Month: December 2018

Saint Barbara

My first sort-of girlfriend was named Barbara. She and I were in the third-grade, and she also lived just down the street from me. We laughed and played together, and had plenty of fun, until the day I called her a whore. I didn’t know what that word meant, but I thought it was funny because I’d heard other people laughing when they said that word.

Barbara didn’t think it was funny.

It would have been better had I called her a saint. Just like Mission Santa Barbara, which my wife and I visited a few weeks ago. By the way, I’ve never called my wife a whore, and we’ve had a long, happy marriage.

Mission Santa Barbara is unique in a number of distinct ways. For instance, it was the first of the old California missions to be founded by Father Fermin Lasuen, who was the successor to Father Junipero Serra.

It’s located in Santa Barbara, California, which is arguably the most beautiful coastal town in the entire Golden State.

It’s the only mission with two bell towers. Smart. It’s always wise to have a backup. Legend has it that Saint Barbara was locked up in a tower by her pagan-worshiping father, from which she miraculously escaped. So perhaps this is why two bell towers were built at this particular mission.

The twin bell towers of Mission Santa Barbara. Seems the Catholics invented the world’s first stereo.

It’s been destroyed or severely damaged by earthquakes, twice, in 1812 and 1925.

The mission architecture is beautiful, but no place to stand near during an earthquake.

The Mexican government secularized the California missions in 1834, threatening the total loss of the mission system. But Father Presidente Narciso Duran came to the rescue. He transferred his headquarters to Mission Santa Barbara, and brought with him over 3,000 original documents that pertained to all the missions. This is the oldest archive in California, and remains a priceless treasure for historic research. And these documents have been used for the accurate restoration of the other missions, after they fell into ruins.

An old, out-of-use gateway to the Mission cemetery.

Mission Santa Barbara is the only one of the 21 California missions to remain under perpetual control of the Franciscan Order, from its founding in 1786, to the present day. The rest were sold off by the Mexican government after 1834, to Californios.

This side entrance, from the cemetery to the church, was reserved for pirates only.

Californios were the original Mexican landowners in California. They were unfortunate in several ways. First, their land was coveted by white settlers after the United States stole California from Mexico, during the Mexican War. The treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo guaranteed they could keep their land. However, the Californios violated this treaty when they sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War.

A basin of holy water at the main entrance to the church. Or maybe it’s God’s eyeball. I’m not sure.

Therefore, on March 18, 1865, Abraham Lincoln decided to grant a petition by a Catholic bishop, to return all the California missions back to the Catholic Church. The Californios lost out, but historical preservationists won a big victory.

Jesus asking a woman at Jacob’s Well for a drink of water. She was a Samaritan, considered one of the lesser races of people. And she’d had five husbands already, and was shacking up with her sixth lover. I mean, for Christ’s sake, what the hell was he talking to a woman like that for?

I can’t speak for my first girlfriend, because I lost track of her after grade school. So I don’t know what line of work she eventually pursued. But history speaks favorably to Barbara, the mission. It has always been run by a religious order. And it has been very instrumental in the restoration of all the other California missions.

This little niche is so colorful and inviting, I hardly feel sorry for the “poor” box.

Mission Santa Barbara has lived up to its first name. It truly is a Saint.

The church altar, in all its refulgent splendor.

The True Meaning of Christmas

A traditional nativity set on the church altar, at Mission San Gabriel, California.

Today is the real day of Christmas, so Merry Christmas everyone! Actually, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. After today, our days will grow longer and longer.

This was the favorite holiday of pagans. They loved the sun. Worshiped it, in fact. And they got pie-eyed drunk every year, to celebrate its return from its southern retreat.

A recrudescent sun, peeking through clouds.

The early Catholics had a hell of a time converting pagans to Christianity. They tried torture, drowning, and mass murder. But apparently, many pagans would rather attend a mass murder than a Catholic mass. This had a lot to do with the bacchanal celebrations of the winter solstice. They were such a blast, nobody wanted to give them up.

This nativity set at Mission Santa Barbara, California, seems to have come from the Stone Age.

Finally the Catholics compromised and moved the celebration of Christ’s birthday to the winter solstice date. Nobody could agree on when Jesus was born anyway, so this was an easy move to make.

A modern nativity set, complete with hippies, at Mission Santa Barbara, California.

Imperfections in the calendar caused Christmas to eventually slide a few days past the solstice. But it’s still close enough, and besides, there aren’t many fundamentalist pagans around anymore to complain.

Solar eclipse shadow patterns projecting through tree leaves. Eclipses were more worrisome to pagans than the winter solstice, as they occurred unexpectedly, and unlike the winter solstice, nobody was sure the sun would return.

The Christmas compromise makes sense in some ways. The birth of Christ symbolizes new life for those who die, just like the returning sun melts away winter and brings new life to the land. And Christ is supposedly the “light” of this world, just like the sun.

This nativity set at Mission Santa Ines, in Solvang, California, is about 400 years old. I guess over the years, the three wise men, sheep, and angels must have all been dropped and broken.

I’m an atheist, but I like the sun as much as any drunken pagan. So I like what the winter solstice symbolizes. And after the winter of my life is over, I like to assume that there’s new life on the other side.

This nativity set at Mission Santa Barbara, California, depicts Christ being born in a canoe. Tsk, such a small place to be born. Perhaps there was no room at the ship.

I also like that we don’t have to be pagans to enjoy the benefits of our returning sun. And on the same token I doubt we have to be Christians to have eternal life. If there is such a thing as eternal life, then we’re living it right now. And we will always live it. There’s no getting out of something as enduring as eternal life. Just as there’s no keeping the sun from shining on earth.

The promise of a nice, warm sun, and eternal life. For me, that’s the true meaning of Christmas.

Sunrise over Long Beach, California, with an oil tanker promising warm furnaces, and eternal mobility for our cars.

2019: The End is Near!

If you hate politics as much as me, you’re gonna love this political post. I predict that the end is near!

My prediction for the year 2019 is that at some blessed moment, on some blessed day of next year, Donald Trump will leave office and no longer be our president. He will either be impeached and convicted, or he will resign.

But that’s not the end I’m prophesying. I’m prognosticating that within a few months after Trump leaves office, you’ll be able to tune into any cable news channel and watch for at least ten minutes without hearing the T-word.

Yes, the dreaded T-word is on the way out. No more Trump this, Trump that, Trump all the time, 24/7. And many news anchors and reporters will be laid off, because the T-word seems to be the extent of their vocabulary.

Finally we’ll be able to watch news covering other subjects besides our beloved president. And I do mean beloved, because we do so love to hate him.

Here’s why I think Trump is soon to be history. It’s all in the math:

Last month the Republicans got their red asses whipped by the Democrats, in the mid-terms. They lost at least 40 seats in the House of Representatives, to the Dems, and thus lost control of the House. And their bowels. And their bladders.

Yes, they did gain two Senate seats, as Trump is quick to crow, but conditions were very favorable for them in the Senate this election cycle. 26 Democratic senate seats were up for reelection, but only 9 Republican seats. The Republicans should have picked up a lot more than just two seats. And if Trump hadn’t been out campaigning so hard for them, they probably would have.

In the next election, Senate prospects will be far less favorable for the Republicans, because they will be defending 22 seats, while the Dems will try to keep their asses planted in just 12.

Right now, Republican senators must be shitting a brick every time they think about the upcoming 2020 elections. Donald Trump is highly unpopular in America. And with each new scandal, and each new revelation from the many investigations, his popularity treads on thinner and thinner ice. The elections of 2020 will likely be a massacre for the GOP in the Senate if something isn’t done about Trump, now.

Impeachment is a two step process. The House of Representatives does the impeaching. A simple majority of 218 votes is required to impeach. And there will be at least 235 Democrats sharpening their knives in the House next year. So the votes are there. Let the stabbing begin.

But Step 2 requires the Senate to do the convicting and removing. After the House votes for impeachment, Trump will be put on trial in the Senate. After the trial, two-thirds of the Senate will have to vote to convict and evict Trump from the White House. That means 67 out of our 100 senators will have to vote against Trump, on at least one of the many expected counts of impeachment.

Next year there will be 45 Democratic senators, and 2 Independent senators, that can be expected to vote for removal. Unless an asteroid strikes our planet. Or unless Yellowstone blows up and sinks North America. Or unless glacial ice-melting submerges Washington D.C.

Thus, at least 20 of the 53 Republican senators will also have to vote for removal, to rid cable news of the T-word.

I believe the Senate will have no trouble mustering those 20 Republican votes. Remember, 22 Republican senators will be up for reelection in 2020. And 22 more will face reelection in 2022. And so I suspect there are at least 44 nervous Republicans in the Senate who are secretly hoping and praying for the president’s early political demise, in spite of all the lickspittle public praise they heap upon him.

Otherwise their political careers may go straight down Trump’s golden crapper.

What they need is a premise. Some red meat. Something they can show to their fanatics, er, voters, that Trump really is the terrible person his new Chief of Staff said he is. You know, a con artist. A liar. And a corrupt sellout to countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia. The kind of stuff everyone who is not a Republican, or Donald’s Chief of Staff, is already aware of.

That way they’ll have an excuse to vote for his removal, while standing a chance at getting enough votes to win their Republican primary elections.

And we already have some red meat. Trump has been implicated in a scheme to violate campaign finance laws, by paying off the National Enquirer to silence women he’s had extramarital affairs with.

Remember Bill Clinton? He survived removal after he was impeached, when zero Democratic Senators, but 50 Republican senators, voted to convict and evict over charges stemming from a sex scandal. Yep, where Democrats have no morality, Republicans are loaded with it. They will not stand for any president to have illicit sex. Regardless of political party. Right? Uh, ahem. R-r-right.

But just to be on the safe side, I’m sure much more meat will be put on display at the butcher shop. Special Counsel Bob Mueller will issue his report, and the House of Representatives will complete a few investigations of their own. And the Southern District Court of New York will also do some snooping. Soon we’ll see meat on display with labels such as, “The Putin Penthouse Steak”, “Obstruction Sausage”, and “Trump Roast Tax Returns”.

And maybe there’ll be some “Collusion Calimari” on the side.

I predict that will be enough. That kind of meat is what Republican senators need, to satisfy their party. That is what they are secretly praying for, even while openly defending our orange oligarch.

And the sooner the better. Because the sooner they can get rid of Trump, the sooner they can get on with the business most important to them. Their reelection campaigns.

You heard it here first. My prediction for 2019. No more Trump, and the T-word is on its way out. The end is near!

God I hope I’m right.

The Life and Philosophy of Seagulls

My wife and I cannot visit the ocean without buying a loaf of day-old bread. Or box of crackers. Or bag of pretzels. We don’t buy it for ourselves. No, we prefer donuts. We buy it for the seagulls. My wife loves feeding these white-winged scavengers, and so every walk on the beach involves being mobbed by gulls, circling and diving and fighting for a free handout.

My wife feeding seagulls at Will Rogers State Beach, in Santa Monica, California. “For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

You have to be careful when feeding seagulls. I advise wearing a hat, and maybe a raincoat. And be quick. If you hold the food too long in your hand, a gull may fly straight into your face and snatch it away, while grabbing a finger in the process.

Some seagulls trust they won’t be grabbed by humans who offer food. And some humans trust they won’t lose their fingers while offering food. “Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

We like seagulls, so it’s nice to know that they thrive on every continent. Most are migratory and don’t give a damn about borders. Some travel all the way from South America to Canada, and back again, without ever acquiring a visa. One time we visited the Mexican Riviera during the summer, and noticed with disappointment that there were no seagulls. Hell, they’d all flown north, enjoying the cooler climes of such resort towns as San Francisco and Seattle.

“The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere, instantly.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Seagulls have very smart bird brains. Their communication skills are more complex than any teenage girl’s. And they gather in colonies, where they yap and yawp and squawk at each other, while establishing an intricate social order. Kind of how committees work. They do this once per year, during their breeding and nesting season.

A Ring-billed Gull during a light rain, at Hammonasset Beach State Park, in Madison, Connecticut. “With the same inner control, he flew through heavy sea-fogs and climbed above them into dazzling clear skies . . . in the very times when every other gull stood on the ground, knowing nothing but mist and rain.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Marriage is a sacred institution for seagulls. They are monogamous, tying the knot for life. On rare occasions a colony will allow a couple to divorce, but afterwards those poor divorced seagulls are treated like pariahs. They aren’t even allowed inside singles bars. It’s worthy to note, by the way, that over 800 years ago, Saint Francis of Assisi converted all seagulls to Roman Catholicism.

A California Gull against the Santa Ynez mountains, at Santa Barbara, California. “His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Their political form of government is Socialist. When seagulls gather together in their colonies, they are all apportioned a circular plot of land, sometimes up to 30 feet in diameter, and mortgage-free, for nest-building and raising their brood. And the whole community pitches in at child-rearing, because the parents will often receive outside help to sit on their eggs. It’s called Seagull Daycare, and is an official government program of the Democratic Seagulls Republic of Oceania.

This Western Gull appears to be delivering a speech, on the taffrail of a cruise ship docked at Ensenada, Mexico. “I have no wish to be leader. I want only to share what I’ve found, to show those horizons out ahead for us all.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

All seagulls are required to join the Air Force while living in their colonies. And when a predator dares to venture near, the alarm goes out, and squadrons upon squadrons of seagulls are scrambled, which dive-bomb the intruder until it dies or runs the hell away.

“Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimited idea of freedom.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Seagulling doesn’t come easy. It takes a long time to learn how to be a seagull. Seagull school is very challenging, because these birds must learn how to acquire their food in countless different ways. Here’s a list of some of the food-gathering techniques employed by gulls:

• Dumpster-diving.
• Stealing fish from other birds.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Killing and eating other birds.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Stealing eggs.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Pecking out the flesh of whales, as they surface.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Baiting fish, with food scraps.
• Dumpster diving.
• Catching crabs.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Hawking insects in mid-air.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Digging for worms.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Pecking seeds and fruit.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Cleaning up road-kill.
• Dumpster-diving.
• Begging food from my wife.
• Dumpster-diving.

Seagulls can be omnivorous. They can learn to eat just about anything, such as these remains of a cracker box we emptied on the beach. “We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Seagulls are also one of the few birds that know how to open a clam shell. They fly it up to a great height, and then drop the clam onto rocks, or some other hard surface. What a horrifying elevator ride for the poor damn clam. This is the most difficult skill of all, for seagulls to learn, and so older gulls tend to be more successful with it than younger ones. Or maybe it’s because when the youngsters try to get the oldsters to teach them this skill, the oldsters clam up.

Hawking is the practice of snatching insects in mid-flight, from a perch, as this keen-eyed Western Gull is preparing to do. “Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing?” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Eating may pose a learning curve for seagulls, but drinking does not. They possess glands in their skulls that filter out salt. So that leaves the entire ocean available to them, for slaking thirst. You’ll never encounter a seagull at the beach trying to bum a drink from you.

This Ring-billed Gull at Lake Champlain, Vermont, must have been very drunk or very brave. It allowed me to approach within a few feet, to steal a closeup. “Jonathan sighed. The price of being misunderstood, he thought. They call you devil or they call you god.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

There are many different species of seagulls. Which, by the way, are scientifically called “gulls”. As far as ornithologists are concerned, there’s no such thing as a “seagull”.

The “Little Gull” is, coincidentally, the smallest of the gulls. It weighs just 4.2 ounces, and is only 11 inches long. The largest gull species is the “Great Black-Backed Gull”, which weighs 3.9 pounds, and is 30 inches long. And it has a black back, in case you weren’t aware.

Now that you know all about seagulls, perhaps you may want to take a trip to the beach, where you can observe them more closely. Seagull watching can be fun, so I’m sure your trip will be worth every dollar you spend on expensive motel rooms and parking meters. But while you’re packing your swimsuit and setting your GPS, my wife would like to remind you of something. Please, don’t forget to run down to the grocery store and buy a loaf of day-old bread.

“The only true law is that which leads to freedom,” Jonathan said. “There is no other.” ~ Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

If you’re still not clear about the philosophy of seagulls, perhaps Neil Diamond can help you, with his soundtrack from the movie, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: