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Irony is not necessarily an important part of a person’s diet, but here, have some

I will take some irony, please, with a heaping side of steaming crow.

Oh, not for me!

I am going to serve it up to those Americans who believe that a Christian baker MUST be coerced by government force to bake a cake for someone he disagrees with politically, but that the owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, has every right, even a duty, to expel and not serve people (Sarah Sanders of the White House staff) she disagrees with politically.

Then there’s a big serving of the same irony and crow for those who believe it’s just fine for public employee unions to force union dues from public employees who do not support the unions’ political activism, but it is just terrible to allow people to contribute their own money to political campaign PACs.

Democrat congresswoman Maxine Waters has become a radical firebrand for angry Socialists across America. She has said some real irony-laden doozies, like “We are sending a message to every Trump-supporting American that you are not welcome here!”

Followed by “We must welcome everyone who crosses our borders, whether they are illegal or not.”

For whatever reason having to do with artificially inflating the voter rolls, Waters and her supporters value illegal invaders over American citizen taxpayers. A lot of Black Americans wonder what that’s all about. But Waters is going to have a big heaping serving of irony n’ crow, too.

Then there’s a plate of irony and crow for Rob Cox, the loose-lipped, itchy trigger finger Reuters editor who late today directly blamed President Trump for a shooting at a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, but who has never said a word about the mass shootings and massive amounts of shootings in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other “gun-free” zones. Now the most very politically partisan and fact-challenged Mr. Cox’s integrity and credibility as a “reporter” are shot, as zero facts were available to him at his moment of big mouthed fame, and those facts beginning to subsequently dribble out don’t put Trump or his words at the scene of the crime.

See the symmetry here?

Hypocrisy has a way of catching up with people. That is called irony.

The crow is extra, gratis, on the house, served up by a host of recent US Supreme Court decisions contrary to what the once-irony-deficient here believed.

Two big plates. Hope you enjoy your meal. If you don’t enjoy it, then quit being a hypocrite and stop using double standards.

The Fireflies Made Me Say it: Happy Solstice

For whatever reason, summer really got ahold of me this year, like on my mind all the time, and dare I admit that I have actually been looking forward to this day, today, the Summer Solstice, all year long.

No funny Druid costumes. No somber walks among the big trees, waving incense or talking to the trees themselves. At most I might BBQ some hotdogs and crack a cold one (Yuengling, naturally).

But why is this long day so subliminally important, so that I look forward to it without really thinking about it?

I think the long summer days are when I really deeply recharge my batteries, recover the energy lost to drudgery and hard work the rest of the year. No question, long summer days really last. You can get in one more walk, one more bike ride, or do that much more lawn work. You just feel…more.

The sad thing is that after sundown tonight, the days get shorter until it starts getting dark at 4:00 PM in November.

Last night I pulled off the side of Montebello Road in Perry County, into one of Farmer Hines’ corn fields. Something caught my eye in the darkness, and when I turned off the truck and its lights, my vision was filled with a most glorious sight: Thousands of fireflies blinking all across the corn field. So many that they were beyond counting. Never before in a lifetime of watching fireflies have I seen so many.

Perhaps, they, too, are sensing the peak moment we all sense, the longest day, the greatest opportunity, and they are doing their firefly thing the most at that moment, in that narrow window of opportunity.

It was one more reason to drink deeply of these long days, to savor every moment and ray of sunshine. These times come with so much hidden magic.

Maybe a Druid outfit and an oak leaf wreath in my hair is warranted. Last night might have made a believer out of me.

 

A breezy summer day

One of my most enduring happy memories is actually not just one distinct moment, it is the aggregated beautiful summer days of my central Pennsylvania farm country youth.

As far as I can recall, Happy Valley did not get much sunshine throughout the year. Our glum, overcast days stretched from Fall through Spring. Instead, we saved up every drop of sun for June, July and August. These summers were sunny, usually gently breezy days, with mostly blue skies and flitting clouds, occasional sun showers, temperatures in the 70s and maybe 80s.

A trip to Whipple Dam State Park or a local swimming hole would cure the worst of the heat.

Perhaps youthful memories are clouded by adult cynicism, or more likely, by adult rose-tinted glasses. We prefer in our old age to recall only the good times and bury the rest. That is possible here when it comes to recalling the perfect summer weather of my youth.

However, it is also a scientific fact that Planet Earth is getting really close to having its polarities flip. Very close. As those polarities get close to switching (magnetically speaking, the North Pole becomes the South Pole and vice versa), Planet Earth’s magnetic shield gets weak. So weak that a lot of ultraviolet rays get through to the surface, and our skin, thereby heating things up.

It is one of the reasons for sun burns worse than usual and for really hot, windy weather over the past twenty-five years. It is a fact that some plant and animal species have been moving northward, too, as northern climes warm up, even ever so slightly.

Earth’s magnetic field acts as a filter for harmful UV and other cosmic rays. Our magnetic field is one of the reasons Planet Earth has life on it. When it gets weak, our own experience outside changes.

After a very wet and rainy Spring, we are now experiencing some easy-sleeping cool evenings, and breezy, gently sunny days. The kind we have not seen in decades.

What a wonderful feeling.

If I go in the back yard and work in the garden, and close my eyes, I am transported back to the wondrous summer days of my childhood. They were colored by the ultra-green environment that surrounded me, too, I admit that.

It is doubtful these perfect days in the 70s, with a refreshingly gentle breeze, will last much longer. After all, the poles have not yet fully flipped and returned Earth to where its magnetic shield was much earlier in my life. But I am reminded of how it used to be, and how pleasant it was.

Aaaahhh…summer time, central PA style.

1,000 welcome guests

Mark Twain noted that both guests and fish start to smell bad after three days. It’s a Mark Twain joke, not meant to be taken literally, wittily observing that well-intentioned hospitality has its natural limits.

A few days ago, I had a different experience with about a thousand guests, international immigrants, migrants, actually. Undocumented visitors, and formally uninvited to America.

For about three or four hours, I sat on the porch with a large coffee on one side, a pair of binoculars around my neck, and a large, heavy book on the other side. As I sat quietly, rarely moving and never moving quickly, I watched as a myriad of neotropical songbirds flitted, hawked, pirouetted, perched, sang, and chased all around the front lawn.

The green lawn is surrounded by a large mature hardwood forest with a high canopy, making it the natural destination for brilliantly colored migratory birds from as far away as Honduras and Guatemala. Gunmetal blue, electric blue, indigo, and boring old regular blue, scarlet, orange, red, yellow, grey, green, and just about every other color combination or version in the rainbow was represented in these tiny little bodies.

Tanagers, flycatchers, orioles (Baltimore and orchard), warblers in profusion, including the mysterious Cerulean Warbler, cedar waxwings, you name it, they were all there right in front of me.

If I had trouble identifying a bird, the binoculars were slowly raised to my eyes, trained on the little bugger, and I then engaged in a promiscuous amount of voyeurism. Reaching to my left for the big Smithsonian Birds of North America book and quietly turning its well-worn pages would usually reveal what I had seen and did not know.

Oh sure, there has been an ongoing battle with a female Phoebe the past three years. She likes to make her mud-and-sticks nest on the frame ledge above the front door. Her construction methods may be fascinating, but her habits are messy. Muddy gravel splashed all over the door, the windows, the porch. Then there are the kids, the poops, and of course we cannot disturb them, so we have to go around and use the back door. Last year she prevailed and caught me at a time when I was less vigilant. Grudgingly I allowed her to sit on her completed nest above the door, and aside from the mess and the Do-Not Disturb sign there, we were rewarded with close-up photos of the cutest little hatchlings and chicks you ever did see. We got to watch them fledge, too.

This year I chased her away and I think she took up a lesser spot in the pavilion, where she alternatively gave me the hairy eye from a perch, and then bombarded the truck daily with her droppings.

Another tiny bird provided a different interaction. Whistling his own song back to him from my front row seat on the porch, I called in a scarlet tanager who perched in a young white pine about thirty feet away, and inspected my odd appearance; I was found to be definitely NOT mate-worthy.

The pleasure gleaned from this quiet, near-motionless, but nonetheless intensely active time is tough to quantify. It is a special and rare time, snuck in during a narrow window in Nature’s endless timeframe. I can say that my heart sang along with those little survivors of journeys thousands of miles long, that my spirits were lifted with each visual treat they provided by wing or by perch, or by song, and that my own singular frustrations were slowly washed away by participating in something much grander, much more important than one man’s concerns:

That deep, quiet, often nearly invisible but enormous and magical ebb and tide of living things across the planet and through our lives. Gosh, are they all magical and their processes are magical, too.

This is a feeling of smallness, completeness, an unusually peaceful sense of place and order that is much more difficult for some of us to find in everyday human life. And yet it is the “natural world.” Think about that! Does it mean that we are living un-naturally?

For hunter-gatherers of old, seeing migratory songbirds probably meant berries and fruits were on their way, and that the known but unidentified Vitamin C in them would replenish the humans’ bodies after a long and planned near-starvation winter period. That is, this incredible migration so many tens of thousands of years old must have had a deep and more specific meaning to our primordial ancestors. Food.

But for us “civilized” people, quiet time, a time and place to contemplate, reflect, and to think is food. Brain food, emotional food, necessary.

Little migratory birdies, you are welcome back to America any time, with or without identification. I hope I get to see you all many more times again in the coming years.

 

Time for a new Dune movie

The 1965 book Dune was to a great extent the basis of most futuristic science fiction books and movies that followed. Star Wars is based on Dune, even beginning on a desert planet where the hero, Luke Skywalker, has been tested and hardened into a ready warrior by the harsh landscape around him, like the Fremen of Dune’s desert planet Arrakis.

“Dune” author Frank Herbert was an eclectic guy, a deep and creative thinker. One might say he was unusual, even by modern terms.

He was against racism but believed in the importance of human genetic improvement through select breeding. Focusing on the importance of tribalism, Herbert nonetheless elevated the self-reliant individual as the highest achievement a person could aim and hope for.

He was for the concretely purposeful use of mind-expanding drugs, such as religious experiences, saw warfare and killing as hardly noticeable inevitabilities in a well-ordered human universe, believed in God and the power of prayer, supported the ongoing evolution of technology, but then elevated the supremacy of human evolution and the human spirit, including personal fighting skills, over that same technology.

If his amalgamation of nearly all current religions on Planet Earth into one or two future strands of religious thought is any indication, Herbert is suggesting that all religions pretty much point us in the same direction, though some are scarier than others.

Herbert was firmly against artificial intelligence and the delegation of human decision making to machines. In Dune, it is the ‘Butlerian Jihad’ that wipes out most computers and all AI, leaving only those computers that could perform the basic elementary functions in lieu of humans, after a close call where AI and its robots nearly took out all humans. On this subject, it could be said that Herbert was prescient and, like many other sci-fi writers, ahead of his time. Even now we childishly rush into AI as if it is just a silly game, when in fact it could quickly kill every human and every other life form on Planet Earth.

In 1984 director David Lynch produced a pretty good movie that captured a lot of the book Dune. No small feat, as most great books result in terrible movies. The David Lynch movie was good because it embraced the book and did not try to dance around it. Its acting was mostly excellent, and some of the scenes are perfectly gritty. But in other ways the 1984 movie is very weak. Its special effects are almost sad, even by the standards of that time. Very 1950s.

A miniseries was attempted years later, and many Dune devotees believed it was a failure in every way. Lacking even the punch of the 1984 movie, it certainly was not what people had hoped for or imagined.

We need a new, updated Dune movie. No, we demand one. A Dune movie that is absolutely true to the book, that has the same quality actors as the 1984 version, and which has updated technology, sets, and special effects. It will have to be long, three hours, to capture the most important scenes and subtle nuances that make the Dune story so powerful.

C’mon, Hollywood, do something good for once. Give us a new Dune movie that is worthy of the name and the book.

Movie review: “White Tiger”

When we think of Russia today and now, our mind might wander off into brutal poisonings of ex-spies across international borders, brutal assassinations of journalists inside Russia, brutal repressions of Chechen independence movements, brutal invasions of South Ossetia, Ukraine, and Georgia (THAT Georgia, not our Georgia), poorly chosen relationships with Iran and Syria, and the current czar riding around bare-chested on a horse with a rifle slung over his back.

Perhaps it was always thus. But if we think and search back a hundred years or more, we will stumble upon buried treasure in the farthest reaches of Russia.

Yes, it is true, Russia was not always just a military force to be reckoned with, it was also a significant cultural center of the very highest magnitude, the very highest achievement. World class music, literature, arts and crafts, poetry, ballet, and so on all were major hallmarks of the Russians.

Not of the oppressed Soviet satellite states, but the actual Russian people themselves.

Rachmaninoff, Dostoyesky, Faberge, and so on, so many great minds contributing in a singularly unique way, native to Russian culture.

Russians had this knack for art that you would not necessarily see if you looked at the simple surface of their culture or landscape. Behind the eightball on technology, Russian writers and poets and musicians bedazzled Westerners with their brilliance and inspiration.

That all started to die in fits and starts after the violent 1917 revolution led by the Democrat Party of that day and place, but nonetheless art persisted until the 1950s, when Soviet socialist control firmly held every thing and every person in its crushing grasp.

To dissent from all that big government with a pink pussy hat or with a snarky hashtag was unthinkable. Not that people wouldn’t try to do it, but the Soviet thought police, much the same as our own politically correct thought police in America today, would catch the thought crime even before it had taken physical form, and, as our own thought police openly wish they could do, WHOOSH, off to a starvation diet in Siberia went that ‘evil’ free thinker.

I am not sure that the Soviets used the words “sexist,” “racist,” homophobe,” “Islamophobe,” and other overdone American generalities meant to crush dialogue and debate, but if they could have used these terms, they would have. Different words then, but the same anti-democracy process then and now.

So for the past seventy years Russia has had an especially harsh Russian winter, art-wise, because of the Soviets and then their control freak successors, whatever Mr. Putin’s political party is named.

To be an artist in that Russian cultural winter was to walk around every day muzzled, daring not to say much less think your own creative thoughts. Too much was at stake.

But somewhere, somehow, that beautiful old Russian voice began to quietly break through the repressive walls. Finding acceptable subjects and means to convey them became a new form of creativity in and of itself.

Nationalism, patriotism, history are all legitimate subjects of artistic creativity, and so Russian artists have adapted. Very, very well. Albeit with throwback Soviet-style imagery, which is lamentable. Gosh, if the Russians could only be our friends…the things we could achieve together.

And so here we now have a truly artistic Russian movie we can all be proud of, in the mould of the old-time Russian artistic capacity. It is called White Tiger and debuted about 18 months ago. I have been wanting to write about it since watching it back then, but as we know, the past 18 months in America have been pretty intense.  Every time I thought I could breathe again, some new issue would pop up. There was more compelling competition for writing space and creativity of my own.

At least this is how I have experienced the past 18 months.

If you are afflicted with a love of liberty, as I am, then you have shared my somewhat anxious condition as the American “deep state,” or Obama holdovers, or career bureaucrats, or whatever you want to call them, have attempted to reverse the outcome of a presidential election they thought they would win and still cannot stomach the thought of losing, by any means necessary. Which means illegal, unethical, immoral, un-American, anti-democratic means.

That all seems to be unwinding now.

And so now, for this moment, I get to bask in the glow of art, thanks to the Russians. And I really mean it, thank you. Seeing this movie took me way back in time to when my own mind was creative and artistic.

Dear Russians, I lift my glass to you: Tvoye zdorovye!

White Tiger is on its face a war movie set in World War Two. It is about Russians versus Germans, good guys versus bad guys, the Eastern European version of cowboys versus Indians. It is also about tanks and heavy armor, about technological superiority versus the grass roots spirit to survive, and history. Lots of history. And lots of action.

At its core, this movie is mythological and Darwinian, with a lot of symbolism, not the least of which is the theme music, an artfully done refrain of Wagner’s pilgrim’s chorus.

If you care to pay careful attention, and walk a mile in a Russian tank tread, you will end up being impressed by this low-budget, high-performance film.

Briefly summed up with no spoilers, the unlikely (and yet so likely…there’s that symbolism thing) Russian hero is reborn, a plausible enough biological fluke consistent with species adapting.

He goes on to learn his enemy’s ways, to anticipate his next moves, and in the end, he goes on a ghostly chase into both past and future, bound up in one of Russia’s most enduring identities: Not German!

And speaking of German, Germany, and World War Two, no better representation of Adolf Hitler has been captured in cinema than the movie’s very last few minutes, where Satan’s boots on the ground has a heartfelt confession with his sponsor, who sits patiently listening in the shadow.

White Tiger.

And as an aperitif, try this Russian music to settle your soul before bed time.

Krazee K

There once was neighbor named Kathy,

Whose life was so desperately unhappy,

She said with a  yawn,

As she pounced on her lawn,

Volunteering is for those who are crappy…

******************

Folks, volunteering is service to our fellow humans.

Volunteering is the price we pay for being alive.

Volunteering  is a cornerstone of American life. Soup kitchens, homeless and battered women’s shelters, halfway houses, non-profit groups, and public health clinics are all places in need of functioning adults to make them run well.

Bethesda Mission is always advertising for volunteers. They make a huge impact on Harrisburg.

A couple hours a day or a week of your time at one of these places can greatly improve someone else’s life. If you have a specific skill, say as a carpenter, or better, a nurse, then you are doubly needed in these places. And if you are retired, and also physically functional, but you are not only not volunteering, but instead obsessively devoting yourself to every twig and leaf on your lawn, and invading your neighbors’ lives and properties, then you have bad values, you are missing the purpose of being alive, and you are leading a selfish, shallow life. Because hyper lawn care is meaningless, perhaps even a waste of time, and taking it to the extreme where it creates conflict with neighbors is nuts, frankly. It is a luxury that brings little value to the world, but much conflict.

And for the record, yes, I volunteer, a lot, serving on a bunch of non-profit boards, local, regional and state-wide, and I help maintain some elderly people’s properties when I can.  My volunteer work gives me a great sense of achievement and satisfaction. If you do not volunteer, try it. You will like it. Especially if you are retired.

Has anyone considered unplugging Spring and plugging it back in to see if it will work right?

Not my creative headline, unfortunately, but a good one nonetheless, and well put in terms of how odd this Spring has been.

Except that this Spring has not been odd, if my memory serves me right. Not in the context of Spring happening over millennia and even over decades. Spring used to be a lot like the on-again-off-again odd weather we have experienced the past month.

When I was a kid, lo these many decades ago, Spring was a process. It was not a moment in time.

Spring took time to become Spring. It was the spaced-out staging of leaves and buds emerging, green poking up through the soil a bit at a time.

“April showers bring May flowers” went the old adage. Meaning that as a precursor to the warm weather with flowers was a sustained period of rain and cool or cold weather. That was Spring, spanning cold, rain, cold rain, and the gradual emergence of green things and then the crowning sign – flowers!

Showers, heck, I recall a snow blizzard in early April as I was casting a small dry fly on the lower reaches of Big Fishing Creek in Clinton County, near the Lamar trout hatchery. In my early twenties, in fact I might have been just twenty years old, I was stubbornly casting to “rising” trout despite a white-out snow storm blanketing the air and the stream’s surface with big white snowflakes. That a trout could tell the difference between a huge plump snowflake and a measly morsel of a vague-looking aquatic insect landing briefly on the surface was a leap of faith I was fully committed to taking, and making with every cast.

My youth’s crowning moment arrived when a much older man, probably someone my age now, stopped to watch me casting the dry fly amidst the snow storm.

“Pretty ambitious, dontcha think?,” he humorously called out from up above.

And right then a big fish whacked my drifting fly, and I hauled in one of the most colorful symbols of Spring, an iridescent rainbow trout. The guy looked at me slack-jawed, eyes wide in amazement, like I was some kind of fishing genius, and I looked up at the snowing heavens and mouthed a “Thank You.” One of the more memorable fish and fishing moments in a lifetime of fishing.

That day the air temperature was still spring-like, but the obvious above-ground temperatures were cold enough to generate snow. It was a  classic symbol of the kind of gradual and slowly shifting, two steps forward one step back warming change that Spring used to be.

But that was thirty, forty years ago. A different world, a different climate.

Apparently the earth’s switching magnetic polarity is now playing a big role in the Winter-to-Summer “Spring” times we have experienced for a long time now. This switch happens naturally every 200,000 to 300,000 years.

Because the earth’s polarity is switching, which means the North Pole becoming the South Pole and vice-versa (but what we arbitrarily call North and South remain the same) the earth’s magnetic field-cum-shield is at its weakest. Earth’s magnetic shield is at its weakest because the poles are swapping positions and the magnetic field strung up between the two poles is stretched to its thinnest. The earth’s magnetic field-cum-shield is one of the reasons our planet has so much life on it; a great deal of harmful cosmic rays and powerful solar ultraviolet (UV) light are caught in the magnetic “net” and they are blocked from reaching the earth’s surface.

Therefore, a lot more solar radiation has penetrated to the earth’s surface over the past few decades, with the kinds of unusual heat, warming, and strong winds that we have witnessed. As well as a lot more quick sunburns under what appear to be pretty normal sunny conditions. The sun is not necessarily stronger, but a lot more of its energy is reaching us. For now.

And that takes me back to that unplugging Spring. For about 35 years Spring has been kind of unplugged, in a way, and it will remain so for about another decade, until the polar switch is complete. And then these gradual Springtimes, like the one we just had, will become normal again.

I can’t wait for that to happen, because I enjoy a real Spring so very much, the change from one season to the next. Normally temperate climes like Pennsylvania appeal to me for that very reason.

Everything hinges on the nickel-iron core inside the earth. And we won’t be unplugging THAT any time soon.

Motorcycle haiku

this peaceful valley is so beautiful

nature’s tranquil serenity is so rare

why are some motorcycles so loud?

Haiku

Fair trade, Yes

Historically, free trade American-style has come at a huge price to Americans.

Often defined by the same unsustainable standards that bring us endless illegal immigration today, free trade agreements between America and our trading partners have always treated America as a bottomless wallet. America could “afford” to give up more and absorb more costs, just because we were so rich and so great and kind-hearted (went the thinking, even among American decision makers).

America never got the “free” or even the good end of “free trade,” and it always got the burden of abiding by external tariffs on American goods and internal dumping that we could not legally identify, that enable our trading partners to undercut American-made prices every single time, no matter what the item.

So now there is a debate about how trading relationships between America and the world should be structured. If China, for example, has big tariffs on American goods, then it stands to reason that we Americans would benefit from placing similar tariffs on imported Chinese crap. Right?

I mean, fair is fair is fair. If one party can do it, the other can do it, too.

People treat one another fairly every day, and each side benefits in the way that they see fit for themselves. It is a good way to run a relationship.

Thus is fair trade born. The idea that trade ought to be fair, just straight up balanced without artificial contrivances giving one side an unfair advantage, based on symmetrical relationships and transparent production costs.

For example, China tolerates no equal opportunity hiring laws, no environmental laws, no workman’s compensation laws, no feminist demands for equal pay, etc. Chinese citizens who advocate for those things are either shot or jailed. Under those artificial conditions, China is able to produce almost any item far cheaper than Americans, who must comply with all of these laws and social pressures, and much, much more.

On top of that starting point, China will dump its own products at below-cost prices, just to swamp the competition and drive them out of business.

Fair trade tolerates none of this make-believe.

If China, again just as an example, wants to sell us a car here in America, fine. Sell it. Ship them over, and let’s see what the market will bear. But if we want to sell cars in China, by gosh, let us sell them there, for whatever the market will bear.

Free trade is one of those theoretical ideas that never really happens, try as one might. Like the magical unicorn under a rainbow, it paints a pretty picture, but it is mostly myth or fantasy.

Fair trade, yes.