Age-Old Defiance

Child survivors of Auschwitz. From the Belarusian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography.

Child survivors of Auschwitz. From the Belarusian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography.

We’ve seen in the news the violence at Donald Trump rallies. We’ve learned how police have systematically suppressed African-Americans in communities such as Ferguson, Missouri. And we’ve been shocked at the genocidal bigotry of ISIS, in Syria and Iraq.

In the middle of all this, I feel gladdened to see a big middle-finger stuck in the face of the most infamous bigot of all time, Adolf Hitler. Israel Kristal is that figurative middle-finger. On Friday, Guinness World Records awarded him an official certificate for being the world’s oldest man.

Israel Kristal is also a survivor of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz concentration camp.

Hitler couldn’t stamp him out. In fact, Hitler died at the age of 56 years and 10 days. On Friday, Kristal was 112 years and 178 days. He has more than doubled the age of the man who tried to kill him for his ethnic and religious background.

I know that many people died at young ages in Auschwitz. But Kristal symbolizes to me the enduring power of diversity. This world can never become homogeneous. There will always be people who look, think, and live differently from each other. Thank heavens for that! Consider how boring our planet would be if it weren’t for this enduring power of diversity.

You may be feeling disheartened over the rise of Donald Trump, ISIS, or some other bigots. Consider the Polish-born Jew, Israel Kristal. He embodies the age-old defiance of bigotry that will never cease as long as humans remain. Maybe his long life can give you something to smile about. 🙂

Beditation

James Whistler's "Symphony in White." Or as I like to call it, "The Magnetic Bed."

James Whistler’s “Symphony in White.” Or as I like to call it, “The Magnetic Bed.”

Some folks practice meditation,
Adopting the cross-legged lotus position,
Wth spine straight,
Balancing heaven upon their heads.

I practice beditation,
Adopting a position in bed,
With body supine,
Feeling the weight of thin air upon my belly.

Some seek enlightenment.
Beditation is for benightenment.
But in a dark unknowing mind, like a dark night,
Tiny points of light are more easily seen.

The mind won’t rest, even in bed.
Mindfulness flexes its inner eye.
But the mind is shy and escapes to its own world.
It doesn’t like being stared at.

A successful sesshin of beditation
Is rewarded by sleep and wild dreams,
Followed by mind awakening,
Refreshed, reborn, and renewed.

Hiking Lessons

Be as solitary and quiet as the moon, when you hike.

Be as solitary and quiet as the moon, when you hike.

I’m going to teach you how to hike. I’ve stomped many a hill, so I know what I’m talking about.

First and foremost, hike alone whenever possible. Hiking partners either slow you down or speed you up. You can’t enjoy nature at your own pace when you bring along an extra pair of legs.

Hiking partners also have a way of talking, and this destroys one of the best things about nature. Silence. You can’t hear any silence when someone else is talking. It also scares away the wildlife.

Being quiet allows you to stumble upon scenes like this.

Being quiet allows you to stumble upon scenes like this.

If you must hike with a partner, get that person to agree to wear a gag. And keep quiet, yourself. Or hike only with deaf-mutes.

Begin your hikes about a half-hour before sunrise. Everyone else is sleeping at this time, making the trail yours, and yours alone. If you truly want to get away from it all, this is the time of day you must begin.

This is the best time of day to begin a hike.

This is the best time of day to begin a hike.

Get off the damn trail. This is another clever way to get away from it all. You hardly ever come across another human being when you hike cross-country. You may get lost. You may die. But at least your end will occur in a beautiful natural setting.

Take off, cross-country.

Take off, cross-country.

Don’t worry about reaching your destination. I hardly ever reach mine. The outdoors is your destination, and that’s good enough. Stop frequently and enjoy your surroundings, wherever you amble. Lounge beneath a tree. Sit in the sun on a rock. Don’t worry too much about time. Just worry about getting back to your car before twilight. Unless you enjoy sleeping beneath the stars while freezing your ass off.

Lounge beneath a pine tree.

Lounge beneath a pine tree.

Hiking alone has its risks. One day you could end up as buzzard food, and no one would be the wiser. But being in the belly of a buzzard, soaring high into the atmosphere and then being pooped back to earth ain’t such a bad fate. Isn’t it all about being one with nature?

If the worst happens, at least you'll get a beautiful sky burial, with the help of mother nature's coroner.

If the worst happens, at least you’ll get a beautiful sky burial, with the help of mother nature’s coroner.

I Am Really Really Excited

I just want to express how excited I am about the ongoing presidential campaigns. I really really like it. It is so much fun. I really really like to watch a speech. I don’t much like listening, but I really really like to watch. I don’t care who wins. I just want someone to win. That is very exciting. Whenever someone wins. I am always very disappointed when no one wins. But I am really really excited when everyone wins. I like to follow the issues. I don’t care what the issues are about, but isn’t it so much fun that we have issues? I like that people wave their arms a lot and shout things. That is really really fun to watch. I don’t like to watch Meet the Press. That is really really boring. I can’t wait to vote. I look forward to the feel of the ballot in my hands. The paper is really really thick and it smells good. I get very excited when I hold a pen in my hand and draw a line that connects an arrow together. That is really really cool. I like it so much that I always connect all the arrows together. Every single arrow. I have so much fun. Then I mail it in and then I don’t know what happens to it after that. Someone told me that all my arrows get counted. That is really really exciting. I was told that I could vote again on election day. But they wouldn’t let me in when I showed up and stood in line. I was really really bummed. I really really wanted to connect more arrows. I am not very educated well. But one of the presidential candidates said that he loves the poorly educated. I really really hope I can connect his arrow, too.

(This guest post was dictated to me by one of my neighbors, Joe Hoogeveen, who told me he really really wants a blog of his own.)

Bipolar Bipeds

Comedy-TragedyMasks

I think mental illness is the most expensive disease a person can suffer from. And it’s not because psychiatrists charge so much. Although if you ask me, anyone who pays the kind of hourly rate they charge has to be crazy. But mental illness can also cost people their careers, their freedom, their families, and even their lives.

It cost my daughter everything but her family. We stood by her, but she was bipolar and there was nothing we could do to cure that problem.

She could not hold down a paying job for very long. She made bad choices in men. She spent a year in jail. And then she began taking Seroquel, a powerful psych medicine. A potential side effect reported for Seroquel is blood clots. A few months after taking this drug, she was hospitalized with blood clots in her legs. And then some of them broke free and traveled to her lungs, killing her at the age of 32.

About ten million Americans have bipolar disorder. That’s a lot of bipolar bipeds. And about one in five adults suffer from some sort of diagnosable mental disorder. There’s a plague of mental illness in our world, exacting immeasurable costs on many people.

If you often have a difficult time making healthy decisions for yourself, you could very well be mentally ill. Don’t live in denial. Admit your problem and seek help.

Also, if you’re mentally ill, learn to take advice from those who care about you, and are better than you at making good decisions. When our daughter started taking Seroquel she was warned to get regular checkups for blood clots. She blew that advise off. The mentally ill must accept that they need help making decisions. People with good vision read for the blind. People with good hearing listen for the deaf. And those with stable minds can help the mentally ill with their decisions.

Many people manage their mental illness successfully. If you’re mentally ill, seek the help you need. It doesn’t have to exact a high toll on your life. You can turn your life around, and stop paying such high prices.

Plasticillus

Baggus Grocerus. This common species of the wild may soon be threatened with extinction, from an emerging pandemic.

Baggus Grocerus. This common species of the wild may soon be threatened with extinction, from an emerging pandemic.

My nephew Herbert is a brilliant young man with a PhD. He spends his time in his basement conducting scientific experiments and developing cutting-edge inventions that make this world a better place.

He’s been worried about plastic for a long time. Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down in our landfills and oceans, and even after it breaks down it remains in tiny particulate form that threatens wildlife.

But a group of Yale students recently discovered a fungus in the amazon that devours polyurethane at an astonishing rate. And then there’s the Canadian high school student, Daniel Burd. Burd developed a cocktail of bacteria that can completely dissolve plastic bags in just three months.

Herbert decided to build on these recent discoveries by trying to genetically engineer a super-hungry, plastic-eating bacteria. He wanted to release this powerful microbe into the world, so it could quickly and naturally dissolve all the plastic buried in our landfills and floating in our oceans.

My nephew kept me updated on his progress. I’m not smart like him, so I really don’t know how he was able to extract the DNA from that amazonian fungus and combine it with that Canadian bacon, I mean bacteria, to engineer the new organism that he developed. All I know is that something went very, very wrong.

I got a call from him last night. He sounded panicky. “Unc-unc-unc Uncle T-tippy!” he was breathless.

“Calm down Herbert, calm down. Do a few math problems on your calculator. There that’s it. Feeling better now? Good. What’s going on?” At least I’m smarter than him when it comes to psychology.

“I won’t be able to use the calculator for very much longer, Uncle Tippy. Oh Uncle Tippy, what have I done?! The calculator keys are dissolving right before my eyes. And so is this phone. Not sure how much longer we’ll stay connected.”

“Why? What’s happening? Tell me what’s wrong? Is there anything I can do to help?” Now I was the one feeling a little panicky.

“It’s PLASTICILLUS!” he shouted.

“What the hell is that?”

“I invented it. Plasticillus, I call it. It’s a brand-new GMO bacteria that I, Dr. Herbert Veervender, invented. I should win the Nobel Prize for this. Except one thing. It’s one heck of a lot more virile than I intended it to be. It escaped my petri dishes and it’s taking over everything.”

“But isn’t that what you wanted, Herbie? Isn’t this how you’re going to save the planet from plastic?”

“You don’t understand. It’s dissolving everything plastic in the house. My computer keyboard is flaking apart. Our polyester curtains are shredding. Our vinyl flooring is decaying beneath my feet. Even the polyester fabric in my clothes is coming apart. I’m looking out my window and can see my neighbor’s artificial lawn turning from green to splotchy brown and gray. But I can’t go outside and warn my neighbors and community about this spreading bacteria because my clothes will fall off, and that would be very embarrassing.”

“This sounds crazy, Herb. What can I do? How can I help?”

“You have to do something, Uncle Tippy! Warn everyone! Warn the world!! You have a blog don’t you? Write a post to warn people. Soon no cars will be drivable, because the plastic parts in the frames and engines will decay. Soon the water utilities of many cities will cease to function, when their PVC water mains dissolve. And the electric grid will be destroyed nationwide, then worldwide, as plasticillus devours the insulation of power lines. Civilization is coming to an end!”

“Gee, this sounds serious. Alright, I’ll write a post to warn everyone. Anything else I can do?”

“Yes, you’re in a very unique position to help. So listen very closely. This is critically important to stopping the spread of this bacteria. You have to–”

We were suddenly cut off. The plasticillus must have finished off his phone. I can’t communicate with my nephew anymore. So now I’m left trying to figure out for myself what I have to do to save the world. Any ideas, anyone?

Three Issues

"Taco Robbery" by Charles Russell

“Taco Robbery” by Charles Russell

There are three issues that matter to me in this election: Tacos, Internet Freedom, and Naps.

My favorite meal is tacos, and I want a president who will keep this delicious menu item popular and inexpensive. So I must be certain that as commander-in-chief, he/she will keep us out of war with Mexico.

I love the internet. But occasionally I accidentally Google something that brings up photos of nice young ladies who happen to have few if any clothes on. I really enjoy these mistakes, but I only ogle at these Googles for a few seconds before I quickly fix my search query. No, I wouldn’t abuse my internet privileges by slobbering over these images for hours upon end. Not me. Just the same, it always comes as a pleasant surprise whenever I make such Googling errors. I want a president who understands this, and who will not censor the internet.

Nothing feels better than a midday nap. Especially at work. But I’m retired now, so I get double the pleasure from my naps, because I don’t have to sleep with one eye open. Television is a great soporific. I like to turn on the boob tube, prop myself up in bed, and then drift off to dreamland under the quiet hum of my favorite TV show. I want a president who will keep us out of crises, so I won’t have my naps constantly disturbed by the clamant blare of breaking news.

Donald Drumpf (aka Trump) would be bad for tacos. He’s sure to get us into a war with Mexico, and then patriotic war hawks would call for a boycott on tacos. Just like they did with French fries after France criticized us for invading Iraq. Every Del Taco in our country would be forced to close. But the Donald wouldn’t censor the internet. He always says he LOVES women. As for naps, I’d never get one again with all the trouble he’d stir up in this world. So Donald, you would only be good for one issue. Thus, I give you only 1 point, in my scoring system for choosing who to vote for.

Cruz and Rubio would protect tacos. They’re Hispanic, so I’m sure they’d do their very best to preserve this fine form of tortilla-sandwich dining. But Cruz is evangelical, and Rubio is part of the Republican establishment. Both groups have a history of Comstockery, so they’ll censor the internet. Thus, no more skin for dirty old men. As for naps, I think I’d get a lot of them under their leadership. They are both boring as hell. So I give them 2 points each.

Hillary would be great for tacos. She appeals to Hispanics, and has even hinted she may choose a Hispanic running-mate. Democrats never censor the internet, so my Googling errors would be safe under her tutelage. And I’ve found it very easy to take a nap in the middle of her speeches. Hillary’s a 3 in my book.

But what about Bernie? Well, he’s from Vermont. I’ve been to Vermont. Do you know how hard it is to find a taco in Vermont? So Bernie-from-Vermont probably knows nothing about tacos. This lack of range in his qualifications costs him a point in my book. He wouldn’t censor the internet, but he has called for revolution. A revolution means lots of breaking news. No naps under Bernie. Bernie gets just 1 point.

And so the winner is, Hillary Rodham Clinton. There, I’ve made my decision. Now it’s time for a taco and nap. But not before I do a little internet browsing.

Rapping It Up

Where rappers rap it up.

Where rappers rap it up.

Why do people keep killing rappers? I’m no fan of the genre. And I can certainly understand why someone would want to shoot those who play this music so loud, every house in the neighborhood vibrates. But why kill the rappers, themselves? It’s just music, everyone.

Country stars drink themselves to death. Rockers overdose. But rappers–they die of lead poisoning.

The latest rapper to bite the dust was a rising star from Atlanta, named Bankroll Fresh. Last Friday night he was standing outside his recording studio, when blangdiddy, blam, blang, bang, a hail of bullets cuts him down. He was only 28 years old. No arrests have been made.

Here’s a list of other rappers that have been murdered:

Big Hawk: 1969-2006. Shot dead by an unknown suspect, when he went to a friend’s house to play dominoes. No arrests have been made.

Big L: 1974-1999. Shot in a drive-by shooting in Harlem. The murder is still unsolved.

Bad News Brown: 1977-2011. Found dead in an alley, apparently the victim of violence. The case is still unsolved.

Blade Icewood: 1977-2005. Shot at a car wash in Detroit by an unknown gunman.

Camoflauge: 1981-2003. Gunned down outside of Pure Pain recording studio, while walking his toddler son. Whodunnit? Not me! Nobody knows, who’s willing to talk.

Charizma: 1973-1993. Shot dead in a mugging. His killer was arrested the same day.

Chinx: 1983-2015. Shot in a double-homicide in Queens, New York. The murder has not yet been solved.

Doe B: 1991-2013. Shot at the Centennial Bar and Grill in Montgomery Alabama. His killer, who had been in an ongoing dispute with him, later turned himself in.

Dolla: 1987-2009. Shot in L.A. by Aubrey Louis Berry. Berry claimed self-defense and was acquitted by a jury in 2010.

Fat Pat: 1970-1998. Brother of Big Hawk (see above). Shot in Texas by, who knows, while collecting an appearance fee.

Freaky Tah: 1971-1999. Shot at the Sheraton in Queens, New York, by Kelvin Jones, who plead guilty to murder.

Half a Mill: 1973-2003. Shot in his apartment in Albany, New York. Details about the shooting are sketchy.

Jam Master Jay: 1965-2002. Shot execution-style in a recording studio in Queens, New York. Suspects exist, but no one has been convicted.

Lil Phat: 1992-2012. Shot outside a hospital in Sandy Springs, Georgia, while awaiting the birth of his daughter. Three men were convicted of this murder in 2014.

Mac Dre: 1970-2004. Shot while a passenger in a van, in Kansas City, Missouri. There have been no leads or arrests in this case.

Magnolia Shorty: 1982-2010. This female rapper was shot 26 times, in New Orleans, in a double-homicide that also took the life of Jerome Hampton. In 2014, Gregory Stewart confessed to being one of four men who participated in this gang-related shooting. This was part of a plea agreement that resulted in no prosecution for the murders.

Pavlos Fyssas: 1979-2013. This Greek anti-fascist rapper was stabbed to death in Athens by a member of the neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn.

Proof: 1973-2006. Shot four times while playing a game of pool that turned into a heated argument. Proof first shot and killed Keith Bender. Then Bender’s cousin, Mario Etheridge, shot Proof twice in the head and twice in the chest. Authorities determined that Etheridge was acting lawfully, in defense of another. Even if he did shoot him four times.

Sabotage: 1973-2003. This Brazilian rapper was shot four times in the head and chest. No arrests have been made.

Seagram: 1970-1996. Shot in a violent neighborhood of Oakland, while exiting a van. It’s still an unsolved mystery.

Soulja Slim: 1977-2003. Shot four times on the front lawn of his mother and stepfather’s home, in New Orleans, by an unknown gunman.

Stretch: 1968-1995. Shot four times in the back while driving his minivan, in Queens, New York. The murder is unsolved, but many believe Tupac Shakur was behind it.

The Jacka: 1977-2015. Shot in Oakland, while rapping with friends in a van. No arrests have been made.

The Notorious B.I.G: 1972-1997. Considered one of the most influential rappers of all time. But it’s rumored he was behind the shooting of Tupac Shakur in 1996. This young man was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, while stopped at a red light. His killer has never been arrested.

Tupac Shakur: 1971-1996. Got into a brawl with Crips gang member Orlando “Bobby Lane” Anderson, in Las Vegas. A few hours later he was murdered in a drive-by shooting. Fellow rapper, Suge Knight, was with him, and received a head wound. Las Vegas police discounted Anderson as a suspect, and only interviewed him once. The murder remains unsolved.

VL Mike: 1976-2008. Shot in New Orleans while exiting his vehicle. An unknown assailant escaped on foot.

Yaki Kadafi: 1977-1996. This friend of Tupac Shakur was accidentally shot in the head two months after Shakur was killed. His killer served 10 years in prison.

That’s 26 murdered rappers, not counting our most recent, Bankroll Fresh. 18 of these murders, or 69%, remain unsolved. That seems like a hell of a high rate of unsolved murders. By the way, what is this about shooting rappers four times? What’s with the number four?

I guess if you want to get away with murder, shoot a rapper. You have about a 69% chance of never being caught. And if you do get caught, there’s a good chance you’ll beat the rap, so to speak.

And that about raps it up.

Dogtoothed Dogfight

In this corner, Mona "Don't Mess With My Teeth" Lisa

In this corner, Mona “Don’t Mess With My Smile” Lisa

And in this corner, Peone "The Alpha Hygienist"

And in this corner, Peone “The Alpha Hygienist”

Yesterday two of our wiener dogs, Mona Lisa and Peone, got into a fight. Mona Lisa is a 13-year-old cranky Tasmanian Devil. Peone is a 5-year-old hyperactive ball of energy, and the alpha female of the house. Although she’s small and the youngest, her unsuppressible energy makes her the leader of our pack of four dogs.

Peone loves to clean Mona Lisa’s dirty, stinking, rotting teeth. Usually Mona Lisa tolerates this intrusive activity, much as we humans tolerate the dental hygienist who picks, scrapes and grinds away at our ivories, every six months, as we dig our fingernails into the naugahyde arms of the chair.

But yesterday Mona Lisa had enough, and she bit Peone’s tongue. The fight was on. My wife broke it up and gave Peone a severe scolding.

Was my wife in the wrong? After all, Mona Lisa’s old teeth truly are rotting out of her head, and perhaps it’s for her own good to have her teeth cleaned regularly by her sister, whether she likes it or not.

What Makes Them Bloom?

A Joshua tree forest. As you can see, Joshua trees are not fit for climbing, unless you're wearing a full-leather suit.

A Joshua tree forest. As you can see, Joshua trees are not fit for climbing, unless you’re wearing a full-leather suit.

Joshua trees are in mass bloom in the Mojave desert this year. What makes these crazy trees bloom? Your smartass answers are always welcome, and would be as good a guess as anyone’s. But conventional wisdom, and Wikipedia, claim that rainfall and a hard freeze is required.

Joshua trees bloom in late-Winter, with most blooms gone by the first day of Spring.

Joshua trees bloom in late-Winter, with most blooms gone by the first day of Spring.

It seems the wise, Wikipedia-types weren’t around eight years ago. That’s when a drought brought zero rain to our desert over the winter. And yet nearly all the Joshua trees bloomed. During normal years you’ll see a smattering of blooms–a tree here, a tree there, but with most barren of blooms. And some years, hardly no trees bloom at all.

Some blooms take on a dark pink hue.

Some blooms take on a dark pink hue.

However in 2008, botanists were baffled to see almost every Joshua tree in rare, full bloom. And this during one of our driest winters on record. So what caused the mass bloom? Scientists came out from all over to study the phenomenon, but never figured it out. They’re still scratching their heads.

An early bud.

An early bud.

A bud just beginning to open. Looks kind of like an artichoke.

A bud just beginning to open. Looks kind of like an artichoke.

Many blooms are creamy white, without the pink.

Many blooms are creamy white, without the pink.

The Joshua tree got its name from Mormon settlers who thought it resembled the biblical Joshua lifting his arms in the air in praise of God. I think they should be renamed the “Seuss Tree” since they look kind of like trees found in Dr. Seuss books. The botanical name is Yucca brevifolia. This means yucca with short foliage. Joshua trees have short, spiky leaves, as opposed to most yuccas with much longer spikes. Yep, those spikes are technically leaves.

I wonder if Dr. Seuss saw these trees before illustrating his famous books?

I wonder if Dr. Seuss saw these trees before illustrating his famous books?

Joshua trees can live up to a thousand years. They only grow in the Mojave desert of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Some say they also grow in Israel, but this is a myth. The only Joshua that grew in Israel was the biblical Joshua, who never saw a Joshua tree in his life.

This looks a bit like an ice cream cone.

This looks a bit like an ice cream cone.

Today you can find tens of thousands of these trees growing in Joshua Tree National Park, California. But global warming is causing it to depopulate its southern range. Botanists fear that by the end of this century it will no longer be found in its eponymous park.

Looks almost good enough to eat. But the taste is bitter and soapy.

Looks almost good enough to eat. But the taste is bitter and soapy.

The Joshua is a strange, grand, majestic tree to behold. I feel kind of sorry for those who’ll live here a century from now. This desert will look rather bland without them.

Close-up of the flower petals.

Close-up of the flower petals.