Author Archive for

19
Aug
14

the magic ring, again

Holly at the Old Hacienda

Today is my 42nd wedding anniversary and we are nearing the 21st anniversary of Holly’s death. Looked at this way, I have been grieving her loss for as long as we were married, give or take a few weeks. But Holly and I first met five years before we were married and began dating a year later. So we are nearing a half century since we have been a part of one another’s lives.

Far from being inconsolable, I still believe myself to be in relationship with her. We have a son together, and I speak with him at least once a week on the phone. He has never gotten over his mother’s death, and his sense of loss feeds mine. But more than that, I still consider my relationship with his mother to be present-tense rather than something from the buried past. She is still an active presence in my life of which I am reminded constantly.

If any proof is needed to demonstrate that Holly still exerts an influence on the lives of those of us who loved her, I offer this true story which first appeared in this blog four years ago, and at over 3,500 views, it has become the fourth most-popular post in the Wandervogel Diary. Forgive me for repeating myself, but we have many new readers and visitors to the Diary since the story first appeared, and it is truly remarkable and not to be missed.

Truth is truly stranger than fiction…

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It had been a little over a month since Holly’s last surgery. When the surgeons saw how widespread the cancer was, they closed her up without removing anything. Nothing more to be done, they said.

Holly refused to speak of it for weeks on end. As more time passed, the more this unspoken thing became an intrusive presence between us. We needed to discuss her approaching death—soon—but I had no idea how to broach the subject.

I set a deadline—April 29th, the first day of Laguz, the water-rune. On the runic calendar, Laguz is directly opposite Hagal, the rune generally associated with death. It seemed an appropriate day. It was also on April 29, 1987 that my father had died.

Yet, April 28, 1993 had arrived, and I still had no idea how I was going to start the conversation with Holly. I drove through downtown Minneapolis, thinking about this problem. To my right appeared an open parking space. It was directly in front of a building where I made regular visits. A friend, Cheryl Rydmark, had her goldsmith studio there. I was particularly drawn to Cheryl at this time because she had been most generous with her art and friendship through Holly’s long struggle with the cancer. Cheryl is as much a priestess as an artist. Her aesthetic has much in common with ancient rings and amulets. When Holly’s cancer was first diagnosed, she gave Holly a gold necklace which, she had hoped, might help Holly to heal. The parking space seemed to be waiting for me. It was an end-space, so I didn’t even have to parallel-park. I just pulled in. It was like an open door.

I walked to the entrance of Cheryl’s building. Before I could pull on the door handle, the door swung open as a young woman with a backpack came out. She held the door open for me.

As I approached the elevator, the door opened before I could push the button. A delivery man stepped off as I stepped on. Interesting coincidences, I thought, as the elevator made its slow ascent.

I stepped off the elevator and looked down the hall to the fire-door and the flight of stairs leading to Cheryl’s studio. By the fire-door was an Asian lady, a member of the building’s maintenance staff, sweeping the floor.

Walking down the hall I thought: “If that woman opens that door for me, then something’s really going on here.” As if on cue, the woman opened the door. She wedged it open with a worn wooden triangle and walked away. I climbed the stairs, more amazed with every step.

“Cheryl, what is this?” I asked, just a few minutes into our conversation. I loved to browse the tops of her workbenches, where Cheryl and her assistants had their tiny sculptural projects in various stages of development and manufacture. I held up a silver ring for Cheryl to see.

It had water waves all around the band and a nautilus shell as its crown. “It’s a prototype,” Cheryl said. “I made that to test my design before I cast the final ring in gold.”

“This may be exactly what I came here for,” I said. “Would you be willing to make one for Holly?” and I told her why.

“Of course,” Cheryl answered without hesitation.

This exquisite ring would be a perfect way to get Holly to think about death and what must lie beyond. Embodying a sacred proportional mean in its design (which can be used to make a spiral) the nautilus shell is an ancient symbol of eternity. I hoped that its symbolism would assure Holly that she—and we—would continue on.

Cheryl let me borrow the silver prototype so I would have something to give Holly the next day. By tradition, the fortnight of Laguz begins at noon, and I wanted to give the ring to Holly in the morning when she awoke.

At first, Holly didn’t like the idea of the ring. She knew exactly what I was trying to accomplish through this gift. She wanted to delay acknowledging the inevitable as long as possible. Yet, a couple days later, having promised Holly she could pick out any other ring or piece of jewelry she might prefer, we visited Cheryl’s workshop to measure Holly’s ring finger and place our order.

After looking over every possible alternative, in the end Holly chose the nautilus ring. It would be made of gold, and Holly picked out a deep blue sapphire stone to be set in the center of the shell. Blue had always been her favorite color.

“I love my ring,” Holly told me three months later. “I love you for giving it to me,” she whispered. We sat silently for a while, holding hands. Holly seemed at last to be at peace with her fate.

After she died in September, I gave that ring to her best friend Kathe Murphy. This is where Kathe’s voice must tell the rest of the story:

I wear Holly’s gold ring. I treasure it. Her husband gave it to me after she died. Although she had managed life with Multiple Sclerosis for 15 years, she died after two years with Ovarian Cancer. She was incredible, an amazing miracle woman. Nothing stopped her. She adopted a son and started her dream business while “physically challenged” with MS.

Holly and I were the kind of friends that few ever have. We knew it. We knew how to make each other laugh until we cried. When she died, I realized that no one knew her like I did. Who could she talk to about her husband but me? Who could she talk to about her parents, but me? Her sickness. Her funeral.

Holly had very thin fingers, smaller even than mine, and this gold ring was too small for either of my ring fingers, so I had it made into a pinky ring. Besides, it does look like it could be a wedding ring—an 18 karat gold band especially made for her by her husband when she was sick. It was designed to represent the different forms that water takes symbolizing the different forms that spirit takes. The seashell on the ring holds a tiny dark sapphire. It is a beautiful little ring and reminds me daily of my best friend.

I’ve lost it twice, the first time not for long. I had literally washed it off my hand while doing the dishes and found it on the kitchen floor. The second time I noticed the ring was missing was during the funeral of another friend of mine.

My first thought was that Phyllis was with Holly, and that they were watching me together from the wonderful other side. But on this side, my heart was sinking. I had lost this little material thing that meant so much to me. I had to find it! I would retrace the steps of my day and revisit every place where I could have possibly washed the ring off my hand again.

The first place I looked was in the used hand towels in the girls’ room at the Elks Club, where Phyllis’ “Life Celebration” service had taken place. People must have thought I was crazed, because I was. I left word with the manager that I had lost my precious gold ring.

The second stop was back at my house. Again, I checked the kitchen floor. Not there. Nor in the bathroom or anywhere in the bedroom. I even stripped the bed and shook out the covers. Nowhere.

It was late Tuesday afternoon, and I had gone to work that morning, I could have lost the ring in one of the waste baskets. But Tuesdays and Fridays are trash days, and everything from the building had already been put in the dumpster for pickup the following Monday. If the ring was in the dumpster, I could look the next day.

After placing a personals newspaper ad (“REWARD–LOST GOLD RING”) the next day, I climbed up and peered into the building’s dumpster. My I-have-an-important-meeting work clothes stopped me from jumping into the dumpster then and there. Besides, it was only Wednesday and I had five days to carefully weed through the dumpster’s contents before the garbage was hauled away on Monday.

Friday night I had supper with friends who knew about my lost ring and understood the Holly connection. I told them I was convinced at this point that the missing ring was in the dumpster. If I didn’t look for it the next day, I said, I would regret it forever.

My friends fired up. They volunteered to don wet suits and gloves and help me “dumpster dive” in the morning. They even called my answering machine with a reminder to set my alarm for our morning dive.

Before reading myself to sleep that night, I searched for the ring again in my dark blue bedding—just as I had the previous three nights.

Sometime between two and three in the morning, I was awakened by a soft voice that whispered in my ear: “Open your hand; the ring is there.”

At first I didn’t move. I struggled to just open my eyes. Then I opened my hand—and the ring was there!

 

Kathe said she slipped the ring onto her little finger, but had trouble getting back to sleep. She was perplexed by how the ring found its way into her hand as she slept. She told me the ring seemed to glow slightly in the dark.

Kathe seemed surprised that I was so quick to believe her story. She is down-to-earth and even skeptical in most things. Kathe doesn’t drink much or take drugs. She is a businesswoman and homeowner. A taxpayer. She probably even pays her bills on time.

If Kathe says something happened, it did.

I believe that ring is infused with an energy we cannot explain. Amulets and other magical devices, as I understand them, collect energies as a prism collects light, and focuses these energies into a narrow beam of power. Human experiences of the most intense nature were indeed focused in that ring. There is also the weird coincidence of all those opened doors at the ring’s inception, as well as the profound meaning attached to the ring by Holly and those of us who love her. I am convinced that this remarkable story would never have happened had it not been initiated in accordance with my observance of the runic year.

In this instance I fumbled into an important discovery of what life might be like if one were able to permanently inhabit a natural and sacred space defined by runic measures. How much more might be possible if a spiritual community were to combine its individuals’ efforts to find their pathways with the Runic Compass?

Many years ago I lived in rural East Africa, where a belief in magic is mainstream. The stories one hears about the effectiveness of magical cures for illness convinced me that, contrary to the view that all magic is superstition and to be dismissed, magic has real power in the bush. There it is a coherent system for understanding time, the universe, and the role of human beings in the natural order. With so many people believing in this system and contributing their energies to it, the people in effect “manufacture” the magic.

In heeding the underlying design of the runic year and observing the first day of Laguz, in working with a gifted and spiritual artist, in allowing the symbolism of the ring to help Holly find peace with her passage, I believe we tapped into a pure aspect of the universal energies of the runes and in the end, created a magic ring.

My subsequent experiences with April 29th have been similarly remarkable. On that day in 1994, my mother called me to tell me she was dying. The following year, at an impromptu lunch on that date, a mentor told me his cancer had gone into his bones, the equivalent of a death sentence. Thus, in my experience the first day of Laguz has shown a tendency to present harbingers of death.

I do not profess to understand it fully at this time, but I do know that these experiences suggest it is possible to walk in a zone where the physical and spiritual worlds meet, where one can be supported by the waves of energy in the universe rather than fighting them. It is a zone where the past is preparation for a positive future, where intuition and foresight are reliable, and where creativity is the order of the day everyday.

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Here I go, repeating myself again. I have posted this song before, but it always reignites memories for me of tearfully dancing with Holly when we learned her death from cancer was inevitable.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Leon Redbone performing “Breeze”

18
Aug
14

waiting for the train

waiting for the train

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Peggy Lee performing “Waiting for the Train to Come In”

17
Aug
14

de-goonification

not-a-good-look-for-us
How Ferguson created an opening for a liberal-libertarian alliance
The right and the left agree on one thing: turning American suburbs into war zones is a bad idea
by Ryan Cooper, The Week
August 15, 2014

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, blew up into a major international story this week, with scenes that could have come out of a war-torn country in the Middle East. Police firing tear gas and explosives at unarmed protesters. Journalists arrested and being gassed. Mine-resistant vehicles prowling the streets. In line with my article from yesterday, I’m calling it “police goonification.”

The nation has been given an up-close look at the transformation of American police departments in the wake of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which resulted in counterterrorism legislation and weapons surpluses that dumped tons of military equipment in the laps of your local finest. This has raised the prospect of a liberal-libertarian alliance on reforming police practice, which is just the latest example of the two camps coming together on certain issues. Here’s Greg Sargent:

“From time to time, we get fleeting glimpses into the possibility of a left-right alliance on issues where the preoccupations of civil liberties progressives and libertarian conservatives intersect: The surprising bipartisan alliance to defund NSA surveillance; the demand for more transparency into Obama’s drone program; the increasing chatter on drug war and sentencing reform.

“The police killing of Michael Brown potentially offers another area of left-right agreement, as it has focused national attention on the over-militarization of our police forces, particularly in the wake of days of standoffs between protestors and heavily armed police.”

On a congressional level, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote a solid op-ed decrying police militarization and bemoaning the justice system’s wildly disproportionate incarceration of black Americans. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) has proposed a bill to discontinue the Pentagon program that hands out heavily subsidized military equipment to local police, even to small towns like Ferguson. Both the Gun Owners of America and the ACLU have expressed support for the bill.

The two sides do not line up perfectly. Rand Paul framed the problem as being one of “big government.” But the police shooting tear gas were local cops. Last night’s protests were by all accounts dramatically calmer, almost celebratory, after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) stepped in and dismissed local law enforcement, putting Captain Ron Johnson of the state patrol in charge.

It’s also worth remembering that Jim Crow thrived under decentralized authority. State and local governments were the centers of the most entrenched racism, and thus centralized federal power was key to breaking down American apartheid. That’s not to say that the federal government can’t also create racist policy (it definitely can). It is to say that the simplistic “big government = bad” slogan so favored by libertarians and conservatives is hardly the magic decoder ring to preventing police from killing yet another unarmed black kid.

However, there are reasons to be a bit optimistic as well. Since the days of Richard Nixon, conservatives could be relied on to blindly support the police no matter the circumstances. But crime is way, way down from the late ’60s and ’70s, weakening the appeal of “tough-on-crime” macho posturing. And despite some despicable statements from whites in a town neighboring Ferguson, I think it’s fair to say that the political utility of racism is much diminished as well.

As a result, for the first time in decades, rank-and-file conservatives find themselves at odds over police brutality. Even Red State editor Erick Erickson, of all people, wrote today that the police may have gone too far. All of this bodes well for a liberal-libertarian reform effort.

Furthermore, in this particular instance federal policy (the aforementioned Pentagon equipment bonanza) is indeed a major factor behind police goonification, so we can forgive Rand Paul some sloganeering if we can scrap that particular policy.

The biggest question, then, is whether this sort of bipartisan effort will get sucked into the left-right hate vortex. In this respect, President Obama may have been wise to avoid any sort of vigorous comment on reform. His statement on Ferguson yesterday could have been much stronger, but staying out of it may be the right move on a political level. If reform becomes strongly identified with Obama then it will become instantly radioactive on the right, and therefore doomed. (Of course, this all assumes Obama actually supports reform, which he may not.)

So while I’m not getting my hopes up, with a bit of luck there is a real chance for de-goonification policy. Police turning the suburbs into war zones may be too much, even for this country.

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Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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16
Aug
14

acceptance of death

robin williamsThe other day, a psychologist on the radio scolded another commentator for suggesting that, following his recent suicide, Robin Williams was at least free of the depression that he had been battling. She said that this comment would present suicide as a valid alternative to other ways of addressing depression (which presumably include mind-numbing and personality-altering drugs), and will give others who suffer from depression, especially adolescents who tend to romanticize death, license to off themselves. She said that talk like this could lead to a lot of copycat behavior.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it that way.

First of all, we have no idea what burdens Robin Williams was dealing with. Yesterday, his wife disclosed that he was dealing with the onset of Parkinson’s Disease on top of whatever else with which he was coping. Maybe he wanted to check out when the world thought he was at the top of his game. Maybe he wanted to spare his family future anguish. No one knows. Just because we don’t know what was in his head doesn’t mean we know better than him what he should have done.

Why can’t we just respect his wishes and his calculation of what he was willing to endure? Why can’t we step out of ourselves and just trust that he knew best for himself?

Second, our view against suicide is colored by a history in the West of religious beliefs in Christian Europe that regarded suicide as a sin and condemned it as the work of the devil.

Attitudes towards suicide slowly began to shift during the Renaissance. John Donne’s work Biathanatos, contained one of the first modern defences of suicide bringing proof from the conduct of Biblical figures such as Jesus, Samson, and Saul, and presenting arguments on grounds of reason and nature to sanction suicide in certain circumstances. Catholic doctrine was not entirely settled on the subject until 1670, when Louis XIV of France issued an extremely severe ruling that a suicide’s body was to be drawn through the streets, face down, and then hung or thrown on a garbage heap. Additionally, all his or her property was to have been confiscated.

The secularization of society that began during The Enlightenment questioned traditional religious attitudes toward suicide and brought a more modern perspective to the issue. David Hume denied that suicide was a crime as it affected no one and was potentially to the advantage of the individual. The Times in 1786 initiated a spirited debate on the motion “Is suicide an act of courage?” By the 19th century, the act of suicide had shifted from being viewed as a sin to being viewed as caused by insanity, and by the mid-20th century, suicide had become legal in much of the western world.

In the United States, suicide is not illegal but may be associated with penalties for those who attempt it. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in the state of Washington. In Oregon people with terminal diseases may request medications to help end their lives.

I am not necessarily an advocate of suicide, but I am an adamant advocate of personal freedom, and I see choosing whether to live or die as the ultimate act of freedom for any rational adult.

Third, consider the source of the admonition: a psychologist, for god’s sake. Yesterday I watched a documentary in which a group of psychologists discussed The Denial of Death, a 1973 work of psychology and philosophy by Ernest Becker, in which Becker argues that fear of death is a root cause of mental illness (including depression and schizophrenia). This is probably why psychologists are more attracted to defending Becker’s ideas rather than refuting them and helping people to see that death is a normal and essential part of life.

Psychologists need people to be fearful of lots of things to explain and sustain their practices and livelihoods. And what better thing to be fearful of than the one event every one of us will have to face eventually?

I am more attracted to the ideas of Harvard-trained theologian and grief counselor Steve Jenkinson, who teaches that death empowers us to live our lives to the fullest.

“The crucible of making human beings is death,” he says. “Every culture worth a damn knows that. It’s not success. It’s not growth. It’s not happiness. It’s death. That’s the cradle of your love of life: the fact that it ends.”

Our consumerist society has spawned the ridiculous notion that ‘he who dies with the most toys wins.’ How materialistic and shallow. So-called primitive societies such as I observed in Africa believe that ‘he who is remembered by name and good deeds is immortal.’ I like this better. It makes immortality accessible to all. And as I suggested in a recent post, every person who endeavors to live a good life can be remembered as a saint.

Yet regardless of how we go out, it is easier to die than to mourn. It is easier to exit this world than to be left behind. I have learned this from my own experience and from my association with parricides.

This is the cruel truth behind the psychologists’ lie that they seek to perpetuate for their own gain. Even for a person dying of an awful illness, the pain and suffering does end. There is nothing to fear from death except the prospect of living on.

I recently learned of the parents of a little girl who was only kept alive by up to three blood transfusions a week. She was living from transfusion to transfusion, with no hope of positive change. “What if there’s a miracle?” her parents asked. “What if there’s a cure?” Finally the parents realized they’d put their daughter through too much, they faced the bitter truth, discontinued the transfusions, and let her die.

Now that was bravery. To face death and let it take their daughter. What true generosity.

Yet their sorrow will end someday. Not through forgetting, for that would dishonor the love they feel for their little girl. One day they will die too, and fear of death will lose its grip on them as well.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to The Jim Carroll Band performing “People Who Died”

15
Aug
14

goons

occupied ferguson - photo by Jeff Roberson AP
The fiasco in Ferguson shows why you don’t give military equipment to cops
The police in Ferguson are bristling with military gear. Too bad they have no clue how to use it.
By
August 14, 2014

Last weekend in Ferguson, Missouri, an 18-year-old named Michael Brown, who was two days from starting college, was shot to death by the police. The circumstances surrounding his death remain in dispute (though an eyewitness says he was virtually executed on the street), but that hasn’t stopped locals in this St. Louis suburb from demonstrating for justice and condemning police brutality. The protests lapsed into serious unrest on Sunday, with opportunists taking advantage of the chaos to loot local businesses, and have continued every day since.

Throughout all this, police from Ferguson, St. Louis County, and other departments have responded by arming themselves to the teeth with heavy-duty military equipment. Concerns about “police militarization” in America — the origins of which have been discussed to great extent by Radley Balko — are rampant.

But the great irony of this story is that the military itself would never behave so crudely. And that is precisely why it is beyond reckless to let a bunch of local cops get their hands on a high-grade military arsenal.

First, let’s see what they got. Here’s a representative sample from Paul Szoldra, who served in Afghanistan himself:

In photos taken on Monday, we are shown a heavily armed SWAT team. They have short-barreled 5.56-mm rifles based on the military M4 carbine, with scopes that can accurately hit a target out to 500 meters. On their side they carry pistols. On their front, over their body armor, they carry at least four to six extra magazines, loaded with 30 rounds each.

Their uniform would be mistaken for a soldier’s if it weren’t for their “Police” patches. They wear green tops, and pants fashioned after the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage pattern. And they stand in front of a massive uparmored truck called a Bearcat, similar in look to a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or as the troops who rode in them call it, the MRAP.

Second, let’s see how they’re using it. The AP photo at the top of this article is already infamous. It’s bad enough that it is deemed necessary to sic half a dozen policemen on a single unarmed civilian, but it gets worse when you realize that two officers are pointing their weapons directly at the man, which should bother anyone who is familiar with even basic firearm safety principles.

That’s only one instance of unprofessionalism on the part of the police. In fact, the whole situation has been rife with violations of none other than the Army Field Manual. The chapter on civil disturbances, for example, clearly emphasizes nonaggressive techniques. Consider:

  • “…history has proven that confrontation will most likely cause crowd resistance. When pushed, people tend to resist opposition to the realization of their purposes.” In Ferguson, an officer was caught on tape yelling, “Bring it, you f**king animals! Bring it!”
  • “Working relationships between commanders and protest group leaders are increasingly seen as the best means for preventing bad outcomes in crowd situations.” This is obviously not happening in Ferguson.
  • “Soldiers must be taught and understand that they use the minimum force necessary.” When a man in Ferguson protested police presence from his own property, they shot a tear gas canister at his face.
  • Line 3-76 details resting rifle position, which is poles apart from pointing guns at unarmed civilians.

Whereas the Army Field Manual focuses on de-escalation, communication with protesters, and a minimum level of violence, the cops in Ferguson have been applying the opposite.

Of course, American soldiers do not always follow these rules. But it’s safe to say that soldiers are better trained in the use of these heavy weapons. Most importantly, they actually have a reason for using them.

Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan needed armored vehicles like MRAPs, since they were constantly in danger of being blown up or shot. The police in Ferguson, by contrast, are not facing insurgents armed with RPGs, IEDs, automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and suicide vests. They’re facing unarmed civilians in their own country, give or take a few looters.

When heavy military equipment is taken from its original context and placed in the hands of a domestic law-enforcement agency with little training in wartime scenarios, it becomes nothing more than an instrument of intimidation. It simply has no other purpose. Wearing jungle camouflage in an urban setting, pointing guns at civilians, driving around pointlessly in an armored personnel carrier — all of these egregiously violate military best practices. This is playing soldier dress-up to scare the pants off the locals — except the guns are real.

Notice also how many of these riot cops have their faces completely covered by gas masks and insect goggles. That is almost never seen in recent wars, because covering the face makes a soldier look less human, which is directly at odds with modern counterinsurgency thinking.

But covering the face to dehumanize the enemy is a common feature in first-person shooter games (like Half Life 2 and the Killzone series), where the player often has to slaughter them by the score. Doing it to oneself is, I think, a deliberate effort to broaden the emotional distance between law enforcement and the people who are being forced into submission.

It turns out that when you put normal cops into soldier gear, you don’t get soldiers. You get paramilitary goons.

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Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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I think the Ferguson police department should be given a trophy: The “Bull” Connor Award.

1963 2۞

14
Aug
14

natural time

Day_Sol_S21_RevolvingEarth

I am saving a lot of money by running my electrical system less at night and more during the hours that the sun shines. I have avoided buying any gasoline whatsoever since my solar system was repaired.

My biological clock, however, has not made the transition. I am still awakening early in the morning before sunrise, and I am finding that the wee morning hours pass much more slowly without the distraction of access to the Internet or the use of my computer keyboard for writing.

This is a demonstration of what we have known for at least a hundred years (since Einstein) that time is relative, but we have probably known it long before that. I have observed this truism in my own life for at least thirty years, ever since I eschewed the use of a wristwatch in favor of observing the positions of the sun, moon, stars, and seasons to estimate the time of any given day.

(I have always relied on mechanical time in the keeping of appointments, but more as a confirmation of my estimates based on natural time. Belt and braces.)

On reflection, I would say that the biggest thing which encouraged me to move to a more naturalistic conception of time was having come to the conclusion that linear time, based on the Judeo-Christian Bible, is illusory and an artificial human invention. The ancients (including the Incas, Mayans, Hopi and other Native American tribes, plus the Babylonians, ancient Greeks, Romans, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, etc.) more rightly had a concept of a wheel of time that regards time as cyclic and consisting of repeating ages that happen to every being in the Universe between birth and extinction.

Even the most accurate timekeeping devices, atomic clocks (which are accurate to seconds in many millions of years), are cyclical at their heart. They use the spin property of atoms as their basis, and the International System of Measurements bases its unit of time, the second, on the properties of cesium atoms.

Linear and mechanical time works reasonably well on an everyday practical level, but as a paradigm, it prevents us from seeing the repeating patterns which give life its more subtle and important meaning.

But we have strayed far from my first observation that time seems to move more slowly in the early hours of the morning. I will freely admit that this perception (or failure) is entirely mine. Since the stroke I am no longer able to read books, write by hand, or partake of other distractions that do not rely on electricity. As a result, I concentrate on the gradually-changing glow in the eastern sky, which is much like watching a pot of water as I wait for it to boil.

“A watched pot never boils” is one of the homely proverbs that’s ascribed to Poor Richard, which was the pseudonym Benjamin Franklin used when publishing his widely popular annual almanac. Franklin, a tireless and industrious polymath, was fixated on such aphorisms and published them between 1732 and 1758.

Perhaps if I were to heed Poor Richard’s advice, I might be shown a better way through the early morning hours. The sun won’t really rise any more quickly than it is supposed to, but it may seem to do so.

Here is a selection:

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Lost time is never found again.

He that can have patience can have what he will.

You may delay, but time will not.

Time is money.

If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.

Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.

Dost thou love me? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.

Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste.

One today is worth two tomorrows.

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cyclical time 3 cropped

13
Aug
14

dust bowl

dust bowl 12

A couple nights ago, I had the most depressing experience as I watched the Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl. There was a time when I might have been confused by whether my depression arose from Burns’ pacing or the content, but I have had ample opportunity to become used to Burns’ approach to his craft. No, it was the content, and primarily two things about it.

First is the frequent use of images of the children affected by this disaster. As some of them are interviewed as old people, it is clear they have never gotten over the experiences of their youth, especially the loss of siblings to “dust pneumonia.”

Second is that it can and will happen again. Through the intercession of government, old-time farmers were taught new-fangled methods of soil conservation. Yet the wind still blows over the plains and an estimated eighty tons of topsoil are still blown away every year.

The desert where I live all used to be beautiful grasslands. It is said that a hundred years ago, the tall grasses would brush the chests and stomachs of horses. But it is all gone now, overgrazed by the sheep and cattle of ranchers who were more interested in short-term profits rather than the long-term health of the environment. The ranchers are almost all gone and the land has been overtaken by greasewood, an invasive plant that poisons the soil for almost every other species.

The Dust Bowl chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up,” followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Even though this is one of the worst examples of man’s abuse of the environment, the truth is it has happened time and time again. When money and greed are involved, man never learns and the environment always loses.

But as I said before, it is the suffering of the children which I found so distressing. I’ve assembled some images of the children of the dust bowl, images which bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance.

If you will find nothing else motivating, think at least of the children. They remind us that the dust bowl is a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us—a lesson we ignore at our and our children’s peril.

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dust bowl 1.

dust bowl 13.

dust bowl 16.

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dust bowl 7.

dust bowl 14.

dust bowl 5.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Woody Guthrie performing “The Great Dust Storm Disaster”

 

12
Aug
14

report from derek

derek king in dc

Hello everyone. As I said in my last post, I am here again writing to you an update of the progress I have been making as I begin my journey from Florida to start a new life. Things have been going well at work. I have been learning quickly, and it has been really encouraging and motivating to see how quickly I can master everything. Also it has been a wonderful experience meeting all kinds of different people in the community. Working at a coffee shop is a great place to learn all kinds of things about many different types of people. Another wonderful thing about the coffee shop is how it has its own community there every evening, the same groups that come consistently.

Now that I have a pretty consistent work schedule and I have settled into a routine there, I can focus on my personal life and strategizing for the future. Budgeting is my next area of growth. This is where I can actually see the void in my life from the 7 years I spent away from society, not understanding how it works and not being able to learn with everyone else how to function out here. The biggest thing that I have noticed with the difference between my current situation in comparison with others my age is how there is a big gap of time where I had no opportunity to budget, and I grew up in a world where money had very little meaning.

I have recently learned how to travel on the metro, which has been such an amazing thing for me. On my days off I have been able to ride the metro to places around town and to see the sites. I love the convenience of traveling on the metro. Now that I am comfortable with it I have been planning different places to go visit that are in walking distance of the metro stops. Last weekend I went to visit the United Stated Botanical Gardens, National Museum of the Native American, and The Air and Space Museum. Then I stopped for dinner with a friend at a local Thai restaurant. He has been my guide here in DC, showing me where all of the different sites are and he brought up a good point the other day. He explained to me that since I live here I don’t have to see everything at once and pack so much into one day. I have the opportunity to take my time and learn the area and finding new places to explore in the future.

So far this move has been an exciting new adventure and I am so blessed to have found this opportunity. I am looking forward to the months to come and what they may bring. Through my experiences I have learned that success comes from strong will and a positive attitude. Setting goals and then making a plan of action to accomplish those goals. It is quite simple but as I am seeing more and more often it is very rare to find people who think like this in their lives and about the course their future will take. Most people just go day by day and allow life to just take them wherever it will. I’ve realized that I cannot live my life like that because I have a lot of lost time to make up for. Life is too precious to wait around to see what might happen next.

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If you wish to make a contribution to assist Derek’s prison-to-freedom transition, you can earmark your gift for his benefit.

donate hands

To make a contribution to the Redemption Project, please use the link at the top of this page or click here. Thank you!

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Frank Sinatra performing “The Coffee Song”

11
Aug
14

judy olausen

Holly picture 2.jpg color

Holly Ramsey Dailey

August 11, 1949 – September 6, 1993

When my wife Holly was about to take her last course of chemotherapy, she wanted some photographs taken while she still had her hair. Something “normal” for Henry and me to remember her by.

Unbeknownst to me, she had called our friend and renowned photographer Judy Olausen and scheduled a session in Judy’s Minneapolis studio. It had been a priority for Holly to do the dying thing well, to serve as a good example for our friends. So of course, if a photographer were to be involved, it had to be Judy Olausen.judy olausen

Judy had become known worldwide for her unique approach to portraiture. National Geographic Director of Photography Kent Kobersteen wrote, “Being photographed is an unnatural act, and the best photographers develop a way to get people to forget they are being photographed.  She has made an art out of that, and it shows in her work.” She’s a keen observer and is able to communicate the subtleties of a sitter’s personality.

Judy’s wide range of subjects include celebrities such as Laurie Anderson, Andy Warhol, and Prince Charles and Princess Diana; corporate leaders; and average people from farmers to factory workers.

Hasselblad FORUM named Judy one of the ten best photographers in the world, and her photographs were included in a touring exhibition curated by Hasselblad.  Her work has been profiled in Adweek and honored by the New York Art Directors Club and Communication Arts.  Preceding the publication of her best-selling and influential book, Mother, published in 1996 (which broke a sales record at The New York Times), PBS aired a national broadcast of a half-hour feature in 1995 called “Mother as Coffee Table.”

Judy Olausen’s work has been shown in exhibitions at the Walker Art Center, the Imagine Gallery, Imprimatur Gallery, and the University of St. Thomas. It has been featured in numerous magazines including Ms, People, HOW, Minnesota Monthly, Minnesota Alumni Magazine, Harper’s, Advertising Age, U.S. News and World Report, and Adweek.

I don’t recall Judy ever billing me for that photo session, yet it is one of the kindest and most important things that anyone ever did for us. My memory of Holly is shaped not by her cadaverous appearance at the end, but by Judy’s photographs of her when she still looked healthy and, to my eyes, beautiful. I will always be thankful.

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Here are some examples of Judy’s work:

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Mother Daughter.

Mauri.

Andy Warhol.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

JLB.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to The Who performing “Pictures of Lily”

10
Aug
14

antony and cleopatra

antony and cleopatra 2

This weekend I watched all the episodes of the HBO series Rome for at least the fifth or sixth time.

The series begins with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, and the first season concludes with the assassination of Caesar followed by the rise of the first Emperor Augustus, also known as Gaius Octavian. The second season of the series deals with the civil wars that followed Julius Caesar’s assassination, including the legendary romance of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt.

Rome primarily chronicles the lives and deeds of the rich, powerful and historically significant, but also focuses on the lives, fortunes, families and acquaintances of two common men: Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, two Roman soldiers mentioned in Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico.

mark antonyThe series’ historical consultant Jonathan Stamp notes that the show aims for “authenticity” rather than “accuracy.” The filmmakers stressed that they wanted to portray a more accurate picture of Rome, a gritty and realistic city based on modern day Bombay, as opposed to what they call the “Hollyrome” presentation that audiences are used to from other films, with “cleanliness and marble and togas that looked pressed.” There are therefore numerous inaccuracies in the series’ representation of various historical events and personages.

CleopatraHistorians say that Cleopatra was not the glamorous beauty that the movies have depicted; it is her personality that was said to have made her memory so alluring. Mark Antony is said not to have been the great military genius so often portrayed. Two thousand years after the actual historical events, and polluted by the dramatic inventions of William Shakespeare, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and countless other mythmakers, it is impossible to cite any one source for an accurate portrayal of the true story. But a book published in 2010 by British author and historian Adrian Goldsworthy attempts to do just that.

Goldsworthy, author of Antony and Cleopatra, describes the couple’s true story in this appearance on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and why so much of what we know about them is wrong.

Listen to Adrian Goldsworthy’s Interview

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Alex North conducting the main title from the 1963 film ” Cleopatra”




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