Friday, January 30, 2015

The one that got away...

I was up in Scripps Ranch late this afternoon and tried, not completely successfully to get a panoramic shot of the Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Scripps Ranch area of San Diego... with mountains and clouds to the north of the city.  We don't often have skies like the ones that covered our county today.  

On the way back home just as the sun was setting, I drove up the hill on I-15 and suddenly there was the most amazing sunset I'd seen in a long time..., but there was no way to stop and get a picture of it.  I drove off the freeway as soon as I could hoping there would be a place and the time to park and get a picture, but it didn't happen.  I couldn't come away with an empty camera, so I stopped in a churchyard and aimed at what was left of the last light of Friday.  It wasn't all I wanted; but like so much else, it had to be enough.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


The agave is originally from Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Mexico.  Its life span is 10 to 30 years, depending on where it is growing.  It dies after blooming for the first time.  Typically, when  blooming it is surrounded by new plants... pups. Tequila is made from the blue agave.

Even in death, it is spectacular.  These pictures are from a cactus garden on the west side of Balboa Park, the area on a bluff above highway 163 just south of the Laurel Street Bridge.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Looking through my old journals…
Sunday, December 23, 1990

James McQueen

James McQueen looked me square in the eye
and said, “Look at the color of my skin.”
He tapped the back of his right hand
with his left index and middle fingers.
“This brown skin that everybody calls black
means I have to bust my butt being better
at everything just to stay even.
To get ahead is a whole other thing.”

His eyes didn’t accuse or indict me,
and his smile had the light of friendship in it.
“I have a master’s degree,” he said,
“and I made very good grades in school,
but the color of my skin devalues all that
when it comes to getting ahead in a company.
I was employed once by a man who paid me half
what he paid a white man who worked
only half as hard as I did, day in and day out.
And he wanted respect from me to boot.
I don’t mean just politeness but that other, 
the bowing and scraping and shuffling,
the moving to the side of the room
when he decided he wanted to be in it.”

His smile had no strain or animosity in it
as he reached to touch my shoulder.
“But you know how I’ve learned to beat it?
Do you want to know how I win every time?
This smile you see is the real thing.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


70 years ago, January 27, 1945, I was a 9-year-old boy living free and mostly unaware of the crimes against others that were committed regularly by individuals of the species to which I belonged.  I knew there was a terrible war raging in Europe and in the Pacific because members of my family, my mother’s and father’s brothers, were in the military; but I had little experience that would have made me wonder what caused wars. Even while it was happening in Germany in the 40s, I had not the slightest inkling that people were capable of such a great variety of outrageous, cruel and barbaric treatments of other humans, including children, all people whom they considered impure, inadequate persons. I experienced segregation because I lived in Arkansas and the few black children in Roseboro, Arkansas, attended school in a small house that had once been somebody’s residence,  and I attended a school that was built to be a school…for white people.  I remember going to a Christmas program at the black school. Mother and I were the only White people there. I still didn’t get it.  Even though my Mother clearly objected to it, as a child I suppose I thought segregation must be some kind of universal rule.

My family moved to California a couple of years after my uncles came home from the war. Nobody told me about Auschwitz... not in school or in church.   It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I learned the story… that by January, 1945, nearly five years after the first prisoners began arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau when the death camp was closed… an estimated 1.1 million people had been killed. The largest group were victims of the Nazi “Final Solution to the jewish question.”  Others included Gypsies, homosexuals, and thousands of people of diverse nationalities whom Hitler and his followers considered to be racially impure… to be inadequate human beings.

Today I went to see the movie Selma with my friend Oliver. The movie was set in the time when Oliver was a boy not yet 10. Over lunch we talked about how little we knew about the atrocities adults perpetrate on each other when we were children… and how unsettling it is for us now to recognize that we humans seem not to behave better even after learning about our brutal history of wars and recurring cycles of social injustice.

I remember shooting cans off a fence post with a slingshot behind our house around the time I was ten. One day in the middle of “target practice with stones,” I looked up and saw a bird perched on a telephone wire. I aimed my slingshot at the bird, and it fell to the ground.  Desperately wishing I hadn’t hit it, I went over and picked up the little still-warm, bloody bundle of feathers. It was a moment I shall never forget. I was horrified at what I had done. I tried to tell myself it was only a bird and that I hadn’t really meant to do it.  All the fun went out of shooting at cans, so I went back home and put the slingshot on a shelf in the garage.  Thinking about it today, I had to acknowledge to myself that retiring the weapon to a shelf hadn’t been the appropriate response.  I don’t think I ever again took it out to the railroad tracks where there were plenty of rocks for target practice, but it was there. I wish I could look back on that day and see myself throwing the slingshot into the creek, but I didn’t do it.  I left it on the shelf…

Monday, January 26, 2015

Barking up the...

Dogs bark...
Trees have it...
and I remember once when I was very young I barked my shin...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Some days are Kaleidoscopic .  This was one of them.  Kenton read and I listened with several hundred other people.  A turtle turned up by the reflecting pool.  A mystery: one lost shoe left on the sidewalk before a concert started, and then by the end of the concert it had been moved to another place.  Odd.  The olive tree… What can I say? 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Poem Waiting

All day long there has been a poem waiting,
hanging around in my mind like next spring’s daffodils.
Those damned things are so powerful
I can smell them months ahead of their actual appearing.
Violets do that, too, especially the little wild ones.

This poem that I can smell and taste and almost see
is one that’s peeked at me at times before today
like the people I may have seen somewhere 
suspended in blackness behind flimsy curtains,
tentative and androgynous but definitely there.
I’ll sit and wait awhile to see if more of it appears.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hamlet was only half right.
To be or not to be is the question
not so much about self slaughter
as self revelation.

“Tell them everything you know,
and they’ll know more than you do,”
my Father always said.
“Keep the mystery.
They can’t take that away from you."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

NOT EXACTLY A RANT… but it’s close to being one and may develop in that direction as I think and write.  In my thinking and writing I have often tried to find reasons to separate politics and religion… to keep them in distinct cognitive files for later use and further consideration; but that is a mind game that I am no longer willing to play. In some corner of my consciousness there resides a wish for softness and kindness and at-least-allowing-slight-advantage in my critical evaluation of religion.  Over and over actions taken by individuals or groups claiming they are doing what they do for religious reasons, obeying divine imperative, confirm that religion and politics are inextricably woven together.  This week it is ISIS again holding for 200 million dollar ransom two Japanese hostages which they plan to kill on camera for the world to see if they don’t receive the money before the set time of the beheading… all done in the name of Allah.

So, maybe this is a RANT.  I guess I’ve crossed the line.  

History shows that religion as an isolated singular element in a community rarely exists separate from politics as motivator for human behavior in a culture. Fundamentalist Christian organizations can’t legally declare a fatwa against specific individuals with explicit calls to kill, for example, a doctor who performs abortions; but the message is clear enough to indoctrinated faithful that public or private execution must surely be the will of god. Hitler could not have initiated his plan to exterminate Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and other people he considered racially impure if religious individuals and organizations had not been willing, even eager not merely to comply but to assist in his monstrous project. Religion and politics together form a convenient, easily applied blanket that can be conveniently laid over just about any private absurdity or madness that politicians and/or religious leaders want to promote. An American president or leader of either political party must never forget to add, “May God bless America,” at the end of a major speech. We expect our president to be ever mindful of and connected to God.

When devotion in politics or religion is elevated in individual or group thinking to a level of unrestrained zeal, a wide range of emotions and behaviors, from silliness to dangerous commitments to action, should be expected. TheTooth Fairy, Easter bunnies, and popular media stars don’t hold out promise of eternal life to those who worship them. Intense fascination bordering on devotion to hobbits, wizards or fairies can lead to adoption of costumes and inane behaviors, but such interest rarely changes the course of history.  Even stories about super heroes who supposedly came to Planet Earth from some other planet or a world out there in the universe are known to be fictions.  Devotion of a child to Santa Claus does not get complicated by assumptions that he comes from anywhere but a fictional North Pole. No one pretends to want a child to believe the very real man in red costume with white trim has come from heaven and that if the child becomes a believer he will be taken ultimately to a glorious existence in some other than earthly realm.  Children go along with the pretending game because it’s fun, but they know it’s not real.

Stories about the iconic historical figures in at least three of the major religions are thought to be literal truth. Stories in sacred texts based on short human life spans in sacred texts about Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad are generally assumed to be absolutely true by most of the subscribers to the religions. The stories about them are used to reinforce the idea that the historical character had a direct and very special, and divine connection with the singular ultimate supreme being. In the canonized stories the central figures are shrouded in holiness intended to make them worthy of absolute devotion. The promise of eternal life in heaven, an unimaginably wonderful place, is often the expected reason for devotion.  Some who say they are Christian, Muslim, or Jew may not put stock in a heaven out there somewhere, but they may consider themselves to belong culturally to a particular religion.  Even if they attend church or synagogue or mosque, they may limit their devotion to a central ethic that we refer to as “The Golden Rule,”  acting responsibly to all people and to community. These are not the people who become killers.   

Religious devotion to iconic historic figures believed to have been representatives or messengers from God has been a cause of many wars. Ridiculing Spider Man or the tooth fairy won’t trigger public beheadings, bombing of public places or mass shootings of school children.  A cartoon meant to be funny was used as basis for wholesale murder in Paris last week, but killing cartoonists and journalists and beheading hostages is easily recognized by reasonable people to be political action and not demonstrations of religious devotion. Kidnapping school children to use as sex slaves is not a project designed to demonstrate religious devotion but is a political action meant to terrify an enemy.  Murdering a civil rights activist or an abortion doctor or a man wearing a dress and high heels is not considered by reasonable people to be a demonstration of religious devotion. The killer’s motive is to make a political statement, and no reasonable person could honestly believe killing is an act of religious devotion.

This is clearly the time for reasonable people to examine what they have been doing in the name of their religion and to determine how much of what they do makes sense.  If it doesn’t make sense, stop doing it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Today was a volunteer pleasure for me.  On the third Wednesday of every month as many as a thousand people who have met all the requirements for United States citizenship stand and take an oath of allegiance to the U.S.A. and become citizens with certificates... they are naturalized citizens... strange word, naturalized... someone not born to citizenship in a country but who is admitted by meeting requirements.  I am there to offer voter registration, and one of the great regular pleasures for me is to see how much it means to families and individuals to become citizens of the country in which I was born to citizenship.  Several other volunteers and I greet and congratulate the new citizens when they come out from their ceremony proudly showing their certificates.  A line always forms for pictures at the cardboard cut-outs of President and Mrs. Obama.  I am often asked if I will use a family member's phone or camera to take a picture.  I feel privileged to be part of the celebration.  I ask if I can take a picture using my iPhone, and invariably I am told I may do it.  These are some of the pictures I got today.  In the first picture the barefoot boys and their father are natural-born citizens.  The boys' mother became a citizen today.

The second picture of three people in one family was made very special for me by the way one of the men held proudly the small American flag in one hand and his citizenship certificate in the other.  I love these people and am glad to be citizen in the same country with them.

...and the third picture:  the woman's smile says it all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Today's adventure:  I haven't been allowed to get close to the hummingbird nest outside my office window when the diligent mother is sitting on it.  She flies away as soon as I approach, so I hadn't been able to get a picture.  I set my little Sony QX100 on a tripod close to the nest... made the necessary adjustments and went back to the office and waited until she came back. I controlled the shutter with my iPhone.

Watching this little mother who is programmed to do all the right things to hatch the two eggs, and knowing she will give appropriate care to the chicks when they hatch, I remembered a human mother of a very human little boy I knew a few years before I retired from the world of school.  She was  inadequate... didn't have a clue how to meet the needs of her child.  He was in third grade, and I had known them since he was in pre-kindergarten.  I had seen and heard her scold him when he lingered too long playing with his friends while she was waiting in the carpool lane.  She never smiled or greeted him when he crawled into the back seat of the car.  I'm sure if she had been asked, she would have said, "Of course, I love him...,"  Perhaps she loved him on some level, but it was clear she didn't like him. I wrote something about them once...  I wonder where he is now and how he is surviving... well, I hope.

I went searching through my journals from those years and found the verse written almost twenty-five years ago... which means he is around thirty-three now.

Monday, April 22, 1991

The kid doesn’t stand a chance
mother looms eternally larger than Saturday
and father’s underwear
or something critical
is too tight
so what’s he gonna do
the freckles and the smile
ought to be worth something
standing in the world
with upturned face
on the night when the moon is full
or in an afternoon of split chrysalises
butterflies do indeed come from pods
hard hard caskets
split when life pulses
life pulses
life struggles free
to fly
so maybe the kid has a chance
after all
after all
after all

Monday, January 19, 2015

Celebrating Diversity

sponsored by 

David is a member of the Alliance board...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

messing around
in trees
and awe