Fever Dreams

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January 11, 2021- An African-Canadian, of indeterminate political stance, has posted a statement that “slavery….probably never existed”. His statement seems to be based on a thread on the website Quora, which includes claims, by someone with a Nordic-sounding name, that people working on plantations in the antebellum South were actually treated rather well, were educated by their masters and were more like friends with the plantation owners. He, in turn, bases his claims on old textbooks from Virginia and other Southern states, which paint enslavement in rather benign terms.

In any system, there are relationships which are brutal and others which are mild, by comparison. There were a fair number of educated slave owners who selectively educated male house servants, to read Scripture and to conduct some plantation business, on behalf of their masters. This was especially true during the Civil War, when many White family members and regular paid employees of the plantations were off serving in the Confederate Armed Forces. While it was a breach of the law, in most Confederate states, the fog of war let the practice slide.

On balance, however, enslaved people were treated harshly, were not taught to read and write, and were infantilized; the men being emasculated and the women treated like playthings. The residue of enslavement lingers today, in too many families and in too many communities, large and small-in all parts of this country, in some parts of the above-mentioned commenter’s native Canada, and in both European and Latin American countries.

People will often go to great lengths to legitimize their fanciful beliefs about times past-or even recent events (Accounts of January 6, 2021-and the summer of 2020, for that matter, often depend for their justification on outlandish theories, which demonize those seen as in opposition to those accounts. ) Many of these beliefs are made up of whole cloth, and may be honestly viewed as little more than fever dreams. The Enslavement Deniers take their place among others of their ilk: “There were no Jews killed in Nazi Germany”; “9/11 was an inside job”; “NASA is a hoax”; “School shooting victims are crisis actors”; “FDR staged Pearl Harbor”-and on down the rabbit hole.

It matters little, that the face of enslavement denial is himself of African ancestry. Such people have been rather commonly used by those with more of a stake in revisionist history, to say: “See! That person doesn’t believe the historical narrative and s(he’s) (Black, Jewish, Asian….)!” A lie is still a lie.

One Year Later

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January 6, 2022- Epiphany, the recognition of Christ by the Three Magi-or kings from the East, if you wish, either is commemorated today only-or is a season of commemoration unto itself-lasting from today until Ash Wednesday. I stick with the former.

I wonder what we recognize, about our country today- a full year after what, to me, was a reckless, misguided attempt to begin solving deep-seated problems in our society by unilaterally installing-not electing- a claque of self-appointed experts who are used to making executive decisions on important matters. Sometimes, they get it right. Other times, the results, from unintended consequences, are catastrophic.

The delusion is the same, whether the oligarchs rule from the right-or from the left. The nomenclature itself, taken from the French Parlements’ practice of conservatives sitting on the right hand side of the chamber, with liberals sitting on the left hand side, is tellingly simplistic. The very idea, of people who posit opposing ideas being one’s mortal enemies, is so ludicrous as to give ridiculous a good name-but here we are.

A conservative friend did ridicule the comparison of 1-6-21 to the Holocaust, the Pearl Harbor attack and 9-11-01. He’s right, in terms solely of human casualties. He’s wrong, in terms of long-term effect on the democratic process. In each case, authoritarian forces tried to undermine American participatory democracy. Each attack is one in a string of a thousand cuts-regardless of the surface ideology of the assailants. In real terms, authoritarianism is a complete circle; there is no difference between Right and Left, if in each case the boss is always correct. In each case, the attackers draw-and are buttressed by, those on the ground whose grievances are given surface recognition by the wirepullers of the attacks.

The sole antidote to such attacks is for those on the ground to recognize that both sides of the continuum offer solutions to some problems and exacerbate others. This is why we need both sides to hear one another out and think their respective opinions over.

The main entrance to a building is most often in the center of the frame-not tucked away in a corner.

Ringing In The New

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January 2, 2022- Like 5 p.m., it’s always New Year somewhere. Once the Gregorian New Year is dusty and worn out, it’s time for Lunar New Year-the start of a new calendar year for many people in eastern Asia-particularly China, Korea and VietNam. We Baha’is start our year with Naw-Ruz, which emanates from the ancient Zoroastrian Era festival in Iran, that coincides with the March Equinox, and is thus celebrated on March 21. Thais observe New Years Day (Songkran) in mid-April. People in India observe the day in either April or May, depending on the year. Similarly, Muslims begin their year in either July or August, with the first day of Muharram, the first month on the Islamic calendar. Many of us are familiar with the Jewish New Year, which comes in September or October, and lasts for ten days.

With that, it’s time to focus on what a new year really means for the individual. Each of us has a life plan, largely something we devise ourselves, with help from our personal inclinations, social circumstances and immune systems. Each of us has challenges to overcome and other people to consider, but in the end, it is what one really wants out of life that has to be the prime impetus for the changes made and practices continued, from year to year.

It was quite heartening to listen to two young ladies talk of their plans for the future, in a couple of situations today. A teenaged girl explained, to a much younger child, why she wanted to be a dental hygienist-and was giving the little one instructions on proper teeth-brushing and flossing. A server in a local restaurant, this evening, was expressing her pondering of careers in holistic health. Her co-worker, in turn, has landed a job in resort management.

No one need stand still, without reason. What are your plans for the future-especially if you are just starting out?

A Brief Look Backward

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December 31, 2021- Betty White chose an awkward time to leave, but it was her time. It was almost a fitting end to a year that took us up, down and sideways-and turned us every which way but loose. I don’t want to say that last one too loudly. We could use a few more years of Clint Eastwood being among us.

As it was, there were a number of people dear to my heart, some of renown and some not, who left this earthly plane in this year now itself winding down. My extended family whittled down, just a tad: My aunts-by-marriage-Sabina Kusch and Dorothy Madigan; Aunt Dorothy’s stepson, John-one of the cousins closest to me, over the years; Charlie Kusch, Jr., another cousin who made his friends and family laugh, much as his father did before him. Diane “Dee Dee” Bean- was the first girl I ever dated-not that it ever worked out. Richard “Dick” Dow, was a next door neighbour, from childhood, who kept his family home and his father’s business running, until he could scarcely move, himself. Two educators from my scholastic past, Anthony Struzziero and Eugene Hughes, both of whom I knew as fair-minded administrators. The bulk of the losses were fellows in Faith, Baha’i teachers, one and all: Val Latham, Jr., Gisela McCormick, John Eichenauer III, John Kolstoe, Joel Oron’a, Ethelene Crawford, Wilfred Smallwood, Donald Streets and Dwight Allen. I lost a car, and gained an SUV.

It was not a year defined by loss alone. A grand nephew, named Liam, came into our lives, early on. Strong new friendships emerged. I was able to return to California and Nevada, after a year’s hiatus. I made two long trips across country, both largely around the sale of our family home, and mother’s voluntary relocation. A week spent in Texas was a perfect springboard for my seventy-second year. I was able to pay respects to those fallen in the name of freedom, though not to the extent I might have. Still, time spent in north Tulsa and in Minneapolis was a step forward, for this one who preferred solitude, for so many years.

Our community has held its own against one or another viruses. As if to seem a strange return of normalcy-the flu is back. The nation resisted the temptation to default on democracy. Both major parties are learning that complacency is dying out among the masses-and a moribund attitude will not fly. We Baha’is paid homage to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, marking one hundred years since His passing-and renewing our commitments to live as He did. That renewed spark of Faith is finding its way to friends of other religious traditions as well-as witness the Baptism, on Christmas Eve, of a man who had found his fortunes sinking.

We did not master disaster, and there were far too many lives lost-in California, the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, Montana, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois. The latest conflagration, in Colorado, took no lives, but left another pair of communities with scenes out of a war movie. Two dozen other countries, from Mexico and Peru to Kenya and Indonesia, saw tragic losses in both infrastructure collapse and from the forces of nature. Then, there was/is Ethiopia, a country I only recently was hoping to visit in a year or two. Now, it is riven in pain, and we can only pray for sane attitudes to rise to the fore.

2021 will be history, in short order. How different the year that is thirteen minutes away will be, depends largely on how many of us have absorbed this year’s lessons-and to what degree.

‘Notice All, Whether Large or Small’

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December 29, 2021, Santa Fe- In many rancheria homes, of Spanish Land Grant-era New Mexico, a rattlesnake skeleton is embedded in the middle of a bench (banca), that extends out from the wall of the central living room. It is not certain, as to the origin of this practice, but Georgia O’Keeffe observed it, in her “town home” at Abiquiu, Mew Mexico.

I had the pleasure of visiting the O’Keeffe Museum, in central Santa Fe, this morning. After being awakened by a voice that was neither male nor female, I noticed that it was 7 a.m. and that a light snow had fallen overnight. Cleaning off the car with what was little more than a feather duster, left by the previous owner, I found the streets bare and traffic rather light. A fine breakfast at French Pastry Shop and short walk around the lobby of La Fonda Hotel began the morning in earnest.

There was a fair crowd at the O’Keeffe Museum, as the doors opened at 10 a.m. In keeping with Georgia’s advice to her students to pay as much attention to the small and subtle, as to the large and boisterous, each of us took turns in looking at the paintings, sketches and ceramics, in each of nine galleries. Most of the offerings were the work of Georgia O’Keeffe herself. There were a few photographs of the artist, by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, who also provided scenes of New York City, as did their mutual friend, Ansel Adams, who, like Georgia, is more associated with depictions of nature. A more contemporary student of Georgia’s work, Josephine Halvorson, is the first artist-in-residence at Ghost Ranch, where Georgia spent most of her time, after the death of her husband. Josephine has a gallery of her work in this museum, being the only artist other than Georgia O’Keeffe herself to be thus honoured. Josephine painstakingly studied Georgia’s life and work at Ghost Ranch and provides scenes such as the one below.

Of all of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, her Blue Paintings appeal to me the most. Many of them were marked “Do Not Photograph”. There were at least a couple which were recordable, though. Here is one such.


Not all of her work was earthbound, however. On a plane, between New York and Albuquerque, this scene was captured in her mind and made it to canvas.

In contemplating this scene, I recalled my own first airplane flight, from Newark to Atlanta, in 1969, and a similar feeling of being in a very different realm.

Once finishing a satisfying visit to the O’Keeffe, I paid a quick visit to my friends at the coffee house, Henry and The Fish, bought a birthday present for a friend in Prescott at the Palace of the Governors and stocked up on ballpoint pens, before strolling down Burro Alley- a perfect representation of the type of small neighbourhood that Georgia liked to frequent.

Thus did an overcast morning become blessed.

The Colours of Winter

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December 27, 2021, Albuquerque- There was plenty of mud in the foreground, which did not stop some of the younger members of the crowd from finding their way down a short trail, to the first overlook, in the northern, Painted Desert section of Petrified Forest National Park.

I left 66 Motel, to the cheerful strains of “Come back again”, around 9 a.m. It is always good to have doors remain open and bridges intact. Twenty minutes later, I got a similarly cheerful greeting from the gate guard at Petrified Forest’s north entrance. Whether it is because they are just cheerful, positive-thinking young women, or because of something in my own aura, these types of exchanges are what help brighten even the dreariest of skies.

Nature also provides relief from the grayness that precedes a winter storm. Here are scenes from each of the Painted Desert’s viewpoints.

These scenes are composed of Chinle Sandstone layers, first formed 227 million years ago and making up the bottom layers of the formations, with Bidahochi Sandstone, formed as recently as 4 million years ago, comprising the top layers-including Pilot Rock and Blue Mesa (in the southern area of the park). I have seen other colour blends, at the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, the Paint Pots of Yellowstone and Bumpas Hell, in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Like each of those, Painted Desert is unique.

Some vocabulary: Tiponi is a Hopi word, signifying a badge of authority-usually a sacred ear of corn, given to a priest or matriarch;

Tawa is the Hopi word for Sun Creator.

Chinde is the Dineh word for ghost or remnant spirit.

Pintado is Spanish for “painted”.

Nizhoni is the Dineh word for “beauty”, especially that found in nature.

Whipple Point is named for Lt. Amiel Whipple, a military surveyor who passed through this area. Fort Whipple, in Prescott, now a Veterans Administration Hospital, is also named for him.

Lacey Point is named for Congressman John Fletcher Lacey, of Iowa, who successfully worked to protect the Petrified Forest, which he termed “Petrified Forest of the World”.

The Painted Desert section of the park could easily take up a whole day, in periods of mild weather. I was there for a bit more than two hours. After a quick lunch at the Visitor Center Cafe, the drive across New Mexico was broken only by gassing up at a Flying J, in the small settlement of Jamestown. I was berated by a homeless man who wanted me to take him and his cart to God knows where. There probably wasn’t enough room in the Vue for that cart, so not being a saint, I kept on going.

Once here , in Duke City, a welcome nap evened my keel and a short walk around Old Town brought a soothing smooth jazz performance by a lone saxophonist and a lovely dinner at Little Anita’s, on the north edge of OT. As my mother told me yesterday, life is good.

The Cave and The Silo

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December 24, 2021-

In the season of accountability, circa 4 B.C., a Child infused with extraordinary spiritual power began moving down His mother’s birth canal, whilst His parents were seeking lodging, in a town where all comfortable rooms were long claimed by more well-healed travelers, most of whom were in town on taxpayer business.

By dint of necessity, the Child’s father secured a spot in a manger, with the land owner’s livestock as the family’s companions for the evening. The Child was born in the early morning hours, with the family huddled among the animals for warmth, the landowner having also given them a few hide blankets out of concern for mother and baby.

The veritable cave where Jesus, son of Joseph, was born has a superstructure built over it: The Church of the Nativity. Within that house of worship are three distinct chapels: One, Roman Catholic; one, Greek Orthodox and one, Armenian Apostolic. The territory of each is clearly demarked, and very closely guarded by the adherents of each denomination. It is now, however, a UNESCO World Heritage Site , requiring co-operation between the three, as well as between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Prior to this status being conferred, in 2012, the three shrines were like silos, unto themselves, despite a 250-year-old agreement between three denominations’ leaders, for the preservation of the edifice. The point of agreement that made any co-operation possible was the recognition that the grotto, over which the church was built, was the site of the birthplace of Jesus the Christ. Like any agreement made in perpetuity between leaders of a given time, its meaning’s understanding has ebbed and flowed, fluctuating with successive generations, and newcomers to the area, adding their own interpretations.

Thus, the silos rise and contain the adherents to these philosophies, who eschew any fellowship with those of different viewpoints. Thus has even the most sacred of places become a focal point of human narcissism, whether individual or collective.

May the 2021st Celebration of Christ’s Birth be a day when such fellowship be given honour. We have seen the futility of its opposite number.

“We are the messengers now.”

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December 12, 2021- Those words were spoken by actor Jonathan Roumie, who plays the role of Jesus the Christ, in the ongoing series “The Chosen”, in his commentary on the series’ Christmas special. He spoke, of course, as to the responsibility of Christians to bear witness to their Faith, in word and deed.

I extend that further, to all people of Faith. We Baha’is recently commemorated the Centenary of the Passing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the only perfect exemplar we had, other than Baha’u’llah Himself-in terms of living our Faith, day to day. Every other person, in living memory, has their own struggles and challenges. That, however, can never be an excuse for lack of striving.

Like it or not, everything one does reflects on her/his professed creed. Even atheists, relying on Ethics as their credo, have a standard to uphold. I think of this each day, bringing myself to account-as to who I have helped and from whom I have turned aside. No one person can meet the needs of every outstretched hand, but there is the matter of at least showing them the Light.

If I am not growing, day by day, then what?

The Quiet Sunday, Long Ago

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December 7, 2021- People were worshipping, others were fishing, on the vast expanse of Pearl Harbor.

The churchgoers would think of picnicking, the fishers, of cleaning and grilling their catch.

Sailors, Marines and soldiers were lolling about their bunks, or maybe going out for a morning jog.

Approaching from the west, aviators, operating in stealth, let loose with a steady barrage of firepower.

Everyone who was aboard ship became a gunner. The targets did their level best to turn the tables. The attackers carried the day, but the victory was Pyrrhic.

Imperial Japan had awakened a giant, whose ferocity and tenacity would rain far worse devastation on the people who could not look their Emperor in the eye.

The experience of Japan should be a cautionary tale, to all who dream of worldwide hegemony.

Will the ones who now dream of such an empire take heed?

All Hands On Deck

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November 9, 2021, San Diego- Three teams of fourth grade students manned a rope each, and carefully maneuvered the empty steel safe into position, in the hold of the Star of India, a barque that is the world’s oldest active sailing vessel and is the centerpiece of the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Below is a photo of the ship’s miniature, taken during my last visit to the Museum, in 2012.

It is always a joy to see children engaged in an activity that involves a fair amount of thought, and all the better when that activity requires teamwork. There were four sets of students each involved in ship-related activities, during the time I was aboard. It was the only place in the museum where face masks were required. With the children’s safety in mind, all but two people were in compliance. Fortunately, the teachers and parent chaperones made sure those two got nowhere near the kids.

There are two ships that have been added to the Museum’s collection, since 2012: The galleon, San Salvador, a replica of the vessel which Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo used to sail into San Diego Harbor, in 1542 and a Patrol Craft Fast (Swift Boat). I took a fifteen-minute walk around San Salvador, joining a party of visitors from Mexico. Here is a view of the galleon.

It is notable that Cabrillo, one of the wealthiest men in Spanish America at that time, contracted food poisoning either whilst in this area, or shortly after leaving. He never got to see the successful settlement, which was fostered sixty years later, by Sebastian Vizcaino (Viz-ka-YEE-no), who gave the settlement the name, San Diego.

One ship will soon leave the Museum: The B-39 Soviet submarine. I made one visit aboard this vessel, in 2012. Here are the way it looked nine years ago, and how it looks now.

After visiting or re-visiting several of the vessels, I headed over to Little Italy, which lies between the waterfront and San Diego’s downtown core. There, a stop was made for lunch, at an old favourite: Filippi’s Pizza Grotto. It was the first restaurant I visited in San Diego, back in 1979-then, as now, accessible by entering through the market and kitchen.

This was a most gratifying day, made all the more so by the presence of so many young people, who are enthused by embracing their city’s maritime heritage-and learning teamwork in the process.