What we think we know

September 25, 2010

It’s a bit surprising to start writing with a preconceived notion of the topic and then wind up with a conclusion totally opposite from the preconception held at the beginning.  You all have heard the old saw . . . assume only makes an ass of you and me. Presume  does the same thing. Sometimes presumptions and assumptions need examination . . . we don’t always know what we think we know.

Poor Richard worked all day in the shop last Sunday and hopefully won’t burn in hell for dereliction of church attendance, not that there aren’t other just causes for the same unfortunate end. While there, I had the radio tuned to NPR, usually my station of choice. They’ve renamed their Sunday AM commentary. It used to be  Speaking of Faith. Now it’s Being.  Being is a broader, more all-encompassing word that apparently validates the inclusion of all types of abstraction that push the envelope way beyond what normal listeners would consider discussions of faith, ethics, or other definable or at least potentially constrainable topics.

Last Sunday’s broadcast featured Joanna Macy, who was introduced as a “philosopher of ecology, Buddhist scholar and translator of the works of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.” Ms. Macy is without doubt a fascinating woman with amazing life experiences. She was a Fulbright scholar, worked for the CIA in postwar Germany, with the Peace Corps in India and occupied the Seabrook nuclear reactor before it could open.  She is now 81, amazingly lucid, if somewhat adrift of the main waterways.

When I started writing this, I was prepared to go off on a diatribe about the misuse of language and the ever popular presumption that by eloquently stringing words together meaning is created (whether anyone understands it or not). Upon first listening, much of the interview with Ms. Macy seemed nonsensical, even bordering on lunatic.  It’s certainly out there.  Here’s an excerpt:

And that had a great spiritual teaching for me too, Krista, because it led me into fascination, if not obsession — I’ll say obsession — with long-term radioactive contamination through our processes of making weapons and generating power that insisted that I open my mind to reaches of time that had stretched both my heart and my intellect. In other words, I realized that we were, through technology, having consequences with our decisions — our decisions had consequences or a karma, as we could say, that reached into geological time. And that what in industry and government choices that we make under pressure for profit or bureaucratic whatever, that we are making choices that will affect whether beings thousands of generations from now will be able to be born sound of mind and body.

All this to say that there are long-term environmental implications from our decisions.  And there are other equally obtuse passages in the interview. After reviewing the transcript, though, I also find something quite different. There are jewels of wisdom in this conversation, insights from a person who has truly lived 81 years. Here’s one:

The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that.

I have a very Christian friend who has made almost the same statement when speaking of Jesus’ command to “love one another.” He says that the most active expression of love is simply showing up, being engaged.

Ms. Macy provides another optimistic insight regarding the clarity of thinking of a younger generation:

and they’re able to look into the face of some pretty awful political corrupt machinations or what have you that would get me frothing with righteous indignation and they smile and shrug and say, “What do you expect?” and then they go and do what needs to be done.

That’s refreshing, although it’s upsetting that my generation is at the root of the corruption that the next generations are coping with.  Perhaps in doing what needs to be done, they can unravel some of the snarled up mess that we’ve created.

Finally,  there’s the poetry.  Poor Richard is no student of poetry, but I found one of the verses compelling. Here it is:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness

Give me your hand.

-from the Book of Hours, Rainer Maria Rilke

A wonderful anthem for an engaged life.  Sometimes it’s good for one’s presumptions to be disrupted. This is when we learn that our preconceptions, what we think we know, may be neither as accurate or profound as we once thought.  Read the transcript.

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Fogging for Veeps

June 23, 2008

The air conditioner on my less than vintage 1993 Pontiac Bonneville doesn’t. Actually it does . . . condition the air, that is; but for wintertime, not Georgia summer. So I cool off in the car the old fashioned way by rolling down the windows. The electric windows do work on the “old man mobile,” as the car has been dubbed by my children. With the windows down and cruising at 65 mph, one can enjoy the full effect of 95% humidity in Middle Georgia.

My children will not ride in the car. “It smells bad, It’s ugly, it doesn’t have air conditioning,” they say. They’re right about the smell and the air conditioning. I always liked the lines of the old beast. And the smell is quite bearable at 65 mph on the Interstate with the warm and humid air streaming in and the radio blasting through the one remaining speaker that isn’t cracked.

It’s a 30 minute drive from AlphaGraphics to home in Perry. The strategy is simple. Hit the Interstate and cruise. It works most days, but not today. Today was Monday. I could tell that it was Monday even early this morning, when no one showed up for the 8:00 am morning meeting but me. Monday struck again when I looked at the brochure that one of our pressmen struggled with for half a day on Saturday. It was supposed to be gray. Instead it was blue on one side and purple on the other. Monday occurred again on the wide format printer, which managed to turn a very deep black into chocolate brown. And Monday lambasted me on the way home.

It’s not unusual to encounter Georgia State Patrol cars on the medians as one drives south on I-75. At certain times of the year, they undertake revenue enhancement on behalf of Govnah Sunny, who has actually run a pretty tight financial ship during his tenure in office. Today they were out in force, positioned at almost every mile marker between Warner Robins and Perry.

“Something’s up,” I thought, but it really wasn’t a problem for me. You can’t speed in the Bonneville with the windows open, no matter how hard you may try. The noise is prohibitive and it really just doesn’t want to go that fast. And if you move too fast, the air in the car cools down just enough for clouds to form and it rains in the back seat, which explains both the interesting fungi and the smell.

I knew it was Monday once again when I pulled off at the Perry Exit and was stopped on the ramp by another State Patrol car. An assault helicopter circled above as we came to a dead stop. I could see another patrol car on the other side of the bridge. They had cordoned off the exit, and I was stuck in the cordon.

A newer model Chevrolet pulled up next to me with a younger woman driving. She had the windows down, too. She looked at me and I at her and we both shrugged. “AC broken?” I asked.

“Nope,” she replied. “Just about out of gas. What’s going on?”

The speaker on the patrol car ahead of us barked, “We’ve got him at the convenience store.”

“Manhunt,” I yelled through the window. “Must be somebody really dangerous to shut down the exit like this. You might want to roll up your window and lock your doors.”

“Nobody’s that dangerous,” she replied. I agreed.

We sat and sweated for 5 minutes or so. I decided to call Beautiful Wife, who usually knows mostly everything that’s going on. “Oh, no!” said Beautiful Wife, “it’s not a manhunt, it’s Cheney. He’s going to eat with the Davidsons.” She commiserated with me briefly and explained that a wealthy couple outside of town was hosting the VP for a dinner and soiree this evening. The VP’s route would probably take him past my exit, explaining why I was sweltering in the Pontiac and the young lady next to me was wondering whether she had enough gas to get to the station when she cranked her car once again.

Then we spotted the entourage. A group of large, black SUV’s with illegally tinted windows. It was either Cheney or the leader of one of the United Arab Emirates. Either way, they certainly were not concerned with fuel prices or oil shortages. There wasn’t a car in the entourage that would get over 10 mpg.

Somewhere in one of the ponderous black monstrosities sat Vice President Cheney in cool air conditioning and probably sipping an iced beverage. I was underwhelmed. The young lady in the Chevrolet wasn’t impressed either.

“I’m voting for Obama,” she yelled through the window as she moved up the hill towards the gas station.

“Monday,” I thought, and headed for home, hoping beyond hope that it was over. I didn’t here the whine until the last intersection before my street. The truck zoomed past, fogging me with malathion through the open windows of the Bonneville. I reminded myself that I’ve given up cussing, said a short prayer, and rolled up the windows. The temperature immediately rose another 10 degrees and it started raining in the back seat as I drove in the fog behind the pesticide truck up my street and pulled into my driveway.

The fog settled as I opened the car door and I realized that the combination of pesticide and heat was causing me to hallucinate. I was seeing Vice President Cheney’s motorcade once again and driving in front of the largest SUV was the malathion truck, fogging away.

Happy Monday, Vice President Cheney!


Big Pig Update

June 2, 2007

Curiouser and Curioser . . .

Eldest daughter sent a link with a different slant on the big pig story (See Just In Case You Missed It ). It seems that the pig had a name, and it wasn’t Grendel after all. Fred, the pig, was domesticated. The image of young Jamison pursuing the feral pig through dangerous Alabama swampland wasn’t exactly accurate, either. Fred the pig was shot in a fenced in hunting preserve.

Here is a quote from the Atlanta Constitution with Fred’s previous owners’ take on the story:

“From his treats of canned sweet potatoes to how their grandchildren would play with him, their stories painted the picture of a gentle giant. They even talked about how their small Chihuahua would get in the pen with him and come out unscathed.”

Read the whole story at AJC .

Isn’t life grand?


Just In Case You Missed It

May 28, 2007

Some Pig!

One of the stranger news stories ever printed was featured in Saturday’s Macon Telegraph Boy, 11, bags hog bigger than ‘Hogzilla’ . 11 year old Jamison Stone, pictured with this mutated bovine, apparently shot the thing with a pistol. Let’s revisit that . . . shot it several times with a pistol. Nine times with a 50 caliber revolver, to be exact. Young Jamison has been hunting since he was five.

Please don’t misunderstand. Poor Richard is not one of those animal rights folks who get totally torqued when they see a chicken house and even feed their pet Doberman a vegetarian dog food. But, one does have to question the sanity of allowing an eleven year old to charge through the woods firing a pistol at Grendel.

According to the Telegraph/AP article, Jamison’s “father said that, just to be extra safe, he and the guides had high-powered rifles aimed and ready to fire in case the beast, with 5-inch tusks, decided to charge.” Somehow this just doesn’t seem satisfactory. If Grendel actually had decided to devour the lad, would a few high powered rifles actually have stopped him in time?

I submit that if God had truly wanted men to hunt and eat something like this monster, He wouldn’t have invented cows, chickens and domesticated pigs.

As for Jamison, his next expedition is planned for Scotland in the late Summer. He’s going fishing for Nessie . . . with a #8 Aberdeen hook.

Photo by Melynne Stone, AP story by Kate Brumback, lifted without specific permission from Macon.com. I’ll put the photo back if you tell me to.


Two Cops and a Ladder

December 30, 2006

The Blue and Red Lights were flashing in the neighbor’s driveway . . .

Police Lights

They were thinking that this was a real waste of time, and they were probably right. It was just an open door, after all. But why would the upstairs balcony door be open with the neighbors out of town?

One of the kids noticed the open door as we were coming back from dinner in Wonderful Robins. We parked the car, walked next door and checked out the situation. Downstairs doors were locked. Everything looked good through the windows.

The balcony is easily 10 feet off the ground. It wasn’t likely that even the most enterprising burglar could climb up there, ransack the house, and leave with all of the neighbor’s valuables. Still, I didn’t want to be the one to find out. And I wasn’t really very thrilled with the idea of climbing up a ladder to check the situation out in someone else’s house. Not my job. I called the cops.

We live in the small town of Perry, a few miles south of Macon, GA. Everybody knows everybody here (and their business) and the attitude of Perry’s finest usually reflects the friendliness of the community. That was only partially true this evening.

I was only a little surprised when the cruiser doors opened. All I could see as I approached the car were two heads in the front seat. The driver’s door opened and an attractive, smiling policewoman emerged. We walked toward the front of the house and I explained why I had called and pointed at the open door ten feet above. She nodded and we discussed the options. I offered to get a ladder and she nodded again.

I hadn’t heard a thing from the partner and I didn’t see her at all until I turned to head back to my house. At first I thought she was a bear, but then remembered that bears don’t live in Perry, GA. She was four feet away from me and I couldn’t tell you how she got there. I said something cordial, acknowledging her presence, and she responded with a noncommital grunt.

The ladder was propped up on the balcony with the help of the friendly police lady. We tested the stability and she climbed carefully up to the balcony. There was a rumbling sound behind me and I was barely able to step aside as the partner vaulted up the ladder, over the railing and into the open doorway. It was a thing to witness. The image evoked was definitely bearlike: muscular, strong, fast and a little menacing. She slammed the door after going inside.

Flashlight beams flashed through the curtains and venetian blinds as the partners explored the house. I waited for them outside, naturally curious about what they were seeing. When they emerged, I asked the communicative policewoman if everything was OK.

“Have you been in the house?” she responded. “Would you know if anything was out of place?”

I know the neighbors, but not well. My father-in-law visits with them regularly, but I’ve never been inside. “No.” I responded, as it occurred to me that something could be very wrong inside. I could sense the bear’s presence nearby.

She asked the question again. I repeated my answer. I told her that I had looked through the windows downstairs and checked the doors, but couldn’t see anything that looked amiss. I asked again if everything was alright. She loosened up a bit, stating that nothing appeared to be disturbed, then asked for my identification and how to get in touch. I was beginning to feel like I was part of a scene from Law and Order, and wondering if the partners thought that I was a bad guy.

The friendly police lady left me with a case number and her name. I didn’t get the partner’s name. Perhaps it was Ursula. The bear had vanished as silently as she had appeared. I saw her seated in the police cruiser as I carried the ladder back toward our house.

It was an odd encounter, a little disconcerting. There was certainly nothing unprofessional about the behavior of the two policewomen. Even the bear, as bizarre as her actions and demeanor seemed to me, did nothing that could be interpreted as out of bounds. Somehow, though, in an almost undefineable way, my worldview had been changed.


Smoky Mountain Nervous Breakdown

November 17, 2006

DollyWe went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee . . . for a meeting. 17,633,421 other people went to Pigeon Forge last weekend because they think that Dolly lives there. Another 7,344,012 people went to Gatlinburg, TN, about 4 miles away from Pigeon Forge. They got lost looking for Dolly. All 24,977,433 people that made the pilgrimage to the Smokies last weekend like to drive. They like to drive very slowly in bumper-to-bumper traffic, because neither Pigeon Forge nor Gatlinburg can accomodate the 7,136,409.4285714 automobiles required to transport all of the Dolly seekers and the 1.5 children in their nuclear family.

Even though there are a “slew” of restaurants in Dollyland to feed all of the pilgrims, there aren’t enough. “Slew,” by the way, is a mountain word. Here in Perry, we would say a “mess,” as in “mess of catfish.” Anyway, the situation in the “slew” of restaurants was a mess. It wasn’t a problem, though, because the pilgrims were willing to wait.

In fact, the pilgrims all seemed to have come with the understanding that lots of waiting would be part of their weekend vacation. To me, waiting (especially in traffic) and vacation are opposing concepts. Vacations are fun. Waiting interminably is not.

I don’t think that anyone found the real Dolly.  There was Dollywood, Little Dolly’s junk shop, Dolly’s restaurant, and Dolly’s image everywhere; but no Dolly.  I think that there was probably a Dolly’s lingerie somewhere, but I missed it.  I’m sorry, because I’ve been wanting to recreate an egg launcher that my buddies and I made in college.  It featured an exceptionally large brassiere cup and some surgical tubing, but that’s a story for another day.

I love the mountains.  I don’t love being in a small mountain community with 24,977,433 others.  I won’t be going back to Pigeon Forge.  I’m never watching “9 to 5” again.