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Archive for the ‘VOYAGES IN MY MIND’ Category

war is a racket

I wonder why I keep writing  T&T. Maintaining a journal in order to record one’s stumbles from event to event or from adventure to adventure is probably a good thing. Unfortunately, in my case, there are a limited number of times one can write about walking the dog, the beauty of the flowers along the path or complaining about my health or boredom. I usually spend only about half an hour in any day writing. Why not more? Well, primarily because I refuse to spend time and effort editing what I write or struggling for excellence in expression. Why would I? It’s boring and I’m not getting paid. I spend most of my time instead reading or searching the internet for my favorite blogs, entering bits and pieces of some past T&T in various blog sites, watching MSNBC, CNN, old movies on TCM, walking the dog, looking at the flowers, eating, taking naps and so on.

This morning I woke up depressed. I did not know why. I did have odd dreams during the night. I remembered them for a while then, as the morning wore on, forgot them. Maybe that is why I was depressed. Not forgetting the dreams, although that could be depressing I suppose, but because of the nature of the dreams themselves. All I recall about them was my frustration, like when I was younger dreaming about being unable to get to a class on time or something like that.

Today the nation celebrated D-day. This evening I watched, “The Longest Day” and “Overlord” on television. That’s a lot of killing and dying. Of the two, I thought Overlord was the better movie. It told the tragic story of one callow young man who was a tiny cog in something he neither understood nor controlled. It was not a vehicle for aging cinema stars who avoided combat and young wannabes to strut their stuff in an epic glorifying war. As many of those soldiers who survived Omaha Beach said, “There were no heroes at Omaha Beach, only those who were lucky and those who were not.” If one adds to that the fact that some believe, myself included, the allied decision to pursue the difficult amphibious invasion in Normandy instead of continuing to push into Germany from the existing allied bases in Italy was as much a political, as a military one, the suffering and death of those forced to charge directly into machine-gun fire along the Normandy beaches that day seem even more tragic and unnecessary. As the two time Medal of Honor recipient, Marine Major-General Smedley Butler said, “War is a Racket.” There are no glorious wars, only effective propaganda. We fight to preserve the rulers we have and know, rather than submit to tyrants we don’t. Or, more likely, we are forced to fight by the rulers we have because they fear replacement by the tyrants they may know but we do not.

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haudenosaunee-gathering

One day, I think it was Memorial Day, I spent several hours reading a Ph.D. dissertation by Eric Jones about the Iroquois Population History and Settlement Ecology, AD 1500-1700 (https://etda.libraries.psu.edu/files/final_submissions/1734). I came across this while I was researching the background to a poem that was reputed to be the opening lines to the Iroquois Constitution, The Great Law of Peace. While I failed to confirm the provenance of the poem, I found the treatise fascinating. It attempted to determine if evidence existed that proved there had been significant decline in the nations population post contact with European settlers (there had been, but it took over a decade before manifesting — just prior to contact (1634) the entire population of the Iroquois nation totaled 20,000 people and by 1660 it had decreased to about 7000). The author also tried to discover what, if any, were the factors that prompted the locations of the over 50 settlements that made up the Confederacy (distance to trails and well-drained farmland).

While searching the internet for information about the number of European settlers who populated NY in the 1660s, I came across a very lengthy letter by an Episcopal minister John Miller to the Bishop of London that after railing on at length about the general immorality of the colonists detailed his suggestions for the conquest of Canada and the conversion of the Indians. When it comes to conquest, murder, and destruction of indigenous societies the dolorous activities in the name of religion by men of the cloth never changes.

The great, most proper, & as I conceive effectual means to remedy and prevent all the disorders I have already mentioned & promote the settlement & improvement of Religion & Unity both among the English subjects that are already Christians & the Indians Supposed to be made so is That his Majesty will graciously please to send over a Bishop to the Province of New York who if duly qualified empowered & settled may with the Assistance of a small force for the Subduing of Canada by God’s grace & blessing be Author of great happiness not only to New York in particular but to all the English plantations [colonies] on that part of the continent of American in general. . . .

When I speak of converting the Indians ⎯ by Indians I mean principally those five Nations which lie between Albany & Canada & are called 1) Mohawks or Maquaes, 2) Oneidas, 3) Chiugas, 4) Onundagas & 5) Senecas, of whom though most of the Mohawks are converted to Christianity by Dr. Dellius & Some of the Oneidas by the Jesuit Millet, yet the first not being yet established in any good order at all & the last being converted to Popery, I look upon the work as yet wholly to be done & if what has been already done is not a disadvantage to it, yet that little advantage is gained thereby except a demonstration of the inclination of the Indians to embrace the Christian religion. . . .

1. The first thing then to be done in order to the conquest of Canada is to pitch upon a General for the conducting & carrying it on. The General then is to be but one to come & all forces both by Sea & land that are sent or appointed for this purpose: for long Experience has taught us that equal & divided commands have ruined many noble Undertakings & great Armies. . . .
2. The Second thing to be provided for is forces & warlike Provisions Sufficient for Such a design & those to be either sent for England or prepared in America. . . . (http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/growth/text1/newyorkmiller.pdf)

Miller then continues his letter with extensive and detailed plans for the invasion of Canada and its settlement by English colonists.

And this is how I spent Memorial Day instead of exercising, feasting, listening to music and enjoying whatever other amusements would make my declining years more pleasant.

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Musings on a Peter Grenell comment about something in the previous issue of T&T (Here).

In response to my remark:

Last night, Naida described how that morning she marveled at the many odd angles I had contorted my limbs into while I slept. We agreed on a new nick-name for me, Pythagorean Pookie. I like it.

Peter wrote:

Now, the alliteration is cool, but “Hypotenuse” is fewer syllables simpler and elegant. And lends itself to the nickname “Hypo”.

If I should choose this nickname, perhaps it might qualify me to become a Marx brother. Then there would be six Marx brothers, Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, Zeppo, and Hypo. Alas, that would make me the last of the Marx brothers still living.

It saddens me to think of a world without the Marx brothers. Hayden and his cohorts probably have no idea who they were or their importance to civilization. Groucho and Harpo were, in my opinion, two of the greatest philosophers humankind has ever produced. Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, and all the others may have been admirable and brilliant men but could any one of them demonstrate the heights of the ideal contemplative life as did the mute Harpo playing the harp. Could anyone of those worthies of the past match the succinct reasoning regarding the mysteries of existence as did Groucho when he declaimed:

“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Or,

“I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.”

And,

“What have future generations ever done for us?”

Yes, it is a far less interesting and amusing world now that they have left us. Sob!

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th

One day, while looking unsuccessfully for a deleted version of T&T (https://wordpress.com/view/josephpetrillo.wordpress.com), I came across the following. It records my musings several years ago while riding the train from Sacramento to San Francisco.

I took the train from Sacramento to San Francisco. The tracks ran through Susuin Marsh. I recall a time in my life when I would have moved Heaven and Hell to prevent even one acre of a wetland from falling beneath the blade of a bulldozer. Of course, I fully understand and agree with the intellectual, economic and ethical reasons for their preservation. At times when great flocks of birds fly screeching above the vegetation or mucking about in the shallows or at certain times of the year when they are bathed in the colors of spring or autumn, one can almost breathe in the tendrils of poetic inspiration rising from their fetid depths.

On the other hand at times like this, when the skies are overcast and grey, the vegetation a sickly yellow-brown and the waters a dingy black, I can understand a man coming upon them and thinking, “What a waste.” He would, I suspect, be likely to aspire to kill it in order to create something that would profit him more than basking in the glow someone else’s idea of aesthetic pleasure.

I would like to think most women coming upon the same marsh would dream instead about how the marsh itself could benefit them and their families without killing it first.

Being male, today those same marshes look like shit to me. I would not mind seeing them disappear beneath the antiseptic familiarity of a few Starbucks or MacDonald’s or the like. By the time we left the marshes behind and chugged into Richmond, however, I changed my mind and decided that, if I were not the one making the money from the deal, I would prefer leaving the wetlands pretty much as they are.

At night at my sister’s house in Berkeley, I began reading Sheldon’s newest novel “The Terrorist Next Door.” Its main character is a cop who, I suspect, to the disappointment of his Jewish parents, failed to become a doctor, lawyer or famous writer of mystery novels and ended up a Chicago homicide detective. He is teamed up with a black partner in a relationship reminiscent of that between Danny Glover and that famous anti-semite Mel Gibson in the “Lethal Weapon” series of movies.

There are three things I noticed and appreciated about the novel. First, it is an incomparable travelogue about Chicago (one should read the book with a map of the city nearby). Second is what one learns about Michelle Obama, a girl from the neighborhood. Third, Sheldon, in his own good-hearted and upbeat way, puts his finger upon the essential flaw in the American character and gives you a glimpse of how good things can be without it and how truly and horribly destructive it really is.

For those of you familiar with and aficionados of the Siegel cannon, he began his writing career trying to write a novel about a young Jewish attorney wrongfully accused of the murder of one of his partners, a fictional stand-in for a partner of ours at the time whose removal both Sheldon and I agreed probably would immeasurably benefit humanity. Alas, in his writing of the initial drafts, this character was overwhelmed by a fast-talking Irish criminal lawyer and his estranged Chicana attorney wife. This resulted in the beloved character’s prominence being eclipsed. He disappeared entirely by the third novel in the series; even his name is now lost to memory.

)My experience is similar to Sheldon’s. I attempted to write a mystery “Dominium” (https://papajoesfables.wordpress.com/dominion-an-unfinished-and-never-published-novel/). The main character, a stand-in for yours truly, managed to come across as a boring jerk. He was ultimately replaced in interest and importance by a musclebound bisexual female deputy sheriff from San Mateo County.

Detective David Gold is made of stronger stuff. I see and hope for Gold’s career to be at least as long and as distinguished as Kaminsky’s Abe Lieberman, also a Chicago detective and also a disappointment to his parents.

I suspect Sheldon always wanted to write a novel with Chicago, the city he grew up in, as a setting.

I have visited Chicago only a few times. Nevertheless, for me given my ethnic heritage, it has always been one of the sacred places; like Umberto’s Clam House in New York’s Little Italy. For over a decade the stain remained on the sidewalk where, having staggered out of the restaurant after being shot, Joey Gallo fell down and bled to death. Every year, I would make an annual pilgrimage there until time and the City’s acid-laced rains erased every vestige of the epic event.

Chicago was the home of the sainted Scarface Al. Alas, I have never visited any of the pilgrimage sites there; such as Murphy’s Garage. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to the relics of my legendary ethnic heroes. Are they in a museum somewhere? Where now, for example, are the artifacts such as Anastasia’s barber chair, Mo Green’s massage table, St. Frank’s used condoms, Deano’s shot glass, and Mario Puzo’s typewriter? And, while I am at it, where have you really gone Joe DiMaggio? And, why did Tony Benedetto, (nee Bennet), a New Yorker who chose to live in LA, decide to leave his heart in SF?

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I’m a hat guy. I don’t know why. Throughout my life, I have collected and worn hats. Every five years or so my hat collections have disappeared like all the other things I have collected whenever in a fit of despair or of some other absurdly irrational emotion, I have abandoned, given away or sold them all.

I have also worn many different kinds of hats from the elegant black Homburgs I wore 50 years or so ago whenever I would go to court on the day I was to sum up my case to the jury, to ascot caps, Australian bush hats, balaclavas, beanies, berets, boaters, bowlers, coonskin caps, deerstalkers, turbans, fedoras, ghutrahs, yarmulkes, Panama’s, Stetson’s, pith helmets, Santa hats, sombreros, Toques, Trilbys, and many others.

I should not have been surprised then when 14-year-old Hayden began wearing a hat regularly. It did begin to worry me, however, when this began to seem like the beginning of an obsession like mine.

It all began a few weeks ago. The early summer heat settled on the Great Valley. The morning’s springtime breezes began slowing beneath the light caress of the warming sun. It is a fine day. I was looking forward to a day of blissful indolence when I received a message from Hayden insisting I pick him up at the skatepark after school.

I became worried. He rarely demands my assistance. So, I drove off into the Golden Hills to find out what was going on.

On the way, I  stopped for lunch at an upscale Italian restaurant near Town Center that I had wanted to try for some time now. Its interior reeked of suburban elegance. and its menu was limited but expensive. The wine list, however, was extensive but overpriced. I ordered gnocchi in a squash and butter cream sauce along with a glass of prosecco. The meal was tasty but too heavy for my liking.

After lunch, I drove to the skatepark picked up Hayden along with his friends Jake and Caleb. As he was getting into the car, I asked him what was so urgent. He said, “I want to buy a hat for my trip this summer to Cozumel with Jake and his family. I picked one out at Tilly’s in Folsom.” 

So, off we drove to Tilly’s in Folsom to buy the hat. following which I drove them back to Dick’s house where, after warning them not to get into too much trouble, I drove out of the foothills and back to the Enchanted Forest.

Here is a photograph of Hayden in that hat:

IMG_6153

 

A few weeks later, I drove once again into the Golden Hills to pick up HRM after school and drive him home. It was the first day in about a week that the sky was neither mostly overcast nor actually raining. Instead, the sky was filled with big giant cottony battleships of clouds, floating on a sea of bright blue. It was warm — not the warmth of late spring, light and with a promise of warmth, but more like the warmth of autumn, sharp-edged and resisting the march of winter cold.

As he entered the car he told me he had ordered a new hat and was waiting for it to arrive.

“I thought you bought a hat when I drove you to Tilly’s last week,” I said.

“I did,” he responded, “But I wanted another one also.”

When we arrived at the house, we saw a package leaning against the front door. Hayden eagerly tore open the box and pulled out his new hat. Here it is:

IMG_6150

 

Being a hat guy myself, I liked it.

I pondered over H’s emerging fondness for hats and recalled several years ago when he was five or six years old, I had promised him that we would write a short comic book together entitled “Hayden Without a Hat.” Each evening thereafter he asked me if I was ready to write the story with him and each night I gave some excuse or another. Finally, being tired of my evasions and convinced I would never get around to it, he decided to write the store himself in a notebook and one evening instead of asking me again he handed it to me. The notebook contained the following (everything is as he wrote it including the punctuation, except for the quotation marks which I added). I promised him I would “publish” it. So here it is:

“Story for little boys, girls!

Hayden Without a Hat
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Hayden Without a Hat.

“Oh, no!” says Grandpa Pooky. “Oh no!!!” Grandpa Pooky says “You need a hat.”

“A hat…” says Hayden, “a hat.” “Let me think. Hmmm, ok” Hayden says. “I do need a hat!!!! “Hey, we can go to the hat store.”

So Hayden picked out his favorite hat. It was just like Grandpa Pooky’s hat.

Remember kids always have a hat!!! And mom’s and dad’s.”

For those who may have some interest in the various head coverings I have chosen to wear recently, here are a few:

PART_1530998105460IMG_5960IMG_5682IMG_E3966IMG_3430IMG_0358IMG_1704IMG_1777IMG_20140802_110758_575IMG_1377IMG_20141220_121344_999 - Version 2IMG_20141107_111135_32810748954_10152813713040242_111201243_nIMG_9403IMG_20140601_203833_712IMG_20131129_114117_299IMG_3856DSCN1143DSCN1101DSCN0654

 

And one not so recent:

IMG_2741

 

 

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For those who have not read any of Terry Pratchett’s magnificent series of comic novels set in the highly improbable but very recognizable land of Discworld, do so right away. It will leave you eternally surprised. Meanwhile, the following excerpt from one of the novels demonstrates the fundamental notions of the great scholar of Discworld, Wen the Eternally Surprised that underly the tales of that world and  infuses the hearts of those living there — “…the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise” and “the only appropriate state of the heart is joy.”

 

“Wen the Eternally Surprised.”

“Why was he eternally surprised?” And they are told: ‘Wen considered the nature of time and understood that the universe is, instant by instant, re-created anew. Therefore, he understood, there is, in truth, no Past, only a memory of the Past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore, he said, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.’”
Pratchett, Terry. Thief of Time: A Novel of Discworld (p. 31). HarperCollins.

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I enjoy reading a blog called Logarithmic History. Using a logarithmic scale mapped onto the course of one year the blog traces the History of the universe from the Big Bang to the present day. On about Valentine’s Day, the history of the universe had arrived at that point when sexual reproduction on earth begins with eukaryotes. The author of the blog appropriately provides us with a poem for Valentine’s Day, by the biologist Langdon Smith. Martin Gardner has a nice account of the poem, in his book “When you were a tadpole and I was a fish,”

Evolution
By Langdon Smith (1858-1908)

When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
In the Paleozoic time,
And side by side on the ebbing tide
We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.

Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
And mindless at last we died;
And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
And crept into life again.

We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
And drab as a dead man’s hand;
We coiled at ease ‘neath the dripping trees
Or trailed through the mud and sand.
Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
To hint at a life to come.

Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more;
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
Of a Neocomian shore.
The eons came and the eons fled
And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day
And the night of death was passed.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees
We swung in our airy flights,
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
In the hush of the moonless nights;
And oh! what beautiful years were there
When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled and our senses thrilled
In the first faint dawn of speech.

Thus life by life and love by love
We passed through the cycles strange,
And breath by breath and death by death
We followed the chain of change.
Till there came a time in the law of life
When over the nursing sod
The shadows broke and the soul awoke
In a strange, dim dream of God.

I was thewed like an Auroch bull
And tusked like the great cave bear;
And you, my sweet, from head to feet
Were gowned in your glorious hair.
Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
When the night fell o’er the plain
And the moon hung red o’er the river bed
We mumbled the bones of the slain.

I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
And shaped it with brutish craft;
I broke a shank from the woodland lank
And fitted it, head and haft;
Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
Where the mammoth came to drink;
Through the brawn and bone I drove the stone
And slew him upon the brink.

Loud I howled through the moonlit wastes,
Loud answered our kith and kin;
From west to east to the crimson feast
The clan came tramping in.
O’er joint and gristle and padded hoof
We fought and clawed and tore,
And cheek by jowl with many a growl
We talked the marvel o’er.

I carved that fight on a reindeer bone
With rude and hairy hand;
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
That men might understand.
For we lived by blood and the right of might
Ere human laws were drawn,
And the age of sin did not begin
Til our brutal tush was gone.

And that was a million years ago
In a time that no man knows;
Yet here tonight in the mellow light
We sit at Delmonico’s.
Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
Your hair is dark as jet,
Your years are few, your life is new,
Your soul untried, and yet –

Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
And deep in the Coralline crags;
Our love is old, our lives are old,
And death shall come amain;
Should it come today, what man may say
We shall not live again?

God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
And furnish’d them wings to fly;
He sowed our spawn in the world’s dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die,
Though cities have sprung above the graves
Where the crook-bone men made war
And the ox-wain creaks o’er the buried caves
Where the mummied mammoths are.

Then as we linger at luncheon here
O’er many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
Were a tadpole and I was a fish.

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