this strange world

Each week, Harper’s offers its “Weekly Review—a digital newsletter that distills the world media’s discharge into three simple paragraphs.”

Here are some discharges (some amusing, some downright scary) from this week’s Harper’s Weekly Review. The links will take you to the original stories.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi denied accusations that he paid a teenage runaway for sex, explaining that he gave $65,000 to a bellydancer who goes by the name of Ruby the Heartbreaker to help her escape a life of prostitution by launching a beauty parlor, and that he thought she was Hosni Mubarak’s granddaughter. link

Donald Trump, who is giving “serious, serious thought” to running for president in 2012, outlined his Libya policy: “Either I’d go in and take the oil,“ he said, ”or I don’t go in at all.” link

Previously unseen emails revealed that BP tried to control independent research into the consequences of the Gulf oil spill. link

Hydraulic fracturing companies, an investigation revealed, injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in at least 13 states between 2005 and 2009, as well as salt, instant coffee, and walnut hulls, to stimulate the release of natural gas from underground reserves. link

Bolivia prepared to pass the Law of Mother Earth, which will grant nature rights equal to those of humans, although it is not yet clear how the legislation will be implemented. link

Scientists identified the part of the brain integral to embarrassment by asking subjects to listen to their own karaoke renditions of the Temptations’ 1964 hit “My Girl” played back without the musical accompaniment. link

A retired greengrocer from Southampton, England, spent 400 hours knitting a three-tier wedding cake to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. “It’s not based on a pattern,” said 74-year-old Sheila Carter. “I just made it up. link

While I have to admit that, being an fanatical knitter, I was intrigued by the story of the knitted wedding cake. But only for a moment.

What really caught my attention was the Wired story about Bolivia.

Bolivia is one of South America’s poorest countries and is seeing its rural communities suffer with failing crops due to climatic events such as floods and droughts. Temperatures are set to rise by up to four degrees celsius over the next 100 years, while most of its glaciers are likely to melt within 20 years.

The Bolivian government — under president Evo Morales — will establish a ministry of mother earth and commit to give communities the authority to monitor and control the industries and businesses that are polluting the environment.

I hope the media keeps track of this story to see if what Morales proposes can work, given corporate greed, even in Bolivia.

morning dreams

Since there is no urgency for me to get up mornings, I tend to lie abed for hours, drifting in and out of sleep. During that time in the morning is when I dream — complex narratives always set in the same dream universe, consisting of the same winding urban streets that rise up from a river and move out into an area that is reminiscent of the neighborhood where I grew up. Somewhere in the mix is a school/college campus and a hotel on a lake where there is always some kind of social dancing going on.

It is as though when I dream I move into a life in some parallel dimension where the topography reflects a mixture of places I have known in this life. They are recognizable places, but they are enough off-kilter to become problematic. I am often unsure or lost in this dreamscape, which is populated both with people I know and don’t know, and always fraught with distressing situations.

I dream these dreams almost every morning and wake up tired and disoriented.

Of course, the answer is to get up early and avoid the dreams. Somehow I can’t. I’m always curious to find out what is going on in this other life of mine.

This morning I dreamed of my cousins who are in Florida — two couples whom I haven’t seen in several years. In real life, one of their sons and my son were born a month apart. In my dream they were both the age of my grandson, now — around 9 years old. And my son was also my grandson. And there was a frisky puppy — a long-haired reddish puppy whose fur I could feel — soft and silky — as I held onto its collar to keep it from jumping on my son/grandson.

In the dream, one cousin was showing me around her opulent apartment. There was really no point to the story. (Even as in this life, there seems to often be no point.)

Nothing was resolved before I woke up with one of my favorite Mary Travers’ songs from the 1970s — “Morning Glory” — running through my mind. I spent some time today doing an internet search for the lyrics, but couldn’t dig them up anywhere. I remember them as something like

Morning glory, glory in the morning.
I wish that I could show my face like you.
I wonder where you go to every afternoon.
Sometimes I wish that I could go there too.
Sometimes I wish that I could go there too.

I’ve got to figure out how to make myself go to bed earlier and get up earlier. I wonder if it’s just how my biorhythms are?

on turning 71 today

It’s March 11, 2011.

There was a terrible earthquake in Pacific Ocean today, and Japan is being hit with 30 foot waves. Tsunamis of various sizes are headed toward both North and South America. Untold lives are being destroyed even as I write this.

Rebellion and unrest in the Middle East and Africa continues to escalate, as untold lives are being destroyed even as I write this.

The state of Wisconsin is leading the way toward an America I’m not going to want to live in, and untold lives are being destroyed even as I write this.

It is my 71st birthday today, and, as I watch and listen to the devastating events going on all around me, I am grateful for the life I have right now, uneventful ‘tho it often is.

And that’s why today, on my 71st birthday, I am filling out forms to be a hospice volunteer — because I am used to doing useful things and need to do something useful with the time I have left.

When I moved here to be with my daughter and family two years ago — after almost a decade of care-giving and 40 years of various other “useful” jobs — I thought that I would be happy hanging-out, relaxing, reading, doing my crafts, gabbing with my daughter, playing with my grandson.

Well, I’ve been doing that for two years, and now I’m ready to get on with some kind of more useful life.

There are about five nursing homes in my immediate area, all of which have hospice units. I’ve been on the receiving end of hospice services as a family member through both my dad’s and mom’s illnesses. I know, from experience, what kind of support people in that situation need. And, since I was an undertaker’s daughter, death has been a part of my life since I was born. It is as though I am coming full circle.

I’m not doing this for altruistic reasons. My reasons are rather selfish. I need to interact with and meet other people (and I discovered that the gym and senior citizen center are just not my style); I need to do something useful.

And that “usefulness” might even spill over to my creative crafting, since I would be interested in making the kind of “memory pillow” that I made for my mother for others who might find them comforting.

So, at 71 I’m shifting gears yet another time so that my time here has meaning for me. My mother lived until she was 94. I don’t know if I’ll last that long, but, while I’m here, I want to be engaged with the world in a more meaningful way.

For my birthday dinner, my daughter is making my favorites: shrimp scampi and key lime cheesecake.

It’s my 71st birthday, and, even as I write this, my life is good. But as I watch the news on CNN, I wonder — for how long?

The Whole Truth

We never really know the whole truth, we ordinary people who try to survive in a context over which we have no control. We try to follow the trail of newsworthy events, forgetting that news and histories are written — well, by whoever writes it all up.

And, sometimes acknowledged fiction writers, creating a fictional story line, seem to come closer to the truth than what we are fed as the truth.

The Whole Truth, David Baldacci’s 2008 international intrigue novel, might have a story line metaphorically closer to the truth than what we are being fed by the “news. There is a character that might well be an (only slightly exaggerated) embodiment of the Koch Brothers and a story line that takes the premise farther than Wag the Dog.

One commentary piece that everyone should read that accurately and succinctly gets to some of the bottom-line truths about what’s happening in America today is Ronni Bennett’s (Time Goes By) post, “Something’s Happening Here.”

She supports the following statement with factual links and graphs:

Although citizens of the U.S. are not detained, imprisoned, tortured, executed or shot in the streets as in some Arab countries, we are nonetheless oppressed. Our government, in long-time cahoots with the corporate elite, started decades before this current financial crisis to steal for themselves all but the shirts on our backs.

And, in addressing the incendiary situation in Wisconsin, she says what I hope lots of us are thinking:

If I am right about what they and their supporters are doing, the protests will spread throughout the land, particularly when the weather warms up in a few weeks. Massive street protests are the only power we the people have left against the corporate/government plutocracy.

God, I hope I’m right, that these people are the vanguard of what is coming. If so, it will be a long and bitter struggle against Mr. Jones, but I don’t see an alternative. We must fight back even if, in the end, we lose.

They’re doing it in the Middle East, setting a standard for the value of human rights and freedom,

Of course, in Baldacci’s novel, there’s a “hero” who determinedly figures it all out.

But we have no heroes. We only have ourselves.

don’t know about any handbasket
but we’re going anyway

You can’t convince me that life (especially human life) on this planet is not on a downward spiral. The following disturbing news clips are from Harper’s Magazine Yearly Review.

Not only are we screwing with other lives on this planet….:

Exposure to antidepressants in the ocean was making shrimp suicidal, and female snails exposed to the chemical TBT were growing penises from their heads. A pair of swans stunned staff at a British wildfowl sanctuary by becoming only the second couple in 40 years to divorce. Seventy-five starlings fell from the sky in Somerset, England, and 10,000 birds were trapped in the twin beams of light projected up from the World Trade Center site, dazzled and unable to return to their migratory paths.

…we are screwing up our own:

A three-year-old girl in South Korea died of starvation while her parents played a child-rearing game online, a Kentucky man was charged with wanton endangerment after he got drunk and put his five-week-old son to bed in an oven, and a Georgia mother punished her 12-year-old son for his bad grades by forcing him to hammer to death his pet hamster. The body of a registered Japanese centenarian was found in her son’s backpack. A video surfaced of an Indonesian two-year-old smoking and propelling himself around on a toy truck because he is too out of shape to toddle.

And here in America, where it’s “don’t think, don’t care”:

“Not to be funny about it,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told the FCIC, “but my daughter asked me… ‘What’s the financial crisis,’ and I said, ‘Well, it’s something that happens every five to seven years.'”

The Texas State Board of Education voted to revise its social-studies curriculum, mandating that the U.S. government should not be called “democratic,”

A Texas newborn with a heart defect was denied health insurance because of his pre-existing condition.

There’s even more such frightening 2010 news bits at the above link to Harper’s.

And you think 2011 is going to be any better for the likes of us?

Did you ever hear of one red ear?

When my grandson came to say goodnight to me yesterday, I noticed that his right ear was a flaming red.

“You have one red ear,” I told him, looking at my daughter to see if she knew.

“Yup. He gets it every once in a while,” she tells me. “Lots of people do. You can Google it. It won’t last long.”

And so I do a search, and find “red ear syndrome.” No one knows exactly why it happens, but apparently it happens to all kinds of people. And if it weren’t for the internet, we would have never known that it was as common as it is. One mystery solved.

It’s kind of like my seeing 11:11 periodically over the years. I blogged about it several times. It’s a number that lots of people keep seeing (Google it and find out).

But that’s not the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing is that if you add up the numbers for the day and time my mom died, you get 11 (for the date) 11 (for the time).

If you add up the numbers for the date she went into the hospital, you get 11.

Like the red ear syndrome, we don’t know why it happens, but it happens.

I hereby officially quit Catholicism

According to this site, it is possible to officially quit being a Catholic, despite the fact that Catholics believe there is an indelible mark put on your soul at baptism that identifies you forever as such so that the hereafter knows what to do with you when you get there. Apparently, you just need to make a formal and official statement, called the Actus Formalis Defectionis Ab Ecclesia Catholica, and you will be taken off the list of identified Catholics kept by — hmm. Whom, I wonder?

I just found out about that statement from here, which led me to the official wording of the document here.

I have to admit that it’s hard to totally shake the programming of 13 years of a Catholic education. For example, although I shed the confines of Catholic doctrine decades ago, I still won’t allow myself to put that wafer in my mouth, even though I have since been to many wedding and funeral masses (that’s the only time I go; and only for relatives). I was indoctrinated (through horrific stories of the wafer oozing blood into the recipient’s heathen mouth) with the fundamental feeling that it is a terrible sacrilege for a non-Catholic to receive communion. I don’t know if I sit out the communion line because I refuse to be a hypocrite or because it just doesn’t feel right to go against that old rote rule.

However, having come upon an official way to sever that denominational tie (if not erase that indelible soul mark), I feel that it is time to do just that. So here is my Actus Formalis Defectionis Ab Ecclesia Catholica:

DECLARATION OF DEFECTION FROM THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

I ___Elaine of Kalilily__, do hereby give formal notice of my defection from the Roman Catholic Church. I want it to be known that I no longer wish to be regarded as a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

I further declare that I am aware of the consequences of this act regarding the reception of the sacraments of the Church, including the sacraments of the Eucharist, marriage and the sick and also with regard to burial.

I undertake to make this decision known to my next of kin and to ensure that they are aware of these circumstances in the case of my being incapacitated.

I acknowledge that I make this declaration under solemn oath, being of sound mind and body, and in the presence of a witness who can testify as to the validity of this document.

Signed:___Elaine of Kalilily______________________ Address:___www.kalilily.net______________________

Witness:____the readers of kalilily.net_____________
Address:____the world-wide web___________________________

Date:____October 23, 2010______________

Now, the instructions say that:

With the above Form, you should include a letter with the following PRINTED information:
Your name,
Your full address,
The name under which you were baptised if married since,
The date of your baptism,
The parish Church of your baptism,
Your date of birth,
The name of your parents, and
The name of your godparents.

Of course I’m not going to put all that information out in public here, but if the ecclesiastic official who needs that information emails me (link to above “About” for address), I will be glad to send him those specifics. (I can use the male pronoun without question here, since we know that, in Catholicism, only males can be ecclesiastic officials.)

While I probably should have been excommunicated a long time ago, given I never got married in a church and then got divorced anyway — and I have proclaimed heresy any number of times and ways — somehow making it official makes it feel like it’s finally official.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! I am vocally and officially coming out as a big
atheist

Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seem to me to be empty and devoid of meaning.
— Albert Einstein

What have been [Christianity’s] fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
— James Madison

The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes; fools and hypocrites. To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.
— Thomas Jefferson

Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.
— George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 726]

(go here for some of the above quotes and more that show the intent of the founding fathers to ensure both freedom of religion and freedom from religion.)

ADDENDUM: Somehow it seems even more appropriate to post this today, Creation Day!

…the date that James Ussher, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, determined to be the very first day of creation in 4004 BCE. That makes the world 6013 years old today, in his chronology (if you’re adding it up at home, remember that there is no year 0).

Keep in mind that you now have excuses to party almost all week. Tomorrow, you should celebrate the creation of heaven and Space Water. You knew the earth was a floaty in a watery universe, right? I think the appropriate celebration is to drink.

Monday, you can celebrate Oceans and Plants day. Garden or go to the shore. And drink.

Tuesday is Moon Day. It’s also Sun Day. It took god a few days, but he finally got around to creating the celestial bodies. This should be a day sacred to werewolves and anathema to vampires. Celebrate by voting for Team Jacob. And drinking.

Wednesday is birds and fish day. This is a day of sorrow, because all the cephalopods will be weeping at their neglect — they don’t even get a mention in the book, except for a later declaration that they are generically unclean. Either that or the clueless idjits who wrote the book considered squid to be fish, which is highly offensive. Celebrate by contemplating cephalopods and raising many toasts to them.

Read more here.