Monday, December 28, 2020

Definitely a Crackup

I recently listened to a discussion with Coleman Hughes and Douglas Murray on Coleman’s podcast. At times I had trouble figuring out what world they live in. These are not small players and they covered many major talking points, so if someone can explain this to me, maybe I’ll find out what I’m missing. The title is “The Intersectional Crackup with Douglas Murray“, but intersectionality is far from the only topic. 

If you aren’t familiar with the term “Intersectional”, it covers the interconnected nature of the categorizations that people fall into. As we began to address centuries old oppression, we addressed them separately, such as women’s issues or rights for people of African descent. Intersectionality recognizes the dynamics when a person is a member of more than one of those groups. It sounds simple when you look at the definition but it gets convoluted when people want to make it so, like in this podcast. 

The podcast starts with a commercial, so you can skip that. 

Hughes seems to head into an important discussion about leading a meaningful life at about 4 minutes in but he keeps the discussion to how difficult that is in a world of identity politics. He says the current culture has taken on a “religious” like form. From then on he focuses on how not to build a sense of self. 

Murray’s first answer to Coleman’s opening question is to agree about the religion shaped hole in society. You can trace this back to Nietzsche, who famously said “God is Dead” and less famously said, “and we killed him”. He (Nietzsche) then went on to speculate what people will use to fill the missing answers and moral judgments provided by religion. Murray says the “intersectionalists” use guilt, atonement and heresy, just as religions have. He does not see a discussion about purpose. He denigrates youth on both the left and right. The conservatives don’t have a “how”. The Left does, but he rambles about some sort of “abdication” by adults that I don’t get. 

He says he could give his views on how people found meaning in the past, but then he is vague. He says “literature” without naming much. He says this is a failure of atheists. I have seen him interact with atheists, so I can’t figure out why he doesn’t see them doing this. It was the atheist thinkers and writers, past and present where I did find meaning and purpose. The only purpose I can glean from religion is “read the scriptures, pray, and if you don’t find purpose, you did it wrong.” Anything specific, anything meaningful, can be found in a non-religious source from writers contemporary to those sources. The non-religious ones are usually not only better, but they don’t require you to memorize any names of prophets or their movements. You just need to work through the ideas. 

Around this time in the podcast, 10 minutes or so, both of them have started using the term

“woke culture”. This is the latest term that began with a positive meaning but is used in a derogatory manner. I understand why to some extent. Some people are actually aware and paying attention, thus “woke”, and some are pretending to care about the issues of the day but are really not well informed. Hughes and Murray are going after the latter group. 

Coleman then says something I couldn’t be sure I heard correctly it was so strange. He said, “If you are Right Wing, you can’t be unapologetically Christian”. I think he’s saying Right Wing Christians feel they have to hold back on expressing their religion because it is associated with oppression of the past. In the podcast, or any of the other times I’ve heard these two speak, I have not heard any awareness of a liberal version of Christianity. It is a wing of Christianity that has been growing for decades, with roots that go back to the 13th century and early Christian humanists. 

Hughes however grew up with what seems to be a narrow-minded sect of liberals that saw themselves as a rebel force, as he says, a ‘resistance’, ala Star Wars. Instead of finding the many more nuanced messages and movements in the country, he has become ‘anti’ to whatever that was. 

After the 13 minute mark, Murray pushes this even farther, saying these recent Left ideologies are not based on intellect. Occasionally, he does hit on something worthwhile. He notes that when a group of any kind presents a prepackaged system, it can gain followers, but there is a downside. He cites the Catholic Church and how Ireland, once a Catholic stronghold has lately been divorcing itself from that. I would say something simplistic, like Murray just hasn’t found a Liberal group that he likes, but that’s his job, to seek out and evaluate groups. So something else is going on here. 

Hughes makes a similar worthwhile statement, then messes it up. He says he is not comfortable with the idea of “my country, right or wrong”, but then ponders why all those brown people are coming here. He figures if they are coming here, we must be doing something right, and apparently doesn’t figure much beyond that. It does not occur to either one of them that they are coming here for the promises in our Constitution. They come here for the education system we subsidize, the business assistance, the protection of rights, the things they don’t have in their country. The things Liberal politicians vote for and fight for. 

Instead, at about 21 minutes, they launch into how amazed they are that we still get excited when another barrier is broken, like a black woman becoming Vice President. Hughes says Obama broke the final barrier and that should have “changed the model”. I’m not sure what that means, but he does not give the slightest nod to what happened to the culture during the Obama years.  

Another good point from Murray is that young people, or anyone else, should not “hack into history”, looking for something wrong. Instead we should try to “reconcile” who we are to that past. But he sets up a straw man to knock down. He says people then ask him, “what about injustice”. He accepts there are struggles but dismisses them, giving no examples of one that was fought and won. He does not make a case for why it’s time to put discussions of racism, inequity, or misogyny to rest. He alludes to “rivers of thought” that we should attempt to navigate, but never says what those are. And I’ll repeat that this is not the first or only Douglas Murray I’ve listened to.

At 27 minutes, he makes a comment that he doesn’t want there to be “types” of books or studies, there shouldn’t be “women’s books” for example. He backs this up by citing Bayard Rustin, a strategist for Martin Luther King Jr who was against the rise of Black Studies in Universities. It seemed like segregation, just what the White people wanted. He jokes at something he apparently has heard, that people say there are no gay writers in the canon. 

I don’t know who Murray is talking about because he rarely gives quotes or names. Of course

Getty images

there are gay people who wrote books, ancient to current, because there were always gay people. The problem is, many of them hid it, or if they didn’t, the next generation erased it. It’s harder to erase history now, it is not “written by the winners” as it once was.  This is an unusual time, when people of all stripes are gaining positions of power, crossing borders easily, working across cultural barriers. The only thing I can make of this is Hughes and Murray don’t want that. They play on the fact that they are each members of a category that has experienced disadvantages, Hughes is black, Murray is gay. They take their own example and claim that it proves these problems are behind us. They see none of the history of changes in norms, they never compare our time to any empire of the past that came close to the level of inclusivity we are experiencing. I can only speculate, but my guess is they see a zero sum game, and they are on the winning the side, so they want change to stop to reduce the risk of losing what they have.


It gets worse but the details are just a different flavor of the same theme. At 36 minutes, Murray calls the Left’s ideas “simple”, saying it’s easy to understand and the Left makes it more complex. The man has a platform as big as just about anyone, but I can’t find this simple message he says he knows. 

I’ll give Murray credit for one more item, on the topic of cancel culture. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. It’s when someone who has found fame, position, and hopefully even has said something worth saying but, then says something off the mark. Some group, large enough to get an audience, amplifies that mistake and calls for resignation or demotion or some other form of cancelling. This puts a damper on anyone who is even thinking about speaking up. It takes our open forums where ideas are incubated and encouraged and turns them into echo chambers where everyone fears offending the next fringe group. Murray speculates that this behavior might bring down the “woke” system. I think it might already be happening. 

After that he has a couple doozies. The one that tops them all was “we don’t need people to come along and pretend to us that we are things we’re not.” It’s at 52 minutes and 45 seconds. I agree that there are people who call themselves Liberal but don’t bring with it all of the liberal values that go with that label. They bring a set of standards that may not match the values and ideas that got us to the current enlightened era we are enjoying. We should all be vigilant of that. I don’t know how Murray misses that people in history who “pretend to us that we are things we’re not”, are the same types of people he is speaking against. Back in time, they were priests and princes and town constables and local sheriffs. Now they are bloggers and influencers and talk show radio hosts. 

What’s missing is, we have to base our decisions to “call out” problems on the values that built our free and open society. “Calling out” is not the problem, it’s what you call out. We can discuss the “how”, but don’t let that bury the “what”. 

Deb Haaland. Secretary of Interior Nominee

These two might be tired of people identifying themselves with a traditionally oppressed group. For myself, I am far from tired of hearing about barriers being broken. A Native American in the position of Interior Secretary for instance, is quite meaningful and worth noting. But these guys, now that it’s not just straight white guys getting everything, want to say, “oh yeah, that’s what we all wanted the whole time, see it’s fine, don’t say anything about it now and it will all go away forever”. They are getting paid by the system as it is, and they aren’t interested in why they are despite their intersectionality. Easier to denigrate anyone who does question it or blame them if they have not received their piece of the pie. 

What I’m hearing here is that they feel very much the same way that large groups of people have felt in the past. Blacks felt marginalized, and in the South with voter suppression and everywhere with housing red lining, they were. Women were harassed at work and it was portrayed in sitcoms as a joke. I understand that men like this are not treated as special as men were just a generation ago, and that probably feels like they have lost something. But the people they are talking about are not asking to be treated specially, just equally.

I’d like to cover just one more term, “identity politics”. The way Hughes and Coleman are using it here, they are pointing to the people that claim that say you have to be a member of a certain group to understand that group’s plight. They are complaining about people that are asking for something extra based purely on their membership in some group, identified by skin color, sexual orientation, or similar traits. I agree with this for the most part. It should be that equality is just that, equal. I think human beings are capable of empathizing with others and understanding the needs of others, without actually experiencing all possible circumstances. 

Hughes and Coleman aren’t limiting their solutions to just this narrow issue however. They are expanding it to claim that no policy should consider any type of identifying characteristics. When evaluating history, they ignore the basis of nations, wars, religions, hiring practices, and budgeting that was the norm until the middle of the last century. There were no black senators. Women could not get high paying jobs or leadership positions. Girls did not have sports programs. These facts matter. People who are born in a system that gives them privileges will rarely change the rules to reduce the privileges. Change requires legislation that identifies those traits that were used to identify those who were barred from those privileges in the past. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Superior Hiking Trail End of Section One

 Previous section

Section as it appears SHT 

It was only 35 degrees Fahrenheit, so we kept this hike short. It felt good to finally finish Section 1. Not that long ago, we would not have even been on the Superior Hiking Trail yet, it was just another short section of trail somewhere in the Duluth area. Now, some of these hikes between here and the beginning of the trail are my favorites. 

We used Uber this time. Parking our car at the Hartley Nature Center and using it to get to the Martin Road Trailhead. This did not work out ideally. Google maps takes you to the wrong side of Woodland Ave. and Uber drivers use Google maps. We wandered around this busy road for a few minutes. After checking two trail apps and finally the SHT trail sections website, we figured out we needed

to be east of Woodland, not west. If I had used the Duluth trails map I would have figured this out immediately. That map has been great, but we've reached it's eastern edge with this hike. 

From Martin Road, the sign for the parking lot for the trailhead read “C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail”. This is also used by snowmobilers but luckily it was a little too early for that. It splits after a few hundred feet and the snowmobilers go one way foot travel the other. The scenery improves too. You follow Amity Creek, a steep gorge and after a mile and half you come to a dirt road at Downer Park. It’s road hiking from there on out, but the park provides nice scenery. Then you go through Forest Hills Cemetery, which also somewhat scenic.

Navigation is easy on roads with no houses and no turns. In residential areas we saw blue markers on telephone polls. When you get to the residential areas, homes are wooded lots so it's an enjoyable walk.  Near the end of this stretch, you will come back to Woodland Ave, and that is a wide multilane road. Plenty of sidewalk though, so no problem. It’s a short hike up to Hartley Nature Center. 

Sometimes nature isn't so pretty. We came around a bend and apparently we interrupted an owl in the middle of mealtime. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Superior Hiking Trail Skyline to Silos Restauran

Skyline to Silos Restaurant 

Previous Section 

On a record warm day in November for Duluth, we set out to conquer “the hill”. If you have so much as driven through Duluth on the highway, you can’t miss that it sits on a hill. The lake is at 600 ft above sea level and the top of the hill that holds iconic images like Enger Tower is over 1,300 feet. So, forgive us if we decided to start at a higher elevation for this 5 mile stretch. We also skipped a few miles from Highway 35 and Grand Ave, but we’ll circle back to that. 

If you know anything about the last decade or so of Duluth history, you know that they have been working on these woods that are too steep to build on, improving them with hiking and biking and other sporting activities. They are a major attraction. If you look on the Duluth trail map you will see a variety of trails. It can be hard to pick out the Superior Hiking Trail. But, while walking from Haines Road down to the Bayfront, we never made one wrong turn. The signage was great, and the design of the area keeps everyone happy. You can see the mountain bike trails, and every now and then a biker flashes by, but you only cross the trails a couple times. There is some cliff climbing in here somewhere too, but we never noticed it.

We did notice the ups and downs. We started at 1,040 ft and peaked at Enger Park at 1,150. Throughout the hike we gained 900 ft and lost 1,500. A couple short sections were city parks with paved or gravel trails or boardwalks, but most of it was just dirt and on a bad day could be mud, so don’t be fooled by the fact you are in a city. There are a couple creek crossings and the larger ones have well built bridges. Only in extreme conditions would these be a problem.

As soon as you step off of Haines Rd, the city sounds will fade and you won’t believe you are surrounded by 80,000 people. On the other end, just before we reached W Michigan St, we were very much reminded of where we were when we spotted a homeless encampment. We didn’t see anyone, but that doesn’t mean you should not be vigilante. More on that later.

Haines Rd is N 40th Ave from Highway 35. Just climb straight up, past the big switchback and you can’t miss the parking lot, the signs, and the trail. If you’re going back toward Spirit Mt. the sign over the tunnel tells you that you are on the trail. You’ll immediately notice the variety of trees and that the area is obviously managed, but still quite wild. After a mile or two you will start to get vistas of the city and the lake and the harbor and the noise is not quite as filtered out. 

Lincoln Park

You’ll come down a bit and then level off and pick up W 10th St., a quiet neighborhood with a great view. There is some street parking that you could use to access the trail but you would probably be better off going up to N 24th and Piedmont Ave. if this is where you want to start your hike. There is official parking there with an official SHT sign. Piedmont is also called highway 53 but you can’t park on that. If you come up that way, get off and find the residential part of Piedmont. If you are hiking through, take the big bridge over 53. 

It’s a little brushy through here, just south of the Enger Park Golf Course, but then it breaks into Enger Park with a tranquil Japanese garden, and of course, Enger Tower. Stay on the high side of the park unless you want to go over and see the view from the Tower. It’s all downhill from here. You might not notice when you get into Central Park. It is much smaller than its New York namesake. West 3rd St. goes through that, but there is no parking. On the edge of that park, you will use a short section of N 14th Ave W with a possibility of on street parking. Pick up the trail again and you will be along a steep cliff above W Michigan.

I have driven by this spot on W Michigan St. many times and noticed people on the sidewalk with camping equipment, but not the expensive long range hiking variety. More like the ‘carry your home on your back’ variety. What I never noticed is the little SHT sign at the intersection of Glen Pl Dr. You are within view of some housing and W Michigan is very busy but you are also under the cover of woods. Safety is an issue here. My hope was that anyone there would not want to create a reason for anyone to bother them, so they would be motivated to not bother us. But there could be people there who weren’t that good at making decisions like that too.

When you get to W Michigan St. the trail is a city paved walkway for the next few miles. The pedestrian bridge over 35 is the trail. Use the handicap ramp going down and either stay on it and cross back under the highway then up to Bob Dylan Way and downtown Duluth, or stay near the railroad tracks and visit Bentleyville or Bayfront Park. Keep walking right along the lake and past the William A Irvin freight ship to get to the Duluth Lakewalk. Officially, the route is past Amazing Grace Café and along the Lake City Parking Lot. Follow the walk to the Duluth Rose Garden to get to the next section. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Superior Hiking Trail into Duluth City Limits

If you are following in blog order, this section is out of order. Use the links.
Previous Section

After the strenuous section from Magney-Snively to the Zoo, we decided to set our sights a little lower and do a 2.3 mile long section from the Zoo to the bottom of “the hill”. If you drive into Duluth, you will know what they are referring to as “the hill”. On the highway, you pass Spirit Mountain and get a spectacular vista of Lake Superior then descend that mountain and see the industry that built up along the port. If you keep driving into downtown, you’ll see how they put that highway underneath street level and integrated the city into the lake shore. But let’s get back to hiking.

We got off the highway at Central Ave just before that tight turn at the bottom of the hill. Find the trail-head at Greene St and N 63rd Ave W by snaking around in the residential neighborhood north of the businesses and staying close to the highway but on the Duluth city side of it. The trail goes

underneath the highway back to the Zoo, or go past the spooky looking house to go north up the hill then eventually east. Look for the cement barrier to find a section that leads back to the paved trail if you want to technically cover every inch of the SHT. Otherwise, use the paved trail to go under the highway and look for the trail veering north almost immediately. But don't back under the highway or you're just back to the trail-head again.

We drove back to the Zoo to start our day hike, see the previous section for the Waseca St trailhead. 

By starting at the Zoo, we climbed most of the altitude for this day in about 20 minutes then had a nice slope down from there to the highway. As you go, you’ll see more and more city and less and less nature. But they are still great views. The fauna is mostly aspen and mostly young growth, nothing like the well preserved section of Kingsbury creek. You are closer to population and likely to see more runners too, although on this beautiful day on a weekend, we saw no one until the very end.

Because of the bridge that is out at the north end of Kingsbury creek, be sure to stay to the east side. There are two bridges at the start of the trail. The first one, right off the trail-head, will say that the SHT is on the west side. Your choice to follow that or not. You’ll have one more that crosses back over the creek. The trail looks a bit like a forest road on the east side at times, but just use the creek to navigate and you can’t go wrong.

You will transition from the meandering St Louis River areas that have changed little in thousands of years to the busy port towns of Duluth and Superior over the course of this section.

There are very few spurs or intersecting trails here and unless you are fogged in, you’ll always know where you are even if you forgot your compass.

Last best section of Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth


SHT Last best section in Duluth

We had some friends who wanted to join us this time, so we skipped over the sections in the middle of Duluth and picked the eastern end of town for some of the best places to visit. If you’re going in order, this is a great way to finish Duluth. Also, you’ll be going up over 1,000 feet, and back down 300 feet, most of the down coming after the peak in Bagley Nature Center. You’ll get a great view of the University of MN Duluth from there. You’ll also pass near Chester Bowl ski hill (very small compared to the earlier Spirit Mt.). Also, Hartley Nature Center, so, quite the tour. We cheated and drove over to Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve to observe some birds, but you’ll hike through that if you are going to the next section.

We also cheated and started at the top, so we could go mostly downhill. Parking is ample at Hartley Nature Center. The trail goes south out of there, along the road you came in on, or go past the Nature Center building to the northwest and it will wind back to the south toward Lake Superior. This is one of the best sections on the entire SHT for Lake Superior views.

The trail is rocky and there are cliffs. At one of the lookout points we saw a memorial plaque, but I

couldn’t find any information on it. I know people have jumped into Chester creek when the water is high and that has not ended well for them.

A couple of turns to watch out for; Linking Chester Bowl and Bagley Nature Area, you’ll do some road walking along the north edge of the UMD  campus. There’s a bike trail into campus at Bagley and we just crossed the road and went into that, then realized we were wrong. From Chester Bowl going north, it’s W Kent Rd then north on N 19th Ave, but the signage got us through that just fine. There are 2 inch stickers on the backs of existing road signs.

Trails are on both sides of Chester Creek and plenty of bridges so don’t worry if you get on the side that is not officially designated as SHT. There is another road hike between the parking lot for the Rose Garden and Lower Chester Creek at E 4th St. That one is along N 14th Ave for about 7 blocks. Grab something at Burrito Union or the nearby Co-op or Chester Creek café or many other options in the area.

The Duluth Lake Walk is designated SHT from Bayfront Festival Park to the Rose Garden and Leif Erikson Park, but this so easy to hike, I’m not going to cover it. Duluth is famous for Canal Park, the Lift Bridge, the old fashioned train stations and many other sites along this section, and I could never do them justice on this blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Superior Hiking Trail Zoo to Magney

Previous Section 

Another perfect Duluth day for taking on another section of the Superior Hiking Trail. We saw two leaves with color on the ground, so let’s call it early Fall. This was a challenging 4.6 miles. That distance is according to the markers and online maps, but the Fitbit registered 7.9. We went to Menards and the Co-op, but we didn’t walk 3 miles while there. It could have been that the altitude changes aren’t registered on those maps. They were quite extensive. 

This thru hiker has more pictures, but a lot less detail about the hike sections than I do. 

But this was one of the most feature rich hikes I’ve ever done.  There is too much to list and too many for pictures. There were plenty of streams and interesting bridges. There were a few ditch crossings, so be water aware in the Spring or whenever floods might occur. Also, rock formations, a variety of trees, thimble berries, building foundations, cascading falls coming down streams and more. It was a photographer’s paradise. Missing, as is often on the SHT, were vistas. The nearby highway sounds and occasional dirt road did not detract from all of this. The proximity to civilization means the trail is well maintained, and apparently the people who go there care about it because I did not see garbage. 

There is even camping on Spirit Mt. We did not check it out.

We started by the Zoo. Take Grand Ave to Waseca St. and go to the end of it. Pay close attention to the signs and tree markers because you will be crossing every type of trail there is over and over. We probably added a half mile from all the times we circled back. The worst one was when we took a short gravel road around a ski lift. I saw a bridge and thought that was the trail. The bike tire marks on it gave us a clue it

was not the foot trail. Although you cross other trails, you never share the foot path with other means of travel. We saw a few runners, but this is pretty challenging so I suspect few come here. 

For Magney-Snively parking see the previous section.

At about the middle, you pass through a large open area at the bottom of one of the two ski lifts on this route. There is a chalet restaurant and bar. It’s an option of parking and keeping your hike shorter. I don’t think they are open in the summer. If you are going from there toward Magney-Snively, there are steady uphills and plenty of level and the ravines for streams are small. Going from the chalet to the zoo, you go north for a mile, and it’s a workout. At the end of that mile, you go up 300 meters of steps built with 4x4s. We were going the other direction, but it still is hard on the knees. 

There is a spur trail that goes across the top/north side of Spirit Mt. downhill skiing and then down the west side. It passes through an area with a lot of cross country ski trails. There was a sign that said this was used by the ski teams for training, so I had the sense that it was very hilly. Either way you go, you are on a mountain, you can't avoid it.

If all of this is sounding like too much, the Kingsbury Woods area, off the Waseca St trailhead is something you should do anyway. 

The trail is wider and less rocky there and there’s plenty to see. If it doesn’t give you some inspiration for more hiking, then you are a lost cause. 

The next stretch ends by passing under the interstate and we’ll go from wilderness that is near roads to hiking within a city proper.

This picture looks a little funny because I was standing above her a bit. This bridge is at the north end of the Kingsbury Creek section, and it's very much "out". You have to go down closer to the trailhead at Waseca St. to cross the creek. That's what the sign says anyway. The creek is full of boulders and the water was low in later summer.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Tony and Ahsley

This has been a long time coming. I’m a little late with it. It’s time to promote Tony Jones from “other theologians I’ve written about” to the “few who actually get it right”. He sealed his status in a recent podcast with Ashley Peters. Even if Tony had not made some upgrades to his theology over the years, just the way he conducts this conversation put him in the “doing it right” crowd.

My index of Progressive Christians

Okay, I kid a little about being “right”. Tony’s fine, he’s always been fine. There are probably parts of him I did not recognize back when I first started following him. If I had started recently, I’d probably be searching back, trying to figure where this guy is coming from. It can be hard to tell what he believes or if he believes at times. No question though, a love of nature and the values that are needed for humans to express that love come through loud and clear.

The Reverend Hunter Podcast. I couldn't index to the specific episode, so look for about the 10th one, "Ashley Peters: Conservation is my religion"

Ashley Peters is no stiff either. It’s interesting to hear her philosophy that is rooted in the many ways people relate to nature, hunting as well as just watching. From her responses to Tony, apparently she didn’t go through some of the years of doubt or difficult nights of sorting out beliefs that some of us have. This provides a fresh perspective. She uses Alaska as a jumping off point for seeing the “bigger” picture. I paraphrase here, removing the feedback and extra words of a conversation;

“When you live in Alaska, you see the large everything, “you understand the scale of things and feel so insignificant. You recognize your place in the universe

You get that sense on the prairie and the woods, if you’ve been there, you understand the scale of things. You feel so insignificant. You very quickly recognize your place as a human being on Earth and you suddenly recognize that this stuff is huge. You don’t have control over any of it. You have to focus on what you do have control over and hope for the best for the rest of it.

When I go into work each day, the thing I had control over, what the outdoors has taught me is that you focus on what you do have control over. You focus on the things in front of you.  I plan for what can go wrong, but it’s still the question of what I have control over and doing as much as I can to prepare and to be in that moment, but to recognize what I don’t have control over. I can worry all day long, and I still do, but you can only do so much as a human.

To relate that to a spiritual aspect, as a Christian growing up, it was “give it up to God”. That was the common narrative. That’s not dissimilar to what I do with the outdoors, but not giving it up to one deity. I’m going outdoors and laying it down, however you want to put it, it’s that same offloading of my worries and recognizing I don’t have control over ‘these’ things but I have control over these few things and that’s what I’m going to choose to focus on.”

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Racism in my lifetime

When I was born, 1948 was the distant past to me, even though it was just barely over a decade earlier. The problems in the South seemed solved to me and the world seemed to be getting better. 1968 was the "Summer of Love" after all. It took a long time for me to realize that me and others like me were ignoring all the hate going on.

That era must seem like an even more distant past to those starting to understand the news now, so I can see why they want to blame Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for the problems we face today. But looking back, what I see is; enough of the people who have the power and the money will find and support people in doing horrible things to good people so they can keep their power. That power might be young or old and comes in all colors. In America, it's mostly white now because that color divide has been the one that has worked to maintain the power structure.

Here is a brief highlight of the timeline of how we got here. I believe, if you spend about 10 hours or so looking up these names and events, you'll have a good understanding of what's happening in the streets.

1948, Strom Thurmond ran for President. He was openly racist. This was normal. He was a senator for 48 years.

1964, Civil Rights Act signed, so people had to shift from being openly racist to doing it without getting caught.
Reagan continued this with his “welfare queen” stories.
Democrats were losing power, so they compromised and “reformed” welfare and got tough on crime.
9/11 made it all a lot easier. Grants were made from Homeland Security and local police forces were militarized.
School shootings and general fear led to more police in schools. They didn’t have much to do, so they treated children like criminals.
What was once called “white flight” is now just normal. It’s hard to find a diverse zip code anywhere. Seeing a snuff film on the nightly news is just unusual enough so you can believe it won’t happen to your kid, but normal enough that we have become numb to it and make excuses for the murderers and for own lack of action.
We almost came together when Obama won his second term. Check out this Frontline:
Frontline: America’s Great Divide. It shows how the Tea Party and then Breitbart handed the Republican Party to Trump. The establishment Republicans were ready to compromise. They knew they were losing the millennial vote. Pick it up around the middle, after the Trayvon Martin killing, then Romney lost the election (1 hr, 4 min). Then Trump comes along, and Nunberg teaches him to repeat “build that wall”. There’s a transcript too, if you don’t have 4 hours.
Here's a quote:
And even people like Sean Hannity went on the air and said, “We need to rethink our position on immigration. I was wrong to take such a hard line on immigration.”
60 million people voted for the guy who said Mexico was full of bad hombres. Reasonable conversation about immigration reform became no only difficult but impossible. Policies of keeping people from certain countries out of America were floated and struck down by Justices. The problem of how to handle the children of people crossing our borders illegally was solved by just putting them in cages and building more cages and keeping them in those cages for longer than any had done President ever. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Superior Hiking Trail Magney/Snively

Previous section

Well, the “shelter in place” orders have given me plenty of time to do things like take an afternoon hike.  It was a beautiful June day in Duluth, with a good breeze to keep the bugs down, perfect for this section of the Superior Hiking Trail. We again did the two car system and although this is near a busy area with factories and trains, there are no roads crossing this 4 or 5 mile stretch. Well, there is one, but it is normally closed from November to May, and this year, it has stayed closed. I think they were planning to do some work on it, but that has been delayed.

So, getting there is the first challenge. You can see this wilderness area from the interstate or from the less travelled, but scenic, highway 23. If you look back to the last section, we ended at Becks Rd. Becks continues south from Midway Rd, which is an exit off the interstate. We’ll start there, but first, getting that car to the ending trailhead. It’s in the middle of Magney/Snively State Park. This park has hiking, XC skiing and one parking lot and not much else. To get to it, follow the signs to Spirit Mountain Ski Area and then keep going. You’ll pass some really nice houses, then the road gets kind of rough, then there is a really cool bridge, then you’re there.

Alright, back to Beck’s road. For a half mile or so, you get a paved path. This is to get you over the train tracks safely. Watch for signs and start heading uphill. Get used to the rock climbing. It smoothes out and there is a path to the left. If you want to see an old railroad tunnel, take it, then a right when it forks. It’s a 5 minute diversion that’s worth it. Back on the main trail, more rock climbing. There were signs this year, but don’t count on them. There are many spur trails if you want to go up Ely’s peak. If you don’t like one of them, turn around and there will be another. Otherwise, watch for the blue markers on trees and on the rocks to stay on the main trail.

When you pass all of those spur trails up the peak, the vista will open up. To the south, St. Louis River, factories, forest, bridges, Lake Superior off in the distance. To the north; a ridge that is about as high as Ely’s peak. There is a way to do this as a loop, so you’ll pass that on your left. After that, you’ll see a lot less people for a while.
Map on the trail

The forest gets fairly dense, but not brushy. It’s a good single lane trail. There are several scenic overlooks but the signs can be small. There are only a few times that the trail opens up for a view. This is pretty typical of the Superior Hiking Trail. The forest is maple, ash, aspen, occasional birch, a wide variety flowers and berries. The best is when you are on the elevated parts and you go out to a vista and realize you up where the birds are soaring.

When you’re in to Magney/Snively there will be even more crossing trails, some for cross country skiing, some for horses. We took a couple wrong turns. So even though you are close to civilization, keep your navigation skills sharp. You could easily end up down a ravine where no one goes. As you near the trailhead, it will begin to look like a Disney theme park. The trail is wide and clean, the signs are nice, the hills have steps built in and the bridges are decent. The forest canopy gets a lot higher and fewer trees are growing underneath. It’s kind of magical.

You can’t see the parking lot from the trail, but that sign is solid and should be maintained as long as we have some form of government that is still functioning.
Magney/Snively trailhead w/sign: "There is no such thing as the poop fairy. Pick up after your dog."

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

You're Right

You’re right. Of course you are right. Everyone wants to be right. If you are doing something or saying something that you know is wrong that’s antisocial personality disorder.  You are only wrong for as long as it takes to correct yourself, then everything is right again. You are right, but you are not always right. If you think you are always right, then you would be arrogant and obnoxious. Being right includes admitting that you might be wrong. Right?

If you want to check if you’re right, surround yourself with people who are willing to tell you when you are wrong. This is what you do when you seek an education. They could be wrong too but you can’t both be right if you disagree. Knowing what’s true is a different conversation. If everyone around you is agreeing with you and telling you that you are right, you might be surrounded by people with antisocial personality disorder or at least people who want something from you. It’s good to have friends who support you no matter what but real friends will let you know if you are wrong when it matters.


Just a few quick notes on this topic. I might refine it later.

Knowing what is true turns out to be kind of complicated. You can avoid all the philosophy and just remember the last time you stubbed your toe or hit your head. It doesn’t get much more real than that.

Otherwise you have to start with definitions, and they won’t answer “why” and they will leave us with more questions. That’s the human experience. First, truth is that which comports with reality. Great start huh? Reality is that which we can demonstrate is true. That’s circular. I did warn you. Truth is demonstrated by collecting empirical evidence. That is done using our senses, and extending our senses with instruments, and extrapolating from those results with reason and logic. All of this can fail at any point along the way.

We can’t be certain about anything. Not even what I just said. We still say things like “settled science” or “that’s a fact”, but technically, we are always speaking of probabilities. A “proof” is something you do in mathematics. You define rules about numbers and prove that equations will always have certain results. You can’t do that with people, or history, or psychology, or pretty much any animal behavior.

However, not being able to prove anything is different than not being able to know anything with a high probability of being accurate. People didn’t know about the shape of the earth at one time, and they were way off on the shape of the universe. But their being wrong then says very little about how accurate we think we are now. Truth may always be elusive, but we know how much evidence we have, how well we have checked it, and how consistently our experiments have verified it.

We use evidence and reason naturally every time we take a step or hear something new. We may not use formulas or check every fact, but there is nothing we can use to reason away reason. As soon as you try to explain whatever else might replace it, you are using reason to do it. The best we have to extend our knowledge and our experiences, is each other. Together, we’ve done some pretty amazing things.

All models are wrong, some are useful - George Box

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Listener

I’ve been exploring the mytho-poetic a little more lately, something I’ve been doing on and off for many years now. I found some old recordings I had of a story told in a lodge by a fire, back in 2010. Now it’s on the internet for everyone. If you’ve never heard anything like this, or even if you have, a good place to start is part 2 of 4 at 38 minutes or so. In the story, the hero, well, let’s call him the main character, has just killed a few people.

This raises a few questions. That’s the whole point of telling stories around fires, to raise questions, but this one needed to be addressed. Death in a sacred story is not like death in our real lives. There is one story teller in this recording, but there are a few people, men, on the stage (the bench as it is sometimes called), and they all chime in. I know all of them and have spent some very special times with each one of them, but I’ll leave all those stories until the Q & A session, which is anytime on this media. Tom Gambell talks about Ghandi, Martin Shaw talks about being pulled by different characters in the story. You could back up 5 minutes or so and hear Malidoma Somé talk about his initiation rituals in his tribe in Burkina Faso, . You get a nice overview of what this is about in a just a few minutes.

Then you can go back to part 1, or go back to 20 minutes before my mark above to get more of that, or whatever you want. If you don’t want to listen to the guys chatting, there are indices on each of the four YouTubes and you can just hear the story. Won’t take long. There was no video of the conference, but someone added images. They are quite beautiful. You’ll see the room in some of the pictures. It’s a big room with just a few mics, but the sound was edited and most of it is clear, especially the story telling parts.

Stories like this are not usually on the internet. There aren’t many like it left and in 2010 we were not planning on making this something publicly available. We didn’t do it to sell some albums or get people to join our merry band. It’s kind of intimate. This isn’t entertainment, although there's nothing wrong with being entertained by it. My voice is in there and if I knew you’d be listening to it now, I might have said something different. But, times change, words sometimes need to be heard first one way, then another.

These stories are the stories that we need now. I’d go so far as to say when they were heard long ago, they weren’t completely understood. Maybe they aren’t understood much better now. But they need to be grappled with, talked about, told to the younger ones and see if they can do something with them. Love of these stories is love of the earth and love for each other and for people who are not yet born.

Malidoma says, you don’t know where you are going to end up when you go through an initiation story, but once you decide to go, keep going. As his elders told him, “You go backwards, you die, you go forward you die, so, what the hell, go forward and die”. There are at least two meanings of “die” here. We’re all going to die someday, so you might as well keep growing and learning as much as you can. The other meaning is initiation, the transition from child to adult, from the safety of the village to the unknown risks outside out of it. A part of you may need to die so you can survive that transition.

The other thing to know, this was the year of the Minnesota Men’s Conference when Robert Bly, the guy who started it, stepped aside. This is the story that was being told while he stood in the back of the room. On one of the nights, he said goodbye, we sang a few songs, and he went off to be part of some other stories.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Dave and Suzanne and Deanna and Riker


While stopping for lunch, the edge of a book can be seen in Dave’s bag. Suzanne grabs it. Dave’s reaction?
S: Sooooo, what are you reading?
The book is Star Trek, Imzadi
S: I didn’t know anyone actually read these.
D: I needed something for a rainy day, since I thought I’d be alone.
S: Yeah, so, I don’t remember any rain yesterday and your bookmark is on page 57.
D: Okay, so I like Star Trek, I think I mentioned that. This story revolves around one of the most famous episodes from the first series where they find a time portal (The Guardian of Forever) and accidentally change everything so they are stuck on this planet and Kirk and Spock have to correct it…”. Dave was starting to run out of breath as he spoke. 
S: Suzanne saved him,“So, if everything changed”, Suzanne stretches out that last word with rising and lowering tones and makes exaggerated hand motions creating the wavy effect from old television shows used to indicate a flashback or alternate timeline. Or maybe she was creating some sort of butterfly effect with that hand waving. Then quickly asking, “how did they still exist?
D: “Because they are the stars of the show, you can’t make your stars disappear, there would be no show.” Pleased at his own cleverness, he couldn’t hold back a half smile.
S: Suzanne needed a moment to process the shift from nerd to joker, and whether or not that was a shift, “No, I mean really”.
D: “Well, ‘really’”, Dave’s elbows moved slightly but he suppressed the air quotes, “they were standing near the time portal and Dr. McCoy just jumped through, he had some kind of fever that was making him not think straight, so, anyway, they weren’t affected because they were in the proximity of the portal. It made ripples in time, and they were at the center of that ripple.” His hands were moving this way and that until he noticed them like a baby finding his toes for the first time, “Anyway, it wouldn’t be a very good time portal if you could go back in time and make the time portal not exist would it?”
S: “I guess not. So does this book explain all that? Isn’t this the one where Shatner says “hell”? They just leave at the end right? Do they just leave something that powerful laying around?”
D: “Wow, you sure you aren’t a geek? I used to have conversations like this that went on for hours. No, or, um yes.” Shaking his head to get the scramble of questions sorted out, “yes, the book explains it. They set up a whole institute around it. They are still trying to figure the thing out in this book. It’s a talking time portal, but it just says profound sounding things that don’t make much sense, like, “all is as it was”, but doesn’t tell you what “was” should be or whether or not you’re currently on the correct “is”.
S: “Okay, I’m good.” A final wave of one hand swept away all those timelines. “This is why I’m not a Trekkie.”
D: We prefer “Trekkor”. Having practiced that clever line many times, he puts on a somewhat indignant face and remembers to raise one eyebrow in classic Leonard Nimoy fashion. He sees he has really stumped Suzanne this time. Is he a geek, or nerd, or just playing around? It’s his turn to break the silence. He chuckles, “I really don’t care. Maybe I did at one time. And before you ask, I do not have any costumes and I never dressed up as any of these characters. Am I stepping out of some intellectual closet here? This is a book, I read, there I feel better.“
That last bit quotes the comedian Bill Hicks, from the same bit that Suzanne and the waitress had their inside joke about earlier. Suzanne, relieved, she sighs with a smile then draws it back in with a snap as she realizes Dave knew the joke all along and was playing her.
S: “I’m glad you got the Bill Hicks reference this morning. But really why this book? What are you reading this particular book for?”
D: “I figured if you knew Bill well enough to use one of his punch lines, we’d probably get along. After the “geek” remark, I was having doubts.”
“Really, it’s light reading. I already know the characters before I even started it. The title is an affectionate name Riker uses for Troy, and this goes into detail about where that came from. The time travel stuff is just fun to think about, it’s how the people react to it and how it can play with alternate possible outcomes of their lives. This story starts out with Troy dead, but they find out that is the altered timeline. Riker sort of brings her back to life by fixing the timeline.”
S: Okay, slow down. Troi, she’s the one in the mini skirt, right? The one who can read minds?
D: Well, we’ve got a long day here. I don’t want to be the guy who recounts Star Trek episodes and explains costume choices or the difference between mind reading and empathic abilities.
S: But you could.
D:” I could”, he said as if he had glasses and was looking over them.
S: So you believe in alternate universes?
D: I don’t believe in much, just trying to get by like everyone else. It doesn’t matter anymore now anyway, does it? They tell us we were getting close to figuring that out for ourselves, that the multi-verse theory was the right one. What I believe is not going to change that.

Suzanne sees some defeat; he’s hanging his head, lost in some sad story. The place they stopped has a bike repair station and weather information (shouldn’t weather be on her phone? Maybe this is better somehow, or not everyone has a phone). She checks the weather and reports it. 

(Around midday the next day, while they are riding)

S: So you learning anything more from Imzadi what’s her name?
D: It’s Deanna Troi.
S: Sorry.
D: And it’s not clear who is learning from whom, that’s what I like about it. Riker is a bit of a misogynist, but gets on Troi’s case because she spends too much time studying psychology but doesn’t know how to go with her feelings.
S: “I remember she was a bit stiff.” She gives Dave a sideways glance as she realizes she admitted she’s watch the show, “The one or two times I saw her.”
D: “Riiight. I don’t know if Riker really wins the argument. He’s the puppy sniffing after her and she plays it cool.”
S: So, how did they meet?
D: At a wedding. One of those things about Star Trek that bothered me, every planet has some sort of wedding ceremony, similar to ours, everyone has laptop computers, everyone has starship captains.
S: Everyone has 4 fingers and a thumb.
D: Well, yeah, but at least on earth, that’s a common trait across all large mammals, so that could be something you could say evolution would produce even in different conditions.
S: What? What do you mean? Whales have fins.
D: Yes, but the bones in those fins look a lot like our hands.
S: Alright, well I won’t bother going down that road.
                Some thoughts
S: So, but, I mean, if you don’t mind.
D: That’s okay, We’ve got time.
S: Yeah, you know, is that it?
D: “I think I do know. But can you be more specific than ‘it’?”
S: Well, is that it? Evolution? Just the will to survive? You’ve got science and science fiction. Then you die?
D: No. You’ve only known me for one day. There’s Job for instance.
S: Old Testament Job?
D: Yeah. God said to him (Joe Pesci voice), “You think you know me? You don’t know me. You know nuthin’ about me.”
S: Is that what he said? I don’t think he said that.
D: Maybe not exactly, but I look at this ridiculous, flawed body, and this brain that is designed mostly for procreating. That all came from millions of years of being an animal out in some plain somewhere in Africa. Then I look up, and my Dad could do this, he could point to a star and tell you how far away it was and say something about photons from it hitting his eye. Then he’d go on about the eye, how it evolved from early animals and the animals came from vegetables before that. All of that had to happen for him and I to be there, enjoying that moment. That’s the universe asking ‘you think you know me?’ (Not quite as much Joe Pesci voice this time)
S: Right, right, doesn’t that make you a little sad, or feel small?
D: No, my answer is, I am all that.
S: Which? The universe or God?
D: Dave looked away to collect his thoughts. Suzanne only had the back of his head to work with, is he just looking at a bird over there, or is he gritting his teeth? What he wanted to do was change the subject, “So, the wedding, did I tell you about the part where they are naked?”
S: What, the bride and groom? No, are you going to tell me about the sex scene?
D: No. Troi and Riker.
S: So, they meet at a wedding then they go get naked?
D: “Noooo.” Dave was enjoying that he had her on the ropes,  “Everyone at the wedding is naked. That’s how they do weddings on her planet. It’s symbolic about not hiding anything or something like that.”
S: Oh, sounds like something my mother would do.
D: “Exactly what I was thinking. Riker, the first time he lays eyes on Troi, she is naked and he thinks she is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.” He fights to keep his eyes above her neckline.
S: “and he should know”
D: He should, and Troi, being empathetic, knows he’s thinking it, and completely ignores him the entire evening. So when he later arranges a date, very diplomatically and formally, she sees him as a bag of hormones.
S: And he sees her as an over thinking academic.
D: A match made in heaven.
S:  “But you know they get together in the end. Like you said, they can’t kill off the main characters. They can’t split up Troi and Riker. Or is this an alternate timeline thing.”
D: Another habitually annoying Star Trek thing. No. I’m trying to address that kind of rude question about me thinking I’m God.
D: I’m not God, or the universe. When I was a kid, I’d get into fights because I said I didn’t believe in God, any god, or anything supernatural. I didn’t start it, they just asked, like kids do. So then they’d say I am just a mass of hormones. We barely knew what hormones were, but they thought it was funny. I’d come home with my lower lip sticking out. My dad had to figure out some way to get me out of those dark places without telling me comfortable lies, so this star stuff story is what he came up with.
But it’s still a story. I’m not just a bunch of chemicals cooked in stars billions of years ago that happened to fall together as they did. I am that, but I’m also the result of something much bigger. But if you try to say you are part of that bigger thing, people will ask if you think you are God, or if you know more than God, or whatever. That bigger thing doesn’t really care about me, it doesn’t have feelings at all, but when I look at it, it sometimes seems like it’s mocking me. It wants to keep me small. And those hormones and chemicals want to be big, want to believe they are bigger than they are. Trying to be both won’t get you anywhere because you aren’t either of those. Sometimes it seems like the easy way out is being neither. “
His eyes go to the road just in front of him, his biking form is rhythmic, his breathing even. He pulls slightly ahead.
S: thinks – did he just hint at thoughts of suicide, did I do that? “Sorry.”
D: It’s okay. Sorry for the rant.
Suzanne wonders if this was their first fight? And who won?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Corona Blog

So, I’m a blogger, so I guess I should do this. It’s about change, about lots of changes through history and what that means to us now. I might seem a bit annoyed. If you want to get a teenager to read this, preferably one who doesn’t want to, they might get the proper tone of voice for it.

Everybody is talking about change. Of course we will change. Hasn’t every President run on that platform for the last 50 years? Make America Whatever or Hopey Changey, I don’t care. Throw the bums out. That’s a desire for change. But there is always tension, against the fear. Too much rapid change to greater rights for more people and a move toward socialism resulted in populism, on the left and the right. I have watched the constant battle between the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and the good old traditions since I was born in 1960. Look at what’s happened in the last 100 years since the 1918 flu pandemic. That’s in your parents’ or grandparents’ lifetime if you are older, so hopefully you talked to them. If you are younger, hopefully you know someone in the next generation up. They might have an old recording or at least some pictures.

They went through:
Nuclear weapons
Invention of vaccines
1918 flu
World War I (1914 to 1918)

Despite the pace of change having increased in the recent centuries, we haven’t developed new ways to cope with it. I don’t have much to suggest for that, but for me, getting some perspective on how much has happened, how far we have come in a short time, and how it has always been the people pushing leaders to change. That has helped me understand it.

My Public Education history spent too much on the days before the Revolution in this country, that’s my opinion. I always wanted to get to the World Wars and why those happened.

It was a major change in how the world worked. Before then, we were a world of royal families. Generals road on horses with colorful uniforms and battles lasted for a few days. With the arms buildup of the late 19th century, a result of the industrial revolution, these in-bred idiots who had no idea how to live in a time of electronic communication and world travel, put a match to the powder keg they built. To defend against heavy artillery, they created trench warfare, to breakthrough that they invented tanks, and on and on.

If you don’t want to have a love for history, don’t click here. Dan Carlin has a great ability to tell the story and provide the facts. His “Blueprint for Armaggedon” series is the story of WWI. 

Going back through the 19th century further you had:
The Industrial Revolution, steam engines, mechanics, oil. Horses were no longer the best source of power, but we still use the term “horsepower”.
Darwin published the Origin of Species in 1859.
Michael Faraday, who died in 1867, advanced our understanding of electromagnetism. That’s kind of important to whatever device you are reading this on.

Pause for a moment on this guy. He discovered the mysterious energy floating around that we could use to move things and to communicate across miles. Click to see David Tong giving a lecture in the same hall where Faraday gave his. Tong is talking about the newly understood forces of quantum physics, that we now understand are the fundamental forces behind all things. He’s giving that lecture in the same hall, with the same desk, that Faraday did. It’s like we just figured out stone tools yesterday, and now we all have scalpels in our medicine cabinets. 

While Faraday was alive, we were finally throwing off the last myths about race and changing laws so we could no longer justify slavery. There are still slaves in the world, I know, but most people know that’s wrong now. What will be commonly thought of as wrong by end of your lifetime?

Change takes a little longer in the centuries before that, but let me connect just a few more things. Once the empires that grew out of ancient history started bumping into each other and “discovering” each other, we started accumulating our knowledge, sharing it actually, but not always in a nice way. You might have heard of Thomas Aquinas, who tried to reconcile the Catholic religion with Greek philosophy. He had a little help from the Muslims by the way. Not too long after that, we had Protestant kingdoms, so there was a lot of fighting with the Catholics.

At the end of all that fighting, after the Thirty Years War, 1648, a treaty was signed called the Peace at Westphalia. It took away powers from the Pope and created a new type of nation. That’s what you live in, a Westphalian nation-state. Sure, your way of life is rooted in a Judeo-Christian/Western Civilization/Constitutional Republic/Democracy/melting pot, sure. But the basic structure of our politics has only been around for 400 years, and it was formed under duress, and it’s not working. A bunch of morons from the Middle Ages made it up to get the Pope out their business and we can get the billionaires out of our pockets if we create the next system.

Something else happened once the European Princes and Bishops quit making us kill each other. It was the British Royal Society, founded in 1660 to promote scientific thought and learning. It was the fertile ground where Isaac Newton flourished. Newton created the mathematics that got us to the moon (along with some of those other folks above). Computers were first put to the test during that work. That pretty much brings us up to where we are now.

To have that sort of creative energy, to allow the brilliant people of the day to discover something, you have to first have some degree of peace. You have to have a little extra left over at the end of the day to give to the general welfare, to build some roads, to have some nurses ready to take care of us instead of working overtime to pay off student loans and a mortgage from that house they bought before the bankers destroyed the economy.

What gets left out of historical discussions like this is none of it happens if we don’t care about people that we will never meet; people on the other side of the world and people who are not born yet. If we aren’t keeping the world clean and free from violence and filled with beauty, if we aren’t nurturing the people who grow our food, or who are sitting in a room somewhere coming up with formulas that who knows what they will do, but we can bet they will do something, then none of this happens. Then we slip back into using those stone tools to harm each other and take whatever we can just because we can. None of this happens if we don’t realize we need each other.

A note on the present: We aren’t purposely crashing the economy by shutting it down, just so we can save a few million lives. The economy would have crashed if we didn’t do anything because the hospitals would have been overrun. People would have chosen to quit interacting with others after it was far too late. Services would be much more disrupted because the closures would be random; we wouldn’t be choosing to keep groceries open as opposed to restaurants, we would be choosing from far fewer options.

It would not be some simple math of 2 or 3% more people dead. We would be surrounded by sick people and no one would want to touch them for fear of getting sick themselves. This would multiply the problems. Any normal illness or regular medical attention needed would be almost impossible. We would have new priorities, like disposing of the bodies.

The stock market selloff was recognition by those who understand how their system works, that it is not working, that it is not designed to respond to a problem like this. It is not designed to take care of the people that actually create the wealth that they accumulated. Ironically, it created the problem by changing the environment, putting workers under stress, and prioritizing profits over health. It put messaging over science. They know this, they saw it coming. They didn’t tell us until they cashed out. But cashing out is a strategy of the dying system. I don’t know what the next system will be, but it won’t be the current leaders who create it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

You're In My Light

In case you missed the news, I've abandoned the Atheism for the Religious series for now, maybe forever, and I'm exploring having some fictional characters talk about it.

The first 7 pages of a book I've been thinking about for a long, long time
Words in italics are just for me to keep track of things, they may or may not end up as headings in the final draft.

Last Updated: 4/26/2020

You’re in My Light
A Hero’s journey on the way to the hardware store

You’re in My Light
A Hero’s journey on the way to the hardware store
An attack on a drone
A few million years of evolution left the ape descendants with a fear of something rustling in the underbrush. Some ape like ancestor ran when they thought they heard something, and another ape never became anyone’s ancestor because they didn’t run. They became lunch. On a sunny day in Northern Indiana, in a world with satellites and self-driving vehicles, in some underbrush by a dirt road, there appeared to be a face taking shape in the leaves. The face appeared to have eyes. They were moving slowly higher. A bunch of leaves and branches that could be a face with eyes doesn’t all move in unison. It was eyes, and a face, and a person, with ash and clay smeared around them to match the brush.
 “What’s with the camo Pete?”, a second ape descendant blew his cover with a question that sounded like he was standing around at the neighborhood barbeque.
“Shhsh, it will hear us.”
“Of course it will hear us. It’s more sensitive than any animal on earth. It literally has advanced alien technology.” For someone being stalked by an alien drone, he seemed rather casual. His dress was too, khakis with some grass stains and a T-shirt with the names of several bands from the 70’s that were harvested out of the Midwest.
“Then what are we doing here? You said we were going to shoot at the aliens. You look like you’re having a picnic.” The intensity of battle was wearing off in this conversation but he wass still ready for a fight.
“We aren’t shooting at aliens. We’re shooting at a drone that people made with some alien technology in it. You’re reading too much Star Trek fan fiction and not enough of the tech journals.”
“I know it’s a drone. What I mean is, if we are taking on the aliens, and they can see us hiding here, how can we possibly hope to mount any kind of resistance?”
“Maybe history should be on your reading list. How did the Palestinians get the attention of the rest of the world? How did Afghanistan take down the Soviet Union? It was one helicopter at a time, sometimes getting civilians involved. This isn’t conventional war. They were out matched and so are we. It’s called ‘trying to win’.”
“Yeah, I read the ‘Freedom Fighters’ speech, bin Laden was a freedom fighter, and so was George Washington. They are going to call us terrorists and so on, but we’re not fighting for some religious ideal or against some despotic King, this is our planet. We aren’t just fleas arguing over who owns the dog, we have 4 billion years of biology behind us here. See, I read. But all I was told is shoot down a drone and run back to town.  I’m trying to figure out how all that fits in the master plan.”
An “m” started to form on the lips of Pete’s brother in arms as he tried to process this “master plan” comment but that question would have to wait. One eye squinted and his head turned to the side like a dog trying to hone in on the sound of something strange it had just heard. A whir caught their attention and the fight or flight response switched on, to fight. “Okay, we’ll talk master plan when we get back. Here it comes now. I need you for your marksmanship right now, not your political theories. One shot to get it to bank then it’s all yours.”
“This part I know.”
The drone whizzed by, noting the heat outline of a couple people by the side of the road, nothing to report home about. A shotgun popped out from underneath a blanket and was fired without taking much time to aim. The drone dipped sharply into a turn to avoid the spray. Pete had drawn his weapon at the same time (describe the gun) from under a poncho that was laid beside him. He tracked the arc of the drone as it recovered from its dive. The butt of the rifle was quickly up to his shoulder and followed the motion of the panicked drone.
Miles away in a room lit only by surveillance screens and low lamps over clipboards and small devices, someone set down their coffee and said, “Kids, we should put some ‘Deer Crossing’ signs back up, give them something to shoot at”. His screen showed a country road, forested on either side. It was mostly a blur and the horizon was not where it should have been. As the scene whipped back and forth, he just barely caught two figures silhouetted by their heat signatures. When the screen went blank he had a one word response, “Shit.”
“Nice shot. Let’s go.”
That order wasn’t necessary. Both men moved at double time down a deer path. Pete carried both guns. They split up as they started down toward a stream which they crossed at different points, neither one of them looked back. The forest turned to corn field. He moved down the rows swiftly being careful not to jostle the tassels above him. He slowed to listen as he neared the edge of the field, looked left, right, and more important above.
The guns were tucked in to the poncho he was carrying and then slung over his shoulder casually. He strolled toward the nearby barn.  Inside, he found the ring in the floor under some hay and heaved open a door that revealed many more weapons and ammunition. With loving care he unloaded and placed each gun in its designated place. Water and some grooming utensils that could have just as easily been there for the horses, were used to wash off the unnecessary camouflage and transform him back into just another boy in town. As he left the barn, he stuck his finger and thumb in his mouth to hold his tongue for a loud whistle. It was impressive with two notes even. On the other side of the house someone who looked like a farmer checked his watch then returned to making some motions that looked like working the land.
When Pete arrived in town for a well deserved adult beverage, the man who was his superior officer less than an hour ago was already well into an electronic trivia game. Pete asked what’s new and the standard reply of “nothing” actually meant something this time. It meant they hadn’t made the news, yet. Police reports of course, but he wasn’t worried about those, yet. Gun shots in a corn field in Indiana in late summer are not news. The shooting down of a federal drone would remain a matter for the Federal Government. Local police weren’t going to get involved until they had done some investigating. The next step in the plan was to see how the drone patterns changed or if police presence increased.

At the farm
In the southern half of the state, on a farm that was more of very large garden, in one of the out buildings, a Betamax video player whirred quietly as it played lecture #213. Dave was paying more attention to the lights and dials than the content. The home maintenance series was not his favorite, but there were still homes that needed maintenance and fewer people who knew how to maintain them. Not the homes around this farm of course.  He had been in just about every one of them and had tuned all of them like a Stradivarius. Some of the inhabitants were on to him that the best time to fix something was always just before dinner but now that money was not so important their informal arrangement worked just fine and the smiles and warm conversation over the table made it all alright.
The analog signal streamed out of the back of the player connected by cords with red, white and yellow connectors. It followed a winding bent path to the much smaller less dustier black box with one small green light on it.  From the other end of that box a thin gray cable went out through the wall. It sparkled a bit from the early morning sun coming in through the small window on the east side of the shop.  The signal finally found its way out to an antenna. Dave swore that antenna could not possibly do anything the first time he saw it. It was too small and the elements weren’t positioned in any way he’d seen antenna elements positioned. But according to all available evidence the now digitized signal was making its way to space.
When they gave it to him, Dave thought they were joking. He said it looked like they designed it based on watching a Jetsons cartoon. They just smiled. They do that a lot. They told him his father’s collection of educational lectures and demonstrations needed to be preserved. He asked why they couldn’t just take them and do whatever they needed to do. They said they don’t work that way. They say things like that a lot too. He didn’t care for that answer but couldn’t get much more of an explanation out of them.
They had come here from somewhere a little further out along the Orion Arm to save the planet, or so they said. They didn’t say it directly. They didn’t say very much directly. Although a few billion people now accepted that as true, Dave was still not ready to go with them. That they weren’t big on answering questions was one of his reasons. His grandparent’s generation had gone off to Europe and then Indochina to die without getting their questions answered. In his time parents’ time, people were beaten and harassed and couldn’t get decent jobs because there were people who had answers that couldn’t be questioned.
Introduce that they are offering to take people to other planets
Dave preferred hearing evidence and his father’s series on logic and logical fallacies was always right there, just below the little voice in his head that reminded him that being pleasant was more important than being right. Usually the voice remained in charge of his mouth, but sometimes not, and words like “that’s an argument from ignorance” came out at the most inopportune times. That could make for awkward conversations. But being convinced by aliens that there are other planets ready to welcome someone just like him was not just conversation.
Thump, thump, thump.
Dave snapped up from his day dreaming that had been initiated by the shiny cord going out through the wall. It was Marianne. Dave always thought that was funny especially since according to her hair she was a ginger, but not everyone got the Gilligan’s Island reference anymore, and after mentioning it four times, he figured out Marianne didn’t like it either. When he opened the door her smile retold that story and also said she needed something fixed and would like him to come by but only if he kept his conversation on gardening or canning or perhaps electronic gadgets. Recounting long stories of obscure science fiction characters was another thing he had figured out not to do.
The full, warm beverage she had was held in her palm and gently kept there with two fingers from the other hand. The breeze from the opened door blew across it and freshened the room with a hint of cinnamon and honey. It was raised as if being presented, not as if she was going to sip from it.
Remembering to let her open the conversation before he reacted to all the cues, Dave said, “Hey Marianne, what’s up?”
“I figured you were out here and working since early this morning, like always, without breakfast, so I brought you some tea.”
He suddenly made the connection between his inability to focus and his lack of sustenance. He reached for the steaming cup. Their fingers just touched in the exchange. Dave was thinking about that touch as he reached. He knew this was a good thing that helps people feel better about their encounters. Marianne had no specific thoughts about it. Encountering people wasn’t something that required that much thought for her.
“I probably should grab a bite to eat.” Dave finally returned her smile. Baggage from their past encounters slipped to the floor.
Marianne didn’t let the silence get awkward, “Sooo, having a little trouble getting my root cellar door to close tight. We should have a good harvest this year and I’d hate to lose any of it.” She trailed off, sort of suggesting good times for him to come by but hoping he’d help close her sales pitch. Graciously, he did.
“Yeah, yeah, today is good. When there’s good sun on it.” He moved to the doorway, where she was still standing, and they danced their way to an understanding that he was coming out. For a moment the tea and her breath and her hair transported him to a land of princesses and ballrooms. Marianne had no idea what he was thinking but like Ginger Rogers, she could do everything Fred did except backwards and in high heels. When the spinning was done, the two of them faced the rest of the world and greeted the morning that was already warmed and inviting.
The promise of a good harvest brought all the feelings of a healthy community out on display. From the eyes of people born before 2000, Dave and Marianne could see Halloween and Thanksgiving and just a hint of Christmas.  The smaller humans just saw the bounty of something that the old people did all day that magically made sweet and juicy things come out of the ground and end up on their plates. Their heads weren’t bothered with a man in a red suit arriving at a department store who also is somehow concerned with how they acted all year. They weren’t working on a costume so they could run around asking for candy. Why would they do that? They knew who had the best candy.
Their little voices added a soundtrack to the scene. Screams could be heard, and they were pretty sure they were joyous, but sometimes it was hard to tell. One of the critters broke from a group that was running by and latched on to Dave’s leg. She looked up at him with her brown eyes surrounded by a milk chocolate face and started telling a detailed tale of adventure and romance. None of the words were in a language that Dave knew, or anyone knew, but they flowed like a sailor singing a song after returning from whaling in Kachemak Bay.
Dave provided the chorus of “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm” on queue as he lifted her into his arms. Somewhere in there he interpreted the word “crackers”. As she said it, she used the non-violent resistance technique of going limp, laying her head back toward the dining hall. Dave did not need to hold her for questioning, so he rolled her to her feet that were already running before they touched the ground.
These weren’t just any crackers, these were Marjo’s sourdough crackers, merely a byproduct of a weekly batch of sourdough bread. Bread that sustained this community like it had sustained communities for thousands of years. It was not the kind of bread that comes in a plastic bag and has to be sliced by a machine because it is so delicate that a human hand would rip it to shreds. It was the kind that you keep on the counter wrapped in a towel. The kind that you break and experience the chewy crust, experience it kicking in enzymes in the mouth and your whole body settles as the soothing process moves toward your stomach.
Marianne could see he was now on a mission and she waved him off and headed for the fields. Dave caught up to his little friend pushing against the large dining hall door. She put all of her body into it. She called upon the power of her ancestors to move that massive door that was between her and crackers. Dave used a few fingers over her head and gently guided it to balance her back to vertical and to release that kinetic energy across a big room full of empty tables. Marjo knew to have a plate of crackers for dirty hands to grab so they wouldn’t intrude any further into the baking area. Dave also respected that barrier. She would invite him to cross it if he waited for the invitation.
Marjo always had that look for Dave, a smile with a little sadness. Not quite, “bless your heart”, but not exactly “hey, you been working out?” Marjo was the big sister Dave didn’t have, the girlfriend that might have been if she were younger, the mentor he didn’t want, and the drinking buddy who actually didn’t drink, all rolled into one. He was not in the mood for the story of yeast again so he had been working on his cheeriest “good morning” from a couple steps before hitting the door. Marjo was always a few steps ahead of him though.
Marjo meets Dave – this could come earlier
Before the arrival of the Orions and their space port, Dave had happened upon this kitchen while biking in the well known hills in and around the farm that he now called home. He held a flat tire in his hands and a sheepish grin on his face. Marjo knew he needed a hug and also knew that wasn’t going to happen. This wasn’t her first flat tire. Back then, the nearby University was thriving. People came here from all over the world, to learn from the best minds, to see the beauty, to improve their art, to demonstrate their athletic skills. Most were not that aware of the people who lived there all year round. They were just there for ambience or something.
So a flat tire out in the country was an inconvenience, not a chance to interact with a real person. Most people like that couldn’t just have a flat. There had to be a lot of pacing and hand wringing and tales of schedules disrupted and questions of why this happened to them, with some certainty others did not have this same problem as frequently as they did. Dave however just had a flat. It wasn’t about how much it was bothering him or how suffering the flat was somehow different than suffering the muscle pain of a long uphill pedal. He was just as happy doing the work of fixing it as he was doing the work of riding the bike.
Or was that just as un-happy? The flat tire wasn’t bothering him but something was. Marjo could see there was a shadow a step or two behind him. Something he could keep ahead of by biking or fixing things or doing whatever else he did other than slow down enough to let that shadow catch up. Of course it would, they always do. If that was all there was to it though, she wouldn’t give it another thought. But she had seen so many shadows.
Marjo’s story
Years earlier, her uncle came back from Iraq with no scars, just a bit weathered from the desert sun, but she knew there was something wrong. Everyone treated him differently. No one talked about it. Marjo was given specific instructions not to. She knew she had to live by the rules as a little girl, but she also knew it would be different when she grew up. But childhood aspirations can turn to adult frustrations. She watched as more and more men and women were not allowed to grieve for the lives they had ended. When a war ends, there is a time for rebuilding and for reconciliation with the enemy, but in endless war, that time never comes.
The time for celebration never comes either, as the war is never won. In Vietnam a hill would be taken one day and lost the next night. In Iraq whole regions were liberated and then soldiers who did the liberating watched the news from home as those places were occupied by the latest group with some new initials. For some, the best way to deal with it was to go back. At home, you hear more about how war is tearing the country apart, or you see that nobody really cares, or someone wants to debate it with you. You can’t grieve the deaths of your friends or of the people in the country you occupy, but at least you can get back and try to find that person you were.
Marjo watched this grief go undigested. Not digested by the culture because the culture that developed it was one that was accustomed to knowing that a victory would be followed by a new escalation somewhere else. Not by the government because the military budget just kept growing and debt along with it. There was no job at the Pentagon or anywhere that could undo this, but she resolved to make some sort of dent in this collective un-grieved loss.
Her uncle came over for game night one evening. He brought a grocery bag full of snacks. He pulled out a big bag of pita bread and two different tubs of hummus. Mother gave her that look that said, “don’t ask”. After a while, when people were commenting on the good company and good food, he said, “That’s what they eat. The people from around where we were based. We would load up on that, a big pile of pita bread. Have it on the plane while we were bombing them.” Marjo locked her eyes on his. “Kinda sick really”, he finished. She started to smile because she didn’t want to just stare at him like an idiot. She held that back and matched the droop of his eyes. Whatever move or turn it was in the game kept that from going on for too long.
She knew there was work to be done in the world. She didn’t know what that would be but she had a sense that whatever it was, it would not be found on television or on some glossy pages. She didn’t want to cut herself off from the world but she wanted to be around people who were using their hands, not just consuming culture but creating it. Creating it in the way it had always been created, by listening to the voices from the past and taking the best of what they had. She sought out the mentors, the marginalized, the ones they called old fashioned. In them she found the roots of all that stories that had been synthesized in to pop culture. They were in those old stories, those stories that were not even written down.
She tried sitting around fires and getting lost in the rhythmic drumming and the voices of the story tellers. She gained friends and insights, but it was too passive for her. She tried working with wool from the time it came off the sheep, spinning it into yarn, then working it into fabric, but there was too much surrounding that, too much animal husbandry and complicated machinery. She found she could stand in a wheat field and just watch it flow and lose herself in that. She learned that the wheat we grow today was once a much smaller grass and it changed our culture as we changed it into those amber waves we see now.  
When she discovered bread making, she found her muse. It was one a lost arts she should pursue. She looked at bread making machines but immediately had a vision of it sitting in a back alley waiting for garbage day next to someone’s treadmill or whatever other piece of unused good intentions that might be found there. She bought a cook book but she could tell that there were aspects of this that could not be put into a recipe. She started looking around for anyone with a little flour on their clothes, any hint of a passion like her own. It didn’t take long to find a class in sourdough bread making.
She was amazed to find out that you didn’t need a yeast packet, you just add some water to some flour and put it in a clay crock and throw a towel over it. The yeast finds it. It’s in the air. When she first saw it growing, she stammered and asked if this made sense. To be letting something attract mold and bacteria didn’t seem like such a good idea. But that’s not what was happening. The starch in the flour doesn’t attract that less healthy stuff. The yeast though, takes that nubby living seed and transmutes it into something that sustains life.
She hadn’t just found out how to make bread, she had found her story. The yeast that she couldn’t see in the air was like the sadness that she saw that others did not. It grew and generated carbon dioxide and lactobacilli bacteria and just a little alcohol. This gave the bread that sourdough flavor and in the same way, she knew she could let sadness express itself and help digest the sorrows that are always growing their hardened seeds. She became that person that knew there was always something going on with you and everyone else knew she was the one to come to when they needed that big shoulder to bury their face in. Dave was more of a long term project.
She didn’t know if she’d ever see him again after that first random encounter. She didn’t try to draw anything out of him. He talked of his love of the hills in the area, noting that he hadn’t spent too much time on the flat spots like the one they were on. He loved thinking about the wall of ice that had been there twenty four thousand years ago.
North from there it had scraped clean whatever was beneath it bringing bits of it south as it slowly pushed forward. As it receded, it washed into the landscape that it hadn’t reached, creating a less organized work of art beyond its reach. Rivers formed through hilly landscapes and underground, exposing million year old sedimentary stone. This land was not good for a whole lot in the world of commodities like the flat land the glacier had created. Marjo mentioned Aldo Leopold and Dave said he felt a kinship with him, seeing value in land that did not do well as a real estate holding. He found comfort where others would see imperfection and obstacles.
“Hungry?” asked Marjo, keeping her eyes on the little one, but speaking to Dave. A few crackers in the face were enough to keep those little legs energized, but Dave would need a little more. The bread makers on the farm rotated, so each could tend to the rest of their lives while all of them together maintained the supply, enough for their families, plus a little extra for whoever might wander through. Yesterday’s sweet rolls would be a good start for Dave and hopefully the chickens were producing too.
“Yes actually”, he replied before stuffing his face. “I get focused on something in the shop and forget to eat.”
“Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.” Marjo, always had the pithy sayings.
“And then you find out you’re not alone in the universe.” Dave meant that in the human race sense, but Marjo lowered her head a bit, giving him that look from her third eye. Then glanced down to the cup of tea is in hand, knowing where it came from.
“Yes, Marianne needs something fixed. And that’s all. You know that’s not going anywhere.”
“I don’t know much. I know there will be a dance in a couple weeks, maybe a hay ride later, and you haven’t considered the contents of your closet.”
“Does new rain gear count?”
“It does not.”
“Well, I need to get to Chicago. I suppose I could do some shopping.”
“Chicago! That’s a hike. Or are you taking the shuttle?”
“Shuttle? Are you forgetting who you are talking to? I’m looking forward to a week and a half on the bike. I’ll stop by the Tippecanoe River to see some friends and the reason I’m going is for parts, so I’ll see Old Dave at his electronics shop.”  
The storefront for that shop actually said The Electronic Shoppe. Old Dave thought it was funny because you can’t be an electronics shop and be pretentious. If someone looked at the sign and thought it was pretentious and didn’t come in, then he didn’t want them coming in anyway. No one called him Old Dave either except this younger Dave, and Dave’s father, while he was alive. He had been there when new Dave was born and Dave’s father didn’t like the idea of calling him “Uncle” although he knew this man would hold that special place in his life. He would be the one who could tell his son the stories of what his father did before he was born. He would be the one who could tell him when it was okay to break the rules. Dave’s father would play the role of father, the one who had to enforce those rules.
Not understanding the words, but sensing the grown-up talk, Dave’s little friend exited through the screen door, letting it slam.
Marjo never forgot who she was talking to, “Oh good”, she said without stopping the kneading, the checking of the oven or the other tasks she was managing that Dave could only guess. He had just revealed something to her, but he wasn’t sure what it was. He thought about correcting the awkward situation by offering to help, but that would just take them down a different awkward road. She knew who Old Dave was and how important it was that the two of them see each other now and then. Dave, young Dave, would use the excuse of keeping his mouth full of food to justify the silence. He salted his second boiled egg from the jar on the counter, being careful to do so over the garbage can of course. He was eating outside of the scheduled meal time which meant he had to clean up after himself. He brushed some crumbs off the counter, waved with the egg hand while grabbing his tea and juggled it all out the door.