Category Archives: Random Thoughts

What the Bee Sees

Bumblebee transformed

ED’s garden companion,

Drone slips into room.

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Word Crimes

Rosencrantz: What are you playing at?
Guildenstern: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.
           Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

She chastised me because I used a word. She told me a person cannot be Oriental, since it is degrading. I was out of the loop, I did not know. The preferred word is Asian, a person can be an Asian.

What’s in a word? It helps us communicate and limits our communication at the same time. It can be artificial, complex and ever-changing. There is heaven and hell in those words. Take pleasure in its playfulness and beauty. Find frustration when communication fails.

In Latin, orient simply means east. That was the origin of the word and the end of it became insulting. Evidently people from Asia don’t call themselves Oriental, and it’s best to call people the name that they prefer. I learned that calling a person Oriental is an antiquated term that calls to mind a time when Western peoples viewed Asians in a subordinate way.

So Asian or Asian-American is preferred. And so is African-American. Say Native-American instead of American Indian. An Indian is actually an Asian. We end up chasing our tails.

This whole idea of hyphenating Americans is a bit odd to me since hyphenation carries its own inherent flaws.

The word America is named after Amerigo Vespucci. An Italian explorer, Amerigo stumbled upon what is now part of Brazil. An early mapmaker decided to name this part of the world America after this Amerigo guy and plunked that label onto his map. Soon other mapmakers started to label the lands north of Brazil as America also. So by chance, the continents were called North and South America.

So where does this leave hyphenated Americans? You give up the words like Oriental and Black in exchange for the name of a dead-white man that poked his nose into an indigenous population beyond his own borders. I don’t see a vast improvement. Other words such as black, white, red, and yellow also fail to accurately describe human beings.

The West creates more word crimes than anyone else. Through a modern political lens, Western civilization has a name, and that name is evil. The word and the land America may find itself in jeopardy.

Native-Americans crossed into the the Americas about 25,000 years ago; relative newcomers to this land since humans first appeared on the planet about 160,000 years ago in East Africa.

In more realistic terms, we are all East Africans that have wandered far across the globe. A politically correct analysis: We torment the rest of the animal and plant kingdoms, and tamper with the climate and the earth’s crust. All of humanity is the real evil in this world view. Paradise was lost when humans entered the scene.

The world and the words in it are not perfect and never will be. Can’t we just relax and enjoy our discourse and disagreements without a call to self-flagellation? Do the best we can, do no purposeful harm, and move on. That’s all we have to go on. Go peacefully.

On Fire or the Dinosaurs Died So That We Can Drive SUVs

Prometheus stole the sacred fire for mankind and we can’t live without it.

The Industrial Revolution replaced the ancient external fires with the internal fires of machines. The dirty desire for energy increased. The world’s insatiable demand for fire pollutes, which is good for making machines chug along, but bad for living things.

Some essential fires we have become addicted to:

  • Wood → Early mankind kindled open fires for warmth, protection, and food. All this, depending on who you consult, was a primary cause of global warming. The emissions from burning wood contain carbon monoxide and soot. The EPA says wood burning stoves are responsible for 5% of the smallest, deadliest particles emitted into the air in the U.S.
  • Coal → One of fossil fuels that powered the Industrial Revolution, it is the leading cause of pollutants such as smog, acid rain, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, mercury, arsenic, and lead. Coal mining disrupts the ecology and endangers the lives of miners daily.
  • Oil → Another fossil fuel that fueled the Industrial Revolution is a non-renewable, energy rich hydrocarbon. Burning oil pollutes with carbon dioxide, sulfates, and nitrates. Oil drilling and extraction disturbs the water and land. Accidental spills at the drill site or during land and water transport disrupts ecology. The disposal of products made from oil, such as plastics, creates more waste problems.
  • Water → Fire from water, one of the oldest ways to produce energy. Water wheels, mills, and dams alter the habitats of fish and restricts water passage. Water power pollutes less, but to be effective,  great quantities of water and land are necessary and that comes at a great financial cost.
  • Geothermal → While drilling for geothermal energy, harmful gas can escape from deep within the earth. Also after the expense that comes with building a geothermal plant, the heat within the earth can stop providing heated water for years at a time, making this an undependable form of energy.
  • Natural Gas → Natural gas is odorless and colorless and mostly consists of methane. It burns cleaner than coal and oil. It releases 45% less carbon dioxide than coal and 30% less than oil. It burns with no soot or sulfur dioxide and is widely available. It is lighter than air so when leaks occur it can dissipate with a lower chance of explosion. Still it is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Other drawbacks are transportation problems whether through pipelines, tankers, or barges. If used in cars and trucks, the mileage is lower than gasoline.
  • Nuclear → The newest and possibly most controversial of all energy sources. Will it provide safe, abundant energy for years to come or kill us all? Patrick Moor, an early member of Greenpeace, protested against U.S. nuclear testing in 1971. After 15 years with Greenpeace he left and became an advocate for some of his prior environmental targets. He now believes that nuclear energy is the only technology besides fossil fuels that is a reliable energy source. Nuclear energy proponents tout the safety record of the industry. They say Chernobyl was an anomaly and the rest of the would uses safer methods. Natural disasters care nothing for risk management methods as Japan came to understand. Besides, some nuclear waste lives practically forever. We can barely handle landfill toxins, how will nuclear waste play out?
  • Solar → Gathering solar energy with solar panels creates little pollution in itself aside from the manufacture and shipping of the panels. It is a quiet source of energy and can be used easier and cheaper in remote locations. The installation of solar panels can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a house.  The energy savings payback can take years. Cloudy weather and pollution can hinder solar cell efficiency. In the deserts of the American west, people oppose solar energy farms since they spoil the desert scenery.
  • Wind → At last, windmills must be our salvation. Yet people complain that they too spoil the scenery of the land and sea where they take root. People living near windmills claim that the turbines are a visual and auditory threat. Some people insist that the noisy whirling blades cause them great stress. A wind farm on the horizon reduces tourism and lowers home values in the areas they go up.  Wind turbines must exist in areas with the strongest winds which are often the same places that birds migrate and nest. The eagle that tore into the liver of Prometheus each day, now gets torn apart by the blades of our modern-day windmills.

The fires we need for basic survival and to feed the machinery that we love come with destructive forces. Perhaps Prometheus and not Pandora unleashed the real evils in this world.

Without fire and the technology it unleashed, humankind may have failed to thrive and died with a very different history. Certainly the planet would be cleaner today.

I know a 24-year-old nurse that gives her time to Doctors Without Borders and cares about the health of the planet. One time she surprised me with an offhand comment. She mentioned that she is tired of her human legs and arms which are so weak. She wants the strength of a machine, a bionic women of sorts I guess.

Science fiction and reality fuse people with machines. What human/machine ratio would cease to view energy-driven pollution as a crisis? Today the ubiquitous phone/computer may as well be embedded within the bodies of my friends and relatives. At some point, no one may care to look out a window to enjoy a Goldfinch perched on a tree branch. The windows to the soul are owned by Microsoft.

Writing Challenge: Silly Miley

Miley’s performance at the Video Music Awards did cross the line; it crossed the line into absolute boredom.

I saw nothing sexually interesting nor shocking with her performance. It warranted no censure, no viewership. Miley Cyrus and the media are pushing this silly performance as something of importance when it is bland. Sexy dancing is nothing new; I don’t think Miley makes the cut.

I like Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines song and video. The video is sexy and a little facetious which makes it interesting. The video does not take itself too seriously and seems to draw the viewers in on the joke. It’s a pop song just meant to entertain us this summer.

Miley looked like a 12-year-old girl in that ill-fitting, beige bikini. Her tongue reminded me of a lizard searching out a tasty bug. The foam finger suggested she take herself off the stage. Her dance moves looked foolish and poorly done.

I guess some men prefer 12-year-old girls. Yet I wonder how many men actually found her titillating on the VMA?

She wants to shake her innocent, Disney image and become a grown-up artist. Yet the only talent she tries for is to shock. Even in that, she didn’t succeed. Yawn . . .

Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap

Summertime Blues

I vividly remember the first time I felt despair. It was during summer break from school when I was about 8 or 9 years old.

I was at home with my mother and grandmother, and they were cleaning the house. They didn’t ask me to help, in fact they must have wanted me out of the way. The radio was on and the Nat King Cole song “The Lazy, Hazy, Crazy, Days of Summer” came on.

I don’t know whether this prompted or accompanied my first known episode of despair. I felt more alone, useless, unhappy the longer I listened to that song. Conversely, the song was upbeat, happy, and carefree. Why this innocuous song and not some dreary Gregorian chant from Sunday mass? Or better yet, why not “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin? I always thought it was one of the most depressing songs out there. Albeit the “Cat’s in the Cradle” song came into being 10 years later, maybe my despair should have waited for a more appropriate musical accompaniment.

Every summer I recall this unexpected, intense feeling from the past. I guess I’m still trying to reconcile the trigger this pop song may have had to the feeling of the blues.

Weekly Writing Challenge: I Remember the Coffee

My friend wants me to add a vitamin powder to my water and drink it in the morning instead of coffee. She said it’s healthy and makes you feel better than coffee. I’m not too sure about this idea. Morning would be even less palatable without the smell, taste, and ritual of that lovely brown liquid.

You see, I’ve been a coffee drinker from way back. Practically from breast to coffee cup. I think my grandparents brought this coffee-is-good-for-kids idea from Europe and my mother kept it going.

My mother and grandparents firmly believed that a hot or warm beverage was always healthier than any cold one. They avoided cold drinks. My grandfather’s favorite drink was hot water with a bit of milk mixed in. He lived to the age of 93 so maybe they were on to something.

My mother was shocked to learn that kindergarten classes offered a cold carton of milk halfway through the day. She insisted that the teacher remove my milk from the refrigerator about an hour before snack time so that it could turn lukewarm. Soon other mothers thought that was a good idea and three or four other milk cartons were warming up with mine. How many kids began to hate me at this point, I’m not sure.

In first grade, I had a Disney lunch box with a matching thermos. One day my mother filled the Disney thermos with coffee. During lunch, the thermos started to leak. I knew that everyone would discover my dirty little coffee-drinking secret.   The teacher set my leaky thermos in the sink while the other kids watched and speculated. Maybe it’s hot cocoa some of them said. But the coffee smell couldn’t be disguised. This coffee incident made the whole class think I was one strange kid. But it wasn’t me doing the brewing and pouring, I was just the recipient of drinking what “was good for me.”

My memories and addiction make letting go of my morning coffee nearly impossible. Yet I do rebel a little. Sometimes I order iced coffee at the coffee shop. My grandmother would never have understood cold coffee. It would have been her turn to be shocked and confused.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/writing-challenge-remember/

DIA on the Brink: Does Man Live by Bread Alone?

Detroit is living a real life ethical dilemma these days. If a city is burning, do we pull out the old woman or do we rescue that portrait of Van Gogh?

Detroit went into bankruptcy last week. The emergency manager in Detroit, appointed by the State of Michigan, has been eyeing the vast and valuable art collection held by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The city owns this museum and its assets are potentially up for grabs as creditors and city pensioners alike look for some good money coming out of a bad situation.

Union contracts can be rewritten. Creditors may get pennies on the dollar for their investments. The retirees may find their pensions slashed. Money is needed for turning the streetlights back on that have been dark too long; money is needed for the razing of thousands of blighted buildings; money is needed for police, fire, and EMS services that seldom serve city residents in a timely manner. The city population keeps dropping and the tax base can’t support the over $17 billion debt.

The DIA has one of the best art collections in America, and both tourists and residents would feel the pain if it was dismantled.

But real people may get hurt while the art still hangs on the wall.

A letter writer to the editor of a Detroit newspaper said that if he had to make a choice between gutting retiree benefits or selling city assets, he would be saying,  “What is the opening bid for this beautiful Van Gogh?”

This is hard for me since I find the DIA to be vital and relevant. I need art and bread, and I believe (perhaps naively) that art can uplift everyone in society. Detroit without its great museums, would be even sadder.

So what’s it gonna be? Should the Degas and Matisse survive? Or does the old woman have any need for a stinking painting?