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Knowing Mortality

Knowing Mortality

by Marco M. Pardi

We thank with brief thanksgiving

Whatever gods may be

That no life lives forever

That dead men rise up never

That even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea.”

Algernon C. Swinburne,

Garden of Proserpine” 1866

All comments welcome and will receive a reply.

When I was a child my grandmother had a large parrot who lived in a cage in her suite. I do not recall his name as we did not have him long. He had learned to somehow fling his copious excrement with disturbing accuracy. Nonetheless, I did learn that some parrots lived to ninety years and beyond. So that set me to wondering. My grandmother seemed to have been born old. Each morning as she awoke I suspected she had turned back her odometer during the night. So, who was going to outlive who? My grandmother lived to 94. I don’t know about the parrot.

In the years since I have had many more non-human companions than human ones. And right now my dog – a rescue of unknown provenance – is probably approaching thirteen. His hearing has diminished – or maybe he’s “heard it all already”. He ascends the stairs by “bunny hop” instead of the streak he once was. And he sometimes sleeps close to noon.

When he’s sleeping, late in the morning or in the evening, I often observe his chest. You know, to see if he’s breathing. And I wonder how I’ll feel if one day he’s not. So, while intellectual honesty prods me to recognize that I could die at any moment (as could any of us) the far greater likelihood is that I will one day be lifting him into my car for the trip to the veterinarian either for that last injection or for the single cremation I intend.

Speaking of who goes first, I always ensured that when I had to go on trips my companions were either boarded at a place they knew and liked or there was someone at the house who cared for them and had my authorization to obtain any veterinary care or final disposition as needed. Instructions were also firmly in place should I not return.

I have taken that last trip to the veterinarian so many times before with dogs and cats. Of course, it doesn’t work that way with horses. But you don’t want to read about what normally is done and I don’t want to write it. I will say I don’t do things normally. I pay for the use of a back-hoe to do a burial.

But why do we do it? Isn’t the avoidance of pain and sadness a lesson we learn in childhood? Are we suspending our rational minds and living in a forever world which will never change, never end? It has been said that having a pet/companion is like having an infant who never completely grows up. No matter how you feel you must still take them out for their walk. You must still feed them properly. You must take them to the vet for their shots and other preventive medicines. But you may find yourself again at the vet for illnesses. When out for a social life or simply running lots of errands you must watch the time for their walks and their meals. In having company over you must graciously but firmly establish ground rules, especially when children are involved. And, if you care enough about your companions to have them in the first place you must engage with them in enriching play and activities. Finally, you must reckon that in the growing up weeks and months there may be some damage, even destruction to shoes, furniture, etc. You will find yourself adjusting your lifestyle through a preemptive defense.

Yes, there are many Musts in having a pet/companion, and that’s where so many people draw the line. In fairness, there are valid reasons to not have one. Some people travel constantly for work, some people have severe allergies, and some simply can’t afford it. I’m pretty firm in saying one should never have just one companion. Imagine yourself as the only member of your species being kept in a home with a radically different species. The problem is immediately apparent with “pack animals” such as Huskies. They need each other as much or more than they need you.

But there is nothing like a furry paw gently pushing your book – or your cellphone, away from your face, and eyes saying, I’m here. Let’s play. In fact, there’s nothing like an insistent companion to get you out of yourself. Or out of the house. Neighbors have congratulated me on my daily walks. But I tell them, Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be doing this except that he (my companion dog) wants and needs it. I know a few of my neighbor’s names. I know the names of every other dog we meet. I wouldn’t know some of those neighbors had they not been walking their dogs.

Companions provide other benefits as well. Multiple well done studies have shown the correlation between lowered blood pressure and simply petting a dog or cat. This is no longer in dispute. And I needn’t go into the many examples of companion animals saving their humans in a wide array of emergencies.

Lately we have opted for boarding our companion rather than taking him with us on long trips. The car rides are harder on him. He stays at a kennel with lots of space and people who know and care for him. But sometimes we arrive home after the kennel is closed for the night or the week-end and the house, without him, is just not a home.

Yet, we know in the back of our minds, or the seats of our pants – wherever you do your thinking – that these days are numbered. All things being equal, the horizon is closer for our companion than it is for us. Yes, some day, we say.

I have often read, and I have heard veterinarians say, your companion will tell you when it’s time to go. That’s a nice idea to hold to, but I do have mixed feelings about it, as does anyone who has faced that choice and wondered, Is he telling me? I can think of one case in which I, to this day, feel I may have waited too long. But how can I know?

I have also read several well documented books, and interviewed well established and proven mediums, telling me companions have spirits as well as we do and they pass into the same form of existence as we do. In fact, my own experiences strongly support this. Oh yes, there are those people who sniff, That’s unscientific! My answer is simple: people who say that is unscientific immediately demonstrate they know nothing about science. Science is NOT just about cataloging everything which meets the eye. If that’s your goal, become a librarian. Science is not just about asking What Is; more important is asking What If. And the exploration of If, in this area, completely satisfies me that my companions have a spiritual existence just as I do. And no, that absolutely does not imply a God or gods or Chief Spirit. That’s a human projection, although I used to threaten a misbehaving Husky of mine that I was going to report him to the Head Husky.

For those who need references for the many hundreds of scientifically based studies in which non-human companion animals have featured, try Stanford University, University of California at Santa Barbara (they recently contacted me for support in this area) Arizona State University, Eastern Michigan University, and State University of New York.  You may also examine the Windbridge Institute and the Institute for Noetic Sciences. 

So, I do know that barring unexpected issues of my own, I will one day be making that familiar trip to the vet, or asking them to come to the house for a home ceremony and passing. I suppose I will cry my insides out. And if history is any guide I will always, always remember the good times and the bad because things don’t really get better. We just get better at handling them.

In that spirit of handling it, I will go to our community shelter and bring home another needful companion. Perhaps an older dog who no one else wants – and he knows it. I will not sit in a house without a furry companion. I will make a home again.

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Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild

by Marco M. Pardi

The way to final freedom is within thy SELF.”

THE BOOK OF THE GOLDEN PRECEPTS.

Ascribed to ancient Buddhism.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

As I was borrowing Jack London’s famous title for this piece I flashed on a memory of an advertisement that ran years ago. A liquor distiller displayed a bottle of bourbon alongside a basket out of which were peering a litter of Siberian Husky puppies. The banner read, Call of the Mild. I thought that a very effective ad. You take the bourbon, I’ll take the puppies.

Of course, my mind immediately seized on the seeming contrast of wild and mild. Throughout my teens I was keenly interested in studying and understanding the behavior, indeed the world view, of non-human animals in the wild. Even then it seemed to me there were deep lessons for humanity there, but like daydreamers in classrooms we were too preoccupied with our own fantasies and self appointed status. While the Roswell “incident” spurred a quickly growing literature and film industry in “science fiction”, showcasing imaginary intelligent life elsewhere I felt we were ignoring a multitude of intelligent societies all around us because we were too unintelligent to recognize intelligence.

Just as I think we misuse the concept intelligence by vastly underestimating its forms and breadth, I think we misuse the word wild by misunderstanding its rules. We often read of wild parties, wild rides, and etc. with the implication the events were chaotic, unpredictable, even dangerously foolish. But anyone who has spent time observing non-human animals can attest there is nothing like that in “the wild”. Even play behavior is a form of varied training for skills necessary throughout later life.

So, what do we mean by wild? The easy, and most common answer is a plant or animal which has not been selectively bred over generations by humans to produce traits and behaviors desired by humans; they are not domesticated. In fact, many such domesticated species, especially animal, would not survive long after the withdrawal of human support; they have become dependent on humans. This is especially apparent in cases of large populations such as factory farmed animals. Were they to be released, the numbers vastly exceeding the available forage would doom most to starvation, many to malnutrition based disease, and a hardy very few to a limited lifespan.

What’s the take-away from all this? Not only is the human population nearing 8 billion and growing by the day, it is increasingly concentrated in urban centers which, in terms of natural support, are utter wastelands. True, rooftop gardens are gaining in popularity, and vacant urban lots are being exploited as neighborhood vegetable gardens. But these are paltry efforts in the face of oncoming climate change which will severely alter the distribution of rainfall and temperatures appropriate to the growing of food as we know it. Complicating things still further is the remarkable shift to living along seacoasts, a pleasing locale for now but soon to be taken back by the seas, as we already can measure. Clean air, food and water, not oil and gas, are the ultimate resources. As expanding concentrations of humans pour more pollutants into the air, land, and water and as the consequent climate change alters or destroys the usefulness of these resources we will increasingly see large populations migrating to those remaining areas assumed to still have useful resources. A primary justification for the Viet-Nam war was the Domino Theory, the idea that if Viet-Nam fell to the communists neighboring countries would soon follow. When Laos and Cambodia fell to the Pathet-Lao and the Kmer-Rouge the war hawks claimed vindication. Yet, it was not the fall of South Viet-Nam which brought those about; it was the bombing of the farmlands and paddies west of the Mekong river which ruined the land and drove the starving rural populations into the urban centers where there was little to no food to share with the populations already there. Did we learn from this? Look at Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen for your answers. Ask the people of Europe how they feel about the influx of migrants looking only to feed their families. Look a bit further back. Czarist Russia did not defeat Napoleon’s armies by force of arms. As the armies swept across Europe, living off the land, they marched deep toward Moscow only to find themselves on a burnt landscape walking among the rotting carcasses of livestock that could not be moved. In their retreat the Russians implemented a Scorched Earth policy. French numbers plummeted through starvation and disease. A basic look at “wild” populations would have brought home the message: Never let your numbers exceed their resources.

I’m not saying non-human animal populations consciously meter their numbers to their food resources. Perhaps they do, perhaps not. I am saying that those population numbers vary in direct relation to available food. Long before general malnutrition affects the population the excess young adults are pushed out and, in some cases, predators take the old, the sick, and the excess young. The only serious predator humans have is other humans. And these other humans have agendas far beyond simple access to resources. Christians in particular seem to feel they have a divine mandate. But the mandate has morphed from the biblical “being a good steward” to the materialist “dominion over Nature”. That these neo-materialists seem to have not even a rudimentary understanding of Nature makes no difference to their inexorable march toward their own Moscow. They will reap a scorched Earth, unfortunately taking us along in the process.

Our growing urban centers, along with their sprawling suburbs, are resource parasites. In order to meet the growing demand for food our farmlands are increasingly becoming chemical beds of toxic pesticides and fertilizers, our factory meat production consumes 85% of the antibiotics in this country. These pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and animals wastes run off into our waters including our aquifers. The Mississippi river delta spills out into an exponentially growing Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The fastest growing population there is a new species: oil drilling rigs.

There is renewed interest in terraforming other planets, such as Mars. This is just a 21st century version of “Go West, young man.” It is highly improbable, if not impossible that significant colonization of another planet can mitigate the disaster developing here. But if humans intend to survive on this planet they must immediately address what we must now call a World Emergency. Unlike the “National emergency” now declared by the Republican regime in its effort to build a monument to Trump, this emergency is real. We must take steps to reduce population growth, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and free ourselves from the oligarchs and the theocrats who dominate our societies, enslave the people financially and spiritually, and destroy the planet. We should decentralize our cities into manageable villages connected by electric transit. We should re-examine our educational system in order to stress ecology, ethology, and critical thinking beginning in the primary school system. We should educate and develop a workforce competent to efficiently produce renewable energy, free of fossil fuels. We need to break free of our own “domestication” which has entrapped us into narrow and limited thinking, doing the same things over and over as we obey the bidding of our masters. We need to stop imagining some future intervention that will save us, and get to work now. We need to get wild.

Oh, and if you read my column you should comment. We can’t converse if I do all the talking.

One day in class a particularly surly student challenged me with, If chimps are so smart, how come they don’t have cell phones? An ethological answer would have been too easy, and probably beyond his grasp. I simply answered, If humans are so smart, why do they have nuclear weapons?

False Peace

False Peace

by Marco M. Pardi

Peace, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) The Devil’s Dictionary. 1911.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Repeat readers know me as insistent on trying to establish the absolute bedrock of a concept before engaging in discussion. “False” is easily enough defined and agreed. But, “Peace”, well that’s another matter.

I conceive of peace in both an active and a passive sense. While in the U.S. Air Force I was in a Strategic Air Command Heavy Bomb Wing, also with ICBMs tipped with MIRVS. (Heavy = nuclear; ICBM = Intercontinental ballistic missile; and, MIRV = multiple independent re-entry vehicle). Most people know that military units have their distinctive patches and logos, from squadron level to the service branch itself. The SAC logo was a clenched armored gauntlet with an olive branch extending out the top and a lightning bolt out the bottom. Surrounding this was a banner reading, Peace Is Our Profession. Interestingly, it was emblazoned on each side of the nose of B-52 bombers – each carrying enough hydrogen bombs to bring “peace” to hundreds of square miles. During those years SAC had fully one third of its bomber force in the air twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. Part of the MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, philosophy, I saw this as an ironic example of active peace, comparable to a parent holding a hand over a child while telling it to behave.

How did we live our lives under the: now imminent – then remote – then possible likelihood of being vaporized as the Cold War could have turned Hot? We consoled ourselves with imagined narratives ranging from pseudo-psychological analyses of our “enemies” to fantasies that our side would prevail to revealed wisdom that the whole world is secretly ruled by the Illuminati and they would never kill off the unwitting slaves who keep them in comfort and power. False peace.

That the peace was false could also be seen in the plethora of proxy wars going on around the world through those years. The Korean Police Action (“Korean War” is legally a misnomer) saw the Chinese against the Americans and other signatory States such as Australia under the rubric Korean Police Action. The event was such that the U.S. military began seriously preparing for what was seen as the “eventual and inevitable land war against China”. In the late 1950’s, only a few years later Viet Nam was seen as a training ground for officers and non-commissioned officers who would be part of that war against China. While low ranking enlisted men, overwhelmingly short term draftees, were sent into Viet Nam on 12 month combat tours many officers were sent on 12 month tours which were split into 6 months administrative and 6 months in the field. The idea was to rotate as many officers through “Asian” combat as possible in training for the Chinese war. Of course, the damage done to the enlisted men by continuously inexperienced leadership showed in many ways, including the practice of “fragging” (killing with a fragmentation grenade) the inept officers.

This preparation showed in other ways. As American troops got larger and heavier the weapons got lighter and more powerful. Why? Because the proxy conflicts increasingly employed allies composed of lighter and smaller people. And, there was huge money to be made through arms sales to these people. We could say we were at peace so long as someone else was doing the fighting.

Toward the other end of the scale are the examples of inter-personal false peace. I am sure every reader knows of at least one couple in which one partner, or both, is living “a life of quiet desperation”. This may be from fear of financial ruin in a divorce, fear they are too old and unattractive to find someone else, or just fear of living alone. These are real fears and are not to be discounted. There are people who dream of going to their graves and pulling the dirt in after them. How many times, after someone we know divorces, have we thought, I never heard them argue?

So where do we find true peace? Is it to be found in distractions, new toys, shopping, religion, the ever increasing television programs? As a young man I took an interest in the monastic life though in the Buddhist tradition, not the Christian. Gods made no sense to me. This interest was no surprise. When I was six years old a Catholic nun asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. She probably expected fireman, policeman, etc. I said, Hermit.

Obviously, I never took the step of entering a Buddhist monastery, though I looked deeply into the philosophy and practices. Instead, an active life beckoned and I heeded the call – face first. And yes, during some very troubled years I found both the philosophy and the practices of Buddhism brought me peace. But I also found something else. I came to the firm conviction that just hiding myself away in a monastery (yes, I do know that one runs to a monastery, not away from something else) or even just sitting alone in meditation for extended periods each day (sorry, can’t do the Lotus position without disjointing my knees) will not bring me peace. In fact, I came to view that as selfish. At best it would bring me false peace.

I found that, for me, peace is to be found in sharing with others. I am not saying that I have the secret of peace to share, or even a guaranteed pathway to peace; I am saying that doing what I can to provide others with a venue for contemplation and, hopefully, deeper realization brings me peace. Admittedly, this requires a certain amount of vigilance on my part. Not only should I guard against trying to impose my realizations on others, I should also guard against unwarranted judgments on the merits of others’ realizations. But then there is the trap of moral relativism, the extension of validity to another point of view simply and only because it is held by another person and not on the merits of the point of view itself. As must be obvious to the readers of my articles there are ideas and behaviors I disagree with. Expressing my disagreement brings me more peace than retreating and listening only to myself. It is important to step forward and navigate the minefield of moral relativism; to say No when you feel No. Any of us who have quietly stewed at home, recalling an interaction with someone in which we did not speak our mind will know that peace is not attained through simple quiet. The turmoil and self-blame in your mind is louder and more uncomfortable than any outspokenness would likely have been.

Still, there is obviously a need for discretion in interacting with others. But all too often that need for discretion pushes us into interactions only with others who we expect will mirror our thoughts and feelings; the echo chamber effect. How often have we left such an interaction asking ourselves, What was gained by all that? When I was a prep school student I was asked to be on the school debating team. I did so, and the first thing I learned is that the “other side” will never publicly yield to your position. In fact, the point is not to convince them; it is to convince the audience. Thus, I had to learn to be at peace with what appeared to be a failure (the other side not yielding) and looking to the eventual judgment of the 3rd party – the audience.

This experience helped me to understand that I don’t have to convince everyone. I don’t have to achieve “total victory”. I can be at peace without that. The All or Nothing conflicts we see from the international to the interpersonal levels will not bring us peace no matter the distractions they offer in the interim. But staying withdrawn and silent is not the road to peace either. It brings us only False Peace.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Strange

Give Us This Day Our Daily Strange

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

Do you wonder what your dog thinks when you enter a darkened room and turn on the light? I do. Is he thinking, My Two-Legs has super powers!? Is there some basal religious component in his thoughts of me, He Who Lets There Be Light. He who gives me my daily bread. He who forgives my trespass when I vomit on the carpet.? Or, is he thinking, Humans are so lame. The planet has been cycling from light to dark and back again for billions of years and humans have been here in some form for millions of those years. Yet, change the scenery a bit and they still haven’t learned to use their other senses. We should never have befriended them and helped them develop.

I just don’t know. Do you? I do know my dog’s hearing is diminishing so I’ve been showing him a few hand signals. For a 13 year old he learns very quickly. Most dog trainers stress repetition and reward. I suspect most dogs just draw it out for the treats; they got it the second time, if not the first. I had an attack dog in Africa who learned dozens of verbal and silent commands. One very hot evening I was walking around with him on base and discerned he was thirsty. I knew where a chilled water machine fountain was and we walked there, making sure no one else was around. It was a standard height machine with a foot lever at the bottom.

I walked up to the fountain, put both hands on the basin, leaned over the spout and placed my right foot on the lever. My dog watched the water come out. I then stood back and motioned him to the machine. He hesitated so I did the drink again. As I stepped back and motioned again he duplicated what I had done and had himself a good long drink. Maybe he was ready the first time and was concerned I would drink all the water. In any case, from then on he was attuned to any water fountains, but we were rarely on base.

He taught me some things. Out on the scrub desert he was apparently pleased when I smashed several desert scorpions that came scuttling at us. He seemed to understand that I had the boots and he didn’t. Why these scorpions launched a kamikaze attack is still a mystery to me. But when we came across a mob of big black beetles and I started stomping some of them he gave me a very disapproving look. It then occurred to me the beetles were no threat to us. But he knew that.

Years later I realized a behavior in my horses. A friend would occasionally meet me at the ranch for an afternoon ride. She was a three martini lunch lady, often without the lunch. Even when she approached my horses from downwind they would not let her near them if she had been drinking, even if, to me, she showed no outward signs of it. I could only surmise that the horses were somehow aware her mind was altered. True, horses are incredibly more perceptive than most people realize, but I felt this was exceptional, even strange.

My tri-color Persian cat also displayed interesting behavior. Since I adopted him from a newly divorced woman who had let him run free outside he was adamantly not a house cat, which worried me a lot but I could not hold out against his yowling to go out. During those years I had occasional crushing migraines, best treated by simply lying on my bed sometimes for hours. Then I noticed that when these happened he would jump onto the bed, settle beside me with his paw on my forehead and stay there for the duration. Although I’ve never read a cat book I’m betting there are no accounts of cats practicing Shiatsu on their humans.

Long a supporter of ethology, the study of animal behavior (I and others include humans in this) I strive to keep an appropriate distinction between the behaviors of non-human animals and human animals. The easy trap for many is anthropomorphizing – projecting human intentions on non-human behavior. But it is also easily possible to identify commonalities if one looks at fundamental levels and the context within which they manifest.

For example, I’ve long thought that salient markers of intelligence are the ability and willingness to play and a pronounced sense of humor. We could well add ability to interact cooperatively with other species. The attack dogs I mentioned earlier were never given a chance to truly play. We took them out of their kennels for training with tight, strong muzzles and ran them through repetitive drills which may have appeared playful in the first parts but quickly turned to bruising scrambles over 9 foot high barriers and fighting with a helmeted, face-masked man in a heavily padded attack suit. Worst of all was the fact this was done during the heat of the day, year-round, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. To say I didn’t see much in the way of intelligent life among the handlers is an understatement. But then, it was a rough time in a rough place.

Of course, I broke the rules. I smuggled cans of dog food to him and, when supplies were dropped to us I gave him all I could spare – of what was good for him. All but one of our patrol areas were solitary assignments; we had just each other. So, I took him off leash, told him to Stay, went and hid and then whistled for him. He found me every time, and got lots of hugs and praise. Those were the few times I saw his tail wag. It benefited both of us.

We’ve all seen videos of dogs soliciting help for injured canine companions. I have directly had that sad experience. But what about other species?

A few years ago I was standing quietly on my deck watching the birds come to the feeders and wait their turn. Since I also put seed in a tray for the bigger, ground feeders I routinely had as many as ten doves walking about only a few feet from me. But this afternoon a pair of doves landed on the railing near me. One dove sat perfectly still while the other alternately nudged (her? Him?) and looked at me. Something wasn’t right. I slowly went into the house, got a saucer of water, and returned slowly to the deck. As I slowly approached, the active dove stepped a few inches to one side but kept looking from me to the mate. I actually walked up to the mate and put the water in front of it, watched all the while by the other one.

No water was touched while I watched from either the deck or inside the house. After a while they were both gone. But I’ve long wondered what the problem was.

Again on the deck, I was watching squirrels scurrying about in the small woods out back when I heard something nearby. My yard is part of what long ago was a farm and the ground is still terraced as it slopes toward my house. On the side of a nearby slope a yearling female squirrel was rolling around in the fallen leaves. I thought she was hurt or ill. But then she gathered herself into a tuck and rolled heels over head for another descent down the slope. All by herself she was having fun. I’ve seen videos of crows and ravens body skiing down snow covered slopes then going up for another run. But I had never seen a squirrel do this. Maybe I could join her.

The point of all these examples, and the many more each of us could cite, is that there are wonders around us seven days (and nights) a week. Some people are more surprised than others, not being habitually observant or, as we find so many of us in America and throughout the world today, absorbed, shocked, and withdrawn as the United States circles the drain leading to a sewer of extreme oligarch driven de-regulation, greed, dishonesty, economic disparity, subjugation of women’s reproductive choices, and wanton destruction of the planet. A long term survey compiled from several international sources has documented a worldwide drop in wildlife from 1970 to 2010 of a minimum of 60%. As anyone with an I.Q. even approaching any of the species mentioned above knows, the policies under our current regime, even after it is deposed, will project their momentum far into the future, degrading our planet, causing massive displacement of human and non-human populations alike, and leaving a wasteland habitable only for those who would quickly and amorally take lethal action against others in order to survive.

I know some people who refuse to follow the news or read significant books, saying “politics are not my thing. They disturb my peace.” I continue to announce “Breaking News” nonetheless simply because very soon there will be no distraction powerful enough to return a sense of peace to those who did not speak up in time.

At the same time, having lived through protracted periods of life threatening stress, I firmly recognize the value of mental balance, the occasional respite. I suggest to those who are feeling the now very rational stirrings of true dread that they take a moment to look around, to see with new eyes, the “daily strange” around them. It can be far more effective than a fleeting You Tube video. And it can even give new support as one turns back again to participate in the daily struggle to stop the ongoing damage and to try to undo some of its effects. A timeworn saying is, “Stop and smell the flowers.” We might want to take heed. The suicidal overuse of “pesticides” is causing our pollinator species to plummet in numbers below critical levels.  We could modify an old military saying about cigarettes, “Smell ’em if you got ’em.”  

How about you, Dear Reader? What Daily Strange have you encountered today?

Prophecy

Prophecy

by Marco M. Pardi

The well adjusted make poor prophets.” Eric Hoffer. (1902-1983) The True Believer. 1951

Many unhappy persons affected by ambitious mania, or theomania, are looked upon as prophets, and their delusions taken for revelations.” Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909). The Man of Genius. (The Hebrew, nabi, used in the Bible, connotes both prophet and madman.)

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

From early childhood I’ve been interested in the phenomenon of prophecy. It carries within it so many implications which, if taken logically step by step provoke much thought on the nature of existence. And, it can come in a variety of forms, not all of which are equally obvious.

If, like me, you refuse to believe something simply because it has been said, you find yourself with certain questions which begin even before considering the substance of the prophecy. These questions go deeper than just, Who is this prophet? They go to the context in which the prophet appears.

Every culture has had, and still has people who appear to be remarkably insightful, and some who appear to be prescient – able to accurately predict future events. But some cultures are more accepting of these abilities than others. Some quickly accept them as “God given gifts” while others contort themselves with empirical testing, psycho-dynamic hypotheses, and even speculations on the quantum nature of existence. Of course, there are also those cultures which, placing high value on the study of history and the intricacies of critical thinking, recognize and consider the thoughts of people often referred to as “futurists”; nothing magical there, just a logical progression.

When looking at prophets in the vernacular, an interesting distinction, and one with consequences for us, lies in the contrast of the Etruscan culture with the Hebrew culture. The Etruscans, centered in the Etruria area north of Rome, were and are famous for their Eat, Drink and be Merry approach to life, and to death. Their view of the afterlife was a continuation of the joys of mortal existence but without the hassles. Their sense of place in the world was fully invested beyond the mere physical, acknowledging unseen forces at play in everyday currents. Their sense of self was holistic.

Thus, when a haruspex – someone sensitive to these unseen forces and able to “read the signs”, pronounced upon those signs and their implications he or she did not imagine a personified entity (a “god”) as the causative agent. Rather, it was the workings of the whole, albeit beyond what we would later call factual understanding. Of course, then as now we tend to remember the correct pronouncements and overlook or forget the incorrect ones, unless they resulted in true calamity.

As Rome developed and expanded its power it absorbed the Etruscan culture, as was later to become its habit with all it encountered. But Roman “gods” were personified and real only in the eyes of the ignorant and simple minded. In fact, the term pagan, so heavily used by Christians to disparage pre-Christian thought even today, derives from the Latin pagani, a term referring to the uneducated and simple minded “country bumpkins”. It pointedly does not single out or refer to any particular belief system. The educated Romans, the real powers of State, placed the highest values on principles such as Wisdom, Loyalty, Bravery, Virtue and others. To them the Statue of Liberty would be what it is, an icon to call to mind the values for which it stands, not some physical depiction of a real woman holding a torch and perhaps demanding worship. It should be said that contemporary Greeks could be divided along the same lines: Those who understood iconic values and powers versus those who personified those values and powers.

During Imperial times the Romans banned astrology and other forms of divination on pain of death, especially when these were aimed at the Emperor. They were more advanced than some modern societies in understanding how ideas and claims can “go viral” and foment civil unrest or even rebellion.

On the other hand, the Hebrew culture, long and greatly influenced by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians and later the Greeks, blended the personified forces of Nature (the Genesis narrative is written in the plural) and added layers of characters such as mal’akh, the classical Hebrew word for messenger, an intercessor modeled on the Greek Hermes and known to modern Christians as an angel. Christians would carry this stratification further with saints and demons.

Unlike the Romans, or modern Christians, the Hebrews lived in total and complete immersion in their belief system. They were not, like modern Christians – secular materialists six and one half days a week and “spiritual” a few hours on the seventh. Every aspect of daily life, from eating to sexual intercourse, was calculated and performed within the prescriptions of the belief system. An example of how this daily immersion was misunderstood by the Greek writers of what was to become the Bible is the Lazarus story. In fact, there were many stories of people being “brought back from the dead”. The reason was simple: A Hebrew who fell away from the faith was a person with whom absolutely no interaction of any kind was possible. This person was then, effectively, dead to the community. And, these people were referred to as “dead”. Restoring a person into the faith was thus “raising him from the dead”. The Greek writers of the Gospels, ignorant of the Hebrew/Jewish meaning behind these stories, rendered one of them as a matter of fact history in support of their new prophet-deity, Jesus. The many other such stories were simply ignored or destroyed.

So what exactly were these Hebrew prophets we hear so much of? Basically, they were the precursors of our current media pundits. Our modern culture overlooks something: The developing Christian church scrambled through existing literature to find, and carefully edit, long standing writings that would seem to validate the lineage of Jesus and “predict” his coming. Thus, the emphasis on the writings shifted away from social commentary and toward claimed predictive value. Prophecy became synonymous with prediction. But in fact the great bulk of prophecy was astute and biting social commentary especially as it related to the ruling powers. Simple logic would dictate that when one enumerates the harmful fallacies and evil deeds characterizing a given society one moves to propose an unpleasant outcome. This does not mean one “sees” that outcome, as in a vision of a future state of being. It simply means the house is built badly, and badly built houses fall down. What dire visions were expressed in prophetic writings come off more as wishful thinking crafted through the magical mechanisms acceptable in the times.

Which brings us to our current state of affairs. Not for the first time in history, but certainly as an example of the best employment of prophecy, a hostile foreign power, not just a solitary home grown malcontent, analyzed the recent trends in government and society and accurately identified what, to many, are the harmful fallacies and evil deeds responsible for the failed dreams of those many. And, far more potent than just another deranged looking figure wailing on the street corner or scribbling manifestos in a cave, this foreign power channeled its messages through the greatest proliferation of media outlets the world has ever seen. Already having a compromised businessman in pocket, the foreign power astutely identified the “base” for this man, the pagani of modern America, and crafted the prophecies directly to them. His demagogic speeches, peppered with “dog whistles” to racism, fear, and alienation, appeared to be talking points set out for him to answer with, “I know better than (fill in the blank)” and “Only I can fix it”.

For their part, the media was distinctly unable to predict the disastrous consequences of their decision to reap the financial rewards of continually covering the ravings of this “prophet”. After all, who doesn’t want comic relief once in a while?

Sadly, the country, and even the world, is paying the consequences of a minority pagani victory: a bipedal tumor in the White House actively metastasizing throughout the entire political party which thinks it owns him.

I recently read an article explaining how many American fundamentalist/evangelicals – the modern pagani – actually see the current president as sent by God. I doubt that opinion influences him much, since he seems to have thought that from somewhere near birth. But I am interested in how he was about to sign a bipartisan government funding Bill which would have averted a shut-down yet refused at the very last minute after hearing from media prophets like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. Limbaugh and Hannity each flunked out of college in their Freshman year. I don’t know about Coulter. Obviously these prophets have the ear of a large percentage of the public, but more specifically his “base”. This tells me he either thinks they would rise up in his defense during an impeachment or he is serious about running for office again. He may be thinking a sitting President cannot be indicted for crimes, so he will try to sit until he’s too old or dies in office.

But who knows, I’m no prophet. I do find myself in a quandary when it comes to voting rights. The stakes have gotten far too high to just sit back and say everything will even itself out. It won’t. That foreign power mentioned above accurately assessed our population’s greatest vulnerability: The willingness to rally behind the next prophet.

Alien Life

Alien Life

by Marco M. Pardi

Another circumstance tormented me in those days: that no one resembled me and that I resembled no one else. ‘I am alone and they are every one,’ I thought – and pondered.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky. 1821-1881. Notes from the underground. 1864.

All comments are greatly appreciated and will receive a response.

When Armstrong stepped onto the Moon it was indeed a “great leap for Mankind.” Apparently, it was also a great leap for social science. A few years after that historic landing I was attending yet another national social science conference where I was a featured speaker. Looking at the Program for other talks I might find interesting I saw one to be presented by a well known sociologist who, for this event anyway, billed himself as an “Exo-Sociologist” I wondered, What in the world is that? (I couldn’t resist that) Unfortunately, our presentations were concurrent so I missed his. But, having wrestled with the linguistics issue of communicating with off-world visitors I long since wondered how anyone could seriously propose an ethnology/ethnography of an off-world species, especially one capable of visiting us.

Of course, the interest in such adventures was nothing new. Science fiction from the 1940’s onward was dominated by imaginative literature characterizing alien civilizations, usually as a means of highlighting faults in our own. In the ’50’s I was a fan of Flash Gordon, usually sympathizing with the Emperor Ming over Gordon and his mundane companions. The film industry was not far behind, usually depicting aliens as creatures far too clumsy and brutish to have developed, much less piloted inter-stellar craft.

Respectable” literature also got in on the action. Life Magazine and its competitors occasionally published articles on “alien life” heavily illustrated with “artists’ renderings” of what we might encounter on other planets. No matter the renderings looked like Aubrey Beardsley met H. P. Lovecraft. They were there to sell magazines. One evening when I was at dinner with the heir to the Coles Newspaper Empire, including Look Magazine (his young bride was a friend of mine), I asked about their coverage. “It sells”.

More recently we are treated to ongoing television series such as Ancient Aliens, proposing that Humanity arose not through Natural Selection among higher Primates, but from deliberate manipulation of Primate genes by highly advanced space visitors. These programs take advantage of a fundamental principle in logic: Proving something didn’t happen is usually far more difficult than proving something did. Therefore, the shows continually pose ideas in the form of questions, not factual statements, and answer their own questions with “researchers think so”. The term “researcher” is presumed to carry infallibility among us pedestrians.

I am not at all against the idea that alien life exists. In fact, I think the conceit that our planet’s life forms are the only ones in the universe is untenable. But then, what of these other forms? For too long we assumed that life elsewhere had to model life here. This meant presumptively ruling out planets without environments which match ours. Then we began to discover the life forms we never thought possible, extremophiles which exist here in abundance in places so toxic, or so hot, or so cold as to almost instantly kill the life forms we see daily around us. We are only now aware of the thick bacterial blanket surrounding the Earth in the highest reaches of the atmosphere.

But skeptics would challenge the presence of intelligence within these species, holding fast to the self awarded title Homo sapiens – Man the wise. Yet even our definition of intelligence, and who or what can or cannot have it is changing. I have earlier written that Ray Kurzweil, a leader in the growing A.I. – Artificial Intelligence — movement, told us years ago the Singularity, the threshold beyond which no human mind can refute or verify a conclusion reached by a computer, is near. I would say, for me it’s already here. And I’m just using a desktop.

The growing awareness of A.I. has given new strength to the decades old position that life can also be silicon based, not just carbon based as we have known it. I’ve known several women who were largely silicone based, though I don’t think that’s what A.I. science had in mind. At least two of these women suffered bilateral implant encapsulation. The tissue surrounding the implants seized and hardened, leaving them looking like the front bumpers on a 1950’s Cadillac, and feeling the same way. Did I say, largely? When the poor dears tried sleeping face down their heads swung freely.

The issue re-surfacing with A.I. is that for all our scientific history we have been married to the idea of evolution as biological, and biological as carbon based. Now, as we go through our daily routines wearing Smartwatches with more computing power than the massive computer banks which sent Armstrong to the Moon, we are forced to reevaluate our concept of intelligence and who or what can carry it. Yes, computers can replicate themselves, and have been able to for years: Reproduction? Yes, computers can take in new information and purge outdated or useless information: Respiration? And now computers can process information and produce never before seen outcomes: Creativity? We are seeing the ability of computers to produce “offspring” which can exceed the parent generation’s capabilities on the order of several magnitudes: Evolution?

Again, the skeptics speak up saying these acts are not acts of volition; there is no personhood devising and driving them. Unsaid, however, is the unresolved issue of what constitutes personhood. No one has yet explained consciousness. And only a fool takes the road marked Free Will. Quantum computers already exist, leaving us to guess at their motivation just as we look at someone’s actions and joke about the “Darwin Awards”.

In one of his recent books the physicist Michio Kaku proposed a series of graduated stages for the development of intelligent life capable of inter-stellar travel and therefore contact with us. Of course, the existence of life forms with such intelligence and the willingness to visit us do not necessarily go together. But, to be kind, let’s assume for the moment some such adventurers, on a Jurassic Park like vacation, do visit us. I suspect they would view us much as we view roaches: an example of evolutionary success but with the built in limitations attendant upon being the most self-destructive species while at the same time being the Apex Parasite on the planet. Our attempt to develop an ethnology/ethnography of our visitors would parallel a roach’s attempt to understand why we stomped it.

Does intelligence have to appear in a human form for us to accept it as intelligence? Apparently. We still are taught that humans stand apart from “dumb animals”. I’ve written much on that so will not reprise it here. By the way, if the reader falls back on “dumb” as meaning without speech I would point to the recent decades of realization that many other species of non-humans, even plants, have sophisticated communications systems even at dialectical levels. It’s we who have long been too dumb to perceive them.

Does intelligence have to have feelings in order to function? Can a purely intelligent being act in ethical ways, or are ethics the expressions of loosely defined sentiments?

But here’s an open secret. Open because it’s all around us and always has been. Secret because even though in plain sight many people neither see nor understand it. Alien life is all around us. This is increasingly apparent since the rise of “populism”, the old wine in new bottles, to twist a saying. It is the world wide rise of Fascism disguised as what the people want. In the 1950’s a popular tobacco advertising theme was something like “100.000 people can’t be wrong”. Eventually, we came to realize 100,000 people can be wrong.

Especially in the recent United States, but also spreading through Europe human societies are fracturing into competing tribes. Adjust the focal length of the microscope and see that this phenomenon extends down to the familial level as well. Americans remembered the Civil War as “brother against brother” and swore to never let it happen again. I’m not asking for a show of hands, but I’m guessing some readers have found themselves in never-before-so-tense familial gatherings over the recent holidays, if they attended those gatherings at all. And so we now look at each other and see carbon based biological units in human form, therefore presumably intelligent, and wonder if this other thinks and feels like us, or is so unintelligent as to value all those things we know to be absolutely and fundamentally wrong.

My gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”¹

Is this the statement of an intelligent being? 

Talking recently with someone who frequently visits along the U.S./Mexican border they cited an area in the U.S. and said it was full of illegal aliens. I asked, “How do you know they are illegal? By their looks?” No answer.

Well, Dear Reader, I hope you have been stimulated to comment. Now I need to step into the bathroom and comment to the alien life in the mirror. In the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

1. The gut quote above is by Donald Trump. But, you knew that.

Some Lessons Learned

Some Lessons Learned

by Marco M. Pardi

Learn from others what to pursue and what to

avoid, and let your teachers be the lives of others.” Dionysius Cato. 4th Cent C.E.

Disticha de moribus ad filium.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

My calendar tells me another year is drawing to a close. I suppose I should look back and consider what, if anything, I’ve done.

Anyone who opens this blog site sees the column on the right listing all my previous entries. 176 of them. Going back to February of 2013. All still open for comment. I’ve written about things from mysticism to college teaching, ecology to politics, gun control to what to bring to a gun fight. I’ve even included some non-fiction fiction. I haven’t calculated the monthly average, but I do find myself slowing down over the past few months. It’s not age, despite the calendar. Nor is it lack of ideas.

When I started this blog I set up my site with WordPress as a free account. Even at that level I was provided with a multitude of data such as how many hits were received each day and from where they were generated (one has to just presume a hit meant that someone went ahead and actually read what was on offer). A couple of my offerings were hit in over 100 countries; they then stabilized at around 75 for quite some time. At no time have I ever had the identity of a reader, unless that person was kind enough to comment. Among the large offerings of data provided by this site I was also able to see how many followers I had. That number has steadily grown quite large. And so, to provide a better service to those followers I upgraded to a paid platform. I derive no income from this site, what you see is purely at my expense.

The site also allows me to automatically delete spam, or to see it in case an errant comment ends up there (that has happened). Interestingly, the ratio to spam to bona fide comments is roughly 100 to 1. I manually review and clean off up to a dozen spam comments daily.

In the early years I could count on several people to regularly comment. In responding to each one I have often expressed my deep appreciation for their efforts. In fact, I set up this blog for the comments, not for a mere platform to broadcast my views. I learned as a child that learning comes through listening, not through one way monologue. And the best lessons issue from dialogue. For me, life is learning. And, it is sharing that learning.

Yet, the number of “reads” far outweighed the number of comments. I admit I can be somewhat oblique at times, but I doubt my readers have to go back and re-read six or eight times before providing a comment. I also noticed that many of the “reads” came from guests, people not signed on as followers and apparently the recipients of forwarding through other media platforms.

The enhanced platform I purchased does some inspiring statistical analyses of the data it gathers. Looking at these I noticed cycles in the silent reader hits. In addition, and in parallel to a career in medical science I also taught college for twenty two years. The cycles of highest activity in the readership of the blog appeared to closely parallel those cycles within academic semesters when papers are due. These papers range from basic “position” papers to admission essays. They do not necessarily expound on subject matter intimately germane to any given academic course or subject. Thus, with a little editing, several of my blog entries could be submitted as original work by anyone.

And, not long after I noticed this association of reader cycles with academic requirements I began receiving solicitations from several companies asking to hire my services in writing papers they could then sell to students. Even had I never been in a teaching position I would have found this practice an appalling example of cheating. Yet, I know it happens on a large scale. As a professional dedicated to integrity in learning, I was inspired to vomit. But, although keyboards are cheap, I thought better of it.

I’ve seen several examples of cheating, some crude and some grand. I became bored at one small college where I was teaching and decided to do a research project very much like a marketing study for the college. The administration approved my protocol and I enlisted a couple of student volunteers to administer questionnaires to upper level high school students throughout the large County, soliciting their post high school educational preferences and their reasons for those preferences. After four months of data gathering and four weeks of data collation and analysis I wrote up an extensive paper, complete with recommendations to the college, and presented it in an administrative forum.

The paper was enthusiastically received and the college immediately embarked upon implementation of my recommendations, spending several thousand dollars in the process. The paper was published by and archived at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). I received Tenure the following year.

A year later the Dean of Instruction called me into his office. He asked me if I had read the Dissertation which had just won a Doctorate in Education, from one of the State Universities, for one of our administrative staff. I answered in the negative and was handed a copy. It was my paper from two years previously, with the title slightly changed and the administrator’s name in place of mine. All the rest was as I wrote it.

Getting over my shock I asked if, since the college had to now pay this person at a higher level, there would be any action taken to expose this. He said No. The inter-collegiate agreements in the State, regarding such things as transfer students, would be jeopardized if one school exposed another for wrong doing. If we refused to honor a degree from another university they could retaliate against our students. Sound baffling? I thought so.

The next year I had yet another administrative staff member in one of my classes; tuition was free for them. At the mid-term exam I wrote essay questions on the board, to be answered in writing in class. I noticed this staff person was visibly disturbed. When I reviewed the papers later in my office I found why. The person had written impeccable answers: To questions from a different course I was teaching. The answers, to questions from the Introductory Anthropology course, were submitted to the test for the Cultural Anthropology course. I gave the person a ZERO for the test. I did not dismiss the student from the class as I had a right to. At the end of the term the person had brought his/her grade up to a D. This person had a straight A GPA on all courses up to that point, and since the college was using the No-Grade instead of an F the person came to my office and asked me to change the grade to a No-Grade, thus not affecting the GPA. I refused, saying that were I to do so I would be complicit in cheating. My Division Chairman advised me to hold onto the mid-term test. I locked it, along with another student’s proper test paper, in my home safe.

Almost exactly one year later I was summoned to the Dean of Instruction’s office. That person who had cheated had filed a Federal Civil Rights suit claiming, along with other charges, I had acted out of racial prejudice. The case was to be heard in Federal District Court.

In the preliminary hearing I presented the test in question, next to the test from the non-cheating student. I also presented the test questions for each of the two courses at issue. The case was immediately thrown out of court. One can only wonder at the outcome had I not heeded my Division Chairman’s advice. But these are only two of many examples I can cite of cheating, some far worse.

Overall, I feel there was very little cheating going on in my classes. And, the classes were participatory to the extent the volume of material allowed. Of course, through the years of mostly lecture based teaching I have had innumerable instances in which the class ran to the hour with little or no movement from the students to ask questions or rebut a point. I understand that. But over the course of a semester there have rarely been students who have not participated in some way.

And so, Dear Reader, as you recover from your holiday spirit – or spirits, as the case may be, you may understand why, in the face of large amounts of “reads” and low amounts of Comments I’m spending this Season of Giving finishing this 177th offering and considering my options. Before the next billing cycle I can shut down this site completely. Or, I can leave it open to float, perhaps dropping back to the Free level while I find more productive ways to use my time. Or, I can examine the list of Followers and trim off the ones from whom I never read anything. Some of them might appreciate no longer receiving email notification that a new gift is under the tree.

I’m reminded of the aphorism, Use it or lose it. If I knew who coined that I would certainly give her/him full credit. Anyway, I would like to know your thoughts even if they are captured in a single word. In our modern world of truncated communication that shouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

Happy Holidays.