Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Poem Today…  It’s August 31, the end of summer.  For an old English teacher, there are few times more ripe (The old English teacher knows that ripe as a one syllable adjective in comparison should be riper, but, dammit, it just doesn’t sound right.) than the end of summer and the beginning of another school year. So this afternoon in my almost longing to be involved in all that again, I tried to tamp the ache down with a browse through a notebook of “stuff” I wrote long ago when I was getting ready for another school year. I found a page of scribblings dated August 31,1990. I was fifty-five. The scribblings were descriptions of my dad who had died at age sixty-six in 1969. Halfway down the hand-written page, the scribblings became this poem, an imaginary conversation with my father.  

These days more than ever
I get him mixed up with me.
I wonder who the reflection is
as I walk along the street.
Glancing sideways to catch him
staring back at me.
It’s the way he looked, the way he walked,
and this morning 
as I spread the lather 
around my face
avoiding the mustache
it was my face…and his,
his mustache and mine.

He says,
We should have talked.

I say,
About what?

About everything, he says.

We are talking now. I say.

I know, but it’s too late.

I don’t like the idea that it’s too late
for anything…
especially talking.
What is it I should know from you?

Isn’t there anything,
some unanswered question
after all these years?

I once wanted to ask you about Mother.
Did you ever…
you know… step out on her?

Every day when I went out into the world.

Every day?  I don’t believe it.

Every day.  I stepped out on her.
The world and I had an affair
and she was jealous.
Still is, I guess.
One day I went off with death

and didn’t come back.

Vivaldi, Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major
Aaron Bullard, cello; Robert Plimpton, Organ

Saturday, August 30, 2014

ISIS religious extremists don’t have to reinvent strategies for indoctrination.  As I watched a television report on the Islamic State’s recruitment and indoctrination programs, what I saw was more familiar than strange or exotic.  I remember clearly going to vacation Bible school every summer through my childhood and early adolescence.

It should be no surprise to anyone that fundamentalist Islamic leaders and clerics do exactly what fundamentalist Christian leaders and clerics do to ensure a steady, predictable stream of successfully indoctrinated young people entering adulthood trained to be involved in the program to reach the goals of their religious group.  The primary goal is to plant solidly a belief, invariably called “The Truth,” into the young citizens’ thinking and their responses to the world.  First, of course, are the religious group’s beliefs, the group’s truth, about God.  Every other idea about how one should deport oneself in the world is developed into a curriculum designed to teach first what the group’s God (invariably assumed to be the one and only true god) requires of all persons, and more specifically of the people who may be considered to be the legitimate members of the approved group. The religious assembly or sect believes collectively it has the accurate information about what God requires… and also the consequences for individuals who don’t do what God expects all people to do… Nobody is exempt… Well, nobody who doesn’t bother to do exactly what the God has established as the procedure for getting into the exempted group with all promised rewards… in this life and in the next. Depending on the group, it gets theologically complicated to get and to keep the exemption.

The television report I saw about Islamic State recruitment and indoctrination included a video of beautiful Middle Eastern children and adolescents clustered around a bearded adult teacher sitting in a prominent chair beside a prominent black Islamic State flag.  The fledgling Islamic State, not recognized formally as a state by the world community of governments, has declared its leaders’ intentions to establish an Islamic Caliphate which will eventually swallow and include all of the world’s countries. The curriculum of the Islamic State schools indoctrinates young people with a curriculum based on Islam’s holy book, The Koran, which the children learn to recite.  World domination by fundamentalist Muslims is what Allah requires of the Islamic State, the Caliphate.  What is happening in places where they are allowed by law or by military might to do it looks a lot like what I remember about vacation Bible school… except the fundamentalist Islamic world view includes a future where male religious leaders are in charge of a world-wide totalitarian state which is peaceful finally because people are terrified of being beheaded or buried alive or otherwise brutally killed if they don’t live up to the requirements of Sharia Law.

I am glad to report that the Baptist Vacation Bible School in Roseboro, Arkansas, had not even a hint of violence in it…except, of course, fairly vivid descriptions of what would happen in an inevitable next life to those people who died without bothering to get the aforementioned exemption.  Plans for conquering the world were indeed part of the curriculum, but it was presented as a matter of sending missionaries to the far corners of the earth to do good work as doctors and nurses and teachers.  Oh, there was also the Christian flag prominently displayed… and the teachers were mostly female. The flag was blue, red, and white (red cross on a blue square in the left top corner of a larger field of white).I checked the Internet for the words, which I confess I had forgotten.  I found two versions.  The Baptist version: I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands, One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.  A version which I guess is considered by fundamentalists to be much too mamby-pamby:  I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands, one brotherhood uniting all Christians in service and love.

I can’t resist adding my guess that a whole bunch of those gun-toting Tea Party extremists who hate American government because they think it isn’t God’s Kingdom were exposed to the some of the same curricular materials that I studied as a child.  What they evidently got out of their experience was that their God is an angry god who expects them be vigilantes in grocery stores, streets, parks, and especially in the vicinity of clinics offering birth control services for women. It’s that possibility which makes me most afraid of ISIS. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

For a couple of days I’ve been trying to figure out how to howl… in print - - in response to the “Uzi Accident is Fatal” newspaper headline on Wednesday.  I know how to do it with guttural outrage, head tilted back, one part scream, one part anguish, the third part disbelief. How do I give written expression to the combination of incredulity first (I must have heard/read wrong), followed by shock and horror on learning it wasn’t a cruel joke created to mock the NRA but real absurd senseless death… then the who? Where?  Why…Why…Why?  Not a nine-year-old! Surely they got that part wrong! …teaching a nine-year-old girl to handle and shoot an uzi, a gun specifically designed for no other purpose than to fire a stream of deadly bullets to kill a group of people.  What I really want to do is howl in the face of NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre and the president of the NRA Jim Porter.  I want to demand of both those apparently at least stupid if not deliberately immoral fuckers how in hell being allowed legally to buy and own and use (and teach a child to use) a gun specifically designed to kill a bunch of people all in one sustained pressure on the trigger is a reasonable representation of Second Amendment freedom. 

O.K.,  O.K., I think I’ve got it…how to howl in print… but not the why of an Arizona killing of a gun range instructor by a child being taught to use an uzi… I can do the howling….but the questions… No!  I can’t come up with even one satisfy answer.

Why would any citizen, any voter in my country insist that the Second Amendment even suggests, let along requires government approval of ownership of guns specifically designed to kill people… lots of people at a go?  What is that about?  

…And what suggestions do LaPierre and Porter have for the parents, unbelievably irresponsible as they are, of the nine-year-old girl who killed a man to help her manage the trauma of having… killed a man.  To keep myself from starting to howl all over again, I have to stop short of allowing my imagination even to picture that moment of the killing… and the long tortured life ahead for a nine-year-old.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I’ve known dogs, and I’ve known cats; and I’ve been known by cats and by dogs.  Our dog Coty, actually doted on me from the time he came to live with us when he was six weeks old until he died of old age in my lap at the vet’s office.  He could hear my footsteps on the porch and know it was me coming and not some other person.  He would look me in the eyes and demand by the look to know that I was looking at just him and at no one else. K.C. the cat who lived with us for many years was more aloof and maybe a bit haughty definitely knew me and I knew him… Just like with Coty, K.C. and I knew each other, and we had ways of signaling to each other that the relationship was special. 

Until today, I had never been acknowledged by a turtle.  It happened.  I was walking along by the reflecting pool in Balboa Park and saw the turtle before it saw me.  A young woman was kneeling close behind it taking pictures.  The turtle was paying her no mind at all, but when she left I got down in front of it, and at first the head pulled back a little way into the shell; but then it saw me… really looked at me.  The head came out all the way and we were like that for a few minutes.  Other people were coming and going.  You know how that is.  We were there fully aware of each other.  I decided I should make the next move, so I turned away to let the turtle go back to doing whatever turtles do after a close encounter with another creature, a  strange big one like me hovering close for a few minutes.

I also won’t forget the water lilies.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sometimes after supper I take a look at the images I've managed to capture during the day and can't find any unifying theme.  Today was like that. The usual Wednesday morning coffee with Clyde and Dave was cut short so I could get to the Civic Center downtown to help register new citizens to vote. I hurried back home on my bicycle barely ahead of David and David coming on their bikes for lunch at our house. A record high surf was the buzz all up and down the Pacific Coast today, so I decided to head out to Cabrillo Point with my camera.  The surf wasn't as spectacular as the TV hype claimed it would be, but there was plenty to see.  I turned my attention to making pictures of rocks and sea... and the old lighthouse on the hill... and the cluster of Coast Guard buildings around the newer lighthouse down below... and... and... and...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My friend Bruce Baraw is retiring this week after thirty-something years in distinguished service of the United States Government. To become hopeful again whenever I feel myself tempted to think government is the problem and not the solution to local, state, and national problems, I think of Bruce (and some other civil servants I have known). I am convinced once again that without good people in government our country would be in a heap of trouble. At lunch today with Bruce and some of his colleagues, I was reassured that American government is good because it is based in a good constitution and built on a good system… managed by good people.  I came away from Bruce’s retirement party feeling proud of him and glad to be an American.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Masks are important cultural symbols.  Since the time of Aeschylus masks have been significant in classical Greek theatre; the word for mask in Greek is also the word for persona.  In the theatre, and in religious ceremonies in cultures all over the world, masks have been used to make statements about the difference between myth and reality. A mask worn in classical theatre lets the actor disappear into the role. By wearing the mask the actor tells the audience that for the time he is on the stage the real person he is doesn’t exist. He has become the mythical character. The mask is meant to “melt” into the face and transform the actor into the character in the play. When he puts on the mask, he ceases to exist except as the character he is playing.

A mask pulled over the head with holes for eyes, nostrils and mouth, such as that worn by the criminal who beheaded James Foley is the hiding place of a despicable coward not wanting to be known. Masks have become commonplace gear for rebel soldiers who don’t have the courage to go barefaced into conflict. If their cause is noble, they should not be ashamed or afraid.  Gas masks or medical masks are another thing. They aren’t used as cultural statements when they are worn.  

The world should make a point of declaring these masked criminals to be cowards.  There is no nobility or honor in what they do when they hide behind masks.  Let us call them out. Their culture and their religion are dishonored by their masks, and when they wear the masks they are declaring that they are ashamed.  There is no dignity, only anonymous savage brutality.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Citizens of the World

Tom and Gerry Grady from everywhere; Tetsumasa and Akiko Imai from Japan...with their sons;
Margaret and Jerral Miles, also from everywhere.

That's Mexico in the far distance... from the Grady's Back porch...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Appreciating Margaret

bouncing over galaxies
we outrun stars.

Who is this beside me?
This companion in space,
my partner in existence
reciting the rules of life holding onto sunrises and sunsets
hoping to make sense of being
alive for a hiccup in time.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Something About Him

There is something about him that bothers me…
It may be the eyes, eagle eyes, sharp
that don’t match the softness of his tone
and his smile a little too rehearsed.
The head tilts sincerely in affirmation,
eyebrows contradicting, questioning, doubting,
a conflict of motion, negation,
emotion that won’t be tucked into a side pocket of the mind.

When the tide of doubt rises, 
rolls up the steep shingle of faith,
will his grip on the certainty of heaven slip
and slide into the dark sea of apostasy?
Intelligence rubbed raw by religion is a dangerous thing.