Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Swift Boating as a Political Technique

Perhaps this all began before 2004, but the name, swift boating, came into being then as the technique of snide comments, accusations that can't be proven, that don't necessarily relate to facts, where false conclusions are thrown around to bury any real issues. It was a way to get someone, usually not the candidate, to put out quick accusations against their opposition that have nothing to do with issues.

It was effectively used on John Kerry to get the voting populace to forget what a lousy job Bush had done as president, that he had personally avoided combat when he had his own chance, but liked to parade around like a war hero. It served to bury the issue that Bush himself had most likely not been responsible in his own National Guard duty. With swift boating, Bush is/was not the issue.

Swift boating will be used until it stops working-- until people care about real issues, not the ten second soundbite that often isn't even true.

It isn't like only Republicans do this. Hillary Clinton's camp just used it against Barack Obama. When David Geffen was interviewed by Maureen Dowd for the NY Times, he said some things that we all know are true about Bill Clinton, and he gave his unflattering opinion regarding Hillary. She didn't directly attack, as she supposedly stayed above the fray; but her campaign head was sent out to attack Barack Obama for what Geffen said. The accusation was Obama was somehow responsible and should give back the money raised. Getting him to insult those who had supported him would be a nice added touch to the financial loss. Never mind that it didn't make sense. Swift boat attacks are never about logic.

We see it frequently with the right wing of the Republican party. The latest is again attacking Al Gore, even though he's not currently a candidate. He is the one reminding Americans to conserve. Don't think about the fact that conservatives should believe in conservation if their name means anything. Never mind that by using so much oil, we are funding terrorists in the Middle East. Swift boating is not about facts.

This week, Gore was attacked for supposedly having high energy bills for the mansion where he and his wife live and work. His electric bill has averaged over $1300 a month. How irresponsible (don't ask what mine runs for a much smaller house)! Swift boaters never look into facts, nor do they want you to do so. If they did, they might find out he voluntarily pays an energy surcharge to use renewable energy sources, a green tax, and that he is installing solar panels.

Swift boating is about nasty comments intended to catch the attention of a shallow populace who don't want to be bothered researching anything and love hearing what fits their prejudices.

This week I read that a famous hunter-- not known to me-- has lost his program on an outdoor television network, his endorsements from gun companies, and the approval of the National Rifle Association. Now what horrible act could cause that to happen? Perhaps he did something reckless like shoot a hunting companion? Maybe he wrote an editorial saying he didn't like Bush? No, it was something far worse. In an interview, he dared say assault rifles have no place in hunting and are tools of terrorists. He apologized profusely, but it was too late.

Tell me, why does any citizen have the need to own a weapon that is only intended to kill people? They aren't legal for hunting. Would you eat a deer blown apart by a barrage of bullets? With an assault rifle, you wouldn't find enough left of a rabbit to think about eating.

In an era where terrorism is rampant, where we have so many nuts running around ready to be offended and kill someone at the least provocation, why is it so important to the gun lobby to keep assault rifles in the general population? Could it be money and they convince a bunch of nutty militia types that they need them in case their own government tries to take their liberties-- never mind that no assault rifle could stand against the might of the US military, never mind they didn't care when the Bush team took away those very liberties with eliminating Habeas Corpus for anybody even accused of terrorism. Never mind that we are supposed to be stopping terrorism-- homegrown or otherwise. This is about.. Never mind that either. It's swift boating and does not have to be about anything that makes sense.

In the past, my husband belonged to the NRA, but he quit when their dedication to the ownership of assault rifles became disgusting to him. There are many militia groups across this country and not all of them use any better sense than terrorists, but heaven forbid we should take away their assault rifles-- not that they'd give them up anyway.

This is the technique of the right today. Attack anyone who dares dissent. Attack as they did the Dixie Chicks who, before the Iraqi war began, said they were ashamed that Bush came from their state. Today a lot of people would say that, but truth is heresy to a lot of the far right.

Those of us who don't like it need to confront swift boating wherever we see it, call out distortions and lies for what they are. Today, hard to believe as it is, the majority of the Republican party apparently still believe in Bush. A recent poll says Republicans support him by more than 75%. We see the results of that with the Congress on any measure that might call the White House to account.

One third of American citizens think Bush and Cheney are right on, and they will defend them no matter what they do. This week, when Cheney's reckless, bullheadedness in visiting Afghanistan (who knows for what reason) led to possibly as many as 23 people being killed by a suicide bomber, his 30% will doubtless see this as proving he's brave and was right all along-- not sure about what. Cheney and his devoted followers won't question why the country we left unfinished to attack Iraq is now so dangerous that he had to sneak in with only terrorists knowing he was there. Ever wonder why they knew that? Thank goodness Cheney was not injured or worse, but his administration has ignored the history of Afghanistan in their planning... if you can loosely call what they do planning. The chance to make a real difference in the Middle East was botched. They won't face that. They will blame it on someone else and swift boating is their technique of choice.

Yes, this was a rant... I feel so angry today and I don't like that feeling. I am also concerned because so many people let this technique influence their thinking. It works because of laziness and an unwillingness, for those still capable of reasoning, to research issues.

People who like swift boaters (and many Republicans think it's a great way to win) will be donating money to their politicians. The ones of us who think otherwise need to not only speak up (even if it's done by our own side) but also put our money where our heart is! Let our politicians know that technique doesn't work with us. Remind them to stick to the issues and when someone else swift boats them, immediately call it out for what it is-- desperate techniques used by those who have no real answers.

And we need to do it today, not tomorrow. It's later than we think.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Faith or Fact?

Well..... what do you think? March 4, James Cameron, director of Titanic, will have a Discovery documentary about Jesus's tomb being discovered. Not an empty one, not in the location where some have assumed Jesus's would have been, but one that had actual bodies still in it-- bodies with names that fit the Bible stories-- up to a point.

Would such a discovery-- if it could be validated and was not just a series of coincidences-- do anything to your life? To your faith? Change anything of what you believe about life? Are you open to the possibility it could be true or would you feel it had to be a fraud (which certainly is possible)?

Would you watch this program on Discovery or would it seem disloyal to even consider the possibility that some of what was in DaVinci Code might actually be true? If this tomb was that of the historic Jesus Christ, it would negate one part of what some have claimed. Someone named Mary Magdalene was buried in that tomb also along with a son -- so no going to France and no line continuing on into today... Probably-- depending on the ages those two were when they died-- which can scientifically be pretty closely determined.

So much of religion is based on faith, and faith doesn't look for facts. Faith would say that it is made stronger when there are facts which must be risen above. When there are solid facts, faith is not needed.

Anyway I think it will be interesting to see exactly what James Cameron claims has been found using, as well as archaeological techniques, also DNA. Although, I am not sure how anyone could use DNA to prove anything in terms of to whom those bodies had belonged.

There should be more this week in the news on this. I would imagine accusations will fly that Cameron is just trying to destroy people's faith with phony facts. Given the times in which we live, that can be pretty nasty where it comes to any group's belief system.

On Bill Maher's HBO show Friday, a very articulate woman discussed this phenomena where it comes to the Muslim faith. She compared the way Muslims were so offended, to the point of death threats, when there were Danish cartoons about Mohammad, but they have not appeared equally offended by someone, using Mohammad's words as justification, beheading someone in a brutal murder. Human priorities are often very skewed.

Anyway should be interesting Sunday to see exactly what has been found and how much of it appears accurate or is it just aimed at being shocking...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Photographing People

Comments on my last blog on beauty were so interesting that I thought, rather than address them in a comment, I'd do it with another blog. Robin Andrea made an interesting observation as she suggested a reason parents might stop photographing their children as they reached their teen years, something I had mentioned happened with me without knowing the reason why-- other than what I might guess.

To start with, I admit I have a thing about photography and in particular when the subject is people. I see interesting faces and covet either painting or photographing them. I admire books by photographers of people. As soon as I saw Annie Leibovitz had put out a book called A Photographer's Life 1990 - 2005, I ordered it from Amazon.

What was so cool about her book, besides the fact she is such a gifted photographer, was how she incorporated the philosophy I have always had-- your life not only is your art, but you can't and shouldn't separate them.

We are creating art work whether we do fine art, crafts or nothing because our life is our art. Last fall in their weekly newsletter, there was this great quote in Heron Dance which says it better than I could (Incidentally I found Heron Dance through Sacred Ordinary, bookmarked to the side here, when Fran wrote about it).

"What would it be like if you lived each day, each breath, as a work of art in progress? Imagine you are a masterpiece unfolding each second of every day, a work of art taking for with every breath." ........ Thomas Crum

I have long believed this way and then along came Annie Leibovitz's book which so beautifully wove together her family, ordinary people and then all those glamorous people she is paid to photograph. She has pictures of herself taken by her lover, Susan Sontag, self portraits, photos of Sontag as she was battling cancer, and the kinds of photos we all take but done by a master artist.

The reason for us to photograph ourselves, our children, our grandchildren is not only because we are cute or we are having fun but to create a record of our lives that we can look back on. Why does that matter? That was answered well by some of the commenters on the last blog.

We too often see ourselves through other's eyes and what they say about us helps us decide who we are-- that is at the time. Then along comes later and we look back on those old photographs of us doing this or that and suddenly we see ourselves in a new light. We realize that hey we were pretty cute after all --even if our family didn't think so. And that matters for today. When we see that perhaps we let someone else define us back then; we can see maybe we are doing the same thing today. We can look at those photos of today and realize we are more than what we critically see in the mirror.

Photographs are something I use all the time with my painting. I photograph what I am doing, sometimes at several stages and see uh oh, that is out of proportion or this is working but that is not. The photograph is a neutral view of what we might look in the mirror and see more critically.

I was one to photograph my kids all of their lives-- still do. In their teen years they hated it, but I think they now understand the reason for it. It gave them a record that they can look back on and put together with their inner memories to create an expanded view of what was which can actually enhance what is. I used to photograph even the oops moments because they are all part of who we are.

For me, I enjoy photographing myself. It's like an art challenge that every so often will come to me and out comes the camera and a set up. This particular one I am sharing because I thought it was fun to shoot. I was looking for a way to illustrate a woman with the fire, casually posed, suggesting earth woman. I used me as I usually do because I rarely have anybody else as willing to get used. I took quite a few that day from various angles and found one that I felt best illustrated what I had in mind.

To me, it wasn't about whether it looked like me although it is me and an unaltered version. Because it is an angle I don't see of myself in mirrors, I asked my husband if he thought it looked like me. He said very much but agreed not from a perspective most would ever see as it's above and looking down at the woman.

Then I showed it to a good friend, who is also an artist, and mentioned I might use it here. She said, well you could comment that photographs don't always look like us... Okay, I can accept that it might not look like the outside me, but the real aim of a photograph is not simply that it looks like us. We can get that by standing in front of the camera, arms at our sides, and smiling, but the real goal for a creative photograph is for it to capture more. There is always the possibility we can get one that shows the inner person, captures their essence. My friend suggested a title for this one, which I liked a lot-- goddess of the hearth.

That is why, I believe we should photograph ourselves and others. Yes, record our lives; but sometimes we will find one that illuminates more than the exterior. Unless you are unusually gifted in photography, it takes a lot of pictures, a lot of work to learn to do that, but I think the payback is worth it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Price of Beauty

Given many people desire beauty, believe it leads to financial rewards, think beautiful people find doors opened, it might seem a misnomer to suggest there is a price attached to it-- one that is not always desirable.

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there are certain universal characteristics that tend to be seen as beautiful. Sometimes it relates to what is fertile; sometimes it's the opposite. Every culture defines what is beautiful, and that won't always be the same from one age to another. Mona Lisa, an example of perfect beauty to one generation, today would not be.

Most would say that to be thought beautiful by their societal group would be a blessing. Some would go so far as to alter DNA to achieve beauty for their children. Or pay for the children to have plastic surgery as soon as possible because they weren't born with those perfect features that their particular culture decreed.

This last month, with even our mainstream media flooded with stories of one beauty's death and another's meltdown, it is probably a bit easier to see that beauty doesn't come without cost.

With the media beating the drum, I originally had no intention of writing about either of these beauties' meltdowns. (Incidentally, I am using no names in this piece with deliberation. Once before I wrote about one of them and was bombarded by search results that I didn't remotely want drawn to this blog. But everybody who turns on a radio, reads a paper or listens to television knows who I mean.) Both young women were richly praised for their beauty. Some news programs have gone so far as to call one America's Rose. If that is so, we are in worse trouble than I thought. Both young women have been cash cows for others. Society relished their successes and their breakdowns. Every picture of them too fat or not looking well was chortled over.

Last week I read an article by a rabbi about how one of them was on a never-ending birthday party. In some ways they both were-- until midnight came. One died. The other might yet not make it or maybe she will; but she will have to find strength from within, that does not relate to her beauty, if she hopes to become a healthy, whole woman. At the moment, that looks iffy.

It's not as though beauty is automatically bad, but it has some drawbacks because it can seem to be an end in itself. If you have a beautiful child or grandchild, watch what you praise about them.

My parents had a fear that I'd be conceited; so they took the tack that they should not tell me I was pretty. When I was a little girl, they took photos; but from the time I hit my teens, there were almost none. I don't think they did this out of a lack of love, but rather both of them had seen where beauty proved to be crippling.

My children are both very good looking people and were from childhood. I didn't try to keep them from knowing that, but told them while good looks can open doors, it doesn't keep them open. To keep doors open requires more depth of personality than some beautiful people ever develop. I praised my children for their hard work, their loving qualities, their loyalty, their wisdom, any athletic achievements, but their beauty was not something for which to praise them. Beauty at that age is more genetic luck than something anyone has earned.

Despite how it seems to the world, I know very few truly beautiful women (might be true for men also but I know more about women) who see themselves as beautiful. They might be happy you see them that way; but inside, they see every single flaw. Even with the screen goddesses of old, there were always flaws.

When credit for being beautiful comes too early and if it's where the person feels their power lies, trouble is ahead. Beauty doesn't last-- not the kind the world praises. The end result comes all too soon. It can be as early as thirty for how the world starts commenting on how a certain person has lost that youthful glow. What amazes me about that (besides that someone that young could be already doing botox) is why is youthful glow a thing to value? What about mature beauty that comes from lines, wrinkles, and years of developing into a person of character?

The problem with valuing beauty for beauty's sake is that it ends up being used up and the person often doesn't have the grounding to stabilize their lives. We see this all too tragically right now with these two women. Beauty doesn't have to be a curse; but it will be if that's all there is.

It seems, especially for women, beauty has been encouraged as the key to good life, good marriage, to being valued. It goes way back and certainly isn't just in our culture. You see it in the ancient myths and consider the Biblical story where Esther saved her people because of her beauty-- but it took someone else reminding her of real values. Where beauty begins to go wrong is when it leads to misplaced values.

One thing I have noticed is how often old women, who were most beautiful in their youth, end up less so if they have not developed their inner self; and women who had limited beauty as girls have blossomed into the ones to look twice at when they are aged. It's the spirit that shines through and creates a glow that goes beyond features.

The ideal is to have the outer and inner beauty combined. In old age, that does not come as a gift of nature but rather as the result of a life deeply and fully lived and where the person's soul illuminates their face and body. And if you meet an old man or woman who has that inner and outer beauty, they will also have the wisdom to not believe their value comes from an outsider's view of them.

(Mona Lisa from Joconde)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Following a Trail

Do you ever get an idea about something; and no matter how you try to put it aside, it just keeps tapping you on the shoulder? Here I am. You know you want me.

Such a thing happens to me now and again. I am going to write about one such time. It began a few years back. I was in Tucson, saw a film on cable which I enjoyed-- great scenery, good story, interesting characters. For awhile I didn't think more about it. Now and then I'd remember different pieces and wonder would I like it as much a second time? Was it still on cable
? Even more importantly-- what the heck was its title? I had forgotten.

Sometimes in a video store, I would browse through their older titles. I thought it had to be older. I then got a bit more serious in following its trail, brought up Google, and typed in some possible key phrases from the story-- trapper, search, kidnapping, Indian Chief, girl, boy, snow, pioneer times... hmmmmm. (In case you haven't tried this, Google actually can come up with film titles with this method.)

Frustrated and getting nothing that soun
ded right, I would put the search aside, but the impulse to look would return at the most unlikely times. I looked online through Hallmark movies to see if it might have been one of their made-for-television films but nothing rang a bell.

From experience, I can tell you that you simply cannot go up to a kid at a video rental counter and say, I saw this movie about an Indian who kidnapped a brother and sister and... They will simply look at you as though-- why didn't my shift already end?

Fortunately Google forms no such prejudices, and eventually I hit on the right combination of themes and up popped a title that sounded right-- Winterhawk. It had been made in 1975 and been on American Movie Classics off and on. It had come out on VHS tape at some point, and there were more than a few old copies floating around. In Amazon's market store, I ordered one that seemed best-- okay, cheapest-- after all, we are talking about buying a used VHS tape of a movie I had only seen once a few years back.
For a little while, I thought I had followed this trail to its end. When the tape arrived and in viewable condition, I was happy. There was this niggling feeling in the back of my head that some reviewers, those who saw the original theatrical release, had seen a longer version which they said was better; but the VHS tape was the one I had seen on cable.

Curiosity about the historical basis for the story began to nudge me. I have quite a few books on various Native American tribes, but an online trail was easier to follow. The story involved the Blackfeet people in about 1840 and happened during a smallpox epidemic. That epidemic was real. The Blackfeet, with their reputation as fierce warriors and great horsemen, are of the linguistic Algonquin group, and had come out from the Great Lakes area. They, as with many other tribes, found their power when they became part of the Great Plains horse cultures. They hunted and lived mostly in small bands of 20-30 but came together for the Sundance and other medicine ceremonies. There are today three divisions of the Blackfeet. Bloods and North Blackfeet are in Canada, and the Piegan have a reservation in Montana. They were and are a proud people. I have been on their land, visited their museum, and even camped along one of their creeks.

The film's story is a simple one of a chief trying to save his people from an epidemic, of his interaction with a brother and sister he kidnaps in his attempt, and his relationship to a trapper who has been like his blood brother, but who is now tracking him to retrieve the kidnapped siblings. The movie is of the animals, the land, and the peoples, white and Native American, who lived there at that time. It is about a trail.

As a woman, I liked another aspect to the story. When do we live for others and when do we choose for ourselves? Do we settle for safety or take the risk of moving out for an unknown love or culture? That is the crux of the problem the young woman faces in the end of the movie. One that many people face in their lives-- shall I be practical or shall I take the risk?

So was my personal trail over once I had the VHS tape and had researched the history of the story? Not quite. When I saw that the star, who played Winterhawk, had a site online, I thought I would write relating how much pleasure that film had given me and asking if there ever was a DVD to please let me know. He wrote back and said he had enjoyed making it. Oh and yes, he did have a DVD he could sell. Would I like to buy it?

Although I was happy with the quality of the VHS tape, a DVD will enable me to share the film with my grandchildren more freely. I also thought, given economics are behind most 'creative' decisions, perhaps some concrete interest in this film might encourage someone to find that extended version and bring it out. I wrote back and said you bet your boots. Okay, I didn't say that, but I did order it.

The actor said he wrote a sequel, Winterhawk's Land, which has not yet been picked up, but he's still hopeful someday he might get financing for it. I am too because there was a simple nobility and beauty to this story from which I think our times can especially benefit.

I am not, as such, reviewing Winterhawk because I realize the subject matter is very personal to me with my love of nature, my interest in Native American cultures, and my appreciation of beautiful photography. I was willing to overlook a few aspects that someone else might not be so forgiving about. For me, it was a beautiful movie which touched my soul.

The purpose of my writing about this search is not that everyone go looking for a DVD of a nearly forgotten movie, but that we all have trails we are called to at various times. Some are about big things and some small. Some we are wrong to give up on and some we need to recognize are going nowhere. Wisdom is having the discernment to recognize which is which. I am glad I stayed with this one.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another New Year

Entering the Chinese Year of the Pig does not appear to be the good news many of us hoped for when we started our own new year in January. It is predicted by some soothsayers to be a time of possible disasters, but then what was the last year?! Using the elements as part of how they assess what a new year will be, the Year of the Pig has fire on top of water which even a non-soothsayer would know is not going to be conducive to relaxing. They say it could mean more violence but all you had to do was listen to Bush at his last news conference and you can bet on more violence-- if no one stops him.

I am not sure who the people are who still support President Bush, but could anybody listen to his last press conference and not see a man clearly on the brink? What is frightening to me is how much power the United States puts in the hands of one man. We elect him... probably although some would debate how fair our elections are. But once he's in, he has the power of the United States military behind him and unless they say nope, no way, not gonna do that, and he replaced all who would say that, he has the power to go to war or expand that war whether it makes sense or not.

Does it disturb his supporters that the military is still not adequately armored? Can anybody believe that couldn't have been done years back and yet here we are with a 'surge' and still not enough armor. It boggles my mind how these are the supposed patriots who are behind this and yet they would once again send soldiers into combat without all the equipment money can buy. And don't give me what Rumsfeld said about how you go to war with the military you have, not the one you wish you had. That was ridiculous. The whole Iraqi thing was chosen and most probably for political purposes as it sure wasn't related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Listening to Bush try to justify attacking Iran, his petulant expression when anyone acted as though we have heard this before, was scary to me and should be to anyone who cares about this country and the ones actually on the front line of this war. Have you read how veterans are not getting all the care they need, all the care they were promised? If you support this war, does that bother you? Do you wonder why a leader who is so 'supportive' of our military, doesn't make sure the medical and psychological care returning soldiers receive is the best?

Read Frank Rich's column for February 18th about the Iranian situation. What he is describing should disturb us all-- even 'true believers.'

Bush claims he listens to experts but he has replaced anyone who doesn't say what he wants to see done. To me, it doesn't take a soothsayer to see that the Year of the Pig might not bring the world good news.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Winged Migration

There aren't words to really describe Winged Migration. If you haven't yet watched it (and it's not a recent release), I recommend you rent or buy it. It's a documentary, similar to March of the Penguins. The stars are birds from all around the world. As I watched it, I thought how often I have loved hearing the sounds of geese overhead as they head north or south, but never fully appreciated what a truly amazing journey they are on.

To make the film, crews had a pretty amazing journey of their own as they followed these birds through forty countries, each of the seven continents, and over a span of four years. By airplanes, gliders, helicopters, and even balloons, they flew above, below and alongside the birds on their migratory journey.

It boggles the mind what those birds accomplish and what they must then repeat. Death or crippling injuries are all that will end their journey. The scenery is gorgeous from big cities to wilderness, awesome views of the Amazon, Monument Valley, the Arctic, oceans, and everywhere in between. But the stars are the birds in flight and the story one of their powerful inner motivation.

If a film like this does not convince us of the value of preserving nature, that the world is not just about us, then nothing will. Humans are so prone to think it's all about us because we're the humans. If enough of us think that way, we might destroy the natural world, but I believe that would destroy us too. We can do a lot to save what is left if we are willing to make some of our own sacrifices-- piddling by comparison. The world is in balance. It's not impossible to upset that balance and in the end upset our own apple cart.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Random Violence

Once again, in the United States we have learned of a gunman shooting and killing strangers for no known reason. It is horrifying that anyone would do such a thing and even more mystifying as to why. It was again a young male-- 18 this time. It could be a woman, but it has not been. Women generally only plot and kill someone they know which is no less horrifying.

We want to tell ourselves we can stay safe from this kind of mindless violence, but the truth is nobody can. This appears to have been an upscale mall. I have been in such places; so have you. Across America, every single town has them. There is no way for police to be everywhere instantly, no way for the average citizen to protect themselves when someone starts methodically killing. In some of these malls, the narrow corridors, the interesting little nooks become a way for a killer to rapidly move through many people with others oblivious to the approaching danger.

Some countries have strict gun control laws, but it often hasn't protected them either from these kinds of tragedies. Almost everywhere in the world allows shotguns for hunting. Nobody permits them to be taken into a city and fired.

This will probably shock some of you, and I understand why you might not agree, but the gun control I favor is more states permitting concealed weapons leading to more responsible, trained citizens carrying guns.

Yes, I understand the problems attached to it. What if a citizen fires carelessly? That's where training and classes come in. I understand the police don't like the idea either. They do not even want shop owners carrying a gun. They didn't want pilots to have them, Police don't like it because of the risks of careless shooting; but also when an incident occurs, they do not want to wonder who is the bad guy. It isn't what anybody really wants, but what is a better solution to random violence? If more of those in the Salt Lake City mall had carried a weapon, been trained, less people might have been killed. The one who stopped the killer, long enough for the rest of the police to arrive, was an armed, off-duty policeman-- definitely someone who qualifies as a hero given he was just out for an early Valentine's Day celebration with his wife.

I understand the fear some have about guns. They are dangerous. I grew up with them, got my first .22 at 12 years old, and learned how to shoot safely. I have never lived in a home without guns, taught my children about them when they were little, and practice responsible gun ownership. While I have no fear of guns, I do have a healthy respect for them. Some have asked me but could you shoot a person? I wouldn't want to. Nobody does, but if I wasn't sure I could, in a dangerous situation, I would not have one. A gun to wave around impresses nobody who seriously is intending you harm and in the end will only get you in trouble.

Some years back, I filed for a concealed weapon permit, pretty nearly as soon as they were permitted in my state. I took a class to get it, had to certify I was mentally sound, answer questions about my background, supply references, be finger-printed, and pay my fee. Recently at the end of 2006, I went back for new photographs for the third time since that initial application. I rarely carry that gun as it was mostly intended for hiking in cougar country where I didn't want a holster to be visible; but if our nation sees more times like this last week, I might buy a bigger purse.

No gun control law that has ever been proposed would have stopped the gunman in Salt Lake City, and the first people he killed could not have been saved; but if there had been someone armed in that mall, more might have been saved. And if there had been nobody armed there, a lot more would have been hurt.

Right now, I don't know of anyway to stop what happened in Salt Lake City and Pennsylvania. I don't know any system that would let us figure out who these people are in time. But I do think an armed citizenry might slow it down and in some cases stop a killer. Yes, there are complications to having citizens armed, but more and more states are recognizing that sometimes what we don't like is what we need. What is the alternative? Be shot like sheep? Stay home? None of those sound feasible or possible.

I am not suggesting this is a solution to random, senseless violence. If anyone else has any of their own thoughts on why someone does such a thing or how we can find these people before they pull the trigger, I'd be delighted to hear their thoughts. What happened this week was not only frightening but sorrowful as it hurts us all-- it literally could be any of us.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Measure of a Man

Generally when I choose memoirs, I favor those by women. Not to say that I am not interested in how men think, but I have felt I could personally learn more from stories by women about their own lives.

When I saw Sidney Poitier's, The Measure of a Man, I probably would not have bought it except for the next part of the title-- a spiritual autobiography. Spiritual histories attract me. I like to know what someone else has experienced of spiritual truth.

What Poitier had experienced obviously was much different than my life, and yet there were similarities-- growing up before television, rural living, not a lot of money, parents who exhibited strong values, interest in creativity. His level of poverty was such that he had almost nothing growing up-- unless you value the freedom to roam and explore your world, value having a sense of your place in the community, and growing up with natural beauty all around you.

What he writes about racial issues both reminds me of how far, as a people, we have come and how far we have to go. I grew up when the inequities were rampant but was pretty much ignorant of what was going on given my rural lifestyle as well as there not being the television to explain everything to us.

One thing I particularly liked was when he said that by being formed as he was, he was not going to let anybody else define him. He came into a world that wanted to do that and he refused.

Poitier's view of life is simple and yet deep. I probably liked it so much because it was a lot of how I have come to believe. There is no hocus-pocus, no religious dogma, but simply a man who lived well and observed life. Rather than write more on it, I will choose a few of his quotes I particularly liked and that won't be easy as I marked a lot for my future reference.

"What was it about outsiders, I wondered, that attracted the curiosity of others? What made such personalities tick? What were the forces driving them-- forces that kept them intact and in motion, moving to the beat of their own drum, no matter what? Was theirs a life rooted in sacrifice and challenge in defense of nobler purposes and higher values? Or was it a lifestyle of out-of-control appetites in a materialistic environment? Were outsiders simply trespassers, obliged by the nature of their lives to be constantly on the alert, known as 'one of those' but never as 'one of us'?"

In discussing people like Nelson Mandela, he said, "Anger is a negative energy-- a destructive force-- but they converted it into fuel, into positive energy."

"When you're addressing power, don't expect it to crumble willingly."

"But the true progress it represented didn't come from unbridled rage anymore than it comes from polite submission. Progress then and now comes from the collision of powerful forces within the hearts of those who strive for it. Anger, charity, love and hate, pride and shame, broken down and reassembled in an igneous process that yields a fierce resolve."

"I have a kind of respect-- a worshipful attitude, even-- for nature and the natural order and the cosmos and the seasons. I know it's no accident that ancient people celebrated the solstice and the equinox. There's something very powerful that happens, especially in the colder climates of the north, when instead of being a minute shorter every day, daylight lasts a minute longer. You feel it in your bones. You know it as you might know the presence of God. We're halfway there! We may survive this winter after all!"

"My fear is this: I fear that as we cover more of our planet with concrete and steel, as we wire our homes with more and more fiber-optic cables that take the place of more intimate interactions, as we give our children more and more stuff and less and less time, as we go further and further away from the kind of simplicity I knew as a child on Cat Island, our Earth-- Gaia or not-- will become for us the Wire Mother, and our souls will wither and die as a result."

Good grief. I will be copying his book here if I don't stop with these quotes. Suffice it to say he has a lot to share about raising children, culture, life, goals, risk taking, and the measure of a man-- or woman.

Friday, February 09, 2007


"Yippee, it's Groundhog's Day," yelped my five year old grandson as he jumped out of bed February 2. His mother thought it was cute. His grandmother thought it was cute but didn't realize there was more to the story.

When Robin Andrea posted the word ancient Celts used for this time of the year, the almost springtime, Imbolc, it got me to thinking about the natural rhythms of life, about paganism. We live in a culture that more and more is disconnected from the physical world. We think we can control everything. Some have come to believe there's no more need to pay attention to what the earth is doing. We are beyond that....

I was reading Morning Donut and the writer put in a quote that I loved. It so much applies to the topic of nature as teacher and guide to the sacred:

"Knowledge is awareness, and to it are many paths, not all of them paved with logic. But sometimes one is guided through the maze by intuition. One is led by something felt on the wind, something seen in the stars, something that calls from the wasteland to the spirit." by the writer Louis L'Amour

We can feel these natural rhythms of life if we are out in nature very often. Groundhogs Day is Imbolc. It is the day that Celts took time to stop and celebrate. Here is the link again to the Imbolc explanation of the various ways February 1 and 2 have been celebrated (including Christian) and following are two short paragraphs from that website:

"This season belongs to Brigid, the Celtic goddess, who in later times became revered as a Christian saint. Originally, her festival on February 1, was known as Imbolc or Imelc, two names that refer to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring. Later the Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day on February 2, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions. The powerful figure of Brigid, the Light-Bringer, overlights both pagan and Christian celebrations.

"In most parts of the British Isles, February is a harsh and bitter month. In old Scotland, the month fell in the middle of the period known as Faoilleach, the Wolf-month; and it was also known as the Dead-month. But although this season was so cold and drear, small but sturdy signs of new life began to appear: Lambs were born and soft rain brought new grass. Ravens begin to build their nests and larks were said to sing with a clearer voice." by Mara Freeman

To be aware of such changes, to honor the cycles of life is paganism. Often the practices of paganism have been grafted into Christianity with many Christians oblivious to their source--like Candlemas Day.

For many, paganism is synonymous with heathenism, but it's not. Paganism is a 'religion,' for wont of a better word, which is connected to nature, which lets man realize he can commune with His Creator. In paganism, there is no need for a priest or formal ritual although you can devise your own if it has meaning for you. When someone repeats rote phrases, it's easy to lose track of the meaning and have the mind wandering off to whether bread was added to the grocery list. In a primeval forest, the mind won't be wandering off into the mundane-- or if it does, the person needs to get out there more often until the pagan in them begins to respond to the sacredness all around.

I hadn't thought of why I was building fires regularly in the fireplace for the last couple of weeks, carrying in wood many times during the day to keep it going. It wasn't the heat. The house doesn't need a fireplace for that. There was, however, something in me that knew fire was needed. Then last week, when I went outside, I did not need a name to recognize there was a change in the air. The fact that it had a name was a little wonder to me-- like wow, others have felt this too and for a long time. Paganism is that simple. It is something primal inside of us all-- unless we have closed ourselves off to it. If we have, it's time to wake up.

Whatever we call earth Gaia or whether we see earth as simply geology and biology, we are not in as much control of it as we would like to think. We think our concrete protects us. Perhaps it only isolates us. I believe we are entering a time where we need to get back in tune with the natural rhythms of life and for some of us that will be for the very first time.

My grandson possibly was connected into something more than he consciously realized-- or maybe he did. Whatever the case. he was also right-- yippee!

(The picture at the top is of items I have under my main computer. These sometimes change but currently they are: Moqui marbles, a Celtic spiral, wooden wish boxes, crystals, energy bag, and special stones. I have collected or been gifted with them over many years. They are not magical but intended to convey positive energy-- especially important when I am writing-- whether fiction, non-fiction, or something to a friend.
The picture in front of the fireplace, with my laptop, is obvious from where I was hoping that energy would come.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Spring has sprung

-- or more likely not given this is the first of February; but it does feel like spring outside as things begin to leaf out, the grass shoots up (trying to anyway), and the baby animals are born.

Sunday when the first set of lambs were born, last year's lambs couldn't believe such a thing was possible. What is that? And does my mommy love whatever that is more than me?

One thing the first photo proves is lambs are born with survival instinct. Still wet from birth, when this twin was examined too closely by one of the bigger animals, she ran. This led to a frustrated mother as she tried to protect both her newborns and keep them together. Can't have another ewe lamb-napping one, and they will if they are also close to birthing. Finally she got her babies sorted out, and the rest of the flock settled down.

In the second picture, the twins are a day old .

With winter storms, big limbs come down and knock the wires loose that are intended to fence the stock away from the creek. The level of the creek is low enough that it is now an easy walk to the other side-- the forbidden side. When our cattle get out, I get phone calls from the neighbors which leads me to go for a walk up the highway. Often to find the errant ones have already returned with an innocent-- Who us?

On Tuesday, the phone call came from a different direction-- the gravel road side. Our sweet, older neighbors wanted me to know that two of our cows were in their orchard-- their carefully mown and beautifully tended orchard.

So back out I went, cutting the young bull off from heading farther into trouble, managing to trip through a myriad of blackberry vines, falling flat once, but fortunately damaging nothing (luckily I don't swear, even in such irritating situations, as those neighbors are a retired pastor and his wife). Finally with a sigh of relief I watched him (the young bull, not the pastor) jump back over the fence at the same place he had probably gotten out.

This was a good week for births but a bad week for fences!

(All images can be enlarged)

Update: Robin Andrea of Dharma Bums posted a word for this season in her comment, and this is a link that explains more about it. I enjoy learning about new things and this was new to me-- Imbolc. How cool is that!

Monday, February 05, 2007

A question for readers

Do you think there is any point in writing about controversial issues as I did in the last two blogs (as well as the many others facing us today)? Personally, I am beginning to feel that everyone has made up their mind, and these discussions end up going round in the same circles. If I don't write about what's going on, will it be saying I don't really care and have given up? But when I write about it, does it really help or just add to the negativity in the world?

So what's your take on it? Do you like to read about such things, comment on them, or would you prefer to stick to more positive topics? I have often thought I'd like to go hide in the hills, but then remember that's where I live and it doesn't help.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Once again I am lamenting that Frank Rich's New York Times column for February 4 is not available to everybody to read (if anyone has a link where it can be found, please put it in comments). His insights regarding what Cheney is really trying to cover up are right on and important for us as Americans to keep in mind given that administration now trying to hype their way into a war with Iran. People say oh no, they'd never do that because logic says they would not, but they didn't use logic before-- not any logic that has yet been revealed anyway.

Last week they put out information (or in their case, usually disinformation) how one particular attack by Iraqis had to have been engineered by Iranians given it was done so well. No proof of Iran's complicity but just had to be. Does any of that sound familiar on how we got into this mess? They are constantly telling us that Iraq is a training ground for terrorists and now when the fighters there get better at their attacks, it has to be someone else doing it?

For anybody who still believes the people in charge are honest, care about our troops and are the true patriots in this nation, here is one paragraph from Frank Rich's column-- a must read paragraph.

"A Pentagon inspector general’s report, uncovered by Business Week last week, was also kept on the q.t.: it shows that even as more American troops are being thrown into the grinder in Iraq, existing troops lack the guns and ammunition to “effectively complete their missions.” Army and Marine Corps commanders told The Washington Post that both armor and trucks were in such short supply that their best hope is that “five brigades of up-armored Humvees fall out of the sky.'"

This is where we came in. We had to attack Iraq with men and women not fully equipped because... uhmmmm what was that rush about again? This is not about games or politics. This is blood and sacrifice of American, and all too frequently innocent Iraqi lives. What is it going to take to stop those who didn't have the guts to fight, when their own turn had come, but today treat living men and women on the field as pawns in their games?

If we ever have to go to war, unless it's answering a direct attack on us as Pearl Harbor was, it should never be with ill-equipped troops and certainly not when you have a nation that is not even willing to pay a tax increase to cover such equipment. This is just crazy that the situation on equipment is still out there and yet the administration is calling for a surge (supported by toadies like Senator McCain). They cannot really be seeing the lives of men and women as mattering, and it's all about a political victory-- for themselves.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Power to the People

It is impossible to believe how quickly we segued from 2006 election, which is barely over with its actual results not clear, right into 2008 presidential election. What gives? Weren't the politicians and media as tired of elections as most of the citizens? Apparently not.

So we have the front runners already and if they drop a point, it'll be horrible and a sign of decline. Give me a break. The election is almost two years off, why are they already producing poll results? This is going to be a very long two years. The ones running will make terrible mistakes and winnow themselves out. What there is about running for president that turns what seemed like wise people into dummies, I don't know, but it happens again and again. Still since it's out there, with so many already running, I thought I'd put my two cents into it with two thoughts.

First, nobody should vote for anybody because they will be the first of anything. We could have our first woman, first black or first Hispanic to be president. Who cares?! Nobody should. No woman should vote for any woman nor not vote for her simply because she's female and we are somehow proud for us. That's a silly reason. Whether we have a female elected president or we don't will not impact our rights as people. That comes from a people, court system, and politicians who believe gender and racial differences are not valid grounds for prejudice.

This morning I read where blacks weren't sure they would support Barack Obama and he'd have to work for their votes. Blacks should not support him simply because he's part black. Whoever they support should be who is best for the country. Someone, trying to prove to this or that group that their interests come before the whole, is not who I want as a leader. This is supposed to be one country with values that support equality for all. We clearly haven't always lived up to that; but it's the goal-- not favoritism based on race or gender.

I have a confession to make... One of the times (don't ask me which year) Jesse Jackson ran for president, he came to a town near me to campaign in the primary. I went to hear him. I really liked what he said and in that primary, I voted for him. He did not get the nomination. The next time Jesse Jackson ran for president, to me, he appeared to be running on improving things for blacks. Sorry, but whether that is needed or not, it doesn't cut it for me-- anymore than I'd vote for someone who said they'd make it better for whites.

Whoever runs for office should run on issues that better the nation not just me. I am really tired of 6 years of a president who is always talking about doing away with partisanship while the programs he espouses mostly benefit a small group of people. Sometimes you make the top stronger by doing good things for the bottom or vice versa, but it has to all work to benefit the whole or it's not getting my vote; and then I don't care what your race or gender is.

My second thought won't happen but I wish it would. I'd like to see us do away with the Electoral College and have the majority candidate win. If they don't get 50% because of a third party running, then maybe a run off would be a good idea, as some states do, until you have a clear majority of those who bother to vote.

The Electoral College may have served a purpose once, but I do not see how it does anymore-- other than block the will of the majority. John Kerry came very close to winning Ohio in '04 and if he had, he'd have been the second president in a row elected by less than the majority vote. How can that be good when it happens, as it did in 2000, with a candidate winning one state and overturning the majority vote of the rest of the people?

I know the arguments about balancing, but there is a more important point. We need to believe when we cast our vote, it counts and right now, in most states, it only does if you voted with the majority. Could this contribute to low voter turnouts? I think the purpose of the College is now gone; and if this country wants to have the people behind it, it has to give back the power to the people-- and trust them with it.

The only power we have as citizens of the United States is voting for president, senator and representative. We do not get to vote directly on issues. Once someone gets in office, they are there for the term; and no matter what they told their constituents to get elected, there is nothing to require that they will do it. Nothing short of impeachment removes them.

The majority voted for change in 2006 but we can see how little that mattered to the Bush administration-- lip service to it and then onward as originally planned. And whether the Democrats will bring about any real change is yet to be seen.