Sunday, August 24, 2014

ONE MORE WORD ABOUT ROBIN WILLIAMS

Why I think I might have anything to add to the hundreds of comments, eulogies, editorials and speeches about the death of Robin Williams, is a mystery to me - until I realize that there are few things that happen in this world about which I do not have something to say. Forgive me. It's a congenital and un-fixable condition.

There have been two comments made that for me are significant. One is that Williams seemed to be able to "see" the truth in all the noise and chaos of our world and put it in such a package as to make us not only laugh but also to see or face that truth at the same time. It has been said that all good humor speaks the truth. Sometimes, it is only through laughing eyes that the most painful truths can be seen and endured.

For me the clearest example of this is the movie GOOD MORNING VIET NAM. Here is a wise cracking DJ saying what was the truth about that war in a funny way because to say it seriously would be gross insubordination. His goal was to temporarily take the soldier's mind off the horror of his daily life, and the truth he saw all to clearly. He wanted to let them all know that someone else saw it and through outlandish humor could make the sting less hurtful, if only for a moment.

The other group of comments about the death of Robin Williams center around the why of it. Pundits abound who seem to know all the answers and have the books, scholars and endless footnotes to back them up. Ultimately, when it comes to the issue of someone taking his or her own life it seems to me that truth is on the side of ignorance. How can I know what goes through the mind of someone at that moment when that step is taken that can not be taken back? It has been said suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. I'm sure that can be applied in some cases: a get even stroke that can not be returned. I have written elsewhere about a man with end-game ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease - who found a way to end his life while he still had the ability to lift that deadly cup.  How can one argue with that?

Who's to know? Google it: famous people who have killed themselves. A few on that list you would have killed yourself. For many, as in the case of Robin Williams, I lament not having more of what they gave us during their richly creative lives.

I think I'll watch a couple of my favorite movies: GOOD MORNING VIET NAM and DEAD POET'S SOCIETY to celebrate the priceless gift of Robin Williams again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

BREAD OF HAPPINESS

IT WAS SOMEWHERE IN THE MID-SIXTIES that I realized I could make a loaf of bread that was as good as anything I had ever tasted.  I remember it being potato bread in which I used some leftover mashed potatoes.  It has a nice crumb and made quite memorable toast. Then there was a long hiatus in my bread-making activities until somewhere in the seventies when I discovered this book put out by some Buddhist (I think) monks in California that described how they made their bread by a triple rising method. Bread making Buddhist monks in California - let's see, should that be one long word?  Anyway, I thought I could set myself apart from the regular heard of bread makers by using this method.  This ultimately proved to be a bit too involved to enjoy the process so I ditched that method, and moved on to the regular main-stream Pillsbury Cook Book for my bread making.

Note:  Bread making is not some arcane mystery known only to your great aunt, bakers with foreign sounding names and bald headed monks in California.  It's simple chemistry 101.  If you have flour, yeast and water you can make bread.  A touch of salt might help, as well as some oil or butter and perhaps a dollop of something sweet.  If you want to hide some leftover meatloaf or vegetable salad, that can be worked into the dough as well.  Very few things make me feel like I have actually done something good as making a loaf of bread - with my hands.  I have a trendy bread machine with a difficult to pronounce name, which, I think is supposed to impress me.  It makes a credible loaf.  I don't even have to wash my hands.  However, getting my hands in the dough is a whole other world of bread making.

Once, in another lifetime, I was working in a mental health clinic that ran what was called a Day Hospital.  it was a program where people who were usually on some potent psychotropic medications could spend the day and have community and do some occupational therapy activities.  It was popular with these people.

I got a phone call from the woman who ran that unit and she said she heard that I made bread - with my hands.  Yes, she added those last three words.  I said I did and I washed my hands thoroughly every time.  She asked me if I would consider teaching the people in Day Hospital how to make a loaf of bread. Yippee, I said.  That sounds like fun.  Great, she said, when can you come over and meet them - about ten of them?  Tomorrow?  Done.

Well, here's what happened.   I think there were about eight of those people who wanted to participate.  There was a completely outfitted kitchen in the unit and we met there every day for a week.  These were all women, none of whom had ever tried to make a loaf of bread.  It took me a moment to get past that sad fact.

We went through the basic principles of bread making and then we made bread.  We made Anadama bread, which has butter, cornmeal and molasses in it.   Each person varied the ratio of brown to white flour so they could see the difference it made.  Every body got their hands in the dough and before anyone realized it they were all laughing and having the time of their lives.  Well, they were having a good time at that time.  No one was "cured" of anything, but everybody had fun and that is cure enough for most people.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

THE HOPE OF PLAISTINE

A 91-year-old Dutch man who was declared a Righteous Among the Nations for saving a Jew during the German occupation on Thursday returned his medal and certificate because six of his relatives were killed by an Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip last month.

Only should Tel Aviv lie beneath the rubble under which Gaza lies now will Israel understand what they have done to the Palestinians. How does such action find justification in the simple mantra of: we have a right to defend ourselves? No one is arguing that. But to destroy a complete society and thousands of innocents is beyond justification.

There is no honor bestowed by he state of Israel that is worth an ounce of Palestinian dust. I can only hope that my country, the US, ceases its support of the state of Israel, the Jewish lobby in this country notwithstanding. If you think my sentiments are anti semitic, you are simply not paying attention to what is going on. Someone must lay down their arms and say, it is enough. Enough blood has been shed. Enough prejudice and apartheid has poisoned the world.

History can not be rolled back but history can be made. That is our hope.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A LIGHT SHINING IN THE DARKNESS

Ever notice that it seems the grossest and most primitive amongst us always get the headlines and somehow seem to define, at least in part, who we are. It's the troglodytes and trolls living in the remotest hollows, darkest woods and scariest neighborhoods who somehow keep alive the idea that practitioners of evil and the dark arts roam freely among us.

Many think that if we could just educate everyone that the dark shadows in our world would disappear. Alas, there is no evil like smart evil. Education is surely needed but It's more than the basics that is needed. A strong dose of culture and exposure to the wider world would help. But that's also education. So how is that accomplished when most education dollars go where the dollars are to begin with. That happens not to be in the dark hollows and remote enclaves.

I often wonder what kind of generation would appear were education funds and resources distributed equally to all children no matter where they lived. Of course, that would mean that we cared for each other and were willing to be responsible for the education of children we might never know. It also might mean giving up a few sacred cows such as the local control of education in our various communities. Certainly, local people should be involved and have a direct input into the system but the fundamental curriculum and standards for students, teachers and the distribution of resources should be administered at a higher level than a local school board. This goes for funding as well.

That brings up a second sacred cow needing to be put out to pasture. That would be the obviously dead ended funding of schools by a regressive property tax. We get this idea from a time in Merry Old England when everything was owned by the rich and landed class. Of course their land was taxed. Owning land and wealth were synonymous.

In modern times owning property, as in a house or a small parcel of land is not synonymous with wealth. So the idea of making adjustments for those who do not have increasing incomes that make it possible to pay increased taxes seems appropriate. Seniors living on limited incomes should not be expected to pay the full value of their property. If they sell to someone else then that person can be assessed the full amount. Age considerations are appropriate but so should health and other factors be considered when assessing real property. A system that sees each tax payer equally without any consideration as to different situations, is unjust by default.

I am a simple man, incapable of complex thought but I can not see why public education can't be funded with the same abandonment as, say that new stretch destroyer up in the ways at Bath Iron Works. Or perhaps that grossly huge hidden budget of the spooky NSA and the CIA.

Well, if we can dream of the moon, mars and rebuilding the Afghanistan infrastructure at astronomical cost, then why not dream of an education system that can shine a little light on those wonderful minds living in the remotest hollow and darkest enclave - an education system that can think beyond a local tax base?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

THE DANGERS OF OLD PHOTOGRAPHS

Nothing makes one feel one's age like an early photograph.  I know - it has to be among the choicest self promotion stunts to post a baby photo of one's self, but I have not seen this for years.  The original is a hand tinted black and white photo - real color photographs had not yet become commercially viable.  I made this sepia toned print and gave it to my children many years ago.  It comes back to me in my Google+ account through my son David.  I think I'll try and post this on Google+.  You never know - it may be the next place to be.


Pretty much the same, don't you think?  I mean, there is the hair thing, but the rest. . .  OK.

Now I am caught up in this swirling life vortex of memories that I can't seem to stop.  The country was in the throes of a deep depression that never seemed to reach me personally.  We ate out of a garden all year round.  My grandfather was the gardener and he and my aunt lived next door and we leaned upon and supported each other, sharing the cooking and often eating together.  

When I let myself think about our house - the way it really was - I am amazed at how simple, small and incredibly cold it was during our brief winters in South Louisiana.  There was no insulation and the water pipes hung out in the air beneath the floors.  It was my job to go outside and turn the valve that drained the system when freezing was predicted for the night.  As I recall, the process worked well enough.

Privacy was something other people had in their much larger homes.  There was only one bath and there were two doors, one to each of the two bedrooms.  You could lock the doors but the locks were primitive and often failed so that often you looked up to see some relative, who was just passing by and needed to use the toilet, enter the room.  I remember dreaming of privacy.

Don't be mistaken: I loved our house.  I loved my space in it.  Sometimes, when I let myself "go there" I get so wrapped up in memories that I have to get up and make a pot of coffee or if evening shadows are long enough, make a stiff drink.  Today there are no shadows.  Hmm, I wonder what that means.