In the early 60’s, I read Rudyard Kipling, Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Thousand and One Nights from the original Arabic and Robert Service’s poems of the Yukon, Paris back-alleys and ambulance driving in WW I. My local library yielded up numerous descriptive journals written by or about the explorers and military commanders of the nineteenth century. In Baton Rouge it was not uncommon, on Sunday afternoon TV to see Alec Guinness in Tunes of Glory or William Conrad in Leiningen Versus the Ants or Carry On Up The Jungle with Sid James and Jacki Piper or even Carey Grant and Joan Fontaine in Gunga Din.
When I arrived in North Vancouver, my sixth grade teacher at Lynn Valley Elementary had been a personal friend of the famous Canadian flying ace, Buzz “Screwball” Beurling. Between bouts of punishing sarcasm, brow-beating and shaming, us students were treated to and inflicted with daily stories of the Falcon Of Malta and his 39 kills from the cockpit of his RAF Spitfire.
An eleventh grade teacher I had at Argyle Senior Secondary was a soft spoken Scot who taught algebra. That silver haired gentleman used to regale his students with a never-ending story of his personal adventures as a tail-gunner in a Wellington bomber. Each tale was perfectly timed to require attendance the next day in order to find out if the port-side engine did in fact explode or whether or not the bombardier managed to stop his arterial bleeding. No one ever skipped that class.
By the 80’s when Message In A Bottle fought for airspace with Night Moves, most young folks were on UIC. A minority of persistent ones eventually found employment. Those who were in their mid-twenties were typically thrown together with others forty years their senior who were nearing their retirement, especially in the Public Service and Trades arenas.
Several times, I found myself paired up with one of these old fellows as a work mate, as an apprentice or as a trainee. Looking back, I realize that had I lacked the celluloid and literate grounding that I’d managed to glean in my boyhood; I would have been completely out-gunned in those short but intense inter-generational work relationships.
I did a pastiche of jobs that involved everything from deep fryers to brick-work scaffolds, drop clothes to jack-hammers, ship’s hulls to Police cruisers and carpenter’s belts to bank vaults. This potpourri eventually came to a boil at Canada Post. Many of the silver-back males at that establishment had seen war in a variety of theaters that visited everything from the freezing rain of the heartless North Atlantic to the malarial monsoons of the steaming jungles of Burma, from the sub-zero bomb shattered mountains of the Korean Peninsula to the corpse strewn shattered rubble of a pulverized European infrastructure. Many matriarchs I worked with had also been in those same theaters but were much less likely to speak of their adventures than the men. Back then, men mostly did the killing and destroying while women mostly did their best to save lives and to comfort the casualties.
I met men from Naval, Air Force, Merchant Marine and Army backgrounds. Though Canadian, they were of British, German, Yugoslav, Dutch, Danish, Italian, American, Scots, Irish, East Indian, Japanese and First Nations heritage. After hearing their stories, I easily understood their attitude towards our relatively soft duty of stuffing paper through door slots for the Queen, rigging up gas-fired boilers, painting apartments, sculpting lawns, cooking meals and riveting hulls. Of those men, the Germans were the most philosophical, the Slavs were the most poetic and the Brits, by far, were the loudest and the proudest.
As a young gas-fitter in North Vancouver, I was assigned to ride along with a British war vet for two weeks prior to his retirement. The mission was for him to impart some of his knowledge of servicing older gas fired heating equipment. I only had experience installing new piping and devices. I remember the look our boss gave me as we drove off to that first shift.
It seemed to say, “We’ll just see how this works, kid. If you can make it for a day or two, it’ll set a new company record. Either way, its bound to tie your shit in a knot.”
My mentor had been resident in India in a military capacity during the very last tumultuous days of the Raj. He was old school. If he’d been a glass of wine, the first sip would have been described as abrasive, opinionated, prejudiced, racist, fastidious, narcissistic, elitist, caustic, manic, acerbic, impatient, uncompromising, rude, ignorant, misogynistic, prone to outbursts of fury, humorless and unimaginative. I knew better than to judge him without taking into consideration the soil he’d sprung from and the cask he’d matured in.
I could well imagine that when he looked in the mirror each morning he saw the last hope of civilization looking back at him through pale blue eyes. His chief physical characteristics however were ear and nose hair tufts like paint brushes and breath that would stagger a charging rhino.
In his estimation, my accent alone betrayed my abject hopeless stupidity. When added to the other demerits imposed by my place of birth, mixed heritage and youth, I’d wager he felt like a Lord with a fear of germs being told to share a glass of Claret with a wet leper at sword point. Foam formed on the corners of his grim blueish lips when he was particularly agitated and his hands shook when not wrapped tightly around something.
By the infinite wisdom of the universe we became unlikely work-mates for a time. I learned nothing of my trade via verbal tutelage, and gleaned what I could from pure observation at safe distance. It was like working with my Swedish grandpa in his East Texas garage workshop. Questions were an unmanly sign of weakness, sitting was forbidden, touching things was actively discouraged and permission to actually undertake a project lived in some mythical distant future that shrunk back farther in time the closer you got to it like a Saharan mirage.
Lunches at the Third & Lonsdale Army and Navy Veterans Club helped us find some common ground over bowls of soup and pints of ale during this time. Once in a while, after such a good feed and several dust cutters, a strange light would come into the old man’s eyes as we drove to the next boiler job in the post-war neighbourhoods of West Vancouver. Once the old boy got started reminiscing, the smoking light was green.
“Mick, it was in the last days of the Raj. I was stationed in Cawnpore. My wife and daughter lived there with me. We had a pet mongoose to deal with the cobras that were always slithering up from the Ganges and into the house. Our dhobi-wallah was nearly bitten while sorting out shirts for starching one afternoon. The mongoose was brought in and the girls stood on the table to watch the fight. Two minutes under the piano bench was all it took for little Georgie to do his job. That was all before the partition. Nasty bit of work, that.”
Our arrival at the next job would always trigger an end to the stories and my mentor would retreat back to his scarred shell like a hermit crab poked with a stick. After two long weeks, I attended the grand occasion of the old soldier’s retirement party at the Army and Navy Club. I had typed up a passage from Kipling’s poem, Gunga Din for use when the toasting and story-telling got underway. When my turn came, I rose and delivered the piece.
I won't forget the night
When I dropped behind the fight
With a bullet where my belt plate should have been.
I was choking mad with thirst,
And the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinning, grunting Gunga Din.
He lifted up my head,
And he plugged me where I bled,
And he gave me half a pint of water-green:
It was crawling and it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm most grateful to one from Gunga Din.
It was "Din! Din! Din!"
Here's a beggar with a bullet through his spleen;
He's chawing up the ground,
And he's kicking all around:
For Gawd's sake get the water, Gunga Din!
He carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
And a bullet come and drilled the beggar clean.
He put me safe inside,
And just before he died:
"I hope you liked your drink," says Gunga Din.
So I'll meet him later on
At the place where he is gone--
Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
He'll be squatting on the coals,
Giving drink to poor damned souls,
And I'll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
Yes, Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
When I finished and everyone had drained their raised glasses, the Englishman rose from his seat and gave me a crushing handshake and two stout claps on the shoulder, his wife smiled and his daughter agreed to my request for more stories of the intrepid Georgie.
Our boss just grinned and said, “Shit! Mick. Cheers to that.”
Later, as a letter-carrier at Station O, I worked with ex-Navy and Merchant dudes. Out on the streets between Fraser and Main, I got to know some vets of the South-East Asian theater and yet others who had seen very recent action in the Middle East. Over time, my hair deserted most of my scalp and my beard sported a distinctive pewter tone. My ear and nose hair took on a new enthusiasm as did my eyebrows. The quickening was upon me! All this while, new blood flowed into the Armed Forces, across battlefields and into the Crown Corporation that had once been the Canadian Postal Service.
At a certain point, in a particular Sortation Facility, I started to feel well and truly old. I looked at the fresh faces around me, thumbing their cell phones with one hand and sorting mail with the other. Everyone was pierced, tattooed and gender ambiguous. Green, blue, purple and orange had replaced blonde, brunette, red and black for ladies hair colours. Many of the new hires washed out long before their training periods were over. Morning sortation began to be filled with the plaintive mewling of reality-seared newbies as they tried hard to come to terms.
“You mean, we have to deliver it too?”
“What SPF does the Post Office provide us?”
“I didn’t bring lunch. It’s snowing so hard. Aren’t they going to send us home?”
“Dude, seriously, it’s raining.”
“We have to take all those flyer thingies too?”
“Are we gonna die?”
“This is brutal!”
“I though slavery was like, banned-uh.”
“How do they even expect us to do this shit?”
“Of course I brought it all back! For your information, there were dogs-uh.”
Girls were losing gym time and man buns were coming undone. Earbuds were getting lost, batteries were dying and cell phone screens were getting scratched. Sometimes the negative weight of this commotion annoyed the seasoned troops, curdling the milk of their human kindness while undermining everyone’s resolve. Schizophrenic customers, bi-polar dogs, drive-by shootings and tainted contract negotiations were already contending for space on everyone’s plate, even on good days.
One morning, I’d had my fill. Standing idly by while the troops were tightening their grip on the shit rope was no longer an option for a man of honour. As any watcher of the Trailer Park Boys knows, the tighter you grip the shit rope, the faster you slip. Our sortation cases were made of hard maple and likely over one hundred years old. They stood higher than your head and were usually arranged so you could only see the person to your immediate right or left. As compensation for this visual limitation, one could hear a thousand conversations at once like a dress rehearsal for the Tower of Babel scene in a bad movie.
As in a dream, I found my voice that morning and I addressed the work floor from where I stood while continuing to sort my own mountain of mail. Within seconds, all other voices stilled. Only the staccato of envelopes whacking the blue metal backing of the cases accompanied my oration like spent bullets raining onto a car hood.
“Reminds me of the time we were setting up Postal Services in Equatorial Guinea. I was a Postal Clark in Francistown at the time. The telegraph lines had all been sabotaged a fortnight prior by the Mau-Mau uprising and the Crown had to rely on natives to get their signals through by drum. We were tasked by Home Office with capturing a live specimen of the Cleora nigrisparsalis moth for subsequent engraving and use for a commemorative First Day Cover postal stamp in Guinea proper on the West Coast.”
“Let me say it’s a long, long way to Conakry. Most of the lads contracted dysentery, malaria and somnolent fever on the jog up from Botswana through the Okavango Swamp. Beastly hot! Not two days out we were engulfed by a ghastly cloud of blood-sucking, fever-carrying Tsetse flies. Our ranks now decimated, we were forced to halt while bribing new porters. The rinderpest outbreak had just been contained and most of the available workers were busy burning the diseased cattle. Jolly difficult to find any helpers, as it were.”
“Our search for the elusive insect took us up to the headwaters of Zambezi River. We approached the Congo by overland trek and after burying our dead we turned North-West and set our compasses for Kinshasa. From there, we popped down the coastal route to cross the Gabon and traverse the Cameroon. Two days out of Douala, just south of Calabar, the porters became very uneasy. The drums had been particularly incessant that night before after the thunder and lightening finally stopped. Something of ill omen was in the fetid wind.”
“Plagued by Black Mambas for several weeks, we had lost those men who hadn’t remembered to cover their heads when passing under the trees. A pride of male lions in musk had scattered the crates of tinned peas and the hyenas had savaged our corned beef. I told the remaining porters to gather up these provisions and to report on what items had survived. While they worked, I sent young Jenkins off with two wildebeest bladders in search of a water source.”
“Our gin hadn’t survived the crossing of the Congo. The quinine had been stolen by a deserter. We found his scattered, bleached bones several days later but the medicine was gone. A herd of heat-maddened hippopotami had rushed the supply boats and capsized the lot into crocodile infested rapids. After, we had to make do with gathering moisture from bromeliads into hollowed out ostrich eggs.”
“As the men carried out my orders, the blood red hammer of the sun rose over its blistering forge of savanna promising another soul sapping, wit destroying day on the waffle iron that was the Massif lying to our North waiting to be crossed. I poured the last greasy drops of protozoan laden water from my canteen into my shaving mug. I fixed a bit of polished steel onto a crotch of a thorn tree and after evicting several large scorpions from my ruck sack, I drew out the mummified monkey’s fist that served me as a shaving brush.”
“Shirtless, I stood in my last pair of starched khakis, stirring the soap briskly. I hung my pistol belt on a low branch of the thorn. I checked the action, chambered a round and left it in the holster with the clasp undone. I had traded my razor weeks ago to a toothless Portuguese rubber trader for a year old sports section of the London Times. I drew out the Zulu knife I kept in my boot and regarded its jagged, sweat-rusted edge and zebra covered acacia wood handle. It would have to do until I got to Conakry. I stropped it as best I could on the back of my mouldering, Postal Issue pistol belt and leaned toward the reflective steel.”
“I laughed ruefully when I remembered that my Bay Rum astringent had been lost on the Zambezi, spirited away from our camp by a troop of murderous, blue-arsed baboons, baring their fangs. I was just about to commence my toiletries when men and boys came running higgledy-piggledy from the bush. They dropped the supplies they had managed to salvage near the dying embers of our elephant dung fire. Midst their agitated vocalizations, I recognized one word from a previous and still painful experience. Marabunta! Marabunta come! Aiiie!”
“I ordered a porter to bring me the rubbing alcohol and I ordered Jenkins to take a folding spade and cut a small trench around our pile of provisions. He put down his water skins and got cracking immediately. Only four porters held their ground when that living river of ants spilled out of the jungle and flowed like Satan’s pancake syrup, devouring everything in their path. You could hear the insane snapping of their mandibles and cries of the frightened animals that had succumbed to the ravenous frenzy. I tossed a coal onto the alcohol moat with only seconds to spare.”
“As we watched in horror and relief, the reddish-brown river of misery split into two lethal branches to avoid the flames. One of the lads began to gibber and had to be soundly slapped before he regained control of his faculties. Two hours later, it was over. I dispatched the four remaining porters to scour the hills for the deserters and bring them back to justice. Happy to have at least our few remaining supplies, I returned to resume my shave.”
“Jenkins, three paces to my left, was massaging a suppurating ulcer on his withered bicep. Presently, he began teasing out a reluctant bot-fly larvae with a paper clip while whistling a Zulu lullaby. I heard a twig snap in the distance. The schizophrenic call of the White-Crested Turaco floated over the undulating heat shimmer like a mentally unhinged Welsh lighthouse keeper shouting down a storm. It was wart-hog mating season and I hoped to avoid any confrontations with the hormone-driven, godless, porcine threat.”
“Jenkins stood now furiously cleaning his spectacles with a stained piece of gun cotton. I turned away to begin once again the work of lathering my soap and I smiled. There, happily perched on the tepid sticky cake of soap was an extraordinarily robust female Cleora nigrisparsalis. I summoned Jenkins to ready the small cage we had brought from the Francistown Depot and to fetch the net. Soon we had the little perisher safely and suitably housed. This turn of events seemed to cheer the young squire. Whistling softly, he shuffled about gazing at the prize through the ventilation holes.”
“A few minutes later the whistling trailed off and then stopped abruptly. A darkening stain formed and crept down Jenkins khakis into his puttees. The moth cage fell onto the tick infested saw grass and turned on its side. I squinted hard into my mirror and saw the glints of a thousand points of light in its reflection. I slowly drew my service revolver from the holster and cocked the hammer back. I turned smoothly around where I stood.”
“Jenkins…Jenkins, steady lad.”
"I lifted my gaze to discover that we were entirely surrounded on three sides by a numberless, naked horde of gesticulating pygmies, chanting a hellish, poly-rhythmic cacophony and brandishing their spears with unbridled ferocity. Leveling my weapon, I searched fervently for the leader. Stinging sweat ran into my eyes, attracting clouds of gnats and causing me to draw my arm across my face. In that instant, a shot rang out.”
Well, folks, at this point in the story, it was time to go and deliver the mail I had been sorting and bagging while I orated. Over subsequent days, different supplements were trotted out to the amusement of some and the mild annoyance of others. Overall, it served to build a bridge across the River Kwai of misunderstanding between the different generations and heritages all thrown together by work. By redefining what suffering is and how it is perceived, people may begin to make allowances for their differences of scale and culture, eventually coming to respect each other. Old prejudices, stripped naked and thus deprived of their power serve admirably to remind our current menu of accepted prejudices that their day too will yet come.
Every Spring, right around the Vernal Equinox, something of small consequence occurs in Canada. The Finance Minister gets a new pair of traditional shoes and the Queen’s printer churns out metric tons of soft-cover copies of the much anticipated Budget. Like Blue Moons or neap tides, once in awhile this event coincides with a coming election and in these instances especially, the contents of those future glossy covered fire-starters is as predictable as a ten year old boy and a sling-shot. Across the nation, shouts of “BOHICA!” fill the air. Bend over, here it comes again.
I have been enjoying them since the early 70s. Typically, there are promises of relief for childcare fees and spaces, help for home buyers, help for low income earners, help for medical expenses, help for housing shortages, help for the homeless, help for senior citizens and many more besides. The largest and loudest demographics are always served first with the promises.
The lead up to the publication will have seen all these problems front and centre in the news feeds, so as to coax the maximum relief response when those particular nasties are listed as being solved by the brand new budget. What ever party was in power prior will be blamed for the current fiasco and the required spending. When the current sitting party changes, the new party will announce that those folks over spent and that now, by God, we will all do the right thing and tighten our belts to pay for it all. This tough love will be appreciated by the tired old folks and dazed young folks alike.
Statistics are massaged and rendered down like oolichan grease, lined up and presented in such a format that any dumb bunny can argue convincingly with anybody else in the lunch room at work or on the transit to and from. Aptly named bullet lists are shown on the flat screens with the new amounts that have been ear-marked for fixing the chosen problems of that year.
These amounts are generally in the millions of dollars Canadian and to some people, still elicit a wow response that is much like fiscal strawberry jam covering the burnt toast of reality underneath these sums. Although, I am speaking of Canada, I would be very pleasantly surprised if these tried and true methods were much different in other countries.
Depending on the big picture of International Finance, interest rates, the Stock Exchanges, the Commodity Markets, the Carbon Exchanges and Foreign Exchanges, one can begin to see the flawed logic of the relief being proffered.
An example would be the current promise of relief for first time home buyers. Now, evidently, a person may take $35,000 out of their RRSP instead of the former $25,000 to add to the down payment of their real estate purchase. When a Canadian uses this mechanism, they are legally bound to replenish such used funds within 15 years. It would be interesting to see a conspicuously missing statistic, that of all the folks who have become renters due to the astronomical percentage of divorces and dissolved relationships, who don’t qualify as “first timers” until some prescribed length of time expires making them again eligible for this “help.”
If the lucky first timer happens to live in Vancouver where a house costs well over a million dollars, the $35,000 they are able to bolster their down-payment with would be akin to urinating on a volcano. In the good old days of 30% down, 20 year mortgages, a person paid the purchase price of their home about three times over, even with a “good” steady interest rate for the life of the mortgage. Things ain’t so steady now. Interestingly, I saw on the news about a year ago that the average Canadian, you know, that guy, doesn’t have $3,000 in savings, let alone $35, 000. A short list of the mechanics of many of the other relief schemes basically boil down to making it easier to borrow more money with less emphasis on actual creditworthiness. Hey dude, if you are here in the Shark Tank asking me for cash for your business, I’m writing the rules or you can walk.
Now, if we look at some numbers of a very different magnitude, engaging people of a very different kidney, some interesting speculations begin to form. In the world of drug trafficking, particularly cocaine trafficking, the sums of money being dealt with are beyond the abilities of normal folks to calculate or to conceive of. According to Roberto Saviano, in his book, ZeroZeroZero, folks employed in this business have to weigh their money on scales, while the folks we usually think of as wealthy can get by quite easily with counting it, like we do.
The consumers of this alkaloid are ubiquitous, non-denominational, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, gainfully employed and strung out, scholarly and street smart, elegant and shabby. It is not likely that this drug will ever suffer a shrinkage in demand during the current Inter-Glacial Period we are living in. The opposite is almost a guarantee.
It is an illegal substance and tons of it move around the globe, breathing super-human energy into all the population centres. As has been said many times before of caffeine and nicotine, if these substances were to disappear, the world would move at a much slower pace as a result. This is exponentially more true with the white powder.
Traffickers and smugglers are as old as civilization and those employed in the movement of cocaine have much precedence to draw upon. Over the decades, a flow chart of this movement from Southern jungles to Northern latitudinal nostrils would reveal that in spite of any plan by any State to curtail or subdue this commerce, the demand itself acts as half of an electrical circuit. To dream of stopping it is akin to attempting to stop lightening from occurring while natural static charges build up in the earth and sky from the very motion of the planet.
Today’s traffickers employ private customized submarines and submersible vehicles, ships, boats, trains, planes, helicopters, drones, humans, animals and automobiles to transport the product. The profits enjoyed are of such an order of magnitude that it has been discovered that some submarines, for instance, are scuttled after only one use. We are made to feel guilty about plastic drinking straws and shopping bags while some guy young enough to be your nephew chucks out single use disposable submarines.
It has been in our local news recently and repeatedly, that money laundering is rampant in Canada and is especially virulent in Vancouver. Do you think? The typical news feature will have a quick video of some dude who’s anonymity is guaranteed, unzipping a Samsonite full of cash bundles in the back office of a local casino. A report on the problem has even been generated by the Government. All we get to see is the cover of this august tome. Links to the real estate market have been suspected. In fact, some millions of Canadian dollars have been ear-marked for studying this exact problem in the newest budget.
I can say that this activity was obvious nearly thirty years ago to anyone who cared to look. It was obvious to me, a high-school educated mailman. I say that without denigrating myself, but rather, to suggest that it must have been even more obvious to many other brighter folks. Like the ones who cluck their tongues and shudder at today’s news casts. For those involved and profiting from the business, it’s been a long, cool ride. Fish are jumping and the cotton’s mighty high. The result of this suitcase cash/poker chip/real estate phenomenon has been acres of uninhabited, hastily built foreign owned high rises. The names of the agents on the real estate flyers are becoming harder to pronounce, harder to spell and more often hyphenated.
Mothers were already working before this happened and now both parents are likely to have two jobs each. Newer immigrants are sometimes working three jobs. Graduated students from post secondary are working jobs they could have qualified for without the boon of that university or college education if they are lucky enough to find employment. Their pay goes to rent, transportation and servicing their student loans. The ray of hope held out by the new budget to that sorry group, is interest forgiveness. The principal amount they owe will likely keep them busy enough to forgo seeking mortgages or pairing off, settling down and raising children.
The traditional banks that have always handled the proceeds of crime are still the majors and technology has greatly aided their operations. It is not likely they will ever change and besides, the fines paid by them when caught are such a small cost of doing business that any financial analyst would not be alarmed enough to suggest any change in the status quo.
The cartel dudes, aka the suppliers, are perfectly happy with the exorbitant rates charged to them by the existing money launderers. It is an acceptable cost of doing business again but several orders of magnitude higher up the scale. The producers, aka farmers, are happy to eat, whether they are cultivating poppies, coca bushes or potatoes. The distributors are an ever changing group tending towards monopoly but contending with greedy, would be one man band schemers from time to time. The retailers, aka the guy at work, on the street, at the Starbucks or at the gym are an as yet unmeasured but constant portion of our species who are either ready and willing vampires with expensive tastes, a dislike of conflict and a disdain for honest work or good people driven by economic necessity out of love for themselves or their families.
The substance ain’t going away and neither are the players enumerated above nor are the users. In fact, I would bet on an increasing amount of users in the developed nations as a result of the hopeless rat-race most of them exist in. The middle men may well shift from Sicily to Calabria as appeared to be the case to one unfortunate investigator who looked deeply into those matters. Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala have made big leaps forward as players. The reckless, vicious style of these war-torn, military trained boys may well be a match for governance by the traditional code of honor with ancient roots in Aspromonte. Time will show.
What if, I wondered one day, the government of British Columbia created a Provincial Money Laundromat? It could be called the BCPMLA or the British Columbia Provincial Money Laundering Authority. Without legalizing the substance, its sale or use, depositors could make physical deliveries of cash under total amnesty and anonymity. This service could charge rates that would be criminally high yet still points off the other options available.
A very large staff would be created to do all the physical jobs and technology would interface with the banks involved. The banks would have to fork up a share of the fees they charge for these types of transactions. People down the line who profit from the trade can then lose their clean surplus cash in legal casinos and Hummer dealerships.
The billions raked in by the BCPMLA could easily and speedily solve the daycare crisis, the housing affordability crisis, the homeless crisis, the medical care crisis, the substandard living conditions of First Nations peoples crisis, the education crisis, the transportation crisis and all of the other things listed each year on government budgets. If these problems, as we are told by our leaders, are in fact solvable by dollars, then I would argue that throwing billions at them instead of millions would be a step in the right direction.
If the nation took notice of these provincial proceedings, it could lead to solving problems for the whole of Canada. If the Northwest Passage does thaw out enough to be navigable year round, the transportation routes traditionally used for the flake will likely shift from their current placements anyway. Armies of workers who need no sleep nor food, who are numb to the cold, impotent and hyper alert will flock to the new frontier of opportunity that is Canada’s North. Trump’s Border Wall could become Trump’s Border Mall in short order.
These government run cash laundry speculations of mine are of course satiric. You may think of it as sit down comedy, if you will. They are intended to point out the fact that there is no shortage of money in our world. There is no problem with a financial solution that could not be easily solved by the dysenteric river of drug money that flows right past those who need it, feeds the worst of us along its way and comes to rest in constipated cisterns of real estate holdings belonging to young, spoiled, abused widows whose husbands are peppered with lead, boxed and buried well before their natural time of dying.
To be fair, we must look at what could possibly go wrong. That is easily done. What would go wrong would be what always goes wrong. Humans would be human. Fear, greed, jealousy, revenge, lust and everything Shakespeare wrote about would be visited upon the enterprise in epic proportions. The gristle in the fajita is the fact that all those failings always exist in proportions large enough to make the life of the average law abiding citizen anywhere on the planet a patch of bad road.
The cat winking one eye seems to say that even if the fictitious government money laundrette worked for even a year and was then dismantled, the sums obtained for the doing of needed good here at home would form a fund that if properly invested in safe, legitimate, traditional stock and bond issues; would easily dwarf the pocket change flung at our problems each year from the proceeds of hyper-taxation.
If this doesn’t pan out, perhaps domestic and foreign corporate criminals can pay their fines by public service in the form of financially addressing the problems on that years budget litany of woes. Now we have a system where law abiding citizens foot the bill for the attempted prevention, prosecution and punishment of the few criminals who do get busted.
Income tax began as a temporary war measures act and never left when the dance was over. Sales tax, carbon tax and their ilk continue to create a species of desperation that leverages good people over the edges of the law. Perhaps it is time to take the bold step of recognizing that crime is human and it will always be with us. Perhaps it is time to tax crime. The relief forthcoming should work to steadily remove the tensions and temptations that lead to a general sense of hopelessness which in turn fuels the beast of self medication that has been so consummately served by organized crime.
To cap this talk, I will share a story I heard several decades ago in a Post Office lunch room. A fifth grade class, a teacher, a lawyer, a priest and a politician were randomly thrown together by fate on a small inter-island ferry under a stormy sky. Halfway to their destination, the small craft began to take water and the captain determined quickly that the situation was dire. He issued instructions to the crew and the passengers to assemble by the port side life boat davits and flotation device locker.
The school teacher herded her kids, calmed them and started to help them with their life preservers while the deck-hands readied the boat for loading and lowering.
“Women and children first,” shouted one deck-hand to the lawyer, who was pushing others out of his way and trying to clamber aboard.
“Screw the children!” yelled the man in the three piece suit.
The priest turned to the other deck-hand and inquired, “Do you think there’s still time?”
The deck-hands finished loading the children, their teacher and then shoved the old man of the cloth into the boat. The lawyer and the politician who had come to blows were physically separated and settled just before the Captain appeared with his log book and compass.
Soon all the men were aboard and the sailors successfully lowered the wee hull into the foam and began to shove off from the gurgling wreck of the ferry as it began its slide into the depths. In their fight to get aboard, the lawyer and the politician had neglected to put on their flotation devices. The captain ordered them to do so now and their renewed struggles in that regard, capsized the life boat. The high chop prevented righting the boat and the strong breeze soon separated the floaters. Sadly, all souls but one were lost that afternoon. Not from drowning but from sharks attracted by all the commotion. The politician alone was pulled from the salt chuck three hours later, safe and sound. Why didn’t the sharks eat him? You may well wonder. Time honoured professional courtesy.
We have been told for years now via a very successful advertising campaign that the future is friendly and sometimes I ponder just how friendly its going to get. Most of us have a hard time understanding and visualizing exponential growth. You know, that old-fashioned snowball effect. From time to time, if one browses through some science and technology sites on the web, one will likely be amazed at what research is being conducted. It is equally amazing to note who is doing the work and further, who is funding the research.
If you look at the past and study what was classified at any given time as opposed to what was public and accessible knowledge, you will see that capabilities existed long before the technologies underlying them became widely known and definitely before the gadgets incorporating those technologies stocked the shelves of your local stores.
This lag in awareness and availability is very carefully managed for a variety of reasons. These are the proverbial three layers of science. There are economic reasons to consider as well as strategic Geo-political reasons. There are legal reasons to do with patenting, licensing and such. As with everything else in the system we are living in, money calls the tune, directs the research and manages the emergence or suppression of each friendly new thing.
The deepest sea of dollars I know of is that of the taxpayers of this world. Collectively they underwrite the massive deficits incurred by their governments who tap into global financial sources with wild abandon, alter their behavior and compromise their sovereignty in accord with the latest contractual obligations they have entered into.
Another prodigious pool of funds are corporations. The list of research activities undertaken by university labs at any given time and the names of the corporations funding this research is information that while quite available for perusal, is usually trumped by watching Netflix instead. This acts as an obfuscation and when combined with the special jargon that is coined in each field of study, the result is that most people don’t have a clue what is going on and therefore cannot even venture an opinion.
I have noticed that as each new technology has been trotted out, it is always accompanied by press releases and stories of how it will be used for altruistic purposes. Curing diseases, improving food production and that sort of thing. These articles make perfect sense to any average person precisely because these purposes would be exactly what they as individuals would do if they had their hands on the controls. Especially our children.
We are at a point in history where we can look back and see quite a few examples of new things that were going to help us all. In many cases we can see that the real effects were the opposite or came with unforeseen consequences. You know, the blow back. How soon we forget this. How often we forget this.
One of the biggest recipients of any country’s funds are the various military branches. In this realm, much information is withheld for a variety of security reasons for upwards of fifty years and other information is fated to never to see the light of day. Each country of any global consequence maintains a secretive intelligence arm or several of these. All their secrets are under constant threat of falling into the hands of an outsider. This can be through theft, blackmail, bribery or many other techniques both new and ancient, physical or digital.
It can be also be clearly observed that some of the largest contributors to funding for research being done at any given time are the military branches of the world. Sometimes openly and sometimes via corporations who just happen to be in a line of business that supplies the military with its materials. The effect is the same, regardless. The stock of these outfits is blue chip it goes without saying.
If we consider the biological and chemical warfare programs that have existed since the First World War and still exist today, we get a very good idea of how this works. If we simply extrapolate from these patterns with consideration of the bio-engineering, computing and chemical/pharmaceutical research being conducted right now, why would we assume anything would be any different from what went before in terms of who controls the new technologies and to what purposes they employ them?
We already know that the vast stockpiles of each new weapon languish for decades as surplus and eventually as obsolete toxic waste. Always some goes missing as well. The breakthrough of one country becomes the must have of the next country. This feed-back loop has carried on from the armored horse and trebuchet to the nuclear bomb, the nerve gasses, the land mines, the pharmaceutical sprays, the blistering agents, the steel piercing bullets, the night vision goggles, the silent helicopters, the unmanned killer drones, the weather altering aerosols, the mutated crop killing fungi, the manufactured germs, viruses and pathogens, the heat rays and much worse.
We haven’t cured the common cold but we are evidently on the verge of being able to tailor plants and animals into whatever we desire via gene editing. I found it interesting to note that with every year’s larger pool of donations, one well known cancer society I looked into actually spent less on research as a result.
If, as is suggested to school children today, the new CRISPR gene editing techniques, for example, were able to fix cancer in humans, a whole lot of people would be out of a whole lot of money. One way to avoid this would be to make the treatment so expensive that only the rich people could take advantage of it while all the poor people continued scraping their coins together to fund never ending research for a hoped for less expensive alternate treatment.
Of course, anything that actually could cure cancer, for just one example, could also work in reverse. This is where any military worth its salt comes in with giga dollars for funding this kind of application to the existing publicly known research. Mix your gene editor with a nanoparticle aerosol delivery system and stand by to mutate things in ways never seen before.
A quick study of the science underlying the herbicides that have been developed since WWII will reveal an alarming trend of science being used to reverse every natural, healthy process in the plant kingdom that is of great antiquity and of unknowable rarity in our universe. In other words, the unzipping of life itself, conducted covertly in the name of good and making a few people incredibly rich.
Another unfortunate factor in this scenario is the brilliant minds of each successive generation of young scientists, who are channeled by want or by the promise of riches and privileges into exactly the kinds of research that can and will be used by people against people, regardless of the rhetoric, press releases and informational minutia that appears on TV and social media.
Consider the emergence of virtual reality for home computer systems. This technology incorporates headsets to be worn by the operators. Over time these devices will go through a predictable curve in pricing until they are ubiquitous. This business model ensures that human envy will drive people to obtain their own rig. No doubt, philanthropists will donate them to underprivileged children worldwide.
It is already known that signals work both ways. A radio wave serves both a transmitter and a receiver for example. Your Wi-Fi signal for another. When we consider the research going now to do with mapping the human brain on a scale never before possible and the concurrent work in quantum computing, several scenarios begin to take dim shape.
A short study of the tracking technologies embedded in internet search engines and the vast array of telemetry vectors hard-wired into many popular computing platforms will clearly show that a massive amount of personal data is being collected and analyzed every minute of every day. This isn’t being done for fun. On one level, it is obviously being done to better serve the advertising industry. That is the most simple and obvious use that this bonanza of information is being put to.
It is for the reader or listener to cogitate on other likely uses of this data. It must be born in mind while thus cogitating that for every good use you could think of, their potentially exists an equal and opposite bad use.
I was perusing a list of the fifty richest billionaires the other day and one thing really jumped out at me. There was a group within the group that have signed a pledge to give away something in the vicinity of 99% of all their wealth before they die. On the surface this looks counter to the spirit that drove these folks to amass such wealth in the first place. Further, it suggests to the reader that they are converted into saints upon obtaining their 40th billion or so. While the rest of us mortals have to go to ayahuasca retreats and Tantra classes to tame our raging egos.
Most curious indeed. I am fairly certain, even without checking, that this money will go to “non-profit” organizations, NGOs, charities, research facilities, universities, museums, art galleries and the like. I doubt very much that there will be any more potable water, edible food or affordable shelter for those of our fellow humans who lack these things today.
The up-side to this billionaire’s list and others like it is that it helps put in perspective just who is really wealthy and who isn’t. Some familiar names once thought to be significant men and women are suddenly dwarfed by blazing lights with names one likely has never seen in print.
One interesting person listed was a Chinese man who was a military man for a decade and a half. I believe he started out as a simple border guard. He heads a corporation called Wanda. In Chinese the name means something along the lines of “reaching over ten thousand.” This corporation is heavily into real estate both locally and globally. They are buying up movie theaters and production companies and also are involved with sporting events. They have built Plazas and even whole villages in China. In fact, they will bringing you the World Cup of Soccer at least up until 2030 as well as other popular sports competitions. In wealth ranking, the CEO is only about halfway to Jeff Bezos but his website makes for a fascinating read nonetheless. Mostly because with the exception of investors and stock traders and other high fliers, many ordinary people have never heard of him or of his empire, although they have probably purchased many of his services unknowingly.
Equally fascinating is the new research being done on the topic of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. A Swede, Svante Pääbo, has put together the Neanderthal genome and found that there are some correlations with some aspects of the neural development pattern known as autism. (CADPS2 and AUTS2) He has also concluded that all people alive today (excepting Africans) carry 1-4% Neanderthal genes. It has further come to light recently that two other species of human like creatures were at one point contemporaneous with homo sapiens, namely the Denisovans and the hobbits. These hobbits I speak of were found in Flores Island in Indonesia and not in the Shire.
A key point in this research is the fact that when homo sapiens encountered these other varietals, the others were rendered extinct. Even more surprising was that at least in the case of the Neanderthals, prior to becoming extinct, mating occurred with homo sapiens and some of the offspring obviously and definitely survived.
At this point I would like to read a quote from the New Yorker Annals of Evolution August 15, 2011 Issue - Sleeping with the Enemy - What happened between the Neanderthals and us? By Elizabeth Kolbert
“From the archaeological record, it’s inferred that Neanderthals evolved in Europe or western Asia and spread out from there, stopping when they reached water or some other significant obstacle. (During the ice ages, sea levels were a lot lower than they are now, so there was no English Channel to cross.) This is one of the most basic ways modern humans differ from Neanderthals and, in Pääbo’s view, also one of the most intriguing. By about forty-five thousand years ago, modern humans had already reached Australia, a journey that, even mid-ice age, meant crossing open water. Archaic humans like Homo erectus “spread like many other mammals in the Old World,” Pääbo told me. “They never came to Madagascar, never to Australia. Neither did Neanderthals. It’s only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I like to think or say, some madness there. You know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for the glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.” If the defining characteristic of modern humans is this sort of Faustian restlessness, then, by Pääbo’s account, there must be some sort of Faustian gene. Several times, he told me that he thought it should be possible to identify the basis for this “madness” by comparing Neanderthal and human DNA.”
“If we one day will know that some freak mutation made the human insanity and exploration thing possible, it will be amazing to think that it was this little inversion on this chromosome that made all this happen and changed the whole ecosystem of the planet and made us dominate everything,” he said at one point. At another, he said, “We are crazy in some way. What drives it? That I would really like to understand. That would be really, really cool to know.”
I will weigh in here and say that a creature that is not adapted to living in water would have displayed infallible logic at having halted its traveling when reaching such an obstacle rather than trying to conquer it. Perhaps just living near the shore and enjoying new menu items and a nicer climate in a contented manner is not a bad choice. I am certainly glad that great white sharks, for example, didn’t decide to cross that barrier and move onto dry land. Or that rattlesnakes didn’t take to the air.
The above quotes are seven years old now and I would be very interested to see what else comes to light from this particular research and more importantly, how it is used after the fact. I heard a presentation on the topic of gene editing recently in which a scientist told a small child that someday we can maybe use gene-editing to fix some diseases like autism.
Anyone who is even slightly acquainted with the newest information on this vast topic should know by now that autism is not a disease to begin with. Rather, it is a neural variation from the majority. It is a condition of being that is to be seriously reckoned with both for the autistic person, their families, the non-autistics and the world we all share. Hence the two rather new and quite proper terms, neurodiverse and neurotypical.
Thus, if an incredibly intelligent young scientist is so misinformed as this, what, one wonders, shall the friendly future hold once this CRISPR technology is up and running in the private corporate hands of Mt. Everest climbers, multi-billionaires, military strategists and their opposite numbers in the underworld of dark deeds?
In conclusion I would venture the opinion that in light of the amount of research going on at present in so many fields and the new vocabularies being spawned as a result; that the future is not particularly friendly if we use the past as a model to predict it but rather that it is sesquipedalian.
Sources - https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/08/15/sleeping-with-the-enemy (accessed Nov. 11, 2018)
Certain that I was going to face far worse at home when I showed my tattered shirt, ripped pocket and newly holed jeans, I doggedly persisted. It was a gentleman’s disagreement in which I found myself embroiled. I was around eight years old and in East Baton Rouge Parish in 1965, scholarly debates were conducted on the sun-baked clay of the playground ringed by thirty or so cheering onlookers and several scouts to warn us of monitors. Over the fence a field of sugarcane rustled its dry leaves to the accompaniment of droning cicadas. The vestiges of pistols at dawn under the Evangeline Oak echoed yet when honor was at stake.
The issue at hand was in essence, biological. I maintained that cats sweat. Copiously through their feet. My adversary howled his denial of this contention as if in intense psychological pain. It started as a mere casual remark by the monkey bars and soon escalated into Missouri style wrestling. I knew I was right and had lost a strip off my new shirt (the one with all the buttons) in defense of my claim. I had read about it just days before in a wonderful book of sea stories taken off my father’s big shelf on our living room wall.
After several bouts of grappling in the dust, we broke our sweaty holds inside the ring of children and slowly circled each other like knife fighters in a Bronx alleyway. Right about then a scout saw a monitor beginning to take notice and contemplate the long hot walk across the ground to break things up. This sentry strode briskly over and when the spectators parted to let him inside the circle, he demanded to know what the altercation was about.
His age and height trumped our combined adrenaline and my opponent, who had initiated the contest by taking issue with my simple statement of fact, spoke with pained exasperation, “This fool says that cats sweat – through their feet. Now if that ain’t some pure D bullshit, I don’t what is.”
“Copiously, through their feet,” I added.
The older boy looked at me like a prosecuting attorney.
I told him that I had read it and I cited the title and author of the book. The book was The Glencannon Omnibus and its author was Guy Gilpatric. The human arena went quiet while the twelve year old referee deliberated.
After a pregnant moment he looked hard at the other fellow and said, “They do. They do sweat. It’s in a book, dumb-ass.”
That broke the spell and the kids dispersed. I gathered up the pieces of my shirt, dusted myself off and began formulating a good story to tell my mother about the state of my garments. My combatant headed off alone in the direction of our school’s library, sensing that a source of great power must reside there.
“Yeah, dumb-ass. Copiously, through their feet,” taunted a dozen voices at his back.
For the next several weeks a new phenomenon began to materialize on that playground. Contrary to what it would have looked like to an observer, the children of my school proved that they would really rather not carry their teeth home in a rolled up Kleenex. At least a half dozen times I personally witnessed bloodshed avoided in the heat of an argument by the declaration, “It’s in a book, dumb-ass!”
All sorts of issues were dealt with while the magic lasted. Were whales really mammals? Can anacondas really reach over thirty feet in length and swallow a man? Does your hair continue to grow after you’re dead? Do fish ever sleep? If Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the apple and not been kicked out of The Garden, would their two sons have had to marry their future sisters or would God have rustled them up some new gals? How would they all fit in the space after thousands of years of breeding? What would God have done if Eve had screamed when she saw the snake and Adam had killed it with a stick? These debates all ended peaceably when truncated by the invocation of author and title. Well, excepting the last three. Indeed, the ring of battle crows usually chimed in whether or not they knew the alleged citation to be legitimate or not. These lessons in human nature stayed long with me although not in a conscious way.
As time went on, I continued eating books like an armadillo eats ants. I was well into my thirties when a colleague pointed out to me that the number of books one reads is less important than what one derives from any one of them. He wasn’t an avid reader, so I took his advice with a grain of salt and continued devouring the printed word. By my forties, I began researching the authors of books I read in order to get a better perspective on their biases and to learn where they were educated and by whom.
Several authors were so instructive to me that reading the entire body of their works was similar to chugging glass after glass of sweet lemony iced tea on a hot humid day. Effortless and blissful. Aldous Huxley and Friedrich Nietzsche were two examples of this in the non-fiction realm. By my fifties I had learned to digest what I read and to patiently wait for my own conjectures and conclusions after letting my mind run all the arguments for me while I attended to my physical needs and obligations.
I remember it was also down in Louisiana the first time I was a participant in the board game Monopoly. On that occasion my whole family took part. I had been exposed to Chess prior to that time and I knew immediately that I preferred Chess by a great margin. The first thing that stood out was the importance of money and luck to the outcome which itself was only differentiated by larger or smaller piles of paper. I did, however, like the seeming randomness of the playing pieces, especially the old boot. The second thing I disliked was that if one was content with a very modest portfolio of properties, one was sure to fall behind due to unforeseen bad luck in the cards drawn.
Chess, by comparison, had elements of a much wider scope and of a higher degree of subtlety. The type of landscape wherein a boy might dare to dream. After all, both opponents were unencumbered with obtaining their Kingdoms, rather they were tasked with retaining Kingdoms already in their posession while under relentless and certain attack. In the end there could only be one King and in this respect I preferred the honesty and finality of Chess over the vague end game of Monopoly where the opponents are not vanquished in combat but merely forced into bankruptcy or into living paycheck to paycheck and hoping for a lucky card. My young mind began to perceive the very real difference between a loser and a conquered person.
I discovered similarities to Chess in the story of the Texas Band of Cherokees when researching my own family history. Rather than making a deal with a stronger contender to remain in the United States on subsistence rations, the Texas Cherokees chose to obtain lands from a different Sovereign State, Mexico. Their request was happily granted due to the geographically strategic placement of the lands in question as a natural buffer between some of the nicest farming land in Old Mexico, further US incursions and two nomadic tribes to the North and West, namely the Comanche and the Apache.
By contrast, the Eastern Band of Cherokees that accepted Removal to Oklahoma Territory at a later date can be likened to Monopoly players. A decision made by a few of their men sealed the fate of all. Thus, the Texas Cherokees received a Chessboard from Spanish authority and when they palyed the founding fathers of the Republic of Texas, they lost their lands. While they lived, they lived as free men and in defeat they were routed from the country and driven beyond the new borders of Mexico. The six individuals on record who trickled back across the Rio Grande simply signed a document of surrender at Bird Fort, Texas to became subjects of a new sovereign power and carried on their lives within the new system together with those few who had remained undetected due to mixed blood and white complexions.
Far from a tragedy, the story of the Battle of The Neches is to me a clear example of a contest entered into with both eyes open, while the Removal is an attempt by the few with the best of intentions on behalf of the many to play Monopoly with a little man in a top hat who happens to be the Banker, the Rule Maker and the author of the cards one draws during the game.
As I can personally attest, Chess is very easy to learn yet cannot be mastered in the average span of a man’s life. It is much the same with Go, a Japanese game of great antiquity. Any child can easily sense the truth inherent in Chess and the artificiality of Monopoly.
Here in Lillooet I have a little table on my back porch with four chairs. Generally, it is only myself in the flesh present at that table but I often let myself imagine that the other three chairs are occupied and that there are four mugs of coffee. The other people are friends, family, authors, musicians, historical figures, thinkers or characters from literature, stage and film; many of whom I honestly consider to be friends of the closest kind. After all, they have shared with me the contents of their hearts, their souls and their minds.
I once wrote to an acquaintance after viewing a short film he had made wherein he juxtaposed many images and musical sounds,”When the dragon of present time is slain by incongruity, magical things emerge and miracles occur.”
Upon reflection, that statement seems to serve as a perfect description of the benefits of my game of imaginary coffee mates. I am free to ask those assembled their individual opinions of any of my own theories and also to listen to them debate among themselves about their own. Furthermore, to our mutual benefit, time is no longer the master of ceremonies and Plato can engage Mark Twain while Lao Tzu patiently hears out Nietzsche.
Lately, there has been a new comer to the table. The new guy is an Englishman named Thomas Hobbes from Malmesbury in Wiltshire. I heard about him from a retired New York school teacher named John Gatto who recommended Hobbes’ book Leviathan during a broadcast of Brain Food For A Wednesday Eve on Radio Lillooet. I was intrigued and obtained a copy. It took me all Spring and part of the Summer to read the tome which was written in old English.
I decided to give those gathered at my table the Google on Thomas. He was born prematurely in April of 1588 when his mother heard of the coming invasion of the Spanish Armada. He once said that his mother gave birth to twins: Himself and Fear.
Hobbes was educated at the Westport Church from age four then at Malmesbury school and then at a private school kept by a young graduate of Oxford. Hobbes was a good pupil and around 1603 he went up to Magdalen Hall, the predecessor college to Hertford College at Oxford. His principal, John Wilkinson was a Puritan concerned with purifying the Anglican Church of all traces of Catholicism. While at university, Hobbes followed his own curriculum and was not too attracted by the scholastic learning. Mark Twain raised his cup and eyebrows at that information.
Ayn Rand seemed to be in awe of Hobbes and annoyed by him. She seemed to strongly agree with much he said about his foundational axioms yet vehemently disagreed with some of the conclusions he drew from those same planks of thought. She became visibly agitated.
Zorba managed to get her a wee bit tipsy on Irish whiskey and she giggled, “Who is John Gatto?”
Hobbes completed his B.A. degree in 1608 and was recommended by his master at Magdalen to be a tutor for William the son of William Cavendish, Baron of Hardwick and later Earl of Devonshire. Hobbes and William went on a tour of Europe in 1610. Hobbes was exposed to European scientific and critical methods that were in contrast to the scholastic philosophy he had learned in Oxford. He associated with the likes of Ben Jonson and briefly worked as Francis Bacon's amanuensis.
An amanuensis is a person employed to write or type what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another and also refers to a person who signs a document on behalf of another under the latter's authority. The word originated in ancient Rome, for a slave at his master's personal service "within hand reach", performing any command. Later it was specifically applied to an intimately trusted servant acting as a personal secretary. Amanuensis is what he does, not what he is.
His employer Cavendish, the Earl of Devonshire died of the plague in June 1628. The widow Cavendish dismissed Hobbes but he found work as a tutor again. That job was in Paris and it ended in 1631. Once more he worked for the Cavendish family as a tutor to another William, this one the eldest son of the previous Cavendish. For the next seven years of tutoring he cogitated on philosophy and wondered why rich people used the same names over and over again throughout generations. He was a regular debater in philosophic groups in Paris.
Nietzsche said through his prodigious mustache that although he and Hobbes shared a dislike for many aspects of Greek thought, he could still trounce Thomas in a debate if his verdammt headaches would just go away and he could find a decent Italian restaurant..
Hobbes's first area of study was the physical doctrine of motion and momentum. He went on to conceive a system of thought to which he would devote his life. His first objective was to show that physical phenomena were universally explicable in terms of motion. Next and mistakenly, in my own opinion, he singled out Man from the realm of Nature and Plants. Then he showed what bodily motions were involved in producing the sensations, knowledge, affections and passions by which people relate to each other. Finally he considered how humans were moved to enter into Society and he argued that this Society must be regulated to avoid falling back into brutishness and misery. Evidently, he never considered how women felt about any of it and this again, in my own opinion based upon three marriages, was another big miscalculation. When I pointed this out as politely as I could, I received high fives from Friedrich, Twain, Zorba and Ms. Rand.
All this work was wrapped up in a magnum opus entitled Leviathan which was published in 1651.
It was dedicated to Francis Godolphin who was the brother of Sidney Godolphin, an English poet, courtier and politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1628 and 1643. Sidney died of wounds received while fighting for the Royalist Army in the English Civil War. His will contained a bequest of £200 to Thomas Hobbes. It is alleged that Sidney Godolphin's ghost yet haunts The Three Crowns Hotel in Chagford. Striding the corridors in full uniform in spite of Hobbes’ disbelief of ghosts. Sidney died on February 9, 1643. He was survived by a brother named Francis to whom Hobbes dedicated Leviathan.
Soon Hobbes was more praised and cussed than any other thinker of his time. His book pissed off Anglicans, exiled Royalists and French Catholics alike. Hobbes appealed to the Revolutionary English Government for protection and fled back to London in the Winter of 1651. He had to submit to the authority of the Anglican Church via the Council of State and was allowed afterwards to live in Fetter Lane in the City of London.
In Leviathan Hobbes set out his doctrine of the Foundation of States, Legitimate Governments and an Objective Science of Morality. Leviathan was written during the English Civil War, thus much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid civil war.
Walter Ralegh piped up, “Sirrah, I warned young Henry, Prince of Wales against civil war in 1618 and they cut me bloody head off.”
The outburst naturally concluded my Google briefing and Hobbes took the floor on my porch and began to explain his ideas while waving his book in his hand. This greatly animated both Nietzsche and Rand. Especially his Social Contract Theory.
Beginning from a mechanistic understanding of human beings and their passions, Hobbes postulated what life would be like without government, a condition which he called the State of Nature. In that state each person would have a right or license to everything in the world.
Mark Twain said, “That might be the case if each person grew up in Paris or was raised by wolves or was related to any of the various Royal Families of the world but if they were raised in a family by parents with siblings and a cat, I hold it very unlikely that the aforementioned Rights of a State of Nature would pan out.”
I saluted Mark.
Hobbes said, “A State of Nature would lead to a war of all against all or a bellum omnium contra omnes.” He put it in Latin to make it sound epic.
Twain said, “That Sir, is a vas autem bovis stercore or a crock of bull-shit.” He put it in Plain English to make it clear.
Hobbes’ description of the Natural State without a Political Community was this, "In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. In such a state, people fear death, and lack both the things necessary to commodious living, and the hope of being able to toil to obtain them.”
In order to avoid this demise, he explained, people accede to a Social Contract and establish a Civil Society. According to Hobbes, Society is a Population and a Sovereign Authority, to whom all individuals in that Society cede some rights for the sake of protection. Any power exercised by this authority cannot be resisted, because the protector's sovereign power derives from individuals' surrendering their own sovereign power for protection. The individuals are thereby the authors of all decisions made by the Sovereign.
I wondered aloud about infants born into such schemes and unable to give or revoke their consent to participating in this contract. Hobbes just said that parents can justly make those decisions for them. A passing Swiss Anabaptist, Conrad Grebel took issue with that and Paul Morphy had to distract them both by playing simultaneous blindfold Chess.
Quoting from his book again, Hobbes said, "He that complaineth of injury from his Sovereign complaineth that whereof he himself is the author, and therefore ought not to accuse any man but himself, no nor himself of injury because to do injury to one's self is impossible".
“I humbly beg to differ,” said Siddhartha who had joined the standing room only crowd on my porch.
“So do I, my petal,” said Kamala in a sultry voice with a twinkle in her mischievous eye.
I also voiced my disagreement saying,” Given adequate access to food, water and shelter, men and women will behave quite rationally and peaceably, in my opinion and observation. In fact, after the exertion of providing for their brood, Mom and Dad just want to watch their stories and cuddle on the couch. Bees, ants and wasps however, will not function properly without a Queen, an Army and other dedicated drones. Nor will a ship reach its destination and return to port without a Captain who possesses almighty power and authority.”
“But those individuals who by accident of birth cannot process guilt, remorse or empathy are the perpetual fly in the ointment as they invariably rise to form the elite part of the artificial hives of Man’s devising. Perhaps the lack of humanity’s will in dealing with such individuals and their minions, as they are revealed is the key to our species history and an explanation of why some like you Hobbes feel the need to buy protection with their Personal Sovereignty.”
By way of avoiding a debate, Thomas explained to us that there is no doctrine of Separation of Powers in Hobbes' world. According to him the Sovereign must control civil, military, judicial and ecclesiastical powers.
Sir Francis Bacon, one of Hobbes ex-employers took issue with Hobbes’ lack of Separation of Powers and began to speak of his unfinished 1627 Utopian novel New Atlantis, directing his voice to Thomas as if reminding him of previous conversations.
Bacon explained his vision of the future of human discovery and knowledge and his aspirations for humankind. He dreamed of a land where generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit are the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of the mythical Bensalem. The plan and organization of his ideal college, Salomon's House, envisioned our modern research universities in both applied and pure sciences.
Bacon quoted the Father of Salomon's House which revealed by dialogue that members of that institution decide on their own which of their discoveries to keep secret, even from the State: "And this we do also: we have consultations, which of the inventions and experiences which we have discovered shall be published, and which not; and take all an oath of secrecy for the concealing of those which we think fit to keep secret; though some of those we do reveal sometime to the State, and some not."
Hobbes bristled at this and narrowed his eyes.
“It’s in a book, dumb-ass,” said Ayn in a laughing fit.
“That would seem to imply that the State does not hold the monopoly on authority and that Salomon's House must in some sense be superior to the State”, said Robert Service while rolling a smoke from my own poke.
“Exactly the problem I have mentioned and dealt with conclusively in my book if you were paying attention,” retorted Hobbes.
Catherine The Great, who had joined our company when Bacon first appeared and was busy munching on fresh apricots clapped her bejeweled hands together.
I spoke again to the group as a whole,”His logic is sound and if he were employed by Hasbro to design a board game, I would commend him greatly. But – and it’s a BIG BUTT, in a world mostly scared of dealing with evil, great harm is caused by ignorance attempting to do good and I humbly suggest that everyone subject to a Commonwealth system read Hobbes’ Leviathan in order to finally understand that your tax return determines which National Football Team you can play for, not the color of your skin.”
Old Hobbes didn't trust the Pope as far as he could throw him and so he threw him at least that far via a meticulous mining of Scripture and a thorough review of religious and political history as if he were engaged in preparing for a prodigious legal battle. Indeed, the last portion of his great book is dedicated to this purpose and he gave a very good reading of it to all assembled.
“Vaffanculo! You think you had a problem with the Pope?” asked Giordano Bruno who had been burned alive for pointing out obvious planetary motions when Thomas was only a twelve year old boy.
“Who is John Gauden?” giggled Ayn Rand who was sitting in Zorba’s lap and had kicked off her clogs.
I went for more coffee and googled the name up. Before reporting to those assembled that he was the Englishman, who at the Restoration was made Bishop of Exeter, I realized that Ayn wasn’t as drunk as she wanted us to think nor was she naive. As soon as Gauden was installed at Exeter he began to complain to Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon of the poverty of that particular Holy See. In January of 1661 he based his demand for a better posting on a Secret Service Mission he had undertaken.
The mission alluded to was nothing short of claiming to be the author and publisher of The Eikon Basilike, The Portraiture of His Sacred Majestie in His Solitudes and Sufferings. This highly influential book was and is an important plank in all subsequent and present theories of the Divine Right of Kings. Not unlike the terrorists’ passports found intact in the rubble of the Twin Towers on 9/11, the document was conveniently “discovered” within a few hours of the execution of Charles I.
It was published on February 9, 1649, ten days after King Charles I was beheaded by Parliament in the aftermath of the English Civil War and six years to the day after the death of Sidney Godolphin, the Ghost of the Three Crowns Hotel. The Eikon Basilike was promoted as the spiritual autobiography of King Charles I of England and was said to have been written by the King’s own hand.
Clarendon’s reply to Gauden’s demands was that he was already well acquainted with that secret and had often wished that he was ignorant of it. Gauden was subsequently posted to Worcester in 1662 and died there before the year was out.
"Now I get it," said Floki the Viking boat builder who had listened to the entire discussion without interrupting once. “But I don't entirely agree with the wisdom of an inflexible logic built upon a platform made out of a combination of the physical laws of motion and any one individual human creation myth chosen at random from among the dazzling variety available to our species, regardless of which one is chosen. Particularly when its stated goal is to encompass the globe with good intentions. I think I’m going to be sick.”
Ragnar Lothbrok laughed a hearty laugh while the King of Mercia, Wessex and Northumbria bit his lip and curled his fist into a little white ball of self hate.
Which reminded me of the last words that were said to have been uttered by Thomas Hobbes in his final conscious moments, "A great leap in the dark." I spoke them aloud and old Tom vanished from the scene.
Mean Mary James who was strumming her guitar on the back steps sang, “I was tired of clocks and taking hard knocks and locking my dreams in a drawer.”
“Boys and girls,” said Huey P. Long chugging on a root beer, “Let me tell ya’ll how to set this turtle back on its feet once and for all. We have to limit the wealth of any one individual and realize that every man is a King. Hell, its all in my book.”
“Yay Kingfish!” yelled Gatemouth Brown who was jamming with Mary.
In our ongoing spiritual infancy it seems to me that we have developed three distinct tools for coping with the certainty of death and the uncertainty at what proceeds afterward. Thus, we could construct a design that would depict this trinity of adaptations. In its most earthy form, we could imagine a human seated on a rock near a fire holding a long spear. A wolf is curled up on the other side of the fire. Surrounded on all sides by thick forest, the repose of which is punctuated only by the croaking of ravens and trills of thrush. Taken independently, we could allot certain virtues to these various implements of humanity.
Proposed: That the long spear serves to repel and subdue predators of far superior size and strength.
Proposed: That the utility of this weapon is well represented in the beneficent effect of Religion upon our Societies when living in high concentration.
Proposed: That the fire serves to illuminate the forest around us, deter attackers and keep us warm.
Proposed: That the utility of this weapon is well represented in the beneficent effect of Music upon our Societies when living in high concentration.
Proposed: That fact that the recumbent wolf has chosen to share our fire serves to benefit both parties on an equal level.
Proposed: That the utility of this relationship is well represented by Literature since the ancient art of story-telling married and inspired our ability to communicate via text.
Concluded: That this state of affairs well represents our abilities and limitations as we make our way, regardless of our technological advances.
In my own view this depiction of is highly reminiscent of extant illustrations of Óðinn seated with his wolves and ravens. The birds, we are told represent Thought and Memory and a moments reflection will make clear to anyone their importance in the overall scheme of things human. Everything works together and independently. When combined like three strands of a strong rope, this technology can be used to create many useful things by the human wielding it.
As mankind’s primary tools, these three are particularly prone to exciting a desire in a certain portion of the population at any given time to monopolize and control them, such is their power. It is important symbolically to note that Óðinn is wearing a patch over one eye and that this physical impairment was a necessary sacrifice in order to gain knowledge beyond what can be seen in the mundane world.
I am personally reminded of another elder Father of our species, one much closer in time to us than Óðinn and that man is Ludwig van Beethoven. In spite of and perhaps in some measure because of his deteriorating sense of hearing, he left us in much better shape than he found us in. To back up my statement, I would like to quote from two sources.
The first is from a letter written by Beethoven himself to Bettina Brentano and subsequently quoted by her in a letter she wrote to Goethe.
"When I open my eyes, I must sigh because what I see is contrary to my religion, and I must despise the world which never understands that music is a greater revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the wine that incites us to new creation, and I am the Bacchus who makes this glorious wine for mankind, and grants them drunkenness of spirit. When they are sober again, they will have fished up much which they may take with them on to dry land. I am not anxious about the fate of my music. Its fate cannot be other than happy. Whoever succeeds in grasping it, shall be absolved from all the misery that bows down other men."
The second quote is an excerpt from Beethoven’s funeral oration and was written by his friend Franz Grillparzer.
"He was an artist, but he was a man as well. A man in every sense, in the highest sense. Because he withdrew from the world, people called him a misanthrope, and because he was aloof from sentimentality, people called him unfeeling. Ah, one who knows himself to be hard of heart, does not shrink! The finest points are the most easily blunted, or broken. An excess of sensitivity avoids a show of feeling! He fled from the world because in his loving nature, he found no weapon with which to oppose the world. He withdrew from mankind after he had given them everything and had received nothing in return. Thus he was, thus he died, thus he will live, until the end of time. "
To Ludwig, Óðinn and myriad other spiritual scouts we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. Their paths could not have been altered whether we recognized and appreciated them or not. Fortunately we have methods for storing and retrieving literature, music and religion. In my opinion the least we can do is to see to it that these methods receive continuous use, refinement and that our fellows and our children are taught their worth, utility and the importance of keeping these things free of any constraints.
As the scene by the fireside painted above serves as a memory aid to the words that accompany it, here is another such illustration that I think well depicts the reality of our species current state on the road to becoming worthy of our potential in the universe. I see a young person, perhaps a boy with uncut hair ascending a steep rocky path to an unknowable summit. He has a strap over his shoulder that is cinched around three books with no names. He is smiling over his shoulder at the observer and one can discern that there is a sling-shot protruding from his hip pocket.
To flesh out the symbology inherent in this illustration, let me say that the boy is mankind and his way is necessarily uphill. Indeed, it is this sense of struggling up against gravity and avoiding the easy way of things that is our surest guide when our sight is robbed by the dark of night or the dark night of the soul.
The three books with no titles represents our species records, not only of facts scientific but also of our thoughts, observations, lessons, ideas, disappointments, aspirations and most importantly, our growing body of questions of increasing caliber.
That the boy is hauling them up the mountain shows that we have made our choice to pursue being a sapient species and that education is a personal responsibility ultimately, notwithstanding that from time to time in our designed societies it may be provided by our rulers for purposes of control rather than for our liberation. Since many a good woman and man has taken the trouble to write down everything from philosophy, to mathematics to music to holy scripture; there stands no excuse for not arming oneself with the best of what went before we arrived. The deciphering of the symbols can be learned at any time by those who don’t posses that ability and modern technology has helped to convert entire libraries of knowledge into audio files that may be played while one drives, walks, works or sits on a beach.
Finally, the sling-shot has to do with the underlying reality of nature that quite simply, it is incumbent upon each of us to defend ourselves rather than give up our liberties in return for such protection. Of course, in the modern lifestyle and also by the arrangement of villages in non-urban areas, we have long ago decided to give up some liberty in order to enjoy security provided by the leaders of the groups we belong to. Rather than call for a going backwards to a more primitive arrangement, I am merely highlighting the fact that to nature and the universe itself there is no allowance made in the balance of things by the arrangements of man. That is to say, there are many pitfalls that a man or woman can encounter at precisely those moments when the police are not around, the priest is unavailable and something wants to eat you. It is best not to forget that.
I will talk of the long spear of religion for a moment. Clearly, the various codes of conduct and the values underlying them have made the concentration of people possible to a larger extent than any other single reason in my opinion. At the same time, the conundrum of paying protection, be it physical or spiritual and the attendant loss of sovereignty and liberty still remains. Therefore, I would deem it wise to study at least the spiritual instruction which came to you from your parents and those other systems with which you must abide by as neighbors. From this process, each person should be able to forge a code by which they can personally live that is not dependent upon man-made infrastructure.
A few wise men and women have gone into the dark closets and under the beds only to find out that the perceived monsters lurking there were extensions of themselves. These demons were slain in due course by the personal long spears of those hardy individuals. The lesson here is that the spear is a necessity and you may make your own or take up one of the many provided for you but without this weapon your chance of arriving to your death bed with a clear conscience grows exceedingly slim. It is all part of being human and not to be feared or avoided, it is plain common sense to just be cognizant of the fact.
I have been learning about music recently as pertains to the history of modern music in the Western world. One of the first things that resonated with me was a chapter explaining the early connection of the Christian Church and how music is written and performed. It appears that first there was the words of the text that were to be transmitted to the congregation. What we call notes were these words turned into sounds or sounds to accompany these words when chanted.
From this base of practice and usage, there emerged different formats that all reflected the type of service and the language used, such as Latin, Italian and eventually German and English. It was noted long ago by brain doctors that a person can remember a musical jingle for a lifetime with no effort and the same person faces dire challenges when asked to memorize a set of numbers or pictures or words. It stands to reason that combining the brains preference for remembering musical notes serves as a handy aid to memorizing the words that those notes stand for. Anyone may employ this technique and I am sure many of do so without even realizing it.
In history there have been people who studied deeply into the mechanics of memory or mnemonics, if you will. One such person was Giordano Bruno, an Italian man of the sixteenth century. I came across his writings many years ago and after taking nearly a year to read them all I was delighted and surprised to find out that a colleague of mine at Canada Post was a direct descendant of this extraordinary man. By the time I found out about the connection, Giordano had become a hero of sorts to me. My reasons were not limited to his incredible intellect and unique abilities but also his bravery and integrity.
As a very young man, seventeen years old, if I recall correctly, Mr. Bruno became a Dominican monk. By age 24 he was ordained a priest. The young man was an avid reader and aimed to hone his intellect by absorbing all the cutting-edge philosophical literature of his era and come up with his own synthesis, which vehicle he could take farther, perhaps than had been the case up to his own birth.
Due to the stringent rules at the monastery, Bruno had to keep certain books hidden in the out-house rather than his cell. This he did and he read them while engaged in the most mundane of all possible human activities. I do not know if another monk turned him in or if a particular book by Erasmus of Rotterdam was discovered in the loo by accident but the upshot was that Bruno left in haste to escape the wrath of his superiors. This began his traveling life.
I will leave it for the interested party to read upon these travels and make no pretense to have memorized them in exact detail. Let it suffice to say that Bruno went to Switzerland, France, England, Czechoslovakia and Germany. He amazed people everywhere he went particularly for his unmatched memorization skills which he had honed via his own discovered methods. These methods he wrote into books and he also committed his philosophical, theosophical and scientific explorations to the printed page.
He studied theology in Toulouse and later taught philosophy there. He also lectured and taught at several universities including Oxford, Wittenberg, Helmstedt and eventually in Padua. He applied for a chair in mathematics at Padua while teaching there and was unsuccessful in this bid. The job went a year later to a Mr. Galileo Galilei.
He attempted to rejoin the Catholic fold but was denied absolution by the Jesuit priest he had approached in France. His talents attracted the benevolent attention of the king Henry III. The king summoned him to the court.
Bruno subsequently reported that, "I got me such a name that King Henry III summoned me one day to discover from me if the memory which I possessed was natural or acquired by magic art. I satisfied him that it did not come from sorcery but from organized knowledge; and, following this, I got a book on memory printed, entitled The Shadows of Ideas, which I dedicated to His Majesty. Forthwith he gave me an Extraordinary Lectureship with a salary."
His views were controversial in England, notably with John Underhill, Rector of Lincoln College and subsequently bishop of Oxford, and George Abbot, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Abbot mocked Bruno for supporting "the opinion of Copernicus that the earth did go round, and the heavens did stand still; whereas in truth it was his own head which rather did run round, and his brains did not stand still."
Excommunication by the Lutherans of Wittenberg sent Bruno to Frankfurt. There at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1591, a rich Venetian gentleman invited Bruno to come and teach him memory techniques. Giordano went there in 1592 and after two months of instructing the man, Bruno decided to leave Venice. When he told his benefactor of his plans to travel, he was denounced by his employer to the Venetian Inquisition and arrested on the 22nd of May, 1592. He was held in prison pending the recantation of his published beliefs and observations, for eight years. He defended himself and refused to recant.
According to the correspondence of Gaspar Schopp of Breslau, he is said to have made a threatening gesture towards his judges and to have replied: Maiori forsan cum timore sententiam in me fertis quam ego accipiam. ("Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it").
He was turned over to the secular authorities. On Ash Wednesday, 17 February 1600, in the Campo de' Fiori (a central Roman market square), he was hung upside down naked and burned at the stake. His ashes were thrown into the Tiber river. All of Bruno's works were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1603.
The Vatican has published few official statements about Bruno's trial and execution. In 1942, Cardinal Giovanni Mercati, who discovered a number of lost documents relating to Bruno's trial, stated that the Church was perfectly justified in condemning him. On the 400th anniversary of Bruno's death, in 2000, Cardinal Angelo Sodano declared Bruno's death to be a "sad episode" but, despite his regret, he defended Bruno's prosecutors, maintaining that the Inquisitors "had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life." In the same year, Pope John Paul II made a general apology for "the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth."
One of the main things that infuriated people about Bruno was his habit of publishing his thoughts which sometimes disagreed with previously published and accepted works. An example was when after reading a treatise by Fabrizio Mordente, a mathematician who invented a type of compass/calculator, Bruno used the compass to base 120 theses against Aristotelian natural science and also published a pamphlet praising Mordente’s work and leveled criticisms where he felt they were due. Mordente was angry at this and replied, whereupon Bruno published a satire entitled The Triumphant Idiot. Mordente took employ with the powerful Duke of Guise whereupon Bruno left for Germany.
It is instructive to look at the fresco by Raphael, The School of Athens. We see a depiction of Aristotle gesturing to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical observation and experience, while holding a copy of his Nicomachean Ethics in his hand, whilst Plato his teacher, gestures to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms, while holding a copy of Timaeus. These men disagree but remain friends and allow each other latitude to expand their minds. Plato’s teacher Socrates had to drink hemlock and his pupil Aristotle went on to teach Alexander of Macedon.
My friend at the Post office who is a descendant of Bruno is a musician and an artist. Over the years we have had lengthy discussions on a variety of topics and don’t always agree. Once in the early days, he gave me a book that in his words illustrated his current spiritual beliefs. I took it home and read it straightaway. No sooner had I finished it that I began to write a refutation of the entire document with great zeal, anger and conviction. By the time I was done, my text was twice that of the original and I had taken no prisoners nor used moderation in expressing my arguments.
This reaction surprised me somewhat but nevertheless I put my response in a manila envelope and left it on my friend’s desk at work the next morning with the full understanding that either he would see things my way or come to consider me a spiritual enemy of the first magnitude. I really didn't care which, such was my conviction that the book in question was unmitigated poison.
I happened to mention this to another postal friend. He listened to my tale and then tore a strip off me a mile wide. He admonished me for having the poor taste to denigrate what someone had willingly shared with me as a representation of their own personal religion, for lack of a better word. So strong was his lecture that I passed by my other friend’s desk and removed the document I had written before he opened it and left only the original text with a wee note that said, “It’s not my cup of tea.”
Ironically, when I look back on this now, I think I know possibly how Giordano felt at times when he was driven to respond to things that appeared in print in his day even when doing so caused much trouble for himself. Deep inside I also know that Giordano would not have removed the manuscript as I did and it is his courage and integrity wedded to a strong intellect that inspires me about that man.
A month or so ago, I stumbled upon an on-line company that made Giordano Bruno tee-shirts while searching for graphics for an article I was writing. I smiled and contrary to my usual practices, I immediately ordered one. Within a week or so, I received my awaited package. I was very happy to know that there was still a fan club for the man from Nola.
A few days after receiving my shirt, I was invited to a house warming. It was to be a very small affair with my wife, my self, the hosts and only one other family. I wore my Giordano tee-shirt with pride. When I got there I went into the back yard where the barbecue was being cooked until summoned into the house by my wife.
When I got inside, there was a man, a priest, splashing liberal amounts of Holy Water in all the rooms of the house and praying for blessings and protection. He seemed a friendly guy and when the blessing was done we two wound up sitting on two sides of a coffee table and eating together. He told me a bit about his own background and I did the same.
At some point, when the talk turned religious, I became hyper aware of my tee-shirt and wondered if the man in front of me knew Bruno’s story. If he did he didn’t let on. After an hour or so, his talk cut to the chase. With a practiced flair, I was treated to an accepted explanation of the Trinity, a main point of bitter divergence and bloody dispute in the history of Christianity. Ironically, an issue of not much concern for the day to day life and ethics of the practicing Christian. One of the handful of accusations laid against Mr. Bruno in the Inquisition had to do with this very point of theology.
As I watched, the priest fortified his wonderfully simple rendering of this complex topic with what I will have to label neuro-linguistic programming. That is, for those unfamiliar with the term, hand gestures, mudras or actions. It appears that first there was the thought, the Idea, in God’s mind. This was illustrated by a hand gesture akin to a light-bulb being lit over the head. Next came the Word. This was illustrated with an incredible gesture. I can best describe it as someone miming the pulling of a peeled banana through a mail-slot wherein the mail-slot is a human mouth. Careful not to break the moist excrescence, a downward curve is maintained throughout the operation. Lastly, the Word becomes Flesh. This was illustrated by a sudden clapping of the hands in front of the observer’s face. I was treated to three repetitions of this.
Shortly after that I spoke for a time, using my hands extensively as I did so. I said that we could go on like that or just enjoy our food and the hospitality provided by the family whose house it was. I had a feeling that I had held my own but just so. I also felt a chilly breeze from four hundred years prior blow through the room, redolent with the dogma hammered out at councils long past by powerful men whose offspring have a lot of gained ground to hold and protect.
I walked into the lunch room at the Post Office one afternoon and saw the Australian born child of one of my work-mates sitting at a table watching TV. As I heated up my lunch in the microwave, we began to chat. When I had sat down to eat, he sheepishly asked me if I might happen to have enough change in my pocket to buy him a soda from the pop machine. I thought very highly of this boy’s father and really wanted to treat the young lad.
I dug into my pockets and alas, couldn’t make up the price of a drink for him. I did happen to have some very special acorns taken from a tree in Queen Elizabeth Park. It was a variety called a Cork Oak and true to its name, the bark was exactly the consistency of fine Portuguese cork. Many years ago, I had visited the Theater of Epidaurus in Greece. Up near the top seats grew a stand of ancient oaks. I gathered a few acorns with the intent to bonsai them in Vancouver. They were confiscated and destroyed at the airport security check and I was very sad but understanding of the reasons for this.
As this memory flashed across my mind, I told the young fellow that although I didn’t have enough money for his soda pop, I had something much more valuable that I would give him. I placed three acorns in his little hand and told him that if he were able to get them through the Aussie customs, he would be able to plant some trees that would make a connection to Canada, where his father toiled for his welfare. Over time they would grow, as he himself would and that they would likely be standing when he was older than myself. On top of all that, I said that they would provide a home for birds, squirrels, a tree house and maybe even a koala.
The little man took the three acorns and gripped them tightly as I spoke. He opened his hand afterward and gazed at them with what I thought to be an imagination pregnant with all possibilities. I took my seat and began to finish my adobo. After a pause of some three minutes, still standing where he had received my gift, the boy walked over to the trash bin and eyed me like a cat does just before disappearing around an obstacle.
“I think,” he said in a dulcet tone, “I’ll plant them here.” He then let them drop one at a time for full acoustic effect all the wile holding me in a steady gaze.
In our ongoing spiritual infancy it seems to me that we have developed three distinct tools for coping with the certainty of death and the uncertainty at what proceeds afterward. Thus, we could construct a design that would depict this trinity of adaptations. In its most earthy form, we could imagine a human seated on a rock near a fire holding a long spear. A wolf is curled up on the other side of the fire. Surrounded on all sides by thick forest, the repose of which is punctuated only by the croaking of ravens and trills of thrush.
If you are listening to or reading this, you are welcome to share my fire. Bring your own spear and just let the wolf be at peace. He doesn’t generally bite.
I remember going to my first garage sale down in Houston, Texas at the beginning of the decade of the Seventies. A sign had been posted on a telephone pole and it happened to be in walking distance of my house. The house was a rental that happened to be directly across the street from the house I had been born into some fifteen years earlier.
It was a modest middle-class street in North-west Houston in a neighborhood called Oak Forest. Nearby were some railroad tracks I liked to spend time walking up and down due to the slow freights and the abundance of bush alongside the right-of-way. There was also a nearby trestle where a young man could practice his balance and develop his nerve.
The neighbors along the street were all the same ones that had been there when I was in diapers. I had my own room in that birth house and it was facing the street. I remember watching slats of light crawl the darkened walls at night in predictable permutations every time a car turned onto Nina Lee Lane. There was a problem with this house however and it became evident shortly after I was born.
Most nights, as soon as I had drifted off the sleep, tired from batting the stuffed plastic birds that hung over my crib or pulling tufts of kapok out of my little pillow, I was treated to a horrific dream. The scene was always the same. I was out in the street in front of the house but in this dream I was older and dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt rather than the breech-clout of infancy.
It was always early evening and the waning light of the hot sun was quite adequate to illuminate the surroundings, which were perfect in every detail as to being accurate depictions of the real houses and trees on that street. Presently, a white sedan would turn left onto our street. It proceeded slowly and as soon as my eyes sought to see through the glare of the windshield, it began to accelerate steadily.
For an eternally recurring split-second I would wonder why and I would strive in vain to see who. This questioning collapsed under the weight of imminent physical danger as the automobile bore down on my running figure, attempting to get out of its path. The curbs were low and tapered, the lawns flat and empty and the only thing that offered any real protection were the few larger sized trees growing on some of the properties.
I was pursued onto the sidewalk and dodged back in a reverse diagonal. Looking over my shoulder in disbelief, I saw the car was now speeding from the opposite direction and gaining. This repeated until I invariably woke up screaming at the top of my lungs. This brought my mother and a few moments respite. As I lay in the darkness awake, I again watched the lights made by cars turning onto the street streaming through the Venetian blinds.
Always the same scenario played out, if I slept. My dream self was never hit by the dream vehicle but it was always there behind me and gaining on me. Over time, I tried thousands of maneuvers to dodge it. As I got older, I had the feeling that perhaps it was someone else that had once slept in that room, who's terror I was experiencing. We moved to the country when I reached three years old and I never had the dream again.
Looking across the street to that first house as a fifteen year old made me wonder if the dream scene belonged to that house and not to me. There were no other guys my age on that street and over the next two or three years these older boys were all drafted and sent to Vietnam. My dad was mostly out of town in those days with one of his associates and he used to phone at weird hours from strange places with instructions for my mother to bury his hashish paraphernalia in the back yard as a visit by the police might be imminent.
The associate was a cheerful man about my father’s age and I had met him on several occasions. I used to watch them playing cribbage and making some kind of project with sheaves of different paper, bottles of different inks and a variety of typewriters. I’ll call him Sparky, for such was his nature. I found him to be possessed of interesting stories and a variety of knowledge in matters such as gemstones, counterfeit oil paintings, locks, safes, papers, inks, night fishing, firearms and explosives of various kinds.
He liked my company but my father seemed annoyed and I had the distinct feeling that I was only tolerated around the late night kitchen table sessions because Sparky enjoyed showing off his expertise and my father needed Sparky’s help. I heard he had a daughter and wife but I never met them. Perhaps he desired a son and I was a good stand-in while he and my father worked on their project. It was understood not to ask about what he was doing but Sparky couldn’t help himself in speaking openly of how he was doing it.
I was saving my money from my work at Mexican restaurant to buy a 90cc Yamaha motorcycle. My best friend had one and had taught me to ride. My father and mother had forbidden me to see this friend, stating that he was a bad influence. He lived alone with his dad, had a girlfriend, self esteem and constantly encouraged me to break free from the prison of my circumstances. I told my parents that I would see my friend away from home, if he was not welcome in ours. I had another friend, a Chicano who was Catholic and his name was trotted out as a nice boy for me to have over.
One day as I returned home from school, I saw a truck and trailer in the driveway. There stood Sparky grinning from ear to ear while my dad was undoing some straps on a brand new lime green Kawasaki street legal dirt bike. It was a 250cc and tricked out with everything essential to make a Comanche warrior proud.
They wheeled the machine onto the driveway and Sparky clapped me on the shoulder heartily and said, “How do you like this, Mikey? Ain’t she sweet? It’s yours, man.”
He handed me the keys and told me to go for a spin. My dad stood alongside and said nothing. I asked Sparky where it had come from as I knew that it was an expensive item and I doubted that either of those two gentlemen would have sprung for it from their own pockets.
“I boosted it for you last week, Mikey. From way across town. I tried her out and she tears ass in a boogie-woogie manner.”
My heart sank into a rising wave of long suppressed anger and came to rest on a reef of disappointment. Disbelief and a desire to hop the next freight out of Houston animated my response.
“What about the serial number?” I asked him hoping to show my grasp of the finer details of larceny.
I was already seeing movies in my head of some poor angry bastard who like myself in the same situation would have gone hunting for some Cherokee retribution.
“Shit, Mikey I already ground it off and I can stamp you a brand new one on the frame if it would make you feel better.”
“What about the poor dude who owned the bike?” I asked picturing myself in his sad, angry boots.
Sparky looked at me like I was a three-legged dog, snorted and said, “Mikey, fuck the poor dude who owned the bike. OK? What about you?”
Sparky looked at my dad, who rolled his eyes in an “I told you so” manner.
“Well, kid. What’s it gonna be?” Sparky asked in a tone that carried less varnish than usual.
“Thank you for thinking of me Sparky but I ain’t taking it. I’m planning to buy my own.”
“Son-of-a-bitch! Well, I for one will ride the daylights out of this baby so she won’t go to waste. I’m sorry you feel like you do,” he said as they began loading it back up under the watchful gaze of nosy neighbors.
A few weeks later, I came home to find a nice Raleigh ten-speed bike in the garage. My dad said that it was a gift from Sparky and that he had bought it at a garage sale. He swore it was legit and therefore I was to keep it so as not to offend my father’s partner. I had my doubts but I only saw Sparky once more before he went to jail. I remember him showing me a clump of different gemstones that he carried individually wrapped in toilet paper. He laid them bare in my hand and told me their names and explained the differences in color, quality and cut. He said that everyone should carry some sewn into their clothes, just in case.
On one of his visits home, my father recounted the arrest and subsequent incarceration of his partner into Leavenworth Kansas’ Maximum Security Federal Penitentiary. Evidently, it wasn’t his first time in the joint. My father had been held for seventy-two hours and released without being charged from a location several states away. He shipped home a new expensive malamute puppy and when he returned, he had the wife and daughter of his unlucky compadre in tow.
I was ordered to vacate my bedroom and was moved to a borrowed army cot in the living room. The fat middle-aged woman and her daughter of about a dozen years whom I had never seen before unpacked their battered suitcases and settled in that afternoon. Their accents were strange and I guessed them to be from the Mid-west. My dad told me he had made a reciprocal oath with Sparky to look after each others families, if one of them got burned.
I was given Sparky’s mailing address at the prison and we corresponded. He taught me via correspondence how to draw up Astrological Birth Charts and to use an ephemeris. Skills he had learned from a cell mate. I accidentally learned from his daughter that Sparky and his wife were more than thieves of physical objects such as gems, cash or vehicles.
One night, after the lights were out and I had finally managed to get to sleep, I was awakened by the girl when she crawled into my bed. She was maybe two years older than my baby sister. I scolded her in hushed tones for waking me up on a school night. She looked genuinely saddened and hurt by this reaction and I softened my tone. I thought maybe she was scared or missing her dad and I asked her about that. She said she just wanted to sleep with me. This annoyed me after having given up my bedroom in the first place, to now have my army cot invaded. I sent her away to her room.
For several nights after that I was awakened repeatedly in the dead of night by this poor thing kissing my sleeping form. It started to give me the creeps. I told her for the sake of my own peace that she could sleep beside me for awhile, thinking that it was justifiable insecurity at work and being no stranger to that, I was empathetic. It didn’t have the desired effect.
She told me that she wanted to have sex with me and for us to be lovers. Her words were well beyond the normal vocabulary of her years. Astonished, but not admitting that I myself was yet a virgin, I questioned her in such a way as to ascertain if she actually knew what she was talking about from experience or from books and hearsay.
She proceeded to describe a world that wouldn’t have been much far-fetched say, in decadent Ancient Rome, Greece or Persia but was sub-human in my personal view. As she spoke, it was crystal clear from her demeanor that she had been groomed to her life from very early childhood onward and had, as yet, no inkling that there was anything even remotely wrong with it.
I quickly adopted her nonchalance to hide my own shock, anger, sorrow and disgust. I reckoned that she would be in for some very hard times in her future when the pendulum’s swing brought the balance of the Law into the chaos of her family’s life. Though her innocence had been robbed by her own parents, she remained as yet absolutely innocent of that fact. I did not deem it appropriate at that time to be the bringer of light and subsequently cause the emotional fires that were sure to erupt afterwards. I used my own version of Boy Scout diplomacy to send her back to her bed without trampling her feelings.
She told my dad and her mother of my ultimate rejection of her favors and I was laughed at by him, considered mean by the little gal and considered retarded by her vampiric mother. Thereafter I was treated by my dad as a side show freak. The girl told one of the neighborhood children that we were lovers and that gal never did look at me the same way after that. I ceased corresponding with the man in prison and eventually the twin tornadoes moved away into the melting pot that is America. Five years later, I was confronted by the fact that my own father was a secret member of the same tribe as that girl’s parents.
It was during that chaotic time back on my home street that I went to my first garage sale, mentioned above. I only bought two items. One was a worn blue cloth bound Dr. Seuss book entitled Thidwick The Big Hearted Moose and the other was an eight pound hickory-handled sledge hammer. I think the whole shebang cost me two dollars. I read the book over many times and still have it today.
It tells the tale of a kindhearted moose that allows a bingle-bug to hitch-hike on his antlers as the herd migrated to their feeding grounds. This act of kindness was followed by several others and over time the guests begin to invite every creature they encountered to join their party on the moose’s head. Things reached a critical mass when the herd began to swim across a lake.
The guests protested that they did not swim and therefore it wasn’t right for Thidwick to carry them into harms way, after all, he was their host. Thidwick obeyed their protestations and sadly watched his herd stroke for the distant shore where the grass was fat. At this juncture, a hunting party began firing at Thidwick who discovered he was too burdened to make an escape. His passengers began to curse him.
Just when it looked like curtains, something quite natural and thus seemingly magical happened. Thidwick instinctively tossed his head back and forth vigorously and shed both antlers along with the freeloaders. That enabled him to quickly swim the lake and join his fellows. The squatters on his horns were shown in the last picture panel of the book adorning the wall of a Harvard man’s trophy room, above the fireplace, all stuffed, right down to the bingle-bug.
It is much more than a children’s story and I still take tutelage from that book down till today. In fact, every time I doubt the veracity of its truths, I am repeatedly shown that it is indeed an accurate depiction of immutable facts. Many readers enjoyed The Tao of Poo but I believe I was the first to see and realize The Kybalion of Seuss.
That Texas garage sale afternoon, I hauled a railroad tie from the tracks nearby and collected a bucket of rusty spikes. I installed the tie in my back yard by scratching out a little trench to keep it from jumping. There, in the spiritual company of the men like my Swedish grandfather who shoveled coal on ships, laid tracks across prairies and plowed fields; I hammered spikes and sang up the old songs. There was no one around to roll their eyes or laugh at me. I watched the boys coming home crippled and addicted, hammered a little harder and took to smoking Bull Durham. The endorphins released by the exercise were a balm. I wasn’t conscious just then of what I was building. I just knew I had to get it done.
Recently, I engaged in about ten weeks of farm labor. I saved all the loot up and decided to get a wood stove with those proceeds. After settling on a certain stove, I set about to educate myself on the different kinds of wood. This soon proved to elicit the same types of input one receives from people at large when undertaking anything new to oneself. All manner of advice rains down be it sought or be it inflicted.
In these circumstances it is well to make note of all advice and then step back and see which bits are the same for each giver. Set those aside and then examine those that differ. That shortens the field of research that must be done in order to identify facts from personal preferences and biases. In fairly short order I came to the conclusion that although there were other fine woods available to me, I would prefer to start my wood stove life as a burner of fir.
This process was repeated again with the manner of obtaining the wood. I could invest in a trailer and a chainsaw, learn how to use the chainsaw and learn where and when it was legal to harvest firewood or I could purchase it from a woodman. I collected names of the latter from many people and made notes of all the different pricing schemes and delivery styles. I talked with a German friend who educated me on the traditional dimensions and pricing of loads of firewood. I soon learned that the stacked wood rarely measured up to these dimensions and thus it was important to be able to estimate right from the time the truck pulled up to deliver your load.
I made my decision and phoned my chosen man. He arrived at my place two days later with an alleged two cords worth of dry half-round fir blocks all cut to my specified length. Prior to coming over, he had phoned to ask if I would prefer the blocks be quartered as his men were having trouble lifting them. Sensing an increase of price in return for this luxury, I declined his offer and said I wanted the practice of splitting them myself.
I went to the hardware store with a friend and purchased a nice Mexican made eight and a half pound maul. I set up the chopping block I had requested of the woodman. It was a good sized bottom portion of the single dead standing fir he had harvested from Fountain Ridge. I counted the rings and came up with a tally in excess of 120. As I counted them in the July sun, I noticed that there were some exceptionally dry years and some that were exceedingly wet. I doubted if human activities had anything to do with these grand cycles so eloquently recorded in the wood.
As I began the big chore of chopping, people passed by to look and offer advice. Again I took it all in and set aside those tips that were common to all. I learned that the knots should be placed on the underside and that the first strokes should be aimed just on either side of these particularly tough portions that ran across the grain of the desired split. I was taught by my own body that the steel head did all the work required and that the handle was merely a means to direct its kinetic force with accuracy.
Now, some few weeks after the seven long days of daily toil that saw the job completed, my sore lower back has taught me that the blocks were too big for me to safely lift onto the chopping block without damage to my vertebrae and connective tissues. In future I shall have the blocks quartered if they are of a similar circumference to this first batch.
I was telling this to a man I know who is in his ninth decade and he told me about splitting an average of twenty cords per winter on the Saskatchewan prairies. My own back pain faded away in his smile and I realized that added to the other variables by which we perceive that which is immutable; the degree and polarity of anything can make us feel better or worse but cannot change what underlies.
I recalled those hot afternoons forty-five years ago down in Texas hammering spikes into a creosoted cross-tie. I find the same peace through exhaustion now as I did then. There is a lot wrong with the world and it seems to be caught in an eddy of drug-induced indifference like trash swirling around a bridge piling.
Some of the uppermost sections of this venerable fir tree had a deep widdershins twist, I discovered. They were a special challenge to anyone wishing to split them into usable chunks for the fire grate. They whispered to me of windy evenings that wound up the tenderest part of the tall trunk by pushing on the lateral branches with a persistence found only in nature. Each required at least three accurate heavy blows to accomplish an unwinding of the springy twisted fibers. Their strength and tenacity was markedly superior to the straight pieces from the bottom.
I gazed up at a tall live spruce in view of my work space and noticed that there were several branches near the flexible top that rather than drooping like their lower fellows, actually sprang upward against gravity by virtue of the twist inculcated into them by the punishing winds and snow. Some formed semi-circles against the cobalt sky and once in a while a bird would perch in this frame as if to offer a well set up photograph as a reward to anyone with eyes to see the lesson.
I chopped and stacked for a week, sweating buckets of salt water. Part of me realized I was fueling up an invisible engine that would run on a spirit track I had built as a boy. Childhoods are not meant to be perpetual as popular media cunningly portrays in order to sell more cheap toys and sidetrack yet another generation. However, the fact is that far too many of them, childhoods that is, all over this world and in all periods of history are amputated with less regard than one has for swatting a horsefly.
They don’t cease to be, for wisdom teaches us that you cannot take away from or add to what already is. All there is, is all there is, was or will be. So, somewhere out there, perhaps in the space that used to be occupied by my big fir tree, runs a slow moving freight. The boxcars are clean and the doors are open. The ladders are made of polished hickory and are easily scaled. Like a recurring dream, the train is always moving away from harm regardless of where one boards it.
It is full of childhoods of every description and as they naturally ripen, they each arrive at exactly the place where they precociously jumped on board. There, while their friends watch from the slow rolling platform, they surrender their cocoons within the dignity of a voluntary ceremony. You know, the way primitive people used to do. On that ground, they cast off their antlers and disperse their parasites. And then, to paraphrase T. E. Lawrence:
“And then the little things creep out
to patch themselves hovels
in the marred shadow of those gifts.”
I have always thought it a shame that we humans will contort ourselves to fit into prefabricated forms. It occurred to me long ago, that I prefer to draft forms that fit individuals. We have all heard that we should "think outside the box," ad nausea. Subtly, this only serves to reinforce the false notion that there is in fact a box. If one must have a box, build it yourself the way you want and then go into it when you feel like thinking. Then come out and share your thoughts. That is when things get interesting. Just ask Giordano Bruno.
It must be born in mind when reaching an audience that there are so many demographics that a balance must be struck between universal language and targeted language. It is helpful to think of a grandparent, a colleague and a child all sitting at a table with you. Can you speak truth in such a way that they all can comprehend accurately what you mean to convey? If you can do this for the particular information to be imparted, it is a wonderfully wrought speech. In certain situations, it would be more expedient to speak to each of these three separately, conveying the same truth in three different vernaculars, intelligible to each.
The child's version would be easily understood by the other two, as would the grandparent version because it speaks to common sense. The colleagues' version would likely be understood only by the colleagues due only to the words chosen, not from the concepts being too difficult. Children (of any age) have to be simply shown what to do to keep safe and they will adopt the practice. This area amounts to a mission of the highest caliber, as we are supposed to be looking after the little ones not throwing potential dangers into their hands and wishing them good luck.
A picture can truly be worth a thousand words as it is not bound by language or vernacular. For concepts that are to reach across wide swathes of the possible demographics, graphics is, in my opinion, the way to go.
Men and women, old and young along with specialized groups of professionals make for very many permutations of potential audiences and this is further complicated by cultural and religious differences. To make the task of communicating important messages such as warnings of danger somewhat simpler in the face of such multiplicity, it is well to remember that all women are smart enough by their natures to adopt things that keep them and their loved ones safe, once shown that such aids exist. Men are better suited to denying that problems exist for as long as possible and finally they must be gently led into thinking that they thought of the solution themselves to assuage their pride. Telemarketers and politicians learn this truth while still in the crib.
Communication must be differentiated into various forms of auditory grooming. Thus, there is a difference (on the animal level) between the metered caws of a crow and the lowing of cattle. On the human level, there is a difference between the sharing of individual mind (oration) and the repetition of undigested data that has come from any source other than the first hand experience of the speaker. All forms of human communication have their places and purposes. All forms of human communication have been kept in their places for sometimes less than noble purposes.
Much time and effort has been put into making communication unintelligible for all but a chosen group. This is the realm of cryptology. The impetus can be noble, such as coded messaging in times of war but can also be nefarious in the way that cant, slang, jargon, gang-speak and many specialized professional vocabularies purposely exclude the public at large from understanding in order to either make them dependent or to victimize them.
New ways of speech continually creep into our vocabularies via popular media and are propagated throughout the world. This can be amusing or it can be annoying. A case in point is Starbuckian. In most cities of any size with any Italian population there have always been espresso shops and their simple menus long ago introduced any customers who weren't Italian to a few words in that language. Then the boys from Washington state went a step further. They introduced new terms for the sizes as well as their individual concoctions that still prove confusing for many people after all these years. Somehow ordering a "tall" to designate a small and a "vente" to designate a large will likely prove to be counter-intuitive for many people for many years to come. There are many ordinary folk who would prefer to order a small plain black coffee instead of a tall americano.
This created a new class of "coffee snobs" among the denizens of these shops. It also created a new class of low-paid, self-righteous servers under the new moniker of "barista." The snobbery cuts both ways and many is the ordinary young man or woman who is racked over the coals for not understanding the caffeinois used by the discerning customer. Conversely, there is the soggy feigned pitying glance of the seasoned barista cast upon the poor construction worker trying desperately to find the words "large coffee to go" on the cryptic menu.
I was in my local coffee bar the other day after a long hot day of farm labor. My clothes were dust-covered, sweat soaked and the straw of my battered cowboy hat was roasted brown in my own grease. I was greeted by a lady I know after ordering an iced americano from a tall tattooed young man who worked the cash register. She was part of a three woman team who together prepared the drink in carefully coordinated stages.
This lady, a Filipina, asked me how things were going that day and by way of reply I answered in Spanish, “Mucho calor!” and waved my hand like a fan for dramatic effect.
“Oh yes, mainit!” She replied using the Tagalog word for hot and fanned her own face.
At this point, the young man who was not a party to this exchange asked me as I turned to him for my change due, “Did you use the Spanish word because you speak Spanish?”
I am fairly certain that the combination of my white beard, farmer’s tan and dirty Western clothes had triggered a Pavlovian response in the young fellow that he probably picked up in college somewhere. He didn’t continue his inquiry to ask, “or did you use the Spanish word because the barista was a woman of color?
He didn’t have to. I have two sons who did stints in college and picked up all manner of new things to worry about, be on guard for and to hate. Luckily, they managed to find their way back to reality once out of the indoctrination center and pub masquerading as a place of learning.
I didn’t treat him to the first two replies that flashed into my mind, partly from fatigue and partly from recognizing a chance to wipe a little of the grime off the window of his young mind. The first reply not given was, “Is your coffee menu in Italian to justify your high prices or because your Asian employer thinks everyone in the Fraser Canyon speaks it along with the Aussie tourists?”
Instead, I gave him the third reply, “I used the Spanish word because to say the words ‘it sure is hot’ does not even approach painting a picture of what I am trying to express.”
“Oh, I guess when you think of it, there are some words in other languages that are much better than English to convey a particular meaning,” he said in a tone of voice that would have not been out of place underneath a plane tree on the island of Crete three thousand years ago. One tabula rasa at a time.
Archaic words sometimes get recycled into modern speech and propagate widely as populations migrate across new ground. A wonderful example of this came to my notice recently while working as a farm hand. It was a three acre hops operation carved out of the pine covered bench land near my home. In front ran a mighty river and behind was a wall of multicolored rock about six thousand feet in elevation.
Some of the equipment we used had generic names and some was specialized for this type of cultivation and bore a variety of brand names or names coined by workers in this particular endeavor. At a certain stage in the Spring the young and vigorous shoots of the hops plants must be trained by hand onto ropes that are anchored into the soil at the base of the plant clusters. These ropes rise up eighteen to twenty feet and are attached to overhead wires.
An experienced grower came and held a little session for the purpose of educating us workers as to the proper and accepted way of accomplishing this task. During the informative and educational practical demonstration we were taught and cautioned to always spiral the shoots in a “sunwise” manner. This was explained as being a clockwise direction as viewed from above.
Immediately, I felt the antiquity of this term, although I had never heard it before that morning. I also detected the salt of an Atlantic crossing still clinging to the term. Everyone took to using it almost exclusively. Saying the word made one feel part of something old and time honored for some reason and besides it rolled off the tongue in a very pleasant way.
I looked up the term sunwise and found it to be attributed to Scottish folklore and Druid in origin. The meaning is simply given as designating a clockwise direction around an object. A counterclockwise direction is termed widdershins. In Scottish folklore, sunwise, sunward or clockwise was considered the prosperous course, turning from East to West in the direction of the sun. The opposite course, counterclockwise, was known as widdershins or tuathal. In the Northern Hemisphere, sunwise and clockwise run in the same direction because sundials were used to tell time and their features were transferred to clock faces. Another influence may have been the right-handed bias in many cultures.
This is descriptive of the ceremony observed by the Druids, of walking round their temples by the South, in the course of their directions, always keeping their temples on their right. This course or deiseal was deemed propitious, while the contrary course is perceived as fatal or at least unpropitious. From this ancient superstition are derived several Gaelic customs which were still observed around the turn of the twentieth century, such as drinking over the left thumb or according to the course of the sun. This distinction exists in traditional Tibetan religion. Tibetan Buddhists go round their shrines sunwise, but followers of the Bonpo religion go widdershins. The former consider Bonpo to be merely a perversion of their practice but Bonpo adherents claim that their religion was indigenous to Tibet prior to the arrival of Buddhism in that country.
The Hindu pradakshina, the auspicious circumambulation of a temple, is also made clockwise. A similar preference may inform the left-hand drive found in England, India and Japan. Any temple or shrine in the middle of a road must be passed to its left.
Martin Martin who died on the 9th of October 1718 was a Scottish writer best known for his work, A Description Of The Western Islands Of Scotland (1703; second edition 1716). This book is particularly noted for its information on the St. Kilda archipelago. Martin's description of St. Kilda, which he visited in 1697, had also been published some years earlier as A Late Voyage To St. Kilda in 1698. Martin graduated with an MA from the University of Edinburgh in 1681. Nothing seems to be known of him in his later years, except that he entered Leiden University in 1710 and there graduated with an MD, afterwards residing in London until his death. He was unmarried and died of asthma in Knightsbridge. Both Johnson and Boswell read his book and took a copy of it along with them on their famous tour in 1773. Johnson felt Martin had failed to record the more interesting aspects of life at the time and suggested that this was because Martin was unaware of just how different the social structure of the Western Isles was in comparison to life elsewhere.
Martin Martin says,
“Some of the poorer sort of people in the Western Isles retain the custom of performing these circles sunwise about the persons of their benefactors three times, when they bless them and wish good success to all their enterprises. Some are very careful when they set out to sea, that the boat be first rowed sunwise and if this be neglected, they are afraid their voyage may prove unfortunate. When a Gael goes to drink out of a consecrated fountain, he approaches it by going round the place from East to West and at funerals, the procession observes the same direction in drawing near the grave. Hence also is derived the old custom of describing sunwise a circle, with a burning brand, about houses, cattle, corn and corn-fields, to prevent their being burnt or in any way injured by evil spirits or by witchcraft. The fiery circle was also made around women as soon as possible after parturition and also around newly-born babes. These circles were in later times described by midwives and were described effectual against the intrusion of daoine-sìth or sìthichean, who were particularly on the alert in times of childhood and not infrequently carried infants away, according to vulgar legends and restored them afterwards but sadly altered in features and personal appearance. Infants stolen by fairies are said to have voracious appetites, constantly craving for food.”
Martin is also known for his early descriptions of Scotch whiskey.
“Their plenty of Corn was such, as dispos'd the Natives to brew several sorts of Liquors, such as common Usquebaugh. Another call'd Trestarig which is Aquavitae three times distill'd which is strong and hot. A third sort is four times distill'd and this by the Natives is call'd Usquebaugh-baul which is Usquebaugh which at first taste affects all the Members of the Body. Two spoonfuls of this last Liquor is a sufficient Dose and if any Man exceed this it would presently stop his Breath and endanger his Life. The Trestarig and Usquebaugh-baul are both made of Oats.”
The origins of the word widdershins dates from the early 16th century from Middle Low German weddersins and from Middle High German widersinnes, from wider ‘against’ + sin ‘direction’; the second element was associated with Scots sin ‘sun.’ Use of the word has been on a steady rise since the first decade of the nineteenth century up to the first decade of this century where it has leveled off with widespread use. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the earliest use of the word widdershins from 1513, where it was found in the phrase “widdersyns start my hair”, i.e. my hair stood on end. Because the sun played a highly important role in older religions, to go against it was considered bad luck for sun-worshiping traditions. It was considered unlucky in Britain to travel in an anticlockwise direction around a church and a number of folk myths make reference to this superstition, e.g. Childe Rowland, where the protagonist and his sister are transported to Elfland after his sister runs widdershins round a church. There is also a reference to this in Dorothy Sayers's novels The Nine Tailors ("He turned to his right, knowing that it is unlucky to walk about a church widdershins.") and Clouds Of Witness ("True, O King, and as this isn't a church, there's no harm in going round it widdershins"). In Robert Louis Stevenson's tale, The Song of the Morrow an old crone on the beach dances widdershins.
In the mythology of the 21st century North Yorkshire Moors it is believed that if you dance nine times widdershins around a fairy ring of toadstools you will come under the power of the fairy people. The story of Fairy Cross Plain or Fryup Dale chronicles the fate of a young boy, Thomas Skelderskew, who did just that.
In Judaism, circles are sometimes walked anticlockwise. For example, when a bride circles her groom seven times before marriage, when dancing around the bimah during Simchat Torah, when dancing in a circle or when the Sefer Torah is brought out of the ark. This has its origins in the Beis Hamikdash, where in order not to get in each others way, the priests would walk around the altar anticlockwise while performing their duties. When entering the Beis Hamikdash the people would enter by one gate, and leave by another. The resulting direction of motion was widdershins. In Judaism, starting things from the right side is considered to be important, since the right side is the side of Chessed or kindness while the left side is the side of Gevurah or judgment. For example, it is a law to put on the right shoe first and take off the left shoe first unless one is left-handed.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, it is normal for processions around a church to go widdershins.
The Bonpo in the Northern Hemisphere traditionally circumambulate widdershins. This runs counter to Buddhism and orthodox Hinduism. This is in keeping with the aspect of the Sauvastika or as the Tibetans call it, yung-drung, sacred to the Bonpo. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Bonpo practitioner is required to elect whether the directionality of 'counter-clockwise' (deosil in the Southern Hemisphere) or running-counter to the direction of the Sun (widdershins in the Southern Hemisphere) is the key intention of the tradition. The resolution to this conundrum is left open to the practitioner’s intuitive insight.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, one aspect of the actual practice of sunwise twirling caused me some speculation. The reaction of one worker who had already known and used the term prior to our lesson that I shared these inquiries with was freighted with a strength of conviction and depth of faith that also smacked of a distant time and place.
Not fond of the word “training”, I called the procedure “twirling” and this caught on to a degree but fell out of use after a few days under the gravity of the more ancient term. My speculations had to do with questioning the warning we had received regarding the importance of twirling the shoots sunwise. My first reasoning was that when a vertical heliotrope shoot makes contact with a vertical rope regardless of its starting position on an imaginary compass drawn around the rope, the apparent motion of the sun is a constant cycle of East to West. The tiny hooks that attach to the anchor rope must send signals to the opposite side of the tendril to grow slightly faster in order for a spiral shape to occur. In this manner, it follows that whether the vine is spiraling clockwise or counter-clockwise, it will cross the rope once per cycle and thus both will attain the goal of height.
I was firmly told that the only way was sunwise and to do otherwise was to invite disaster. Apparently the plants would unwind and spend themselves in the weeds below. I practiced sunwise twirling exclusively from that moment on. At home in the sunny evenings, I wandered in my wife’s garden where three of the varieties of plants growing there were climbers. One type was honeysuckle, one was columbine and the third was green beans.
With great interest I inspected each one as to its orientation in relation to the pole it was climbing. I asked my wife if she had twirled them by hand to start them out. She replied in the negative and assured me that they were planted as seeds and left to their own devices after that. A tremor rippled through my Welsh and Irish telomeres and I ran back to look again. Widdershins all!
It seems that the fears that were long ago instilled by sun-worshiping Druid priests into priest-worshiping Gaelic distillers of alcohol and sowers of oats are yet sitting on our chests like atrophied incubi and succubi waiting to draw new life from our obeisance.
One morning at the field before work, while I sat on a trailer sipping coffee, a bear bolted out of the North and then ran widdershins through the hops and into the pines. It reminded me of a recent dream and then an old Nepalese folk tale I know came to mind. I will tell you that story now.
A long time back, in the foothills of the Himalayas, a merchant from the South was wending his way North in search of new opportunities and enterprises. He was carefully observed by a Nepalese gentleman long before reaching the top of a steep pitch of a grassy boulder field which led to the next pass to be crossed. As he neared, it became apparent that the lone figure in his path was the proud owner of a small bear. Fatigue and fascination combined with the grandeur of the heights made him decide to make night camp there at that auspicious place.
Not that the merchant was proficient in the tongue of the Nepalese but he at once tried to establish some communications, learn of the way ahead and eventually inquire as to the uncommon choice of a pet that the mountain man had made. The Nepali raised a wind-browned hand and wiped his brow with a heavy sigh. He patted the bear several times, twisted his fist around the thick rope leash and intimated that as much as he loved the bruin, it was a heavy burden for him.
He said that he had actually been on his way South in order to find a suitable new owner for his beloved animal. The merchant allowed that it probably was hard to sell such an impractical commodity, all things being equal. The Nepali allowed that this was true but added that his bear was a very special creature and much more than a simple pet. He intimated that the bear had come to him after many days of Shamanic ritual fasting. On top of this, the bear was fully tamed already and thus clearly a gift of the local mountain deities or demons, as it proved later to have extraordinary powers.
Having seen a dancing bear in a village in India as a youth, the merchant clucked inwardly at the superstitious beliefs of the highland yokels such as his host. The superstitious beliefs of his own lowland ancestors lay dormant like sated cobras somnolent round a bowl of sour milk in a cool stone temple. They would have their slumber interrupted soon enough.
The travelers prepared their beds and food and the Northerner settled his bear, pounded a strong stake fitted with a swivel to attach its leash to and applied a soft rope hobble to its legs. He smoked and sipped tea while the new-comer had his meal. The Nepali made a small fire while the Southerner prepared himself for sleep. The tired man was soon snoring and dreaming of the next day.
While that man dozed, in the firelight twenty yards away, the Nepali produced an instrument of bamboo not unlike a long syringe. He loaded it with a charge of copper rupee coins from a goatskin pouch and next coated it with grease which he kept in a small carved box. This done, he squatted near the bear’s backside, raised its stubby tail and slowly inserted the syringe. The bear lifted its head a few inches and looked unconcernedly at his master, huffed and closed its eyes dreamily.
This process was repeated again with a much shorter syringe loaded half with silver coins and half with gold coins. The bear sniffed and scratched its belly as the man put away his implements and composed himself on his bedroll. The night passed peacefully.
At sunrise, the Nepali was up first to bring a dish of water for his bear. The Southerner watched as the mountain man untied the bear’s feet and urged it upright. The beast slurped some water and licked its lips. Next it was coaxed into walking counter-clockwise around the swivel stake. The owner used a small stout highly polished stick. He tapped first behind the bear’s shoulder and gradually worked his way down to the base of its tail.
Presently, as the Lowland traveler watched in disbelief, the bear stopped, grunted and began to defecate rupees. He blinked his eyes and there on the dew-laden long grass lay a small clutch of gold coins. The bear began to circumambulate once again as silver and finally copper coins marked its passage. The handler tapped it back to a sitting position and gave it some hearty pats and spoke to it in loving tones before gathering the ejected numismatic material, which he placed in a goatskin pouch.
In the adrenaline filled line of questioning that ensued for the balance of that morning, the Nepali described how he had only accidentally discovered this most wonderful ability of his spirit bear. Over the years since, he explained, it had been both a curse and a blessing. The blessing was obvious but the question was that after a man has all the money he could possibly need for several lifetimes over, what was the joy in having more? It was a secret to be closely guarded in order to avoid all kinds of calamity at the hands of thieves and even jealous relatives. He was a slave to the bear and charged with keeping it comfortable and well nourished on mountain grasses, fish, frogs, fruits and pure water.
He produced the goatskin and took out three coins. He handed a gold, a silver and a copper to the other man and told him that the coins produced varied by location, diet and the humor of the bear. The circle must be always walked counter-clockwise and the bear does the rest. The Nepali said that he had noticed in general that the higher the elevation the fewer were the coins produced. A richer diet gave rise to more gold and silver. It was for that reason he was this very day heading down to the lowlands sell the bear.
A deal was quickly and excitedly struck between these two. Each the answer to the dreams and aspirations of the other. The merchant happily exchanged his entire venture capitol for the bear, the stick, the leash, the swivel-post and a solemn pledge to always be kind to the bear. He watched the Nepali scaling the heights above and smiled when on his first attempt at walking the circle the bear laid a ninety degree arc of hot coppers.
My father went to sea in 1942 at the age of around fifteen. He was running from something extremely unpleasant at home in suburban Toronto. Within months his ship was torpedoed in the North Atlantic by the German Navy. He survived and sailed for another five years. I know some of the pressure to leave emanated from his extremely stern German Catholic Canadian father, a yardmaster at CPR. I suspect that there were other contributing factors. One was the extremely abusive Catholic Church and School System. Others were the war in Europe, the King in England, human nature and the Canadian Dream.
I have precious few photos of him and his sisters as children but one of them shows an eight year old in an alter boy’s get-up with the ghostly face of a thirty year old staring back at you. The other few pictures prior to that one show a normal healthy lad playing with his dog in the front yard on Vaughn Road in the good Borough of York.
My father’s father was born in Ariss, Ontario about 20 km away from Kitchener. His name was Alvon Heinrich Haus. He Anglicized his name to Alvin Henry Howes. There was a reason for that. His father, according to a yellowed baby book given to me by my mother, was a Joseph Haus/House/Howes. The wife of this man, my paternal great-great grandmother is listed as a Helen Zimmerman and her birthplace is listed as Alsace-Lorraine.
In what was to later to become Ariss, “by 1900, a hotel, blacksmith shop and a few houses were located at the settlement. In 1903, Joseph and Ellen House opened a store there in a small room of their house.”  “Joseph House built this frame building as a home in 1902 with a general store in one room. In 1908 the Post Office was established there with the arrival of the CPR railway, Mrs. Ellen House acting as Post Mistress. Rural Route #1, Ariss, established in 1911, was the first rural line to operate in Guelph Township. Gas pumps were added in 1918. In 1960 the building expanded to its present size to accommodate the Lucky Dollar grocery chain. In 2008, Ariss Post Office was honoured for 100 years of service.”  Given the small population at the time and the pressure to Anglicize Teutonic sounding surnames, it is very possible that this couple are the people listed in my baby book as my great grandparents.
From the HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF ST BONIFACE & MARYHILL COMMUNITY Summer Newsletter of 2016 we learn that “Many of the earliest settlers of Maryhill came from Soufflenheim and nearby villages in Northeastern France along the Rhine River – just North of Strasbourg in present day Alsace.”  Maryhill is about five kilometers from Ariss.
Some people may not know that nearby Kitchener, Ontario, for example was originally named Berlin by the German immigrants who came to farm Ontario’s rich soil, escape persecution and practice their own way of life. These Germans were a combination of Mennonites from Pennsylvania, Swiss Anabaptist, Lutherans from Germany and Catholics from Alsace-Lorraine. The founding townsfolk even had a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I placed in Victoria Lake Park. From 1854 until 1912 it was the Town of Berlin and the City of Berlin from 1912 until 1916.
“In 1784, the land that Kitchener was built upon was an area given to the Six Nations by the British as a gift for their allegiance during the American Revolution; 240,000 hectares of land to be exact. From 1796 and 1798, the Six Nations sold 38,000 hectares of this land to a Loyalist by the name of Colonel Richard Beasley. The portion of land that Beasley had purchased was remote but it was of great interest to German Mennonite farming families from Pennsylvania. They wanted to live in an area that would allow them to practice their beliefs without persecution. Eventually, the
Mennonites purchased all of Beasley's unsold land creating 160 farm tracts.” 
As was the case in many other times and locations and still is today, during war and conflict, many people of a given heritage are targeted for persecution by other citizens of different heritages or religious practices. For the war, you know. Patriotism must be proven over and over and usually unsuccessfully so. Also, we see often in history where names and origins are changed for less noble purposes.
Here is a good example of that from the Library and Archives Canada: “The imperialism that was at the core of the campaign to change the name of Berlin, Ontario was not unique to Canada. Depicted in this two-cent stamp, found in the philatelic holdings of Library and Archives Canada, is King George V. The Royal Household, itself German in origin, changed its name from Saxe-Coburg & Gotha to Windsor during the First World War.” 
Here is another article from the Library and Archives Canada:
* What's In a Name? Berlin to Kitchener *
“Those who live in, or have the chance to visit, Kitchener, Ontario will be very familiar with the area's rich German culture and heritage. The original settlers of the region were of an agrarian, pacifist Mennonite background. By the eve of the First World War, Berlin, Ontario dubbed "the German Capital of Canada" boasted myriad German-language societies, German language instruction in schools and a German-language newspaper. As the Great War continued, the loyalty of German-Canadians became more and more suspect. In August 1914, the bronze bust of Kaiser Wilhelm, proudly displayed in Victoria Park, was removed and thrown into the lake. Open mistrust of enemy aliens in the city led to the suspension of German-language instruction in schools.
In 1916, the Berlin Board of Trade made a suggestion that polarized the citizens of the city. The Board of Trade argued that the name Berlin hurt business and gave the impression that its citizens were sympathizers of the enemy cause in Europe. It was suggested that the act of changing the name of the city would be a tangible symbol of its citizens' patriotism and would boost the city's profile across the Dominion.
Many Berliners supported maintaining the name of the city, as it reflected a proud tradition of growth and prosperity for German, and non-German, Canadians alike. Those citizens who supported the status quo were immediately perceived, by those who wanted change, as being unpatriotic and sympathizers with the enemy. Violence, riots and intimidation, often instigated by imperialistic members of the 118th Battalion, were not uncommon in the months leading up to the May 1916 referendum on the issue.
A majority of Berliners did chose to opt for a new name and by early summer the search for a new city moniker was on. A special committee was set-up by the city council with the express purpose to suggest possible names. On September 1, 1916, the name of Kitchener was officially adopted after the late Lord Kitchener.
Horatio Kitchener was appointed Secretary for War by the British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, at the beginning of the Great War. His image, beckoning recruits with an outward stare and finger pointed, was immortalized on Alfred Leete's dramatic poster "Britons Want You!" Kitchener had drowned earlier in 1916, when the ship he was traveling on hit a mine near the Orkney Islands. It would be next to impossible for citizens of the new Kitchener to be considered unpatriotic.
Nonetheless, some Canadians did not readily adopt the new name for Berlin. The Post Office had to issue memorandum, reminding correspondents that there was no city in Ontario named Berlin. The issue was so contentious that several Canadian municipalities petitioned the Dominion Government to force those who did not comply to use the name Kitchener. Although ludicrous to modern eyes, the whole issue of a name for Berlin highlights the effects that fear, hatred and nationalism can have upon a society in the face of war.” 
Here is an article by Luisa D’Amato from the KitchenerPost dated June 28,2014:
* First World War Ripped Away Canada’s “Age Of Innocence ” *
“After just four days of fighting in Ypres, there were 6,000 Canadian casualties — more than 10 times the number who perished during the entire three years of the war in South Africa. This was a new kind of conflict. Canada paid a terrible price. By war's end, 630,000 had served, out of a population of eight million. About 60,600 died. By contrast, says University of Waterloo historian Geoffrey Hayes, the United States lost 59,000 soldiers during the Vietnam War, and its total population was 250 million.
Once the Great War was over, it left profound social change in its wake. Instead of the peace and relative harmony that society had enjoyed before the war, there was turbulent change.
In Canada, unemployment grew and wages fell. The Canadian economy slumped after the frantic activity of wartime. People flocked to the cities, looking for work.
Abroad, the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, and at home the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 called for collective bargaining and labour rights. In the Canadian Prairies, the beginning of socialist politics would pave the way for the creation of the New Democratic Party. Women got the right to vote.
Before the Great War, Canadian society was "remarkably peaceful, naïve with old Victorian values," said Waterloo-based historian and author Ken McLaughlin.
"What the war does is, it ends the age of innocence in a dramatic way.
In Waterloo County, as Waterloo Region was then known, there were particular consequences. So strong was anti-German sentiment that the city of Berlin had reluctantly renamed itself Kitchener, in hopes of retaining its commerce relationships.
All this was set into motion by the actions of one individual. On June 28, 1914, Princip shot and killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. Princip was among a group of activists who wanted Bosnia and Serbia united, and wanted Bosnia to be taken away from Austro-Hungarian rule.
Princip's action became known as "the shot heard 'round the world," for its far-reaching consequences. Europe had enjoyed mostly peace for nearly 100 years. But in an atmosphere of increasing nationalism, there was a bubbling up of ambition and old resentments; a relentless jockeying for power. Austria-Hungary had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina six years earlier, which did not sit well with Serbian nationalists.
Austria-Hungary sent Serbia an ultimatum with a list of demands, including a requirement that Serbia ensure the perpetrators of the assassination be arrested, and that propaganda advocating the destruction of Austria-Hungary be banned. Serbia did not agree to all the demands, and asked for an independent arbitrator. It began to mobilize its army.
On July 28, one month after the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. After that, the complex web of national alliances caused a domino effect of aggression. Germany, the ally of Austria-Hungary, declared war on Russia and France, and invaded Belgium on August 3. The next day, Britain declared war on Germany.
"War to the Death Has Come to Europe," shouted the front-page headlines of the Berlin Daily Record on August 3, 1914. "Nation Has Drawn Sword Against Nation." For the industrious, German speaking city that was affectionately known as "Busy Berlin," this was a catastrophic development. Until this war, Berlin and Waterloo County had been comfortable with its German heritage, and saw no conflict between it and the Canadian identity. The statue of Queen Victoria and the bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I regarded one another peacefully in Victoria Park, in the heart of Berlin. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the community reveled in its German heritage. It hosted huge German singing festivals with thousands of visitors and covered the local buildings in greenery to celebrate the occasion. In 1911, more than 80 per cent of the children in Berlin's schools were learning German.
These local German residents were peace-loving. Many had originated from the Alsace-Lorraine area between France and Germany, McLaughlin said. Their families had suffered through their share of conflict, as that territory passed back and forth between these two countries.
When the Great War broke out, most new recruits to the army — here and across Canada — were young men born in Britain. But as the war ground on, systematically devouring the young men who signed up, pressure built for more volunteers.
Pacifist Mennonites could not fight, and immigrant Germans hesitated to take up arms against a country they still loved. As anti-German sentiment grew in Canada, Waterloo County suffered. There were printed threats that people of German or Austro-Hungarian background would be detained if they were spying or otherwise helping the enemy. The Berlin School Board put an end to German-language instruction in the schools.
Just days after the war broke out in Europe, someone removed the bust of the Kaiser and threw it in Victoria Park Lake. It was later retrieved and removed to a German club for safekeeping. Then it was stolen a second time and never found again.
In February 1916, soldiers of the local 118th Battalion broke into the Concordia Club, looking for the bust. They did not find it, but they destroyed the inside of the club and burned its contents.
It got worse. An unwelcome spotlight began to focus on a minister, Rev. Reinhold Tappert of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church. Lutheran churches, with their German-language services, were popular targets in the anti-German activity. Tappert, an American, was said to have ordered his children not to sing God Save the King or to salute the Union Jack. He wrote to the News-Record newspaper: "I still love the land of my fathers — Germany."
On March 4, 60 soldiers from the 118th Battalion broke into Tappert's home. He was dragged through the streets behind horses, "his face bloodied, his body twisting as he fell into unconsciousness while the pavement scraped off his flesh," recounted McLaughlin and fellow historian John English in their book, Kitchener: An Illustrated History. A few days later, Tappert left Berlin for the safety of his brother's home in New York City. His attackers received only suspended sentences.
By now, there was a strong movement to change the name of Berlin. Manufactured goods marked "Made in Berlin" were not popular, even boycotted. Many people loved the Berlin name. But pressure continued. William Henry Breithaupt, a local industrialist and historian defended the name Berlin and protested that this German community was patriotic, but he received threatening letters and had his phone lines cut.
A referendum on a new name for the city was organized just as news came that Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Britain's Secretary of State for War, was drowned when the ship he was traveling in, off the Orkney Islands, had hit a German mine. His name was added to the choices on the referendum and as a clear symbol of loyalty to the British cause it won. But it was a sad victory. Only 892 people voted, said Hayes, the University of Waterloo historian. Just 346 voted for Kitchener, and there were just 11 votes between it and the next most popular name, Brock.
Commenting on the dismal voter turnout, the News Record noted: "The outstanding feature was the absolute indifference displayed by the ratepayers."
The new name, Kitchener, did not stop the turbulence that the community was feeling. During municipal elections, the offices of the News Record newspaper were wrecked and the mayor-elect, David Gross, was afraid to go to his own home because it had been visited by soldiers. A large crowd, including soldiers from the 118th Battalion, had gathered on King Street — shouting, jeering and hissing — and the military had to be called in from Galt to protect the people. Later, Gross promised that the name Kitchener would remain.
Across Canada, the pain of the war was deepening. In the spring of 1917, Canadian soldiers took Vimy Ridge in France, suffering more than 20,000 casualties. In that same year, just 3,000 new recruits across Canada volunteered for infantry service. Voluntary recruitment was all but dead across the land.
Now the government had to play hardball. Prime Minister Robert Borden announced his controversial plan for conscription for overseas service. In addition, the Wartime Elections Act, passed in September 1917, gave the vote to wives, mothers and sisters of serving soldiers — it was expected that they would support conscription, since their men were already overseas. When Borden came to Kitchener on Nov. 24 as part of his election campaign, the hecklers booed, whistled and hooted so loudly that he was unable to speak. After several unsuccessful tries, Borden angrily sat down.
After the war ended, and there was finally an end to the painful tests of loyalty in Waterloo County, Breithaupt envisioned a Peace Souvenir, with photographs of the honoured dead and names of all who enlisted. The president of the Waterloo Historical Society, he wrote an essay for the magazine that showed an idealized interpretation of our war experience.
"In the Great War, 1914-18, the county, without distinction of ancestry, whether Pennsylvanian, Scotch, English, Irish, German, or other, responded freely and immediately to the call to arms. There was no thought of conscientious objection by Mennonites or anyone.
The first Waterloo County man to be killed in action was a Pennsylvania descendant, Ralph Alexander Eby, great-great-grandson of Benjamin Eby, a noted early settler, Mennonite bishop and founder of Berlin (now Kitchener). The bulk of enlistments was by volunteers, many of them under military age.
Breithaupt talked of the "noble" record of Waterloo County's support for the war effort. There were 3,768 enlistments in the war from here, of which 112 won military decorations and 486 were killed or died of injury or disease.
The town of Hespeler sent more men to the front, per capita, than any other town in Canada. The town of Waterloo subscribed for more Victory Bonds in 1917, 1918, and 1919 in proportion to its population, than any town in Canada," he said.
Meanwhile, a soothing balm was being applied to the harsh story of the Great War. Hayes argues that the building of cenotaphs, memorials, even the visits to the French battlefields "helped create the idealized memory of a war where Canadian soldiers had fought and died for a just victory."
The inscriptions on the monuments describe that the soldiers "died for civilization, government and the King," said Hayes. "And so you refashion what the war was about. It was "a curious kind of mix of fact and fiction."
And finally, Waterloo County had to heal from the violent divisions it experienced in its own identity crisis. It did this by emphasizing the German heritage of the Mennonite settlers from Pennsylvania, rather than that of the German-speaking immigrants from Europe.
"At a time when it was no longer possible to be loyal to both Germany and Canada, the area's Pennsylvania German and Swiss-German roots offered a more acceptable German identify to celebrate, one based not on "Busy Berlin" but on the trek of the Conestoga," Hayes wrote in an article for the journal of the Ontario Historical Society.
Thus, Pioneer Memorial Tower was built by 1926 near the banks of the Grand River and beside an old cemetery for the Betzner family, who were among the first white settlers to the area.
Meanwhile, an important book was written in 1924 by local librarian Mabel Dunham. The Trail of the Conestoga was standard fare for generations of schoolchildren. It tells of brave Mennonite pioneers who dodged bear attacks and crossed the mighty Niagara River as they pressed north to settle in Waterloo in the early 19th century. Their good relations with the British are referred to several times in Dunham's novel. From the early 19th century, peace-loving Mennonites were able to escape the turmoil of the American Revolution and its aftermath by coming north to Canada. The British welcomed them and guaranteed they would not have to serve in the military.
This arrangement "allowed Pennsylvania Germans to reconcile their loyalty and religious faith even during the War of 1812, "Hayes wrote. If only the First World War had been so simple." 
In my years at the Post office I worked beside a Japanese Canadian who had his family torn apart during WW II and split up into various internment camps across Canada. I worked with a Kwakiutl man who’s entire village was wiped out. When he retired he was offered a post as a live tourist attraction at the University in Seattle in a mock-up of his original home that they were planning to build. He declined. I had a Chinese father-in-law who suffered at the hands of Japanese Imperialists intent upon “helping” their Asian neighbours before the British, the French or the Germans did.
I grew up noticing that my relatives which represented Swedish, Irish, Cherokee, Welsh, German (Alsatian), Canadian and American heritages seemed to downplay some of those connections and completely avoid identifying with others. Over time I came to understand why. Some of my Cherokee ancestors experienced this in a bid to find peace in what later became the Republic Of Texas. Other Cherokees in a more distant past made a long trek from the Orinoco River basin all the way up to the Great Lakes where they found conflict among the native peoples already there and subsequently returned southward into Appalachia and the South-East USA. Everybody needs a place to live and grow and everybody is being played by the few who would have it all.
My Canadian great-grandfather, grand-father and father, two of whom were born in Ontario, would have had to deal with the pressures mentioned in the articles about the town of Berlin/Kitchener. Another layer of the onion as to why young men and women in the flower of youth re-cross oceans already crossed by their parents and throw their lives away, begins to peel back.
As many conquered people down through the ages who have served in this King’s or that King’s armies have found out the hard way, the sacrifice holds no real weight to men inspired by the ravings of those who deem themselves superior and insist upon hammering the world and all its inhabitants into the “proper” shape, publicly in the name of altruism, the greater good and progress. Privately, for quite different reasons, in my opinion.
If we read the story of the chosen namesake for the old town of Berlin, Ontario we see a privileged young man schooled in military tactics in Montreaux and Britain. He is showered with enough titles, medals, knighthoods, orders and Masonic ranks to choke a pony. In South Africa where Kitchener was sent after having had adventures in India, Afghanistan, Palestine, Egypt and many other places coveted by the British Crown; the Boers were fighting the British using guerrilla tactics.
“Conditions in the concentration camps, which had been conceived by First Earl Roberts to control the families whose farms he had destroyed, began to degenerate rapidly as the large influx of Boers outstripped the ability of the minuscule British force to cope. The camps lacked space, food, sanitation, medicine and medical care, leading to rampant disease and a very high death rate. Eventually 26,370 women and children (81% were children) died in the concentration camps. The Boer forces disintegrated and with the war apparently effectively over, First Earl Roberts handed over command on 12 December to Lord Kitchener.” 
While he was at this task, American troops were exterminating Filipinos two oceans away, in the same spirit of proper progress that would later manifest as the Residential School systems of Australia and Canada.
Here are several interesting articles about those days.
* Women & Children In White Concentration Camps During *
The Anglo-Boer War, 1900-1902
“Boer women, children and men unfit for service were herded together in concentration camps by the British forces during Anglo-Boer War 2 (1899-1902). The first two of these camps (refugee camps) were established to house the families of burghers who had surrendered voluntarily, but very soon, with families of combatant burgers driven forcibly into camps established all over the country, the camps ceased to be refugee camps and became concentration camps. The abhorrent conditions in these camps caused the death of 4,177 women, 22,074 children under sixteen and 1,676 men, mainly those too old to be on commando, notwithstanding the efforts of an English lady, Emily Hobhouse, who tried her best to make the British authorities aware of the plight of especially the women and children in the camps.”
“September, Major-Gen J. G. Maxwell announces that "... camps for burghers who voluntarily surrender are being formed at Pretoria and Bloemfontein." This signals the start of what was to evolve into the notorious Concentration Camp Policy.
22 September, As result of a military notice on this date, the first two 'refugee' camps are established at Pretoria and Bloemfontein. Initially the aim was to protect the families of burghers who had surrendered voluntarily and their families by the institution of these camps. As the families of combatant burghers were also driven into these and other camps, they ceased to be 'refugee' camps and became 'concentration' camps.
20 December, A proclamation issued by Lord Kitchener states that all burghers surrendering voluntarily, will be allowed to live with their families in Government Laagers until the end of the war and their stock and property will be respected and paid for.
21 December, Contrary to the announced intention, Lord Kitchener states in a memorandum to general officers the advantages of interning all women, children and men unfit for military services, also Blacks living on Boer farms, as this will be "the most effective method of limiting the endurance of the guerrillas... "The women and children brought in should be divided in two categories, viz.: 1st. Refugees, and the families of Neutrals, non-combatants, and surrendered Burghers. 2nd. Those whose husbands, fathers and sons are on Commando. The preference in accommodation, etc. should of course be given to the first class. With regard to Natives, it is not intended to clear... locations, but only such and their stock as are on Boer farms."
“21 January, Emily Hobhouse, an English philanthropist and social worker who tried to improve the plight of women and children in the camps, obtains permission to visit concentration camps. Lord Kitchener, however, disallows visits north of Bloemfontein.
24 January, Emily Hobhouse visits Bloemfontein concentration camps and is appalled by the conditions. Due to limited time and resources, she does not visit the camp for Blacks, although she urges the Guild of Loyal Women to do so.
30 January, Pushing panic-stricken groups of old men, women and children, crowded in wagons and preceded by huge flocks of livestock in front of them, French's drive enters the south-eastern ZAR (Transvaal).
31 January, Mrs. Isie Smuts, wife of Gen. J. C. Smuts, is sent to Pietermaritzburg and placed under house arrest by the British military authorities, despite her pleas to be sent to concentration camps like other Boer women. Concentration camps have been established at Aliwal North, Brandfort, Elandsfontein, Heidelberg, Howick, Kimberley, Klerksdorp, Viljoensdrift, Waterfall North and Winburg.
25 February, A former member of the Free State Volksraad, H. S. Viljoen, and five other prisoners are set free from the Green Point Camp near Cape Town. They are sent to visit Free State concentration camps with the intention of influencing the women in the camps to persuade their husbands to lay down their arms. They are met with very little success.
27 February, Discriminatory food rations -1st class rations for the families of 'hands-uppers' and 2nd class for the families of fighting burghers or those who refuse to work for the British - are discontinued in the 'Transvaal' concentration camps.
28 February, Concentration camps have been established at Kromellenboog, Middelburg, Norvalspont, Springfontein, Volksrust, and Vredefort Road. At the Middelburg conference between Supreme Commander Lord Kitchener and Commandant-General Louis Botha, Kitchener comments to Lord Roberts, now Commander-in Chief at the War Office in London: "They [referring to the Burghers S. K.] evidently do not like their women being brought in and I think it has made them more anxious for peace." The conference is discussing terms of a possible peace treaty. Sir Alfred Milner leaves Cape Town for Johannesburg to take up his duties as administrator of the 'new colonies'.
1 March, Concentration camps in the 'Orange River' and 'Transvaal' Colonies are transferred to civil control under Sir Alfred Milner.
4 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Springfontein concentration camp.
6 March, Discriminatory food rations are also discontinued in the 'Orange River Colony' camps.
8 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Norvalspont concentration camp.
12 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Kimberley concentration camp.
6 April, Emily Hobhouse returns to Kimberley
9 April, Emily Hobhouse visits the Mafeking concentration camp.
12 April, Emily Hobhouse witnesses the clearing of Warrenton and the dispatch of people in open coal trucks.
13 April, Emily Hobhouse returns to Kimberley, witnessing the arrival of the people removed from Warrenton at the Kimberley camp, where there are only 25 tents available for 240 people.
20 April, The towns of Parys and Vredefort and many outlying farms have been cleared of inhabitants and supplies. The women and children have been removed to concentration camps.
21 April, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Bloemfontein.
23 April, Sir Alfred Milner refuses to issue a permit to Emily Hobhouse authorizing her to travel north of Bloemfontein.
4 May, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Cape Town.
7 May, Emily Hobhouse leaves for Britain after an extended fact-finding tour of the concentration camps.
14 June, Speaking at a dinner party of the National Reform Union in England, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, leader of the Liberal opposition, says the war in South Africa is carried on by methods of barbarism.
17 June, David Lloyd-George in England condemns the concentration camps and the horrors inflicted on women and children in the camps in South Africa. He warns, "A barrier of dead children's bodies will rise between the British and Boer races in South Africa."
18 June, Emily Hobhouse's report on concentration camps appear under the title, "To the S. A. Distress Fund, Report of a visit to the camps of women and children in the Cape and Orange River Colonies". Summarizing the reasons for the high fatality rate, she writes, "Numbers crowded into small tents: some sick, some dying, occasionally a dead one among them; scanty rations dealt out raw; lack of fuel to cook them; lack of water for drinking, for cooking, for washing; lack of soap, brushes and other instruments of personal cleanliness; lack of bedding or of beds to keep the body off the bare earth; lack of clothing for warmth and in many cases for decency..." Her conclusion is that the whole system is cruel and should be abolished.
26 June, Lord Kitchener, in a telegram to Milner: "I fear there is little doubt the war will now go on for considerable time unless stronger measures are taken... Under the circumstances I strongly urge sending away wives and families and settling them somewhere else. Some such unexpected measure on our part is in my opinion essential to bring war to a rapid end."
27 June, The British War Department promises to look into Emily Hobhouse's suggestions regarding improvements to the concentration camps.
30 June, The official camp population is 85,410 for the White camps and the deaths reported for June are 777.
15 July, Dr. K. Franks, the camp doctor at the Mafeking concentration camp reports that the camp is "overwhelmed" by 1,270 women and children brought in after sweeps on the western ZAR (Transvaal). Lack of facilities ads to the hardships encountered by the new arrivals.
16 July, The British Colonial Office announces the appointment of a Ladies Commission to investigate the concentration camps in South Africa. The commission, whose members are reputed to be impartial, is made up as follows: Chair lady Mrs. Millicent G. Fawcett, who has recently criticized Emily Hobhouse in the Westminster Gazette; Dr. Jane Waterson, daughter of a British general, who recently wrote against "the hysterical whining going on in England" while "we feed and pamper people who had not even the grace to say thank you for the care bestowed on them"; Lady Anne Knox, wife of Gen. Knox, who is presently serving in South Africa; Nursing sister Katherine Brereton, who has served in a Yeomanry Hospital in South Africa; Miss Lucy Deane, a government factory inspector on child welfare; Dr. the Hon Ella Scarlett, a medical doctor. One of the doctors is to marry a concentration camp official before the end of their tour.
20 July, Commenting on confiscation of property and banishment of families, St John Brodrick, British secretary of State for War, writes to Kitchener: "... Your other suggestion of sending the Boer women to St Helena, etc., and telling their husbands that they would never return, seems difficult to work out. We cannot permanently keep 16,000 men in ring fences and they are not a marketable commodity in other lands..."
25 July, Since 25 June, Emily Hobhouse has addressed twenty-six public meetings on concentration camps, raising money to improve conditions.
26 July, Emily Hobhouse again writes to Brodrick asking for reasons for the War Department's refusal to include her in the Ladies Commission. If she cannot go, "it was due to myself to convey to all interested that the failure to do so was due to the Government".
27 July, St John Rodrick replies to Emily Hobhouse's letter, "The only consideration in the selection of ladies to visit the Concentration Camps, beyond their special capacity for such work, was that they should be, so far as is possible, removed from the suspicion of partiality to the system adopted or the reverse."
31 July, The officially recorded camp population is 93,940 for the White camps and the deaths for July stands at 1,412.
16 August, General De la Rey protests to the British against the mistreatment of women and children.
20 August, Col. E. C. Ingouville-Williams' column transports Gen. De la Rey's mother to the Klerksdorp concentration camp. A member of the Cape Mounted Rifles notes in his diary: "She is 84 years old. I gave her some milk, jam, soup, etc. as she cannot eat hard tack and they have nothing else. We do not treat them as we ought to."
31 August, The officially recorded camp population for White camps is 105,347 and the camp fatalities for August stand at 1,878.
13 September, The Merebank Refugee Camp is established near Durban in an attempt to reduce the camp population in the Republics. Its most famous inmates are to be Mrs. De Wet and her children.
30 September, Cornelius Broeksma is executed by an English firing squad in Johannesburg after having been found guilty of breaking the oath of neutrality and inciting others to do the same. A fund is started in Holland for his family and for this purpose a postcard with a picture of himself and his family is sold, bearing the inscription: "Cornelius Broeksma, hero and martyr in pity's cause. Shot by the English on 30th September 1901, because he refused to be silent about the cruel suffering in the women's camps. The officially recorded camp population of the White camps is 109,418 and the monthly deaths for September stand at 2,411.
1 October, Emily Hobhouse again urges the Minister of War, "in the name of the little children whom I have watched suffer and die" to implement improvements in the concentration camps.
26 October, As the commandos in the Bethal district, Transvaal, become wise to Benson's night attacks, his success rate declines and he contents himself with 'ordinary clearing work' - burning farms and herding women, children, old men and other non-combatants with their livestock and vehicles.
27 October, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Table Bay on board the SS Avondale Castle, but is refused permission to go ashore by Col. H. Cooper, the Military Commandant of Cape Town.
29 October, Reverend John Knox Little states in the United Kingdom: "Among the unexampled efforts of kindness and leniency made throughout this war for the benefit of the enemy, none have surpassed the formation of the Concentration Camps".
31 October, Despite letters of protest to Lord Alfred Milner, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson and Lord Ripon, Emily Hobhouse, although unwell, is forced to undergo a medical examination. She is eventually wrapped in a shawl and physically carried off the Avondale Castle. She is taken aboard the Roslin Castle for deportation under martial law regulations. The officially recorded camp population of White camps is 113,506 and the deaths for October stand at 3,156.
1 November, Miss Emily Hobhouse, under deportation orders on board the Roslin Castle writes to Lord Kitchener: "... I hope in future you will exercise greater width of judgment in the exercise of your high office. To carry out orders such as these is a degradation both to the office and the manhood of your soldiers. I feel ashamed to own you as a fellow-countryman."And to Lord Milner: "Your brutal orders have been carried out and thus I hope you will be satisfied. Your narrow incompetency to see the real issues of this great struggle is leading you to such acts as this and many others, straining [staining S. K.] your own name and the reputation of England…"
7 November, The Governor of Natal informs St. John Brodrick that the wives of Pres. Steyn, General Paul Roux, Chief Commandant C. R. de Wet, Vice President Schalk Burger and Gen. J. B. M. Hertzog, the last four all presently in Natal, are to be sent to a port, other than a British port, outside South Africa. Lord Milner, referring to the concentration camps, writes to British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain: "I did not originate this plan, but as we have gone so far with it, I fear that a change now might only involve us in fresh and greater evils."
15 November, In his 'General Review of the Situation in the Two New Colonies', Lord Milner reports to Chamberlain, "... even if the war were to come to an end tomorrow, it would not be possible to let the people in the concentration camps go back to their former homes. They would only starve there. The country is, for the most part, a desert..."
16 November, On being questioned by St. John Brodrick on his motivations for proposing the deportation of prominent Boer women, Kitchener cancels his orders.
21 November, Referring to a 'scorched earth' raid, Acting State President S. W. Burgers and State Secretary F. W. Reitz address a report to the Marquis of Salisbury, the British Prime Minister: "This removal took place in the most uncivilized and barbarous manner, while such action is... in conflict with all the up to the present acknowledged rules of civilized warfare. The families were put out of their houses under compulsion, and in many instances by means of force... (the houses) were destroyed and burnt with everything in them... and these families among them were many aged ones, pregnant women, and children of very tender years, were removed in open trolleys (exposed) for weeks to rain, severe cold wind and terrible heat, privations to which they were not accustomed, with the result that many of them became very ill, and some of them died shortly after their arrival in the women's camps. The vehicles were also overloaded, accidents happened and they were exposed to being caught in crossfire. They were exposed to insults and ill-treatment by Blacks in service of the troops as well as by soldiers. ...British mounted troops have not hesitated in driving them for miles before their horses, old women, little children, and mothers with sucklings to their breasts..."
30 November, The officially recorded camp population of the White camps is 117,974 and the deaths for November are 2,807.
1 December, Fully aware of the state of devastation in the Republics, and trying to force the Boer leadership to capitulate, Lord Milner approves a letter that Kitchener sends to London, with identical copies to Burger, Steyn and De Wet. In the letter he informs them that as they have complained about the treatment of the women and children in the camps, he must assume that they themselves are in a provision to provide for them. He therefore offers all families in the camps who are willing to leave, to be sent to the commandos, as soon as he has been informed where they can be handed over.
4 December, Lord Milner comments on the high death rate in the Free State concentration camps: "The theory that, all the weakly children being dead, the rate would fall off, it is not so far borne out by the facts. I take it the strong ones must be dying now and that they will all be dead by the spring of 1903!..."
7 December, In a letter to Chamberlain, Lord Milner writes: "... The black spot - the one very black spot - in the picture is the frightful mortality in the Concentration Camps... It was not until 6 weeks or 2 months ago that it dawned on me personally... that the enormous mortality was not incidental to the first formation of the camps and the sudden inrush of people already starving, but was going to continue. The fact that it continues is no doubt a condemnation of the camp system. The whole thing, I now think, has been a mistake."
8 December, Commenting on the concentration camps, Lord Milner writes to Lord Haldane: "I am sorry to say I fear... that the whole thing has been a sad fiasco. We attempted an impossibility - and certainly I should never have touched the thing if, when the 'concentration' first began, I could have foreseen that the soldiers meant to sweep the whole population of the country higgledy piggledy into a couple of dozen camps... "
10 December, President Steyn replies to the British Commander-in-Chief Lord Kitchener's letter about releasing the women and children, that, however glad the burghers would be to have their relatives near them, there is hardly is single house in the Orange Free State that is not burnt or destroyed and everything in it looted by the soldiers. The women and children will be exposed to the weather under the open sky. On account of the above-mentioned reasons they have to refuse to receive them. He asks Kitchener to make the reasons for their refusal known to the world.
11 December, In his reply to Kitchener's letter about the release of women and children, Chief Commandant De Wet says: "I positively refuse to receive the families until such time as the war will be ended, and we shall be able to vindicate our right by presenting our claims for the unlawful removal of and the insults done to our families as well as indemnification on account of the uncivilized deed committed by England by the removal of the families..."
12 December, The report of the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) is completed on this day, but is only published during February 1902. The Commission is highly critical of the camps and their administration, but cannot recommend the immediate closure of the camps "... to turn 100,000 people new being fed in the concentration camps out on the veldt to take care of themselves would be a cruelty; it would be turning them out to starvation..." The Commission substantiated the most Emily Hobhouse's serious charges, but reviled her for her compassion for enemy subjects.
22 December, On Peace Sunday, Dr. Charles Aked, a Baptist minister in Liverpool, England, protests: "Great Britain cannot win the battles without resorting to the last despicable cowardice of the most loathsome cur on earth - the act of striking a brave man's heart through his wife's honour and his child's life. The cowardly war has been conducted by methods of barbarism... the concentration camps have been Murder Camps." He is followed home by a large crowd and they smash the windows of his house.
31 December, The camp population in White camps is 89,407 with 2,380 deaths during December.
22 January, In a daring exploit, General Beyers and about 300 men seize the concentration camp at Pietersburg and take the camp superintendent and his staff prisoner. After all-night festivities with wives, friends and family, the superintendent and his staff are released the next day on the departure of Beyers.
31 January, The officially reported White camp population is 97 986 and the deaths for January are 1,805.
4 March, The long-delayed report of the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) on the concentration camps is discussed in the House of Commons. The Commission concludes that there are three causes for the high death rate: "1. The unsanitary condition of the country caused by the war. 2. Causes within the control of the inmates. 3. Causes within the control of the administration." The Opposition tables the following motion: "This House deplores the great mortality in the concentration camps formed in the execution of the policy of clearing the country." In his reply Chamberlain states that it was the Boers who forced the policy on them and the camps are actually an effort to minimize the horrors of war. The Opposition motion is defeated by 230 votes to 119.
24 March, Mr. H. R. Fox, Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society, after being made aware by Emily Hobhouse of the fact that the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) ignored the plight of Blacks in concentration camps, writes to Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary. He requests that such inquiries should be initiated by the British government "as should secure for the natives who are detained no less care and humanity than are now prescribed for the Boer refugees". On this request Sir Montagu Ommaney, the permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, is later to record that it seems undesirable "to trouble Lord Milner... merely to satisfy this busybody".
9 April, Emily Hobhouse's 42nd birthday.
30 April, The officially reported population of the White camps is 112,733 and the death toll for April stands at 298.
15 May, Sixty Republican delegates take part in a three-day conference in Vereeniging, debating whether to continue fighting or end the war. Complicated negotiations continue between Boer delegates among themselves and British delegates, also with different opinions, up to the end of May. During the peace negotiations Acting President Schalk Burger of the ZAR (South African Republic/Transvaal) says: "... it is my holy duty to stop this struggle now that it has become hopeless... and not to allow the innocent, helpless women and children to remain any longer in their misery in the plaque-stricken concentration camps..."
31 May, The officially reported camp population of the White camps is 116,572 and the deaths for May are 196.The final peace conditions, comprised in The Treaty of Vereeniging, is signed by representatives of both the Burghers and the British at 23:05 at Melrose House, Pretoria. After this, inhabitants of the concentration camps were gradually released as burghers came to claim the members of their families still living, while other left on their own to return to their burnt-down houses and farms. 27,927 persons died in the camps, 1,676 men, mainly those too old to be on commando, 4,177 women and 22,074 children under sixteen.” 
* Role of Black People In The South African War *
“The South African War of 1899-1902 was essentially a 'White mans' war, fought to determine which white authority had real power in South Africa but other populations groups like the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazis and Basotho and Sothos were also involved in the war. Although there was an unwritten agreement between the Boers and the British that Blacks would not be armed in the war, neither side adhered to this agreement.
It should be mentioned that the South African war was fought in a region where four fifths of the population was Black and that the conflict was over land that belonged to the various African tribes
Most politically conscious Blacks, Coloureds and Indian groups in South Africa believed that the defeat of the Boers would mean more political, educational and commercial opportunities would be afforded to them. They hoped that the Cape franchise would be extended throughout South Africa. The Indian community was encouraged by MK Gandhi to show loyalty to Britain if they wished to achieve their freedom. Thus, the Ambulance Corps was formed in Natal, was and became active on the British side during the early months of the war.
Reasons For Not Wanting To Arm The Black Population
The British believed that the Boers would be easily defeated and that any military collaboration from groups of Blacks would not be decisive in winning the war. In addition, it was commonly believed by both sides that the military methods of the Black people were more brutal than those of white people and that white women and children would not be shown mercy by Black soldiers. Another reason for not wanting Blacks to be given arms was the fear that this would increase the possibility of Black resistance to white control in the future. However, as soon as the war started, it was evident that Black people played an indispensable part in military operations.
On The Boer Side
Republican law forbade the carrying of arms by Blacks, but because many Boers were pressed into service, they allowed their servants to carry arms. Black cooperation in the war enabled a larger number of whites to serve actively in war operations on both sides.
According to the law of the Republics, all males between the ages of 16 and 60 were eligible for war service, and although the law did not refer to race it was generally applied to the white population only. Provision was made for coloureds to be called up, but in most cases, this meant an employee going along with his employer.
On the Boer side, Black people assisted at various levels. Most were assigned to the roles of wagon drivers or servants. Blacks were also used to stand in on farms of Boers who were commandeered to the war. Many were used as "agterryers" who would tend to chores at the camp or see to the horses. On the battlefield, the 'agterryer' would carry spare ammunition and spare rifles and even load up the rifles for his master.
The Tswana people were conscripted by the Boers to help maintain the siege of Mafeking. Many armed Blacks and Coloureds also assisted during the siege of Ladysmith. Refusal on the part of the Blacks to serve could see them punished with a fine of 5 pounds, imprisonment or 25 lashes. Although there is no accurate figure, some sources say that at least 10,000 Black men accompanied the Boer Commandos and, as a rule, labour conscripted by the Boers received no pay.
On The British Side
It was estimated that about 100,000 Blacks were employed by the British army and more than 10, 000 received arms. The British army used Black workers for carrying dispatches and messages, to take care of their horses and assist in the veterinary department. They also were used to do sanitary work and construct forts. Armed Black sentries guarded blockhouses and were used to raid Boer farms for cattle.
In 1900, 7,000 Blacks took part in General French's march to Machadodorp in the Transvaal. Over 5,000 others, mostly transport drivers and leaders, were employed by Lord Roberts' columns on his journey to Bloemfontein.
The British army also provided the Kgatla chief and Kgama of the Ngwato with 6,000 and 3,000 rounds of ammunition respectively, to defend the Bechuanaland Protectorate. In the Transkei, 4,000 Mfengu and Thembu levies were assembled to ward off any attempt at invasion by the Boers or to suppress any Boer uprising. The Boer occupation of Kuruman was initially resisted by a small force of local Coloured and white policemen. In Mafeking, over 500 Blacks took part in the town's defense during the siege and 200 more enrolled as special constables in Hershel to discourage incursions into the area by Free State commandos.
In Natal, the Zulu Native Police were armed with rifles and a number of them were mounted. However, after the war, Blacks who had served as scouts or fighting men were denied campaign medals which they were entitled to.
It is apparent that both sides would deny that armed Blacks served with them, each accusing the other of doing so, However, in April 1902, after much pressure, Lord Kitchener finally admitted that some 10,053 Black men were issued with arms by the British army. The Boers cited the arming of Blacks on the side of the British as one of the major reasons for discontinuing the war.
Reasons For Blacks Entering The War
Black poverty was a major spur to enlistment in the British army. For many Black families, the war had disastrous consequences as it disrupted the migrant labour system, a development that deprived them of an income used to buy grain, and pay taxes and rent. Also, the return of thousands of men to the rural areas increased the pressure on food resources in some already overpopulated districts of Natal, Zululand and the Transkei. In the Transvaal and Orange Free State Britain's scorched earth campaign destroyed the livelihoods of many thousands of Blacks. In 1901, separate concentration camps for Blacks were established to accommodate those who were uprooted from the land. Most of these were from Boer farms, where they resided as labour tenants, cash tenants or share-croppers. Those who entered the camps had very little or no food. Only in exceptional cases were free rations provided, thus most Black men had no choice but to accept work in the British army in order to survive. By April 1902, over 13,000 refugees were found to be working in the British army. As a result, the camps were mainly filled with women, children, the elderly and the infirm. The British recruited on the basis of a three-month contract with a monthly wages of 40 to 50 shillings. A major consolation to Blacks entering the British army was the fact that rations were usually included.
Many Black people were held in concentration camps around the country. The British created camps for Blacks from the start of the war. Entire townships and even mission stations were transferred into concentration camps. The men were forced into labour service and by the end of the war there were some 115,000 Blacks in 66 camps around the country.
Maintenance spent on white camps were a lot higher than that spent on the Black camps due to the fact that Blacks had to build their own huts and even encouraged to grow their own food. Less than a third of Black interns were provided with rations. Black people were practically being starved to death in these camps.
Blacks in the concentration camps were not given adequate food and did not have proper medical care, which resulted in many deaths. Those in employment were forced to pay for their food. Water supplies were often contaminated, and the conditions under which they were housed were appalling, resulting in thousands of deaths from dysentery, typhoid and diarrhea. The death toll at the end of the war in the Black concentration camps was recorded as 14,154, but it is believed that the actual number was considerably higher. Most of the fatalities occurred amongst the children.
After the War
After the war the Black camps remained under military control even after the white camps had been transferred to civilian control.” 
* Black Concentration Camps During The Anglo-Boer War 2, 1900-1902 *
“While the two main forces in the Anglo-Boer War 2 were White, it was not an exclusively White war. At least 15,000 Blacks were used as combatants by the British, especially as scouts to track down Boer commandos and armed block house guards, but also in non-combatant roles by both British and Boer forces as wagon drivers, etc. They suffered severely as result of the British "scorched earth policy" during which those who lived on White farms were removed to concentration camps, as were the women and children of their White employers. The rural economy was destroyed as crops were ravaged and livestock butchered. Displaced and captured civilians were forced into 'refugee camps', a total misnomer, because more often they did not seek refuge in the camps, but were rounded up by the British forces and forced into the camps, which soon became known as 'concentration camps'. Field-Marshal Lord Roberts had an ulterior motive in putting Blacks into camps, namely to make them work, either to grow crops for the troops or to dig trenches, be wagon drivers or work as miners once the gold mines became partly operational again. They did not receive rations, hardly any medical support or shelter and were expected to grow their own crops. The able-bodied who could work, could exchange labour for food or buy mealie meal at a cheaper price. The British along racial lines separated the White and Black camps. The inmates of the Black camps, situated along railway lines and on the border, became the eyes and ears of the British army. They formed an early warning system against Boer attacks on the British military's primary logistic artery - the railway lines and acted as scouts for British forces. This strategy alienated Whites and Blacks from each other by furthering distrust between the two population groups and was detrimental to racial harmony in South Africa after the war.
Concentration Camps for Blacks
Transvaal Colony: Balmoral; Belfast; Heidelberg; Irene; Klerksdorp; Krugersdorp; Middelburg; Standerton; Vereeniging; Volksrust; Bantjes; Bezuidenhout's Valley; Boksburg; Brakpan; Bronkhorstspruit; Brugspruit; Elandshoek; Elandsrivier; Frederikstad; Greylingstad; Groot Olifants River; Koekemoer; Klipriviersberg; Klip River; Meyerton; Natalspruit; Nelspruit; Nigel; Olifantsfontein; Paardekop; Platrand; Rietfontein West; Springs; Van der Merwe Station; Witkop; Wilgerivier
Free State: Allemans Siding; America Siding; Boschrand; Eensgevonden; Geneva; Harrismith; Heilbron; Holfontein; Honingspruit; Houtenbek; Koppies; Rooiwal; Rietspruit; Smaldeel; Serfontein; Thaba 'Nchu; Taaibosch; Vet River; Virginia; Ventersburg Road; Vredefort Road; Welgelegen; Winburg; Wolwehoek.
Cape Colony and British Bechuanaland (Administered by the O. R. C): Kimberley; Orange River; Taungs; Dryharts.
21 December, The inaugural meeting of the Burgher Peace Committee is held in Pretoria. Lord Kitchener discusses his concentration camp policies with this group, mentioning that stock and Blacks would also be brought in.
22 January, At the Boschhoek concentration camp for Blacks, about 1,700 inmates, mostly Basuto, hold a protest meeting. They state that when they have been brought into the camps they have been promised that they will be paid for all their stock taken by the British, for all grain destroyed and that they will be fed and looked after. They are also unhappy because "... they receive no rations while the Boers who are the cause of the war are fed in the refugee camps free of charge... they who are the 'Children of the Government' are made to pay'."
23 January, Two inmates of the Heuningspruit concentration camp for Blacks, Daniel Marome and G. J. Oliphant, complain to Goold-Adams: "We have to work hard all day long but the only food we can get is mealies and mealie meal, and this is not supplied to us free, but we have to purchase same with our own money. We humbly request Your Honour to do something for us otherwise we will all perish of hunger for we have no money to keep on buying food."
30 January, The population for the Black camps is 85,114 and 2,312 deaths are recorded for the month.
31 January, The population of Blacks in camps is 75,950 and 1,327 deaths are recorded for the month.
4 May, The first gold mine on the Rand re-opens, after all mines have been closed in October 1899, a few days before war was declared. The Minister for Native Affairs permits the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association to recruit mining labour from the concentration camps. Simultaneous to the resumption of economic activity is the establishment of the Department of Native Refugees (DNR) under direct British military command.
15 June, The British authority establishes the Department of Native Refugees in the 'Transvaal Colony'. The Transvaal camps are brought under the control of the newly formed department.
30 June, The official camp population of the Black camps is 32,360 and the deaths are not shown in official returns.
31 July, The camp population in Black camps is 37,472 and 256 have died in the Free State camps during the month, while in Transvaal deaths are not yet recorded.
31 August, The Free State camps are also brought under the control of the Department of Native Refugees.
31 August, The camp population in Black camps is 53,154 and 575 deaths are recorded for August.
30 September, The camp population in Black camps is 65,589 and 728 deaths are recorded.
31 December, The population in Black camps is 89,407, while the deaths peak during December at 2,831.
18 January, Major De Lorbiniere, in charge of the Native Refugee Department, writes that supplying workers to the army 'formed the basis on which our system was founded'. The department's mobilization of Black labour is very successful - not really surprising, considering the incentives offered: those in service and their families can buy mealies at a halfpence per lb., while those who do not accept employment have to pay double or more per bag. By the end of 1901, when the death rate peaks, more than 6,000 accept employment in the British army. This figure grows to more than 13,000 in April 1902. The labourers are largely housed in Black concentration camps, situated close to military garrisons and towns, mines and railways sidings.
31 January, The population of Black camps is 97,986 and 2,534 deaths are recorded.
28 February, The population in Black camps is 101,344 and 1,466 deaths are recorded.
24 March, Mr. H. R. Fox, Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society, after being made aware by Emily Hobhouse of the fact that the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) ignored the plight of Blacks in the concentration camps, writes to Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary. He requests that such inquiries should be instituted by the British government "as should secure for the natives who are detained no less care and humanity than are now prescribed for the Boer refugees". On this request Sir Montagu Ommaney, the permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, is later to record that it seems undesirable "to trouble Lord Milner... merely to satisfy this busybody".
31 March, The population of the Black camps is 101,299 and 972 deaths are recorded.
30 April, The population of the Black camps is 108,386 and 630 deaths are recorded.
31 May, Black concentration camp population in the 66 Black camps (some sources give the number as 80) reach 115,700, of which 60,000 are in the Free State camps and 55,969 in the ZAR (South African Republic/Transvaal). 523 deaths are recorded for the month.
31 May, The final peace conditions, The Treaty of Vereeniging, is signed by both the Burghers and the British at 23:05 at Melrose House, Pretoria.
The total Black deaths in camps are officially calculated at a minimum of 14,154 (more than 1 in 10), though G. Benneyworth estimates it as at least 20,000, after examining actual graveyards. According to him incomplete and in many cases non-existent British records and the fact that many civilians died outside of the camps, caused the final death toll to be higher. The average official death rate, caused by medical neglect, exposure, infectious diseases and malnutrition inside the camps was 350 per thousand per annum, peaking at 436 per thousand per annum in certain Free State camps. Eighty-one percent of the fatalities were children.” 
What do we take away from this brief examination? We’ll, we could turn on our TVs and watch any newscast and pretty much lay this story on top as a template. Successful strategies are rarely abandoned and human nature changes at a glacial pace. Both are free to practice evil. Those in the minority who employ the former are hereditary masters of rhetoric, spin, deception, delusion, sleight of hand and they cover their rottenness with refinement. The majority turn on their own, acquiesce or deny. Harming women, children, the elderly, sacrificing generations, destroying property, destroying food, persecuting peaceful self-sufficiency while rewarding dependence and parasitism can never be made right. It can, however sadly, thrive and endure.
Sources & References:
 https://www.kitchenerpost.ca/news-story/4605027-first-world-war-ripped-away-canada-s-age-of-innocence-/- Luisa D’Amato
 http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/women-children-white-concentration-camps-during-anglo-boer-war-1900-1902 -This article was produced for South African History Online on 20-Mar-2011 -Last updated: 06-Dec-2016 and referenced:
Cloete, P. G. ( 2000). The Anglo-Boer War: a chronology, Pretoria: Lapa.
Potgieter, D. J. et al. (eds)(1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Cape Town: NASOU, v. 3, p. 378-380.
Potgieter, D. J. et al. (eds)(1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Cape Town: NASOU, v. 5, p. 544-546.
 http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/role-black-people-south-african-war -This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Mar-2011 -Last updated: 03-Oct-2016
 http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/black-concentration-camps-during-anglo-boer-war-2-1900-1902 -This article was produced for South African History Online on 20-Mar-2011 -Last updated: 19-Sep-2016
Photo -Joyce Blyth
Someone once said that it was better to tell a massive lie rather than a small one because the former stood a greater chance of being believed due to its sheer audacity. The Bible clearly tells us not to engage in this practice. There are many varieties of lies ranging from little white lies to half truths to omissions to obfuscations and onto fabrications. They are classified from black to white through all the shades of gray according to their perceived justifications. If they prevent human discomfort they are placed on the white side.
This classification structure is very logical and from it we can become very creative as we race back and forth from the public stage to our private dressing rooms. We are generally more inventive and lenient with ourselves than we are with any others, including our relatives and friends. It is an accepted practice to lie to children the world over under the twin justifications of protecting and entertaining them. Part of the behavior expressed by adolescents as they make the transition from childhood into adulthood is a quite natural rage against the lies that have been told to them. Interestingly, at this point it matters not to the young adult which shade of gray the lie is painted in. In this phase of life, there is only black and white, true and false.
Not very sophisticated or conducive to a busy social life but nonetheless pure and purely human, I might add. Our modern, civilized culture in particular exacerbates this phenomenon when held up against other more ancient cultures as well as when compared to the state of mind of young people who enjoyed privileged educations at private institutions. With an eye to the future and to providing new captains for steering the ships of state along desired courses, they are taught very different philosophies with which to complement a less propagandized sugar free curriculum, especially as regards to history.
Each generation is a living breathing chance for mankind to reach for far more practical goals than orbiting hotels, mining asteroids and devising new taxes. Each generation instead is either thrust out into the maelstrom or coddled in the basement if they have somehow escaped being diagnosed with ADD, hyperactivity, autism or depression and have managed to make some noise.
When punk music washed ashore from England onto North American shores, I hated it. In my opinion you could have used it to churn butter or strip paint. At that time, I knew not of the de-industrialization purposely carried out on that island or of Prime Minister Thatcher’s announcement in a speech that there would be an entire generation of Britons who would never see gainful employment in their lifetime. Pub hours were extended, the heroin taps were turned on and rich people chuckled about how you have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelet.
The first few tattooed and pierced individuals I worked with in the Post Office initially repulsed me. As their numbers grew and I worked more closely with them, I came to learn that they were, in general, a very conservative bunch of people. They were very spiritually oriented and had a well defined sense of morals. At first this perplexed me until I realized that the outward appearance was a statement which served the dual purposes of protection and identification. Protection from the many evils they perceived in the world they had been handed and identification for recognition by others of that generation. A tribe, if you will.
I have noticed that this effect can be seen around the world, regardless of race or indigenous culture as places are literally hammered into the Globalist Utopia. This is being done in such a way that it appears to be a Western or a Capitalist or a Socialist trend. The keystone is the adoption of the central banking system and this is furthered strengthened by the signing of international treaties which bind large populations to vague rules enforced by non-resident tribunals. Sovereignty falls on the field of progress just after truth, while local privilege seeks safety by signing up tax payers as collateral to guarantee World Bank and IMF development loans. All the nice bits such as natural treasures, islands, nature preserves and ancient heritage sites are swapped for temporary debt forgiveness. In this way, corporations will have less interference when extracting resources in the future and something to show the world that they have protected by putting a fence around it, installing a zip-line, a tourist center and selling tickets.
If we look at Britain through the centuries and compare other countries to this model, we may get a foreshadowing of things to come if there is no change in current trends. Elderly people freezing in their own houses, young people ravaged by drugs, mass unemployment and the whole shebang caught on zillions of CCTV cameras. This is also true when looking at the symptoms manifested by the popular culture of such unfortunate places, such as dissonant music accompanied by agonizing visceral poetry screamed at unintelligible volumes. We seem to always fall short of a diagnosis or wait to be provided one by a face we trust from our local news outfit.
I saw on my local news just yesterday that there were only fourteen million households in Canada. I had recently heard on the same media that the average Canadian citizen had not enough savings to see them through any major unforeseen expense without resorting to borrowing, if they were able to qualify. It always strikes me as absurd that anyone should go homeless or penniless due to the servicing of a monster mortgage in such a vast land of resources. I was struck by the same incongruity in parts of Asia where people starve in lands that enjoy three growing seasons per year. Here at home, we are reluctant to provide door to door mail delivery for a population that would fit inside California.
I calculated the other day that I will have to draw my pension for twenty-five years in order to have been paid the same amount as the first years salary of the CEO of my former employer, Canada Post. I’m one of the lucky ones. Just as the Red Coats, Highlanders, Gurkhas and Fusiliers left their dead across the world, the American Forces were handed a false global burden after hearing rousing speeches by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and they have added immensely to the body count. In both cases, lines were drawn and redrawn on maps with little regard to the humans contained in those strategic containers. Many times over the number of the uniformed dead, civilians and non-combatants populated mass graves. Waves of displaced homeless refugees came to the shores of Britain and America.
They in turn sacrificed their sons and daughters for yet other military adventures.
The charade can be easily seen in a study of the Korean Conflict or Police Action as it was called. These new euphemisms for war seem to have stuck with us. The back and forth from Seoul to Pyongyang and on to the Yalu after the Inchon Landing and then the scorched earth retreat back to Seoul and the subsequent firing of the 33rd degree Mason, MacArthur by the President can tell us much.
MacArthur, like Patton before him recognized a future adversary and wished as a military strategist to engage that enemy at a time and place of his own choosing. Both men were stopped in their tracks by Presidents whose loyalties slunk in the shadows. During the entire conflict, the orders came from a United Nations where Americans paid for everything and Russian Communists were aware of each new objective prior to its execution on the ground. Cities and towns were razed to the ground, waves of innocents were made homeless, brave men sacrificed their lives for naught and lucky contractors got to rebuild the mess. A bogeyman was left in place to be used as an excuse for future adventures in the region. It is a modus operandi that is clearly visible throughout history down to the present day.
It may well be that we now stand on the verge of another chapter in this ancient game. The race to privatization and monopoly affects the defense, security and detention industries just as it has the power, transportation and agricultural industries. Atlas may shrug and Sisyphus may take a nap while migrants roll his stone. Time will tell. Meanwhile we must be aware that precisely those things we do not like to hear or see, such as that awful racket coming from the independent music scene can be helpful in diagnosing some of the ills of society that certainly should be addressed. Or we could watch the brand new season of Mary Kills People while our children Tweet themselves into a coma.
One of the barriers to remediation of many of the problems we face is the fact that the truth, particularly in regards to history and politics, is so outrageous that it would scarcely be believed if its pieces were dragged from their shallow graves and laid out in the Main Streets of the world. The opposite intentioned Freedom Of Information Acts of the world ensure that at least two generations of publicly educated individuals grow up thinking the wrong things before a tiny percentage ever bother to read the declassified bits that have escaped the censor’s Magic Marker. This keeps everyone quite busy jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, carrying grudges, running interference, seeking shelter, nursing hangovers, killing time and fishing for compliments. Me and you included.
Sometimes we can easily tell when someone is lying to us. If it is a well intentioned person having a laugh at our expense, they always give visible clues, wait for the light bulb to go off in our head and give up the ghost if we don’t catch on. Like the time I asked a gas station attendant in Nanaimo how to fish for abalone. I had just moved there from North Vancouver to work at the Keg N’ Cleaver Restaurant. I had my eighteen year old wife from Nevada, my old Beaumont Acadian and not much else but a desire to pursue success and happiness.
I think it was my accent that triggered the mischief. The young man was about my age, twenty that is. As he pumped the gas, he told of a time honored complex ritual involving Honda generators, miles of extension cords, moonless nights during neap tides and several pit lamps. I followed along the instructions so far, he couldn’t stand it and confessed the ruse. The upside was that he told me of a good spot off Hammond Bay Rd. to fish for oysters. I used to keep a one gallon glass jar full of shucked meat and produced enough shell to pave the drive where I parked the Beaumont.
These oysters, unlike the small ones in the Gulf of Mexico on the Texas coast, were simply lying on a sandy bottom attached to nothing. Texas oysters had to be dredged up by strong metal hooks to break them off their ancient beds. Also, unlike Texas where you wouldn’t have been allowed to cross a waterfront homeowners property to access the beach without risking some buckshot, we could stroll right down the side yard of any house to get to the spot. I have always appreciated Queen E. for this and I hear from my cousin that it is much the same in Sweden under their Royal Everyman’s law.
I took friends and family from Vancouver and some guests from Texas out there many times. We would float a large plastic beer cooler out in front of us and dive for the treats. Each time we popped up we had one monster mollusk in each hand to plop in the box. Those evenings would be spent shucking in the back yard, reminiscing, slapping skeeters and planning the gumbo. I found out that they were very good with eggs in a local dish called “Hangtown Fry.”
Sometimes it is nearly impossible to believe the truth. This can be because we may have never confronted a particular event ourselves. When my young wife phoned me at work to tell me that objects were flying around our rented old house, I didn’t believe it. I rushed home due to her hysteria and saw what she had seen and still didn’t believe my own eyes. In due time, I had to make a bigger space in my awareness and accept something new. I have told the true story of that haunted house and it will air in two parts one day soon under the title of “Ghost Story.” Our story even made it into the Nanaimo Free Press.
I was able to experience a similar occurrence of disbelief in the face of truth from the opposite vantage before leaving Nanaimo. It happened that I became temporarily unemployed while in the ghost house and I had heard through the grapevine that I might have a chance of getting a gig as a deck-hand on the Gabriola Ferry. This is a small ferry that runs back and forth from Nanaimo to one of the many Gulf Islands off the B. C. coastline. My father had gone to sea in Montreal at age fifteen and my mother’s father had gone to sea at the age of fourteen. I figured, being twenty should make it even easier.
I was armed with good intel that the Captains were suitably impressed if you came on board during a run dressed for the job and eager to show off some knot tying skills. Back then I was pretty good with clove hitches, camel hitches, bowlines and such. I had been bringing my wife to work with me prior to getting unemployed due to her inability to remain alone in the spirit-ridden house. If you are wondering why we didn’t simply move, it was because we had innocently signed a six month lease that stipulated we were to pay in full for each month early we would have vacated the premises. It was money we didn’t have and thus not an option. The landlord turned out later to confess full knowledge of a murder that had occurred there but had purposely chosen to omit this information when I signed the lease. Conversely, when I moved out six harrowing months later, he used the notoriety of the place generated by the newspaper article to rent the house quickly and easily for double the amount I had paid.
The day I set off to apply for the ferry deck-hand job, I had my wife along as usual. I pulled up to the grocery store on Front St. near the terminal, told her to wait patiently and that I would bag this job. I reckoned I would be less than ten minutes. After all, the ferry was loading, it only held a few cars and Captains were good judges of men. She wished me luck and adjusted her sun-glasses to the glare reflecting off the water.
I strode aboard and quickly found the Pilothouse after negotiating a slew of bicycles, tripods, cases, back-packs and other equipment which clogged up the deck. It was as if a group was getting ready to climb Mt. Everest judging by their gear. I glanced at the deck-hand on my way up, certain that I could do what he was doing. As I finished my introduction, hand-shaking and offer of services for a position that the company had not advertised for, the Captain tooted his horn and threw her into Back Slow. I made a tiny bit of a face and he smiled and said that it couldn’t hurt to go along one run although he didn’t know of any openings for deck-hands in the foreseeable future. I figured it was a test and held my mud.
The run to Gabriola doesn’t take too long and I knew I could smooth things out with my wife when I got back. Truly, I was Shanghaied. I would have thought the Captain would have had the decency to notify me before casting off. Anyway, the round trip was about six nautical miles and would take under an hour. I chatted a bit longer with the Captain, not showing any concern or distress. After a suitable time, I went down to talk to the deck-hand. As the Gabriola dock hove into view, I felt that wonderful ancient feeling all mariners experience when coming ashore.
The deck-hand sprang into disciplined action and soon had the few vehicles safely on their way like so many geese shooed away from a tree stump. What happened next took a few moments to implant in my brain and a few more moments to process as being real. A man and woman rode their bikes off with three children in tow.
Halfway across the gangway, the mother stopped, turned, held up a small packet and yelled, “Who wants gum?”
“I do, I do.” came an answering chorus from the youngsters and father.
It was only then I turned and saw that all the equipment I had seen earlier was set up in place behind us and a film crew was busy with the shoot. The family began to chew their Trident Sugarless Gum and giggle as they rode off the ramp and a hundred yards down the bend in the island road. I looked at the deck-hand, the film crew and the Captain grinning in his cockpit.
“Are you shitting me?” I inquired of the deck-hand.
“I shit you not,” he replied and handed me a pack of gum.
I knew I’d need it as evidence, so I didn’t chew any. I let the novelty of the situation become comfortable on the sofa in my mind and leaned against a rail to watch the cyclist come back aboard. They were swiftly stowed away and in short order we cast off. It couldn’t have been too soon for me. Due to the situation at home, my wife’s nerves were not the best. Like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wandering the Sahara after crashing his mail plane en route from Paris to Saigon, I was suffering agonies at having inadvertently caused her to worry. While I made peace with this, the ferry Captain threw her into slow Ahead and took another run at the dock. As I stood gripping a stanchion, we docked again and repeated the entire scene. I heaved a sigh of heavy relief when we were again moving astern and I felt that wonderful feeling all mariners experience when watching the land slip away.
The third time we docked I turned to the deck-hand, “Are you shitting me?”
“I shit you not,” was his calm measured reply.
The fourth time, I checked my tobacco pouch to make sure I could pass the balance of the day without mooching. By the fifth landing, I was considering asking the camera crew if I could get any cash for appearing in a cameo role. By the sixth and final repeat, I had decided I didn’t like the film business, I hated gum and I sorely missed my little wife. I tried to concoct something more believable than the truth on the way back to Nanaimo. I couldn’t. When I got to the car, in the waning light of a late afternoon, I told my poor dehydrated woman the truth and I even showed her the gum. I apologized profusely but made it clear that I admitted no guilt under the peculiar circumstances. As a back up, I added that I had been told that the commercial would be aired in six months and that then she’d see for herself.
She pointed her face to me, tilted up her sun-glasses, tossed her corn-silk hair and said, “Are you shitting me, Michael?”
“I shit you not,” I replied with the conviction of a Southern Baptist preacher.
We never did see that commercial. We didn’t own a TV during our short marriage. I honestly don’t know if my ex-wife ever believed the truth of that afternoon. Yet, there it lay like a grease stripe atop a cat’s head after it has crawled under a differential.
Today we are affected by many new and numinous maladies. When diagnosed by our medical professionals, they are merely described in Greek and Latin. The underlying causes are frequently admitted by Doctors to be unknown as are the cures. Personally, I figure this is environmental and is due to many the irritants, additives, pollutants and altered substances we ingest and absorb.
Whether a person is looking at social, political or medical issues, it is important to describe what is observed like the emo music lyrics referred to in the beginning of this essay. A description is a starting point but far from a cure. Anything administered to alleviate symptoms does not provide a lasting solution either. I am sure that cures and prevention are very difficult to attain but I am equally convinced that these are the only destinations worth aiming at regardless of where we end up.
I have found that sometimes lasting solutions to problems and their proper diagnosis can come from very unlikely sources. I experienced this last month. I had been feeling very run down, lethargic, itchy and sore for some time. The TV medical experts spewed out an endless barrage of maybes to be considered and although I don’t watch it much, it is on in my house, it is Winter and I can hear it. I puzzled over the way I felt for a considerable stretch of time. Then I paid attention to a silent partner, my cat, Mr. Dusty Bones, Esq.
He had taken to sitting on a high perch in the bedroom and staring like a sphinx at a small ventilation hole near the ceiling that most trailers have in the living room and the main bedroom. He continued this behavior for some days and nights. I was really getting fed up with feeling off kilter. So much so, I even contemplated heavy physical exercise. One morning, I woke and saw him there like a Royal Bank granite lion staring at the vent which had been cleverly blocked up with Styrofoam in order to save on the last occupant’s heating bill. I stood on a chair and smelled it immediately. Mold.
When I pried out the foam, I was treated to the sight of several paper wasp nests which had been constructed from the outside through a hole in the screen. They had subsequently become wet from condensation due to the blockage of the foam and then had molded. This was the mysterious cause of all those symptoms. I had experienced something similar in Vancouver at an apartment I rented. I removed both foam blocks, cleaned out the molded wasp nests, scoured the aluminum sills till they shone, disinfected them and replaced the screens behind the small glass louvers. All while my cat watched silently and knowingly. We cracked them open a wee bit to let the air circulate and carry away moisture and one by one all the symptoms disappeared. Maybe one day the world will learn something vitally useful from those who don’t communicate in the usual manner. Whether they stand on four legs or on two.
There are many kinds of snow. I have heard that there are dozens of words in Inuit languages to describe the many different kinds of snow and ice with incredible nuance and accuracy and this seems altogether reasonable for a people who spend most of their time in such an environment. Likely, there is a corresponding wealth of words describing sand, dunes and wind in the desert regions of the world.
This Texan knows only two kinds of snow. Wet snow or cole snass as it is referred to in Chinook jargon and the lovely delicate powder which travels great distances sideways before ever falling, which we have here in Lillooet. It can be so fine that you have to look at a light pole and block the bulb with your hand to be able to discern the crystalline shower which is revealed in the aurora.
Wet snow accumulates directly in a place like Vancouver, while here in the canyon, it drifts in the wind until anchored by an obstruction. When I first came to North Vancouver as a boy from Louisiana, it was December and the snow was a couple of feet deep in Lynn Valley. The chain link fence surrounding the elementary school was completely hidden under the combination of drifted and plowed snow. I remember the thrill of walking up and over the top with my sister in our first pairs of wellies from Zellers.
I got acquainted with shoveling snow that first winter due to having lost one too many snooker games with my apartment manager’s son. In those years, the winters were fairly consistent and by the time I reached high school and began my drivers training, there were components of that instruction specific to winter driving. A nice man would come to the front of the old Argyle Senior Secondary right after school in a small car with two steering wheels and pick up the waiting student.
My Dad had recently issued orders for me to take that driver training and to buy a vehicle from the proceeds of my night job. According to him, I was to be fully ready to leave home by the age of seventeen. While I was growing up he used to ask me from time to time how old I was and when I answered, he would subtract my answer from seventeen and say, “Well there’s only that many years left until I want you out of here.” I never figured out the significance of that number other than it was two years later than he had gone out into the wide world.
The Driving School instructor was a jolly confidant middle aged man and a very different teacher than my father. The first thing he showed me in order to relax the situation was that if I screwed up, he could steer and brake for both of us. This made me immensely grateful and he demonstrated this a few times as we cruised out of the school zone. We pulled over again and he briefed me like a pilot on the function of all the controls of that particular vehicle. When he figured I had absorbed as much as I could for the moment he did something unexpected. He told me a joke.
“A man from the Government had to go to River View Asylum to assess the progress they were making with their patients. He was to file a report which would recommend either increased funding or closure of the facility. He arrived, grabbed his briefcase and entered the massive complex. There were a few inmates outdoors on the green sward that looked over the Fraser River, apparently tending some scraggly sheep which bleated as he passed indoors."
"The Director was expecting him and greeted him before he had walked ten feet toward the reception desk. The tall balding man pumped his hand, offered him coffee and grinned like a used truck salesman. The old battleship linoleum floor had a hard wax shine that would have done justice to a bowling alley and everywhere staff members in a variety of color coded uniforms strode to and fro with the purpose of pastel Corporals delivering messages to the War Room."
"Suitably impressed, the Government man smiled and accepted the offer of refreshments. He was escorted into a spotless cafeteria and given a piping hot mug of coffee and a fresh bran muffin studded with fat juicy raisins. While he sipped and chewed, the Director fleshed out the work carried on at his facility with special attention given to his new initiatives that had yielded such promising results after decades of failure. It was these new initiatives that had prompted the call for increased funding and the subsequent assessment."
"After a chat, the Government man smiled and said that he would like to have a tour of the different floors and see the inmates and patients for himself. The Director said he would be delighted and proud to accommodate that request. First they walked down the hall of a lower floor. All the doors were open and there was a happy racket coming from a set of double doors. They approached and the Director pushed the panic bars open to reveal a gleaming gymnasium where about twenty adults both male and female were having games of indoor soccer. They were so obviously having a wonderful time that they didn’t even look up."
"Next, they went to the second floor where people suffering from slightly more serious forms of mental illness were housed. This hall had several medium sized rooms at the end and as they peeked into each one, it was revealed that these inmates were busily and happily engaged in playing pool, table tennis, shuffleboard and Foosball. They looked up briefly at the two gentlemen and grinned."
"At the next floor up, the room doors had little windows with sliding shutters and the Director had to use a special card to activate the elevator. They strolled down to a series of smaller rooms and peered into each one. There were people playing cribbage, chess and other board games. Most of these were elderly and the Director elaborated on his vision of using physical activity, sports and such as the way to rehabilitate the psyches of the unfortunates."
"With only one floor left to tour, the Government man followed his guide up the elevator, almost like an old friend, such was the respect that he had developed for the brilliant showing. He was already composing a favorable report in his head when the Director broke into his thoughts. He explained that they were now on the maximum security floor with the most dangerous and difficult population of the facility. With a firm squeeze on the shoulder, he steered the Government man into the corridor and added that he would likely be surprised how well his strategy had worked even there on that floor."
"The first inmate they encountered stood a few yards away down the hall and was miming the action of a man serving a tennis ball. The Government man asked if he could speak to the inmate. With no hesitation, the Director said, “Yes by all means.”
“Hi,” said the Government man. “What are you doing today?”
“Oh Hi,” said a frail old man in a stained blue bathrobe. “I’m on the sports therapy program. I’m practicing my serve. Soon I’ll go down to the lower floors and get to play in the gym. When I get out of here next year, I want to go on to be a tennis pro.”
“That’s incred…, I mean that’s wonderful!” gushed the Government man and with a grin he continued down the hall to another figure. It was a middle-aged woman. She was dressed in faded pink pajamas and fuzzy slippers. She appeared to be swinging an invisible stick and had on a huge visor cap and plastic sunglasses."
“Hi Ann, why don’t you tell our guest what you are doing today,” said the Director.
“Hi you guys. I am getting out of here in the Fall. Right now I am on the sports rehabilitation program and I am practicing my golf swing. When I go home, I am going pro, what ever it takes.”
"The Director thanked her and smiled at the Government man. His guest smiled back and said he had seen quite enough. As they strolled down toward the elevator, the Government man wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and intimated to the Director that this tour had indeed changed his viewpoint on mental illness and his perspective as to its treatment. He said that he had been deeply touched in an almost religious sense. Arms thrown over each others shoulders, they walked down the tiles like brothers on a fishing pier. Over by the elevator, silhouetted by the light from a small reinforced window they saw another man."
"He was perhaps thirty, of average height and barefooted. He was wearing a pale green hospital gown turned backwards. He spun around to face the two approaching men but kept his attention focused on his own hands. He gripped a peanut, still in its shell, between his thumbs and forefingers. He held it tightly onto the tip of a massive erection."
"The Director let out a small groan when the Government man broke stride and approached the figure alone."
“Hi, friend. Can you tell me what you are doing today?”
“Sure can, dude. I’m fucking nuts and I’m going to be here for a long, long time.”
When we finished laughing, we took off and began driving lesson number one. Over the course of that Winter, my instructor took me up to the parking lot of Mt. Seymour to learn skid control and other techniques for Winter driving. He would barrel us into a skid and let me pull us out of it.
I can still hear him shouting, “Steer into it Mike, don’t hit the binders or we’re gonna be here for a long, long time.”
Just as my father had excelled at throwing mountains in my path and then ordering me to go up the slippery roads, my driving instructor showed me how to regain and to maintain control while navigating them. His other gift to me was the exposition of the power of humor by example. I just turned sixty yesterday and I still think of him.
On the final day’s road test we had been up the mountain, on the highway, into Vancouver, over both bridges and were finally coming West down Lynn Valley Road approaching Mountain Highway. I licked my lips involuntarily when I spied the Cockney Kings Fish and Chips booth up ahead. There in a small structure, the size of a generous phone booth, the man with the funny accent would fry you up two fat pieces of cod, roll a cone of old newspapers, fill it with steaming chips and deposit the beer-battered fish on top for less than two bucks. A shake of salt and a dowsing of malt vinegar and you were impervious to the cold for hours to come.
I cruised down the hill and thought of the joy of the open road. The road was hard-packed salted frozen snow and had turned the color of ash. I eased off the gas when I judged that I was close enough to the approaching stop signal. Just as I did so, an unseen cat leaped over the snow bank on the passenger side and bee-lined for the Jack and Jill Superette across the street. The creature sprinted like a cheetah and its path, speed and angle were perfectly timed to meet my right front wheel.
There was a horrifying crunch, a small bump and then another. I kept straight as an arrow and gently braked for the red light. I remember looking in the rear view mirror and hearing my instructor say that it was surely dead. Snow had already started to cover the carcass and soon it would be frozen stiff. I immediately imagined some rarely used paper that barred me from driving in all British Commonwealth Countries, Territories or Colonies.
“I...I didn’t see it in time,” I stammered.
“Pull over after the light, Mike.”
I pulled over in the little strip mall in front of a Mac’s Milk Store. My face was white and my ears were red. The instructor told me that we were done for the day, done for the lessons and done for the test. I waited for the bad news and tried to figure out what I would tell my father. After making some marks on his clipboard, my teacher turned and spoke to me.
“Mike, listen to me carefully. You did exactly the right thing back there. On a road such as this one on this day in this weather, it would have been foolhardy to attempt to swerve or brake for such a small creature. We would have wound up in the opposite lane and maybe even the intersection itself. Now, a moose or a deer, that is a different story. I’m sorry for the poor kitty and I’m sorry for you but I would have failed you right then and there if you had swerved. Congratulations. Now take me back to the school.”
Astonished, I asked, “Should we go back and get it?” “Try to find the owner?”
“I think not, I have another test to give today and there isn’t much left but crow bait anyhow.”
When I had my paperwork in order I bought my mother’s 1957 Morris Minor and bombed around in it for several months. The engine was the size of a Singer sewing machine and the turn signals flapped out like turkey wings from the side of the chassis. I had paid 75 dollars for the piece of British whimsy and if I recall correctly, I sold it for fifty. I next bought a 1967 Beaumont Acadian from the brother of a school mate, who belonged to a gang. We settled on four hundred dollars as the price.
It was a flat silver with a matte finish as if primed and ready to be painted. The interior was hand-painted with dragons, daggers, swords, big-breasted elf maidens, gang tags and lightening bolts. It sported a Holly four-barrel carburetor and small red Christmas lights were strung through the interior for ambiance when driving at night. Almquist had thought of everything. I proudly drove it home after the Swede promised me it would make it to Texas and back with no problems.
That evening, my father forbid me to park my mirth mobile in the driveway of our rental on Kilmer Road. I asked why and by way of answer, he ordered me to keep it at least a block away from his gold Oldsmobile Delta 98. I was perplexed, especially as I hadn’t been keen on getting a car anyway. Grudgingly, I backed out of the drive and found a nice spot under some cedar trees on the other side of Kilmer and about ten houses down.
The very next morning, I was looking forward to a drive through the hood to show off my ride to the boys and girls. Halfway to the silver stallion, my knees went weak. There it stood, covered in eggs, spray paint, the tail light lenses shattered and the tires slashed and flat. One window was smashed and crystals of safety glass festooned the back seat which was also slashed. It took me a few weeks to get it up and running, paint over the graffiti with silver-gray primer, replace the tires, duct-tape the upholstery and have a new glass put in. I was allowed to park it somewhat closer to home after that but not on our side of the street.
I eventually learned that the perpetrators were a rival gang which operated in my little section of the Valley. I was always in a gang of one, so I had little time for such fraternal organizations. Besides we moved too often to make joining one a practical enterprise. Except for the Baden-Powell gang which I had become a member of in Baton Rouge, I considered them cowardly and dishonorable. Over the next year, I accidentally found a philosophical gal who liked to skip school and we spent a lot of Algebra classes in Lynn Canyon, listening to the radio, munching fish and chips and chatting about the universe while the snow fell through the cedars.
When I was a Vancouver mailman, I got very acquainted with coastal snow. In the thirty years I delivered the post, there were perhaps four exceptionally snowy Winters. On these occasions when the usual melting rain did not materialize, the snow would build up quite high, quite fast. The first day after a big snowfall caused me to rise an hour or two earlier than usual to shovel the sidewalk in front of my own apartment. Then, I would ride the bus or train until it inevitably broke down and walk the rest of the way to my station.
After a very late start sorting, we would bag out our mail only to be told by the Supervisors that the couriers couldn’t drop any bundles on side streets due to the snow. We would be encouraged to put multiple bundles in relay boxes that sat on main streets and to walk back and forth to them rather than follow the regular line of travel. This added hours of what we call in the trade “dead-walking” to an already gnarly day.
It was always a blessed relief to be out in the bracing air, however. After the stuffiness of the depot’s monoxide, wet paper and moldy woolen smells, it was medicine. The first job on the route was the breaking of the trail. This consisted of stomping big boot prints and connecting drag lines through the hundreds of front yards and doing the same for the yet to be shoveled steps. In this way, a person could follow easily on the next day, burning far fewer calories.
Because we carried our sandwiches with us, this was important if one was to have enough gas to get through the slog without burning out. Those few times when it snowed each night for three or four consecutive days, the trail breaking had to be repeated each new day. By the third day, I used to pack two massive meat sandwiches, two frozen apples, two oranges, two liters of salted water, a quarter pound of chocolate and a half dozen Jägermeister sausages. I had no room in my two overflowing pouches for this feast, so I rigged a mesh bag to the back hasp of one of my satchels.
Once I fell on some ice and clattered down a flight of concrete steps. Usually in such a situation I would be up and swearing faster than a German soccer player prior to the 1990s. This time I lay for a while staring into the snow globe scene and trying to wiggle all my parts before attempting to rise. Across the street, I saw a man pulling on his boots and gloves and doing the old man shuffle to cross over to where I was prone. His wife peered through the kitchen window with a dish rag in her hand. He waddled over just as I regained my footing and was doing some stretches to lessen the pain that was sure to follow that night and the next morning.
“My wife saw you, Mike. You OK? She said that you usually get back up quicker and that I should check you out.”
“Thanks, man. I’m OK. She’s right you know. That’s the longest I ever stayed down.”
There was one house that I delivered to for about five years that got buried in snow one particularly bad winter. It was on a side street with no snow removal and the properties were set back from the road with large front yards. This house had a big Alpine style balcony which fronted a master bedroom upstairs. Every day, I would see a huge man in his striped gray and black pajama bottoms standing there, regardless of the weather. He never wore a shirt. There was no need. He was one of those individuals you come across from time to time when you attend a spa or mineral water bath with your wife or girlfriend. Hairy as a sasquatch. He could have parted the hair on his shoulders with a comb and they paled in comparison to his back.
He would make a sour face, glance at his watch through the fur of his wrist and remind me that according to his schedule, I was late. After a year or two, I got used to it. I never liked it but I got used to it. I heard through the grapevine that he was the very man who had begun one of Vancouver’s first successful pizza franchises. He had sold the company and retired at a very young age and in very comfortable circumstances. He was a Greek. The reason he wore pajamas all day was the same as that of a Chinese stock trading customer of mine. Because he could.
One terrible wet Winter a few days before Christmas I kicked my way into Shaggy’s yard and stomped across the drifted snow that hid his driveway, walkway and steps. I glanced up just in time to see him check his watch and give me the face. I folded the wad of mail in two and pressed the bundle through the slot with some effort and as it clunked on the hardwood floor I turned and picked my way along my old footprints.
As I neared the street, he beckoned in a booming bass, “Hey Buddy! My wife wantsh to talk to you.”
I stopped, turned and began to trudge back to the door, wondering what the woman I had never seen was going to complain about. I knocked crisply on the door with numb knuckles. The door swung open and a pretty woman in a checkered apron adjusted her graying hair and asked me to wait a minute. She padded off to the kitchen and returned swiftly with a metal tray, which she held in mitts. On top were four of the most beautiful spanakopitas I had ever seen.
“I made thish for you. Itsh khold out there.”
I thanked her profusely and she closed the door against the chill wind. I stood for a moment deciding what to do. I turned about, marched into the front yard and made a snow table and bench. I sat the tray on the snow where I could face the balcony and began to devour the sumptuous green manna in its cigarette paper thin flake pastry. I looked up at the sasquatch and thanked him heartily and gave a thumbs up. He stared for a moment and then went inside and slid the door closed. When I was done, I returned the tray to the front door and forgave all mankind for all the sins ever committed, happier than a porpoise.
Many years went by and I met another Greek man on a different route. He was a widower and was raising his daughter alone. Sammy the Barber’s nephew rented the basement. I never met the college aged daughter but the old man would chat once in a while if he happened to be home when I passed by.
He was a friendly guy and from what I could tell, a great father. Their house sat on a corner with a view of the back-side of Grace Hospital. After about a year, it happened one Spring that I heard a wonderful lusty singing coming from the little bathroom window that communicated to the front yard. I had permission of the old man to use their steps for a lunching platform and I was entertained by the mystery male vocalist many times. Sometimes it was country western but mostly top 40 songs.
One day after this had been going on for several months I was greeted in the yard by the old man, who rushed out and asked me if I could stay to have my lunch on the steps that day and do him a favor. I said of course I could. I sat on the concrete steps and rolled a smoke. There was an intoxicating aroma wafting out of the house and washing over me. I was just about to put my finger on it when the old man and a young woman came out of the house carrying metal trays with mitts. They each placed a tray on the stoop. His tray had small spanakopitas and hers had large ones.
“Thish my daughter. You never shee kher. She go to khallege. Look, she gonna get married in a khople weeksh. Her mother passh away before teach kher to khook. If you will be sho khind, would you pleashe try theshe spanakopitas and tell kher the trute khwat you tink. She will be the khook for the wedding.”
I shook hands with the dark haired lass as we were introduced and said that it would be my honor and a privilege. She stood nervously clasping her hands to her checkered apron as her and her father watched me like doctors waiting for a patient to regain consciousness after a particularly sketchy surgery. I ate a small one slowly. Then I ate another a little faster. They asked me to try the second tray. I did so.
“Well, khwat do you tink?” asked the old man.
“I think your daughter is an exceptional cook. The second tray, the bigger size ones, are the best. The seasoning is exact. The smaller ones have too much pastry and don’t feel right in the mouth. No offense. Not enough spinaka. I can also tell you that the bride groom is a nice boy and very much in love. He sings like a canary.”
“I told you Papa,” said the young woman. “The big onesh are IT. They are the pomb, jusht like Mama’sh!”
We all sat on the steps and gobbled them up and talked of marriage and life. I told them how I had gotten married for the third time in a Greek restaurant which I had purposely chosen for its spanakopitas. I told them of my wife who could cook Italian, Chinese, Western and Filipino cuisine.
“I told you khirl, food ish very important,” said the old man to his daughter.
The other day I was watching the snow blow like icing sugar out my office window. Dusty Bones was playing soccer with a walnut on the floor. Those times and places I have spoken of came to mind like a parade. At length I decided to distract myself with a little Google search for an obscure piece of music. Somehow, I found myself viewing a taped live session of eN-Kriya. This is a modern brand of old Vedic traditions concerned with awakening the Kundalini. A young guru in a saffron robe with a leopard print vest and massive gold necklace spoke for quite some time to a rapt audience of European and North American disciples.
He wore a beatific smile and had an array of facial expressions and voice tones that ranged from a doting mother to a stern grandfather. Using these voices and the corresponding expressions he explained in glacial detail how to do breathing exercises that are very similar to those taught in Pa Kua. In one nostril and out the other. After a set of these, some deep breaths which are held and slowly released. The empty lungs are held and then slowly refilled.
Next came the Sat Nam. This was basically, a rhythmic, forceful pulling in and up of the diaphragm, which serves to physically massage all the internal organs. There are some further breathing techniques employed afterward as well as a chanting and a visualization of the Master, who ever that was, showering one with his Holy energy. This gift of energy was now to be shared out to all the world in the minds eye. At the end of the lesson, the camera man panned the audience of devotees.
They were mostly middle-aged women with a sprinkling of bald younger males. They were all Caucasian and were seated in the lotus position on old mattresses likely borrowed from the Tantra classes. The guru now spoke of levitation. I had just replaced the old kitchen chair I used at my desk with an adjustable computer chair from the Canadian Tire Store in West Bank and I worked the lever and slid up a few inches as I watched.
After forty-five minutes of meaningful pauses peppered with admonitions that it was indeed possible, the guru said he would give the class a chance to try levitating. First, he said, he wanted to tell them a story.
“There vas vonce an old voman”, he began. “Her family vas no longer able to take care of har at home because abry von vas busily vorking many jobs. They decided to all chip in and pay for her a nice room in a care facility. Understand. The daughter found a suitable place and the sons negotiated a fair price for the sarvices after carefully inwestigating the company. They drove the old voman there next day and settled her into her room. It vas small but clean and comfortable. After many tears they left her and told her they vad be bek next morning to make sure the staff var treating her very good and kind."
"That afternoon as the old voman sat at her chair by the vindow looking the beautiful flowers outside, she began to lean over slowly to the right side. The narse on duty passed by her room and as all the doors were kept open as a policy, she noticed the old voman tilting in har chair. The narse came in quickly and gently sat the lady up straight in har chair, combed har hair and left again."
"After ten minutes, the nurse passed by again. The old voman vas now leaning very far to the left side. Understand. The dutiful narse came in again and straightened the poor old voman in the chair and massaged har shoulders for a moment and asked har vat she vanted for her suppar."
"The vary next day, as they had promised, the family arrived to check on their Mom. They all went to har room and found her again by the vindow in har chair. The daughter asked har Mom if the narses var kind to har and if the food vas OK.”
"The old voman turned slowly to har daughters face. “Yes,” she said, “They are vary kind to me here and the food is vary good.” Abry one smiled. “There is only bon problem”, said the old voman. “They von’t let me fart!” Understand. Now you may try to levitate.”
The camera man turned away from the guru and panned across the devotees who were in deep rapt concentration, over oxygenated and likely undernourished. None were laughing. One fellow that looked like the manager of a mid-west shoe store was using his lotus-folded knees to spring repeatedly into the air a few inches and the bounce of the mattress to keep it going. A woman who looked like a bookstore owner from Portland began to emulate him and soon dozens were popping up and down like amputated frogs, each one expecting to be the one to stay aloft.
“Steer into it, baby,” I thought out loud, “Or we’re going to be here for a long, long time.”
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.