whatever was closed to hand at the moment of discovery and the occasional backhand in the face when soap was not available, but we were by no means abused children -- well, at least the other three weren't abused. Anything at school that resulted in a visit to the principal or vice-principal's office for a spank meant a repeat performance at home, but then all of us were more afraid not to bring a note home from school than to bring one home.

Punishment really isn't about spanking but about setting limits and sticking to them. Kids need limits, and so, in my opinion, do most adults. Kids do best with limits and learn quickest when there are object lessons about cause and effect. Steal something and get punished and you're less likely to steal again -- or you'll become more efficient at getting away with it. Somehow it was easier to face the owner of the goods and apologize than to face my mother's wrath if I got caught, so stealing was out of the question. The real issue is parents being involved and aware of their children's actions. My parents were involved -- sometimes too much, but that turned out to be a good thing . . . most of the time.

The strange thing about my dream wasn't just the children, but the way the teachers and adults in the school responded. They remembered me as a student and said that I had exceeded their expectations and they knew about me. I found myself in the bathroom before I could find out what they meant and that was the signal for me to wake up and go to the bathroom for real.

What I wonder still is how close children need to get to nuclear meltdown before parents take over again, but that presupposes there will not be a nuclear war with missiles fired from North Korean or Iran and there will still be children to worry about.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Seeking god

When I was a child living on an Army base in Panama, my father decided to convert to Catholicism and the family went with him. It didn't last long, just until Dad found out he had to give up being a Mason, and that he refused to do. We got off the Catholic train and followed our parents through several different Christian reform sects until they settled on Baptist after a lifetime of being Methodists.

Off and on through my adult life I moved toward and backed away from the Baptists and from Christianity, feeling something unsettling about their history and doctrine, but never quite sure what it was. Time and again I came up against dogma and all my questions, questions I had asked since I was a small child of three or four, were met with the same answer: It is not our place to understand just to obey and take everything on faith.

I have faith in many things: the turn of the season, the sun rising in the morning, the moon hanging in the night sky showing its many faces as it glimpses the sun and that death certainly follows life. I began having doubts about any religion that negated the "gifts" that I was supposedly given by god, like my curiosity and intelligence. Ministers and laymen alike told me I was not allowed to use them to question god or to question anything that was already accepted by their religion. Then why give me curiosity and a thirst for knowledge if not to use it? I couldn't accept that an omnipotent god would be so incensed and upset by me using what s/he gave me and so I began to search and to question.

In my early twenties I studied the Mormons and every other religion I could. I briefly became Mormon, but their exclusion of other races and their problems with people who were born different chilled me to the bone. I walked away and went back to Christianity, and thus began the dance toward and away, toward and away. As Christianity became more and more exclusive I backed farther and farther away until I realized that it no longer fed my soul, met my spiritual and temporal needs or filled me with joy.

The more I learned of Christianity and its history, of the truth it has suppressed in order to gain more power over people's minds and hearts, the less I wanted to do with it. Organized religion was the path to corruption and destruction of the souls and minds of humanity, steeped in excess and rife with lies. I could no longer give my talents or my allegiance to what I was raised to believe.

I had flirted with paganism, finding in its simple tenets and open embrace of curiosity and intelligence a peace and joy I had not felt since I was a child, and finally I turned away from organized religion altogether and embraced the calling of my heart and soul. I have not only considered converting, but actually have. I still read about and question adherents of other religions because knowledge is power and because knowing what calls to another's heart helps to understand them and myself. I will always seek understanding. In many ways, that is my religion, seeking god at the heart of nature and creation. Understanding may never fully come, but I will always seek it. It is what I was born to be.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bermuda Triangle of Democracy

After the elections in Iran and the declaration of Ahmadinejad as winner, Tehran and surrounding areas erupted with violence. Protesters chanting, "Where are our votes?" were beaten and arrested. One hundred government officials resigned in protest. Ahmadinejad's opponent, Mousavi, disappeared on his way to see the real power in Iran, Khameini. All the while Ahmadinejad smiled and posed for the cameras as he declared himself the winner, the once and still president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while highlighting the "free and healthy elections". Doesn't sound so free or so healthy and the people obviously don't agree with him.

What happened on Friday and over the weekend in Iran is a mockery of the democratic process, but not a big surprise. The people have been lulled into believing a fantasy, that a free and healthy democratic process is possible and their votes matter. As long as Iran is governed by Khameini and his band of Basiji thugs, this is what the Iranian people can expect, more puppets like Ahmadinejad spouting religious platitudes and fiery speeches about the destiny of a nuclear Iran that will result in a prosperous and economically stable country rivaling the great superpowers. Iran is just one more Bermuda Triangle of Freedom.

In a country where they have to import refined petroleum products because their own refineries have neither the capacity nor the expertise to refine their own crude oil and their best and brightest citizens take the first opening to run for freedom in the West, it's hard to see Iran as anything near to a superpower. Iran's oil wealth has gone to finance terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas in an effort to destabilize the rest of the Arab world and destroy Israel instead of into a flagging and crumbling economy. Had the leaders of Iran been serious about freedom and the democratic process, they would have elected someone whose main focus wasn't in destroying Israel, terrorism and building a nuclear arsenal to hold the rest of the world hostage. Iran would not have to loan money to couples who cannot afford the cost of an apartment in a concrete block building for their marriage ceremonies and Iranians would have a better standard of living with low cost petroleum products and electricity, if such had been the real goal.

My Gram always said the proof was in the pudding and the proof of the governing authorities in Iran is evident with the continuing riots over the weekend.

It's easy to point to people lining up at the polls and 85% of the registered voters participating as proof of the democratic process, but the proof is not in the queues or the number of people that turn out; the proof is in the results of an orderly transition of power or the smooth return to business as usual in the event of the re-election of an incumbent.

When voters are beat up or terrorized at polling places or their votes miraculously disappearing in known strongholds of the opposition, something is definitely wrong with the process. When the media caters to the approved favorite who spends most of his time playing to the crowds and mugging for the camera without one single piece of concrete evidence of his fitness for the position or his ability to make good on his campaign promises, the scent of lies is like the smell of shrimp beginning to rot in the curtain rods. It's faint but grows stronger with each passing day, an undefinable stench that begins to permeate everything. Fiery and stirring rhetoric inflames the emotions, but is a poor substitute for results in a flagging economy where truth is a vanishing commodity.

As the religion of persecution and the cult of the personality grow, it becomes a festering wound on the soul of a nation that poisons the whole system, but it is a fraud, a bit of prestidigitation to hide the real truth that freedom is diseased, slowly and subtly eroding like creeping leprosy until people wake up to find it gone. They wonder how it happened and when, but it was right there all the time, spreading its subtle influence like an expanding Bermuda Triangle engulfing sense and reason in lies and showmanship, stage dressing and sound bytes until truth lies in ruins or little more than a faintly remembered dream.

Ahmadinejad's "victory" is but the visibly flagrant symbol of an inward state of rot and while the world's attention is focused on him, the real danger in goes unnoticed and unchecked. Beware the Bermuda Triangle coming to a country near you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Days I need wine and roses

"The days of wine and roses...laugh and run away like a child at play..." That song is stuck in my head right now as the lights flicker on and off and another thunderstorm moves through this usually arid area where rain falls everywhere but here. It's been like for over a month, and believe me I'm not complaining. I love the rain and I adore thunderstorms, just not when I need my Internet connection to stay stable and actually on. Had to give up watching another episode of Babylon 5, but I wasn't really able to get into it because of administrative duties that ended in me firing someone. I hate when that happens. Suffice it to say, he deserved it and I did what I had to do. And the day started out so nice -- for a few minutes, and then an email I should have immediately deleted instead of reading hit me wrong.

What is it about some people they feel the need to rip at someone who disagrees with them, usually with some form of snide comment that looks like a compliment but isn't? The world, and this country, offer a widely diverse range of experiences and it takes all of us to be able to experience everything. However, one person can rack up quite a list of experiences if they spend any time traveling other than the safe and guided highways and byways. I've had the good fortune to live in interesting times and even more interesting places and I've never been afraid of new experiences. I have mingled with people from all strata of society and learned things, some of which I wished at the time I hadn't. I have had lots of experience in business, television, medicine, publishing and security, to name a few industries, and my resume covers maybe one-third of my background. I am, as I have told many people, a Jackie-of-all-trades and have mastered quite a few. Doesn't mean I wouldn't like to master a few more, and believe me when I saw I shall. Life's too short to waste it waiting on the sidelines for life to happen. I'm not the shrinking violet or wallflower type.

At any rate, I sent a shot across the bow of the correspondent who sent her snide comment. I'm sure it hit its mark since no response has returned. That's the thing about secrets, and I've said this before. They never stay buried if more than one person knows. When the secret is part of public record that is available for a few cents a copied page and an afternoon digging through civil and probate court records, it is so much easier to find and paper keeps for a long time.

It reminds me of the saying on a wall in a graphic novel. "Who watches the Watchmen?" In this case, all it took was a request for information and I took the time to watch the guardian. Some people feel so safe bilking the government and attempting to hide in reams of bureaucratic paperwork, but there's always someone willing to wade through the red tape, pay the fees and get the information, especially when there is a loved one's health and well being at stake. Even the guardians need to be guarded. The only reason the information didn't come out before this was because one of the parties afraid of the repercussions and what would be lost. I do not share the fears, but I respected the request. Sounds so mysterious and cloak-and-dagger, but I've no doubt the information, if it merely grazed the mark before, will be received and noted in due course. If nothing else, it will make a great story about families, fraud, malfeasance and greed. I'm sure it will quickly find a following.

I guess some people never read the sign that says, "Don't poke the bear," and take it to heart when they should. There is only one thing more dangerous and ferocious than a pissed off bear and that's a pissed off writer. Think I'm kidding. You've obviously never read the famous feuds and poison pens employed by pissed off writers that rival the Hatfields and the McCoys. There are enemies turned into villainous characters in novels and public and written sniping, as when Gore Vidal quipped that Truman Capote's horrendous end was "...a good career move."

Writers, as in a recent post by a friend, are more than capable of rendering life into art and finding new and inventive ways to murder those who raise the writer's ire to Mount St. Helen's or Krakatoa's proportions that can darken the horizon for years. I've always wondered who Dickens loathed so much as to immortalize him in the greedy, grasping and obsequious person of Uriah Heep? Probably someone who was given guardianship over a loved one.

Yes, this day would have been better for wine and roses, but I guess I'll have to settle for a glass of wine. The roses aren't in bloom yet.