Epitaph

Cover of In The Court Of The Crimson King. Art by Barry Godber

Confusion will be my epitaph. These words, written by Peter Sinfield, and found on King Crimson’s first album, perfectly sums up 21st Century life. All we had believed in the past is now wiped away as society changes around us.

Women being able to govern their own bodies? Sorry, that is now obsolete. It is necessary for the State to coerce women to have children with no options for surgical solutions. See, it is all about saving the life of the unborn. Of course, coming up with solutions to enable         women to combine a working life with a family life is beyond the capacity of any politician, so undoubtedly the result of restrictive abortion laws will be more child abuse, more child poverty, and an increase in those who violate the law coming down the pike in about 16 years.

Confusion will be my epitaph. I believed it impossible for politicians to repudiate their own words caught on tape. That was before the current generation of politicians found it possible to disown their own statements of the recent past. Same holds for commentators on cable news shows who preen to the camera with unparalleled ability to regurgitate positions completely in opposition to what they said a few days or weeks ago. All in order to chase elusive voters or viewers, depending on which profession they practice. In all of these cases, their disdain for the public is palpable, since they believe only their current utterances represent their beliefs. Anything they said in the past is no longer germane, or even rational, and they definitely should not be held responsible for any past comments. And if anyone took their words seriously, and acted on them? Well, the politicians and commentators didn’t actually pull the trigger, so linking their words, and the actions of others is not fair.

I had a faith that the increased ties of commerce would assist in consigning international war to the trash heap of history. That faith was shattered with the invasion of Ukraine. So we are now to believe only in the force of arms which enables those with power to impose their will through the miracle of explosives. We may marvel in the ability of the people of a country to resist overwhelming odds, in order to retain their freedom. Maybe too many of us who marvel, no longer have beliefs we would die for. And no, wearing a surgical mask is not tyranny. An invading army consisting of soldiers who have no compunction against killing civilians is true tyranny.

 Confusion will be my epitaph. I did not hear the words spoken that deemed hatred of others as a Christian virtue. I was not prepared for a society where racism was considered a virtue, fully consistent with Christian principles. I was not prepared for a society where celebrity is worshiped as the only value worth celebrating, and those who have obtained celebrity are incapable of doing bad things, since, after all, they are celebrities. I was not prepared for a society where all values are deemed relative, and only the end matters, especially when it benefits me. I was not prepared for leaders who embodied the worst human attributes, and were proud of those pitiful attributes.

I believed advances in science would always be valued. I had forgotten how bitter the struggles were in the past for new scientific truths to be accepted if they challenged the status quo. I see echoes of Copernicus and Galileo in current issues around global warming, and humanity’s role in altering our planet. I realize now how difficult it is to convince others of facts they cannot verify through their own experience.

Confusion will be my epitaph. When the original Soviet Union fell, I believed mankind had dodged an enormous threat by removing the danger of nuclear conflict. I was not ready for the rise of an autocrat, who could threaten the use of what was considered unthinkable. I now realize that even if we escape this round of conflict without nuclear detonation, it is inconceivable we will emerge from the scourge of nationalism without some exchange of nuclear weaponry. Certainly the political discourse heard in many countries leads me to believe this exchange will happen sooner, not later.

I can go on, raising other issues where the promises of a brighter future now seem dimmed by the intransigence of the human race. But I want to leave the last words to Peter Sinfield, who penned them back in 1969:

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl, a cracked and broken path
If we make it, we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying

No Easy Answers

My church is home to Manna Meal. This is a ministry in Charleston WV which has provided 2 meals a day (breakfast and lunch) for nearly 50 years to anyone who comes by. As you may expect, this service has always been controversial, since many respectable people feel uncomfortable when confronted with those who inhabit the underside of society.

Lately, though, it has become an acute problem. With the pandemic, human need has increased. At the same time, the city of Charleston cleared out the encampments of the homeless, responding to complaints from landowners about property damage. As a result, the church grounds have become an alternate site for camping out for homeless people. A dispute between individuals led to a fire which destroyed a small building used as a clothing distribution site. Now we have a metal fence surrounding the space where the building used to stand, and the homeless have set up their tents along the periphery of the fence.

One other issue with the pandemic has been the elimination of serving meals in a common room. Instead, Styrofoam containers enclose the take-out meals, and litter outside of the church has become a more significant problem. That’s one reason why the existence of this service has come to the forefront of the concerns of the parish. People are scared of encountering the larger crowd of homeless people around the rear entrance to the church, and are tired of the seemingly intractable litter problem.

Is there an easy solution to these problems? No, as with all social problems, the causes are many. The Manna Meal service is trying to decentralize its meals by the purchase of a food truck in order to reduce the stress at the church. Funding for this food truck is being provided as part of the fund dispersal from the pandemic relief funding from the Federal Government. But another potential preventive measure, building a tiny home development for the unhoused, is currently in civic limbo, falling victim to NIMBY concerns. If it is ever approved and built, it will surely become obvious that the supply of housing will be insufficient to take care of the demand. When you draw your supply of the underclass from those who are unable to sustain themselves in the market economy world, you will always find more need than society can provide for.

The social programs of our church are one main reason we became members (that, and the magnificent organ sustaining our music program). Yet even I, a long-time liberal, can see the current situation is unsustainable. I can see why there are NIMBY concerns, but we are currently the epicenter of the problem. All we can do is pray that we do find a solution, one that reduces the demand we see daily while improving the lot of those who currently camp out on the grounds of St. John’s Episcopal church, Charleston WV.

Five Years of Blogging

It is now February 2022. Five years ago, in 2017, I began blogging. I don’t know what percentage of bloggers ever make it to five years of writing, but I have. If you scroll back through my writings, I hope you can see the writing has improved over the years. At least I believe it has.

The best part of blogging is starting out with a blank piece of (electronic) paper. Especially since the topic of my writing is often not apparent until after I begin writing. I let the words flow as they will. Now, I have dabbled in fiction, and got along just far enough for me to appreciate authors who say their characters take on a life of their own, they just give voice to these fully-alive entities who exist only in the imagination of the author. I’ve tried it, and discovered the voice I gave to my characters was wooden and stale. So I’ve no doubt that I’ve found the perfect medium for my writing, roughly 1000 words on a topic I choose only after I’ve begun filling the screen.

That’s not to say I’ve not used these pages to express satire, and even to come up with recurring characters. Slimey the D.C. swamp monster comes to mind every now and then, when satire seems the best way to comment on the events of the day. I’ve also had fun in exaggerating the characteristics of the Trump cult over the past few years.

A target-rich environment. That is what we had for several years. Actually, I started my blog just as the Trump administration came into being. I had to express my revulsion at the man and his entourage and am proud that I was able to identify trends in behavior well before I saw them discussed in the media. Like the attempted neutralization of certain governmental entities via the extremely effective technique of just not nominating people to fill legally-mandated positions. Fortunately, he was relatively ineffective at knee-capping the overall Federal government, mainly due to his own incompetence and due to his unfamiliarity with how things worked. My fear is that during the upcoming elections, he will be more equipped to effectively wield the power his position commands. Either that, or one of his underlings who gained office during his reign will use Trumpian techniques, but with someone whose mental capacity exceeds that of Wile E. Coyote. Many, many similarities between The Donald, and the cartoon image of a mangy mongrel who cannot help but extol his own intelligence.

Just as there’s much more to life than politics, I’ve used this forum to share slices of life as I observe the world, especially in summer from my front porch. I’ve reminisced about college days, as I realize that attending college in the early 70’s gave me a perspective folks today just cannot match. I mean, going with my sons to tour colleges, and seeing the make-to-order food expected by today’s students vs. the single-line, take it or leave it, offerings we had at our dorm. The contrast is incredible. At least both of my son’s had to share in the experience of not having air conditioning, although I doubt whether their heating system in winter was so effective one had to open the windows to let in some sub-zero air to temper the excessive steam heat.

For the first two years of writing, I participated in the WriterBeat community. This was a wonderful community sponsored by an individual where my writing was guaranteed readership and feedback. I would post in my blog, and immediately post the same piece in WriterBeat. This was an environment where wildly divergent points of view were all equal, and you were mandated to comment on other’s work in order to retain your privilege of posting. Alas, the owner of this community never found a way to monetize it, and so it died. I’ve considered going to Substack, but am still willing to keep this a totally free site, where once per year I have to pay to feed my vanity. I greatly miss the feedback I got from WriterBeat. If folks here would feel freer to comment on my pieces, I would appreciate it and will respond.

I started off by saying my writing often surprises me, since I had no idea I would end up discussing something not even in the front of my mind when I started. Sometimes it is the act of writing that unleashes the thoughts that must have been swimming in my cortex just below the surface. This piece is the exception. I looked back at my five years of writing, and realize I had to discuss just what I get out of keeping up a blog. I’ve worked it out so about a post a week is what I like to do. Just enough to keep my feet wet in the writing world. I hope you enjoy this.

Point of Personal Privilege

Willy Mays making The Catch, September 29 1954

Today I celebrate the completion of my 67th trip around the sun. To put that number into perspective, it is 1.5 millionths of a percent of the age of the earth. Maybe of more relevance, it is 27% of the existence of the US as an independent nation. As such, I do have a few observations about the current state of things.

When I was in my formative years, I saw images of pollution, and how we were destroying our environment. The burning of the Cuyahoga river was etched upon my brain. Thus I was more than happy to participate in the very first Earth day, where a group of us went out and cleaned up alleys in my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska. Symbolic, yes. Meaningful, not really. But the human population at that time was about 3.7 billion people. Now we are roughly twice that amount. Even though in this country we have cleaned up a lot of visible pollution, we are facing the results of humans consuming much more than the planet can sustain. Over the eons, the earth stored enormous amounts of carbon in three repositories. Coal, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons, and carbonate rock. Over an instant in geological time, our societies are releasing much of the carbon locked up in these deposits and sending it out into the atmosphere, where it helps to trap excess heat and re-radiate it back to Earth. The setpoint for Earth’s temperature system is being fiddled with, and mankind will not be pleased with the results of this experiment we are conducting on ourselves. Like many young climate activists say, there is no planet B for humanity to live on. Somehow we have to realize the invisible pollution is more harmful than the visible pollution bothering us, and more importantly, do something to change humanity’s reward system to make a real change for the better.

The very first thing I can remember was traveling in our car across country when an announcement came over the radio. It spoke of a satellite, launched by the USSR, which was orbiting the Earth. I verified that memory with my parents while they were still alive, and thus I can say I was aware at the beginning of the space age. Now, we see space exploration begin to be expanded to private citizens. Whether the resources used to launch private spaceships are the best uses of the moneys spent, it is an essential step towards ensuring humanity keeps reaching for the stars instead of hunkering down on this planet.

Of course, Sputnik also caused another reaction in our nation. We realized we were behind in what could have been an existential conflict with another nation-state. Thus came the efforts to make it possible to annihilate our opponents at the touch of a button. We entered a MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) world, and built up our military capabilities to reflect this. Along the way we discovered the limitations of conventional forces which means no longer will armed conflict consist of massed armies hurtling huge quantities of conventional explosives at each other. No, we have guerrilla warfare, where the patience of the home team can outlast any effort from an invader. And the type of warfare we now have is economic and cyber, causing more diffuse damage.

I was born on the same day as The Catch. This event is still referred to as the ultimate fielding play in baseball, and as of today, Willie Mays still is with us. Of all the sports, baseball may be the most unchanged. Yet even now, the tweaks being made may cause the nature of the game to finally change. In the minor league in my city, they have moved the pitcher’s mound back one foot, hopefully to enable hitters to have just a slight bit more time to react to ever faster pitches coming from an unending parade of super arms. The decline in starting pitching and the rise of the bullpen is otherwise the major change we are seeing in this sport. Plus, all of the pitching changes to bring in these relief pitchers have helped slow the game down. Combine this with the shortened attention span of today’s public, and there is no doubt that the long-term survival of baseball as the quintessential American game is threatened.

When I was young, the portable battery powered transistor radio was the epitome of technological progress. Radios were proud to tell you exactly how many transistors they contained, and when FM radios also came about, it enabled the youth culture to dominate popular music. Of course, individual transistors gave way to integrated circuits, and Moore’s law began to rule our lives. I have the honor to know in my lifetime I have moved from being an early adopter in high technology, into a Luddite who chooses not to participate in many of the modes of communication favored by today’s youth. My preferred mode of communication is this blog, which requires an attention span greater than the time required to digest the latest tweet from our political class.

In all of my days, it is in politics where one can sense the changes most acutely.  Maybe it is a natural result of the end of the cold war, where a common opponent helped to hide the intractable differences in our politics. But ever since the end of the cold war, emotional energy seemed to transfer to denouncing the other side politically as sub-human and definitely unpatriotic. Now we even have a party in US politics which denounces science as being fake, and seemingly wants to cause reversion towards a past where life was simpler, though much more brutish and subject to an untimely death. The difference in response between the two parties towards the treatments for the COVID virus gives a view of evolution in action. We may actually be seeing a change in the differential survival of those who believe in science, and those who don’t. Unfortunately for those of us who do believe in science, even this change may not be swift enough to affect the next election. But over time …..

Well, I am at the end of my self-appointed limit of about 1000 words in a post. I turn to you as readers to add items you have seen as changes in your lifetime, be they good or bad.

September Ponderings

Each September brings a different perspective. Some years the day to celebrate working people comes with brown leaves skittering along our driveway, and grass needing the coolness of fall to green up again. This September comes with an abundance of green, and an outdoor symphony composed by minimalists who only can think of one melody. When multiple composers are making their noises simultaneously, the symphony of late summer emerges.

Our hummer wars continue. One day we will miss the aerobatics around our feeders, but today the combatants fight one another for access to our sugar water. They will disappear this month, and we will miss them. Only wasps and flickers will remain to enjoy the dregs of sweetness we share. We put out another feeder full today, but who knows how long we will need to keep the feeders full.

This year we waited for painting on our front porch to be completed before we brought out all of our plants and completed our outdoor living room. It was into July before our plants could enjoy the sunlight and warmth of a West Virginia summer. We still partake of our coffee and physical newspaper on the porch, though jeans and flannel shirts may replace summer apparel later in the month. Things change in September, and even though the summer seemed endless, it always comes to an end.

This year the tomatoes and banana peppers have kept in production. It is a true luxury to slice down a tomato and enjoy its fruit right off of the vine. Plus we’ve received the excess from one of Carrie’s friends, a 92-year old (as of this weekend) ex-Marine who still is able to grow and harvest tomatoes and peppers. She is quite a woman, but slowing down just a bit, and who knows how much longer she’ll be able to bring forth harvests.

We’ve kept the hanging baskets alive throughout this summer. Each year we seem to fight a losing battle where the contents of the hanging baskets look like shriveled corpses by September, but this year we’ve managed to keep them alive and blooming. Now we even see the hummingbirds dart about the flowers, even flitting near our faces as we sit outside.

Our cat, Blinky, is now about 17. He no longer wants to come outside, and he’s grown increasingly deaf. Of the four flutes my wife practices (piccolo, C flute, Alto flute, and Bass flute), he only objects to the piccolo. He still has some high frequency hearing left. Anyway, he sits in his perch in our window overlooking our porch and front yard. Most of the time he just observes when not asleep, but one night he let out a piercing scream as something must have invaded his space, even though he no longer patrols it physically. Whether it was the neighbor’s cat, or possum, or raccoon, we don’t know but his reaction woke both of us from a sound sleep.

We both despair of the trends of the world. How we ended up with total idiots as governors of some of our most populous states we will never know. All we can do is live our lives each day at a time, enjoying the warmth while it still filters in through the trees across the street and up the hill. When you live on a hillside, the next street up is 200’ higher in elevation, with forest in between. The fires in California hit areas like ours extremely hard, but when you routinely have nearly 50” of precipitation per year, you don’t worry nearly as much about forest fires. It’s been over 30 years since the last bad fire year, and then the fires only seem to attack the ground litter, not the canopies of the trees. I could not imagine how it must be to see fire leap from tree top to tree top, sweeping across hillsides like ours as if they didn’t even serve as a speed bump. So we know what we have, in a place to live that would cost a fortune in some portion of this country that was in demand. Here, we just have to accept that people don’t want to live where the economy does not boom. However, as we watch, they are marching up the street with new fiber optic cable, eventually to link this isolated corner of our country with the rest of this nation. When we have true high-speed internet, and the possibility of remote work is more feasible, will an area where houses cost $70/square foot suddenly become in vogue? Time will tell, and that’s what we enjoy, the time to share an afternoon in our summer living room.

The Beat Goes On (and On, and On)

I expected the views of the Earth from the moon would have brought us closer together. The image of a fragile blue-white pebble from space shows just how small this space is we fight over. But instead of unifying us, we seem to have forgotten the lessons we could have learned from seeing Earth as a tiny ball suspended in a cosmic sea. We now insist that our version of humanity is the only one worth celebrating, and indeed, we must reach back into our past to recapture greatness rather than reaching forward towards new opportunities.

How close did we come to losing our cherished form of democracy during the 2020 Presidential election and its aftermath? A lot closer than we thought. Try these “what ifs” out for size. What if the endless stream of ludicrous lawsuits about the election found one of those Trump-appointed judges who were given incompetent ratings by the ABA? One of these judges may have viewed their fealty towards their nominator as greater than their belief in the law, and ruled in favor of the ex-President. What would that have done to the electoral aftermath?  Or, what if the roving mobs had come across one or more of their intended targets, and actually managed to hang Mike Pence, or pillory and puncture Nancy Pelosi? Would we still see Trumpistas referring to the mobs as nothing to be feared if they had taken a human toll in the form of the lives of members of Congress?

Just when you thought we had gone beyond this past presidency, along comes another Republican member of Congress who insists on stirring the festering pot of divisiveness. According to them, it is only those who want this nation to fail who insist that the previous election was fair. I’m wanting to go on to discuss real solutions to problems we have in this nation, only to be stymied by legislative representatives at the state and federal levels who care more for cultural hyperbole than the real work of legislation. But then someone like Ted Cruz comes along and informs the business elites that if they dare to express an opinion about a legislative matter, then they can just forget about having their bribes responded to by members of his party. We may have believed in the corruption of these legislators, but now we have them openly reveling in their moral turpitude in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.

If you think about it, this resistance is to be expected. The mantra of the Republican party since the primacy of Reagan has been that government is incompetent, and we’re all better off if we go it alone. Funny how it took over a half million deaths to disabuse many folks from continuing to believe in that mantra. Still, when you see the number of people who refuse to get vaccinated, you realize how deeply the poison of this past administration has seeped. As I’ve said, seldom do we have the chance to see evolution in action at the human level, but the differential survival rates between the vaccinated and those who disdain vaccination may eventually show up in a human preference for science at the genetic level.

But to have the beliefs of 40 years torn asunder by the reality of nature is tough for many to accept. It was tough for all of us when we learned the reality about Santa, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Those myths sustained us in our innocence. Likewise, the myths fed the American people about the sanctity of Republicans as exemplified by Trump were comforting to many, causing them to abandon their ability to apply logic to what they saw in front of them. I had never believed that so many people would ignore their logical brains in favor of accepting what Fox and Newsmax and OAN whispered in their ears, night after night. Combine this with the power of social media, and you had the perfect storm for the 21st Century USA. And thus, we barely escaped this last election with our democratic republic intact.

Reasonable people can disagree with programs and priorities. That what elections are supposed to decide. But it is unacceptable to have discussions about programs usurped by those who refuse to accept reality, and insist on re-litigating the last election time after time. What will it take to make those who still follow their orange champion (#cheetojesus) to give up their folly? Will indictment and conviction on criminal charges disabuse his followers from their cult? Probably not, he will be viewed as a martyr. Will the release of the internal documents that William Barr used to proclaim Trump’s innocence convince millions that the Russia investigation was not a hoax? Probably not, since the phrase Russian Hoax was uttered so often that many will not go beyond the headline. No, it will take some event yet to come, where their champion does something so gross and crass that it breaks through the impenetrable force field protecting him in the eyes of his cult followers. And when that break comes, it won’t be pretty, since no one likes accepting they are the foolish victim of a con. It’s always those who are most invested in the scheme who insist in their belief until the end. Once that end comes, they will turn on him with the same fury that they supported him in the Capitol on January 6.

Seasons Change (And So Did I)

All pictures by author

The squirrels and birds will soon have to work for their living. No longer will their food be provided inside of a porch swing feeder handcrafted by my late brother, or suspended inside of a suet feeder. The seasons have changed, and spring obviates the need to provide supplemental food.

Oh, we will be bringing out the hummingbird feeders shortly, and giving away mealworms, but that’s not the same as the buffet we have provided during the winter months. The squirrels in particular, are enjoyable to watch. We have two who have claimed the feeder. No bird dares to swoop in for a bite while a squirrel perches in or on the feeder. But the second squirrel eventually becomes impatient, and jumps in itself, prompting the first squirrel to abandon the feeder and perhaps chew and swallow what it had placed in its mouth before it scampers off.

The suet feeder was where we saw some of the best birding action. The rarest of visitors is the pileated woodpecker, who visits so seldom we’ve been only able one time to capture a picture of this king of woodpeckers.

What has replaced the feeders of winter? The flowers of spring. Our yard is at its peak bloom right now with daffodils, hellebores (Lenten rose), and flowering trees. In the almost 30 years we’ve lived at this house, we have transformed our spring landscape by cultivating and spreading daffodils. We have literally thousands of them blooming right now, and when they fade, the jonquils will take their place in providing spring beauty. But we are most excited this year to see the blossoms burst out of our cherry tree. We’ve been babying this tree, trying to keep it safe from our ravenous deer, and whereas last year we had five lonely blossoms, this year it has burst forth gloriously.

The self-propagating hellebores are something that takes little care. They loves shade, which we have in abundance. Deer don’t like it, which makes it in high demand as a source of greenery that stands up to the deer’s predations. And pollinators of all types love its pollen-rich flowers. The only problem we have with it is that last year’s leaves flop over onto the ground when the tender strands arise with the delicate flowers. You have to cut them off and gather them up, trying not to get abraded from the raspy leaves, or else you just have a mass of greenery where the bottom leaves rot in place.

We like it when both of the Lenten rose and daffodils share the same slope. The Lenten roses are prolific in spreading their seed, and eventually you do have to ride herd on their spread, but this is their time of year.

It takes patience to transform a landscape. We’ve had nearly 30 years. Now the only thing we do beside cutting back the Lenten rose, is to look late in the summer and see where the daffodils are crowding the surface. When they do, I dig them up and spread the bulbs to share with others. Our bulbs are now found in 3 states, and in many places around Charleston. But the rewards come to those who have the patience to wait year after year and enjoy spring when it finally does come. Patience is a virtue we all need more of. Seems like the world now puts a premium on instant gratification, which does not usually work well.

Superior? It’s So Much More Than A Lake.

Inflamed Trump supporters stormed the Senate side of the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, after the president’s rally.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

A premise of white supremacy is that the culture created by whites is superior to that of any other ethnic group. I for one do not believe that, and to prove my point, I only have to refer to what seems to be the cultural beacons for much of the nation. Reality TV. Really. This genre is aimed at the lowest common denominator among TV viewers, as it allows people to vicariously share in the lives of those who are viewed as superior. And how are they superior? Well, many on the airwaves prove their merits by being the chosen one, that is, the one among the rest of the beautiful people who end up winning the affection of the ideal mate. How do they do that? Besides the natural advantage of beauty, they are able to manipulate the emotions and actions of their competitors, and ultimately the emotions and actions of the supposed ideal mate. Stabbing in the back is not only desirable, it adds to the drama for all those who turn in week after week to see the soap opera play out. Ah, yes. The superiority of white culture.

When I was in college, wrestling was big. There were many local television stations that broadcast the regional wrestling circuit. I even had my favorites, a father/son team that used real wrestling moves to subdue their opponents. Sad (and easy) to say, they didn’t have enough pizazz to be fan favorites. I moved after college to Memphis, and there I encountered Jerry Lawler as the local king of wrestling. Very appropriate for the hometown of the King to also serve as the site where the King of Wrestling held sway. But since I first moved to Memphis, the sport has morphed and ended up as a bloated corpse, floating in the flotsam of popular culture. What’s more, the world of boxing has devolved into the world of MMA, where both men and women can aspire to be the peaks of their species by knocking the crap out of their opponents. We know so much more about head trauma than we did when I was a child, it literally hurts to watch any of this, yet so much of what we as a nation desire is more and more mayhem. If this is the epitome of culture that whites can generate, then let me be the first to say it ain’t worth crap.

The US has survived its episode with a reality TV star in charge. This was the fulfillment of H. L. Mencken’s prophecy from a century ago, where he said: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” A moron who reached back into some poorly remembered recesses of his mind to a time when America was great.     I am so grateful that he is no longer in charge, and my hope is he becomes fully discredited as he wades through his morass of legal issues. But just remember, he is still the embodiment of the superiority of white culture.

What it seems to me is that America has lost its ability to self-motivate. We’ve lost the drive to succeed on our own, and because of that we do not have civic energy we need to embody greatness. Part of that is systemic, since big box stores replacing smaller establishments has reduced the opportunity to better yourself by running a small business. It becomes systemic when even the jobs offered at these establishments do not pay enough to sustain a minimal lifestyle. It is only the immigrants who still see the opportunity to better themselves by running a small business. How impoverished would our cuisine be if we had not been exposed to restaurants where local cuisines from across the world were available, thanks to the energy of our immigrant community. But we must maintain the purity of our race!

Our financial system has assumed greater and greater power over our lives. Basically, for any publicly traded company, Wall Street tries to ensure that the only consideration for that company is maximizing shareholder return. Lately this doesn’t even include profit, because so many companies borrow to enable stock buybacks enriching no one other than shareholders. I’ve seen the machinations a company will go through rather than face these individuals who try to impose their will on companies to “maximize shareholder return”. My old company ended up merging with its biggest domestic competitor, then forming three corporations out of the wreckage of the merger. Along the way it was necessary to divest many of the growth products due to anti-trust considerations. All of this was because an activist investor had targeted the company since he thought their costs were too high, and they spent too much money on research. I shudder to think of all of the wasted costs undertaken to make this misguided merger/demerger happen, costs that did nothing to improve customer service, or create new products, or reduce manufacturing waste and pollution.

This over-financialization of the business world is yet another example of what white culture has done, since the world of finance is still mainly a white bastion. Yet another case where whites are causing great harm as they run roughshod over the employees of their enterprises.

All of these are examples of why I find the arguments of those who invoke white supremacy to be faulty at best, and evil at worst. It seems that those who believe in white supremacy are willing to demean any other race and culture, all in the misguided belief that only they can solve the problems. Yeah, we saw just exactly how well that went over the past four years. Unfortunately, that attitude is not shared with many who supported the last presidency. Their only complaint was that he didn’t go far enough, just like his supporters on the January 6 picnic at the Capitol who wore attire that indicated Hitler did not go far enough. But since it was white demonstrators, at least Senator Ron Johnson wasn’t worried.

Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder

rocket launch space discovery
Photo by SpaceX on Pexels.com

We are living in a golden age of exploration. Part of the human nature has always been to push the boundaries, whenever and wherever there was incentive. The spices of the Orient, along with unknown riches, tempted the explorers of Europe. Now, we are in a race for space. With the recent launch of the Perseverance mission to Mars, that planet is now infested with both unmanned rovers, and orbiting observers. Participants in this infestation include India, China, the joint venture between the Russians and Europeans, multiple missions from the US, and the mission from the United Arab Emirates that recently launched. For millennia humanity watched the planets, convinced that they held great influence over our existence on Earth. Though we may laugh at astrology today, it is undoubtedly responsible for the growth of knowledge about patterns in the cosmos, due to the need to know what the positions of the planets were at the time of the birth of individuals.

Indeed, astrology still has millions of adherents, convinced that the orientation of the planets hold the means to provide order to a seemingly chaotic life. But once our understanding of the cosmos went beyond mere observation, to a systemic search for knowledge, we have been merciless at trying to uncover the mysteries of our solar system neighbors. We have seen evidence of great floods on Mars, and the search continues to see if we can find direct evidence of life elsewhere, either from the past, or tantalizingly, still alive somewhere under the Martian surface.

Now there are private businesses aimed at the conquest of space. These are not just the vanity projects of the new tech aristocracy, but serious attempts at commercializing both near Earth exploration, and eventually solar system exploration. It will be difficult to provide a positive cash flow from these activities, but what we’ve seen is that companies are willing to fund the immense investment in space vehicles. We’ve weathered the gap between NASA’s shuttle (2 catastrophic failures out of 135 missions), to launches to the space station from US vehicles. What is different now is that it is a private corporation, SpaceX, that has contracted with NASA for a series of launches. The first of these launches just splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, completing a seemingly flawless flight. SpaceX is in competition with Boeing, Boeing concentrating mainly on heavier launch capabilities. Since private enterprise is funding the research, they will be looking for payoff well beyond what government contracts provide. And that is why there truly is a new age of exploration, one that will result in humans setting foot on Mars sooner rather than later. The moon will also be revisited, and with the current missions aiming at prospecting for ice on the surface of the moon, it may actually be possible to build a base on the moon itself.

Why do this? Well, I for one think it much better to use humanity’s creativity in exploration, rather than in building munitions and munition delivery systems. Although there has been significant advances in our understanding of physics, metallurgy, and chemistry through the development of better means of destruction, the use of these tools comes with immense human suffering. And as we’ve seen in the recent explosion involving ammonium nitrate in Lebanon, it does not take a lot of technology to spread a lot of death and destruction.  Spending the money on science to increase our range and knowledge instead of on destruction seems a much more humane way to proceed.

Besides, there is much to learn. Even beyond the possibility of life on Mars, there is the tantalizing thought that life may exist underneath the ice caps covering the oceans of the satellites of the larger planets. The question we have is whether life is ubiquitous in the universe, spreading wherever the chemical conditions couple with the source of energy to power life. If we do find life outside of our planet, it will have immense repercussions among the world’s religions. They must see if their theology can adapt to life existing in multiple locations, and allow for a creator that likes to experiment, rather than one totally vested on earth. I have always thought that limiting a creator to a single site in this immense universe did a disservice to the creator, since it imposed such tight restraints on its capabilities.

The age of exploration we live in goes well beyond the physical limitations of earth. We have been exploring the intricacies of the genome, learning the secrets to manipulate the formulas of life for our own benefit. Tools such as CRISPR, and DNA sequencing improvements, are leading to the possibilities for us to deal with the microscopic universe. Those abilities are coming into play now with the unprecedented speed in which vaccines against COVID-19 are being developed. Back a generation ago, we would not have to knowledge to sequence the genome, learn its tricks for attaching to cells, and develop multiple ways to fight against this novel virus. It would have taken years of painful trial and error work to possibly come up with a vaccine. Today? We may have 3 modes of action incorporated into vaccines, and testing could be complete within a year from the initial confirmation of the virus’s structure.

Many ask why do we spend money on exploration, when we cannot meet our needs on earth. My answer is that it is through exploration and research that we discover the ways to increase the economic pie, thus allowing for a greater share for each individual. It is only through the growth of economic activity engendered by the discoveries from research and exploration that we can avoid the Malthusian fate that would otherwise engulf us.

Summer Reveries

Summer flowers

It is good to know in the midst of all of the concurrent crises we face, that nature  proceeds at its own pace unconcerned with all of the worries humanity has. Thus we return to summer in West Virginia, where the biggest issue is whether the cowbird will be successful in laying an egg in the wren’s nest up in one of our flower baskets.

We are loving it out in our outdoor living room, where we enjoy our coffee and newspaper in the mornings, and use its space for our afternoon cocktail. In between we can read or just watch  nature as it visits our porch. The finch feeder is in use most of the daylight hours, with the purple finches unafraid to visit while we sit there, though the gold finches are shy and only visit when we are not present. We were treated to seeing a hummingbird chase a finch away one day, though what the finch did to draw this attention is unknown. This year we are not seeing any non-conforming finches, where a brood is raised that includes a foreign egg from a cowbird. Last year we saw a young bird that was unable to use the finch feeder, though it tried valiantly. Instead, it chirped and waited for its father to deliver a seed directly to it, since it could not reach into the feeder with its own beak.

A wren built a nest in one of our hanging flower baskets. You can see it dart in and out, and it often scolds us, especially when we are at the table with our coffee. That puts us directly next to the nest, and that is obviously too close for the bird’s comfort. But it is the cowbird couple that is the most interesting. Last week I saw the couple, with the male perched a few feet away while the female scoped out the nest. At that time there were obviously no eggs there, and they flew away. But just yesterday I saw the female eyeing the nest again, and this time the wren flew directly at the cowbird, chasing it away. It remains to be seen if the battle will have future acts.

The fallout from the finch feeder keeps other birds busy who do not have the physique to feed directly from the feeder. Often we can hear the whooshing of the morning dove wings as they fly away after having poked through the rubble looking for intact seeds. And chipmunks cross our porch regularly, stopping sometime to search for seeds, while other times stopping under the hummingbird feeder and lapping up the spilled sugar water. Then they hustle off to whatever their business is.

This year I’ve seen not only the neon blue skinks skitter across the porch, but another color of skink. They are fast and you have to really be watchful in order to see them. So far they are the only reptiles we’ve shared our space with.

The flicker loves the hummingbird feeder. It will hang off of the feeder, and you can see it drinking as it brings the liquid into its beak and works it down its throat. The hummingbirds know that they cannot force the flicker away (too big), so an uneasy detente exists where the hummer will visit the side of the feeder opposite the flicker. It is amazing how much entertainment you can get out of a half-cup of sugar dissolved in water. We have seen at least one hummer battle, but know that more are to come as the alpha male perches on the wires leading to the house, keeping watch and driving away any other hummers who dare to intrude on its designated home turf.

2018 flicker

Several years ago we had to take down the hemlock tree that graced our front lawn due to storm damage. We replaced it with ornamental trees that won’t grow as tall so as to threaten the wires. The ornamental cherry directly in front of our porch is growing daily, as you can see the new leaves stretching higher each time you look at it. It may never give us shade, but that doesn’t matter to the birds who use any location as a handy perch.

We have apple trees which have very seldom given us apples. Not because the apples weren’t produced, but because the squirrels get to them first. But until this year, they’ve always left the crab apples alone. The tartness of them must be a turn off even to voracious squirrels. This year, though, the squirrels are taking the crab apples right off of the trees and eating them.

Squirrel

It is good to take the time to really see the world around us. If nothing else, this time of physical isolation and separation from the rest of humanity, has intensified the desire for watching the world of nature. It is good to realize that the life outside does not care about human pandemics, or divisive politics, or any of the other matters that occupy the airwaves. Just hearing the sounds of birds, and the chirring of the crickets helps to put things into perspective.