Too Many Freedoms

Maybe Wee Need to Stop Desiring “Freedoms” That Were Never Guaranteed to Us

Look what happened to our Second Amendment. Somehow, the original text—“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”—became in the minds of our dimmest and most criminally inclined citizens an invitation to accumulate military grade weapons for non-militia use.

As school children, we all heard that we didn’t have the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Now I think almost half the population would disagree with this.

The outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic has created a whole slew of crypto-freedoms, such as the freedom to refuse Covid-19 vaccination or to wear a mask to protect oneself and others from the virus.

I have just finished reading a collection of Franz Kafka’s shorter works that were published during his lifetime. In one of the stories, entitled “A Report to an Academy,” we find this very germane discussion in a speech given by a talking ape:

I deliberately do not use the word “freedom.” I do not mean the spacious feeling of freedom on all sides. As an ape, perhaps, I knew that, and I have met men who yearn for it. But for my part I desired such freedom neither then nor now. In passing, may I say that all too often men are betrayed by the word freedom. And as freedom is counted among the most sublime feelings, so the corresponding disillusionment can be also sublime.

Take a look at the above picture of the January 6 insurrection by Trump’s followers at the Capitol in Washington. This insurrection was conducted by people who have decided to take a lie (that Trump won the 2020 election) and make it into a cause for revolt. Repeating a lie at the top of one’s voice, even when accompanied by violence, is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

Such freedoms I can do without!

Waiting for the Train: A Dream

Combination Bus/Self-Propelled Railroad Car in Alausi, Ecuador

Last night I had a vivid but inconclusive dream, which I would like to summarize here. I was waiting in a suburban area for a train to pick me up. There were two tracks, for trains going in either direction. I was uncertain that the train to Sacramento would stop for me, as I was not sure where I was standing was a station. I was thinking that I should have caught the train in downtown Los Angeles, where it originated.

So, with several other people who were in the same situation, I walked southward through a railroad tunnel to what I hoped was a legitimate station. I noticed that, inside the tunnel, the two tracks had merged into one, and that there were only a few widely scattered indentations in the wall of the tunnel to avoid being crushed by any oncoming trains. I noticed that the walls of the tunnel were covered by what looked like tall pieces of perfectly straight bamboo.

Fortunately, no trains came while we were in the tunnel. On emerging, I noticed an area of large broken stones, like an abandoned quarry in which many others were waiting for trains. I was told this was the station for Newhall. (Actually, in real life, Newhall has a rather nice and very proper station.)

Suddenly, several adults were marshaling high school students, who were looped around with a large chain to keep them together. With equal suddenness, a number of self-propelled railroad cars painted yellow/orange and shaped like school buses showed up to take them to their destinations.

I continued to wait, but was cheered when tickets were being collected and shoved through slots cut into a large rock; and there were signs that my train was approaching.

Did the train stop for me? Did I board it? I’ll never know, because I woke up noticing that I had forgotten to set the alarm to wake me at 7:30 AM.

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.

Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise Flower at Descanso Gardens, February 2020

Indigenous to South Africa, the bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia reginae) has become a welcome interloper among the flora of Southern California. I remember when I first saw one, my first response was, “How exotic!” Now I almost tend to take them for granted, they are so widespread.

It is amazing to me that mankind has succeeded in shuffling the flora around all around the earth. I was amazed to see eucalyptus trees in the Peruvian highlands. Even more amazing to me were the jacarandas in Buenos Aires, flowering as they did in November during the Southern Spring. (But then, jacarandas are native to South America.)

The same thought hit Henry David Thoreau writing in The Maine Woods. On his three trips to Maine, Thoreau is disturbed by what man had dome to the trees of Massachusetts. In the Maine of the early 19th century, that shuffling of the trees had not yet occurred. What had occurred, on the other hand, was massive logging. It was rare for Thoreau and his co-travelers not to come across old logging camps far into the interior of the state.

Joe Polis, a Penobscot Indian Who Traveled with Thoreau

One result of man’s interference is the potential loss of important species. On his third trip to Maine, Thoreau traveled with an Indian, Joe Polis, who told him that every plant was medicinal to the Penobscot Indians, and went on to demonstrate among several examples which Thoreau showed him.

After the White Man pretty much replaced the original population, we lost a great deal that they had learned over thousands of years.

All the Babes Are Leaving

Tawny Kitaen (1961-2021)

One way to tell you’re getting old is to see what happened to all the babes of the 1960s and 1970s. I was surprised to hear that Tawny Kitaen had passed away. Not that I was a big an of hers, but never was there such a moniker that screamed B-A-B-E in Neon All-Caps. She was one of a troupe that included actresses like Joey Heatherton and Ann-Margret and “celebrities” such as Prince Andrew’s main squeeze Koo Stark and Profumo Affair bad girls Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies.

I suppose it is inevitable if you live long enough. I still think of Sônia Braga, Jenny Agutter, Françoise Dorléac, Dominique Sanda, and Maria Schneider. They were beautiful, and they populated my dreams as a young man. Now that I am no longer a young man, I can see that all of us are on the same journey through life.

RIP Sujatha and Little Mac

Sujatha and Little Mac Together (Which Is Which?) in 2013

In yesterday’s post, I wondered what happened to the elephants at the Santa Barbara Zoo. When we got home yesterday, I looked them up on Google and found that both had died, Sujatha in 2018 and Little Mac in 2019. Although I have no pets, I have felt a sense of loss for these two Indian elephants who had been together at the zoo since 1972. You can read more about them in this article from Radio Station KSBY’s website.

Apparently, despite their size, Indian elephants do not normally live as long as humans. In fact, after 40 years they are considered to be due for geriatric care. Little Mac had to be euthanized at the age of 48.

My relationship with the animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo surprises even me. It is a small zoo, walkable in a couple of scant hours, but I feel more strongly about the birds and animals there. Why?

Gemina, the Giraffe with the Deformed Neck

I had become enamored of a giraffe named Gemina who died of natural causes in 2008 despite a neck that went off at a ninety degree angle. Despite her neck, Gemina lived a greater than normal lifespan (by six years) and had normal offspring. When I heard that Gemina had passed on, I was disturbed, hoping that she did not die in inordinate pain occasioned by her disability. Apparently she didn’t. She received excellent care at the zoo and was widely mourned.

So now that the elephants are gone, their home will be turned into the “Australian Walkabout” some time this summer. I will continue to return to the zoo whenever I can so that I can see my other friends there.

Does Anyone Want To Be Unhappy?

Well, Now, That’s Hardly a Surprise

Happiness is a very fickle thing. At one time or another, we all think that it can be secured and held on to and never let go. Perhaps we associate it in our minds with wealth, or finding (and retaining) the ideal spouse or significant other.

But then I always think of one of our former millionaire accounting clients who entered into a deal from which he expected to lose his fortune. So he blew his brains out. After the funeral, it was discovered that the deal far from depleting his fortune added considerably to it. It helped pay for a first class funeral.

In Buddhism, there is something called the Four Noble Truths, expressed by Gautama Buddha as follows:

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving [taṇhā, “thirst”] which leads to re-becoming, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming, craving for disbecoming.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

The term “bhikkhus” refers to the Buddhist monks to whom this teaching was addressed.

Essentially, desires and cravings lead to suffering. Happiness is something that just happens and is not necessarily linked to our desires. But it is almost always transitory. In my life, I am sure I have been happy for minutes at a time in my 75+ years of existence.

So I hope that Sharon Stone appreciates what happiness passes her way.

Vastness Breeds Craziness

America Divided? Look to the Land and Its Myths

This evening, two thoughts came together in my mind with a kind of grim ferocity. On one hand, I am troubled by the 74 million voters who backed Trump in 2020. Where did they come from? And why?

On the other hand, I read a wonderful essay by Geoff Dyer entitled “Ranging Across Texas” in the July 17, 2020 issue of The Times Literary Supplement. Dyer is one of those writers whose words set me to thinking. Ostensibly, his essay is about his experience reading Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. In it he quotes V. S. Naipaul who, in writing about John Steinbeck, says, “A writer is in the end, not his books, but his myth. And that myth is in the keeping of others.”

My ideas on this are still not well formed, but I am thinking that there is something about the American landscape and its vastness that gives rise to the crazies who belong to the Oath Keepers, QAnon, the Proud Boys, and others. In the narrowness of the European continent, people have to work together at the risk of repeated mutual slaughters. Americans, however, can hole up in a small town in the middle of nowhere and be as crazy as loons.

America is vast, particularly the West and the Great Plains, where much of Trump’s support is concentrated. (The rest is in the South, where the Civil War is still being contested in slow motion.)

In one of his essays, McMurtry writes:

In time I came to feel that there ought to be some congruity between prose and landscape. You wouldn’t adopt a Faulknerian baroque if your story was to be set on the flat unbaroque plains of west Texas.

I remember my visits to Patagonia where, in the rain shadow of the Andes, where there is almost always a howling wind, there is a similar history of crime and even anarchy.

We don’t much celebrate Columbus Day any more, because we are becoming more acutely conscious of the fact that we massacred millions of Indians for their land. In Patagonia, that was even more of a crime: There are relatively few aborigines in Argentina after the “Conquest of the Desert” of General Julio Argentino Roca in the 1870s.

I guess we have always tried to paper over our crimes with fine thoughts. We just have to recognize, in the words of Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, “Hieronymo is mad agayne!”

Return to Normal? Fat Chance!

A New Calendar Does Not a New Reality Make

We always tend to make too much of holidays like New Years. Let’s face it: All it means is a new template overlaid on the same old time period. Although I will probably still be awake at midnight, it is only because I am usually still awake at midnight. I don’t really care about somebody dropping the ball on Times Square, and I certainly will not watch any Year in Review shows or other New Years specials.

When I was a little kid, I marveled that in the year 2000, I would be 55 years old. That seemed so old to me back then. Now that I am twenty years past that milestone, or should I say millstone, I am not so quick to generalize about the passing of time. That what time does. It passes.

As William Butler Yeats wrote in his play The Countess Cathleen:

The years like great black oxen tread the world,
 And God the herdsman goads them on behind,
 And I am broken by their passing feet.

Despite everything, I wish all of you well. May the New Year bring you peace, health, and prosperity. And if it doesn’t, just soldier on.

Yet Again: Uayeb

That Weird Time Between Christmas and New Year

To date, I have written four posts about the Maya “month” of Uayeb or Wayeb, which consists of the last five days of the Haab Calendar of 365 days. The Haab calendar has twenty months of eighteen days each, which isn’t quite enough to make up the full complement, so the Maya added a short stub of a month containing the five “nameless days.”

There is also a Maya god named Uayeb, who is the god of misfortune. That sounds about right.

Scott Stantis Has an Intuitive Understanding of Uayeb in His Cartoon Strip

Here is a link to my previous posts on the subject:

Below is the Maya glyph for the “month” of Uayeb, or Wayeb (kind of looks like a tiny-headed god flexing his muscles, doesn’t it?):

I am amused by how well a Maya calendrical belief fits in so well with our civilization, in which the days between Christmas and New Year and almost universally considered as dead time.

So don’t make any big plans until the New Year. But you kind of knew that anyway, no?