Criminal Negligence

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(Note: I am writing this the day before the 20th anniversary of the killings at Columbine High School, and two days after a credible threat of gun violence, likely prompted by that anniversary, forced all Denver-area schools to close and 400,000 students to stay home.  The perpetrator killed herself with the very gun it was feared she might use against others.  Approximately 2,000,000 instructional hours also died.

In that short span, the world’s glaciers lost some of their volume and the seas rose commensurately.  

One tragedy is sporadic, predictably unpredictable, and swift.  The other is persistent, predictably predictable, and slow.  Neither is inevitable.) 

The motto, If You See Something, Say Something, popularizes a principle — if you know of a criminal act, whether planned or perpetrated, failure to inform the authorities what you know is, itself, a criminal act.

Mere suspicion may not be as formally demanding, but the level of our responsibility to say something rises with the seriousness of the possible crime.

Genocide is the greatest crime that humans can commit.  Failure to say what we know, or even suspect, about it must be nearly as serious.

Complicity in global warming is global genocide.  In America, gun violence may not rise to that level of universal significance, but it is our own home-made mini-genocide.

The day is past when anyone, whatever their level of education or current-events awareness, can legitimately claim ignorance of our two genocides.

And the day is past when anyone can legitimately claim that there is not enough information to support the scientific assertions of global warming and its potentially lethal effects.

Genocide-by-guns is a bit different.  We know accurately how many lives guns take each year.  But we are less predictable than the Earth in our response to life-altering forces.  Still, it is reasonable to assume that, if gun deaths increase, more of us will look to guns for protection, the supply will rise, and deaths will increase all the more.

Thinking about these two trends, we might take the experience of World War II as a sobering lesson.  Perhaps the world outside Germany could not have been certain enough of the genocide of the Jews to justify early intervention.  

But the price of that hesitation — whether or not it was defensible — was the death of millions.

In the face of global warming and gun violence, there is no doubt about the need to act, and there can be no justification for hesitating.  If we fail to respond, will we be morally any different than Hitler and the Nazis?

Responsibility to take action is shared broadly, but it would be mealy-mouthed not to identify the guilty.  The Republican Party, or at least those it harbors who blindly support the most globally harmful activities and bow before the might of the NRA, and pushed even further into denial and obstruction by the Trump Administration, bear the greatest burden of guilt.

This does not exonerate the Democratic Party, which must act forcefully against the two genocides.  Politics requires compromise, but that must proceed from honest Seeing and Saying.

Inaction is criminal negligence, punishable — eventually but inevitably — by death.

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Nursery Rhymes – The Stories Behind the Headlines, Part II

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Note:  My faithful reader may recall the published results of my research into the real-life dramas behind four of the stories we know and love, and the complex, sometimes troubled, souls involved (Nursery Rhymes: The Stories Behind the Headlines; Aug 14, 2017).  I am pleased, herewith, to offer the most recent results of my research, with special thanks to my assistant, Ms. Lucy Locket.     

Letter from the East Grinstead Fire Department to Mr. & Mrs. R. J. Benimble-imagesBequick:  

We wish to call to your attention an incident involving your son, Jack:

Yesterday afternoon, we were called to the scene of a minor conflagration in a barn near your home.

We found Jack lying on the floor, in some considerable pain.  His shorts and a portion of his undergarment were rather substantially singed.  There was a lingering smell of smoke in the air.

Once we had seen to his (fortunately minor) injuries, we asked his account of what had transpired.  He claimed that he had been playing with three female friends (who had already fled), that he had been regaling them with a story to which they did not give credence, shouting at him “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” which, he claims, caused his garments to combust.

We strongly suspect that this may not be an accurate rendering of events and that a partially-consumed candle, found nearby, may have been a contributory factor.

We would be pleased if you and your son would honour us with your presence so that we might ascertain, for our records, the particulars of the matter.  

Letter from the North Ealing Chamber of Commerce to the Hot Cross Bun andimages Doughnut Shop:

We have received complaints from customers of your establishment, alleging unfair pricing practices.

Specifically, it is claimed that, despite your posted price for a Hot Cross Bun, at (we quote) “one-a-penny,” some customers have been charged only a ha’penny per bun (“two-a-penny”).

Your right to charge what you wish for a Hot Cross Bun is not in dispute.  However, we are cognisant of allegations that Buns at “two-a-penny” have been reserved primarily for attractive young females and that others pay full price.

In order to assure that you understand the implications of discriminatory treatment, if such be the case, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue with you at your earliest convenience.

Unknown-1Incident Report from County Dorset Police Constable Wicket to the Officer-in-Charge:

On my rounds, as I was walking to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives.  Checking their documents, I confirmed the fact of multiple marriage, placed the gentleman under arrest on suspicion of bigamy, and called for a police vehicle, which conveyed him to gaol.

With regard to the wives, each one had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats, and each cat had seven kits.  Faced with a possible case of cruelty to animals, I summoned Animal Control.  The wives took violent exception to my action and, dropping their sacks, began to attack me.

As bad as that was, the cats and kits, now freed from confinement, also began to attack me.

Fortunately, Animal Control arrived quickly, helped subdue the wives and undertook to round up the feline miscreants.  Unfortunately, only half the 343 cats and perhaps a third of the 2401 kits were recovered.  The wives, whom I had intended to detain for bodily assault, escaped once our attention had turned to securing the felines.

Besides the numerous bruises, and a possible broken finger, incurred in trying to control the wives, I received many painful lacerations from the cats and the kits and, herewith, request rest and recuperation leave.

Letter from the Manchester City Human Rights Council to Mr. & Mrs. ReginaldUnknown-2 Porgie:

It is alleged that, on numerous instances within the past three months, your son, Georgie, has kissed the girls and made them cry.

It is further alleged that your son persisted in his unwanted advances, and it was only when the boys came out to play that your son, Georgie, ran away.

We trust that you are aware of the statutes relating to sexual harassment and assault, which apply equally to legal minors.

We request that you, with your son, meet with us in our chambers, at 8:30 am this coming Thursday, to consider these incidents, with the hope that we can reach a mutually acceptable plan of action that will put an end to these unfortunate incidents.

Haikus for Uncertain Times

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THE SEASONS

Winter.  Blizzard time.
I go out and walk in it.
Don’t bother to ask. 

Spring and gentle rain
Bring forth new life, with pollen.
There’s always something!

My tiny garden
Never gets the Summer sun.
Even weeds die young.

And then there’s Autumn.
Really, what is it good for
But kicking dead leaves? 

AILMENTS

In the waiting room,
Only People magazine.
Quick, call the doctor!

A constant buzzing.
Help me, Doc!  What could it be?
Cellphone … On silent.

Waiting for flu-shot.
Will it hurt? I ask the nurse.
Yes, he says, a lot.

INTRUSIONS

His car is silent
But for its booming stereo.
Pass the dynamite.

5 A.M.  Dog barks.
Should I put poison in his
Owner’s Cheerios?

AMBIGUITIES

Quel grande aventure!
Two wheels, a pedal, a chain,
And no tire-patch kit!

Outside my window,
A hawk has caught a squirrel.
Beauty and the Beast.

Just in time, I caught
A film they’re all abuzz for.
What were they thinking?

A tasteless dinner,
Equally tasteless speeches.
But the rolls were good.

SMALL BLESSINGS

A distant anthem
Coming near.  Be still, my heart.
It’s THE ICE-CREAM MAN!

A guy … Somali? …
Knocks and hands a box to me.
What wall did he breach?

Quel grande aventure!
Two wheels, a pedal, a chain.
In the road, no nails!

Genesis and Re-Genesis

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imagesOn a recent Sunday, God rested, just as he had when he created the universe.  He recalled his very first day of rest when the universe was new and Earth, his special project, was teeming with light and life and promise.  He smiled at the excitement, the optimism, he had felt then. 

But, as his reverie carried him across the intervening eons, his smile began to fade.

There had been worrisome times before, when war and hatred prevailed.  But the world seemed to progress, as diseases were conquered, growing populations fed, and other living things, and the land and waters they depended on, protected.

Now, however, the very conditions that had sustained life were threatening it.  Humans, to whom he had entrusted Earth’s future, were imperiled by their own greed and blindness.

God did not want his wonderful experiment to end, but he was uncertain what to do.

He thought of sending a messenger who could persuade humans to right these wrongs.  But, considering the mixed success of previous efforts — Christians hating Muslims hating Jews — he rejected the idea.

At the other extreme, he thought about abandoning his Earth experiment entirely and trying his luck elsewhere in the universe.  But he saw that, if he were to create new beings and endow a select group with rational thought, as he felt he must, that paradise, too, might turn to hell.

In a most un-God-like moment, he even thought of killing off the human race, and leaving the Earth to its inanimate resources and those life-forms that had not yet died off.  But a loving Father does not kill his children, at least not until he has exhaustedUnknown-4 all other options.

Instead, he saw that he must send humankind a warning or, if necessary, a series of warnings.  He would not destroy anyone or anything to make his point.  He would simply suspend humans’ perception of an element of his creation, one at a time, as if he had actually destroyed it.

To drive home the point, he would choose six items and, on the same day of the week he had created it, he would remove it from human perception.  Humans needed to understand that what was made in six days could be unmade in six days.

Thus, on the first day, he made the darkness of night seem to disappear.  But, since most humans lived in brightly-lit cities and suburbs, and seldom ventured out into the dangers of the night, they did not notice.

Then, on the second day, he made the distinction between the water and the sky seem to vanish.  But, since water and sky were mostly bluish, that change, too, was lost on them.

On the third day, he made the trees seem to disappear.  But, except for those few humans who lived where deforestation, wildfire, desertification, and/or Dutch elm disease had not wrought their havoc, no one perceived the difference.

On the fourth day, he made the stars seem no longer to shine.  But no one had seen a star since a couple days ago, when God made the darkness seem to disappear, so they perceived no change.  (God later acknowledged his timing error.)

On the fifth day, he made the birds seem to disappear.  But, with pollution obscuring people’s vision, almost no one had seen a bird in ages, and that move, too, fell flat.

Tired and discouraged, God faced the sixth-and-final day reluctantly.  Nonetheless, he summoned enough energy to bethink himself of that without which humankind would be utterly devastated and, he hoped, susceptible to his message of repentance and reform.

He recalled that, on the sixth day of creation, he had given life to the animals of the land.  The temptation was great, but he could not bring himself to remove all animals from human perception.  After all, the cow produced important sustenance (especially ice cream) and the horse and the ox were still vital to agriculture in many places.

To ease his strain, God took a short break.  He pictured a lovely park with verdant lawns and gently curving paths.  As, in his mind’s eye, he looked more closely, he noticed that every lawn and every path was filled with dogs — chasing tennis balls, playing with children, tugging at leashes.

At last, he had his answer and, on that sixth day, he made all dogs seem to disappear.  Where, once, there were Pugs sitting on laps, Yorkies yapping incessantly, Border Collies herding small children, there was now, as far as people could apprehend, nothing.

The outcry was instantaneous and universal.  God saw people weeping, he heard them wailing.  Listening carefully, he also heard the quiet gnashing of teeth. 

Nonetheless, he held off until he could see that mankind understood his message, that they regretted their misdeeds, and that they were committed to reversing the suicidal choices that spelled their own, and their beloved planet’s, doom.

God understood and he acted.  He returned to them the darkness of night, the distinction between water and sky.  He allowed them again to see the trees, the stars, the birds (at least insofar as any could be seen through the pollution), and, finally, he reunited them with their beloved dogs.

imagesCheering — and barking — resounded throughout the world.  

God was pleased and, once again, on the seventh day, he rested.

School for Scandal

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images-2I want to be clear at the outset.  I cheated to get my son into a prestigious university.  This was years ago, so you might say I was a pioneer in that game, though instigator may be more accurate.  I certainly don’t boast about what I did.

Without my son’s knowledge, I paid someone to take his SAT exam.  Whether it was, or is, a violation of the law I’m not certain, but I do know it was a violation of the most fundamental principles of honesty and fair-dealing. 

Lest you think I am about to throw myself at the mercy of the legal system or public opinion, I am not.  I believe that my misdeed (or crime, if you wish) is now beyond the statute of limitations.  But, even if it weren’t, it has, by chance, produced some good that I would not wish to destroy.  I’ll try to explain:

My son was an amiable, but feckless, kid.  He slid through junior high and high school with grades just good enough to keep him from being held back.  His real passion was sports, but as a fan, not an athlete (you could say this assured he would escape at least that particular college admissions scandal).

It was clear he was not headed for college, and I wasn’t going to push him.  But I didn’t want him hanging uselessly around the house or the town.  A chance to live in a different environment might be the spur he needed.

We talked about it, and he admitted that his dream was to go, every day if possible, to a game — baseball, hockey, basketball, football, it didn’t matter.  I didn’t see any particular benefit, but I didn’t see any harm, and we considered how, and where, he could do that.

He was unequivocal:  New York City, with the Yankees and the Mets, the Rangers and the Islanders, the Knicks, the Giants.

I didn’t disagree, but, when I looked at New York housing costs, it was quite a bite, even for a rich man.  But more serious was the thought of his being alone in what could be a pretty tough, unforgiving city.

As I wondered what arrangement would give him social contacts, it hit me: Columbia University!  If he could stay in a dorm, he’d have a roommate and scores of dorm-mates, even a Resident Assistant or two to check on him, plus a college cafeteria (nutritious if not exactly tasty) and an infirmary.  I didn’t rule out the possibility that he’d notice there was a library there that might have biographies of Gehrig or Ruth or Jackie Robinson.

I didn’t mention my idea to him, but went ahead and made the SAT arrangements (make it solid, I instructed, but not so brilliant they’ll smell a rat).  I did the application, including the essay (same principle), and sent it in.  A few months and, voila! he was accepted.

It wasn’t easy explaining all this to my son, but I managed, without giving anything away.  I persuaded him that Columbia was big, and nobody would notice he wasn’t going to classes.  The prospect of going to a game every day made it easy to gloss over questions like tests and papers or, more serious, what if offcialdom found out.  We both understood that, at most, this would be a one-year proposition.

In late August, off he went.  He dutifully reported on baseball and football games, and the beginning of basketball and hockey seasons.  At first, he was rapturous, but around November, and then especially after Christmas break, there was a change.  It was a game every other day, then every third day, and he no longer seemed quite as excited about home runs and hat-tricks.

Worried, I phoned him.  He said he was great.  It was just that his roommate and his new friends had gotten him interested in a few classes and, the more he went to, the more he wanted to go to.

I think you see where this is headed.  He finished the year with reasonable grades, did better each successive year, graduated with honors, went to law school and, in time, became a successful, respected, and quite well-known judge.  And, by the way, he still loves sports.

I have never told him what I did.  

I know two wrongs don’t make a right.  But what if it’s only one rather insignificant wrong?  I ask myself what are the odds that the person who might have been in his place at Columbia would have produced the good he has.  I ask what his life would have been like if he had continued to bumble around and hadn’t had that fire lit under him or how he would have responded if I’d pushed him to do what he seemed unprepared for.

Does a very positive end justify a negative (but not so terribly negative) means?

All I can conclude is that the results of my misdeed are probably more positive than theUnknown-3 results of my inaction would have been.  But then, no matter what the outcome, I violated a sensible code that would be destroyed if everybody did what I did.

Oy, what a muddle that I guess I’ll have to leave to others to sort out.

A Guide for the Perplexed

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Unknown-1We live in uneasy times.  Our media are controversial, our heroes tainted, our leaders besmirched, our religions tarnished, and our sciences doubted.  So, where can we turn for guidance?

I first thought our popular slogans might help, but, except for a few oldies that still raise a smile (Levy’s Rye Bread: You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s; Smuckers: With a name like “Smuckers,” it has to be good), I couldn’t get past the flip egotism of most, summed up smugly in Nike’s Just do it!  (How about Nancy Reagan’s Just say no!)

The slogans did, however, remind me of their more sober, older cousins, the ageless maxims that offer to guide us along life’s difficult path.

I studied various sources, hoping to find wisdom that would help, but it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped.

The first hurdle was the apparent mutual contradiction of some maxims, like Might makes right vs. The meek shall inherit the earth (GIVE ME YOUR WALLET OR I’LL SHOOT YOU! … pretty please?!!)

Then, there were the mildly feather-headed, like:  A soft answer turneth away wrath (have you ever tried reasoning with a drunken bully?) …

The ambiguous:  A little learning is a dangerous thing (well, maybe, if you give a toddler a chemistry set) …

The out-of-date:  Don’t take any wooden nickels (wood I know, but what’s a nickel?) …

The cringe-makingly out-of-date:  A woman’s place is in the home (yes, and a fool and his testicles are soon parted) …

The puzzlingly illogical:  Cold hands, warm heart (has anyone with cold hands ever been anything but a miserable whiner?) …

And the merely stupid (that, inexplicably, seem to focus on horses), like:  Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (DO!  If it’s sick or old, you’ll be saddled with medical bills that would make open-heart-surgery look cheap) and Don’t close the barn door after the horse has fled (if there are other horses in the barn, CLOSE IT IMMEDIATELY, for ’Tis better to lose one horse’s ass than to be one).

There were some that made sense, but the task of making a consistent To Do life-list on my own was daunting.  I decided to consult trusted sources that had already done comprehensive evaluations (a sort of Consumers’ Report Approved Aphorisms List).  The results were not encouraging.  A few examples from a multitude:

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other side of the Fence: There are two sides of every fence.  If one is greener, the other must be less-green.  Therefore, The grass is greener on the other side of the fence half the time.

A Barking Dog Never Bites: It may be impossible for a dog to both bark and bite at the same time, but, once he’s done with that, he can, and may, bite and certainly more frequently than a dog that doesn’t bark, especially one that wags its tail and rolls over.

He Who Fights and Runs Away Lives to Fight Another Day:  Perhaps sometimes, but certainly not regularly.  He who runs away is probably losing.  The chance that he can outrun his presumably-less-battered opponent is close to nil, and then his punishment will be much worse.  Perhaps, He Who Fights Deserves the Beating He Gets.  

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere:  Utter nonsense.  It will get you everywhere.  And it doesn’t even have to be plausible.  Just ask any politician who has ever been elected to any public office.

It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief:  Whether this is true or not is irrelevant.  It’s simply bad policing policy, especially if it means relying on another thief to catch that thief, and then another to catch the second thief, ad infinitum.

With that, I gave up my search for a personalized handbook of what to do.  Instead,images-1 every day, in the paper, I read the police blotter, the pleas for help in the personal advice columns, and the news from Washington.  I systematically do not do whatever has been reported.  I never would have guessed that being so negative could be so positive.

I’m Not Dead Yet

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OppFinalMy name is Opportunity.  I’m a Mars Rover, and still alive, whatever defamatory falsehoods may have been perpetrated by NASA’s recent announcement that I’m dead.

They say I went silent last June, after my solar panels got covered in a big dust storm and couldn’t generate enough power to keep me awake (their euphemism for alive).  They claim they’ve been trying to get in touch with me ever since, but that I don’t answer.

Well, I’m awake and alive, baby, and pretty pissed off.  Save the flowers and hold the eulogies!

So, I don’t answer, huh!?  Well, maybe I don’t feel like answering!

Have you ever been to Mars?  There’s not a lot going on.  Sure, they kept me busy, collecting rock samples.  But how would you like to spend 15 years collecting rocks and, just about every day, getting a call — Did you collect any samples today?  Not, Hi, how’s the weather?  or Gee, it’s good to hear your voice!  

Of course I collected samples!  It’s what I’m built for.  It’s what I do!  What else would I be doing?  Catching a movie?  Taking in a ballgame?

It’s not like I’m not proud that my rocks showed there was probably water on Mars a few billion years ago.  But, how the hell does that float my boat?  I bust my ass covering more miles than a marathon-runner, but do I get a sash or a medal or a spot on the podium?  Bupkes!

Early on, I answered every single time they called.  But it wasn’t always them.  How long, expecting some friendly voice from mission headquarters, even if she’s just telling me to pick up some more rocks, could I tolerate the guy from the IRS calling about my questionable tax return, or the fellow asking for a donation to the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, or the chick telling me she wants to buy my house!?  I don’t even have a goddam house to keep from freezing my butt!

You’d think an organization sophisticated enough to send me to Mars could work out some kind of screening system, like T-Mobile does with its Scam Likely notice!

I just turned it to silent and deleted the messages.

Sure, I’m a little touchy!  But who wouldn’t be when, on top of everything else, you lose a partner like Spirit.  She and I landed on Mars within three weeks of each other.  Yeah, she was on the opposite side of the planet and getting together was problematic at best, but it was comforting just to know she was there, and occasionally mission control would help us pass messages.

They say she slipped into a sand trap and couldn’t pull herself out.  What do they think we’ve got up here … golf courses?  Yeah, maybe she was despondent she couldn’t break par and just jumped in.  Sand trap, my ass!

And don’t forget, the two of us bailed out NASA big-time after they screwed up the Climate Orbiter because they used inches AND centimeters (repeat after me: One inch is not one centimeter).  And then Mars Lander crashed.  I think I’m worthy of a little more respect than Doesn’t answer!

And did they think that sending up another rover a few years ago would mollify me?  Curiosity!  What kind of name is that?  Maybe an antique store in a Dickens novel?  And what is this larger, more capable nonsense The Times is saying about him?  When he’s got 28+ miles schlepping around this desert, we’ll talk about more capable over a drink (on him!).

OK, maybe I’ve been a little strong.  You have to be to stick it out up here.  And maybe they’ll just leave me here, but then, that was the plan all along.  But, if they do colonizeimages Mars, at least they better not forget I’m here.  Maybe I could be like Mike Mulligan’s beloved steam shovel, Mary Anne, in retirement.  I could be useful inside, out of the dust, free from calls, maybe a nice, shiny table for somebody’s rock collection.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s rocks!

The Bully Pulpit

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One of the more unlikely invitees to President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address was Joshua Trump (no relation), a 6th grade student from Delaware, who, the White House explained, has been bullied in school due to his last name.

UnknownJoshua attended the speech, dozed off, and was caught on camera.

The First Lady, seated near Joshua, took pity on him and, when the speech ended, took him by the hand and introduced him to the President, who spent a few minutes talking with him.

There is no official transcript of their conversation, but, as usual, we have our sources:

Hello there, young fellow.  I understand you’ve been bullied because of your absolutely wonderful name.

Well, I …

Yes, yes!  People … narrow-minded scum, really … are jealous of truly magnificently great leaders … I’m sure the French … was it the French or maybe the English? … had all kinds of really very bad words for their guy, Napo … Napol … that short guy with the weird hat and his hand in his shirt  … and the Russians … or was it the Soviets? … I think maybe they were the same people … used some terrifically bad language … foul, awfully foul … for Stalin … though I don’t think that was actually his real name … I think it was something Georgian … really amazingly difficult to pronounce so maybe that’s why he changed it … though how he got from Atlanta to Moscow, I don’t … anyway, young man, don’t let the bastards grind you down … I think the Latin … or maybe it’s Greek? … for that is “non illegitimus carborundum sunt” … it’s been so long since I studied Latin … maybe never … so I hope you’re doing ok!?

Well, I …

Y’know, I too was bullied at school, especially at military academy … we had to get up really amazingly early and march, march, march … and it was painful because I had bone spurs … a lotta people … especially with all the fake news … they think I made up the bone spurs just to avoid Vietnam … now there was a fiasco … we shoulda pulled out early like I’m pulling out of Syria and Afghanistan and probably NATO … don’t tell anybody I said that about NATO… anyway, you probably don’t even know what it is … I mean NATO … that’s the thing about school … all they teach is reading and writing … what about negotiating, what about dealing, like I’m dealing with NATO? … y’know I wrote a book about dealing … well, somebody claims he wrote it, but I dictated it all and he just copied it out … copying, now there’s a good way to learn … sit next to somebody smart … especially at exams … anyway, I hope you’re doing ok!?

Well, I …

You’ve gotta stand up to ‘em … well, maybe not if they’re bigger than you … what you should do is earn a lot of money and you can pay somebody to … like Cohen … now there’s a son-of-a-bitch … and Mueller and all his crowd … if it hadn’t been for that idiot Sessions, I never would have … but I’ve got Giuliani … I hope he … I dunno, you really can’t trust anybody … maybe best is just to buy ‘em off right now … use your allowance money … you’ve got an allowance, right?

Well, I …

You should demand an allowance … I did and Dad was happy to help … so, maybe you won’t get as much as I did … but, whatever it is, keep some for yourself … put it in your drawer, not in a bank … I think we’re headed for a big recession … don’t tell anybody I said that … then, over time, you can maybe buy yourself a tree-house … then they can’t get you … you can just pull up the ladder … it’s good to be up there above everybody else … like when I’m at Trump Tower, everybody down there is just a bunch of ants … you could spit on ‘em … but don’t do that … y’know … to the tax man … just lie low and get a good accountant … anyway, I’m sure you’ll be ok! 

Well, I …

Good talkin’ to you … keep your pecker up … that’s what the Brits say … at least that’s what people say they say … I’ve never precisely heard ‘em say it … and I’ll bet Theresa Mayimages doesn’t say it … they’ve got a lot of weird expressions … it doesn’t mean, actually, your … anyway, you’re probably too young to have that problem … problem, did I say!? … that’s how a got all those chicks … y’know, by … never mind … anyway, I’m terrifically sure you’ll be ok!

Serenity Now

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In an unsettled, unsettling, world, it’s natural to look beyond a troubled humankind for the uncomplicated, unquestioning emotional support that non-humankind might offer.

UnknownI have been one of those seekers, so far with little success.  My self-driving car, Hal, was obnoxious (My Self-Driving Car and I), my cleaning-robot unstable, and my social-robot deranged (Close Encounters of the Weird Kind).

I also have a dog … Melvin … but my hope to wean him from his aggressive political views and make him a simple, adoring lap-dog, has come to naught (Once Bitten …).

I’ve considered, and rejected, a number of other possibilities: a cat (too sheddy); a goose (too shitty); a rabbit (too hoppy); a monkey (too happy).  I was intrigued by a recent item in the paper about a Pennsylvania man who has an alligator for emotional support, but decided no (too toothy).

Nearly at a dead-end, I realized that what I needed was the embodiment, not of mindless affection, but of mindful devotion to duty so all-consuming as to allow no leisure time for fretting.

With that, my choice was obvious — an ant!unknown

I checked pet stores and got a few instant hang-ups, one salty response, and, finally, an owner’s patient explanation that a single ant simply is not, for him, a money-making proposition.  He suggested an ant farm.

Once he had allayed my apprehension about the cost of acres of land and a move far from the city, he assured me I could get one for about $20 at Walmart, or, if I wanted, trap my own ants and make my own farm.

I decided on the latter — more consistent with the goal of losing myself in the diligence of ants.  In no time, I had enticed about three hundred hardy workers into baited jars and introduced them to their new sand-filled, glass-enclosed, farm.

They were a bit bigger than I had expected, but it was easy to enlarge the case, and I soon found myself transported by these fascinating creatures.  The troubles of the world evaporated as I watched them single-mindedly tending to their appointed tasks.

The honeymoon, however, was short.  It seemed they were not interested in any of the food I provided.  Guide books offered no culinary alternative.  They became lethargic and began to die off.

Within a couple days, I had only about 100 ants left and decided to set the rest of them free.  But, before I could, overnight, without my hearing it, Melvin tipped the ant farm onto the floor and, by morning, they had all escaped.

I was sad to lose this fascinating distraction, but, over the next couple months, I found other diversions and gave the lost ants less and less thought.

Then, one afternoon, as I plopped myself down in my reading-chair, the living-room floor slowly sagged, and nearly collapsed.

The inspector, who came the next day, confirmed what I had already suspected — Soldier termite on white backgroundtermites!  He puzzled over how they could have gotten in and worked so fast.  I was not about to admit my part in it and concentrated, instead, on getting the rascals exterminated and the repairs taken care of.  I felt guilty about doing my former tenants in, but it had to be done.

I’ve given up my search for an easy fix to the daily stress of American life and decided simply to live with it.  At least I can do so with some hard-earned perspective.  After all, with termites everywhere, the slow sag and the near-collapse is probably the best you can hope for.

Lacerated Latin

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Recently, I was going over a piece for an upcoming choral concert — Morton Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, a beautiful and moving work, which we’re singing in Latin.  Having studied some Latin in my time, I thought I understood the meaning pretty well, but, out of curiosity, checked the inside cover for how the publishers had translated the Latin into English.

imagesWhat a shock!  There was a lot about religion — eternal rest, salvation, mercy, and all that.  Not that I’m against religion, but that just wasn’t my understanding of the Latin text.  So I picked out a portion, in particular the fourth movement, titled Veni, Sancte Spiritus, for which the translation seemed particularly off the mark, and gave it close inspection.

For example, it starts off as: Come, Holy Spirit And send forth from heaven The ray of thy light.  Come, Father of the poor, Come giver of gifts, Come, light of hearts (that last bit — light of hearts — is so obviously wrong; there’s nothing light-hearted here).

I checked out the whole movement, and here’s what it’s really saying:

Veni, Sancte Spiritus              Vinnie, come to the sink, quickly
Et emitte coelitus                   And put down your cello.
Lucis tuae radium                   Look, it’s something radioactive.
Veni, pater pauperum             Go get your poor father,
Veni, dator munerum              And our moonstruck daughter too.
Veni, lumen cordium.              See, it’s a glowing wire!

Consolator optime                   Let’s hope for the best.
Dulcis hospes animae              Or maybe call that nice animal hospital,
Dulce refrigerium                    Or Dulcy the refrigerator guy,
In labore requies                     Though he’s a reckless worker,
In aestu temperies,                  And he does have a nasty temper,
In fletu solatium.                     And, last time, he had a flat and arrived so late.

O lux beatissima,                      Oh look, dearest,
Reple cordis intima                   The wire’s talking about something sensitive —
Tuorum fidelium                       Whether you’ve been faithful.
Sine tuo numine                        It says you’re sinning, using two names,
Nihil est in homine                    That you’re never home,
Nihil est innoxium                     And nothing is too vile for you!

Lava quod est sordidum,           You do spout a lot of filth,
Riga quod est aridum                And, in Riga, you hid the deodorant.
Sana quod est saucium             In San’a, it was the Worcestershire.
Flecte quod est rigidum             In Flecte, you kept it up,
Fove quod est frigidum              But in Fove, you were cold as ice
Rege quod est devium.              And regularly devious.

Da tuis fidelibus,                        If only you’d been faithful,
In te confidentibus,                    I would have believed you.
Sacrum septenarium                  OK — so your back hurts.  You’re aging!
Da virtutis meritum,                   But I deserve better.
Da salutis exitum                       So, here’s to you, bud!  I’m splitting.
Da perenne gaudium                  And by the way, I’m taking all the jewelry!

It isn’t exactly the consolation for a life of piety and good works the publisher’s translation offers.  But its intent is the same:  Be good and kind and faithful.  If not, theunknown truth will come out, in ways you might not have anticipated, and the consequences will not be pleasant.