Mag #225

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt

Go here to read the pieces about the image that others have written.

Sweet Summer 1912 -- John William Waterhouse

Sweet Summer 1912 — John William Waterhouse

The world is filled
with the sound of water,
the rustle of lives teeming
beneath a thirsty earth.
I languish among the peonies,
heavy with heat
the earth calling us all
to its measure.
Skin rises to tease the sun,
looses a brazen sigh.

slowly growing garden bounty

This year, the family planted an almond tree and a cherry tree. The fruit trees planted in previous years are becoming laden with young edibles. One tomato has shown up, and the bird house is filled to capacity. A little bit of paradise, here.

gardenbounty

columnar apples












peaches











first tomato












occupied bird house.






We don’t have an extra big yard; it’s just a regular house lot. But the family makes the most of it. Such is suburban farming.

This is why I blog….

Here on this weblog, I write about whatever interests me at the moment, even though, at the time, I recognize that it might not interest anyone else.

But every once in a while, out of nowhere, it does.

I just received an email from a man in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada regarding a blog post I did back in 2003 about friends of mine leaving to join a group in Edmonton that I consider a cult.

You can read the post here – and be sure to read the comments as well.

Apparently, a colleague and friend of my e-mailer, who was missing since March 22, has been found dead. Police do not suspect foul play; my e-mailer suspects suicide. He also seems to believe that she was somehow involved in de Ruiter’s group.

I guess he is doing his own investigation, and so I gave him the names of my old friends who left all of those years ago, in case they are still around and can help him. And in case they might like to get back in touch with me.

That’s why I blog. Because all of my stuff is sitting somewhere out there in the world wide web, and sometimes it is just what someone is looking for.

Well, it’s one reason I blog. I blog because I’m a writer and I need a place to write.

Whatever. It all works for me.

Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

(On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

My Achilles Heel

Ever since I as a little kid with allergies, my sinuses have been my “Achilles Heel.” I remember the doctor having to suction out my sinuses because the mucous was so thick that I couldn’t blow it out.

When I was teaching back in the 70s, I was always sick because of the chalk dust in the air. Teary eyes and a runny nose ruled my Springs and Summers. Over the years, even two rounds of allergy shots (20 years apart), and what must have amounted to millions of allergy pills, never made much difference.

A dozen years ago, an Otolaryngologist discovered that I had a badly deviated septum. I opted to have it surgically fixed. I blogged about that back in July 2002.

Last November I came down down a sinus infection that no amount of nasal irrigation, allergy nose spray, and other non-presription treatments affected. So, back to an ENT, another CT scan, and a diagnosis of scar tissue blockage on one side and a re-deviated septum on the other. Three rounds of three different antibiotics, prednisone, and cortisone nose spray didn’t do a thing.

Surgery, again, done three days ago. Packing and splint, antibiotics, and Vicodin.

I got the packing and splint out today, and I have no doubt that surgery was the right thing to do. The scar tissue blockage had caused puss to back up high into my sinus cavities. And there it remained stuck until the surgeon cleaned it out and removed the scar tissue. While he was in there, he fixed the deviated septum on the other side.

They totally sedate you for the surgery, so that was a piece of cake. These three post surgical days, however, were something I had to make up my mind to grin and bear. (Well, not really grin; it was very uncomfortable.) No bending down or lifting anything up. No nose blowing. No hair washing. You just have to stay at home and do nothing. Even reading is hard because your eyes keep tearing up.

I slept in my recliner, blitzed out on Vicodin. Last night, even that magical drug didn’t make it possible to sleep, so I spent the night looking through old photo albums and removing the pictures that I want to scan in to keep for posterity. I had to distract myself from the fact that I could only breathe through my mouth, my throat was getting sore, and my head hurt.

After he removed the packing today, the ENT vacuumed out what was left in my sinuses, even the ones high up over the eye. That wasn’t fun, even though he sprayed lidocaine in first.

It’s going to take me a few days to catch up on some sleep, and even longer than that to get my digestive system back on track after the antibiotics.

Do I think it was worth it? Being able to breathe freely and not feel sick all of the time from the sinus infection is definitely worth it. Hell, yes.

The Stubborn Roots of God-ism

OK. This is a rant. Not about religious fanatics or extremists. It’s about reasonably intelligent and educated people who don’t take the time or make the effort to examine and understand the difference between freedom to practice a religion (or not) and the separation of church and state.

It’s all there, folks, in the Bill of Rights and Constitution. There’s no mention of god. There is only the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of a national religion.

How much more clear can that be.

But there’s something about people who are devoted to their religion and their version of god that makes them want to insist that it’s a universal truth. It seems to have something to do with the brain and the stubborn roots of god-ism.

Our research team at the University of Pennsylvania has consistently demonstrated that God is part of our consciousness and that the more you think about God, the more you will alter the neural circuitry in specific parts of your brain.

But that’s a rant for another time.

Even those many who believe in the freedom to practice the religion of your choice only seem to go along with that as long as that all-powerful god is part of the equation.

As a secular humanist, all of that is irrelevant to me until they insist that, somehow, America belongs to that god, that in god we must trust, that god blesses America.

I don’t know how to educate such folks. I think the roots of god-ism that religions infuse into the brains of thinking people take such a strong hold in the temporal lobe that it can’t be budged by logic or facts.

The wonderful thing about the internet, and the dangerous thing about the internet, is that once you have put something out there, it pretty much stays there (unless, of course, you cite some researched document that gets eventually pulled from its server.)

A FaceBook discourse that I have been having with my religious family members is out there but is not being accessed in my timeline. From their end, there is a lot of “one nation, under God,” and “In God We Trust”, and offers to send me reading material. They obviously don’t read what I have written in my comments. (“Don’t confuse me with facts; I know what I believe.”)

From my end is what, I think, are cogent explanations the position of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, along with links to more highly developed sources than I.

Since they are not being shared on FaceBook, I am sharing them here. Because I can. Because this is a crucial educational discussion. Because I’m scared to death that such well-meaning (but un-informed) folks will rise to the majority and destroy the foundations of My Blue America.

So, I am herewith repeating my comments to their god-ist urgings. Because I can and because I don’t want to lose my links and arguments. You can tell from my responses what they must have commented. These are my responses to a jpg of “One Nation Under God”:

— We need to go BACK to being one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, regardless of religious or secular beliefs. What matters is The Golden Rule.

— No, if I meant the commandments, I would have said so. The “under god” was inserted into the pledge in 1954 during the Cold War with Russia by a Congress afraid of “godless” communism. This country was founded on a separation of church and state by the wise men who thought it all out originally. I documented it all here, in a history lesson worth knowing about:

— Hey, whatever works for you, I get inspiration from my hummingbirds. But that has nothing to do with the way this country functions; it’s totally an individual thing, and American history informs how that is supposed to work. If you google “The Golden Rule” you will find that just about all religions have that as a basis, as does secular humanism. That gives us a common ground that does not require a belief in god to be good. And I respect your PERSONAL beliefs and lifestyle, but I think you do need a lesson in American history so that you don’t try to impose your version on the rest of this country — which pretty much is the definition of the kind of Sharia Law practiced in some Islamic countries.

— Absolutely. Informed discourse is crucial to the maintenance of a democracy. The problem arises, however, when an “opinion” gets legislated by those who have the power to impose that “opinion” on others who do not share that “opinion.”

— Christine, read my historical documentation. Religion/God and our government were separated right from the beginning. They were never meant to be combined, as they are in Muslim countries. It’s a historical FACT. And it is documented over and over again in what our founding fathers wrote and signed. The Pilgrims did not create the documents that are the laws of our land. And the Pilgrims are hardly good examples living by the Golden Rule. Again, read my researched piece — even though some of the links are so old that they have disappeared, but googling will unearth similar factual documentation.

The Mayflower Compact was a PRECURSOR to what became our Constitution. Because it stressed the “civic values of justice, equality, and responsibility,” the founding fathers built on those values BUT also recognized that the religious part of the document was not a good thing to impose. So they purposely did not include any of that in our Constitution of Bill of Rights. Nowhere in those documents is god mentioned, and I will link to that info in the next comment.

— Excellent piece by PBS:
God In America – People – God and the Constitution

— Ladies, it’s never to late to learn the truth: Quote from the above piece: With Madison’s guidance, the First Congress approved the First Amendment to the Constitution that begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The amendment applied only to the federal government, not to the states. Some states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, continued to use taxpayer money to support established churches. In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to end such support. [I guess, according to the law, maybe you could establish your own state and have your own state religion. And I guess that would apply to Buddhists, Muslims, etc. But then, that's not what America is about, is it?]

— Well, then, you you really don’t understand what this country is about. And let me clarify my position on religion, in general. If it works for you to help you be a good person, fine. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us can be good without god. That’s a different issue from separation of church and state in America. America is not a country founded on “god” or his/her laws. It’s a country founded on secular human values (which, in truth, are shared by all religions). So, Trust in God all you want if that helps get you through the day. But that trust and belief is irrelevant to the laws of our land, despite what you would like to believe.

I am frustrated by the refusal of smart people to accept that they might be wrong about separation of church and state in America. It has to be the result of those stubborn roots of god-ism and the way the brain works. Science will tell.

Suburban Farming on a Shoestring

With all of the concern over GMO foods and pesticide contamination, suburban farming has become a big deal these days. Our family has been growing veggies in a small plot of backyard land for several years now. This year I decided to extend our planting areas to other spots around the house. Instead of flowers, I have planted veggies.

tomatopatchHere is my tomato strip, which runs along the fence that separates us from one of our neighbors. I am experimenting with this red plastic mulch which is supposed to make the tomatoes grow faster and better. It sounds a bit like sympathetic magic to me, but there also seems to be some scientific connection, based on light waves and such.

I have planted beefsteak, Paul Rebeson, yellow grape, and green zebra tomatoes, as well as one that will be a surprise because I lost the marker and can’t remember what kind it was. If all goes well, we should be in tomato heaven.
sidetomatovinewatercress garden
This is a small spot at the front corner of our house that gets nice afternoon sun. Before I took it over for a cherry tomato vine and assorted other edibles (basil, kale, mesclun, dill) it was a patch of useless grass. I threw in some marigold seeds around the tomato plant. Bugs and other critters don’t like marigolds.

A raised bed space alongside the back stairs to my rooms gets sun all morning, and so I planted watercress, purselane, parsley, and cilantro. I never heard of purseland before I went to the Farmers’ Market this afternoon and saw a plant on sale. I like to try a new edible every year, and this is it for this year. Last year’s ground cherries didn’t fare very well.

rosemarywelcomeAn old chiminea that wound up on the front lawn and then lost it’s chimney seemed to be a good place to plant some rosemary and hang a fuschia plant. I put the chimney section aside and will probably plant some kind of vine it by the divider my daughter erected to block the part of the driveway where she puts a table and umbrella.

Folks in our neighborhood never use their front lawns, never sit on their front steps. We do. But then, again, we do a lot of things that the other folks in our neighborhood don’t do, including home-schooling.

And, for me, the best part of our front yard is this, where I often sit late in the afternoon and read, knit, listen to a book on tape, or just snooze. And from this vantage point, I can watch the hummingbirds visit my little hummingbird garden (more on that another time). In another month, the long branches of the willow and the tall grasses planted behind the swing will seclude it from the driveway and the road. This is my little piece of heaven.
readyswing

My Annual Mother’s Day Tribute to My Kids

(I first posted this in 2006.)

Some women take to mothering naturally. I had to work at it. And so I wasn’t the best mother in the world. I would have worked outside the home whether I had been a single mom or not. But because I was, mine were latchkey kids, with my daughter, beginning at age 12, taking care of her younger brother, age 5, after school. I left them some evenings to go out on dates.

Oh, I did cook them healthy meals, and even cookies sometimes. I made their Halloween costumes and went to all parent events at their schools. My daughter took ballet lessons, belonged to 4H (but I got kicked out as Assistant Leader because I wouldn’t salute the flag during the Vietnam War). I made my son a Dr. Who scarf and took him to Dr. Who fan events. I bought him lots of comic books and taught him how to throw a ball.

But most of all, I think/hope I did for them what my mother was never able to do for me, — give them the freedom to become who they wanted to be — to explore, make mistakes, and search for their bliss. I think/hope that I always let them know that, as far as I was concerned, they were OK just the way they were/are. (Me and that dear now dead Mr. Rogers.) Not having had that affirmation from my mother still affects my relationship with her. I hope that my doing that right for them neutralizes all the wrong things I did as they were growing up.

So, you two (now adult) kids, here’s to you both. You keep me young, you keep me informed, you keep me honest, and, in many ways, you keep me vital. I’m so glad that I’m your mother.

Never in a million years could I have foretold where my kids would be today.

My daughter home schools my grandson, now 11. This is her bliss, and he is all the better for it. She sometime writes about her experiences as a parent who home schools on her blog walkinglabyrinth.com, as well as on Facebook. I live in the home she makes for the four of us. That’s a surprise, too.

My son, currently between jobs, lives in Portland OR and is the co-owner of and social media manager for nonprofit The Belmont Goats. As always, he maintains a strong internet presence.

Whatever they learned from me over all of those years, I am still learning from them and enjoying having them in my life.

Still Knitting

I made one more try making the side-to-side sweater I posted about before.

caribbeanThis is my latest and final attempt. No matter how carefully I count and measure, it still doesn’t come out the way it’s supposed to and I wind up undoing and redoing. Like the other one, it’s wearable, and this one came out the cropped length that I wanted. Of course, I have to consider that it’s not the sweater’s fault that I don’t like the way it looks on me. It’s me.

The yarn is cotton/acrylic and is discontinued. I liked the feel of it when I saw it on sale a while ago, so I bought enough of this “Caribbean” color and of a gray and white color to make a cropped/cap sleeve sweater in each. But I’m going to use a different pattern this time.

It’s really “work in the garden” time of year, not “sit around knitting.” But I tend to do both, since I can’t seem to just sit and watch tv in the evenings. I have to do something with my hands. Thus, knitting.

Mag #218

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Mag 218. (Go there to read what others have written in response to this prompt.)

chair-with-the-wings-of-a-vulture 1960 salvador dali

(Chair With the Wings of a Vulture
1960, Salvador Dali)

Let’s hear it for our deities–
winged or haloed,
hanged or throned.
We want them to watch,
care, punish, save —
need them to blame
when tsunamis rise
and when bread doesn’t.