Sunday, December 14, 2008

Living It


(KayPro II Portable Computer from the 80s)


Something that bugs me, that I am hearing much too often, is how “Generation Y” (just now coming en masse into the workplace) knows so much more about computers than “we” do (“we” apparently referring to anyone over, say, 40), usually parroted by somebody who actually doesn’t know all that much about computers. I even heard a lecturer at a workshop in a room filled with several hundred successful business managers say, “They even know more than every one of you in this room combined.” Wow, what a big slap in the face, and shocking in its actual inaccuracy.

These aren’t Generation Y people saying this, though (of course, they may be thinking it), but fading out Baby Boomers, or people advising fading out Baby Boomers (either hoping to facilitate that fading out, or else attempting to help them forestall it). Usually they back up that contention by saying that there wasn’t ever a moment in the lives of Generation Y when there weren’t computers around; “They grew up with them”, and also (which I think is so funny) the fact that Generation Y text messages so much. “E-mails are passé,” said our school’s board chair, who, himself, probably just recently got into e-mailing, so must watch his kids with jaw-dropping amazement as they dance across their Blackberries with their thumbs.

Well, sure…I think there must be a point in everyone’s life in a rapidly technological-developing world where individuals choose to stop and get off. There actually are several of my close friends who drew the line at getting a personal computer at all. As far as they were concerned, they could balance their checkbooks on the back of the bank statement, and they could sort their recipes in card files—checkbook balancing and recipe organizing were usually the arguments for getting a home computer back in the 80s when that technology exploded out onto the scene. Oh, that and games, which I know for a couple of decades was the main reason families bought computers for the home.

My father was one, who, although he did buy a computer and actually used it to COMPUTE things (very complicated polynomial equations and the like to solve load bearing problems or predict rocket trajectories or determine the solar power requirements of satellites), refused to ever go on-line, having somewhat of an irrational fear of the Internet, like it was a pipeline into a potentially indiscriminate demonic realm. Instead, he retained his trust in books and libraries (and well, I would never contemplate buying a Kindle). While he was hugely technological himself, he was almost “Amish” when it came to the Internet. (My mother, on the other hand, LOVED it.)

One friend of mine lost his career due to the advancement of computers into the workplace; he never could even learn how to master a mouse, unable to still his tendency to pick it up in the air and click it at the monitor as if it were a television remote control. Another friend, a sales representative, was forced to receive instructions from her vendors and her sales organization via e-mail and finally allowed into the house something I have never seen, “an e-mail server”, which is, apparently, a device for sending and receiving e-mail ONLY, and I have been instructed to NEVER e-mail her, its use is ONLY for business purposes, an instruction I’ve been able to follow due to the fact that she has refused to give me her e-mail address.

I, myself, drew the line at the above-mentioned text messaging. Just as I am still aghast at how many Generation Yers I see out in the world who are always, constantly, and forevermore talking on a cell phone wherever they are and whatever they are doing, I, generationally or personally, do NOT have the psychological need to be “connected” every single second of my day. An extrovert like me, who can make strangers on an elevator laugh with a sly comment or two, seems like a true introvert when compared to those constant cell phone users whom I feel are downright co-dependent. And ramp that one up a notch by the need to remain symbiotic via text messaging in class or during business meetings. Unbelievable. I do not view “want 2 c u after work” as a sign of superiority that should make me quake and worry about my future employability.

But maybe that’s because I know computers. While members of Generation Y were born and there were computers there, I evolved up with them. When I was born, computers were there, too, but they were immense room-filling machines that you communicated with via punch cards. I learned Fortran when I was in college at Berkeley and our programs to do things such as make the computer play tic-tac-toe or chess filled up several two-foot-long boxes of punch cards. You didn’t simply click on icons or select functions from a menu, you organized explicit instructions line by line and tested relentlessly to untangle the various endless loops you had inattentively programmed in. Data was transferred to reel-to-reel tapes and it was a great joy for me to go into a computer room and watch those reels with their long slack loops of tape click progressively forward, or suddenly fast forward or rewind (it was to prevent the tapes from snapping apart during these sudden fast forwards or rewinds that the tapes were mounted with these long slack loops)…but then later disc packs were invented (looking like stacks of brown 33 1/3 rpm records) and data was now accessible without the need to fast forward or rewind through reels of tape. [For those who want to get some sense of the enjoyment of this, I highly recommend renting the 1967 movie, “Billion Dollar Brain” (the “billion dollar brain” is a computer) starring Michael Caine and Karl Malden, and watching the title sequence with theme music by Richard Rodney Bennett. It’s a great movie, anyway, but I particularly love it for that title sequence alone—it shows what a computer was like for me when I was 19 years old.]

Later I worked as an analyst for a market research company in Los Angeles that had a unique real-time audience-reaction computer system used for testing movies, television pilots, commercials, and other things, developed and invented by an engineer who was one of the founding officers of the company. Audiences would watch a television pilot, for example, and turn dials that indicated their emotions throughout the program—turn up if they liked or were engaged by what was going on, turn down if they didn’t. (Most recently I saw that technology in use with audiences by CBS during the president debates. I was pleased to see that still in use, and personally related to it as I had known the man who had invented it and I had earned my living for a time by analyzing data that it produced.)

There was also music testing for record industry R&D, but instead of using the conscious dial method of input, members of the audience were hooked up to galvanic skin monitors and their unconscious reactions were recorded that way. The computer could receive and compute the data by any parameters the analysts wanted, characterizing individuals in the audience by gender, age, education, income, various tastes and purchasing habits, and so on.

A guy who was my roommate at the time worked as an assistant for that engineer who developed those systems and that engineer was also the “technological genius” working as a consultant for the fledgling Apple computer company, and others like it, so my roommate would bring home exciting tales of these small, DESKTOP computers that were being developed right in front of his eyes, and mine, too, as he often got permission to bring a prototype Apple or a Commodore, or some other mini computer, home for us to play with. The engineer wanted to see what we would do with them. I programmed the Commodore to write Dada poetry. [Interestingly, the dada artist Man Ray had lived in that very apartment, so maybe I was feeling some of his influence!] Remember, this was before most people even knew there was such an idea as personal computers, whereas my roommate and I were writing programs on personal computer prototypes sitting on my dining room table.

The famous Hollywood writer’s strike around 1978, 1979, occurred then (since, then, last year or so, we’ve had another one) and that stopped all scripts and other written production, so we all were laid off from that research company. Needing to find some other employment, I had been hearing about the new concept of word processing, and I jumped into that with both feet. I was hired by the Los Angeles (entertainment industry) branch of the sixth largest law firm in the United States as a word processor, in those days a relatively high-paying field, because it was so new and specialized. Again, this wasn’t clicking on an icon or selecting functions from a menu…we didn’t even have CRT monitors, then. You’d learn word processing star codes (these varied depending upon which company’s system you were using, but a typical example might be “*LM” and a number to set the left margin on a document, “*RM” and another number to set the right margin) which you would enter into the computer via an inputting keyboard that was like a typewriter in that it also typed out on long attached sheets of paper everything you had entered in. The typewriter was also an output device that printed out selected samples of the document you were preparing, and then, once your document was finished, completed copies for circulation, editing, and possible revision.

Many years after that, I was hired by the surgical department of the Stanford University Medical Center to be their resident “computer genius” (as some of the staff called me). Desktop computers were now entering the market and the business manager bought several of them for his administrative offices, but nobody knew yet what to do with them. He had the dream of having all the administrative functions programmed and he hired me to figure out what we could do with those computers and to use them to bring into fruition his ideas. I really cut my teeth on those PCs back then and I made them do things that IBM hadn’t even imagined they could do. The software for those computers were still tabulas rasa, blank canvases available for the individual imagination to put into use. By then we had CRT monitors (black and white, of course) and used floppy discs instead of solid disc packs; these floppy disks were about the size of 45 rpm records and you needed to load into your computer at least two of them, one for the software and the other for the data.

One of my favorite accomplishments during that era was creating and executing the idea of what I called “The Automatic Audiology Examination Report Generator.” The ENT (ear, nose, and throat) department was having trouble getting all their hearing exam reports prepared; they were overflowing with completed tests and were getting further behind in getting the reports typed up (word processed). I realized that most of what they reported was standard, with some individual variations, so I created a system in which all the clerk had to do was enter X’s on a database grid that corresponded to whatever standardized tests had been taken and the test results, and then enter in where appropriate specific data that was unique to that individual (such as name, address, unusual test results, and certain “ad hoc” comments), then merge that individual database with a shell document that automatically printed out the complete verbiage of the audiology report: “Now presents Susan Smith complaining of chronic tintinitus of the left ear; examination reveals a profound hearing loss in the 8,000 to 9,000 frequency range…” etc. Instead of fifteen or twenty minutes per report, the clerk could do each one in about three to five minutes; she put the X’s in the particular places and the COMPUTER wrote the report. It was a hit.

Again, just recently, all the companies across the U.S. that have 403(b) retirement funds [that’s the non-profit version of a 401(k)] were being made by the IRS to have new plan documents prepared that reflect the various changes in the law that had been made recently. It’s a huge extra load of work for human resource and business managers everywhere; fortunately in our case, TIAA-CREF, our retirement fund, would have plan documents made for us if we presented to them all the features of our particular plan. This was done via a series of questionnaires that reported all the features, essentially check boxes and filled-in blanks, and then a report-preparing company would turn that information into the verbiage of a written plan. Once I saw the completed process, I realized that this was EXACTLY the same concept as my “Automatic Audiology Examination Report Generator”. The company was able to prepare plan documents in virtually no time at all, because the system of box checks and numbers or words filling in blanks led to the automatic selection of appropriate sentences or paragraphs, equivalent to the system I created for Stanford’s ENT department.

Again, not only something that I witnessed, but something that I actually developed myself (whether others unknown to me also developed something similar, or not, I do not know, but with Stanford University being the nucleus of Silicon Valley, I’m just sayin’…) is still being productively used today.

Despite there being stability, there is also change, and so my boss and benefactor, the business manager, got a higher job at a different university, in Florida, and took with him his administrative vision, which his replacement at Stanford did not share, or even understand. At his new job, he was high up enough that he answered only to the Board, and he invited me to go with him to Florida to run that university’s entire IT department. Damn…one of those cross-roads in life in which I probably took the WRONG turn. I turned this opportunity down, thinking that IT management was not really the career I wanted for myself. How different my life would be now, though….

Instead, I had a business idea of my own I wanted to run, so I left Stanford and attempted self-employment. I needed a computer, but PCs, even the most rudimentary ones, were way too expensive for me at the time, so I rented one, a Kaypro. Does anybody remember those? The Kaypro was “portable”; it was a metal box, like a small suitcase, with a handle on the top lid for carrying around. You snapped the lid off and inside it was the keyboard; the rest of the box was the computer itself, with slots for the required two floppy discs and a CRT monitor about five inches in diagonal. Even though it looked like somebody’s Heathkit oscilloscope, I loved the thing.

I actually did have a few customers for my business and I believe I created some marvelous things for them. But the money coming in was far too little and too slow. What all happened then is not relative to this particular tale, but basically the business did not work out; whether the idea was good or not, I can’t quite say, but the timing was definitely wrong. I saw no solution other than to go back to work for somebody else.

I ended up working for Seagate Technology, maker of hard drives. My job was mostly word processing, using the exact same type of computers I had used at Stanford, but in a more mundane, less creative way (using the word processing function, but not the database and programming functions). One interesting part of the job, however, was talking to the company’s engineers from India and translating their verbal instructions for assembly and testing of hard drives into understandable English for the factory. So, for all practical purposes, I was now “writing hard drive assembly instructions”. When I next actually bought (instead of rented) my own computer, I made sure that it had the latest technology, a hard drive by Seagate.

In 1986, I finally bought my first home computer. I was going through some old files yesterday and came across the sales contract for it, which was a Hewlett-Packard Vectra PC, with an IBM COLOR monitor (latest technology) and a Canon LASER printer (brand new printing technology). That whole system cost me in the neighborhood of $10,000. Why, just to have a second font on the Canon laser printer cost me $250 for an additional font cartridge.

Not many today would pay $10,000 for home a computer system, yet this was in 1986, when $10,000 had the present-day buying-power of a little under $20,000. So, by today’s standards, I was willing to pay $20,000 for a home computer? Yeah, maybe not very many people of my generation did that; that having a PC at home was not as usual or expected as I might have thought.

By now the floppy discs were half the diameter of the ones I had used at Stanford, and, as everyone knows, they evolved into the smaller plastic-cased ones, used on the Dell computer I got after the HP was obsolete, which now have all but disappeared, themselves. (That Dell also had a CD-ROM, and a CD burner, two new technologies at the time.)

But with that HP in 1986, I was also on-line with a dial-up modem. This wasn’t the “Wild World Web”, I don’t think that term was in use at the time. It was CompuServ and now I was shopping on line, buying airline tickets on line, and conversing with people on bulletin boards. E-mail, as such, wasn’t quite so common, since so few of the people I knew even had computers. But otherwise, I was conversing all over the world with those who DID have computers and were likewise on CompuServ.

Naturally, I continued to evolve from there until today I have an Apple laptop and a gorgeous biggest-screen-possible aluminum iMac desktop, and an HP color all-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax, all DSL networked wirelessly. I can take my lapdown down to the pool and do work and go on-line, or, of course, go on-line anywhere in the world where there is free wireless Internet connection. No, I do not have an iPhone with dozens of apps, although my T-Mobile cell phone does have a (cumbersome) Internet connection of sorts that I use mostly to check out movie times when I am out and about. So far, I still draw the line at text messaging, as a technology I don’t want or need.

When I first started working where I work now, Y2K was the big feared danger (and I had to be on a committee that had a plan regarding what we were going to do about it). I’m not going to say that it WASN’T a danger, although all the computer-controlled systems did not shut down and our society did not collapse on midnight of January 1, 2000. What I will say was that any danger there was, was fixed by…whom? By people who KNEW all the old computer systems, the Fortran and the COBOL and so on, all the old programming languages that I and fellow students in college in the late 60s were learning, that’s what’s UNDERNEATH all the beautiful, convenient, accessible user interface that everybody enjoys these days. What if those people weren’t around to go back into the Gordian Knot of those complicated systems to uncover and reprogram all the dating code?

The point is that while we see rapid change happening on the outside of technology, and the ever-expansion of its amazing use, deep down inside are the footprints, the vision, the blood sweat and tears, the wisdom, and the heart and soul, of OLD GUYS (men and women). “Old guys” who were there and contributed to it, or just old guys who just “were there” and understand it.

Sure, some high school kid can (and does) “text message”, just as he will utilize whatever comes next, and whatever comes next after that, and then whatever comes next after that. And my little 11-year-old nephew never seems to be without his laptop.

But don’t, I repeat don’t, ever say that the new user “knows more” than the previous generation or two just because they “have” the technology and they frequently use it in its latest form…in fact, can’t imagine being without it. Those previous generations are the developers and observers and the users from way way back who are INSIDE the very technology that the latest users are enjoying. Let’s remember that, and have some respect.

Even Newton in his science was not willing to accept a singular glory, despite all his genius, saying, as he did, that he knew he was what he was due to his standing on some very broad shoulders. We should all be at least as humble as Newton was.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Trip, Part 1

This Thanksgiving, I’m making more of a trip of it than I did last year. Since it seemed like too much driving packed into such a short time, plus I can’t say that that long trip up I-5 is really all that interesting to me currently (I’ve done it quite enough in the past few years!), I decided to fly up to San Francisco early Wednesday morning, spend Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday enjoying San Francisco, and then driving to my sister’s Clear Lake house for the family Thanksgiving on Saturday, and then driving back down to San Francisco to fly back on Sunday in time for going back to work on Monday.

I actually started the celebration a little early by taking my friend Kate out to dinner Tuesday after work, going to one Rosti’s, a Tuscan restaurant that is one of our hang-outs. Every time we have gone to Rosti’s, we have eaten outside. In fact, I have actually eaten inside at Rosti’s only once (and that was with somebody else, not Kate), but I found it to be way too noisy to enjoy. However, since the weather has gotten rainy and cold, I was sure that Kate and I would be eating inside this time despite my not really liking it inside. However, Kate saw that Rosti’s had the outdoor warming torches burning, so we ate outside this time, too! I don’t think the restaurant actually expected anybody to actually eat outside, but they were happy enough to have us do it and even though at first we were the only ones outside, after a while, some other people came out there, too.

Normally Kate and I will end up closing a place, but as I had to get up at the crack of dawn the next morning, we didn’t push it this time. Our timing was, in fact, impeccable, because just about the very second we decided that it was time to leave, we felt one raindrop fall. By the time I had walked Kate to her car, we felt a few more drops, and when I got inside my own, the rain really began to pour. While we could keep warm eating outside thanks to the torches, there was no way that we could have kept dry in the rain.

The rain was really heavy and I got completely soaked at home as I walked in from the parking lot.

Way way way too early, I had to get up, shower and dress, and drive to Johnny Park near the airport, the discount parking garage that I use whenever I fly. That early in the morning, traffic was very light and I got there quite quickly. However, there were several people at Johnny Park and we all filled up every seat on the shuttle that took us to the terminals.

I was flying Virgin America, which was a new airline for me. I already had my boarding pass that I had printed off at home, and was supposed to be able to check my suitcase on the curb. However, it ends up that Virgin doesn’t have curbside baggage checking at LAX, but they do have a special line inside for those who had printed their own boarding pass, so it was no problem and pretty quick anyway.

Security was quite quick, too. TSA always seems to get a bad rap, described as “thugs,” but I have always found them to be quite nice, jolly, even, and these were no exception. In fact, they were really quite friendly and they made the experience rather fun.

At the first security station, you show your photo ID and your boarding pass, and a Homeland Security official checks those out and them stamps your boarding pass with a seal and then signs the seal. He was wishing everybody a great Thanksgiving.

Then you ride the escalator up to where the metal detectors are. You are instructed to take off your shoes (I also took off my belt and watch, because those things always ring the alarm) and put them in a bin along with your liquids, if you are carrying any (my grooming stuff was in my checked baggage, so I was carrying no liquids). Liquids are limited to three-ounce containers that will fit into a quart-size baggie. Laptop computers are supposed to be taken out of their case for security inspection, but mine was in my checked baggage, as well. I had my heart medications with me, but they are pills, not liquids, so require no special security preparations. The only special thing I had had to do was put my camcorder batteries in a baggie inside my backpack, as they do not want them in your checked baggage (could be a fire hazard, apparently).

There was a friendly man at security roaming around announcing that we could put our photo IDs away since we had already passed that particular security checkpoint.

I breezed through the metal detector and then an official showed me where there were some seats so that I could my shoes back on. It was all very friendly and efficient.

I made my way a bathroom, and then the gate. I was really quite early, so decided to eat breakfast at Ruby’s diner, which was up there near my gate. While I ate, there was a woman talking on her cell phone about having had to evacuate her house due to, I don’t know, but it sounded like a fire. I guess we are still having brush fires. It seemed from her conversation that she was flying somewhere for Thanksgiving anyway, which was why she was at the airport, but due to the evacuation, she and her husband had to be there much earlier, like maybe their flight wasn’t until later that afternoon. Seems like if you have to evacuate your house, you might not enjoy flying somewhere for Thanksgiving, but then again, since you can’t be at home, you may as well already have plans to be somewhere else.

I felt like talking with the woman about her evacuation, except for the fact that I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t “eavesdropped” on her conversation. Instead, I wondered whether there might be a new etiquette based on cell phone usage, that now it might be perfectly permissible to discuss with a stranger something that they were talking about on a public cell phone conversation. After all, when they are talking loudly in public, whatever they are talking about is no longer private, but has become public knowledge.

This same issue came up again today when I was riding a cable car in San Francisco. A woman on the cable car was talking to somebody about her plans in San Francisco, saying, “We had the memorial service for my mother yesterday, and today I will be meeting with my brother for lunch.” I felt like commiserating with her over her mother’s recent death, yet my “new rules of etiquette” aren’t definite in my mind, yet.

After breakfast, I sat and read in the waiting room until it was boarding time. While I was waiting, I was somewhat surprised to watch a woman change her toddler’s diapers right there on the carpeted floor of the waiting room in full view of hundreds of other waiting passengers. I realized that the time for boarding was coming up pretty soon and the woman might not want to miss the announcement, but bathrooms with diaper changing stations were quite near.

I attempted to give the woman and her toddler some “privacy” by not really watching this scene, although ignoring it was like attempting to ignore a television; you can’t really, because your eyes are continually drawn to the action.

The woman was really quite deft with the operation (obviously having done it hundreds of times before), whereas in my case, seeing diapers changed is something I have seen only once before. Fortunately in this case it wasn’t as messy as it could have been, yet it was messy enough that I felt that it was something that really did need to be done in a bathroom where there was a water supply.

The woman took the dirty “Pampers” off, folded them up, and put them down on the floor. I hoped that she wasn’t going to them leave them there. The minute the little boy was naked down there, he began to make complaining noises and kind of wiggle and fight her, which I think is typical, but whether this is from an inborn feeling of insecurity, modesty, or something else, I just don’t know.

The woman grabbed both feet with one hand, lifted them up, and then cleaned his thoroughly exposed bottom with a cloth in the other hand. While this was going on, another little boy who was in the area, also waiting to board the plane, pointedly went right over to watch this whole thing closely. I half expected the mother to admonish him, “Do you mind, give my son some privacy,” but in reality, this was something she really didn’t have much of a right to say (plus it probably didn’t enter her mind).

Once her boy was cleaned, the mother taped on his new diapers, pulled his pants back on, slipped on his shoes, and the boy was done. Fortunately, she then threw the dirty diaper away and then waited to board the airplane. I felt that she really needed to wash her hands and if it were me, I wouldn’t be comfortable until I had washed them. But it didn’t seem to concern her.

When it was time for my section to board the plane, I got in line and boarded the plane. It’s been a while since I have flown and I was surprised how tight the seat was. While that might be due to my being overweight, I honestly felt that it was my pelvis bones, not my butt, that banged against the two arm rests as I squeezed into the seat. But yes, this is coach, so a lot of comfort is not to be expected.

The interior of the plane was quite pretty with its lavender ambient lighting on the ceiling and hot pink ambient lighting surrounding the windows. I wondered what kind of focus group marketing study had gone into that particular design. That, along with the touch-screen entertainment center embedded in the seat back in front of you were the two design claims of fame for this airline. However, I very soon got very irritated by the sight of seat-fulls of people poking at their screens. I can’t quite explain why this was irritating (and I, too, was poking at mine from time to time), but it was irritating in the same vein as audiences crinkling open their candy and snack packages in a movie theater.

The entertainment center had dozens of menu choices, but most of them were “empty” with “please pardon us, we are still in development” error messages. So no on-board shopping, text message chatting with other seats on the plane, checking e-mail, and so on, nor did the airflight map work either; however, they did seem to have dozens of computer games, music videos, television, and movie channels (the movies all cost $7.00). Since this was only an hour flight, I saw no reason to involve myself with renting a movie or doing any other thing that required buying a headset. I had brought a book along to read.

Food, when they offer it, is also a “cost” item, ordered on the screen with a credit card, and I presume they had alcoholic drinks for sale, too, but I stuck with the complementary cup of coffee.

Quite soon, we arrived in San Francisco, where we were told it was raining (I had expected that).

I followed the crowd down to the baggage claim, and then searched for a San Francisco Information booth where I understood that I could buy a 1, 3, or 7-day Muni Pass that would get me unlimited rides on the cable cars, street cars, and Muni busses. However, that proved to be problematic; the first booth said that they didn’t sell them, but they told me where there was one that would. However, that one wasn’t manned, but had a sign, instead, directing tourists to yet another one, “at the end” of the concourse. As this concourse seemed infinite, I couldn’t see where the “end” of it was (it actually was as wide as the entire airport, itself), I began to get irritated. I found a security guard to ask and he explained where I should go to find the end of the concourse. I told him that I was also looking for the AirTrain that takes passengers to the car rental section, which he said was quite near where the Information Booth was and, in fact, my walking down to the end of the concourse took me closer to the car rental area.

Fortunately, this third and final booth was manned and he did, indeed, sell the passes, plus he had all sorts of maps, magazines, and brochures that I have made productive use of. I bought a three-day pass and then rode the elevator up to the fourth floor where I could catch the AirTrain.

The AirTrain was like a Disneyland people mover and quite fun to ride, actually. It had two different lines, the red line that travelled all around the airport, and the blue line that diverted off of the airport concourses and out into the hinterlands where all the car rental places are in a separate building complex.

The San Francisco Airport far outdoes the Los Angeles Airport in appearance, modernism, and convenience. One can even take BART, the San Francisco Bay Area’s “subway” or light rail system from the airport into the city itself; very European. Los Angeles has light rail, too, but it requires catching a shuttle bus to get to from the airport. SFO, like San Francisco, is more about electrified mass transit, whereas LAX, like Los Angeles, is more about gasoline-run vehicles.

It was interesting to see the long line of car rental places. I found the counter for Dollar Car Rental, with whom I had confirmed reservations. However, despite my printed confirmation, Dollar’s computer had no record of my reservation. “That happens sometimes,” the man at the counter said. I had never used Dollar before, but I thought that this was not a good sign. However, he duplicated my reservation and sent me down to pick up my car.

I found the Dollar car pick up section, but the woman working that booth said that the man had sent me to the wrong place. I asked her where I should go, instead, but she said that it wasn’t my fault, it was “That man upstairs,” whom she then called to tease. “He always does that,” she said, and then told me to wait there while she went to go get the car from where it was, elsewhere. I have no idea what “that man upstairs” had done wrong, but when the woman brought me the car, she said something about how Thrifty and Dollar had merged, so I assume the man had used a Thrifty code on the Dollar rental, or something, which might explain why he couldn’t find my reservation. But no matter, I now had my rental car, a silver Dodge Caliber, into the back of which I put my suitcase and then I proceeded out of the car rental area and out into the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

To be continued….

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ridiculous Contentions

Those people who say that Sarah Palin should not be Vice-President because the job would take her away from her responsibilities as a mother, "She should stay at home with those five kids, especially the baby with Down's Syndrome," let's be a little less insane in our outlook. For one thing, we could say that about any mother. If what you really want is for all mothers to stay at home and take care of their children, say that, don't somehow make this some kind of unique requirement for Sarah Palin who just happens to be running for office for a party that you are against. And anyway, she is already a Governor and she seems to function there just fine. Is Vice-President that much worse, or would take up that much more time? It might even be easier. Some Vice-Presidents have felt that they have very little to do. Honestly, I really wouldn't think that she would be any more over-worked than any of the rest of us (that is to say, those of us who ARE overworked).

And besides, other women in powerful positions have raised children. Margaret Thatcher, for example, had children. And Lady Di. Few women on Earth have had busier schedules than the much-beloved British Princess. Jackie Kennedy was a pretty busy First Lady (the way she handled being First Lady was like it was a very busy public office), yet everyone remembers how little John John was during President Kennedy's presidency, and Caroline wasn't that much older. Those are just a few names that pop into my head right now.

Anyway, isn't it up to Sarah Palin to decide for herself? One should judge her fitness for office on her character, background, and her stand on the issues, not whether someone thinks she should have a career at all, or not.

Next, regarding John McCain and some subtle hints I have been reading about concerning a potential "Swift Boating" of him concerning his POW years. The argument against him goes that since he was the son of a Naval Admiral whom they would have freed, yet he would not leave while others of his company remained prisoners, the Viet Cong went easy on in him and, in fact, he made a deal with them and betrayed his country by recording anti-American propaganda spots for the enemy and also shared so many American military secrets regarding bombing targets that the U.S. had to give up their bombing plans which had therefore been rendered ineffective.

They agreed to go easy on him? Have those who make this claim ever watched him give a speech? He can only with difficulty move his arms and it seems that he is unable to reach them up to even shoulder-level. This seems to indicate that rather than having had an easy time of it as a POW, his body was actually permanently damaged from the experience.

The Viet Cong's offer to set the son of an Admiral free...I wonder if he had accepted their offer, would they have actually gone through with it, or were they just messing with him? I think they figured he was probably their most valuable prisoner and they would go to any lengths to torture as much information out of him as they could. If he sometimes broke and actually revealed secrets, if he DID, who among us might have done better? Obama? Biden?

McCain seems to have the admiration of those other prisoners who were there with him. Surely if he had betrayed his country or his fellow prisoners, or in some other way dishonored himself, somebody by now would have stepped forward and revealed it, or have I somehow missed that? Instead what we hear is that McCain kept the prisoners' morale up and helped them get through to another day. That's what could be called "hope in action", which goes beyond hope in words.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lao-tzu On Leaving The People Alone

The other day I was doing what I sometimes do when I feel I need an extra "oomph" or some hope and inspiration, picking a page at random from some important book or other in my library to see what it has to tell me. This time the book I chose was the Tao Te Ching, the Stephen Mitchell translation. Stephen Mitchell is a poet and a foreign language genius whom I have had the privilege of meeting. The Tao Te Ching, although rather short, is a book I have only taken piecemeal, perhaps because each selection in it requires a very great deal of contemplation in order to appreciate, so I an unable to run right through it like I might a light novel.

The selection that I opened to was number 57:

"If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes as common as grass."

Wow, that was written 2,500 years ago by one of the top four or five wisest men ever, and yet we STILL have to battle Marxism/Leninism and Fascism (which people still think are "new, enlightened" ideas), right here in the United States of America.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Leader?

I really dislike the improper phrase, “the leader of the free world” when applied to the President of the United States and wish people would stop using it (as people often do when referring to McCain and Obama as potentially being), unless their agenda is to manipulate people into either assuming that we have a dictatorship or thinking that we ought to have a one-world government. This phrase indicates a failure to understand the United States Constitution, in which our federal government was designed with THREE EQUAL BRANCHES that provide checks and balances to each other, the Executive Branch (the President and his cabinet), the Legislative Branch (the two houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate), and the Judicial Branch (the Supreme Court). No one branch is superior to the others, and therefore no one individual within one of the branches is superior to the others, and certainly not the President. The President is merely the lead administrator of the laws that Congress passes, and he also is supposed to serve as a sort of federal “host” to visiting foreign officials and serve as Commander and Chief of the military. The enumerated powers of the President are actually very few. (Americans really should carefully reread the Constitution). A person like President Bush expanded his powers WAY beyond what is constitutional, and therefore nothing of what he did along these lines is valid and actually may be legally ignored. Nothing unconstitutional is a valid law in the United States.

Also, in the United States the state is the sovereign, not the federal government, which means that as citizens of the United States, we are citizens of our individual state FIRST, and then the United States as a whole. The people of today, being generally weak and not self-reliant like the early Americans, tend to think in terms of monarchies or dictatorships (they’re always looking to somebody to rule them, which is why they trend toward centrally planned economies), do not fully understand the concept of the state being sovereign, but the point of the federation was to ease interstate trade and make more efficient our relationships with foreign countries, not to create a new country that overtook the power of the individual states. Not one state would have ratified the Constitution if by their doing so they had relinquished their sovereignty.

If any government executive should be more important to the individual citizen, it would be the governor of their state, not the President of the United States, but actually the governor is really not too different at the state level than the president is at the federal level.

In the United States, the PEOPLE are the true government, not those elected as our representatives. So if there are “leaders,” they are each one of us individually, and we really ought to take that role very seriously.

And what’s this idea of “the free world” that the President is supposedly the leader of? He certainly isn’t the leader of the United Kingdom or Australia or Germany or Japan, or any other “democratic” or similar country, many of which, by the way, are actually currently more free than the United States. They have their own leaders, chosen by them.

Among all the very serious problems that this country has, I would say that at the very bottom of it is people accepting, and using, this concept of the President as being the Leader of the Free World. Not only is that wrong, we better hope it never becomes true.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Heat Rises, Water Seeks Low


I’ve been saying for quite a while now that there is nothing like the death of your parents to bring home the idea of your own mortality. But now I have to rephrase that to “there is nothing like your own mortality to bring home your own mortality”, or I should say “nothing like getting a somewhat-sorta-maybe-but-probably-not-quite-yet death sentence”. However, let me quickly add for those who might happen to worry, what Mark Twain said, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” And I really do feel quite fine today in a way that I think is actually quite realistic.

So, what’s this all about? For those who just want the Cliff Notes, simply glance at this entry’s tags. But for those who’d like to read the story (especially those who may be of advanced age), which may or may not be interesting and telling, please read on.

“It all began,” I think, with a prayer, very sincerely asked and very truly wanting an answer, which was last Monday night. I had gotten all cozy under my covers and surrounded by several comforting pillows, when I called on God, Jesus, my Higher Self, or anyOne along those lines who would provide me with an answer. My question was on the order of “What is really wrong with me, why can’t I get anything done any more, why do I have no energy, why no matter what I eat, or how much, do I feel constantly ravenous, why do I have very little hope that anything will get better or why do I believe that I can’t do anything about my problems, please let me know, perhaps in a dream, but in whatever other way You know is best. Amen.”

Well, I did end up with a peculiar little dream, something I didn’t quite understand (not even now), but which somehow did seem important. I dreamt I was talking with a black woman who had known and marched alongside Martin Luther King. I said something to her that now seems extremely lame, but at the time (in the dream) felt like a revelation. I said, “I think the way to Martin Luther King’s heart was junk food.”

Instead of her slapping me or something, she said, “Well you know, he was on the road so much, marching or giving sermons or visiting local churches, and riding busses, that it was hard for him to get a decent meal in a hurry, little cafes wouldn’t serve black people, well, you can imagine how it was, so it seemed he lived on chips and Debbie Cakes and the like.”

Then I woke up. What the heck? However, it did humanize Martin Luther King and also made him seem like a good and dedicated man, to the extent of self-sacrifice. Why that would be important was that lately I had been reading so many various negative conspiracy theories of every stripe that it seemed to show that evil existed absolutely everywhere behind every historical event, and that virtually every person we think of as a hero was actually an agent of some demonic force or another, working to wreak our destruction.

The problem is that we don’t know, really, do we? I mean, if we weren’t there, we only have the word of historians, whose accounts conflict, sometimes diametrically. But what fascinates me is that there WERE people who KNEW, who WERE there, and something like a “universal knowledge field” has that actual information, if only we could tap into it. (It reminds me of when a house I had been renting had been burglarized and the sheriff came to search for fingerprints, he took a look at my dog who was sitting there wagging her tail and he said to her, “Who did this girl, huh?” We both KNEW that SHE knew who the burglar was, but unless we could accomplish a “Vulcan mind lock,” we’d have no way to get the information. But something in the Universe, be it human alive or dead, or animal, or even plant…KNOWS the truth about something!

For example, the concept that America didn’t have to enter into World War II, that it was only evil international financiers who wanted it and when they got their political puppet FDR into office, he manipulated events that caused the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor and then it all began. We could have actually stayed out of the war, because we otherwise weren’t any danger.

However, I remembered back to my father telling us of his life months prior to his death about how he was selected by the Navy to learn about and then set up a program of demagnetizing our ships so that enemy torpedoes wouldn’t have an easy homing to them. For one of his first experiments, he was working at a naval base in South Carolina and his work interrupted an exercise the commander of that naval base had planned. The commander was fuming, saying, “When I find the guy who did this to me, I’m gonna punch him in the nose!” However, the commander changed his tune when Dad’s tests revealed that the Germans had seeded Charleston Harbor with something like 40 mines! (Dad later ended up with a naval base of his own to command, on Okinawa, and his work continued to save the lives of countless American sailors.)

While this is a cute and proud story in our family’s history, I realized that it also showed that the United States had not been isolated from global events concerning this war. I don’t think we hear much about German submarines in the Atlantic coming so far as to mine an American harbor, but my father’s own history demonstrates, that as far as I was concerned, this was an actual attack on the U.S. on its EAST coast by Germans, so it wasn’t all about Pearl Harbor, and it seems that our entering into the war WAS based on truly being in danger, not due to the manipulation of financiers or a trick by FDR.

Now, regarding Martin Luther King whom I had the dream about, a dream about him might have been timely in that we had just recently had Martin Luther King day and the Internet is filled with articles about how King was a Communist and a womanizer who loved prostitutes, some of whom he was violent with, and that King never wrote a word that wasn’t plagiarized. Hum. One of the problems with all this is that even if it were true, as a symbol, Martin Luther King provides hope and self-esteem for a whole race of Americans and it may not be a good idea to destroy that symbol. However, I’m going to talk a little bit more about this later in this piece.

Tuesday afternoon, I had an appointment to see my doctor. All I wanted him to do was write a referral for me to have a colonoscopy, a test I never had had and didn’t really WANT to have, but which I finally had been convinced by friends at work that it would be beneficial for me to have.

However, my doctor said that he hadn’t seen me for several years, so since I was there, he wanted to do some blood work on me. Okay, some blood work wouldn’t hurt.

After the blood work, he said, “I think your blood pressure might be a little bit high, let me take your blood pressure again.” The nurse had taken my blood pressure when I first sat down, I think it was 128 over 90. My doctor said “90 is a little high, it ought to be between 70 and 80.” When he took it again, this time the lower figure was 82. Still slightly above normal, but not too bad.

Then he tried to take my pulse, but seemed to be having trouble with it. So then he put his stethoscope against my chest and listened for quite some time. When he finished, he said, “Your heart rate is irregular, you’re going to need an EKG.” So the nurse came back in and gave me an EKG.

I laid there calmly, thinking that the EKG wouldn’t really show anything bad, but once it was over, the doctor said that while it was serious and that I needed to be seen by a cardiologist, it wasn’t so serious that it was an emergency.

What? Not so serious that it was an emergency? But I felt fine, more or less, or at least I felt more fine before hearing this information than I felt afterward! Anyway, the doctor wrote out a referral slip for the colonoscopy that I had wanted-but-not-really-wanted, and then another one for a cardiologist that I really didn’t want. As for the reason I needed to see a cardiologist, he wrote down “atrial fibrillation,” which I quickly wrote down on a piece of paper for myself so that I could look it up later.

The nurse explained to me that the medical group had a new procedure regarding referrals—she was to fax them the referral slips, and then I would receive appointments by mail. Well, that seemed okay. Waiting for the colonoscopy was fine, and as far as the cardiologist goes, maybe this delay would give me some time for this thing to fix itself on its own.

I was eager to get back to work so that I could look up on the Internet just what an “atrial fibrillation” was. But as I drove up the freeway, I was thinking of the defibrillator that we have hanging on the wall in our building’s lobby, which both scared me (fibrillation is something dangerous enough that we bought an expensive emergency machine for), and gave me hope (this is something that maybe an electric jolt can fix instantly).

However, reading about it on the Internet did not put my mind at ease. An atrial fibrillation is a condition in which the upper two heart chambers do not pump the blood properly—the movement is out of sync with the normal heart rhythm and the blood, instead of being solidly pushed down into the lower chambers, kind of swirls around in mild turbulence in the upper chambers before finding its way down into the lower chambers. The main danger of this is that the blood can pool and then clot in the upper chambers, and then the clots might cause a stroke later. A person with an atrial fibrillation is seven times more likely to suffer a stroke.

A second danger is that the arrythmia will precipitate a heart attack.

So, while I was not necessarily in any immediate danger, I nevertheless now had a heightened risk of stroke or heart attack.

Okay, so how do they fix this thing?

This is where I didn’t think any of it sounded too good. Depending upon a variety of factors, the cardiologist may want to find out what the cause of this is (yeah, I am sure all the tests are horrible). However, none of the usual causes seemed to relate to me: recent heart surgery, smoking, alcoholism, a heart valve problem, cancer, or cardiovascular disease. Of course, I may have some sort of cancer, or cardiovascular disease, but somehow I kind of doubt it. The way I look at it, this is one of those conditions that could be caused by any number of things, including in a major way, STRESS, which also means that maybe I have a way I can fix it myself.

Other than working on whatever could be the cause of this (dealing with any cancer, for example), the major task is to reset the heart to a correct rhythm and to cut down on the danger of stroke from blood clots. Blood thinning medication is what they prescribe for cutting down on the blood clots…of course, this is systemic, which means that a major healing mechanism of the body will be messed with. (Don’t cut yourself while shaving!) Resetting the heart rhythm to normal is attempted by various methods, including the following:

Oral heart rhythm medication
Intraveinous administration of a heavy shock of medication while in a hospital
Electrical shock that stops the heart—like shown in the movies with the two external contacts (paddles)—and then it is hoped that it will start again in correct rhythm
A more focused electrical shock applied inside the heart via a device threaded through a vein starting near the groin

Of course, none of these intense rhythm-resetting methods (the shocks, and so on) will necessarily mean that the rhythm will stay rhythmic. So it is mostly expected that a person with this condition will be taking two different heart medications (blood thinning and rhythm regulation) for the rest of his life. One must note, however, that all of the choices of heart medications carry side effects and it is a matter of balancing the importance of the heart issue with the importance (or relative unimportance) of various other organs. In other words, the quality of life is going to be diminished in one way or another.

Then there is the matter of what happens in case the rhythm cannot be corrected by any of the above-mentioned methods. Then either a pacemaker or a defibrillator is installed into the body under the skin. Of these two options, the defibrillator is the worse, in that what it is doing is administering a periodic shock to the heart, which has been described as being like a kick in the chest periodically. How would you like going through life with that?

I’ve not read of any suffering coming from the pacemaker except for the fact that you would have this machine like an iPod nano inside of you clearly outlined underneath your skin (there goes any weak hope of ever regaining your youthful beauty, you’re clearly way over the hill now!) and sometimes in order for the pacemaker to work properly, the section of the heart that naturally tries to control the heart rhythm will have to be destroyed so that it doesn’t interfere with the work of the pacemaker, thus there would never be any more hope of a natural correction.

A pacemaker does require special care though (watch out for those “No Pacemakers Enter Here” signs!), plus you have to go in for outpatient surgery periodically to get the batteries changed. If you can emotionally get past the concept of this and think, “Wow, the amazing advances of medical science, what a cool machine,” your momentary elation can be let down by this frequently-seen sentence describing this heart condition, with pacemaker or without:

“People with this condition can live for several years.”

Several years, huh? How many are those? I remember as a kid thinking, “a couple means two, so ‘a few’ must mean three.” I guess “several” must mean four. I have four more years?

As I read all this stuff, I realized that the answer to my prayer of the previous night might be this, not the Martin Luther King dream, but I went into the office of my friend Kate to tell her about all this, including the prayer and the Martin Luther King dream, and she wisely pointed out that the dream combined the concepts of, well, “dream”, as in “I have a”, and “heart”, and maybe there was even a message in there about food, or nutrition, or all the things about loneliness, needing comfort, travel, freedom, heroism, discrimination, non-violent revolution, and other huge concepts. I thought that this observation was very wise and it has given me much food for thought.

I also went in to talk to my friend Monique, who is black, who said that gee, she had never had a dream with Martin Luther King, which reminded me of several decades ago when I had had an earth-shaking dream featuring Paramahansa Yogananda and I was telling a Yogananda devotee about this and she said, “I have never had a dream featuring Yogananda, you are surely blessed by the Master.”

But if I was blessed by Martin Luther King in this dream, I have also been blessed by a minister in an African Methodist Episcopalian church in North Carolina, who changed his whole sermon one Sunday morning when he saw me and my friend Steve (both of us white) sitting in church with Cleo (who was black), who had been my mother’s “nanny” (the word used back then was “nurse”) and whom Mom grew up loving as much she loved her own mother. I had told my mother that on a trip around the country I was taking with Steve (we ended up being gone for three months and traveled 15,000 miles around the U.S.), when we got to Asheville, I wanted to visit Cleo, what did my mother think, should we take her out to dinner? “No,” Mom said, “take her to church. She is too old to get there by herself, now, and that is something she will really love.” Mom’s idea was perfect, and not only did Cleo love it, so did the whole congregation, and the minister in his sermon used our presence as an example of how Martin Luther King’s dream was surely coming true.

I want to stop here right now for a moment and point out something in case it wasn’t obvious—think of the relationship between my mother as a little girl and my mother’s “nurse” Cleo. Cleo bathed and fed and put my mother to bed every night. Cleo listened to my mother’s prayers. Cleo held my mother’s hand every day when she walked to school, and it was Cleo who was waiting there at the school when Mom came out, to take her by the hand and walk her home after school. Of course my mother loved Cleo and of course Cleo loved my mother, but this was a little white girl and a black woman living in the South prior to the 1960s. How were they able to express their love, or even have any kind of equal relationship back then? This could only be a mutual yearning and something that it was hoped was understood, but never easily shared. It was stuff like this that was a pain of our country’s own version of apartheid that hurt both races.

So to me when we think about the work done by Martin Luther King, it really doesn’t matter if in his personal life he was a hero or not (although I am going to think that those “anti-King conspiracy theorists” aren’t really right), it was what he helped to accomplish that was the important thing, the essential thing, and that is where our focus needs to be.

As I drove home Tuesday night, wondering if I could die any minute, or were my remaining years to be years of suffering and effectively chained to the cardiological medical establishment (no, say, sailing around the world on an indefinite adventure like the traveling I had done so much on land), what I felt, instead, was love flowing through my heart, and I felt that no matter what this was all about, it was likely that part of God’s message to me in answer to my prayer was that I need to express love more and more; that I could be an imperfect channel (like Martin Luther King maybe was), and yet what comes through is what it is all about.

That instead of me making a list of all the things that I want to do before I die, now that time is diminishing, maybe what I need to do is to think of what that ONE thing is that I need to do and forget all the rest. So far, I feel that if I have to face God and explain what my accomplishments were in this life, I don’t have too much to say. I had to think a little bit about what I even could say, and what I came up with was, “Well, everywhere I went, with everyone I met, I tried to leave a little blessing, which might have only been a bright smile that said that I honored who they were, but I always tried to treat everyone with love if I could.” Would that be enough? That I think that it is not might be a partial cause of all the stress that I have been feeling lately; like I am simply wasting time, going through the motions of life, being a nice person, sure, but not getting done what I am really supposed to do.

I have often wondered if God, or my Higher Self, might simply take me out. “You’re not getting anywhere, you’re just a waste of breath.” Now it looks like the means to do so was easily there, and it was now up to me to decide whether I should relax into the route of death, or else counteract it making meaningful progress. My choice, die, or live.

When I got home, I searched on the Internet for a video of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, which I easily found, since we just recently had had Martin Luther King day and Google would therefore take me straight to it. I hadn’t known the full length of that speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial as the keynote of the March on Washington…we are usually given only the last part of it. It was very wonderful to watch it in its entirety, every word of it true, and when he comes to the concluding “I have a dream” part of it, this man was not reading, this man could not have previously written this and then memorized it word for word, it seems so clear to me that Martin Luther King was channeling this, being a vessel of inspiration, speaking this straight from where all true wisdom comes from. And I needed to reconnect with that kind of communication.

That night before going to bed, I decided to listen to my heartbeat with a stethoscope that I have. I’m not sure if that was a good idea or not, but I guess I needed to hear it for myself, even though it was kind of scary.

I’ve heard my own heartbeat many times before, and before it was always a steady and clear “bump bump…bump bump…bump bump…”, something the miracle of which I was always so appreciative of but could not grasp what it is that makes such a thing happen, that this organ can continue to beat steadily like this without let-up for ones entire life. But this time, it was more of a weak, muddy, and confused beat that I couldn’t even take my own pulse, because I couldn’t determine where it began and where it ended. There were no beginning and ending demarcations, and there was no resting inbetween.

I put my hand over my heart and said to it, “Poor sweet thing, what has happened to you, and more importantly, what can we do to straighten you out or to give you what you need?” From hearing it, I was surprised that I could even be still alive, that on the outside I could get up, walk around, and feel normal. But then I realized that even a car whose timing is out of whack, with the cylinders operating a confused four-stroke pattern, can still lurch down the road. But not for very long, and not very far.

I blamed only myself for this crisis. Wasn’t I the one who had been saying for so long that (certain aspects of) “this job hurts my heart”, or “this apartment is killing me”? Wasn’t I the one who realized that I was suffering in so many significant areas of my life and needed to make some major changes, but had no idea what changes to make, or how to make them, or could not find the courage to make them? For so long my mind had been a turmoil of trapped indecision and now my heart was reflecting that very turmoil by swirling my life force in a whirlpool of ineffectual turbulence.

You sincerely ask God for an answer, and you will get it.

Obviously this week at work was a very tough one and just about the only value of it was my interaction with other people. Also, I kept thinking that as long as I was expressing some form of love and blessing to others, I would stay alive.

I don’t want to give the idea that I was being completely fearful of death. Instead, I thought more of my mother, who had suffered during the last several decades of her life, but somewhat prior to her death had revealed to my brother that she was thankful she had a heart condition, because now she had a “way out.” And, indeed, she did die peacefully in the night and despite all her very serious physical problems, it was, ultimately, her heart who had taken her out. So I felt that, like my mother, I now had my own “way out,” if I wanted it, but that it, itself, wasn’t going to be the agency making the choice.

I wonder if most people don’t really fear death, itself, but just fear having a painful death? If they could just close their eyes and drift away to a better world, that might be something that they would actually like, except for the fact that in this boxing match that we call life, they may not be quite ready to throw in the towel, but want to keep on fighting for a win that they have, after all, worked all their life for.

So that’s how I am viewing it.

Thursday or Friday morning, I woke up with what I think is a fantastic idea:

Acupuncture.

If we’re dealing with some kind of “electrical” forces that control the timing of the heartbeat, maybe stimulating certain acupuncture meridians is exactly what is called for. And a quick Internet check (I did a Google search on the key words “acupunture atrial fibrillation”) revealed that not only does acupuncture, itself, list among the maladies that it corrects heart arrhythmias, but that some western cardiologists have written articles stating that acupuncture has had success in resetting heart rhythms.

Now, while it had been several years between visits to my “regular” doctor, the doctor that I HAVE seen quite often (and who really has helped me every time) is who I call “My Chinese Doctor,” because he is both Chinese, and he practices Chinese Medicine.

Now there are some, of course, who would think of that as “quackery,” following the belief that ONLY in the realm of western “scientific” medicine are there any true answers, that all else is just placebo, mind games, superstition, or primitivism. But this is such an egocentric and maybe even xenophobic point of view, forgetting that a system like Chinese medicine rose up in a civilization that is far more ancient than our own and therefore its traditions have a validity on their own. Also, there is no such thing as “one condition, only one proper healing modality”; there are actually numerous healing methods that can and do work. I think it is severely limiting to follow only the “approved” medical course, especially when that “approved” medical course doesn’t offer you very much. And in my case, a lifetime of dangerous medicines that may help one organ while hurting several others doesn’t sound like the best course to follow if there are other options.

So I called my Chinese doctor, explained to him what was going on, and asked him if he thought acupuncture could help.

“Definitely, along with some herbs,” he said. So while I still hadn’t gotten my appointment from the cardiologist, my Chinese doctor was able to see me on Saturday.

It is interesting to go to him. He works out in Alhambra, where there is a quite a large Chinese population; in fact, I think the Chinese are the majority there. English is not his first language and when he does his examinations, he takes notes in Chinese. I think he probably doesn’t have a lot of patients who aren’t Chinese. Sometimes I have to work to interpret what he saying, which comes out almost like poetry, and by that I mean that I think Chinese is a very poetic language, which I base on how their written language is constructed. For example, the word for “autumn” is composed of the words “burning” and “season”. “China” is “center” “country” (duh…ones own place is at the center of the world). “Friendship” is “hand” “reaching” “moon”. And so on. I am assuming that their spoken language follows the same kind of construction.

I explained to him what I had learned about how western medicine handles atrial fibrillation, what it has to offer, and he shook his head and laughed, not derisively. “Western medicine is so drastic,” he said.

Where western medicine goes to one particular malady and works to correct THAT, quite often creating an imbalance in the rest of the organism, Chinese medicine works on the basis of creating a BALANCE in the system. My doctor told me that heart problems don’t arise all by themselves. For example, in my case, the kidneys are involved and it is necessary to work on those as well as the heart.

His examination consisted of his carefully taking my pulse on various sections of both wrists. His reading of the pulse on my left wrist made him say, “heart pump very weak.” His reading of the pulse on my right wrist made him say, “metabolism very slow.” Then he listened to my heart with a stethoscope, and he said “heart all floppy, starving, not pumping strong, malnourished, desperate, crying for help.” I said to him that what he said made me think of a fish that was taken out of the water and placed on the desk, “flopping around gulping for air, but in the case of my heart, it is gulping for nutrition”. He nodded, yes, that is a good explanation.

I reflected back on my original question to God about why I felt ravenous all the time, and the answer had something to do with “the way to Martin Luther King’s heart was through junk food,” which could be interpreted in a sort of Chinese language way as “loving heart not getting food it needs but taking weak comfort as substitute.” Something in my weary spirit was blocking the activity of my heart and I had been taking comfort in “escape” is how I read that.

Then my Chinese doctor examined my tongue and the first thing he said was “you didn’t eat breakfast?” Wow, he could see that? I told him that there is a coffee shop over in nearby San Marino that I wanted to treat myself to for breakfast, which I was going to do after my visit with him. I do NOT routinely skip breakfast…in fact, it is the one meal that I always insist that I get. I kind of hoped that he might pick up on the implications of that “treating myself to a breakfast there,” the meaning of which, underneath, was that I was not otherwise receiving a lot of love. Again, “the way to Martin Luther King’s heart” might be COMFORT FOOD (if he could get it). “Tongue very dry,” the doctor said.

He then asked me to curl my tongue up so that he could look underneath it. “Very dark blue,” he said, which he considered a very bad sign and confirmed for him the kidney connection.

In summary, Chinese Medicine style, he explained that I was imbalanced in my fire and water. “Fire rises,” he said, “water seeks to go low. In the body, like in nature.”

Okay, I got the idea that “heat rises,” and “water flows downhill to the low places.”

“Too much fire,” he said. “Water is prevented from going low.” I took this to mean that fluids in my body, such as my blood (but also could be lymph and other fluids) were having trouble circulating like they would like to and should, so things were sluggish in my metabolism, and not enough nutrients, oxygen, and the like, were being carried by the bloodstream into my heart at the rate they were needed, so the heart, which, of course, needs the benefits of what the blood brings as well as the rest of the body, was, itself suffering and therefore unable to do its job properly.

I gathered that this “water” problem was in the kidneys, and what the doctor wanted to do was “cool down the kidneys” as well as “clean up and purify the blood”, which would improve things all around. I asked him what would cause this problem in the kidneys, but he shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t know, it just happens.” But rather than thinking that this was the hole in the Chinese Medicine system, I kind of chuckled and understood that yes, things DID happen. Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough water, or something (there’s never enough of doing that, it seems).

He then pulled around his “acupuncture man”, an ivory-looking statue of a man with all the acupuncture meridians drawn on it and each acupuncture point identified with a pair of Chinese characters. He showed me where he was going to stick the needles. The first place was in the center of the palm of the hand, where he said, “This is going to hurt.” Funny, for some reason, I hadn’t thought that acupuncture was actually going to hurt, otherwise I might not have thought it was such a good idea.

“But they’re sticking needles into you, what did you think!” (That’s some voice within me talking, not the doctor.)

He tried to explain to me in English the name of this and all the other points, but he just didn’t know enough English in order to do so. Well, looking at that statue covered with hundreds of points, I could well imagine that it would be impossible to translate them all into English…it would be like coming up with Chinese terms for every kind of IRS deduction or subtotal. You know words like “passive loss carryover” or “unearned income deduction” or whatever. They may not even HAVE English translations. I mean, after all, even our own medical terms aren’t really English, but various syllabic combinations of Greek, or maybe Latin.

Anyway, the palm of the hand starts the heart line, and then there were two points on the wrist that control the timing of the rhythm. On the forehead near the hairline were two or three points that he described as “the spirit,” which I took as meaning the genesis of the impulses that control the heart chambers. Then there were two or three points near the ankle that work on the kidney line (interestingly, that was right in line with the idea of “water seeks the low places”). Fortunately, the only point that he said would hurt was the one in the center of the palm.

He then took me into his acupuncture room and asked me to take off my shoes and socks and lie down on the table. I also took off my glasses and rolled up my sleeves.

He joked about how there was almost no room on the table for me, because my feet were right up against the wall. “For Chinese people,” he said, who are shorter, so it is entirely possible that I was the very first Caucasian he had ever had in there. I joked and said, “So you don’t get many basketball players…seven feet tall.” He shook his head, no, no basketball players.

Then, after swabbing the various locations with alcohol, came the needles. He was going to do this on both arms and both legs. He started with my right arm. The needles in the wrist area I could hardly feel. He asked me if they hurt and I said said “No.” Then I could feel that he was poised over my hand, and he said “This one will hurt.” And yes, it did, although the pain was quick and it was tolerable.

Then he reached over the left arm and, again, the wrist needles didn’t hurt. And again, he warned me when the needle for the palm of the hand was going to come, and YOW! That one made me shout out, oh BOY did that one hurt, like an electric shock! And it kept hurting for a while, but then calmed down. He said that that was very good, the pain showed that it was the right place and that it was working.

Then he went down to the ankles and warned that they would hurt, too, which they did, but differently. The kidney needles burned, but then the pain died down. He told me he would leave the needles in there for fifteen minutes, he set a timer, covered me with a warm blanket, turned off the light, and shut the door.

I lay there calmly with something like twelve needles in me and did not dare move. I can’t say that it was relaxing, but it was okay; fifteen minutes would be bearable.

After the timer rang, he came in and took out the needles (which didn’t really hurt, although I could feel them coming out). The area where the ankle needles had been itched a lot at first, which I told him, but he just nodded.

After I got my shoes back on, he gave me a bag of the herbal pills he was prescribing for me—one bottle was herbs for the kidneys, another was called “blood clots cleaner” and the third one was called “pulse resetter”). I was surprised, but happy, to see that the functions of those latter two herbs were similar to what a cardiologist would prescribe, but safe and with no side effects. So I felt that I was getting exactly what I needed.

He told me that the pills were a two-week supply, that I should come in and see him again in two weeks.

I asked him what his advice would be concerning my potential upcoming cardiologist appointment, should I go to it, or should I skip it?

He asked me when the appointment was going to be, but I said that I didn’t know, it was going to be mailed to me…it could be a week away, or maybe a couple of weeks away. He advised me to NOT go see the cardiologist until after I had seen HIM two weeks from now. “Then we will see,” he said.

Okay, that is fine with me. I really don’t want to get all started with the cardiologist if this Chinese Medicine treatment works.

I left his office feeling very good, and then went to breakfast at the Colonial Kitchen in San Marino. I ordered my “usual” for when I go there, which they call “The Titan” (so I think you imagine), and it was delicious, of course, but ended up being more food than I could possibly eat, which I took as a good sign. Ordinarily, I would have eaten the whole thing, but this time, I could only manage half of it. I hoped that meant that the acupuncture had already gotten some nutrients properly circulated around to the heart. Maybe that was wishful thinking, but there was no arguing with my sudden change in appetite.

Before hitting the road again, I went to the bathroom at the restaurant and while I was sitting on the toilet, I began to wonder if it would help to periodically massage the acupuncture point in the center of the palms of my hand, working on the heart line. As I massaged the palm with my hand, I suddenly realized with a shock that that was the point of the placement of Jesus’s crucifixion nails. The realization immediately brought tears to my eyes; for one thing, this was the point that HURT the most, but also, I thought that with the power of JESUS’S heart, the pain must have been immense. Then I thought how amazing that was symbolically and it seemed to tie together the disparate elements of the physical heart, the loving heart, Jesus, and acupuncture.

The Jesus connection didn’t die down, because I spied sitting on top of a pile of books at home a little volume called The Way Out, which caught my eye because its title was what my mother thought of her heart condition, “her way out,” but I knew that this book was a collection of four Christian essays. So I got comfortable and read the first one, and it really spoke to me about how my own negative self-talk could create the manifestation of this heart problem and also that the way out would be to realize that my struggles were failing to solve my problems, which led to this heart condition as a manifestation of my struggle, but that a surrender to God (and God’s guidance) would be the solution. Well, I certainly already knew and understood that, but it never hurts to be reminded of it, especially when you aren’t following it and that not following it gets you into serious trouble!

I thought that first essay was enough for me to chew on and practice for a while, so I have saved the other ones to read at a later time. Meanwhile, I felt that the rest of Saturday was a good time for me to read some things that a close friend of mine had given me a couple of weekends ago when I had gone to Palm Springs for the three-day Martin Luther King holiday.

I had started, but never finished, a post here about that weekend, but I will just say that this is a friend I have known since I was a freshman and he was a junior in college. I used to write to him quite a lot when we were much younger, quite notably during the summers between college years, and then after he graduated and entered into the Navy while I was at Berkeley, and then at other significant periods in our lives. He had saved all those letters, but now that he is retired, he decided to start getting rid of a lot of stuff and came across this collection of letters. He read them all once more, and then said to me that he can’t imagine why I am not a best-selling author today. Anyway, he thought that the letters were wonderful and figured I would love to have them back. Wow, yes, I sure would!

So I spent the rest of yesterday reading these letters and of all the things that I could have done, I can’t think of any better care for my heart than to have read these letters! For one thing, laughter is supposed to be good medicine for the heart, and I think these letters of mine made me laugh harder than anything I have ever seen in all my life, including I Love Lucy episodes or my favorite funny movie, What’s Up Doc?, starring Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, and Madeline Kahn. But beyond all the laughter, I don’t know any other way to say it, I simply fell absolutely and utterly in love with this person whom I was oh so long ago, who was so sweet, so precious, so smart, so talented, so beautiful, so thoughtful, and SO FUNNY! Whatever happened to him? I want him back, I want to see him, to be him, to feel him back inside me. Surely the chafing of life and the rigors of aging are not enough of an explanation for the loss of that person, and maybe that is what, or whom, my heart has been yearning for all this time—me, my true self, whom I started out to be and whom I should be once again.

So please God, I surrender to you. Please let the water flow...down from you and through me.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Undercurrents of Evil...and Good

[Imbedded Practitioner of the Dark Arts]

I am really way behind in my reading (which means amount of reading desired and number of books purchased versus number of books I actually have time to read), so one of my resolutions is to schedule more time for catching up on that. But I am also way behind in my movie-viewing, which is sort of a subset of the above problem, so I have made a less-important resolution to schedule more time for that, as well.

Among “the above” is Harry Potter reading (which yes, I consider important); I haven’t had time to go beyond the third book. And last year, I didn’t even manage to go see the latest Harry Potter movie, The Order of the Phoenix (number 5, I think), but during this past Christmas season, I did buy the DVD, and last night I finally watched it.

Now, for reasons that I will explain in this blog, as the story of that movie unfolded, my dropped jaw nearly crashed a hole in the floor of my apartment. And it wasn’t due to Dumbledore’s kick ass battle against Valdemort that made Yoda’s heretofore kick ass fight at the end of Star Wars number III look in comparison like a little girl’s tea party, as wonderful as that scene with Dumbledore was! No, it was the basic PLOT, itself, that blew me away. But let me explain….

For the past couple of decades, I have been reading, first articles and then books, by John Taylor Gatto, and then later I was able to attend a lecture by him in person, and finally, I bought several audio tapes of his other lectures. I greatly admire the man (I’d put him the category of being one of my personal “gurus”) and have found him to be immensely inspirational, not just about children, but about how we all learn.

It was also mostly from John Taylor Gatto that I developed a profound appreciation for our country’s founders (especially Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington) and of their amazing wisdom and self-education, and wish I could emulate their example much more than I manage to. I had an appreciation of these men before, demonstrated right down to the fact that ever since I was in the sixth grade, I have abbreviated my first name in my signature the way that several early American heroes abbreviated that same first name when they signed the Declaration of Independence (a signature is a picture of one’s own image of self), but Gatto greatly deepened my appreciation of them for me.

And from working at a school as I do, I can verify one of the concepts that Mr. Gatto propounds, that children are voracious “learning machines”, you don’t have to “make” them want to learn, and, in fact, what happens in school, instead, is that the children’s energy gets diverted, derailed, imprisoned, and indoctrinated—in other words, seriously messed with until it is nearly destroyed (much less so, and in some cases not at all, in private school, because the Powers That Be realize that they need SOME people to be leaders of the masses). By the time kids are in high school, they hate school, and some even become murderous in that hate. What happened to that sweet, precious, learning-voracious child?

It was from Gatto that I first heard of the idea that state-run public schools were specifically designed to not educate children, but to mold them into docile subjects of that very same state, which had taken control of children away from their parents. This began, of course, in the most liberal and therefore most “big government” state in the union, Massachusetts, but it also quickly occurred in other similar controlling states (such as New York, naturally, where Gatto, himself, rebelliously taught for so long), but, fortunately, much less so in more education-freedom-oriented states.

For those who happen to be interested in this subject, here is where the states stand if you are interested in educational freedom for the parents and students and minimal control by the state (all this data comes from one of the most amazingly brilliant and useful books I have read in the past several years, Strategic Relocation, by Joel M. Skousen--THAT one, when it arrived a couple of weeks ago, I sat down and read from cover to cover at one sitting, and now I am studying it with a fine-tooth comb):

Most free, least educationally-controlling states:

Alaska
Idaho
Oklahoma
Texas
Missouri
Illinois
Indiana
Michigan
New Jersey (now that is a shock)
Connecticut
Rhode Island

Next best are those states that have very little state regulation of education:

California (believe it or not—but that is changing)
Nevada
Utah
Montana
Wyoming
Arizona
New Mexico
Nebraska
Kansas
Wisconsin
Kentucky
Mississippi
Alabama

Then come those states with a medium amount of regulation (which is too much):

Hawaii (huge hotbed of liberality)
Washington (ditto)
Oregon (ditto)
Colorado
South Dakota
Minnesota
Iowa
Arkansas
Louisiana
Ohio
Tennessee
Georgia
Florida
South Carolina
North Carolina
Virginia
West Virginia
Maryland
Vermont
Maine

And finally, the educational control Hall of Shame, states where based on this one issue alone, you shouldn’t live if you have school-age children you care about:

Massachusetts
New York
Pennsylvania (except for the Amish, who managed to secure a special dispensation)
Delaware
North Dakota

Seeing Delaware on that list, I had to nod my head in huge “well that certainly fits” agreement, because I have recently learned that in Delaware, that immense level of liberal state control has even moved into college. I read an article about a course (and there are several articles on the Internet about this) required in order to graduate at the University of Delaware that chilled me to the bone. It was about diversity and race relations and the principle it teaches is that white people (and ONLY white people) are inherently racist, and the cause of all the world’s problems stem from the actions and character of white people. At the University of Delaware, they teach this course on a “required outcomes” basis, a concept I also just recently learned about, which means that in order to pass the course (and if you do not, then you have to keep taking it until you do), you have to answer the test questions and write essays indicating your successful acceptance of the state’s approved indoctrination, that (if you are a white person) you accept your racism and historical culpability and present the steps you are taking to atone for and correct those self-deficiencies. Now if that isn’t standing at the threshold of 1984’s room 101, or Harry Potter having to write in his own blood several pages of “I will not tell lies” about something he factually knows is true , I don’t know what is.

I realized that if I even chose to stay at such a “university”, I would have understood that what I needed to do would have been to pretend and lie in my answers, the concept of which strongly goes against the grain of my being truthful in all of my communications and my lack of interest in wasting my time on games of mediocre conformity…in other words, my sense of personal integrity would have been seriously compromised.

But how much worse and self-damaging must it be to receive this level of indoctrination day in and day out by elementary school children, some of whom are hardly even old enough to be taken out of the arms of their mothers. And if these innocent babies fail to comply with destroying their individual truth, esteem, and integrity, they are in danger of being declared to have an attention deficit disorder or some such “defect” and prescribed a powerful mind-and-mood-altering drug like Ritalin.

[I accept the slight possibility that there may seriously be in some cases such a malady as ADHD, where drug intervention is required, but without a doubt, this diagnosis is way too frequently misapplied and the result of that more and more is Columbine-type school shooters (acting out) or else young adult suicides (acting in—thank you to Jungian analyst Alice Miller for the insight into these responses), such as the incredibly talented would-be comedian I became friends with when I did film work, who hung himself a couple of years ago and his parents and girlfriend informed us at the memorial we held in his honor that when he was a child, he had been put on a very heavy course of Ritalin medication.]

I watched the documentary, ”Who Controls Our Children” (which currently is posted on Google video, so you can watch it, too, if you are interested), put out by the Pennsylvania Parents Association (Johnstown, Pennsylvania), which explains what “outcomes based education” is and how it works, but not only in Pennsylvania, because it is a federal program (so how about that—instead of the local school board, or individual state controlling your child’s education, now the state can sign on to federal control of it). Well, this really rang a responsive chord within me, which meant that some more dots were connected in my understanding, because John Gatto had written that early industrialists were behind indoctrination-education for their own purposes, and now their foundations (such as the Ford Foundation or Rockefeller Foundation) and the lobbyists working for them are behind it. Gatto said that big steel-maker Carnegie wrote (and here happens to be that Pennsylvania connection) that big industry did not need free and critical thinking entrepreneurs (who would, after all, be competition to the big industrialists), but docile workers comprising a nation-wide hive of labor, and the schools had the power to create this kind of worker and that is now what outcome-based education is seeking to make. Incidentally, a docile populace is also what the state, itself wants, but let’s not forget who is behind the state (which is not a reality in and of itself, but is only a conceptual tool) and uses it for its own ends of police control.

I think there are students today who would even go along with this concept; that if school didn’t help prepare you for a job, what good is it? (This is actually appropriate for a vocational school and there is nothing wrong with that at all, but as a college student, I fell into this, myself, in a university, to my lifelong misfortune.) But the point is that you don’t want a job, you don’t want to be an employee or a wage slave, you want to be the master of your own fate, which is well within your ability if the genius self you were born with was allowed to be recognized, nurtured in its growth, and felt the freedom to manifest its creations in the outer world. This benefits us ALL as a society, by the way; we would have been so far beyond the stars right now if we weren’t hampered by this level of evil control of our spirit.

And make no mistake, it is evil, because it lessens the full majesty of the creation that you are.

And this evil apparently never ever really goes away, but bides its time for a while until the time is ripe for it come out and wreak its havoc on humanity once again, which, in more modern times, seems to happen when the next generation is finally comfortable and has let its guard down. But it is a very, very old and ancient evil…my favorite example of that level of ancient planning is the most recent version of the movie The War of the Worlds (directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise), in which the aliens had buried underground in the earth their tripod killing machines tens of thousands of years before there were even people on the planet in preparation for the eventual invasion of the earth for the purpose of colonizing and exploiting the blood and bodies of those future people. I don’t remember this particular “ancient” concept appearing in the original H.G. Wells novel, but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, it was quite effectively presented in the Spielberg movie.

This is a very important concept, because people today wonder why it would be that industrialists would set up a program generations ago that would not benefit them personally, and that their heirs step by step continue with this work even thought it might not yet benefit THEM personally. And since this doesn't make sense, the average person rejects it as impossible.

Of course, in the Christian religion, this evil existed prior to God’s creation of the earth and the effort against humanity has been going on since the beginning of people.

War of the Worlds is cool, because it ends up that “God’s eternal plan” is greater than evil’s ancient plan.

After reading Joel Skousen’s book, there is a sense of “evil returning” once again in the form of Communism (now deeply infiltrated into the governments of the United States and Europe), which, according to the studies of Joel, never really went away anyway; that the “fall of the Soviet Union” was a planned ruse that successfully caused the American people to let its guard down. And, of course, it never even pretended to go away in China, despite how apparently “capitalist” they have become, the Communist party never let go of its totalitarian control. Of course, please realize that the yoke of socialistic principles is never for the rulers, anyway, or for their perverted puppets and lackeys, only for the bulk of the people (the “hive”). However, like all other all forms of evil, the dice are loaded against it…however, real people suffer terribly meanwhile. As an example, the Third Reich lasted only twelve years instead of the thousand years that it thought it would last, yet how many people suffered and died world-wide because of it?

I’ve always liked the Harry Potter books, because it is my belief that it resonates with children’s internal awareness of their own genius, not yet buried away or destroyed. While reading those books, they recognize that they are, themselves, “Wizards” in the midst of a society of Muggles, and maybe for a while this understanding will survive and maybe, just maybe NEVER fully go away. One can only hope that it will work this way, and I am very, very sure that it will, for some (there are those whose spirits somehow manage to get through this process at least somewhat intact).

So now we come to that amazing fifth movie in the series, The Order of the Phoenix, that I saw last night. Harry already KNOWS that the great evil of Lord Voldemort has returned, because Harry has seen him during the battle he had in the previous book and movie, and now also continues to experience him in his dream state and in his mind (which instead of demonstrating insanity, actually is a deeper level of knowledge). Harry’s friends believe him, because they trust in him, but also the great wizard, Dumbledore, Headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Wizardry, understands that Voldemort has returned. However, the Ministry of Magic, which is the government of the Wizards, has instigated a campaign against Harry and Dumbledore, setting them up as the cognate of our present-day “Conspiracy Theorists” to be ridiculed and rejected out of hand, just as you reading this blog branded me the minute you saw me say that the Soviet Union never fell and that Communism had infiltrated our federal government. When I first heard of this myself, I didn’t doubt it, but saw, instead, how much it explained what was going on--suddenly the pieces began to come together. (If you want to pursue this further, you might want to investigate how President Clinton signed a presidential directive to the military that states that the U.S. will no longer launch nuclear missiles on the warning that Russia has launched theirs, but will absorb Russia’s first strike, and this directive has not been cancelled or rescinded by the Bush administration. Clinton’s directive ONLY applies to the former Soviet Union, not other nations. We apparently do reserve the right to launch a pre-emptive strike on, say, Iran.)

How incredible it was to see in this film that the Ministry not only created a constant media blitz to discredit those who knew the truth, but also set to work taking over Hogwarts school and sent there an Inquisitor whose mission was to get rid of all the free-thinking teachers and administrators, and who turned the school into an outcomes based institution, indoctrinating the students into the Ministry’s desired form of docility in the face of great and destructive evil. I hated that Inquisitor with every fiber of my being; it was fascinating how the actress’s portrayal of that character was so right on that it made my skin crawl right off my bones.

The Order of the Phoenix could not have done a better job of presenting a model of what is actually going on in the world today, to the extent that I almost think that J.K. Rowling, herself, is initiated into the true facts of what really is happening in the world--but to believe that is to at the same time minimize her artistic creation. I can only say with assurance that this is an outstanding example of how when one does enter into the artistic and creative realm, they truly are in touch with deep wisdom and truth. Which is why these books resonate so powerfully with so many children and open-minded adults. Spiritual truth is so much more powerful and compelling than temporary lies.