Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gnostic Bizzaro World

As my long-suffering blog readers know, I am engaged in a project to read every book in the world, in chronological order, expecting to maybe reach the literature of the nineteenth century or so before the Grim Reaper taps my shoulder.

And as my long-suffering blog readers know, I am currently struggling through the chaotic writings of the Gnostics, who flourished in the first centuries of the Christian era.

The most comprehensive collection of their sacred writings is entitled the Nag Hammadi Library. It's not easy reading, by any stretch of the imagination. Much of it is virtually impossible to understand, although the nature of the translation or my unfamiliarity with the sect may be to blame.

But towards the end of the collection, I have encountered perhaps the strangest document that I have read in my entire life. I literally couldn't help laughing, which I generally try not to do when reading literature that someone else holds sacred.

The Paraphrase of Shem takes some of the Gnostic doctrines at which other texts have hinted, and goes nuts.

It is as if its writer was trying to create a Christian Bizzaro World, or an anti-matter universe, based on the opposite of the Bible. Literally, everything considered good in the Christian Bible is explicitly bad in this text, and everything bad is good. The Creation and the Creator God are evil, for starters. That's well known as a Gnostic tenet, but to continue ... The Flood was an evil idea intended to destroy good people. Sodom was a city of righteous and holy people, destroyed by a vengeful and evil god. And even the Christian hero, John the Baptist, is herein called a demon who used the impure material medium of water to bind souls in his evil baptismal rite.

Interspersed through this strangeness are lurid accounts of demons masturbating and cosmic sexual activity that makes the Biblical Song of Solomon seem tamer than a child's picture book.

It is really, really hard to comprehend that any sane mind, uninfluenced by powerful drugs, could have written this material.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hungarian meditations ...

"Magyarorszagon szulettel, es magyarul beszelz. Edesanyadtol tanultad az elso szavakat. Ez az anyanyelved. Olyan termeszetes, hogy magyarul beszelsz, mint az, hogy kek vagy barna a szemed, es hogy ket kezed van. A szemeddel latod a korulotted levo vilagot, a kezeddel megfogod targyait, a beszeddel meg nevet adsz nekik. Ki tudod fejezni, amit gondolsz es erzel ..." -- Tanuljunk magyarul, Sarosy Jozsefne.

Translation: "You were born in Hungary, and you speak Hungarian. From your dear mother you learned your first words. This is your mother tongue. It is as natural that you speak Hungarian, as that your eyes are blue or brown and that you have two hands. With your eyes you see the world around you, with your hands you grasp its objects, with your speech you give names to them. Who can imagine, what you think and feel ..."

Only fifteen million people worldwide speak Hungarian -- a mere drop in the global linguistic ocean. It is forever a stranger among the Germanic, Slavic and Romance languages that surround it. Oh, but I love this beautiful though difficult language, its very poetry in prose, its strong and meaty cadence -- such a reward for struggling to comprehend its complexity!

Paul Lendvai writes in "The Hungarians," for which I spent my birthday money this year:

"Except for the Albanians, the Hungarians are the most lonely people of Europe, with their unique language and history..."

One can clearly hear the passion and the pathos in their national anthem, Isten aldd meg a Magyart, (God Bless the Hungarian), a prayer for strength, a prayer for survival. One can feel it, and one never forgets it.

To be so unique, is both a blessing and a curse.

Reading those lines by Ms. Josefne, I imagined bright-eyed kids in a Hungarian classroom, opening up that grammar book on the first day of school and agreeing with her that speaking Hungarian is as natural as the color of one's eyes. In years to come, they will realize that their beautiful language comes to an abrupt halt beyond their borders, with only ethnic enclaves here and there in which it can still be heard.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Canoeing -- we could do this!

Riding home today in the back of the in-laws van, I got a glimpse of scenery that I don't see when I am at the wheel. Swamps, creeks, lakes and rivers -- beautiful even at this drab time of year.

Then it hit me -- my Sweetie and I could explore these wild lands. We could save our pennies for a used canoe and we could learn together and go exploring.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Of speech and song

Isn't it fascinating that the mere action of stretching out one's words produces the vocal phenomenon that we call singing?

At what point does talk end and song begin?

I learned today that the word "accent" comes from the same Latin root as "to sing." An accent, then, is a different way of speaking but it is also, in a way, a song, a song about your heritage.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Of journalists

Journalists are like flies -- passionately attracted to crap and buzzing around it until every bit has been digested. They are necessary but nonetheless a ^%$#^% nuisance.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Deerly beloved

"Poor deer," said Sweetie, as I washed a chunk of venison in the sink.

"Poor deer nothing," I said. "That's one deer that won't starve this winter, or be chased by feral dogs, or die slowly on the side of the highway after being hit by a car."

She remained unconvinced. But when this succulent slab of meat is roasted to perfection, after marinating all day in Italian dressing, even She will bury her scruples and partake.

It was worth the dark and rainy drive to a friend's house tonight, who called with news that a friend of his had bagged a deer and had some left over.

"I wish I was a hunter," I told Sweetie. "Think how much we would save on the cost of meat."

"I'm glad you aren't," She said.

Happy news

I was about ready to give up on my plan for a special Christmas present for my third grade "lunch buddy" this week.

I had wanted to take him to the local high school to shoot hoops with one of our high school basketball players. As usual, I could not get his mother to return any phone calls to give permission or to transport him there.

So I called Coach G. today with the bad news.

Coach G. wasn't taking no for an answer. If little B. couldn't be brought to the high school, he told me, then Coach G. would bring the high school -- or at least one star player -- to him.

It's happening this Friday. I am so excited. I think this star player could help little B. to think about what he needs to do to improve his behavior and to value his education.


Chemistry fascinates.

In bugs, a substance called ecdysone (see molecule of the month, at lower right) regulates larval molts, onset of puparium formation, and metamorphosis. Plants make the same chemical to disrupt all of the above, which punishes insects who would otherwise make a meal of their tasty leaves.

But, in scientific news worthy of some B-grade horror flick, humans have discovered that ecdysone can also function as a muscle-building steroid. Presumably, when we left the bug stage of evolution, we lost the receptor that utilized ecdysone for non-insect bodily purposes but our systems still recognize its potential to stimulate growth.

What if some ethically challenged athlete took a shot of the stuff without realizing that he possessed vestigial ecdysone receptors?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The first thing that I have learned about Azerbaijan is that it spent many centuries under Persian rule.

The Persians!

Today's Iranians are the remnants of that once-vast empire, which nearly overwhelmed Classical Greece; which drew a line in the Mideastern sand that Rome never crossed; which remains to this day mysterious and unknown to most of us. We can name a few of the Caesars, most of us -- but who other than specialists can name a Persian, or a Parthian?

Azerbaijan in the modern era passed back and forth between Persia and the new power in the region, Russia. Most of the 20th Century it spent as a Soviet republic, supplying the bulk of the USSR's gasoline.

Today, it finally enjoys independence, and in what is left of December, I shall try to learn something of its ancient culture, and maybe a few words in its native language.

If nothing else, I now know the capital: Baku.

Dream details

I am back in the Pacific Northwest, trying to climb down a steep cliff. I tumble and land inside a giant nest, an eagle's aerie. I feel fear, knowing that the great bird will soon return. I scramble out of it and somehow climb down the tree to the beach far below.

There I find the carcass of a turtle which the eagle had dropped. I find its missing skull nearby and desire to take it with me, as I am a collector of skulls. [That last line is a real-world detail, readers; now you know something more about me].

Incomprehensible, disconnected details follow. Something about kids swimming in a dirty pool rather than a clear stream, and a debate over it.

Then I am employed, working along with my parents for a boss who is not much of a Lady, at some sort of convenience store. Finally, in front of a bunch of smirking customers, the boss assigns me some menial task, something to do with figuring out how much I deserve to be paid, and I say:

"I quit. Find someone else to work in this hellhole."

The smirking stops.

[I awake for a few minutes. When I dream again, it is of things much more pleasant, at least to me, and with no apparent connection to the former sequence -- a Woman in a bank line blows cigarette smoke my way; two beautiful Girls decide that They are too pretty to use the sidewalk, and so, succesfully, They walk down the highway, casually tossing candy wrappers upon the asphalt, as traffic good-naturedly weaves around Them.]

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mind your c's and b's

Zahra Eshragi wants to see better days for Iran, but She doesn't see them anytime soon.

Eshragi is the granddaughter of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 revolution in Iran.

It is no secret that many Iranians are unhappy with the leadership of their country and with the fruits of the revolution that they so eagerly fomented nearly 30 years ago.

Iran, contrary to the understanding of many Westerners, is something of a democracy. But it has a flaw, a deadly flaw, the same flaw that doomed two previous revolutions in history, in France and in Russia.

No checks and balances.

The Soviets believed that if only the capitalists and the opiate of religion were swept away, the long-suppressed good nature of mankind woulod rise to the surface. Everyone would work hard and all would be well.

We know how that turned out.

In a previous century, the French believed that if they swept away their monarchy and broke the power of the Church, then a secular utopia of equality, brotherhood and fraternity would rise up.

That wasn't quite what happened.

The founding fathers of the American nation, by contrast, were not utopians. They did not believe that any man was above corruptibility. So they created a system of checks and balances -- the missing element in all three of the revolutions mentioned above.

It is by no means a perfect system. But it has worked for more than 200 years.

Why does Eshragi feel so gloomy about Iran? In a recent interview, she lamented the "hard-liners lock on power."

Well, there's the problem. In America, people unhappy with our current president picked the "candidate of change" this year. Imagine if a body of American authorities, religious or secular, had the power to disqualify Obama from having run.

In Iran, a body of clerics has exactly that power and they are accountable only to Allah.

The revolution was meant to bring freedom to Iran, Eshragi said. Well, if so, instead of taking American hostages, its architects should have studied the American Founding Fathers.

Instead, she says, "with this trend, nothing remains of the republic. And they have left nothing of freedom."

If you are reading this as a rant about American superiority, you have totally misunderstood me. It was precisely because they recognized that their fellow citizens were no more superior than people anywhere else, no less likely to become corrupted and do evil, that the U.S. Founding Fathers did what they did.

Checks and balances. You gotta have em.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I will decide what I am and what I am not

So the Christmas Party is over. Not too shabby. I feel the relief wash over me like the warm caress of my beautiful Sweetie. Who accompanied me last night. Who is everlastingly my confidante, cheerleader and best friend. She worried during the whole drive home in the blasting rain and fog, but we made it.

The great, big snarly ball of party-planning logistics can be put to rest for another year.

When I was a child, one of my teachers lamented that I was horribly disorganized. It remains a frustration for me to this day, not the lament, but the problem. ADHD and all.

But I refuse to lean on a crutch. If teacher and nature insist on telling me that I am incorrigibly disorganized, that is all the more reason that I will fight that label and win.

Today I was asked to perform the impossible: to locate a series of digital photos that I took at some point last year, among the thousands that I have taken, and forward them to a School Board member.

Mister Disorganized went promptly to his daily logbook that he made for himself, remembering that the event took place sometime near the beginning of the 2007 school year, found the entry for September 7 confirming the trip and when the pictures were taken, inserted the CD-Rom archive of 2007 pictures that he made for himself, opened up the September 7 file, found them and sent them.

Take that, O teacher of mine! Take that, ADHD! Don’t you dare tell me what I can’t do, what I can’t be. Don’t you label me.

Whence absolute?

Absolute: (1)free from imperfection. (2)Marked by restraint from control. From the Latin absolvere, to set free.

Wow. What power in a word, what intrigue in etymology. To be absolute is to be free. Although I might note that the clever marketing company that co-opted Absolut as a brand name might not wish to explore just how unrestrained from control an imbiber of their product might become.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Voices in my head

My last post was number 666. Not a good omen. But without 666, nobody would ever get to 667, now would they?

There are voices in my head.

I'm not insane. I'm pretty sure of that, although an independent diagnosis might disagree.

But I performed some mundane little action yesterday and realized that a voice in my head was guiding my actions. It was the voice of a person I respect, who had long ago given me advice on similar matters.

I realize that there are many such voices whispering in my head: my parents, my grandparents, former bosses, friends, even my own past self who has learned his lesson. And while I pride myself on rock-solid immunity to peer pressure, these voices guide me quite often as I go about the business of being alive.

I appreciate good advice, recognizing that there are a whole lot of people in the world wiser and more experienced than I am.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Birthday week

Thirty-some years ago this week, I screamed and kicked my way into the world.

I like being alive, most of the time. Days of flu and dealing with consequences of my personal stupidity cause me to reconsider albeit briefly.

I like the taste of hot sauce, marshmallows, shrimp, pasta, pork, lemon, chocolate and pizza (not in the same mouthful). I like the sight of Woman from head to toe, or of a wide green valley or a desert vista; the smell of pines in the sun or rain on a hot, dusty day or of bread baking; the sound of Bach or Korn or children laughing or Women singing; the feel of soft cotton or warm skin or milkweed fluff in my hands.

I like Saturdays, creative but well-behaved children, old musty books and fresh, crisp books, the smell of coffee and pipe tobacco, cold mountain streams and warm tropical seas, old trees and little seedlings.

I like space and comets and the contemplation of DNA and atomic theory.

I like warm, spring soil and cold, fresh snow.

I like great old church hymns and simple, pretty melodies.

I like hard, sweaty work and I like the feeling when it is all done and I am tired and able to sink into a warm bath and clean up.

I like flowers and fish, hedgehogs and lemurs.

I like allspice, vanilla, anise and mint.

I like unspoiled wilderness and the magic of cities.

I like being alive.

Happy birthday to me. Thanks Dad and especially Mom, for making it so.

I will celebrate with dinner at a Turkish restaurant. Can't wait.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Economics 101

I posted this to a friend's blog today, and wanted to repost it here:

The problem in America today is not the "greedy guys" of capitalism. Our nation's wise founding fathers, unlike the Marxists and other misguided dreamers, knew that the smart thing to do was not to try to throttle capitalism with a government rope but rather to get out of its way and let it run like a river.

What does a "greedy" businessman do? He works long hours and risks his shirt to make his dream succeed. He makes his product more efficient and less costly, so that it will outsell his competitor. Society benefits. If he tries to cheat and cut corners, in a free society he eventually gets caught, his competitors pounce and his customers go away.

What happens in socialism? The government curses "greed" and tries to control it. And shoddy products are made by lackluster factories, if at all,with a sour attitude towards any fool who tries to purchase them. Ask anyone who lived through the shadow days of the Soviet empire.

In Praise of Olive Garden

Rolling back to work from paying a lunch-time bill, worrying about the squealy fanbelt and whether or not the district Christmas Party next week will be a logistical success or a horror fest, I caught sight of the Olive Garden Restaurant in town and remembered a warm summer afternoon spent there with friends.

What is with the snootie people who refuse to grant that place the status of a real Italian restaurant? What is it with the foodies who poke fun at it in their fancy magazines? Olive Garden sends its culinary staff for training to Italy, for crying out loud (sorry, Chase)-- which may be more than some poseur pricy places can say.

Only a redneck yokel would confuse their menu with real Italian food, the snobs say, a beer-belly redneck that couldn't tell you the difference between burned biscotti and Brussels sprouts.

Well, reckon I done mewtated into one o' them there yokelly-types then, because I enjoy a meal at Olive Garden now and then. I also appreciate the prices. Maybe that's what annoys the snooty folks. Can't stand to see the kind of people who have to keep driving on a squealy fanbelt until payday enjoying the privilege of fine cuisine, Olive Garden style.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A dirty little secret

It’s a dirty little secret, a dirty little lie.

Because smokers, by conventional wisdom, are weak-willed reprobates, they deserve whatever fate has in store for them. And only smokers get lung cancer, so nobody else needs to worry about it.

How much of the above paragraph did you find to be false? I contest virtually every word. And the second sentence is a killer.

Many, many people – and for reasons unknown, although science suspects estrogen may be to blame, a high percentage of them are Women – get lung cancer even though they’ve never smoked nor habitually been around smokers.

Do a little googling on the Internet and you will be horrified at the stories of people whose symptoms were ignored, because they weren’t smokers. Or who asked about having tests because the cancer runs in their family, and were put off, again, because they weren’t smokers.

This you must know: Any organ of the body can get cancer.

An organ such as the lung, which has unique exposure to pollutants, is vulnerable to cancer – from radon, diesel particulates, formaldehyde, etc. – even if one never smokes nor spends time with smokers.

Genetics can play a role, too. Being Female can increase the chances, as previously noted.

Whether you smoke or not, don’t assume that you don’t have the risk. And do not allow your doctor to put you off either.

Some smokers get lung cancer. Some non-smokers do, too. It is just as worthy of research as any other cancer. Its sufferers deserve just as much compassion.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Meditations upon Youth

She is dancing
my little niece-in-law
pirouetting to choreography
of Her own design.

She is pure as a dewdrop
lovely as a little fawn
utterly perfect
a young Goddess whirling in the living room

Then She shoves Her Sister
off the piano bench
and makes Her cry
Human after all, beautiful but flawed

Monday, December 1, 2008

Of India

Lone Grey Squirrel has expressed in beautiful words, in his blog today, what so many of us thought when we heard of the horror in Mumbai.

India is a beautiful country, working so hard to become a 21st century success story.

India did not deserve this.

Good news out of China

Sometimes I need to be reminded that, in spite of the Orwellian thuggery that rules China, ordinary people there are no different than their counterparts in Oslo or Oklahoma. They care about their children and about making the world a better place.

I was heartened to read that tens of millions of Chinese people now heat their water with rooftop solar water heaters, saving the electricity equivalent of 54 coal-fired power plants. That is far more impressive to me than some PR environmental stunt by the central authorities, such as shutting down a factory and throwing people out of work. Grassroots, not jackboots.

Azerbaijan for December

New month, new place.

It will be fun to learn about a country about which I know absolutely nothing. It took me a little while to even find it on a world map.

Last of the "a" countries, a fitting end for 2008.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guerrilla gardeners

Anyone with an engineering degree can put up a bridge that will carry traffic. Any run-of-the-mill architect can erect a building that will keep out the rain.

It is when these skills combine with beauty that humanity is truly uplifted -- when we are bequeathed a Golden Gate Bridge or a Parthenon.

Too much of our modern, so-called public space is dreary, boring, even downright ugly -- and soul-killing. And that's just the hardscape, not the often pathetic attempts to bring in some greenery.

An international movement seeks to change that in a surprising way. They call themselves guerrilla gardeners.

In essence, these folks sneak onto neglected public property by dark of night and plant things. Not cannabis but sunflowers, native plants, etc.

Now, being a gardener myself, I was skeptical at first. Anyone with functioning fingers can drop seeds on the ground and run away. To actually produce a garden requires a few return trips. Watering and weeding soon become necessary.

But I visited and was happily surprised. The man who runs the website does slip back to tend his urban oasises. Even rakes leaves. And sometimes visits by day. I don't know if all his followers are so devoted. Still, more power to them.

Friday, November 28, 2008


I had today off from work, so I ... worked.

Cut down the dying asparagus stalks in the garden to deter asparagus beetles in the spring. Cut back the grape vines to deter the black rot that claims too much of the fruit every summer. Spread shredded leaves over the garden soil for mulch. Rubbed down the garden tool handles with linseed oil. And plunged my fingers into the cold soil to dig up the last of the carrots, which tonight became a spicy carrot bread for dessert.

Satisfaction. I love working outside.

Story of a little dog

My local paper carried this story, which originated in Florida. It has to be one of the most beautifully written articles that I have read in a long time.

World's ugliest dog title pays pooch's medical bills

Owner found special connection with scrawny, one-eyed, three-legged friend
Lane DeGregory, St. Petersburg Times

Published: Thursday, November 13, 2008
GULFPORT, Fla. - She wrapped the World's Ugliest Dog in a blue baby blanket and carried him outside. But even in the sun, Gus couldn't stop shivering.

"Hey, little guy," she said softly. "You want to go for a ride?"

Gus looked up at her and blinked his one bulbous eye. His three paws were curled, claw-like, into his bony body.

Gus, the one-eyed, three-legged Chinese crested who won the title of the world's ugliest dog in June, died this week after a fight with cancer.

In June, when he was crowned in California, he became an instant celebrity. He growled at Howard Stern, appeared on The Today Show and Fox & Friends. Everyone agreed he couldn't look worse.

Since then, Gus had lost five pounds -- half his body weight. The cancer that claimed his back leg had twisted his spine. The $1,600 he won in the contest helped pay for chemo. But it didn't cure him. A few days ago, the vet said Gus only had a few days.

So this past Saturday, Jeanenne Teed booked a room on Treasure Island, one last getaway for her dog who loves road trips.

"There you are," she said, lowering Gus onto a pillow on the passenger seat. "Let's go to the beach."

She found him eight years ago, just after her divorce. Someone told her about this hairless, bug-eyed creature being kept in a cage in a dark garage.

With the help of a rescue team, Teed saved the Chinese crested puppy.

"He was the most hideous thing I had ever seen."

She told her son and daughter, who were in elementary school, that she was going to find the dog a good home. But that night, he curled against her on her ex-husband's side of the bed.

"My mom had this crazy bond with Gus," said Janey Teed, 16. "We'd had other dogs before, but she'd never been like that.

"It was like, Gus needed her more."

After a cat scratched out his left eye, after cancer ate his leg, Gus became even more docile. And hideous.

When Teed saw the World's Ugliest Dog contest on TV last year, she patted Gus and said, "They got nothing on you."

She flew him to California in June. By September, he was too weak to walk. Chemo cost $5,000, so Teed, a certified public accountant, put down his prize money -- plus her mortgage for October.

"He's part of the family."

She carried Gus into the motel, still shivering. She built a bed of blankets on the sofa and tucked him in.

"Remember?" she asked. "This is where we came to celebrate, when you won."

Gus opened his eye, then closed it. The effort seemed to exhaust him.

A few days earlier, he had stopped eating. A day ago, he stopped drinking.

Teed had to pour a few drops into the cap of a water bottle and hold it near his tongue.

She knew he needed her, now more than ever. But how do you know when it's time?

He slept fitfully Sunday night. By Monday morning, he was hiccupping, trying to catch his breath. She stroked the soft plume of fur on his forehead.

"Hey, little guy," she said softly. "You want to go for a ride?"

He had taken her places she'd never dreamed of going, got her on talk shows and YouTube. All the way to the vet, she kept telling him, "I'm right here."

She held him as he left her. He watched her for what seemed like forever.

When he shuddered, she tugged the blue blanket over his bald head.

On his tiny grave in her backyard, she planted a Butterfly bush with golden flowers.

"Something beautiful," she said, "to grow out of all that ugly."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hot Bird

Today is Thanksgiving for U.S. Americans, a day in which our merchants either to try to sell us stuff at ungodly hours or a day which they conspicuously ignore in order to promote the big holiday beyond.

We also roast turkeys on this day, unless we are members of certain anti-meat groups.

But my thoughts this morning are upon a different sort of hot bird.

I speak of the phoenix.

Like the dragon, the lore of this mythical monster seems to permeate almost every human culture.

For the longest time, I have had a brassy coin that I thought was from China, and upon whose obverse I assumed was a depiction of Tiananmen Square. I searched and searched and only this month have I discovered, ignorant American that I am, that it is no more Chinese in origin than a Looney is legal tender in Mazatlan.

This is actually a ten yen coin, depicting the Phoenix Hall of the Byodoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan, a building that dates to 998 A.D.

I don't know what Japanese word is translated as phoenix, or even how closely that approximates to the western concept of the beast, a bird reborn in fire and ash.

Not just the pagans but the Early Christian Church father Clement speaks of the phoenix, as a symbol of resurrection, in his letter to the Corinthians. (Don't confuse this with the canonical letter by Paul!)

"...from the neighborhood, that is, of Arabia. There is a bird which is called a phoenix. It is the only one of its kind and lives five hundred years. When the time for its departure and death draws near, it makes a burial nest for itself from frankincense, myrrh and other spices, and when the time is up, it gets into it and dies. From its decaying flesh a worm is produced, which is nourished by the secretions of the dead creature and grows wings ... [flying to the Egyptian city of] of Heliopolis, it lights at the altar of the sun."

The Christian "heretics," the Gnostics, also mention this flammable fowl. I found a reference today in the Nag Hammadi text, "On the Origin of the World."

"And the worm that has been born out of the phoenix is a human being as well. It is written concerning it concerning it, 'The just man will blossom like the phoenix.'"

The Gnostic writer cites the Septuagint (Greek) version of Psalms 91: 13 for this reference, but he seems to have taken some liberties. Our King James version reads:

"Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet."

The Septuagint has "basiliskou" from the Hebrew pethen, for adder. No flying phoenix, just a bad-tempered snake. Perhaps some later monk scrubbed out the mythological term -- although the dragon escaped his scrutiny.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blog tidying up

Gazing around at this little place I tenderly call Isis, I realize that some corners have grown dusty.

It takes me about a month to go through my entire blog roll, because I like to post comments that are more than mere superficiality, and go beyond the top post, on the blogsites of my friends. These days, some of those friends have moved their original sites and I have to jump through a few hoops to visit them -- that needs to be cleaned up.

This also explains why I don't comment more frequently on some of my favorite blogs.

I realize that I have a few good friends who I have not yet added to the rolls, and need to do so.

With great sorrow, too, I realize that other friends have closed down their blogs or haven't updated them for many, many months, or have not visited here in so long that I realize that we have just drifted apart. Those names will come off the blog roll -- but I will add them back in an instant if they ever visit here again.

I guess everyone has to do that now and then.

I don't know where I'm going
But I sure know where I've been
Hanging on the promises
In songs of yesterday
An' I've made up my mind
I ain't wasting no more time
But, here I go again
Here I go again

Tho' I keep searching for an answer
I never seem to find what I'm looking for
Oh Lord, I pray
You give me strength to carry on
Cos I know what it means
To walk along the lonely street of dreams

--- Whitesnake

The song opens with Big Synthesizer swelling up mighty like church hymns used to do, instantly tying it to the 1980s, when pants were parachute and hair and music was big.

But for me, every time that I hear that song, I am carried back to the dawn of my teenage years, bittersweet years in between the helplessness of childhood and the burden of being an adult.

And I think about my friend, L. How for some teenage reason we loved this song by Whitesnake and we would sing it at the top of our lungs as late at night we traversed the dark concrete wasteland of the old flightline between the two halves of the Air Force base where we lived.

We were silly and too young to care.

L. died far, far too young.

But I hear this song and I think of him. Always will.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Where do I fit in?

It is only within the last few months, or even weeks, that I have come to realize where I stand politically.

I am a Libertarian.

That is the party, which unfortunately wins very few major votes in America, that basically believes government should defend us from foreign enemies but otherwise get the %$$%^ out of the way.

That party differs from conservative Republicans in believing that government should not be in the marriage business. I've also become a convert to the reality that we are losing the war on drugs -- that our prisons are filled with drug offenders and our national parks are riddled with their secret gardens.

Prohibition didn't work for alcohol -- instead, it lined the pockets of Al Capone and other gangsters. So today we don't ban alcohol but we punish drunken driving and other genuine crimes that spring from irresponsible use of the product. So should we also do for the other drugs that people choose to use.

If people are stupid enough to ride motorcycles without helmets or drive without seatbelts, then let them suffer the natural consequences of their actions. But, some say, then society has to pay their medical bills. No. It. Doesn't. Not if society is free of socialist entanglements.

I still need to do more research but I think one area that I might still have differences is in protecting the helpless. I believe abortion is wrong and should not be legal except in certain cases. I believe that if the last population of endangered whatevers is on someone's property and he wants to clear the land for a parking lot, government should be able to intervene and protect it -- although the discussion should have begun long before that time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Albania Update

The Tirana Times reports that an $11 billion petroleum discovery has recently been made in northern Albania.

Properly developed, this resource could be a godsend for this little country which has endured so much over the years. But Albanians are very conscious of the corruption that threatens their fledgling democracy -- and petro-wealth and corruption are a terrible mix, as events have shown elsewhere in the world.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Contemplation of an obsession

I bought a couple more books today, on a range of subjects, provoking the usual protestations from my Sweetie.

When I came home and logged them into my collection, I discovered that since April of 2007, a little over a year ago, I have added exactly 100 books to my home treasure trove. That makes a total of 1,446.

Added is a pitiful word. How about crammed? Wedged? Sweetie won't allow them in the living room or the bedroom -- nowhere but in the approximately nine foot by ten foot room that I claim as my library.

Perhaps Sweetie's concerns are valid. Perhaps I am becoming one of those crazy people who get discovered by the health department unable to get out of their own front doors due to their obsessive collections.

I've long known that even if I quit work and never left my house again, and did nothing but read until my eyeballs dried up (and the bank foreclosed on us and tossed us into the street), still I would never be able to get through all of them.

Especially as my current selection, the Nag Hammadi (Gnostic) Library, keeps putting me to sleep.

Why read it if it is so boring, my Sweetie asks. She just doesn't understand. I can't comprehend the world today if I don't understand the Christianity that has so profoundly impacted it. I can't understand Christianity if I do not explore all of its currents, of which Gnosticism is one.

So I will push on through, hoping to eventually gain some comprehension.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A November moment

She was a lovely Lady of Asiatic extraction, sheltering Herself in an office doorway as I passed by.

She was enduring this chilly exile in order to enjoy a cigarette.

She drew in a "snap" inhale as I approached, a nearly lost art in the world of smoking. I smiled and bid Her a warm hello, which I hope made it very clear that at least one person on Planet Earth did not in the least mind a little secondhand smoke drifting his way, nor did I find the sight of Her infuriating, engaged in a still legal but proscribed activity such as is the enjoyment of tobacco these days. (There are certain states where new restrictions make it all too clear that beyond the protection of health, certain legislators do not even wish to see anyone smoking in public).

I slid into my car and examined my maps for directions back out of the city. I caught a final glimpse of Her carefully extinguishing Her cigarette in an ashtray several footsteps away -- proving that not all smokers are butt-flinging reprobates.

Austria has a president, too!

Getting to know the leaders of other nations:

From Wikipedia:

Heinz Fischer (born 9 October 1938) is the federal president of Austria. He took office on 8 July 2004.

Born in Graz, Styria, Fischer received a humanistic education, taking his "Matura" exams in 1956. He then studied law at the University of Vienna, earning a doctorate in 1961. Apart from being a politician, Fischer also pursued an academic career, and became a Professor of Political Science at the University of Innsbruck in 1993.

In January 2004 Fischer announced that he would run for President to succeed Thomas Klestil. He was elected on 25 April 2004 as the candidate of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ).

Fischer was sworn in on 8 July 2004 and took over the office from the presidents of the parliament, who had acted for the president following Klestil's death on 6 July. Since he was elected President, he has gained more and more favour and is today, according to many surveys, the most popular and trusted Austrian politician.

On being nominated for Federal President, Fischer himself said that he hated antagonising people and that he considered this quality an asset rather than anything else.

[Sadly, sustaining popularity as a political leader is nearly impossible, as the once-popular U.S. President George Bush has learned, and which President Obama, too, will surely discover. Either Fischer has done nothing gutsy and controversial during his tenure, or he is an incredible leader.]

Fischer is a self-avowed agnostic. He has been married since 1968. The couple has two grown-up children. Fischer enjoys mountaineering and has been president of the Austrian Friends of Nature for many years.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Austria and Catholicism

"If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil."

Pope Benedict XVI pronounced those words during a visit to Mariazell, Austria, in 2007.

Austria, traditionally an island of Roman Catholicism in the Protestant German family of nations, is afflicted (?) with the same secular spirit these days as the rest of Europe.

Yet, the article notes, still some 40,000 faithful Austrians drove for hours and stood in the mud and rain to see Pope Benedict during that visit.


Finally to Austria

Imagine a nation that knew the legions of the ancient Roman army and, in fact, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself -- where he wrote his enduring "Meditations," and where he died.

Imagine a country, an entire country, that was once the property of one family.

This is Austria, sandwiched in Central Europe between Italy, Hungary, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Taking shape in the Christian era as the eastern-land, hence Oster-reich, of Charlemagne's empire, Austria became the possession of the Hapsburg family in 1282, which lasted until the chaos of World War I.

Following the horrors of World War II, the new, democratic Austria is pledged to neutrality. So we don't hear much about it anymore.

What I need to do with what is left of November is to find at least one exemplary Austrian author and immerse myself in his or Her writings. I wish I knew more German, for I hate the filter of a translation.

Maybe I will learn some German this year -- I read Faust many years ago and it would be enjoyable to re-read it in the original tongue.

In the Days Before Seuss

Be ever so glad that you were not a child in 1700, when, among other miseries, the likes of James Janeway were the vanguard of children's literature. His "A Token for Children" contains this dismal bit of advisory doggerel for young sinners to contemplate:

"When by spectators I am told
What beauty doth adorn me
Or in a glass when I behold
How sweetly God did form me
Hath God such comeliness bestowed
And on me made to dwell,
What pity such a pretty maid
As I should go to Hell."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hooray for Europe

Hooray for the wise decision of the European Parliament last month to award the Sakharov Prize, its top human rights prize, to jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia.

"We express strong dissatisfaction to the decision," hissed the tyrants that hold the Chinese nation hostage, through their lackey, Liu Jianchao.

Well, some of us don't give a damn about the tender feelings of tyrants. And for once, Europe stands with us.

According to the Associated Press, "Hu was initially an advocate for the rights of HIV/AIDs patients, [who] expanded his efforts after the government gave little ground and he began to see the country's problems as rooted in authorities' lack of respect for human rights."

Sure, China today is not the backward swamp it was under the late ungreat Mao. It has a steadily developing middle class. Perhaps that middle class is the nation's only hope for finally shaking off the shackles of moldy Marxism and taking its place among the free peoples of the world.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Misdirected Energy

Concerning the measure that recently passed in California, imposing limitations ...

Stealing is bad.

Beating up people is bad.

Locking children in closets is bad.

Setting fire to occupied dwellings is bad.

The enemy is cruelty. The enemy is deception. The enemy is breach of promise.

A whole coalition of churches spent a lot of time and money attacking an imaginary enemy. Two consenting adults who want to be married are not the enemy. If you disagree, please help me to understand the reason why.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vere Childe -- Australia's gift to archaeology

For sheer adventure, Indiana Jones might outdo the late Vere Gordon Childe. But Indiana is Hollywood. Vere Childe was for real.

I’m supposed to be studying Austria this month but that doesn’t mean I can’t still learn a little more about places of past months and the people therein.

So I will muse momentarily on this man, who was born in Sydney, Australia in 1892 but did not stay put. He spent time in England, Greece, the Balkans, the Orkney Islands, Iraq, India and the U.S. Tragically and ironically, after all that, he died back in his homeland -- falling from a cliff in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.

Mr. Childe is considered one of the twentieth century’s most important archaeologists … and one who brilliantly synthesized available knowledge of Old World history. He had a gift, a keen ability to discern and illuminate the main currents of prehistory, as shown in one of his best-known works, “The Dawn of European Civilization.”

Aussie, be proud!

Your name on the lips of others, your footsteps in forgotten sand

Have you ever typed your Blog name in a search engine?

Every now and then, I do that with mine, eastcoastdweller.

Mostly, it dredges up my visits to my regular blogfriends. Sometimes it reminds me of blogs that, for whatever reason, I only visited once or twice, long ago, and I think about who I was then and wonder if I should rekindle the friendships.

But the strangest thing is to find your name, your blog, mentioned in places to which you have never been. It happens.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Continuing with the alien theme

Okay, so you have an incredibly advanced life-form, the vanguard of some civilization that has figured out how to cross the vastness of interstellar space, something that Earthlings still can only dream about.

Why is it that in so many shows -- from Cocoon to ALF to ET, that amazing creature, having reached Earth, becomes virtually helpless,hiding out, in constant danger from puny Earthlings with delusions of grandeur?

Monday, November 10, 2008

ALF remembered

I used to love this show.

I annoyed my Sweetie tonight by laughing through an entire episode on some rerun channel.

It feels good to laugh again.

Lime flavored Corn Nuts

Tonight I bring my official week of mourning to a close. My country has chosen the sad and discredited combination of socialism plus demagoguery that has NEVER worked anywhere in the world that it has been tried. And there ain't a %$# thing I can do about it. And for anyone out there who knows nothing about me, IT HAS NOTHING to do with race. I don't like redistribution of wealth whether it's foisted upon us by Ted Kennedy or Vladmir Lenin, Caucasians the both of them, or anybody else, anywhere.

I can't believe that everyone, including apparently Obama himself, missed the whole point with his kindergarten crayon analogy. If young Obama wants to give away his own crayons to some needy classmate, that is a wonderful thing and it is called being benevolent and is in total harmony with the capitalist ideal. But if his teacher confiscates some of his crayons by force and hands them out to other kids, that is socialism.

I voted but it did no good. So I will write about Corn Nuts instead. Lime-flavored Corn Nuts. I thought I would be open-minded and try them today. While I can still afford a snack every now and then, before my nation sinks into the shadow-world of socialism.

They did not taste very good. Some kinds of change are not a good thing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Isis in mourning

I have only occassionally ventured into politics on this blog. I can't help but do so tonight. It appears the American people have been swayed by a clever demagogue -- and that never ends well.

God help us.

And God help this conniver who has portrayed himself as some kind of great Messiah in order to win the job of president, in order to convert our great capitalist society into another dismal socialist experiment, doomed to fail or at least to see its growth sputter and die like an old lawnmower. History teaches, messiahs who can't keep their promises soon see their mobs of supporters change into a sea of human fury.

Isis is in deep mourning.

I close with the lyric from Nine Inch Nails which has been running through my head all evening:

"Bow down before the one you serve.
You're gonna get what you deserve."

My last question is, who the hell is he going to blame for all the evils in the world once the designated whipping boy George Bush is no longer around?

Isis is in mourning and it may be a while before I feel like writing again.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Woman being beautiful

I was out on a lunchtime errand today and was taking a cellphone call from my car in a shopping center parking lot.

Noticed a vehicle going in slow circles, angling for a close-to-the-door spot. Nothing unusual about that.

Looked up a few seconds later and noticed the lovely red-headed Lady who had been driving the car was now parked in a disabled parking spot -- that's what She was looking for! -- and was unfolding a sort of chair apparatus.

Looked up again and saw that the apparatus was a portable wheelchair into which She carefully set a frail and ancient Woman.

And then They two disappeared into Macy's.

It is a beautiful thing and a necessary thing to care for our aged ones. And that includes not just trips to the doctor and the drugstore but also, every now and then, to Macy's.

People, especially older folks, need to feel that they are more than a biological depository for pills -- that they can still get out and shop for perfume or a pretty outfit like any other human being.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

New month, new place

In a month's time, especially when one is as scatter-brained as I am, one cannot possibly come to know a country. Still, I feel as if I drew a little closer in October to the millions of people who call Australia home, and to their history.

Across the world now I go in this new month of November, to the land of Austria.

Gnostic studies

Among at least one Gnostic sect, all who had achieved gnosis (enlightenment), were considered to be equals, not only of each other but even of Christ, whose salvation work was not by blood but by His teaching.

There was no hierarchy in this sect; indeed, the positions of bishop, deacon, etc., were divided up by lot, which was interpreted as the will of God, and changed often. The sect even had the audacity to consider women as equals and to allow them to serve in these temporary positions.

This was, of course, all very offensive to the non-Gnostic Christian church, which was in that same era solidifying its hierarchal structure and for which the blood of Christ was the very heart of the faith.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Tonight I was browsing through my books and by chance read a short story from my library by Vassili Iretsky, "Hydromel."

I found it chillingly timely, even though it was written nearly a century ago. The setting, of course, is the Soviet Union during the first years after the communist Revolution.

"From his long-legged English father Bromley had inherited obstinacy and perseverance, from his Cossack mother a poetic love for the open vastness of the black-soil plains ... Almost entirely with his own hands he built a small house ... and last of all, some beehives.

"One winter's day, grim-visaged trouble made its entrance ... appeared first one horse, then a second, then a third ... [each] carried a surly looking man ...

"One of the men ... bawled at him: 'In accordance with the orders of the Ispolk[Executive Committee], you are to submit yourself unquestioningly to my authority...You are understood to own a number of hives: the whole lot are to be nationalized for the benefit of the workers: that goes for all the honey and wax you've got, too ... Hand over everything you've got; if you don't, you'll be shot.

"'...For once in a way you can work for the proletariat, instead of the other way around ... Parasites have been formally prohibited.'"

"Bromley threw him a contemptuous look. 'Parasites,' he said looking him up and down, 'are people who live by the honest labor of others. All my life I have never worked less hard than any ordinary workman, and perhaps a good deal harder. This honey was produced by my labor, certainly not by yours; yet you assume the ----'

"He was not given time to finish. An obscene oath burst from the leader, followed by: 'In accordance with my powers I have the right in the event of resistance to arrest and shoot you. You are resisting: I arrest you! ... You've made profits out of your land. That sort of thing's been stopped. Now's the time for the workers to make a bit of profit for a change. That's all there is to it."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lapham's Quarterly

I received a piece of mail recently inviting me to subscribe to something called Lapham's Quarterly. It is a new magazine which proposes to examine several times a year some current event question and then "find answers to that question from authors whose writings have stood the test of time."

Homer, Twain and Goethe would be called upon and Tacitus and Virginia Wolfe.

I am of mixed feelings. It sounds interesting -- it sounds like a shortcut to what I have been trying to do myself for the last ten years. In essence, plumb the great and sometimes obscure minds of all human history and find their relevance today.

But perhaps the shortcut is the problem. At the risk of sounding arrogant, maybe I don't want other people picking and choosing from history for me.

I get a further hint of this when the editor mentions that the failure to have a sense of history led to "the catastrophe in Iraq." Now I do try to spare my readers my political feelings for the most part, but the fact is, whatever one may think about George Bush and the invasion of Iraq, a democracy is now in place where once a cruel and warmongering dictatorship once held sway. It is admittedly a flawed and frail and messy democracy -- but aren't they all? Slavish devotion to history might have taught us that no democracy has ever existed in Iraq and therefore never could. Slavish devotion to history would have discouraged the very Founding Fathers of the U.S. from their own experiment in democracy.

But those great men learned from history, from the writings of the Greeks, of Plutarch and then they left history behind and created a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. They knew the odds and they defied them.

So I'm not sure about this Lapham thing. Plus, it costs $60 a year.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Australia continued

I have learned this week that Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese. Very cool. And very practical, considering proximity and considering the growing role of China in the world.

Maybe being bilingual ought to be a requirement for a US president.

Something else about the man:

"Researchers looking into Mr Rudd's family history discovered that his fourth great-grandfather, Thomas Rudd, was transported to Australia in 1801 to serve a seven-year sentence for "unlawfully acquiring a bag of sugar".

However, his crime is eclipsed by that of the prime minister's paternal fifth great-grandmother Mary Wade, a London street urchin who made a pittance by sweeping streets and begging.

In 1788, aged 12, she and an older girl coaxed an eight-year-old girl into a toilet where they relieved her of "her dress, petticoats, a linen tippet, and a cap and absconded".

Wade was sentenced "to be hanged by the neck til she be dead" after a trial at London's Old Bailey in January 1789 but the sentence was commuted to transportation to the colony of New South Wales.

Another relative of the prime minister was convicted of forging coins. Mr Rudd's paternal fifth great-grandmother Catherine Lahey arrived in Sydney in 1800 after forging one shilling and sixpence to pay her rent."

The article notes that convict ancestry is fairly common in Australia, and is today a badge of honor, not shame.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Geography Project -- Australia

I was supposed to study Australia during the month of October, in my so-called geography project. Well, I still have a few days left in the month to try to learn something about the place -- the only continent in the world that is encompassed by a single nation.

As of this morning, I knew no more than the average six year old American kid about this country. Kangaroos and koala bears and people who say Crikey a lot. There's an Outback Steakhouse in my city that serves Bloomin' Onions. For all I really know, nobody in Australia actually eats those things.

Now I know that the capital is Canberra and that Australia is composed of six states and a handful of islands. I know that that scoop out of Her northern shore is called Gulf of Carpenteria.

Still pitiful, such lack of knowledge.

I don't know of Her great writers, Her cultural personalities, Her inventions, Her history beyond the fact that the Dutch were the first Europeans to sight Her and that Great Britain settled the place.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life long ago

Perhaps the artist has anthropomorphized this little fellow a little much. But something similar to this creature did once live, swimming through the warm, shallow seas of the Ordovician Era, 460 million years ago. Almost nothing lived on land back then -- how quiet and eerie the world must have been, with nothing to see but rock and sand and mud, not a bird to be heard, not a leaf to quiver in the wind, just a few arthropods skittering in the seashore mud and eating slime.

As promissum wriggled unblinking through the waters, one of the few creatures of the era to have developed eyes, it looked upon a watery world that was far different than what a diver would see today. No fish, not any with jaws, at least. None of the great and scary sea monsters that would prowl the depths in later years, and certainly no whales, dolphins or even sharks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Catching up -- a hodgepodge

Night after night, I have talked myself out of typing on this screen. It's not that I've had nothing to write about -- quite the contrary. So much has gone on in my life -- sometimes I am so busy living it that I find myself too tired to write about it.

Sarah Palin came to our state recently and I took a day off from work to go to the event. It was labeled as a rally, so that should have prepared me, but still, I felt slightly uncomfortable at the attempt to rouse my emotions that way. I never went to pep rallies in high school for that same reason -- even hated singing campfire songs as a kid because I don't like being told how I should feel, or having others work on my emotions.

Contrary to popular rumors, nobody screamed,"Kill Obama" or anything like that, at least at this rally.

This month, Sweetie and I also took our Niece to Her ballet practice. I killed time by scribbling down thoughts as they came to me there as well as details of what I saw and heard around me. I used to do that a lot. More on that later.

We took our neighbor out for dinner and made some new friends, a sweet, older couple. More, later.

I've also been reading intensively from about four different books. One is Thirteen Moons, a historical fiction novel set at the time of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Since I have so recently defended Columbus, perhaps I am hypocritical to feel utter contempt for Andrew Jackson and his role in that disgusting travesty of the American ideal. Still, contempt I feel.

The second book is Boorstin's The Discoverers, the most recently read chapter being about the invention of clocks. More on that later.

The third book is Encyclopedia of the Prehistoric World, all about the bumper-car antics of our planet's continents, and the weird creatures that have lived upon it. More later.

Lastly, I have read through the writings of the Early Christian Church Fathers, so now, before moving on into the age of Constantine, I've taken a little detour into the extinct (?) world of the Gnostics, supposedly heretical Christians at whom some of those ECFS took great offense.

For a movement that only lasted about a century before being obliterated by orthodoxy, and whose works also were consigned to oblivion until a jar of them was found in the Egyptian desert in the 1940s, it is astounding to read that no less than 4,000 books have been written on the subject.

There is so much that I could write, so many questions that pop up! What compelled an early Christian monk from a nearby monastery to collect and hide away these proscribed texts? What was he thinking about when he made that lonely trip into the desert with his jar of heresy?

What was in the minds and hearts of the people who wrote these texts -- certainly they were not all the slavering charlatans that Iranaeus and others made them out to be.

And Elaine Pagels, who in 1979 wrote the award-winning account of Gnosticism for the understanding of laymen -- what a fascinating life this Woman has had, as well! She started out a dancer with Martha Graham and then became a scholar in the field of ancient religion. More, much more, later.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Of Columbus

"Because, O most Christian and very high, very excellent and puissant Princes, King and Queen of the Spains and of the islands of the Sea, our Lords, in this present year of 1492 ... Your Highnesses resolved to send me, Cristobal, to India ... and ordered that I should not go by land to the eastward, as had been customary, but that I should go by way of the west, whither up to this day we do not know for certain that any has gone." -- The Journal.

On October 12 at two hours after midnight, the land was sighted at a distance of two leagues. The vessels were hove to, waiting for daylight and on Friday, they arrived at a small island [believed today to be Watling Island.]

If Columbus had not discovered America for Europe, eventually someone else would have. Would the indigenous inhabitants have suffered less if it had been Russia, crossing over from Siberia, not Spaniards? Or Turks, pouring in with the banners of Mohammed? Or if two more centuries had passed and Englishmen had been the first of the European race to plant their flag in the New World?

It is not reasonable to hate Columbus, as some do. He was a man of great courage, certainly. He was a man of many flaws, too, a man of his flawed era. But from Ottawa to Buenos Aires, for better or for worse, the world is a bigger place because of him.

We rightly honor him today.

Above is a church in the Canary Islands where he stopped to pray along his journey.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hollywood Hell Inside My Head

Come with me now inside my head as it slumbered last night, weary from a week of work.

The first scene that you will see is the inside of a restaurant, an ordinary setting. Do not be fooled! All is not well.

Dreamer-me observed a Woman worrying about whether She should the seafood plate, since She was allergic to shellfish. She was assured by someone that She would be okay, so She did.

Next thing I knew, She was on the floor,convulsing, with tumors beginning to pop out through Her skin, and I could clearly see that She was dying.

"You, call 911!" I told the manager firmly, remembering what I had been taught in CPR training. But he just stared at me. Nobody seemed concerned. So I tried to call on my cell phone but I just could not remember how the hell to dial a phone number or how the send button worked.

Somehow, a doctor arrived anyway and began to tend to her. In the middle of all this, the co-manager of the restaurant asked me if I would go to the store down the street and buy her some green peppers.

Continue with me through this land of weirdness where scene two is of watching a baby monkey under water being swallowed up in the dark, loathsome jaws of a Moray eel, while some unseen Nature Channel narrator calmly describes the sad scene.

Then we are in a room where an eager little creature, looking like a half-pint, potbellied Grinch in a velvet suit with Seuss-style soft slippers upon his feet, is begging me to step into his room and watch him dance. He pulls my arm so I go along, which is a mistake, and I know it is because I feel that great evil is looming.

Sure enough, he begins to dance and then begins to morph into a ghastly monster.

So far, just an ordinary nightmare, like I have all the time. I am gasping for breath, and my Sweetie outside of the dream world is trying to wake me up -- but my dastardly brain has one more horrible surprise in store for me.

As my Sweetie shakes me awake, I look at Her and then some nightmare demon-thing pops up between us, dragging me into deeper depths of terror.

Sweetie persists -- and then, and only then, do I realize that even as my real-life Beloved was trying frantically to awaken me, I was dreaming that She was in my dream trying to awaken me into a nightmare world, which, of course, was ridiculous. Naturally, I was resisting, which only prolonged the horror.

Eh, who needs an acid trip or a visit to a Halloween Haunted House when your own brain cooks it up for free?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Kidney Juice

What to do with your morning, um, lemonade. Sell it to your neighborhood chemist.

I learned in my studies of Rome this year that in the heyday of that Empire, urine was prized as a valuable ingredient for washing clothes and collected from the public privies for that purpose.

I remember that during my sophomore year of high school, I proudly announced to the class during an oral report, my discovery that Ladies of Rome used lion wee-wee to bleach Their hair.

Yeah, I was that kind of kid.

Most of us wannabee scientists are aware that synthetic urea (natural urea, converted from ammonia, being a major constituent of your daily offering to the porcelain god, because it is a good way to get rid of excess nitrogen) is highly valuable in the production of a number of products, such as explosives, plastics and as a flavor additive to cigarettes.

From wikipedia:
“[Urea, aka carbamide] was the first organic compound to be artificially synthesized from inorganic starting materials, in 1828 by Friedrich Wöhler, who prepared it by the reaction of potassium cyanate with ammonium sulfate . .. thus starting the discipline of organic chemistry.

This discovery prompted Wöhler to write triumphantly to a friend:

"I must tell you that I can make urea without the use of kidneys, either man or dog. Ammonium cyanate is urea."

Happy day for him.

Today I learned more strange facts about kidney juice. Seems that most mammals have the ability to break urea down (oxidize it) into a substance called allantoin. Synthetic allantoin is, like urea, quite a useful product. It’s probably in your mouthwash, toothpaste or lipstick.

But humans and higher apes have lost the ability to convert urea into allantoin.
More details:

That doesn’t seem to bother us too much, (does it bother you?) but I wonder why evolution took that step, evolution usually having a good reason for what it does. Related to this seems to be our loss of the ability to make our own citric acid (vitamin C), which most animals can do and which can be a very bad thing, as ye olde timey sailors learned the hard way. Evolution screwed up on that detail.

I had a guinea pig for a pet as a kid, and I learned then that humans share that latter defect with those furry little critters.

Very strange.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I helped out at a certain church function this week for the Ladies. (Yes, I still go even though my faith needs strengthening.)

And as I scooped beans in the serving line, I looked out over the vast crowd -- Ladies of all ages, some heavy, some thin, white, Hispanic, black and Asian, one of whom was my very own Beloved -- and I turned to the guy beside me who was ladling out the meat, and I said,

"What a beautiful sight this is."

And as my Sweetie and I lay in the warm darkness this morning, not quite ready to get up, just talking about this and that, I mentioned that to Her, said:

"What a wonderful idea Woman was."

I was reading a book about the universe yesterday -- vastness upon vastness, billions of stars sprinkled throughout the sea of space, innumerable forms of life surely found upon their billions of dependent planets, and truly, what amongst all this can compare to Her?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sounds tasty


Giambo (Okra Soup/Gumbo) and
Funchi (Corn-Meal Mush) Serves 6-8

This dish is another typically Aruban dish: Giambo (pronounced ghee-yam-bo) is the Antillean gumbo, a thick, hearty soup. The pur?d okra gives it a slippery consistency.

Soak overnight:

1/2 lb. salted beef
Discard water. Place the beef in a heavy kettle with:

2 quarts fresh water
1 ham hock
1 or 2 onions
a few sprigs of parsley
1 or 2 carrots
1 bay leaf
1 celery stalk
Bring to a brisk boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about one and a half
hours, or until meat is tender.
Place in the simmering kettle.

1 lb. red snapper fillets
After a few minutes test the fish with the tines of a fork, and remove from
the broth when it flakes easily. Make a bite-size chunks of the fillets. Remove
the beef from the broth, cube and set aside with the fish. Strain the broth
and return it to the fire. Discard the ham hock and vegetables.
To the simmering broth add:

2 lbs. okra, washed and sliced
A few sprigs crushed yerba di hole, or fresh basil
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Simmer until the okra is tender. With a lele stick, or its equivalent, a wire
whisk, reduce the okra to a pur?. Return the cubed beef and red snapper
pieces to the kettle. Heat thoroughly and adjust seasonings.
Garnish giambo with:

1/4 lb. cooked shrimp

Funchi (Corn-Meal Mush) Serves 6

Funchi is a must with this delicious soup and we have therefore included the recipe as well:

Funchi, the Antillean staple, is a simple corn-meal preparation. It must be
vigorously stirred while cooking and to the rhytm of these rotations
old-time cooks repeated. Un pa mi, un pa bo, un pe. Funchi was then
scooped from the kettle with a little round calabash, and the "funchi ball"
was placed on each individual plate - "One for me, one for you, one for him".

Mix in heavy saucepan:

1 1/4 cups cold water
1 1/2 cups corn-meal
1 tsp. salt
Stir in:

1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 tbs. butter
Bring to a brisk boil over high heat and cook for three minutes. Continue
cooking an additional three minutes, stirring the funchi vigorously with a
wooden spoon or palu di funchi. When the mixture is very stiff and pulls
away from the sides of the pan, remove from the fire. Turn out in to a deep,
well-buttered bowl and cover with a plate. Now shake the funchi down in
the bowl, then invert it on a serving platter.

For a special Sunday breakfast fry sliced funchi in butter and serve with
crisp bacon and scrambled eggs.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gross and gruesome

Last night I dreamed that I was working with my computer when a disgusting, crusty toe eaten up by athlete's foot appeared on my screen with the instructions to click on it.

No one in his or Her right mind would have done that. But in a dream, one has limited control over the dreamer, who is often dumb as a sack of sand. The dreamer clicked on the link.

Not only did his screen go ominously dark, so did the room he was sitting in. Demons began to enter.

At that point, Sweetie shook me awake, which surely prevented things getting even worse.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Faith of our Fathers

Meditations ...

How romantic -- in the classic sense -- that one Philotheus Byrennios was browsing an ancient monastery library in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1873, and found there an eleventh-century copy of a second-century text called Didache, or Teachings.

The Didache was known to some of the early Church Fathers, quoted by them and nearly made it into the New Testament canon -- then dropped out of sight for nearly 800 years.

If I did not love the pleasures of fine food, travel and such, if I did not utterly idolize the existence and desire the presence of the Feminine, if I had been raised in the Catholic tradition, I could possibly have been a monk. A life of contemplation, of tending a garden of herbs and poring over ancient tomes -- that appeals to some part of me.

Never shall I forget my journey to Pannonhalma in Hungary, an ancient monastery set high atop a hill -- the mystical feeling of that place and the library, oh, that library -- row after row of leather-bound volumes probably dating back to Guttenberg.

How sorrowful, that another work of the Early Church Fathers, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, which I have read this week -- a stark and powerful testament to piety and faith -- should be stained and sullied with most unworthy and unnecessary anti-Jewish polemics.

Are we to believe that the Jews -- themselves persecuted and driven by the same aggrieved Romans of the 2nd Century A.D. who tortured the Christians -- would join a mob of pagans in the ampitheatre to scream that Polycarp was "a destroyer of their gods," exult in his agonizing death, then send their "captain" to burn his body to prevent the Christians from converting it into sacred relics?

Monday, September 22, 2008


"At the foot of these fairy mountains [the Catskills of New York], the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle roofs gleam among the trees ... a little village of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists, in the early times of the province ..." -- Irving, Rip Van Winkle.

Few are the reminders today that the plucky and late-forming nation of The Netherlands once had an empire in the New World. New Yorkers know it, for their great city began as a Dutch project. And down in the warm Caribbean Sea, a chain of islands still holds ties to the faraway land of tulips and windmills.

One of those islands is called Aruba and in the waning days of September, it will be my geographic study, as I revive this long-suffering project. Technically, it is not an independent nation, it is autonomous but still part of the Netherlands. There are many places such as this in the world, either by choice or by force.

Aruba is a speck in the sea, a mere 19.6 miles long and 6 miles wide, crammed with 90,500 people, but it enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. Of course the official language is Dutch, though the native language is something called Papiamento.

When I have more time, I will upload a picture of the island's distinctive divi-divi trees.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Did they know?

Skimming through a book on Shakespeare today, I saw a name and thought a thought. I asked Sweetie, off in the living room:

"What is the name of that Girl who played in 'Princess Diaries' and 'The Other Side of Heaven?'"

"Anne Hathaway," my Beloved responded.

So I was right. This lovely modern Actress shares the same name as the Wife of the one and only William Shakespeare.

Did Her parents know? Did Mr. and Mrs. Hathaway choose "Anne" on purpose for their Daughter -- if so, twas a beautiful gesture, albeit one lost on our modern, virtually illiterate culture. I do not exempt myself -- after all, this name relationship is as new to me as any other Joe Sixpack out there.

Mt. Vernon

How can I even begin to do justice, how can my pitiful fingers tap out a tribute sublime enough to render proper homage to such a place and to the man whose towering presence still permeates the place today?

How can I express my love for the man -- mortal and flawed though he was -- whose personal character set the pattern for my nation, who laid the foundations that fourscore and seven years later another great man would defend, in the ringing words at Gettysburg vowing that government of the people, by the people and for the people should not perish from the earth.

How many democracies were there in the world in 1776? How many peaceful transfers of elected power had there ever been?

If I have learned anything from my long readings of ancient Rome and of other lands, few if any men handed or having snatched the scepter of power have ever set it back down peacefully. And yet, many a man, from caesars to czars, began with the best of intentions, only to succumb to the poison draught and drink it to its bitter dregs.

I have so much to write, so many photos to share, so much feeling for this place that I have been, that I will let it continue to take shape in my mind for a little longer before I write a full post on the subject.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Word of the Day

Word of the day:


Violent African dust storm.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Great job, J-Lo!

I'm not a big celebrity watcher. But I do have a few favorites. And I love Jennifer Lopez, I just do. She's had Her share of steamy gossip on the supermarket tabloid pages, I know, but She's done much better than some.

I think Her "Love Don't Cost a Thing" video was hot enough to melt cold steel. I think She still does 39 very, very well. And I loved reading this bit of recent news about Her -- shows a strength of character that not everyone has:,,20225693,00.html?xid=rss-topheadlines

She completed Her first triathlon!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Finally gonna do it

I have asked for next Friday off and Sweetie and I are going to go to Mt. Vernon.

I have wanted to do this for years. I have the greatest respect for George Washington, the father of my country.

In the long, sad annals of mankind, so few have held the reins of power and resisted its temptations. The history of Rome alone is littered with emperors who spoke of free speech and the good of their people when they put on the purple, but then descended into debauchery and horror.

Perhaps only Asoka of India can be spoken of in the same light.

In preparation for the trip, I have set aside all my other books and I will read nothing else this week but the words of, and commentary about, George Washington.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Patriot Day

"Oh beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife
who more than self their country loved
and mercy more than life."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Curtain Call

"All I do is to go about and try to persuade you, both young and old, not to care for your bodies or your moneys first, and to care more exceedingly for the soul, to make it as good as possible ... either let me go free or do not let me go free, but I will never do anything else, even if I am to die many deaths ... And now it is time to go, I to die and you to live; but which of us goes to a better thing is unknown to all but God." -- Socrates

"Do not despise death but be well content with it, since this too is one of the things that nature wills ... Consider your life, your childhood, youth, manhood and old age -- for here also every change was a death. Is this anything to fear? In like manner, then, neither are the end and surcease from life itself anything to fear." -- Marcus Aurelius

"I hope, indeed, by your prayers to have the good fortune to fight with wild beasts at Rome, so that by doing this I can be a real disciple ... I am giving my life for the Cross." -- Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians.

Socrates of Athens faced his death calmly and without tears. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius, well-steeped in Stoic virtue, also looked to his end without fear.

But a new script seems to have been written with the rise of Christianity, which, after all, was born in the salvatory death of its founder. Its earliest faithful not only accepted death, some of them positively longed for it. They were not as the modern kamikaze fighters or suicide bombers, sacrificing their bodies to take out the enemy -- they were as sheep to the slaughter but seeming to rejoice at the opportunity to die meekly as had their Master.

Thus Ignatius, bishop of Smyrna, who for the crime of being a Christian was marched a thousand miles across what is today Turkey, to the Coliseum in Rome to be torn by beasts. Along the way, he wrote seven letters which have been preserved for us, and which are the subject of my reading tonight.

Has there been anything else like this ever, in the history of the world?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stream of thought tonight

Too long away from Isis ... busy with back to school ... garden is nearly done but I still find sweet figs every morning ... so addictive.

My cousin-in-law has quit smoking. Good for Her.

Watched Andrew Zimmerman (Bizzare Foods) tonight. I would so love to be that guy. Imagine geting paid to travel the world and eat strange food. I'm game for that -- everything except the bull's testicles he seems to hanker for. I have a philosophical objection to consumption of male genitalia.

In reading, I have now entered the realm of the Early Christian Fathers, so-called, with 1st Clement.

Here's a thought from the late Solzhenitsyn:

"If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on Earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Sweetie wants us to move, out of our neighborhood, away from the tired sights and sounds that She grew up with and the new ones that are jarring and annoying.

I've moved way too much in my life to ever want to do it again. I have planted trees here and moved literally tons of soil and I don't want to start over again.

But I'm restless,too. Want to travel. Want a better job. Want to adopt a child into our family.

Restless, restless, restless.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hoopla in the Heavens

I sat in my car, this morning, waiting on a certain work assignment, surrounded by welcome rain and enjoying Boorstin's "The Discoverers." I stopped short at a fascinating paragraph.

Somewhere in extant Babylonian literature that I somehow missed on my journey through it, is the story of how El, the great god, grew jealous of the bright lion that passed nightly across the sky, and smote it each day as the morning began.

The lion, of course, would be the planet Venus, the "morning star," which vanishes each day as the light returns.

Boorstin believes the Hebrews borrowed that myth, giving the smiting power to their own God and converting the sky-lion into The Light Bringer (Latin: Lucifer) who is made synonymous with Satan.

As in the famous Isaiah passage (chapter 14) from the Bible:

"How art thou fallen, O Lucifer,
son of the morning!
...For thou hast said in thine heart,
I will ascend into heaven ... "

I really don't want to get into a discussion about the reality or non-reality of The Evil One. But it is curious that in the Hebrew world, the aforementioned planet and associated sky-being, would be masculine and horribly evil; and if not so despicable in the alleged Babylonian original, still an affront to deity.

Whereas in the western world, the same celestial phenomenon was considered Feminine and delightful -- Venus/Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Fourth Wall

If real life were like the audience of a television sitcom, we’d have it a lot easier. The television audience gets to listen in to all the important conversations about the characters on the show, and so they know why Bob scowled at Sally or why George was two hours late picking up Susan from the airport or why Molly is furious with Henry but won’t say.

They get the whole picture. Whereas, sitcom characters and real life people have to make decisions based on hunches, suspicions, gleanings and sometimes absolute daring. Sometimes we soar like eagles, having guessed correctly. Sometimes we fall into a big, steaming, stinking pit of sh -- er, pig manure.

It is so difficult to go through life knowing that, while you are utterly unimportant to the majority of people outside of your house, office and local haunts, that people within those places are having discussions about you that you will never hear. Your life can go from normal to sheer hell based on those conversations to which you are not privy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Picture of the Day

Do you know this man?

Droplets today, an ocean tomorrow

First a trickle, then a torrent, soon a cataclysmic deluge.

For the last fifteen years or so, I have been reading the books of ancient Greece, the Middle East and Rome, in careful, chronological order. Today, I finished with Suetonius’ account of the first twelve Caesars. And when I closed that book, I closed an era.

Surely the last few authors whose works I have read, would never have imagined that the starveling Christians whom they mention only briefly – and that in derision, condescension or disgust, as a new, obscure, loathsome sect of half-wits – would soon become the leaders of the Western world, including Rome itself, capturing the political and religious allegiance of virtually its entire population.

Imagine, the Moonies or some even more obscure, despised modern cult, rising to lead the world in the lifetime of your grandchildren.

Having concluded Suetonius, I step ahead to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, a late Caesar to whom one of those Christians, Justin Martyr, actually wrote a petition/book/apology. Justin is one of the earliest extant Christian writers, if not the first, outside of the new Testament canon and pseudepigraphical scriptural works. I know nothing about him beyond his name and that brief detail. That will soon change and I will come to know others as well.

“Pagan” Rome will soon be a memory and I will be firmly inside a new world of literature, a genre carrying me right up to the so-called Middle Ages. At some point, the literature of Islam will have to occupy my attention, too.

What a ride I am in for!

Monday, August 18, 2008

What privileges Caesar hath ...

Suetonius, writing circa 120 A.D. about the Caesars of Rome, had horrible material to work with. Drunk with absolute power, the men about whom he wrote were disgusting, bloody and often, downright insane.

And yet, I found this passage about Claudius Caesar (reigned 41 to 54 AD) downright funny:

"No matter where Claudius happened to be, he always felt ready for food and drink. One day, while he was judging a case in Augustus' Forum, the delicious smell of cooking assailed his nostrils. He descended from the Tribunal, closed the court, and went to the dining room of the Leaping Priests in the near-by Temple of Mars, where he immediately took his place at the meal he had scented."

Friday, August 15, 2008

A kindred spirit

"I'm not a liberal, a conservative, an evolutionist, a monk, or indifferent to the world. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love and the most absolute freedom -- freedom from violence and falsehood in whatever form they may be expressed." -- Anton Chekhov, Russian writer.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A shot at lunchtime

My first non-wildflower, non-insect, non-mammal photo, taken at lunchtime today:

Who draws the map?

A nation is an organism, a collection of human and other resources with some common link. Like any organism, it gives and it takes.

In nature, some organisms are small and survive by staying out of the way of their bigger neighbors. So it is with nations, though the big ones still often manage to eat or step on, or evict the little ones from their territory. Other times, as with a colony of ants, or a hermit crab who pairs up with a stinging anemone, small creatures may band together to protect themselves from larger beasts, but retain something of their individuality.

When humans form a nation, they may follow these patterns: small nations creating an alliance against larger nations – or they may, over time grow from their core into an empire, which may grow to vast size. Nature’s pattern for that is seen in the giant whale, the extinct dinosaurs and other beasts which began small, then evolved into massive size.

Russia began as a small Viking settlement. Today, it stretches from the edge of Europe to the eastern limits of Asia. Its 20th century rival, the United States, began as a few scattered English settlements in North America and today, encompasses Pacific Islands, Arctic tundra and rich “heartland” prairie.

Russia consumed/absorbed other nations to become what it is today, as did the United States.

In the 20th century, Russia's influence grew even larger, as it held the reins of the now-defunct Soviet Union. Some of that Union joined willingly; others were brought in by brute force. With the fall of communism, Russia's control shrank back to her old borders, her core nation -- but in a process still being worked out. Witness Chechnya.

Today, a huge international question is be the new superpower, China, whose proud and prospering Han Chinese core is augmented not altogether happily by control over Tibet, western Muslims and former European colonies such as Macao and Hong Kong.

I know enough of my own nation’s history to realize that not all of it was brought together peacefully, though we have freedoms here not yet allowed to the Chinese and currently being lost in Russia.

The danger of any empire is that unhappy elements may in time grow strong enough to break it apart.

That happened to every ancient empire, to Napoleon’s creation, to the Hapsburgs, to the Soviet Union.

It is not likely that Ohio or New Jersey will leave the United States in the next century. But other parts of my country might, if they feel their interests are not being served. There are movements for secession in Hawaii, for example, and there are still many in the South who might do so again, if they got the chance. Texas, the Lone Star State, was wrested by American expatriates from Mexico, enjoyed brief independence, joined the Union eagerly, then seceded just a few years later when the Civil War broke out.

This is on my mind because I have followed the news out of Georgia (Eurasian Georgia, not the US State.) There are multiple ironies at work there. Georgia was once a Soviet Republic. It actually produced Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader whose brutal fist in the Kremlin bloodied and conquered Eastern Europe. Today, Georgia is a small, weak, but nominally independent nation, with at least two regions within its own borders who seek independence from it.

The West supported Kosovo’s independence and thus finds itself in a quandary. It cannot now preach against independence for Ossetia in Georgia – can it? But Russia, championing such independence after fiercely opposing Kosovar secession from Serbia, has no moral authority. What of Chechnya, Mr. Putin? And if South Ossetia joins North Ossetia, which is part of your Russia, what will you say if North Ossetia then asks to separate from Russia for full Ossetian independence?

In this modern era when we pay lip service to human rights as well as to the often conflicting goals of national sovereignty and ethnic representation, we find ourselves in a great tangle.

Virtually every conflict remaining in our world revolves around this Gordian knot: from Basque bombs in Spain to strife in Palestine to the growing rage of the Uigher people in western China. Which uprising to support, which to ignore? Which empire to fault, which to praise? Should Kurdistan be independent? Taiwan? Scotland? Tibet? Gibraltar? The many “Indian reservations” in the United States?

Can the quandary be solved peacefully or will it be hammered out by force and blood, country by country, across the landscape of the 21st century?