The Missionary and the Space Alien

My Guess: Even This Space Alien Is Too Humanoid

In science fiction films, there tends to be two views on encounters with space aliens. One is the romantic view, as exemplified by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and Cocoon. In these films, the space aliens are benevolent and almost humanoid. Then there is the realistic vision of War of the Worlds. In this film, we don’t even get a good look at the aliens because they come out shooting from the get-go.

What with all the recent press about UFOs espied by military planes (see picture below), the subject has come up: What is the first encounter going to be like? I don’t think we are likely to encounter humanoids or anything even resembling them. They are probably not even likely to breathe our atmosphere.

I have this picture in my mind of a Christian missionary attempting to convert space aliens to his religion. How is that conversation likely to go? Will the space aliens crucify the missionary because that’s what they think he wants? How would the Christian religion look to a completely alien mind associated with a non-biped without the usual eyes, ears, nose, hands, and feet? I would think space aliens would laugh at what we would consider to be organized religion.

It would certainly sober up many Evangelicals in particular. But then, they are used to not believing in the evidence of their senses, given their political preference.

The image from video provided by the Department of Defense labelled Gimbal, from 2015, an unexplained object is seen at center as it is tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” one naval aviator tells another, though only one indistinct object is shown. “It’s rotating.” The U.S. government has been taking a hard look at unidentified flying objects, under orders from Congress, and a report summarizing what officials know is expected to come out in June 2021. (Department of Defense via AP)

The interesting question is this: How would one go about reconciling the beliefs of space aliens with those of Earthlings, of whatever religious background? Oh to be a fly on the wall of that “conversation”!

The Great Yes and the Great No

This posting originated on Blog.Com on August 16, 2009.

Today, as I was walking along the beach in Venice, I started thinking about sand castles. Then I saw this gem of a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933). If you have ever read Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, you will remember Cavafy as the “poet of the city” who is not named but whose spirit pervades Alexandria, the city where he was born and lived much of his life. In his own words:

I am from Constantinople by descent, but I was born in Alexandria—at a house on Seriph Street; I left very young, and spent much of my childhood in England. Subsequently I visited this country as an adult, but for a short period of time. I have also lived in France. During my adolescence I lived over two years in Constantinople. It has been many years since I last visited Greece. My last employment was as a clerk at a government office under the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt. I know English, French, and a little Italian.

Here is one of my favorite poems of his:

Che fece …. il gran rifiuto

 

To certain people there comes a day
when they must say the great Yes or the great No.
He who has the Yes ready within him
immediately reveals himself, and saying it he goes

against his honor and his own conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Should he be asked again,
he would say no again. And yet that no—
the right no—crushes him for the rest of his life.

Rejoining Society

The Vaccine: E-Ticket to Normality?

Having been vaccinated for Covid-19, I have, in effect, rejoined society. I am now visiting my friends who have likewise been vaccinated. Not coming with me, however, is Martine, who refuses to be vaccinated.

Martine is no anti-vaxxer who believes that nano-sized microchips are injected into the body with each shot. She is simply afraid of most medications, whether in pill or injectable form. Her doctor wants her to take Vitamin D3 supplements, but she gets an adverse reaction if she goes beyond a minimal dose.

I have long suspected that the Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card is going to be a useful piece of paper, whether for travel or work. Despite the efforts by Republican governors to outlaw mandating the card for this purpose, I think they will fail. Until I got the vaccine, even my own doctor did not want to see me: I had several “visits” in the form of telephone calls.

It is my hope that eventually Martine will get vaccinated. Martine’s family comes from Normandy in France. She therefore has what the French call a tête de Normande, in effect a head like granite block—impervious to argument. Perhaps she will eventually see the light, but she won’t take action based solely on my urging.

“We Died for the Revolution”

Female Russian Honor Guard, 2018 Victory Day Parade

I have been slowly making my way through Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, in which she interviews everyday Russians about how their lives have changed since the fall of Communism. Alexievich did something it is not even possible to do in America today: She interviewed people of all political stripes, including even those who sided with the Nazis during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. Imagine a book in the U.S. that interviewed not only liberal Democrats, but qAnon and Oath Keeper supporters who showed up in Washington on January 6. I don’t think such a book can be written.

The following passage is from an embittered supporter of Communism:

In my day, people didn’t ask those kind of questions. We didn’t have questions like that! We … imagined a just life without rich or poor. We died for the Revolution, and we died idealists. Wholly uninterested in money … My friends are long gone, I’m all alone. None of the people I used to talk to are around anymore. At night, I talk to the dead … And you? You don’t understand our feelings or our words: “grain confiscation campaign,” “food-groups,” “disenfranchisee,” “committee of the poor,” … “repeater,” … “defeatist.” It’s Sanskrit to you! Hieroglyphics! Old age means, first and foremost, loneliness. The last old man I knew—he lived in the adjacent courtyard—died five years ago, or maybe it’s been even longer … seven years ago … I’m surrounded by strangers. People come from the museum, the archive, the encyclopedia ,,, I’m like a reference book, a living library! But I have no one to talk to … Who would I like to talk to? Lazar Kaganovich [one of Stalin’s henchmen] would be good … There aren’t many of us who are still around, and even fewer who aren’t completely senile. He’s even older than me, he’s already ninety. I read in the papers … [He laughs.] In the newspaper, it said that the old men in his courtyard refuse to play dominoes with him. Or cards. They drive him away: “Fiend!” And he weeps from the hurt. Ages ago, he was a steel-hearted People’s Commissar. He’d sign the execution lists, he sent tens of thousands of people to their deaths. Spent thirty years by Stalin’s side. But in his old age, he doesn’t even have anyone to play dominoes with … [After this, he speaks very quietly. I can’t tell what he’s saying. I only catch a few words.] It’s scary … Living too long is scary.

Marketing Metastasis

It All Started with Coca Cola

In 1985, the Coca Cola Company came out with New Coke, which never really took off. To recover from their gaffe, they decided to keep the old formula as Coca Cola Classic. In the process, they discovered that taking over more shelf space with other products bearing the Coke logo was a win-win for the Corporation. So now today you can buy Coke with exclusive new chicken liver flavor, with crushed pretzels, with overtones of sulfuric acid, and with extra corn syrup.

At the same time, all the other old brands have similarly metastasized. Ritz Crackers. Doritos. Ocean Spray. Reese’s. Cheez-It. Cheetos. Triscuit. The list goes on and on. Note, however, that the brands involved in multiplying themselves are products with a long shelf life. You can’t achieve the same success with celery, parsley, Gravenstein apples, or dragon fruit.

When I had to buy some Ocean Spray cranberry juice a couple of weeks ago (it’s good if you have a urinary tract infection), I had a hard time find just plain original cranberry juice. Needless to say, I was not swayed by the new Clam*Berry flavor or the one with sauerkraut flavoring added.

I suppose the idea is to make smaller brands scared by the multiplicity of variations—though what happens when you run out of all the popular variants?

Even Trader Joe’s has gotten into the act, with a kind of dill pickle flavored popcorn. It really wasn’t very good.

At some point, a lot of these *NEW* flavors will be duds. Then maybe we won’t be presented with so many weird options.

The Definition of Victory

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA

I thought that today I would like to present one of Emily Dickinson’s simpler poems. Emily (1830-1886) is one who was well acquainted with defeat, yet who was victorious in the greatness of her literary output.

Success Is Counted Sweetest

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

 

My First Girlfriend: Joycey

Now Imagine She’s Only Five Years Old

The year was around 1950. I was a five-year-old boy living at 2814 East 120th Street in Cleveland, right in the middle of the Hungarian neighborhood. All the houses on the street were two-family homes in which the upper story was rented. It was around then that I met the love of my life, Joycey, who was my age.

We did all the usual things: played doctor and looked at each other with moonstruck eyes. What I loved most about Joycey was, to be precise, the back of her knees. The picture above is of a grown-up woman, because I could not find the same picture for a little girl. I would probably have been arrested if I tried.

Although her name sounds vaguely Anglo, Joycey spoke Hungarian just like me. I don’t remember exactly how our “relationship” ended, though it was probably in 1951 when two major events happened:

  • My brother Dan was born and
  • We moved out of the Hungarian neighborhood because the teachers were complaining that I couldn’t speak English

I don’t think I ever knew Joycey’s last name. It was like we were two ships passing in the night. But it was nice while it lasted.

The Isle of California

The Mural “Isle of California” (1972) When It Was Newly Painted

Near the West Los Angeles Post Office is the Village Recording Studio at 1616 Butler Avenue. On its back wall is a mural entitled “Isle of California” showing what remains when most of California has fallen into the ocean. It was painted in 1972 by the L.A. Fine Arts Squad consisting of Victor Henderson, Terry Schoonhoven, and Jim Frazin.

Of course, Southern California will not just fall into the ocean after “the Big One.” What is west of the San Andreas Fault will be displaced northwards, separating itself horizontally from the area east of the fault.

I saw today a fascinating quote from J. B. Priestley in Carey McWilliams’s Southern California Country: An Island on the Land:

There is something disturbing about this corner of America, a sinister suggestion of transience. There is a quality, hostile to men in the very earth and air here. As if we were not meant to make our homes in this oddly enervating sunshine…. California will be a silent desert again. It is all as impermanent and brittle as a roll of film.

Oddly, that’s what I felt shortly after I moved here. The feeling was reinforced by the Sylmar Earthquake of 1971 and the Northridge Earthquake of 1994.

The Same Mural Today: Badly Faded With Earthquake Reinforcing Bolts

Well, Southern California is still here. And I’m still here. The place still feels a bit unreal to me, but I have fallen in love with it. So if the whole place should happen to fall in the ocean after all, I’m a goner.

South Bay

Looking South from King Harbor in Redondo Beach

The Pacific Coast from the airport south to Point Fermin on the Palos Verdes Peninsula is a kind of Beach Neverland in which there are a number of high-price communities such as El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, a small sliver of Torrance, and the wealthy enclaves around the hills of Palos Verdes. Collectively, the area is known as the South Bay.

Today, Martine and I drove down to Captain Kidd’s Fish Market & Restaurant in Redondo Beach. It’s a bit of a splurge for us, but we enjoy the fresh fish and the view of the southwest-facing ocean on a sunny day. I had some Canadian salmon char-broiled, and Martine had some sautéed Alaskan cod.

Usually we walk south along the boardwalk after we eat, but today we just returned home. Martine’s feet have been hurting, and she wanted to rest them.

When I first moved to Southern California at the end of 1966, the first area that my friend Peter showed me were the beach communities of the South Bay. To the kid from Cleveland, which I was, it all smacked of hedonism; and I looked on it with disapproval. In later years, I was one of the hedonists on the beach in Santa Monica.

There is something gemlike in these communities. They have always had a kind of glow in my imagination. In fact, I wouldn’t mind living there, if I could afford it.

Under Our Feet

As we tread upon the ground, we tend not to think of what lies beneath our feet. I thought about this after I wrote yesterday’s blog post entitled “Mission Creep.” The small size of the cemeteries at the Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez missions in Southern California troubled me because of the large number of bodies said to be buried there. The Catholic Church did not sanction cremation at that time, so literally thousands of bodies, mostly of Indians, were interred over a 65-year period in these small burial grounds.

I live within walking distance of Kuruvungna Springs, a place where the Tongva or Gabrielino Indians congregated f0or ceremonies or just a fresh drink of spring water. It is entirely possible that as I walk along Santa Monica Boulevard and the streets feeding into it I am walking on the bones of Indians who died in the area—at least those which weren’t carted away by dirt haulers as the area was built up with multi-story commercial and residential buildings.

And then I thought of a great English writer who thought the same way. The quote is from an essay by Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) called “Hydriotaphia, urn-burial, or, A discours of the sepulchral urns lately found in Norfolk ….” The 17th century English is hard to read, but I promise that it is rewarding.

In the deep discovery of the Subterranean world, a shallow part would satisfie some enquirers; who, if two or three yards were open about the surface, would not care to rake the bowels of Potosi, and regions towards the Centre. Nature hath furnished one part of the Earth, and man another. The treasures of time lie high, in Urnes, Coynes, and Monuments, scarce below the roots of some vegetables. Time hath endlesse rarities, and shows of all varieties; which reveals old things in heaven, makes new discoveries in earth, and even earth it self a discovery. That great Antiquity America lay buried for a thousand years; and a large part of the earth is still in the Urne unto us.

Though if Adam were made out of an extract of the Earth, all parts might challenge a restitution, yet few have returned their bones farre lower then they might receive them; not affecting the graves of Giants, under hilly and heavy coverings, but content with lesse then their owne depth, have wished their bones might lie soft, and the earth be light upon them; Even such as hope to rise again, would not be content with centrall interrment, or so desperately to place their reliques as to lie beyond discovery, and in no way to be seen again; which happy contrivance hath made communication with our forefathers, and left unto our view some parts, which they never beheld themselves.

Sir Thomas Browne

The reference to Potosi is to the fabulous silver mines at the Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) of Potosi in Bolivia. The mines are at an altitude of approximately 13,300 feet (4,050 meters).

Wherever we may go, we are walking a very few feet above the remnants of the past. We tend to forget this as we follow the latest trends and knock ourselves into a digital frenzy that only hastens us to our own grave.