Monday, July 13, 2015

Untying the Knots – NOW SHE IS A TEACHER!




Here's a story I found posted on a friends page on Facebook. I felt it presented things in a somewhat simplistic manner. I believe children ought to be taught to questions their teachers and see the complexity and contradictions within that which at first sight seems so simple and straight forward.

Below it I have published my response.


In September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a History teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock , did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks in her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.
'Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?'
She replied, 'You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.' They thought, 'Well, maybe it's our grades.' 'No,' she said. 'Maybe it's our behavior.' She told them, 'No, it's not even your behavior.'
And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon television news crews had started gathering at the school to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.
The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom. Martha Cothren said, 'Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.'
At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniform, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.
Martha said, 'You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedom you have. Now, it's up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don't ever forget it.'
By the way, this is a true story. And this teacher was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year for the State of Arkansas in 2006. She is the daughter of a WWII POW.
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Okay… so let's try to unpack what Martha Cothren is asking and/or saying.

I'm not sure I could have answered her question without first knowing what it was that she was driving at — so I would assume that the kids couldn't possibly have understood how she was expecting them to answer this question or, in fact, what the question was.

But then, her answer, at the end of the day, seems to contradict her initial question — how did you earn the right? According to her way of seeing things they didn't earn the right, they were given it by these soldiers… so her question was a trick one at best… and at worst it was totally confusing. I'm not sure what lesson they learned by having to wait all day for their desks. I mean, was she saying that they can only earn the right to sit at a desk by joining the military? Surely she can't mean that. They're just kids, after all. And if she's saying that: if not for these soldiers the kids wouldn't have the desks, I feel I must take issue with that assumption as it seems guided more by sentimentality and a romantic ideal of the patriotic and virtuous warrior, than a strict adherence to reason and reality.

With all due respect to the poor young men who went abroad and got their legs and arms blown off, or came back home with serious cases of PTSD, and for whom I have the greatest sympathy – might I add – but I'm not at all sure that a case can be made that without them these kids would not have their desks.

I don't think even the people who initially supported the invasion of Iraq, think that it was a useful war or one that protected America in any way. It was instigated by a cadre of hawks in the White House lying to the American public about WMDs which never materialized, and are widely accepted now to have never existed but in the minds of those who were seeking excuses for making huge sums of money for their corporate masters — Dick Cheney and Halliburton e.g… at whatever cost of death or injury to the young men of this country. At this point even the invasion of Afghanistan is seen by most historians to have created more trouble and more anti-American sentiment worldwide than any good that it might have done. However, the arms dealers and purveyors of military technology did very well by it, thank you very much. Perhaps it is they who should thank these young men for their sacrifice.

Certainly the Vietnam war is totally condemned by both the right and the left by now. At least since Robert McNamara, in his autobiography, admitted that he and LBJ simply made up the Gulf of Tonkin attack in order to get us into that war.

Ms. Cothren might say that WWII (in which her father was a POW) was a noble war, and I might agree. But would it have ever come to the American mainland and affected school children here? No way of knowing. Certainly many kids in Europe (or Hawaii) might have cause to thank the American G.I. of the time for their school desks, but perhaps not these young men, as they were not even a twinkle in their grandparents eyes at the time. And then again, I assume that the Japanese and the Germans also supply their school children with desks.

This leaves us with Granada? Panama? Hmmm… The anti communist Central/South American "domino theory" of the Reagan years never did come to pass, wherein hordes of Cubans and Russians come marching across the border "Red Dawn"style (presumably dragging illegal Mexican farm laborers in their wake) and take away our kids' school desks… despite how the movie showed it. Strange considering how many Latin American countries have gone socialist in the intervening years.

Now, as to whether every soldier is a hero…  is a debatable point. When I was a kid, every soldier didn't come back from war automatically a hero— just the ones who had done something heroic. Another huge generalization we often hear, is that everyone who signs up to serve in the military is brave and patriotic. There are probably an infinite number of reason as to why someone would want to join up. Putting oneself in danger is likely not a biggie — ask the proud mother of any young recruit. Of course many young men and women simply signed up for the U.S. Army National Guard (one weekend a month, 2 weeks a year —their recruiting slogan) and then ended up in the middle of the desert for 2 or 3 or even 4 tours. Not what they had been counting on! A high percentage of young people in the military come from very poor backgrounds, and join up simply because there are no other jobs available in their neighborhoods, and they are promised free college educations and other benefits. I have seen interviews with many of these kids who felt that the military tricked them into combat situations, and then never delivered on its promises.

I do feel that this country owes those boys a lot. I think anyone who has the slightest patriotism would insist that they be much better taken care of by the V.A. when they come home unable to fit into society, unable to get a job, because of physical or mental ailments which the average person cannot understand. But instead, they are kept waiting for treatment or therapy, sometimes for over a year before they can get to see a doctor or a hospital bed. The rate of recent veteran suicides is absolutely alarming, as compared with the general public. And many of them are still in their mid twenties — most of us were still kids at that age, and it is a difficult age to be forced to sort out such huge and insurmountable problems without help from this society. A society, indeed, which thought nothing about putting them in harm's way in the first place, so that a few billionaires could profit by manipulating our ignorance, our mistrust and fear of the dark skinned "heathen" we do not know.

Such is the way of the top one percent, that historically they have always manipulated the poor to act against their own benefits. It is not a new thing. It has always been so, and this is why I am always amazed that time and time again we fall for such fraudulent patriotism, and never learn to see through this trick of the rich and powerful. And we never learn to keep our young men safe at home where they belong. They do not need to be deified, these young warriors, they do not need to be romanticized and turned into heroes for the next generation to emulate. They need to be helped, and healed and nurtured back into a constructive and peaceful society. And we need to teach the school kids that war is an abomination which should only be entered into when all else has failed (the words of General Douglas MacArthur). It is not patriotic to help the rich get richer on the backs of the poor. The rich do not send their sons to the front by a very significant percentage.

Instead Martha Cothren might consider going into the temples of power and money, in Manhattan and Chicago and Houston and … wherever — and take her troop of young soldiers to remove the desks of the bankers, and money traders, and weapons builders, and oil barons, and clothing manufacturers… and ask them what gives them the right to plunder the worlds resources, to extract cheap labor from poverty stricken foreigners whilst depriving the workers at home from those same jobs, and only give them back when they have admitted it is our troops they need to thank, who travel the dangerous highways of the world, unwittingly furthering the cause – not necessarily of justice and freedom – but of capital.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Untying the Knots - At the Airport


Here's a story by my late friend, Hiram Blunt.




 At The Airport
by Hiram Blunt

A short story in three parts – approximately 5000 words
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Arthritis

11th March 2011

"Look at that!" Bernie was addressing his fellow redcoat, Scott, who was much younger than Bernie, and had only held this job at Newark Airport for a couple of months.
"What?" The young man answered.
"That long haired asshole over there; the one with his feet up on the chair. Look at his attitude. Think they own the world... these guys. We ought to do something about that."
As far as Scott understood, the redcoat's job was to be of service to the traveller... supply information and such. Security was supposed to be taken care of by those other guys, the security guys... or the cops, whatever. He hated it when Bernie would start acting like he owned the airport.
"These young dopes ain't got no respect for other peoples property. It's aggressive, I'm telling ya. Somebody's gotta show him he can't get away with it," Bernie continued as he slowly made his way towards the seating area.
Scott didn't really want to get into any kind of an altercation with somebody who, after all, wasn't really bothering anyone, or harming the seats in any way– hell, they were made of plastic. And people get pissed off, sometimes, when you hold them to useless regulations, or tell them how to act, when all in all, it's really none of your business. But Bernie, who was supposed to be his mentor on this job, thought that everything in the universe was his business. Certainly everything at Terminal B was his business... he thought, anyway. "Twenty years I been working here, Scotty" he would tell Scott over and over again. Scott hated to be called Scotty. It sounded like some kind of a little black dog that your grandma would have, and faun over and feed off the table. He hated it when people feed their little dogs off the table, where humans are supposed to eat. Another thing Scott hated was when people would tell him the same thing over and over again a million times. He felt like telling Bernie, "I know, I know... twenty years you've been here... I know." But Bernie was moving through the aisles of seats in pursuit of his quarry, so Scott just followed along.
The funny thing was, when they reached the man who had his feet up on the seat, Bernie's whole attitude changed. But not until he'd already yelled out, "Hey buddy! You need to get your feet down off the furniture." Because when the man turned round to face them, it kind of made Bernie think about the whole thing a different way. You see, they'd only seen the back of him so far, and he did have long hair, which was mostly dark colored in the back. But in the front it was mostly grey, and even totally white in some areas. In fact, the man was probably around sixty or so. Either way he was much older than Bernie.
The man slowly, and painfully, lifted his feet off the seat using his hands to do it, as if his legs just wouldn't lift by themselves. He turned to look at the two redcoats with a wide smile on his well ripened features, and he spoke to them in a thoroughly British accent, which reminded Scott of, er... you know, that old guy in the movie "Troy," what's his name, oh yeah... Peter O'Toole.
"Oh, excuse me officer, I'm terribly sorry. I suppose I should have known better... but it's my arthritis."
Bernie was immediately taken aback at this turn of events. He never liked it when things didn't go the way he expected, or when his original assessment of people turned out to be wrong. Normally that would have made him even more belligerent. But Scott could see that it made him feel good to be called, "officer," and, although Bernie didn't really like foreigners very much, he held to that peculiar stereotype that many working class Americans have, which is the notion that all British people are smarter than them... and therefore somehow superior. The fact that this superior being was actually deferring to him in such an amicable way, almost made Bernie feel guilty for having bothered him. He felt like he had just met the Queen, and told her to get her ugly boots off the couch.
"You see," continued O'Toole, "my doctor suggested I keep my feet raised any time that I have to sit for a long while..." he examined his watch with a distressed look. "The plane I'm meeting has been delayed." He tossed a glance toward the arrivals monitor. "And it helps... " he gestured with his hands along his hamstrings "er... with pain, you see."
"Oh!" said Bernie, finally finding his voice. "I'm really sorry..."
"No, no, officer," the Englishman continued heroically, and in a pleasantly accommodating tone, "I absolutely understand. You were doing your duty, and one must do one's duty. I shall fully comply with the requirements of this establishment now that I have been so professionally and courteously apprised of them. You need not worry about me any further."
"Oh!" said Bernie again. "Well... I'm not sure what... er, hold on a minute."
He stepped back to where Scott was standing, and pulled him aside for a confidential summit. "You see, what we got here Scotty, is a guy on doctors orders. Now I'm not sure we have the authority to go against doctors orders. What do you think?"
Scott shrugged his shoulders.
"Also," Bernie went on, "there's the issue of a lawsuit. This fella doesn't look like somebody you wanna screw around with. I mean, what if they blame us for his medical problems. What do you think?"
Scott shrugged his shoulders.
"I think you're right," said Bernie, "I mean, he could be a Duke... or an Earl... we ought to let him put his feet anywhere he needs to put them. This gentleman clearly isn't bothering anyone... and the seats? Hell, they're made out of plastic, they'll be alright." He looked Scott square in the eyes. "So what you think... we agreed?"
Scott shrugged his shoulders.
"Alright then." Bernie went back to the Englishman, who was now fully engrossed in the novel he had been reading, and had his back turned, once more, to the two redcoats. "Er... excuse me sir..."
"Oh," the Englishman seem to cry out in surprised exasperation as he swung around to face them. "Don't tell me there is no reading allowed in this waiting room..."
"No, no, that's not it," said Bernie.
"...because I didn't want to flaunt any more rules. What must you think of me? Whatever it is, please... speak."
"No, sir... you don't understand, sir... I was just going to say that I think it'd be alright if you wanted to put your feet back on the seat... seeing as it's doctor's orders and all."
"Doctor's orders? My good man, my doctor doesn't order me to do anything. He merely suggested that if I..."
"Er, yeah... whatever sir... please feel free to raise your feet up on the chair if it'll help with the er... arthritis."
"Oh," said the Brit. "How awfully nice of you. But are you sure? I wouldn't want you to bend any rules just for me. I mean, I wouldn't want you to get into any trouble or anything."
"No sir, no trouble. It'll be fine. Now if you'd just like to get your legs up on the seat... here, let me help you..." and Bernie literally bent down and reached for the old guys legs, like he was about to lift them up on to the seat for him.
"Well I say," quoth O'Toole indignantly, pulling his legs out of reach of this intruder's grasp. "I think I can manage for myself."
At this point young Scott stepped up and tugged at Bernie's elbow, pulling him away from an almost certainly embarrassing potential situation. "I think he'll be alright now, Bern..."
Bernie stepped away and followed Scott back down the aisles of seats still speaking to the Englishman. "Whatever you like, sir. You can put 'em up... keep 'em down, er... whatever you like... sir." And then in a quieter tone he said to Scott, "don't call me Bern! You know I don't like to be called Bern. It's Bernie... or Bernard... thats what my mother called me. You know... like those big dogs they have in the mountains. But not Bern. D'you hear me, Scotty? Hey are you listening to me? Hey Scotty!"

Scott and Bernie each cast a glance over at the Englishman from time to time. At one point, he had got up and was talking to a woman with a small child who were seated nearby. He took a photo of them with her phone, which he promptly handed back to her before he resumed his seat. He had obviously decided to put his feet up on the seat again, and had been reading quietly for most of the half hour or so which had passed since his encounter with the two redcoats. Suddenly he raised his hands to signal the person he was waiting for. And there she was– coming down the walkway, waving excitedly back at him through the glass partition which separated the new arrivals from those who had already arrived– a rather attractive young woman, possibly in her late twenties or early thirties. She came up to the glass and made funny faces at him through it, seemingly unconcerned as to what other people might think.
"Must be his daughter," nodded Bernie.
"Whatever," said Scott.
But both men were rather surprised when the old gent seemed to hop up spryly from his perch, with little or no apparent regard for his own arthritis. Then– as the young woman skipped gaily towards the exit doors, pointing for him to meet her there, and pulling her noisy suitcase on wheels behind her like a harness trotter– the Englishman hurdled several rows of airport lobby seats as easily as if he were a champion thoroughbred at the Grand National. Where they met, she carelessly flung her luggage to the floor, causing quite an obstacle for other arrivals in her wake– a woman returning from Puerto Rico with a broken heart; a man from Argentina escaping prosecution for fraud— and she leapt up onto his body, encircling him with her thighs, and engaging him in a distinctly un-parental and rather passionate kiss.
Bernie was shocked, and his face turned a bright red in response to this display of physicality. He couldn't be sure if he had been tricked by this Englishman, or not. On the face of it, it seemed that the man had been deceptive in the presentation of his medical condition. But Bernie had already made a judgment about the man's character. Words like "nobility" and "class" were spiraling heraldically around his mind, and it was hard for poor Bernie to let go of those thoughts. And yet there was a conflict... if he were to believe what his eyes were telling him. There must be– he ruminated within the stark terror that his entire belief system might be collapsing in on him–some other explanation.
Eventually the Englishman put the young woman down. He helped her gather her luggage with one hand, and pulled out of his coat pocket, with the other, a set of keys to a well known brand of Italian sports car. These he twirled brazenly for her... and all others... to see, their prancing horse gyrating proudly on the fob.
As he escorted his lady friend past the place where Bernie and Scott were standing with their mouths agape, the Englishman stopped briefly and turned to address Bernie. He winked slyly at the redcoat and whispered to him, "You know old chap, when I'm with her... she makes me feel like a much younger man."





The Explanation

12th  March 2011


That night, as he walked past his son's bedroom and saw the boy there, playing with his toys on the floor, kneeling silently as he maneuvered them around unfamiliar situations in imaginary worlds, it occurred to Jerry that the boy showed little joy in his playing. It was always dark in the room... the boy preferred it... always, with the lights off, and just a sliver from the hallway cutting a line across the floor. Jerry wondered if the boy was having fun... it didn't seem so to him. He couldn't remember the boy ever having had fun... or smiling even. He must have done at some time— thought Jerry. But when? And with whom?
He stood there for a while watching. The boy was aware of his presence the entire time, and continued his passionless play in a restrained emotionless manner, hoping that eventually he would be left alone. Hesitantly, Jerry summoned up the courage and entered the boy's room after having tapped unconvincingly at the door, and clearing his throat in a formal gesture of interruption.
"Hello there boy," he said in a sweet tone, which made his son all the more more suspicious. "Er... how would you like to have a little... chat, er... with your– er... with me. Th-There's been some... there are some things I would like to talk to you about... I've been meaning to talk to you about... for quite some time, well... since you were born, anyway. Some questions, let us say. So er..." he flicked his eyebrows upwards, questioning, "so what do you think?"
The boy met his father's eyes for an instant, and then withdrew his gaze, immediately, to the floor where they resumed their pacing back and forth, side to side.
Jerry sat down on the bed. "For instance," he said, "er... are you happy?" The boy looked at him briefly not knowing what to say. "I mean..." his father continued, "this is what I have been told is important... for a young fellow like you. You are supposed to be happy. What do you think? So tell me."
The boy was still looking at the floor, so Jerry gently cupped his chin with a loving hand and brought his face upwards to answer the question. "So, are you happy?" He repeated.
"Yes!" Said the boy quickly.
"Good!" Jerry said in a loud tone contrived to express genuine pleasure. "Very good. Well. That's alright then." He got up off the bed as if to leave. The boy relaxed his shoulders a little.
"Because it is good for you to be happy... I, er.. try my best for you and your... mother..." he was almost out the door before he turned his head back inside the room. The boys head dropped another inch and he breathed in deeply. "Unfortunately, one cannot have everything... that, by the way, is a good lesson for you to learn... so that you will not be disappointed in life." He stood at the threshold, his rhythmic finger tapping at the door post sounded like a horse running. "So... well, one has to work... and thus one finds it difficult... I... I find it difficult to spend as much time with my fam... with your mother... and you."
Suddenly he turned and came back inside, squatting down in front of his son, "I would like to spend more time... perhaps we can, er... go to the zoo... or something... it's just... well, you know, money doesn't grow on trees. If I don't put in the full sixteen hours every day, driving people hither and yon... then... well, then we cannot have this house to live in. You know it was easier to make ends meet where we came from. Why did we ever come to this god forsaken New Jersey?" He seemed to stare off into the distance for a second, and then suddenly composed himself again. "No no, it is good we are here. It will be better for you. Anyway... what do you know of the old place? You are from here, born and bred American boy. You are happy here... you said so."
The boy twiddled his toy between thumb and forefinger. "I will provide everything you need, have no fear." Jerry mumbled, "even though your uncle has shown up now... from god knows where in South America, another mouth to feed... that's alright... family helps one another." He lowered his voice almost to a whisper now. "Huh! Bloody big shot, he thinks he is. Off to Buenos Aires to do some big business deals. You don't hear from him for five years, then suddenly... like a rat with his tail between his legs–" Jerry stopped when he heard the bathroom flushing and a door opening onto the hallway. After a few footsteps and the closing of another door, they were left with the sound of the toilet tank refilling as it reverberated throughout the house.
"No, no" he went on, "it is good that he is here. It's always good to have your family close by. And... he can help out now... if he wants me to feed him. He can drive the cab some times, and then I will have more time to go to the... zoo."
The boy looked up at his father with a momentary smile. It only lasted a fraction of a second, but a smile is a smile, and it cannot be taken back.
"Now, young fellow... do you know what I am going to do next?"
The boy shook his head, no.
"I am going to... well, you see I took this woman to the airport yesterday afternoon– because I was picking up your uncle anyway, and I thought I might as well not waste the drive out there... although, of course the way back I made no fare– but whatever... and she had her little boy with her. And they were making an awful racket in the back of the cab... but... but, they were having a good time with each other. And apparently all this racket making, makes people happy. This is what the woman told me... so how could I complain? America is a place where everyone must be happy, all the time... and I kept thinking that I wish that we... you and me... and your mother..." he thought about it for a second, "and, I suppose, your uncle too now... that I wish that we could be more happy, some times," he shrugged. "And when she was leaving the cab, her little boy was clinging all over her, and first, I thought to myself there must be something wrong with this child that he must cling to his mother so much... you for instance, are not such a clingy child... no, no, you are very well behaved, because we have taught you. But then I thought, maybe you don't need to behave so well, all the time. And sometimes a parent doesn't mind a little clinging. And I said to her— lady, you and your child have a very nice relationship going here... are you happy? She said she was very happy with her child and she couldn't imagine losing him. And I asked her— what is the secret to such a happy relationship. And you know what she told me?"
He looked the boy straight in the face, "can you guess?"
The boy shook his head, no.
"Go ahead, guess."
The boy shrugged and looked embarrassedly from side to side.
"Then I will tell you," his father responded. "She told me that the most important thing is for you to hug your child. Now I didn't know this. Did you know this?"
The boy shook his head, no.
"No, me neither. It's a new one on me," Jerry admitted. "I never tried that before, but I thought to myself— here is this woman... with her little boy, and they seem to be the proof of their own pudding... it certainly can't do any harm... so what say we try it?" He looked at the boy. "Eh? What do you think? Can an old daddy give his boy a hug... just to try?"
The boy shrugged.
"And if it doesn't make us happy, then we don't have to do it any more," his father assured him.
The boy shrugged.
Jerry opened his arms and embraced his son for the first time ever. At first the boy just seemed stiff, but after a few seconds he relaxed and began to hug back. Eventually the boy's embrace became stronger and stronger until he was squeezing his father with all his might. Jerry heard him start to sob a little, and he felt the boys tears upon his own cheek. Soon, his own tears began to flow, and the father and son just stood there in that darkened room, holding each other, frightened to ever let go.






The Old Photograph

11th March 2036


It was when I was visiting my mother in the hospital just before she died, I saw it there on the table beside her bed. Of course, I'd seen it a thousand times before, in the house where I grew up, but I was surprised that she had chosen this particular photograph to have beside her at this particular time. It was of my mother and myself, when I was about eight or nine I suppose. Her arms were wrapped around me as I was reclining onto her lap, a little too big to be sitting squarely on it... perhaps, but small enough to still want to.
I didn't know where the picture was taken, I had absolutely no memory of the event, but it seemed to be in a lobby of a hotel or a station somewhere. Daylight was streaming in through huge  windows and in the background, attendants in red jackets stood by, hoping that they would not be needed for any job requiring actual labor.
"Do you remember that day, Johnny?" my mother asked when she noticed me looking at the picture.
I shook my head in reply. "No... where was it? I don't remember it at all."
"It was only about twenty-five years ago," she prompted, as if this information would somehow suddenly invoke the memory for me. "It was at the airport... Newark. We were there to pick up your aunt Stella. Remember? She'd gone to Puerto Rico with that guy she met at the Italian restaurant in Hillsdale where she used to work. What was his name... what a loser he was. And they had a big fight. Remember?"
I did vaguely remember something about Aunt Stella running off with some guy, and then returning home prematurely. I think I remember my father mocking her for it. He never liked Aunt Stella.
"She called from Puerto Rico," my mother continued. "Awhh, she was so sad that it didn't work out. But I told her... what d'you expect? He was a loser. Don't waste tears on that one... I told her."
"So this was at the airport?" I was trying to get her back on the subject.
"Don't you remember, Johnny... that man who took the picture? He was a strange looking man... but nice, very nice. Do you remember what he said when he came up to us?"
"I don't remember, Ma."
"It was 'cause you were standing like that." She pointed at the photo. "That was the exact position you were in."
"I can see that, Ma. What about it?"
"Well... that's what he told me when he saw you like that. He came over... he was very polite and all, normally I wouldn't have talked to some old guy who I didn't know. But he had this accent... really polite, like— excuse me ma'am, he said... no, not ma'am... madam, he called me— excuse me madam... I hope you don't mind me talking to you... that's the way he said it— I wish I had a camera to take a photo of you and your son.
"Well, of course I had a camera... in the phone, you know like they all used to have... so I gave it to him. Although I thought it was kind of a strange thing to come up to somebody and say that— I wish I had a camera to take your picture.
"But then he explained why he said that. He told us that someone in his family had just sent him an old picture of himself and his mother, when he was a little boy about your age. And he was  standing just like that... in exactly that same position... in the picture... you know, when he was a little boy, with his mother holding him, just like I was holding you. And he said that he didn't remember when the picture was taken either... just like you. And he thought it was funny that just on the same day that he got that picture, he would see another little boy, you know– you... standing exactly the same way, with his mother– me."
My mother had this way of stating the obvious as if she had made some incredible discovery.  Perhaps for her it was.
"And he said wouldn't it be great if one day, when you're his age, you had the same picture to look at. And then he said that when you're his age, he would probably be 'gone'... you know, dead."
"Yeah Ma. I know what 'gone' means."
"I thought that was a little depressing, don't you? Specially, 'cause then he said we would probably all be 'gone,' meaning me too."
We both sat silently for a while. But then my mother sighed and continued with her story. "I suppose he was right... I mean how old was he anyway?" She laughed.
"I don't know, Ma. I don't remember him."
"Ha! He was about sixty or so. I don't wanna see you when you're sixty. That would be awfully depressing, I think... don't you? I mean... how old are you now, anyway Johnny?"
"Thirty-three Ma."
She pondered my answer and then replied, slowly at first. "Hmm... that's what I was when this picture was taken. That's old enough for a mother to see her child get to," she said. "I mean, who wants to see their kid going grey and losing their teeth and getting all old and wrinkled? That's not really your kid anymore, is it?" She frowned a little. "It's some old stranger.
"No Johnny," she reached her hand up to my face and caressed my cheek, "You're beautiful just like this. This is how I want to always see you."
I placed my hand upon her hand upon my cheek, and I held it there... firmly... and forever.


I made a copy of that photograph, and put it in a little silver frame which sits on top of her gravestone now. Soon the photo will be faded and washed away and no one who visits that place will be able to see what was once the picture within that frame. But I will have my copy, and when I am sixty... if I get to be sixty, I will take out that picture, and look at it, and I will remember those who are still here, and those who are forever gone.




_________________________________________________________________________________________________
Hiram Blunt Died on the 28th October 1987. His ghost, however still haunts me, and sometimes asks me to type up a short story or a novel for him. One of his novels, "The High Priest of Prickly Bog," has been published by BongoVista Publishing and is available at greatgodbongo.com


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Untying the Knots - Vaccines

Vaccine Science – Is it Really Science?


by the High Priest of Prickly Bog

I have been seeing a lot in the media about measles vaccinations, accompanied by a wholesale condemnation of those opposed to it, as being unscientific, and even dangerous to our society. I felt it was imperative for us all to take a deep breath before we go off half cocked, and consider a few things:


I became involved with alternative medicine in the 1980s; mainly because going to traditional doctors and hospitals never seemed to actually help me with any medical problems. If I had a cold, for instance, the doctor would give me antibiotics. Why? I don't know… a cold is a virus, and antibiotics don't work on viruses. I suppose, as health professionals, they feel they need to appear to be doing something in order to validate your time and their fees. I usually found that the medications I took cured me in about the same time as if I hadn't taken anything.

The doctors I went to didn't really know much about nutrition or exercise  Many of them smoked at the time, and many were (and still are) overweight, personally unhealthy, and totally ignorant of anything outside of their specialty. The idea that the body functions as a whole, that chemistry and mechanics are interlinked, that the human body chemistry has long been creating antibodies in order to heal itself, seems to be an alien concept. Most doctors I have met, seem to believe that it is their discipline, and only that, which can cure or help the sufferer. I am reminded of the old saying — if all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. I began to wonder why these great men of science had such a limited view.

In digging deeper, I soon discovered that hospitals, pharmaceutical corporations, and medical learning establishments were locked together in an incestuous economic relationship which would constitute a conflict of interests by any objective standard. I learned that doctors, testing new drugs on their patients, would continue to get paid by the corporations for which they were freelancing – only if they continued to get positive results for the drug in question. Doctors who showed that the drug was harmful or useless would get dropped very quickly from the trials. Now remember that it is a corporate law that board members must take whatever action is in the best interest of the shareholder, and if this conflict renders science a victim of the truth, then we have only our insane besottedness with a completely unregulated free market to blame.

Other than that, let us always remember that most scientists are just regular people with a job in science. And like most people, they are not excessively logic bound. They are perfectly happy to continue working according to the system that has been laid out for them. They will follow the instructions of those above them, and if a problem comes up, they will usually defer to their superiors as to the resolution of such. If they are told that a thing is true… or scientifically proven – just like most people – they will not question the validity of that statement, or go test the hypothesis for themselves. Let's face it, nobody has the time to go around proving or disproving everything we have been taught to believe.

However, this being the case, I personally have found it prudent not to be too sure that everything that every "scientist" tells me is true. Or, for that matter, what the "scientific community" in general believes to be true as, throughout history, it has been proven wrong time and again. Beyond that, it is even more important not to believe everything that some friend, acquaintance, blog site, or comedy show on the T.V. has told me that a scientist told them for sure. In fact, it often seems that the more popular an idea becomes, the more people seem to believe it without question.

This may be true amongst those who think that vaccines are dangerous, and cause other diseases. Most people who believe this didn't really research the idea, and followed along with a sort of group think. Of course, this meant that the sales of vaccines were down, and Big Pharma, who saw their vaccine profits dwindling, quickly realized that, whereas most people have no scientific reason for believing negative things about vaccines, they could easily apply the same law to get everyone to think the opposite. By creating a false dichotomy between the "naive new age" thinkers who seemed to be cutting down on their use of drugs for every small ailment, and those who believe in "progress through science" (the pill popping brigade) they have created a new meme of belief that it is in fact dangerous NOT to be vaccinated. It doesn't really matter what disease the vaccine is for. There is money to be made… or lost

If we observe those who believe one thing over the other, we will see that they both consider each other ignorant of the truth. But neither side is willing to question whether or not their own truth is real. We can also see this happening with the debate on climate change. If Neil De Grasse Tyson says it is so… then it must be so. No questions asked. More and more I am hearing people who don't really know anything, insisting that because "science" says so… it must be true. Let's forget about whether it IS true or not. Let's start questioning why we believe in what we believe… not just on principle, because our type of people believe that – but for each new thing that needs to be considered rationally.

It almost seems as if the more people start to believe in something, the less  reliable the information becomes. When holistic medicine was esoteric, there seemed to be a number of reliable practitioners. But since it has become more mainstream, I now think that there are just as many quacks in homeopathy, chiropractic, Ayurvedic, acupuncture, etc., as there are in modern western medicine.

Yes, mainstream doctors can criticize holism for a number of sins. But everything that they say about homeopathy — non-double blind studies, equipment contamination, data selectivity and simple incompetence… can also be said about hospitals and doctors. Modern medicine has created monster bacteriae through the overuse of antibiotics over the past 50 years. Not to mention unnecessary operations that wipe out people's life savings, and breast exams that give you breast cancer. (One researcher discovered that in every big city throughout the world, when the hospital doctors go on strike, the death rate actually goes down.)

Is it then so hard to understand why many people mistrust the "science establishment"? If we are going to refuse to believe anything people tell us without proof, then we must also demand proof of the scientific establishment on each issue, and not simply believe that they are the custodians of truth and what "they" say is correct.

And whilst we are assessing their "proof," let us also consider who "they" are. Who are "they" obligated to? Who did their research? What are the biases of those involved? Who makes money? What is the politics of the situation? These are a few questions just for starters. There are many more which I could probably think of.

And let's not draw such a deep distinction between science and religion. Religion was simply what people believed to be true at one time, based upon the information (or lack of it) available to them. It was the science of the past. Science is what we believe to be true nowadays, based upon the information (or lack of it) available to us. Science is the religion of the present. We tend to treat scientists like the priests of the new order, and believe them without question. But they are flawed… just as we all are. In many cases what appears to be true is based upon what we believe to be true. Science or no science!

In conclusion, before you insist that you know the truth, think again, and perhaps have a little compassion for the other guy's viewpoint. He may not be as stupid as you think… and you may not be as smart!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Untying the Knots - Golden Days


Those were the GOLDEN DAYS my friends …of our yester-years


by the High Priest of Prickly Bog

So ends a chain e-mail I recently received, which praises the past for having created a generation of risk takers and problem solvers, and criticizes the modern "namby pamby" practice of allowing all children into the school team — which it claims creates people who "cannot deal with disappointment."
The article is based in (and about those born in) India… but I have heard the same thoughts expressed many times in America and in Europe. (Original article published below this one.)
In many ways I agree with large parts of this article. I do feel that our new generation has gone a little too far into the "safety" zone, and life is becoming less interesting and less challenging. Children are almost completely undisciplined nowadays, to the point of rudeness, often. And I feel sure that many of them will have trouble dealing with the harshness of life as they grow older. Yes, we have become too conscious of every little germ that could give us a sniffle, and we won't take a risk even if the potential reward is meaningful. It sometimes seems that creativity has dried up altogether.

But the author of this article refers to the past of "lead paint, no medical benefits, neglectful or violent parents, and heavily sugared drinks" as "the Golden Days."Well, I'm not so sure that the supposed "Golden Days" were quite as golden as the mythology he or she clings to.

In innumerable ways, we didn't all turn out fine as a result of our parents unconscious and uncaring behaviour. Many of us suffered multiple health and mental problems, and underwent years of therapy as a result. Many of my friends developed awful ailments in their later years as a result of the neglect and bad nutrition of their earlier ones.
40 years ago, I began to change my diet, and my lifestyle and entered psychotherapy as a result of the dissatisfaction I felt in my life. I needed to analyze why I was unhappy with my lot, and what exactly it was that had brought me to this place where I found myself.


 Many of my friends and family members criticized my choices at the time, and expressed thoughts not dissimilar to this article. "We're not crazy," they would say, "we don't need a psychologist. There's nothing wrong that a little drink can't cure… or a quart of ice cream." They believed that eating only natural foods, and lowering the amount of heavy animal fats I consumed was "going a little overboard." They told me I should "just enjoy life." They said I was becoming a "health freak." They'd insist that health food "doesn't taste of anything… you've got to have a little fun in life." And when I tried to discuss family problems in a more neutral and rational way, they thought that I was just trying to stir up things that nobody wanted to talk about. Although, they didn't seem to mind discussing those things (quite loudly) once a big family fight had broken out.

Perhaps what they couldn't understand was that I was actually starting to enjoy my life way more than I had ever done before. By becoming more conscious of the food that I ate, I was learning to eat higher quality foods, which tasted a lot better than the commercialized junk food they were willing to dump into their systems. By learning to discuss my problems, and feel my feelings I was slowly freeing myself of the deeply held traumatic baggage of the past, which had controlled my behaviour subconsciously for so long.

Nowadays when "health consciousness" is a much more mainstream idea, many of them  (at least those who are still with us) might concede that perhaps all those years of artificial sweeteners, and colorings, and heavy deep fried foods, and preservatives, and monosodium glutamate, and BHT and BHA, and sulfites  and nitrates, and aluminum, and Carnuba wax (you read that correctly)… were not actually all that tasty… and certainly not worth the health problems they are facing now."

Many of the physical problems of old age are not to do with age but self abuse.

And perhaps some (of our more honest friends) might admit that we didn't always treat each other with fairness or compassion in the past. And, had we given more of ourselves and taken less, had we valued each other's deeper feelings above our own temporary and minor discomforts… then we would feel greater love flowing back towards us as we approach that final farewell.


Many of the mental problems of old age are caused by our own denial of the truth.


How many of us feel that our relationships with our wives, and husbands, and lovers, and children, and other family members have progressed in the way we would have wanted? Yes, there are some who have maintained their relationships for many years, but most people I know have had countless unrelenting internal family disputes to which there seems no solution. One wonders if those solutions may have been more available had we been taught how to have greater respect for one another,  to compromise more often, to consider the feelings of those around us. Perhaps we would have a better understanding of the concept of empathy had we been nurtured in a more loving way, and made to feel secure, and less like we had to fight for every last scrap of dignity or respect. Surely, these are not things we should have to compete for.

It was not easy for me to overcome the negative lessons of my childhood, and perhaps I never will completely. I have lost two sisters along the way, and seen other family members lives needlessly ripped apart because of addictions and selfishness and denial. And I cannot help but imagine that these event will undoubtedly affect future generations in one way or another. So it is hard for me to think of those old unconscious times — or these ones — as golden days. Don't get me wrong, I'm not making any excuses or blaming the past. Ultimately we are all responsible for our own fate, but I flatter myself that by trying hard to be a really conscious parent, and breaking the chain, somewhat, of our damaging family legacy, I have made success in life and love (at least a little) easier for my own son.

We don't do ourselves or our children any favors by saying, "My parents treated me like shit, but look at me I grew up alright." Because we didn't grow up alright, and we are often living in denial of our own problems, our needs, our inner pain.

I do agree that nowadays things have gone too far to the other side, and I see parents making such stupid mistakes that are exactly and diametrically opposite to the mistakes their parents made. But we need to realize that it is exactly because their parents made those mistakes that these new parents are over reacting in the opposite direction. So instead of feeling smug and self satisfied about how much better everything used to be before… the past needs to take responsibility for what it has created in the present.

To create a false dichotomy between the past and the present is always a trite and stereotyped misunderstanding of the cause and effect of the mechanics of life, humanity, and relationships. More detailed and thoughtful analysis is often required. Simpler times were not necessarily better times.  We need to let go of our emotional ties to what we once believed was the "right" way or the "wrong" way, and start trying to discover new and more functional ways of behaving. Parents do need to be more thoughtful, and create security, and boundaries for their children which do not conflict with each other. "Because I said so!" is no longer a satisfactory answer to your children.  You need to be clear about what messages you are giving, and you need to be clear with yourself as to why you're giving them. It's okay to not know the answer if you can make your children secure in the knowledge that you will work together with them to seek out the solutions they need.

In this way our Golden Days may yet lie ahead.





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original article:

This is a must Read if you grew up in Calcutta
or anywhere in India

  
This is about a generation of kids who eventually grew up tough and learned to make it on their own with no government
subsidies, no unemployment benefits, no medical plans, no job openings to apply for, even if you had an education,
no savings and for the most part, no inheritance from our parents. Most families lived from day to day and had no savings.

CALCUTTA CHILDHOOD - HOW TRUE!!!

How true and so well articulated! To the wonderful kids who were
born in Calcutta and survived the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's..........

First, we survived being born to mothers, some whose husbands smoked
and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate whatever
food was put on the table, and didn't get tested for diabetes or any
other disease! They were mothers who did not check their blood
pressure every few minutes.

Then after that trauma, our baby cribs and bassinets were covered
with bright colored lead-based paints. We were put in prams and sent out
with 'Ayahs' to meet other children with their ayahs whilst our parents were busy.

We had no child proof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets, and
when we rode our bikes we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we
took hitchhiking or going out on our own.

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or airbags. We
sat on each others laps for God's sake. Riding in the back of a
Station Wagon on a warm day was always a special treat.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died
from this! We would share a bhuta or dosa; dip a chapatti into someone else's plate of curry
without batting an eyelid.

We ate jam sandwiches or pickle on bread and butter, raw mangoes with salt and
chillies that set our teeth on edge, and drank orange squash with sugar and water in it.

We ate at roadside stalls, drank water from tender coconuts, ate everything that was bad for us
from putchkas to bhel puri (fried bread with chick peas) to bhajias (battered and fried
vegetables) and samosas but we weren't overweight because WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day during the holidays,
we were never ever bored, and we were allowed freedom all  day as long as we were back
when the streetlights came on, or when our  parents told us to do so.
No one was able to reach us all day by mobile phone or phone...... BUT we were OKAY!

We would spend hours making paper kites, building things out of scraps with old pram
wheels or cycle rims, inventing our own games, having pound parties, playing
traditional games called hide and seek, kick the can, 'guli danda', 'seven tiles' and rounders, ride
old cycles and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes.
After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

Our parents earned less, never travelled abroad, except, on their vacations back home to Digha,
Gopalpur, Puri, Bandel. Religion was never an issue, everyone trusted and loved each other, and came to
each others aid when needed.

We never heard of or claimed our inheritance, whilst our parents were alive.
We did not look for inheritance after they died too. They made sure we  were alright.  
Never heard of pocket money!

We swam with an inflated tube which we got from somebody who was replacing their car
tyres. We ran barefoot without thinking about it, if we got cut we used Iodine on it which made us jump.

Our parents ran after us, to give us castor oil, once a month!!

We did not wash our hands ten times a day. And we were OK. We did not have Play stations,
Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies,
no surround sound, no mobile phones, no personal computers, no I-Pods, no Internet or
Internet chat rooms, no TV,.... full stop! Listening to music was a gather around!

We did not have parents who said things like 'what would you like for breakfast, lunch or dinner'.
We ate what was put in front of us and best of all, there was never any leftovers. We polished the lot!!!

WE HAD FRIENDS, great friends, whose parents we called Uncle and Aunty, and we went outside
and found them! They too took care of us,  when our parents were away, and without any charge!

We fell out of trees numerous times,  got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no compensation
claims from these accidents. We never visited the Dentist! We ate fruit lying on the ground that we shook
down from the tree above. And we never washed the fruit.

We had a bath using a bucket and mug and used Lifebuoy soap. We did not know what Shampoos &
Conditioners meant.

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls.   We rode cycles everywhere and someone
sat on the carrier or across the bar to school or the pictures, not cinema, or you walked to a friend's
house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them, and their parents,
never let us go without a meal or something....

Not everyone made it into the teams we wanted to...........Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment.
Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of.......
They actually sided with the law! This generation of ours has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and
inventors ever!......

The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

Please pass this on to others who have had the luck and good fortune
to grow up as kids in Calcutta, before the lawyers and the government
regulated our lives, ostensibly for our own good, that changed what
was good into bad and what was bad into worse.......
Those were the GOLDEN DAYS my friends of our yester years. !!........