Tuning Up

Climate change is marked by its erratic behavior.  I can relate.  Nevertheless, one of my favorite things in the whole wide world is the slow transition of summer to winter.  Autumn includes that honeymoon time between air conditioning and furnace when you have perhaps a month of reasonable utility bills.  After that hot summer we had around here, this weekend showed why we call it “fall.”  I awoke yesterday morning only to feel the indoor temperature slipping into winter range.  (Seriously.  The furnace isn’t on yet.)  It was 41 degrees outside, a full five degrees lower than projected.  There’s a subtle insidiousness to morning chills.  I tend to wake around three or four, but that’s not the coldest part of the night.  No, that comes just before sunrise.  Morning connoisseurs know that.  It’s always coldest before the dawn.

Weather forecasting is a dicey business, not for the faint of heart.  When it’s getting uncomfortably chilly, a degree or two can make a difference.  You see, I get out of bed, throw on some lounging clothes, and go into another room where I won’t disturb anybody.  That means if I underestimate how cold the house will be, I’ll spend some time shivering until those who awake on normal schedules get up.  That, or I have to wear a jacket indoors.  I’m not above that, of course, but it’s only September.  Honeymoon time.  Global warming doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot all the time.  So all of this has me thinking about winter already.  It’s only September and I’m already wearing fingerless gloves.

I’m extremely sensitive to cold.  I attribute it to a case of mild frostbite I had as a teen.  The cold didn’t bother me so much before then.  My brother and I, dutifully awaiting the school bus, stood for the required half hour or so at the bus stop.  It was bitterly cold and there was no bus shelter.  When we were finally allowed to head home the pain was incredible.  My extremities are still chilled at the slightest suggestion.  On all but the hottest days my feet can count on being cold.  The  morning skies were a beautiful blue yesterday, suggesting that the predicted cloudiness of the previous night had not performed, allowing full radiational cooling.  Yes, global warming is real and all of us alive today will be dealing with it for the remainder of our time here on earth.  That doesn’t mean it’ll always be hot outside.  It does mean the honeymoon may be over. 


Fictional Truth

In honor of Banned Book Week I read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Funny and poignant, it tells the story of Arnold Spirit Junior, a Spokane tribe boy on the reservation.  Born with a disability, he nevertheless overcomes adversity to become both a good student and excellent basketball player.  I suppose you’d classify this as young adult literature since the protagonist is a teen and many of the issues are those of kids in that age group.  Although it’s funny, and the illustrations underscore this, there’s a realism that account for various people wishing to ban it.  First of all, it reminds readers that white men put Indians on reservations and, despite our national guilt about this, we still refuse to do anything to try to lift them out of poverty.  And, like most boys his age, Junior likes to talk about sex once in a while.

Fiction can be the most nonfictional form of writing.  Junior describes the realities of reservation life.  Alcoholism, poverty, and violence are part of his everyday experience.  He attends far more funerals than his white counterparts.  This particular point gave me pause.  A New York Times article that appeared pointed out, statistically, that American Indians had much higher death rates from Covid than many other demographics.  It was like the genocidal introduction of European diseases during the “age of discovery.”  I suppose people would’ve grown curious and explored their world, regardless of the distorted Christian belief that they were to take it over.  At least we could’ve treated those we met with respect, as equals.

I think about the missionary mandate quite a lot.  Based on an undying literalism, it became an excuse for behaviors explicitly condemned by Scripture itself.  There’s a real danger when conviction comes with guns.  At least modern-day missionaries try to help those they’re attempting to convert with hospitals and medical care.  Still, that doesn’t help the American Indians.  They still struggle and our policies still ignore their problems.  Their plight stands in the way of capitalistic exploitation.  And when an Indian writes a fun book, honest about the experience of his people white critics begin to raise their voices to ban it.  How do we think the situation of the Indians will ever improve if we refuse to listen?  And what better time to get people to listen but when they’re young enough not to have been corrupted by our system of entrenched unfair treatment?


All Things Being

“Equal” and “night,” in their Latin forms, give us the word “equinox.”  Today we enter the darker half of the year.  Interestingly, of the so-called “quarter days”—the equinoxes and solstices—this is the only one for which we have no ancient indications of celebration.  Like a birthday that goes by unnoticed, this feels odd.  Why, among the set of only four days—longest, shortest, and two equal—did this one fail to be noticed?  Well, perhaps noticed, but not celebrated?  The failure of ancient records may be one explanation, and perhaps other, near dates of note subsumed it.  In Judaism, for instance, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come around this time.  The ancient Celts celebrated August 1 and November 1, or thereabouts.  September is a particularly busy time.

Harvesting, in many places, gets its real start in September.  In more modern times, school starts up again.  Work schedules once more take priority and those “relaxed” summer hours are a thing of the past.  It’s easy to overlook this seemingly insignificant day.  It is important nonetheless.  For those of us who watch horror, it’s now more easily explained—it’s darker and that brings on one of the most primal of fears.  Halloween is coming, and if you haven’t prepared already, discounted pricing on picked-over merchandise will begin in coming days.  More and more houses will prepare for the haunted season.  Around here leaves are just beginning to change, but in more northern latitudes they’re well on their way already.  Pumpkins are already on hand at grocery stores and farm stands.  The days of summer sweet corn are over.

Not all holidays receive equal attention, of course.  Less romantically inclined adults simply work through Valentines Day.  And who even notices May Day anymore?  If you don’t spend money on holidays they don’t seem to count.  Who goes out and buys things for the forgotten autumnal equinox?  Nevertheless, many people say that fall is their favorite time of year.  It has a trickster element to it.  You awake and have to throw on some extra layers, but by mid-afternoon short sleeves may be sufficient.  Hurricanes may come ashore.  Some days will feel like winter, and others summer.  Transitions are like that.  The autumnal equinox signals the inevitability of winter but also the yearning and melancholy of the shortening days when color springs to light once again.  Forgotten or not, today is the harbinger of things to come.


Banning Together

Banned Book Week starts today.  As the political situation in this country continues to deteriorate into a Republican fascination with fascism, we find books challenged and banned for suggesting real fascists were anything other than nice, white boys misunderstood.  It will take decades, if not another World War to undo the damage Trump unleashed.  Instead of sitting in my corner worrying about the future, I read.  Banned books make up quite a bit of my reading, but I do try to read one every September intentionally in honor of the occasion of Banned Book Week.  It’s misguided to suggest children shouldn’t grow up.  A deep-seated fear of education reveals the hypocrisy at the very heart of book banning.  Adults should know better.  They should read.

I love America, but nationalism is poison.  Just like those who believe that only their religion can be right, many believe only their nation can.  Divide that up among the almost 200 nations of the world, with individuals in each thinking this way, and conflict logically arises.  Those who look at other cultures—read about them—and try to understand them, realize we each have our own way.  One of the major problems is that capitalism insists all must trade and barter the way that we do.  We think of people in terms of their “net worth”—which is, in reality, infinite—and want to know who owns more and is therefore more powerful.  Lackeys will always follow the wealthy, kissing posteriors and professing loyalty until they have enough of their own to challenge the more wealthy.  It’s enough to send any Bible-reader back to Ecclesiastes.

Books have stirred up ideas ever since they were invented.  The Bible wasn’t the first book, but it too appears on Banned Book lists.  Many of those who thump it read it with the acumen of a kindergartener.  That’s not why it’s sometimes banned, however.  It is full of sex and violence.  The bits about love and hope are far outweighed by it.  Books contain ideas and ideas will get out.  There’s a reason I surround myself with books.  They are a strange sort of castle that invites others in even as it protects.  It’s not comfortable to challenge the way that you think, but nothing fascinates like a new idea taking root and growing.  One of the best ways to meet people far distant and explore the way they think is to read.  Banning reflects our small-mindedness, and even worse, our desire to keep that small-mindedness intact.


Headlines

I see many headlines in a day.  One from Book Riot caught my attention with its linked story on BoingBoing.  This particular story is poignant and points to the ridiculous polarization politicians are stoking to play for our votes.  (I swear, politicians should be made into their own country so they can ruin their own lives without affecting the rest of us.)  This headline deals with the remarkable person George Dawson.  The son of a farmer, and descendant of slaves, Dawson made a living as a laborer in Texas.  His life was probably no more noteworthy than those of many other working-class individuals, but Dawson had a story to tell.  Illiterate, he learned to read at the age of 98—let that sink in.  At two years shy of a century he decided to improve his life.  He subsequently wrote a memoir, Life Is So Good.  So far, so good.

For reading, not banning!

His story was so inspirational that the Carroll Independent School District named a middle school for him.  He became a adult “poster child” for literacy.  Now, here’s where the headline comes in.  The very school that is named after him is trying to ban his book.  As part of the reactionary Republican response to race relations, politicians—local and national—are trying to rewrite American history so the white guy is always right.  Always good.  Always Christian.  Always moral.  It doesn’t matter how many times he cheats on his wife and his taxes, he is the paragon of virtue and respectability.  To suggest that he promoted slavery and treated Black people as property and beat and lynched and left them in poverty, well, that’s just too powerful of a pill to swallow.

Banned Book Week begins this month, on the 18th.  Every year I try to read a banned or challenged book in honor of the occasion.  Censorship has been on the playlist of fascists from the beginning.  Propaganda works.  All you need to do is use emotional appeal to short-circuit the rational faculties and then laugh all the way to the bank.  Slavery?  What’s slavery?  Do you mean to suggest that white men used slaves?  Poppycock.  We have always been as upright with the same moral rectitude as the Donald.  And the Ronald.  And all white men who stand under the big R.  Pay no attention to the Black man who learned to read at an age when most of us are dead.  Is that such a big deal?  What need do you have to read when Fox News can provide all the (mis)information you need?


From Russia

A New York Times headline recently caught my eye.  “Russia opened a murder investigation into a car blast near Moscow.”  I wondered how a country that’s an aggressor at war, killing civilians in Ukraine every day, would be interested in something so petty as murder.  Then I saw the rest of the headline: “that killed the daughter of an influential ally of President Vladimir Putin.”  So there it is—some lives are more valuable than others.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m saddened by this (and any) murder.  And the use of violence to get what one wants is unethical.  Justice in this world, however, is based on unequal standards.  The supporters of Putins and Trumps matter more than any other people.  Death should not effect them the same way it effects civilians being missiled and shot.

Throughout all this we might wonder where the voice of the church is.  Churches, as institutions interested in power, are political players even when there’s no state religion.  The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin implicitly.  With the power of Russia, the power of the church rises.  A few thousand dead civilians, well, let God sort them out.  Churches become corrupt when they become politically powerful.  Politics is one of the most polluting things humans can do.  Long ago Lord Acton put it this way: “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Churches got into power-brokering in the fourth century and we’ve seen the results ever since.  It’s not just Christianity, however; Islam makes it political and yes, even Buddhism and Hinduism incite violence when they become politicized.  A religious body that takes its mythology too seriously becomes dangerous when it tastes political power.  The world has many mythological figures.

What really took my breath away, however, is how many state resources will be devoted to finding and prosecuting those who killed one government supporter—we must find and punish those responsible—while thousands lie dead with the Russian government as their killers.  Other nations are just as guilty of course, but there’s a karmic imbalance when that nation is an aggressor in war.  Would you have ever expected a fair trial in Nazi Germany?  Does not unprovoked war make a mockery of the very concept of justice itself?  Justice, of course, means fair treatment.  For all.  She’s pictured as wearing a blindfold, after all.  She’s perhaps one of those mythical figures as well.


The Invasion

So I’m sitting here thinking it would be great if Liz Cheney were to run for president.  Then I think, have things really got so bad that Dick Cheney’s daughter would be an improvement for the Republican party?  At least she believes in democracy.  And something has to break this trumpstipation that seems to have plugged up the GOP.  You don’t want to stand behind a constipated elephant.  I look at the hero worship spawned by a man who’s been known for lying his entire life and wonder where our critical thinking failed.  People far smarter than me have been writing about how democracies die, and this seems to be the case, all because a guy ran six years ago to give his personal business a boost and has been showing us the extreme distortions money causes ever since.

It’s sad really.  Once in a while I think about how Eisenhower was a Republican.  He was a smart man and he clearly had the best interest of America at heart.  Nixon not so much.  Some politicians are motivated by ego rather than the good of others.  I stopped being Republican when Reagan got the nomination.  Maybe it was at Watergate, but I was really too young to grasp what was going on then.  Of course, that was before politics became a real life soap opera.  As the GOP became less G with each passing president, the party seems to have lost its fortitude.  Young people are progressive so we take measures to prevent them from voting.  When Blacks vote we find ways of tossing out their ballots.  Minority rule rules.

Cheney was ousted from her own party for stating the obvious.  Trump is a sore loser.  Not only that, he’s willing to take the entire country down with him rather than admit he was ever wrong.  Stealing government secrets is just another day in office in Margo-la-la land.  I sit here and scratch my head.  It used to be that no matter which party ran things they at least believed they were doing things for the sake of the country, not for the sake of the country club.  All that’s changed in our new plutocracy.  I’m no politician, but I am a guy who tries to make sense of the world.  I see a country of people who go so riled up when they thought Martians were invading not even a century ago.  An event so important that there’s a plaque in Downer’s Grove.  And when a real invasion takes place we now side with the Martians.


Gorilla Thinking

We don’t understand consciousness, but we want to keep it all to ourselves.  That’s the human way.  Or at least the biblically defined human way.  Animals, however, delight in defying our expectations because they too share in consciousness.  Take gorillas, for example.  Or maybe start with cats and work our way up to gorillas.  We all know that cats “meow.”  Many of us don’t realize that this sound is generally reserved for getting human attention.  Cats tend not to meow to get each others’ attention.  According to Science Alert, gorillas in captivity have come up with a unique vocalization to get zookeepers’ attention.  Not exactly a word, more like a sneeze-cough, this sound is used by gorillas at multiple zoos for getting human attention.  Even if the gorillas have never met in person.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

This is a pretty remarkable demonstration of consciousness.  What’s more, it’s an example of shared consciousness.  The same vocalization shared over hundreds of miles without a chance to tell each other about it.  We’re very protective of consciousness.  As a species we like to think that consciousness is uniquely human and that it’s limited to our brains.  Moments of shared consciousness we chalk up to coincidence or laugh off as “ESP.”  Funny things happen, however, when you start to keep track of how often such things occur.  It might make more sense to attribute this to moments of shared consciousness.  In our materialist paradigm, however, that’s not possible so we just shake our heads and claim it’s “one of those things.”

Animals share in consciousness.  We don’t always know what their experience of it is—indeed, we have no way to test it—but it’s clear they think.  I live in a town, so my experience of observing wild animals is limited to birds, squirrels, and rabbits, for the most part.  I often see deer while jogging, and the occasional fox or coyote, but not long enough to watch them interact much.  But interact they do.  Constantly.  These are not automatons going through the motions—they are thinking creatures who have sophisticated ways of communicating with each other.  Ours includes vocalization, so far uniquely so in the form of spoken language.  The great apes—chimpanzees and orangutans, according to Tessa Koumoundouros—also vocalize and do so with humans.  Now we know that gorillas do too.  And we all know that a barking dog is trying to tell us something.  If we took consciousness seriously, and were willing to share it a bit more, we might learn a thing or two.


Burdens

Listening is very important.  Sometimes there’s nothing really to say but “I hear you.”  This kept occurring to me during All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake.  Tiya Miles is a history professor, and she helpfully includes an afterword telling how she came upon the topic for this book.  Ashley’s sack is just that, a sack.  On it, the owner, a female descendent of enslaved African-Americans, stitched a short inscription about the history of the sack, how her grandmother had given it to her mother when the latter was a child under ten, sold away from her mother in South Carolina.  This isn’t an easy book to read.  I have difficulty being faced with what “religious” “white” folks did to Blacks and justified themselves that people can be bought and sold.  Listen, I told myself, just listen.

Those who would deny that any of this ever happened need to learn to listen.  In order to capitalize on the resources this country offered, our ancestors engaged in morally reprehensible acts.  And the cruelty didn’t end with the shipping and the selling.  The treatment of unfree Black people itself was a crime, and their white captors knew full well what they were doing.  Preventing their slaves from having nice things while they themselves lived in luxury.  Beating, raping, and murdering when they didn’t get their way.  Selling their own offspring born of slaves to make a profit.  All the while claiming to be good Christians.  It’s often this part that I have trouble understanding.  Even a literalistic reading gives no license for treating other human beings this way.  Only money does that.

The style of history in this book isn’t that to which many of us are accustomed.  At the point of raising mental critiques I repeated, “You must learn to listen.”  Those who have made the rules showed themselves to be corrupt, and they must be willing to consider alternative ways of telling a story.  Miles makes the point that the history of unfree Blacks was largely erased, leaving the possibilities for histories and heritages slim; if the regular rules are themselves oppressive then it may be time to listen to those of others.  It seems impossible in the age of the world-wide web and all that it implies that we live on a planet where people repeatedly deny their sins while clutching their Bibles in their fists.  We need to learn to listen.


The King

Stephen King.  I haven’t read all of his books, but I’ve done quite a few.  I’ve watched movies based on some.  I read my first story by him in Junior High School.  I’ve even read books about him.  From what I can tell, he’s actually a man with his head on straight.  While some may find that a strange thing to write about a horror writer, it’s been my experience that those who enjoy horror, either as producers or consumers, are generally good people.  Recently King was testifying against the proposed buyout of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House.  Penguin Random House is already the largest trade publisher in the world.  The buyout would probably benefit King personally, but he testified it would make things worse for other writers and for independent bookstores.

How many people these days argue against things that benefit them personally?  Certainly not elected officials, particularly of what used to be a grand old party.  It’s all about me!  That seems to be the mantra of late capitalism.  King has publicly called for his own taxes to be raised.  This is nothing short of heroic.  While the Good Book advocates over and over for this kind of behavior, “Bible believers” have somehow overlooked it.  Leave it to a horror writer to get to the heart of the message.  I have no idea if King is part of any religious group or not—he certainly uses a lot of religious imagery and many religious concepts in his writing.  Of course, you don’t have to be in such a group to embody their proclaimed principles.

Thinking of the needs of others was drilled into me as child raised in a Fundamentalist faith.  Looking around me these days, I don’t see many Fundamentalists that hold to that any more.  Enamored of power—especially the power to control other people’s lives—they flock after rich pretenders who care nothing for the Gospel.  Sacrifice (for that’s what we’re talking about here) is something horror writers know well.  It’s never easy giving up something that’s valuable to you.  Or even thinking about it.  Writing, while very enjoyable, is hard work.  Training your mind is like physical exercise—it doesn’t just happen.  I’ve got a few Stephen King novels on my “to read” pile.  They’re big books, often intimidatingly so.  Once I start reading, however, I know I’ll find the work engaging.  And if I pay attention, there will be a message there too.

Not that kind of book.

New Physics

Maybe it’s time to put away those “new physics” textbooks.  I often wondered what’d become of the old physics.  If it had been good enough for my granddaddy, it was good enough for me!  Of course our knowledge keeps growing.  Still, an article in Science Alert got me thinking.  “An AI Just Independently Discovered Alternate Physics,” by Fiona MacDonald, doesn’t suggest we got physics wrong.  It’s just that there is an alternate, logical way to explain everything.  Artificial intelligence can be quite scary.  Even when addressed by academics with respectable careers at accredited universities, this might not end well.  Still, this story to me shows the importance of perspectives.  We need to look at things from different angles.  What if AI is really onto something?

Some people, it seems, are better at considering the perspectives of other people.  Not everyone has that capacity.  We’re okay overlooking it when it’s a matter of, say, selecting the color of the new curtains.  But what about when it’s a question of how the universe actually operates?  Physics, as we know it, was built up slowly over thousands of years.  (And please, don’t treat ancient peoples as benighted savages—they knew about cause and effect and laid the groundwork for scientific thinking.  Their engineering feats are impressive even today.)  Starting from some basic premises, block was laid upon block.  Tested, tried, and tested again, one theory was laid upon another until an impressively massive edifice was made.  We can justly be proud of it.

Image credit: Pattymooney, via Wikimedia Commons

The thing is, starting from a different perspective—one that has never been human, but has evolved from human input—you might end up with a completely different building.  I’ve read news stories of computers speaking to each other in languages they’ve invented themselves and that their human programmers can’t understand.  Somehow Skynet feels a little too close for comfort.  What if our AI companions are right?  What if physics as we understand it is wrong?  Could artificial intelligence, with its machine friends, the robots, build weapons impossible in our physics, but just as deadly?  The mind reels.  We live in a world where politicians win elections by ballyhooing their lack of intelligence.  Meanwhile something that is actually intelligent, albeit artificially so, is getting its own grip on its environment.  No, the article doesn’t suggest fleeing for the hills, but depending on the variables they plug in at Columbia it might not be such a bad idea.


The Nature of Nationalism

I was recently reading about China.  The particular take of this piece was that China began, just over a dozen years ago, an attempt to become the world’s recognized superpower.  As I read about its aggressive stance in many areas (investment in tech, foreign relations, military), and realized that the United States had done a similar thing after the Cold War ended, I began to wonder who we’re all trying to impress.  Like many people I believe America has had it good for quite a long time.  (At least for some of us.)  I also believe we have used underhanded ways to get to this point.  Trump has definitely set us back on the world stage, but as China is investing in science and tech, we’re polishing off our Bibles.  (Take a look at the Supreme Court and disagree, if you can.)

In a world that has enough for all, why do we find it so hard to share?  Growing up with the Bible I was pretty sure that was the central message.  Instead, we seem to want to become the Nebuchadnezzar of the world, the great—well, you know—Babylon.  Ironically, Babylon doesn’t fare too well in Scripture’s final book.  Nationalism, it seems to me, is a great problem.  People seem unable to feel good about who they are without hating those of different countries.  It would seem that globalization should’ve taught us a thing or two about that.  Perhaps it’s the nature of our leaders—people who promote themselves until there’s no further ladder to climb beyond world domination.  Is that what we’ve come to?  Is there any hope?

I keep wondering who such people think the final arbiter will be.  Hasn’t history demonstrated over and over and over again that those who think too highly of themselves will be remembered most poorly?  Do they lack the capacity to see from the viewpoint of other people?  Our political and economic systems reward those who step on others and who think highly of themselves, it seems.  Capitalism especially dwells in the fantasy world of endless growth in a limited environment.  Combined with the restless curiosity of science and rapid growth of technology, this system seems set to go off the rails.  Especially when world leaders see each other in competition with one another instead of working cooperatively for the benefit of all.  No, I don’t believe Utopia is possible—there are too many self-interested leaders for that ever to work—but I do believe that national agendas that overlook differences (think the European Union) are far more worth our time than trying to become, or remain, a “super power.”


Nope, Not Yet

It’s perhaps this summer’s most hotly anticipated movie, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to see it.  Jordan Peele’s Nope opened in theaters this weekend but I’ve been busy.  For many Peele may have seemed to come out of left field with his 2017 directorial debut, Get Out (it took me a couple years to see that one), but he’d been working in films prior to that.  Then Us appeared in 2019 and instantly established him as the auteur of black horror films.  Like many in horror, Peele has a strong element of humor as well.  His films feature black actors falling into circumstances that whites have tended to claim for themselves—being the victims of monsters (often human).  I unfortunately missed Peele’s attempted reboot of The Twilight Zone in 2019-20.  Nevertheless, I know he’s a kindred spirit.

I try not to watch trailers before seeing a movie.  They give away too much.  I don’t need any enticement to see a Peele movie.  Even as I await a free weekend, I think about how horror has been a field accepting of auteurial diversity.  Women have directed horror since at least the eighties.  James Wan has been a major player in the genre since the early new millennium.  M. Night Shyamalan had his start shortly before that.  Good horror is good horror.  Often such films are quite smart as well.  Get Out drew attention for its social commentary—something for which Rod Serling was famous, and thus the naturalness of The Twilight Zone.  But when will I have time to get out and see Nope?  Perhaps I need to cash in a personal day so I can take in a matinee.

The trick will be, of course, to be on the internet without reading about it before that can happen.  Taking time off work is punished with skyscrapers of emails when you return.  But when I start having dreams about my boss coming to my messy house and helping me do necessary repairs, I think maybe I’ve been working too hard.  Movies, in such a life, seem like superfluous luxuries.  Of course, I’ve long accepted the thesis that films are our modern mythology.  They are our cultural referents, and not infrequently the source of meaning.  They explain our world.  And they require taking at least an hour-and-a-half out of the mowing, painting, hammering, and hauling that never seem to end.  Nope, I won’t have time to see the movie this weekend.  Yep, I’ll be looking forward to the first opportunity to do so.


Not Just Horsemen

With the way they’ve been in the news, UFOs have started to arouse some curiosity.  Since I’ve been reading about the culture of the Hudson, Linda Zimmermann’s Hudson Valley UFOs caught my eye.  I hadn’t realized that the book was essentially self-published.  There are legitimate reasons for self-publishing, primarily that established presses can be quite standoffish.  What you find in book form is largely determined by publishers who decide what will or won’t merit their attention.  Self-publication comes with its own set of problems, including marketing and, as I written before, lack of editing.  Zimmermann’s book is quite interesting but could have used some editorial attention.  It does aid credibility.  Subtitled Startling Eyewitness Accounts from 1909 to the Present, the book is essentially that, collated accounts, some in their own words, some retold.

As became clear shortly after starting the book, this is a second volume for a previous book that I hadn’t heard of.  There is a fascination reading such accounts.  Many can be dismissed and each should be treated with some skepticism.  The thing is, there are so many reports from this area that it’s difficult to jettison the lot.  People with nothing to gain, withholding their names, see things in the sky they can’t explain.  As Zimmermann points out, Project Blue Book didn’t help with its prosaic and often bizarre explanations that are harder to believe than the eyewitness accounts, many of them from Air Force personnel.  What’s emerged in recent years—some would argue since the end of the Second World War—is that the government actively advocated ridicule and intimidation, perhaps because of secret weapons testing.  This policy has made the truth behind UFOs difficult to excavate.

Books like Zimmermann’s have their place in collecting information.  Civilians, however, generally lack the resources necessary for analysis.  Governments worldwide have recently been coming out of the closet.  They too have been treating this seriously while telling everyone simply to ignore it.  People are curious by nature and we live in an apparently infinite universe.  Strange things happen and ridicule is one of the surest ways to shut down serious discussion.  There’s quite a bit of information in this book, and some of it could help point to the long associations of the Hudson Valley with the unusual.  Mainstream publishers are beginning to lose their shyness about the topic and we as a species don’t know as much about this universe as we think we do.  As long as we talk about what we see, this will remain a topic of interest.


Tone Deafness

Tone deafness isn’t just for music any more.  Perhaps because of the incessant torrent of the internet, we might think we understand something better than we do.  Or this may be what comes after years of what Linda Stone has called “continuous partial attention.”  We’re all so busy that we don’t have time to think things through.  I’ve run into several instances of tone deafness lately, where the sound comes not from music, but from a lack of considering the society.  For example, Black Lives Matter.  When I sometimes feel pressed upon by the fact that the mongrel peoples who came together to eventually deliver me benefitted from slavery I feel helpless.  I can’t understand how Black folks feel, as much as I want to help.  This can lead to tone deafness when I think I’m actually able to explain.

Photo by saeed karimi on Unsplash

This also applies to other aspects of our lives.  If someone we know is too busy, asking them to fit us into their schedule may be tone deafness.  Unless we pick up on the many hints that “not this day, but that day might work” conveys, we tend to miss the point.  I’m always amazed just how many people don’t pick up on the stress conveyed in such situations.  Even professional service folk.  You can almost hear them looking at their screens instead of the distressed look on your face.  When we’re all too busy, ironically, the way to address this is to spend a little more time listening.  Paying attention to someone else.  The world won’t end if we do.

Short emails may show tone deafness as well.  Those who send one or two word emails probably don’t realize how rude it seems on the receiving end.  Perhaps they think it’s the same as texting.  There’s a reason I don’t text.  If someone is important enough for me to contact, I feel that I need to give them the required time.  Look at them, not the screen.  Try to hear the pitch they sing in, the cadence they use.  People make beautiful music.  Lives are symphonies.  Do we really want to approach their performance preoccupied by what’s next on our agendas?  I remember getting dressed up and going to a formal concert hall to listen to live music.  I also remember sitting across a table or desk from someone with no devices, being listened to carefully.  Even if it was a viva it was a wonderful feeling that someone was actually listening.  Now what was it you were saying?