Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

To be completely honest, I’m not comfortable with being completely honest.

For one thing, if we had total honesty, there would be no privacy, and that would be like eating, reading, and having sex in glass houses.

People and agencies of government advocating unconstitutional snooping and searches are famous for saying, “If you have nothing to hide, you can’t complain about such programs.”

The thing is, I do have something to hide: the stuff that’s nobody’s business. That’s my right to privacy.

While I may have to accept the possibility that the Creator knows all and sees all as the Eye of Providence on our dollar bill suggests, I don’t accept the notion that anyone who is not the Creator needs an all-seeing eye. I don’t want Sauron’s eye from “The Lord of the Rings” watching–must less recording–what I’m having for breakfast and what book I’m reading before lunch.

Some people say that if they (or the Feds or the Cops) have the all-seeing eye of Sauron (and promise to use it in a purportedly proper manner), we will all be safer. I’ve never seen any evidence that proves the truth of that fable, and even if it were true, it would make us all manacled to those using the eye.

When it comes to spies with eyes, I’m keeping my curtains closed, and if you ask me what I’m doing inside those curtains, I will lie about it. Sure, I know the day will come when somebody will invent an all-knowing brain that will hear every thought we have. When that happens, we’ll probably have people lobbying for a PreCrime division of the department of justice similar to what we saw in the Tom Cuise movie “Minority Report.”

Except the all knowing brain will be worse, for not only will it be able to predict and stop crimes before they happen, it will stop whatever we’re planning to do before we can do it. The brain sees that I’m planning to drink a bottle of booze, so it alerts the authorities. Or the brain sees that I’m planning to read a book the brain doesn’t want me to read, so the people that own the brain come to my house on a warrantless search and take away the book.

You can see the potential of that, right?

Perhaps, on the day when the eye of Sauron and the all knowing brain are created by Congress or implemented by one alphabet soup department or another without Congress’ knowledge, writers will be given magic rings that make them immune. After all, it’s our job to make stuff up. I’m cynical about that. If we were given immunity, there would probably be an override button so that–say, for national security or some other catchphrase–those with the proper clearances will know that on Friday, I will put sugar on my sugar cookie before sitting down to write a post called “Is Honesty the Best Policy?”

I don’t think so.

Gosh, such a notion might destroy government as we know it because what if people swore they were telling the truth when they weren’t telling the truth? Some say we’re not telling the truth even when we think we’re telling the truth. We’ve all heard that eye-witness testimony is often wrong even though the witnesses providing it don’t think they’re lying. Perhaps all testimony is perjury, one way or another.

Some quantum physicists believe that everything that can happen does happen. If so, then lies really can’t exist can they?

Until we accept that reality, what we need when our privacy is at stake is well-crafted perjury that can’t be detected. I’m comfortable with that.

–Malcolm

As you might suspect even without the help of an all-seeing eye, Malcolm R. Campbell writes novels that are often labeled as fantasy and/or magic.

 

 

Mama Don’t Allow No New Year’s Resolutions ‘Round Here

“Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” – Oscar Wilde

If you are driving along a wilderness highway and approach a bridge with a sign that says, “80% of the cars trying to cross this bridge will fall off,” would you drive across the bridge?

Most people will probably say “no.” Ironically, nearly all of those people who say “no” make New Year’s resolutions even though (according to this study) 80% of these resolutions will fail.

Experts (whoever the hell they are) say that we make resolutions because we feel guilty for being naughty during the holidays when we ate too much, drank too much, slept around too much, and stole too many of our kids’ presents out from under the tree.

Mama’s view of resolutions was this: “If you’re so all-fired gung-ho about reforming, you would have done it already.” Since Mama didn’t care much about what the neighbors thought, she didn’t care much about the peer pressure that induces people to announce on January 1 that they’re turning over a new leaf.

She tended to think resolutions were an all talk, no action way of life. While it’s easy in the middle of a hangover from hell to blurt out, “With God as my witness, I’me never going to drink again,” it’s sheer vanity to stand up in front of a bunch of your best friends and say, “In 2018, I will be kind to my fine feathered friends because they might be somebody’s mother.” Everybody applauds, and thinks, “wow, what a saint.”

If you’re lucky, none of those people will be around when you take your 12-gauge shotgun out to the duck blind and shoot a lot of Mallards out of the sky for dinner.

Like Mama, I think resolutions are just showing off. Many are probably made because people are staring at you expecting you to reform or because you’re drunk and don’t know any better or because Mr. Jones caught you sleeping with Mrs. Jones whereupon you thought it best to say, “Oops, wrong bedroom, but rest assured I’ll never do this again.”

Some resolutions may have a dash of merit, as in Jame’s Agate’s “New Year’s Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.” I like Marlene Dietrich’s “I resolve always to be myself, and not to let them influence me!”

Basically, most of us are who we are and, in spite of a few complaints, we’re comfortable with that. No wonder we fail on January 1st when we tell a bunch of drunks at a party, “I’m going to stop being who I am.”

I grew up thinking that most of what I did wasn’t any of Mama’s business. If I made a New Year’s resolution, I didn’t tell anybody about it, least of all her. If it failed, well, no problem, it only had a 20% chance of succeeding anyway. If it succeeded, people thought I was simply walking the straight and narrow more often than before.

It wouldn’t be a vanity thing, you understand.

Otherwise, I tend to be fairly comfortable with my faults as well as my strengths. Being superstitious, I worry that if I got rid of a fault, I’d crash and burn somehow because it was sustaining me more than I knew.

So, I have no resolutions for 2018 because I don’t want to get rid of anything that seems wrong but that’s actually working. Maybe some of the so-called positive things about me are ruining my life. Needless to say, it’s best not to tamper with the way things are.

If pressured by drunks at a party, I always have a few resolutions handy. I resolve to stop running with scissors. I resolve to wear clean underwear when I leave the house. I’m going to stop brushing my teeth with Sani-Flush. I resolve not to sleep with Mrs. Jones if Mr. Jones is in town.

That’s throw away stuff, but it’s handy at New Year’s Eve parties.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Lord, Take Away That Homogenized and Blended Milk

“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.” – Alice Hoffman in “Practical Magic”

When I was little, I despised the arrival of homogenized milk because I believed it was synonymous with milk that had lost its character, in part because milk from different breeds of cattle was mixed into a blander product (such as the Guernsey/Jersey/Holstein Triple Blend championed by Foremost). And, practically speaking, there was no cream on top for coffee or cereal.

Some folks use the word “homogenized” to speak of a world in which all cultures, races, traditions, and religions are accepted. I have always hoped to see such a world. But there is a danger in putting the wrong spin to it, that is, shaking it up like homogenized milk so that all of its wondrous components lose their identity.

Every culture, religion, race, and tradition has unique gifts to add to a nation’s culture, to the world’s culture, to our discussions of issues and values and goals. When we gloss over these gifts for the sake of convenience–or perhaps for the sake of an easy conformity–we are burying the gold each of us has to offer.

We used to laugh about all the individualists in high school, college, and first jobs who went out of their way to look the same as everyone else. While we saw them as lemmings, that view was an insult to lemmings. Star Trek would later capture mindless conformity with its Borg civilization. As Wikipedia describes it, “The Borg are a vast collection of ‘drones,’ or cybernetic organisms, linked in a hive mind called ‘the Collective’ or ‘the Hive.'” When an individual was assimilated into the Borg, s/he lost his or her individuality. One had to admit, the Borg was a very efficient (and as the good guys on the Starship Enterprise discovered) very deadly.

Long before Star Trek’s Borg cautionary tale about homogenization turning sour, authors and other thinkers who had not yet been assimilated into the addictive sameness we often find (and willingly create) in modern society warned us about the evils of (figuratively speaking) of same-same homogenized milk. My favorite has always been Emerson’s comment in Self-Reliance:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

I was a terror when any of my teachers in high school and college advocated doing things a certain way because that was “what as done” or because they (those misguided teachers) saw education as hammering out children on a Henry Ford assembly line. They hated my Emerson comment, telling me that (like recruits in a boot camp), you need to be broken down and made all the same so that you will emerge from school with a firm foundation. I was told to leave the classroom more than once for responding that “by the time I have that firm foundation I’ll be a mindless automaton.”

I saw that foundation not as a Brave New World wonder, but as soul-stifling indoctrination. Some say our schools have gotten worse in that respect since I was a student. I applaud those who say that we should celebrate our differences even though I think most little minds are ruled by the hobgoblin that wants to sandpaper away those differences because automatons are easier to predict and control, living and working as they do–as Pete Seeger sang in his famous 1963 song “Little Boxes”–“And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.”

Walmart is a manifestation of over-homogenization because it kills off local businesses run by local people, each of whom as a different looking storefront, a different philosophy, and an individualistic approach to his or her products and customers. Social medial debates are often a manifestation of over-homogenization because they play out with all the people on the left sounding just the same and all the people on the right sounding just the same as though each group acts via ticky tacky pronouncements from its own Borg mother ship. Since I grew up at a time when people still remembered where our Christmas traditions came from, I mourn the fact that across the county so many of them have been lost or, worse yet, shaken up into a plastic bottle of homogenized celebration in which we’re told that the components have new meanings–as in the fiction that the Twelve Days of Christmas end on December 25th instead of beginning on December 25th.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions because they tend to sound like practices we should have all began a long time ago rather than waiting until January 1 to proclaim “I’m no longer going to kill people I don’t like” or “I’m no longer going to drink a quart of whiskey a day” or “I’m going to stop hating people who aren’t just like me.” Good Lord, are we so homogenized that we need a specific day each year to see the light or turn the other cheek or find our true path? Even though most of these resolutions sound good, they will fail because–as Tanya Tucker sang in 1992, “Well it’s a little too late to do the right thing now.”

Pasteurized, non-homogenized milk was delivered to our Tallahassee, Florida doorstep by the local dairy that was about a mile from our house. (No, this is not our house.) – Florida Memory Photo.

The fact that it’s too late is the fault of that “good foundation” we were all given in school and the little-minds-ticky-tacky approach the movers and shakers who tell us what to do have done with that foundation after graduation. As you’ve probably noticed, we’re told that being all the same is being normal.

My feeling is that if we need a real New Year’s resolution to try on for size, it’s “I will no longer be normal.” Yes, I know, if you’ve a Star Trek fan, you know that it’s nearly impossible to escape from the Borg collective, and if you live in a typical suburb, you know there are homeowners associations that insist that all the homes maintain the same ticky tacky look the builder bestowed upon them, and if you live in many communities, you know that if you question the quality of produce that comes from the local supermarket, the city council has passed laws to keep you from growing vegetables in your front yard because then all the yards will stop looking all the same.

Some scientists tell us that no matter what we do about humankind’s contribution to the natural cycles of global warming and cooling, that it’s too late to do the right thing now. Likewise, it may be too late to escape the ticky tacky society that results from homogenization run amok.

But let’s give it a shot. Let’s say spilt milk is something to celebrate rather than something to cry over.

Malcolm

 

 

This rainy Sunday morning

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” – Langston Hughes

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”  – Bill Watterson

Generally speaking, rain is good. Unless there’s too much of it. Unless it appears on the day scheduled for a picnic, a hike, an outdoor wedding, or perhaps a war.

Jupiter Images graphic

None of those activities were penciled into this morning’s calendar, so I’m writing and reading (with coffee rather than tea) with the sound of its lullaby. Perhaps I’ll doze in my chair. That can happen. I probably won’t go outside and walk in it or ride a bike in it–aiming for the best puddles on the road–because I don’t do that any more, though I probably should.

As usual, the morning news is filled with discouraging words, mostly plots within plots, and–to roughly paraphase Victor Hugo–the deaf keeping the blind informed. The rain washes all of that away for a while. Perhaps I’m dozing in my chair now, dreaming about writing a post that mentions rain and the deaf leading the blind. If only.

If you’re inclined to love magic, you probably have noticed that rivers, oceans, and rain facilitate intuition, communication with Spirit, and writing letters or novels about magical moments. I write better on rainy days and Mondays than when the sun is out. On rainy days, one can dream without falling asleep, the perfect prescription for poets, novelists, mystics, and lovers.

The two horses at the farm across the road are munching grass up near the fence line. I’m tempted to walk over there and give each of them a wet apple and scratch their wet-horse-smelling heads. But my wife has saved the few remaining apples in the bowl for a pie and I really don’t want to have to explain where they went. Nonetheless, the horses are part of the rainy morning and it’s a comfort seeing them there, dreaming perhaps whatever horses dream in the medium of water.

John Updike wrote somewhere that “Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth.” Yes it is. When I was young, I collected rainwater for my aquariums, mother collected it for her gentle plants, years ago people saved it in cisterns as a defense against droughts. Conjure woman collect rainwater for spell work. Farmers and gardeners pray for it before everything they care about dries up. Rain is both a prayer and an answer to prayer. As some say, rain is good medicine.

When the worst flood in recent history hit northwestern Montana in June 1964, a Blackfeet elder was quoted as saying the deluge was too much good medicine. I was there and I remember that rain and thought of it as Mother Nature on drugs or, as one newspaper headlined, “Mother Nature Turns Outlaw.” Floods tend to give rain a bad name until the next drought. There’s no lullaby or kiss in a flood.

The creek below our house floods one of the two roads into town when there’s too much rain. I’m not sure what the cows think of that. I drive my old Buick through it because that’s an adult’s way of remembering what it was to be a kid on a bike in a rain storm. I’m no longer a fan of muddy trousers and shoes, so I tend to stay away from fields of standing water unless the cows get out and then when it comes down to it, getting wet no longer matters until we’re done chasing and herding all of the cattle back inside their fences. You haven’t lived a complete life until you’ve chased black cattle on a black rainy night. Cattle will make a fair mess of your yard if they get into it during a rain storm. I don’t see any magic in that.

But this morning, the cattle are inside the fence because the fence is relatively new and sturdy and follows the rise and fall of the land perfectly enough to cover over the places where cows shinnied under the barbed wire or jumped over it. So, this morning I’m content with my coffee and books without having to check outside ever once in a while to see how many of the cows are on the road stopping traffic.

It’s been a comfortable morning for lullabies and dreams and for dozing in a chair while pretending to read a book.

Malcolm 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me, Too – New York City, June 1967

“I’d like to scrape up some sense of triumph over the fact that many courageous women have raised their voices. But I don’t feel triumphant. I feel humiliated and angry. They hate us. That’s my immediate thought, with each new revelation: They hate us. And then, a more sick-making suspicion: They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.” – Gillian Flynn in “A Howl”

What I have to say after fifty years of silence is relatively insignificant when contrasted with what many courageous women have lived with and finally come forward as the true silence breakers–as Time Magazine calls them–to tell us about the verbal and physical sexual harassment they suffered through.

Grand Central Station – Wikipedia Photo.

Some women have been asked why they didn’t speak out sooner. Quite often, they feared for their safety, their careers, and for the blame and condemnation that society would bestow upon them as insult on top of injury. Many, I think, can echo Gillian Flynn’s statement, “I feel humiliated and angry.” That’s how felt after a smaller event in 1967.

During my summer break at Syracuse University, I took the New York Central train from Syracuse to New York City’s Grand Central Station. I’d been at the midtown Manhattan station before, knew my way around, and understood that it’s best in big cities to walk with a sense of purpose rather than standing around like a greenhorn who doesn’t know where he is or where he’s going. I was headed for Europe for volunteer work and planned to have breakfast and then grab a cab to the National Council of Churches office on Riverside Drive.

When I got off the train with my suitcase, an African American man in his late 30s appeared, grabbed by suitcase, and said, “I’ll help you figure out where you are.” I assumed he was a thief or a tout from a nearby hotel. I’ve always had fast reflexes. Before he could take a step, I grabbed the suitcase handle. He didn’t remove his hand, choosing to continue the side-by-side contact of our hands and looked me in the eye in a way I didn’t like.

“What are you seeking?” he asked.

“Breakfast,” I said.

He let go of the suitcase, saying, “Follow me out on the street and I’ll point out a place with the second best eggs and bacon in the city.”

I was surprised when he simply pointed to a restaurant a half a block away and disappeared into the crowd.  The encounter seemed odd, but I put it out of my mind as I went inside the place–I no longer remember the name–and saw that it was typical New York, efficient, brusque, and carried the aroma of great food. I found a booth so I’d have a place to stash my suitcase, glanced at the menu for a nanosecond before a waitress appeared and said, “Yeah?” I have no idea what I ordered: bacon, eggs and hash browns, probably, because before the food arrived, the guy from the train station showed up, slid into my side of the booth like we were together, and asked what I’d ordered. When I told him, he said that wasn’t bad, but that he could fix me something better at his apartment a few blocks away.

Had my coffee arrived, I would have done a spit take and showered him with coffee.

“Why would I do that?” I asked.

“Because I want to make love to you?”

“My girl wouldn’t approve. I wouldn’t either.”

He laughed the way people laugh when they think they’ve heard a falsehood.

“Why didn’t this girl of yours meet your train?”

“She’s at work.”

“Where?”

“Riverside Drive.”

“High class girl. What’s she look like?”

The waitress set down my meal and fled the scene with a frown that gave me little confidence she’d kill the guy while I escaped out the backdoor.

“Catherine Deneuve,” I said, because I had a crush on the actress.

“Can’t compete with that,” he said, fetching a piece of bacon off my plate. He was sitting closer than necessary. In fact, there was no space between us and his arm was behind me on the back of the booth.

“Nobody can. Go find an easier mark at the train station.”

He acted like I’d plunged a knife into his heart, a thought that crossed my mind, and then we argued as I tried to eat my breakfast while he became a lawyer, so to speak, claiming that a guy like me couldn’t possibly have a girl who looked like Catherine Deneuve.

Finally, he said, “I say it’s because I’m black and have a bigger dick than you’ve ever seen in your life. You want to run but you don’t.”

“I have no interest in men.”

“Ever tried one?”

“I don’t need to try a collie dog to know that there’s no future for Lassie and me.”

He put his hand on my thigh. “You need it bad. Here you are in the big city with a fake girl friend on Riverside drive and no place to lie down. I bet you don’t even have a hotel reservation.”

“The Woodstock,” I said, mentioning a reasonable place that had apparently gone down hill since my family stayed there some ten years earlier.

He seemed surprised to hear the name of an actual hotel. “That dump? Don’t make me laugh.”

“Get your hand off me.”

“You want it there. I can see that.”

I shoved the remains of my breakfast away, caught the waitress’ eye, and handed her enough to cover the meal and the tip. When he didn’t leave the booth, I pushed him away, got my suitcase and left the restaurant. I went to the first cab in the queue and when the driver came out and put my suitcase in the trunk, he asked, “where we headed?”

“475 Riverside Drive,” I said.

There he was, hovering next to line of taxis. “I guess you weren’t shitting me about Riverside,” he said. “Your loss.”

I ignored him even though he was holding on to the frame of the open window. I felt like telling the driver something out of the movies, “We’re being followed. Can you do something about it?” But I just let him drive away at his own speed because I was already wondering what I could have possibly done to attract this guy in the first place and how I could have gotten rid of him sooner.

Well, he was soon going to be a world away from me and out of mind. I sailed for Europe on an Italian ship the following day, happy to see he hadn’t come aboard. The summer in Europe captured my thoughts, but he remained in the background as a  haunting specter whom I still wonder about from a day I felt humiliated and vulnerable.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Danged ol’ hairball blues

The night is dark ’cause there ain’t no moon,
Mama comes home, says we’ll be steppin’ in it soon,
‘Cause our three black cats are hackin’ up their doom,
Yes, just hackin’ up their doom
With the danged ol’ hairball blues.

Wikipedia Photo

Mama’s getting drunk while Daddy’s puttin’ on the dog,
Cause the whole family will the steppin’ in it soon,
Hairballs on the fireplace log, down in our shoes,
‘Cause they’re just hackin’ up their doom
With the danged ol’ hairball blues.

Cats don’t care where they throw them up
When  they’re hacking up their doom
‘Cause they’re hidin’ somewhere in the dark of the room
Even though Mama says we’ll be stepping in it soon
And the whole danged family will catch the hairball blues.

Ain’t no vaccine against hairballs or the blues
‘Cause we’re all gonna step in life in the dark of the moon.
Mama remembers even though Daddy forgets
That the cats bring joys and sorrows to life
In spite of the strife of the hairball blues.

Mixed feelings about Veterans Day sales

Can we best honor our veterans by getting a price cut on a bottle of Viagra or a quart of fresh whitewash?

I have mixed feelings about this.

According to Newsweek, “Black Friday may be the most well-known day to find great sales, but Veterans Day also brings major discounts and promotions.”   The magazine’s feature article lists major stores and sales in case you can’t find them yourself.

While Memorial Day sales and hi-jinks are more out of line with the sacred quiet of the day that those who died deserve, I have often thought that veterans and their memories of moments nobody else dares imagine are the true casualties of war. As such, they deserve more respect than a trip to the store to get a sweet deal.

I’m a veteran and a conscientious objector, so I’ve seen the clouds of the war issue from both sides. Since my pacifism is based on my religious beliefs, it would be presumptuous of me to advocate pacifism for men and women with different religious beliefs.

I believe as mystic Ralph M. Lewis believes: “Peace manifests externally but begins internally–that is, in the thinking, idealism, and mental discipline of each individual. Peace must begin with the individual and work outward.”

Yet, I support our troops because they sacrifice their sanity and their lives to do what they believe is right on behalf of our country. I don’t support the politicians who lead the country into meaningless wars. But those who fight in those wars, have my admiration and gratitude.

I don’t propose that we spend Veterans Day in a church or with many hours of mediation in front of a candle in the sacred center of our homes. If that helps you, then it is good. It doesn’t help me. But looking for sales doesn’t help me either. In fact, I think it’s an insult to veterans. Nonetheless, I can’t fault anyone who loves a sale any more than I can fault a veteran for fighting a war that I think is a stain on the world’s psyche. Perhaps there are more gods out there than we can shake a stick at, so truth be told, there are numerous ways of seeing the issues that bring me mixed feelings on this day.

What I want to do on Veterans Day is this: the same thing I would do on any other day. That is to say, I appreciate the freedom and safety veterans have helped us achieve and maintain. So, I will fix dinner, read a book, work on my novels, watch some television, play with my cats, and remain in awe of a wife who loves me in spite of my faults. I don’t have any mixed feelings about that kind of holiday “celebration.”

–Malcolm