Thursday, August 2, 2012

The "True" Biker?

                                                The “True Biker”: Fact or Fantasy?

 It’s been too long since I updated this blog but it’s past time that I did so.  Personal identity is a subject that I often return to in my thoughts and so I’ll ramble along that path once again.. Bear with me as I return to this subject once more.

When we are children and just beginning to form our own identity we draw from personal experience. This is true for every one. As we experience different inputs from family, friends and other sources we tend to “cherry pick” influences which will set a template for the rest of our lives. Some of the influences are determined by outside sources, some by family and friends (both good and bad) and there are those who are affected by mental or physical conditions that steer them towards predispositions which might transgress the boundaries of  “proper behavior” and legal restrictions. I’ll leave those last two categories for those better qualified to assess them and deal primarily with the other, less convolute, items. Whatever the reasons the learned psychologists have it’s generally accepted that by the age of 6 years people in general are imprinted with most of the behavioral characteristics which they will use the rest of their lives in one form or another. These guidelines will be modified or adapted to deal with virtually all the situations they encounter whatever those situations were in some way or form.

For those of us who grew up pre-internet: we dealt with real or perceived as real situations upon which we based our personal template. Experience tempered those situations into a form which allowed us to function in daily life in a slightly more or sometimes slightly less functional manner but overall allowed us to live generally functional lives. As children, we were exposed to fantastical influences which we emulated by playing at being knights in armor, princesses, kings, dragon slayers, explorers, soldiers and other role models. For those of my age, our heroes were somewhat affected by television but as a general rule the bad guys wore black hats and the good guys wore white hats and the good guys always won.

While we knew that it wasn’t always so, it was still a good role model. Our nation had just come out of a horrific war but even so, we had defeated the enemy, emerged as the heroes and forestalled world domination by the bad guys. Everything was going to be better.

By the time we were grown enough to enter the workplace life had made a lot of changes. More people were available to fill the available jobs but the workplace had begun to take over our lives. There was less time to spend with family and the old model of how things should be was aging poorly. Women entered the workplace and as a result the children had less family contact as both parents worked 40 hour weeks leaving only the weekends open for family activities. Another major change that happened was that in the absence of family activities more and more time was spent by the children in front of the television which rapidly changed its programming towards entertaining children. Currently, television is primarily aimed at and age level of around age 7 or younger. Two generations, now starting on 3, were raised in front of the television.

The next evolution is that children are being raised in front of a computer screen and the internet is a major baby sitter for impressionable children. Family entertainment and family activities often revolve around watching sports events on television, watching movies on television and sitting for hours in front of a computer screen surfing the internet without the need for actual human involvement past what is necessary to push keys on the keyboard or change channels on the television.  These activities allow anonymous interactions. In the comfort of their own home people can now engage in behavior that would absolutely not allowed in public! Want to watch pornography while sitting in dishabille on the couch? Do it! Scream obscenities at sports figures? Do it! Bully others and castigate them with threats! Do it! After all, those being abused will never know who did it, until someone dies and maybe not even then.

So how does this boring history tie into the subject of this essay? In very simple terms, both television and the internet have become completely anonymous fantasy environments! When someone dies on television they simply get up and appear later on another show.  When something is presented on the internet the viewer is safely hidden behind spurious credentials that may or may not be able to be tracked by those with special training in computer science.

In lieu of actual role models more and more people are using internet memes as role models! These memes are used to tell people who they are, what they like, what they should be, what the stars say about you, what your tarot cards are saying and virtually every other thing that can possibly happen or affect YOU!

In short; Life, not only based on fantasy but encouraging people to actually believe it and espouse it regardless of whether or not the reality matches the fantasy!  What’s more, people do so! Privacy is no longer a necessity. People expose their most intimate lusts, desires, family situations and issues to literally thousands of other participants with access to the internet with little or no regard to whether or not this information is appropriate to share with others. But, it’s okay because those others aren’t “actually” there with them. They remain anonymous.

One internet meme concerns motorcycling and identifies itself as the “Biker’s Code”. It’s a collection of trite, poetic, and sometimes completely erroneous little bits of information defining what motorcyclists should be or do to be a “Real” Biker or “True” Biker. Most of the things a rider needs to be doing while on the road seem to be less important to being a “True” biker than doing important things like nodding or waving to every other bike, scooter one passes going in any direction!

Riders who are watching the road, traffic and immediate environment and fail to wave, nod, dance silly dances or wear approved gear apparently don’t make the cut! Riders who don’t stop to offer help when another rider stops on the road to water the grass or have a smoke don’t make the cut. Riders who gear up properly and have the misfortune to chose gear that matches their bike are derided as being any of a long list of epithets that indicate they’re not “true” or “real” bikers and the Lord help those who drove their car instead of their bike because the weather had turned inclement! Showing regard for one’s own life in favor of others might contra-indicate that a rider is a ‘true” biker. Anyone not attempting to do the “ton” (100mph) even if their bike is totally incapable of doing so, often at risk of life and limb both to themselves and others loses face with the Biker’s Code clique. The list is long and exhausting but the problem is that people are people rather than being a rider first and dedicating their life to a fantasy lifestyle dictated by an internet meme!

I don’t make the cut either. I drive a motorcycle with a sidecar attached thereby being disqualified by virtue of having 3 wheels. Those who ride trikes also are disqualified even if they do so for very sound reasons. There are a few hybrids on the road such as the “Stallion”, a very nice 3 wheeled vehicle which unfortunately has a steering wheel like a car and an automatic transmission. There are 3 wheeled vehicles that have 2 wheels up front and one rear. They’re out. The Ace Cycle Car costs near $50K, is capable of over 100mph and offers unique luxury. It’s powered by a clone of the Harley engine but it has 3 wheels. Morgan once offered a 3 wheeler similar to the Ace Cycle Car but which was discontinued quite some years back.  “Boston Blackie” (television detective of years back) drove a Morgan 3 wheeler. Morgan 3 wheelers still participate in vintage races in the UK but the Biker’s Code followers lump them in with the rest of us misfits. In fact, it seems as though anyone who doesn’t ride a fire-breathing, over-powered 2 wheeler with little regard for safety, common sense and self preservation probably doesn’t qualify as being a “real” biker.  Those who ride scooters, mo-peds and various types of streamlined, full bodied 2 or 3 wheeled vehicles need not even apply.

I live in Dallas, Texas, USA and the Texas Department of Public Safety says my rig is a motorcycle. Their minds are made up and it’s useless to argue with them about the finer distinctions. In the UK, however, a person can operate a 3 wheeled vehicle on a auto license. The regulations differ even in other states of the US. Some say yes and some say no. In Texas, one has to have a motorcycle endorsement and the endorsement can only be gained by taking and passing the test on a 2 wheeled vehicle. Once the endorsement is gained Texas doesn’t care if a person straps training wheels on the bike. It’s still a motorcycle! I, for one, wouldn’t approach a 6’plus, hairy, badass rider on a scooter and even dare to insinuate that he or she wasn’t a “real” biker. I need my health and prefer to keep all my teeth!

Instead of  basing my identity on an internet meme I’ll continue to stay mostly within reasonable speed limits, wear protective gear appropriate to the job at hand, watch the traffic and the environment around me and keep my hands on the bars, be insured against misfortune, be properly inspected and licensed and maintain my rig in good mechanical condition. I’d much rather to remain alive and unharmed while riding than be a “True” biker. My life is much more important than internet memes.

Give up anonymity, forget about internet memes and ride safely! Your life depends on the “real” or “true” WORLD far more than the internet!

Ride safe out there, kids, because your life. far more than your image, depends on it!

Thursday, March 31, 2011



How still the darkness of the night,
even intently though I listen.
The sounds all muted, as though they had not been,
and never were except in memory.
Here I might once have heard a sigh of lovers
or the shifting of a babe in it's cradle, all are gone...
no shadows trace their way through this ebon darkness,
no gossamer thread of whisper to guide me in this night.

How sure my feet once tread this path,
following the sounds as others follow light,
drawn like the moth to a flame;
filling my world as surely as water might fill a vessel,
leaving not the tiniest imperfection dry.
So were the sounds of my living,
filling my days and bringing order to the void about me.

How still the beating of my heart in the silence,
that once ordered the hours and the minutes of living.
Its cadence formed the length of my step on this path,
its movement within me the steps of my future all unfolding.
The color of my blood was the sound of its hurry.
Quiet now, subdued within this wrapper of enfolding dark.
About me the stillness of silence settles, as companion, deep
within this night and ward against the need for haste.

How was sound my need, my guide? How was it important
that I must needs run to its bidding, even as an army marches
to its drums, their steady rhythm a heartbeat that must be heeded.
When did my friends fall silent by the way?
I no longer hear their voices.
What fate befell them, what war or tragedy still their sound?
When did the symphony that I heard become a solo,
leaving where it had been, a manuscript of silent notes?
Were once those sounds so loud?

When did love become so quiet?
I hear not the slightest whisper in this place
of love that thundered in my being.
Love that called and sang and screamed and cried,
now, it too, silent in this night.

I look about and with my eyes, I strive
to hear the sounds of silent friends and long ago loves,
but in this place of darkness are only shadows.
The stealthy dark that seeps in to fill the silent space
left behind by past belongings.

Where once was being; now shadows gather.
Muffled sounds fade to silence leaving only dark.

Was I to sit and hear the silence, might soon the sun would
arise again? Dispelling darkness, restoring structure to a world
I might see again as new.
Might then my life be reconstructed and once again a path I see?
Would lost friends live and lost loves flourish and the drums
of war be stilled?

How patient I might be for sunrise, if I hoped it songs might bring.
But,. all about me is dark and silent.

I sit alone within my thoughts.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Living is the state to which we are introduced at birth. It hosts a multitude of different aspects but all of those aspects include the gaining of experience of many separate sorts. The state of living will inevitably and eventually end in death but trite cliches such as “Life (add verb of your choice) then you die” are altogether avoiding and even deleting the part wherein one passes through many states from deepest depression to highest transcendence. Those in-between states are what make life so colorful and varied.

From the richness of art and creativity to the deepest depths of despair (although this has also been known to also produce art of lasting fame and transcendence) Life is a tapestry of creation and sometimes, destruction which, in its magnitude and variety will help to (quite possibly) determine the way by which we become known to others.

There are certain known mental states, extensively studied by many, which prohibit people from relating personally to the life in which they remain or become entrapped. These include psychoses, neuroses, and those states such as that in which I now exist called Anhedonia (mentioned elsewhere in this web log) but the majority of people will find a way to exist within a comfortable (even if occasionally quirky) and sufficiently functional manner that will allow them to live a life of modest fulfillment, reasonable happiness and occasionally even success as such may be measured by the society in which they live.

There are those, often described as over-achievers, that actively seek a greater amount of public acclaim (than might seem necessary to others) during the span of life's allotted years on this earth. Over achievers might want world power. Among them, some are those who might want to have a surplus of material goods or services. Some crave power over the lives of others in smaller ways and some only desire to be able to contribute to the lives of others in a fashion that increases the quality of life for those involved. Some few, more or less accidentally, as known by the recovery of relics pertaining to them, even attain the sort of immortality that comes of simply doing what those few what might have perceived as “only doing their job to the best of their ability" in hopes that overall some good might come of it. Some of these latter might have been pressured into “doing their job” because the situation in which they found themselves might be made somewhat easier and freed their time to be devoted to other endeavors.

An example of these latter might have been Hammurabi (King of Babylon circa 1750 BC) . The fortunate recovery of a stele upon which was incised a set code of laws to be applied more or less evenly to all inhabitants of his realm is often referred to as being the first known or certainly the most widely known by the modern world, as we know it presently, to be the first example of written, codified law: dating before the Hebrew “Ten Commandants” and addressing the need for the weak to be protected from being brutalized by the strong. Although the actual presence of the steles, many of which were apparently placed throughout the land although only one is known to exist presently, may have been lost temporarily but the codes of law established therein form the basis of many existing forums of law and precedence even now.Hammurabi also states on the body of the stele that his edict was given him by his god: A claim made by many since Hammurabi's time in hopes of lending legitimacy to delivered edicts. It’s quite possible that some few of these many might even have been possessed of the hope of helping civilization to become better mannered and easier to maintain rather than having a motive of simply gaining power by being associated with whatever gods or devils might be claimed in the subscript.

I could go on at great length with examples and named identities (Moses) but those I have named herein are only two of the people who found themselves in a position won, thrust upon them or inherited and rose thereby to exalted status. I’m interested in some similar people as defined in a previous paragraph but their experience is not directly related to those with whom I hope to populate this essay.

There are people now living who are also well known but the reason they are famous presently often has to do with less gilded circumstances than Hammurabi’s. The lists of past and present kings, queens and assorted nobility as well as notable generals of conquering hoards, legions and many other types of political power are not exactly endless but certainly longer than most of us will care to assay. There are, in any case, far fewer people on those lists than there are of what are often referred to as “the little people”.

The generals and political figures may have decided the tactics but without the legions, hoards or soldiers there would have been no conquest and so it goes. There are far more crosses adorning the fields of Flanders and elsewhere than there are known names to adorn them. The unnamed soldier is far more typical of the majority of mankind than are those in highly elevated circumstances. Expand the definition of the word soldier to include all those in ordinary daily life with no recognition other than that of their family, peers or close associates and you will find the vast majority of mankind listed, both past and present, therein.

On the other end of the human spectrum are the infamous. The very word “infamous” is enough to conjure names of people that others find to be extremely unpleasant, repugnant, evil or (insert descriptive adjective here) even if only locally and possibly some of those names may even be of fictional characters. Once again I chose not to expand upon those so noted as being atypical rather than mainstream.

Amongst those in the mainstream of humanity who have contributed immeasurably are many whom history will treat less kindly than those of whom I have already indicated.

It is of these aforementioned in which I often find interest. Some have claimed a space in literature, science, arts (both fine and common or craft) and eventually, because of contributions made coincidentally as part of their ordinary or day to day life rather than purposely. Among these we might find the name of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti. You might remember him. He painted the Sistine Chapel, carved the statue of “David” and other items less well known outside of art circles such as the “Tomb of the Medici”. He was gifted but of circumstances that could just as easily yielded someone of less capability. His fame came from diligent application of his talents gained through lengthy apprentice work, rather than high status, Amongst his peers, even he, being of high profile, is slightly higher in status than the people which I seek to expose. Those same people who would have done and often did continue to labor with only local recognition or often none at all are those whom I seek.

Mother Theresa lived willingly in poverty in keeping with her vows as a Catholic Nun. Of Albanian descent, she is well known but if I had mentioned Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu would you still have recognized the name? “Probably not” is my guess. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in 1950 out of a will and a vow to do good by helping those who often were unable to help themselves. Although by the 1970’s she had achieved international recognition for her humanitarian work she would have continued to do that to which she had set herself without it. Fame was not her goal. She cared for the dregs of humanity whom might have had no promise of help otherwise.

Many others who continue to do humanitarian works have never or might never achieve the kind of celebrity that Mother Theresa did. This does not and has not kept those others from going in harm’s way to help those who might not have found hope and help without intervention. “Doctors without Borders” is filled with such people, some of no small reputation amongst their own peers but, will we remember their names and give them recognition? Once again my own answer is “probably not”. Does this matter to many of these who willingly put their practices, lives and families on a figurative “hold” that they may continue doing their work amongst those considerably less blessed than they? My personal answer would be “Yes”. Of all these examples we might collectively ask “Why?” or “Why do they do this?”

Perhaps they feel a personal need to be of help and service to humanity and found that to be sufficient reason in and of itself, to contribute their time and lives, regardless of recognition or lack thereof. Is what they do noble? It might be called so but perhaps perceived nobility is insufficient reason to uproot their lives in order to do some good when so many others are not. They are among the little people of whom I wrote earlier in this essay. Guided by their personal mores, nobility is not uppermost in their minds and is, perhaps, not even on their personal checklist of why they do what they do.

I intend to go even further down the scale of recognition for the “little people” though. I want to talk about a very specific person who never even countenanced the idea of nobility as guiding her actions.

How many among my readers remember seeing the red kettles in front of businesses and prominently displayed in busy spots with passing foot traffic? Each of these is usually manned by a person who might be your next door neighbor, a friend, a businessman or tradesman. Sometimes, but less often, you might actually see a kettle being stewarded by an actual Salvation Army soldier in uniform. Almost all of the people you might see beside the kettles are volunteers. They took time from their lives to try to help those who might receive no help of any kind from other citizens.

The general public, when separated into individuals, is not known for initiative on its own although when bolstered by others also willing to follow an imperative the public, collectively, is able to do quite amazing things.

Another service that most readers are familiar with is the American Red Cross, most of whose workers on the scene of fires, floods and diverse disasters are all volunteers. They venture out in all types of weather and conditions, whatever they may be, with no more impetus than the idea that they might be able to help.

Have you, reader, ever met one of these volunteers? Do you remember their name? I do. When I was about 19, out of school and unemployed but having a commercial drivers license, I was asked to take the Dallas American Red Cross chapter’s mobile kitchen to Corpus Christie ahead of a hurricane so that it could be positioned to serve the populace after the hurricane passed.. I was there for about a week and in that time we passed out hundreds of sandwiches and other food stuffs to people who had no power and often no running water with which to prepare food. That was over 40 years ago and I happened to be in a position to help at that time.

I do know at least two other volunteers who devoted many years of service to the Dallas Chapter of the ARC simply because they could and wanted to. Many times these two would be called out to fires and other disasters to help with housing and providing help to those affected by the calamity by passing out housing vouchers for motels and hotels, food vouchers, coffee, blankets and other necessities needed to provide for those in need. Although they eventually received service pins from the Red Cross after years of service, it was not the award presented before a few other volunteers that spurred them into helping. It was simply the personal desire to be of service to their community.

Their story is repeated endlessly across the U.S. and around the world by others like themselves. Both of the volunteers I personally knew had a family to care for and jobs from which they might have been released from had their volunteerism interfered. Notwithstanding this condition they continued with their humanitarian endeavors for many years in unpaid service to organizations including the Cub Scouts of America and its brother organization, the Boy Scouts of America, and even after their family had left home they continued to present leadership training seminars for the C.S.A. and B.S.A. as well as teaching both primary and advanced First Aid classes to the community.

The person I will focus on had a special award created just for her service by the Circle 10 Council of the Boy Scouts of America. It was known as the “Silver Fawn” and only four were ever awarded, Three of those Silver Fawns were eventually exchanged for the equivalently prestigious “Silver Buffalo” in keeping with the then freshly coming idea of equality of the sexes. Prior to the creation of the “Silver Fawn”, the “Silver Buffalo” was awarded only to men notwithstanding that women had long played a significant part in the Scouting movement. The volunteer of which I speak refused to exchange her award. The occasion of this refusal was one of the rare times that she wasn’t seemingly embarrassed to be specially honored. She, later, was also honored with the “Judge Dee Brown Walker award for outstanding service to the Circle 10 Council of the Boy Scouts of America”. Only one and rarely 2 of these awards were awarded yearly and previously all had gone to male recipients. The Circle 10 Council represents the Dallas, Texas metropolitan area. Being so honored was an extremely prestigious recognition after considering how many were nominated yearly for this award. Hers, once again, was the first to go to a female recipient.

After the death of one of these two volunteers the other continued to work for and with charitable groups in her community including the Kiwanis International, The Toastmasters and the Southeast Dallas Chamber of Commerce. She helped with free dinners at Christmas and Thanksgiving, took part in SED C of C activities of all sorts and often took along her camera to record the activities. Many times she spent her own money to develop the film she shot at these activities. Her house is filled with honors and awards created especially for her. In 1999 she was recognized by the Eckerd’s pharmacy chain (now CVS) with a national award that identified her as “1 of 200” out of over 2000 nominees (she was unaware of being nominated by her local Eckerd’s store Manager and only became aware of the honor when she was contacted by Eckerd’s) and presented with a small silver plate suitably engraved with her achievement. Her response when being presented with her award was typical of her life and the prominence of awards in her activities. She was in her early 80’s at the time.

When handed the award in front of the other 199 honored volunteers, all chosen for outstanding service to their community, she was asked what she might do with her prestigious award. I was later to find her reply was “Well, I suppose I could serve cookies on it”. For her the recognition was in being able to help.

In her lifetime, in between her occupation as full time supervisor of the Arthur Andersen LLP Print shop (the title of Supervisor is misleading because until 25 years into her career she worked primarily alone.) she created countless numbers of flyers, reports, articles and other printed matter for use by the many organizations to which she had offered her volunteer services. Among these was a craft book for Cub Scouts full of projects, games and other entertainments. This booklet included drawings, skits, and ideas of interest to those involved in Cub Scout activities. She drew the illustrations and patterns, wrote the copy and spiral bound the finished product ready for use by the local Cub Scout Leaders. This book was to be eventually copied and translated into 14 languages around the world. She owned the copyright but never received a dime for any of the pirated books in copyright fees. Her response was again typical, “It doesn’t matter. I did it for the children anyway.”

Her charitable work began near the start of WW2 and there are documents of appreciation in her files from military commanding officers for the work done then. She worked with the USO during that time as well. The honors accrued throughout her life. They were small but she never doted upon them although she kept them; either packed away or filed in boxes in the closet. Through her work and in person she touched the lives of people around the world, people whom she never met but whose lives were enriched by her own life and selfless giving. She was one of the “little people” but with a big heart and hand for her world that continued almost to her death at the age of 92.

Her funeral was attended by a small group of people and family she had known well. Fewer than 20 of those whom she had touched in her life knew of her passing. Recognition is fleeting for most and she was no exception. Her legacy is in her life, well lived and busy throughout. In that respect such was the funeral of the other volunteer with whom she shared many things. She died peacefully in her sleep with relatives close by. Her body was worn out by life and unable to continue, having been in such glorious service as few might know or experience.

It has been said by many people over the span of hundreds of years in various languages and using a multitude of media that “At the end of all things we die alone” and so we do. It is the one thing that cannot be shared in the experience of living. If there is anything beyond the terminus of life we, the living, do not share in it except as onlookers. Hers was a quietly valiant life of doing what she believed in and helping as she was able, using her talents and life’s energy to accomplish her own goals of helping, serving and being useful to others. She did well.

“How did I come to know her?” you might ask. The answer is of the simplest kind for she was my mother. Mary Jane Stevens Eckstein passed in her sleep on December 2, 2010, a quiet end to a very busy life.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Solomon's Insight...

The following is another story taken from folklore. This is a story from the Holy Lands in modern idiom. Like so many stories originally delivered in the vocal tradition this story is both for entertainment and it has a moral to teach. Using stories such as this children were often entertained during the hours before bed and taught precepts that might benefit them in some way in their life. These stories often gave the family a chance to be together and share their closeness after the day's work was done and thus encouraged and reinforced family values as well. Story time was often used as a reward through entertainment for the children.

Story telling time has languished in our modern times. Stories have given way to modern electronic entertainment instead. Television and computers have superseded contact with family and lessened the ties of personal involvement with family. Games once played with others have been replaced in large part by games that are played alone. Actual social contacts have become slightly more stand-offish and relationships slightly more difficult to maintain with the loss of social skills that telling stories such as this one encouraged.

One development that has arisen is that there is a good deal of confusion between what is real and what is not. Actual news broadcasts are sometimes, or even often, indistinguishable from fictional entertainment. We have better and faster ways to communicate but those methods are often filtered in such manner as to create fictional accounts which are presented as real events. Events are "cooked" to add more opinion, more gore, more non-factual reporting and the results are easier to access than ever before.

After being exposed to many years of this sort of activity through electronic media, the youth of today often disregard or disbelieve events presented by the media. They become saturated to the point that they no longer need imagination. Reality is seen with disbelief. Death and violence is less real and yet has become more pervasive in our lives. Less regard is given to manners and respect as these items are less important to those brought up as only children in front of a video screen even though they may have siblings. The overall attitude is one of insulation and personal good has become more immediate than that of the multitude.

A victim of our modern times is the vocal tradition. Story time, when used, is still an important tool in reinstating traditional values. With that in mind I relate this very old story with the hope that it provides an opportunity for others to help reinstate and reinforce desirable family values once again. You, the reader, can revive and revitalize the vocal tradition. You'll be pleased at how this simple method can help to raise a family in these difficult times and in aid of this, I offer the following story:

The Wisdom Which Suleiman Learned From a Cat

It is said that of all men throughout history, the ancient King of Kings named by men, Suleiman or Solomon, was the wisest to ever live in the grace of his God.

The stories told of his insight, justice, fairness and piety are legion and among these stories is one that should always be remembered for this story tells how this wisest of all men learned respect of the wisdom of his god through the actions of a favored pet cat.

It is told that Suleiman owned among his treasures a great ring which he wore constantly on his hand and this ring granted him the grace of talking to animals and the ability to understand their replies as easily as you and I understand each other in the telling of this story. It is told that among his most treasured friends was an elegant golden colored cat given him as a gift by his chosen favorite of wives, most beautiful among women, the Queen named Balkis.

Suleiman often spoke with his cat and in this manner learned much of the world from the viewpoint of another and this knowledge he used to help him balance his judgments and rule his kingdom in a manner fair to all men who worshipped the Lord.

There was a rumor in the palace among the servants that the golden colored cat was descended from the a Goddess of exotic Egypt but this was never told in the hearing of Suleiman for he allowed no other than the One God in his sight and hearing and was devout in his worship thereof.

It was to be that from the action of this same golden colored cat that Suleiman was reminded of the wisdom of his God and became all the more firm in his faith thereby.

Suleiman spent many hours with his cat and so fond of the cat was he that he allowed it to sit at the table with him as he ate his meals and taught it to hold a silver candlestick that he might see the bounty of his meal by the light thereby and enjoy it all the more.

The cat sat obediently for Suleiman for great was the love they shared between them.

All of the great king's guests marveled at the obedience and grace of the cat as it sat motionless by Suleiman holding the candle that he might enjoy his meal until one particular man of the east came into the court and disputed the might of the King's teaching and the grace of his God thereby saying unto him, "Great King, you claim through the grace of God that you have taught this cat to hold the candlestick. But I can make this cat forget all that you claim to have taught and thereby the fallacy of the grace of your God that you claim granted you this power."

Suleiman smiled for in this he sensed a great challenge and was determined to test this claim made by the man from the east. He extended an invitation that the man might dine with him that evening.

That evening the Great King sat with the man from the East at a table laden with the finest of foods and the most delicate of delicacies and close by Suleiman, as always, sat his marvelous golden colored cat holding absolutely motionless with a silver candlestick between its paws.

With a smile the man from the east released a mouse from his sleeve in such a way that it ran directly over the cat's paw as it scurried away down the length of the table and ran from the room. The cat not so much as quivered a whisker as the mouse escaped and Suleiman smiled. The man of the east also smiled as he released a second mouse that once again scurried quickly past the cat as it escaped from the table. This time however the cat watched as the mouse ran quickly away and when a third mouse was released the cat dropped the candlestick and with one spring of its lithe form fell upon the mouse and devoured it.

At this turn of events the man of the east turned to Suleiman to announce his triumph and was astounded to find the great King laughing and with a rapturous smile of joy upon his face.

Undeterred the man spoke to the great King saying unto him, "You see, your majesty, you may not change the nature of the cat for all that you might claim to speak with it through the grace of your God."

With a bright smile and wiping tears of laughter from his eyes Suleiman was heard to say to the man, "Poor man, in this you have only exposed the foolishness of man and the wisdom of my God for the Cat was created by God with a purpose and all the vanities of King and common man may not improve upon it no matter as we may try."

It is said that the man of the east stayed in the court of Suleiman for many years and spent much of that time in the study and the worship of his new found faith in the wisdom of the One God.

As to what happened to the Cat? The Cat lived for many years and had many offspring and all were beloved as reminders of the wisdom of God and cherished therefore.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Perhaps is an odd word. So full of promise and mystery, So meaningful in so many ways, and so very fine at holding back reality. It's the rock that divides the stream into two different paths, one to sink into the sands and be lost and another to become a torrent as it joins other streams on its way to the sea.

We use it to say things like "Perhaps if elephants (or pigs) could fly", ...and then we laugh. Or sometimes we use it to say about situations, "Perhaps if we went about this another way...." and we proceed. Sometimes it just means "maybe.."

But does it mean the same thing when the mother tells her children at night, "Perhaps tomorrow when you awaken Santa will have been here and it will be Christmas." and sends them off to sleep with a kiss as it does when another mother tells her children, "Perhaps tomorrow we may have something to feed you." Or "Hush, little one, perhaps tomorrow the bombs will stop falling."

What does it mean when the unknown gunner loads his mortar and smiles as he tells himself, "Perhaps this one will land on it's target." or when the frightened huddle in a place to shield themselves from that mortar round and whisper to each other, "Perhaps here, we will be safe."?

You might tell yourself that it always means "maybe.." and perhaps it does...after all it's just another word. Just a word that affirms, promises, denies and is indecisive all at the same time.

But is it really? Are all the perhaps in the world just more ways of saying maybe? Maybe you will have toys. Maybe you will have food. Maybe you will die. Maybe the sun will bless you with its warmth and bounty or maybe it will parch your waterholes, blast your crops and leach the life from your fields and your children. Maybe a new day will increase your happiness in the arms of a new lover or maybe a bullet will find you unaware leaving you to lie in a street. Maybe you will feel your life slipping away as your blood stains the stones beneath you, and maybe not...Maybe you look forward to Heaven or maybe you don't believe in a hell. Is it so easy to just shrug and say "Perhaps" ?

When do we stop saying "perhaps"?

When do all the peoples of this poor blasted planet reach out and say, "Perhaps we can live together." When do they lay down their guns and their bombs and their chains saying "perhaps these things are not necessary.."? When do they share their food saying, "Perhaps my brother is hungry"?

Perhaps never?


Monday, January 26, 2009

By God's Grace..

The following is based on a Romanian Folk Tale. It is one of many stories that I used to introduce literature classes to folklore, legend and stories in the vocal tradition during a period in which I served as a visiting artist at a local Junior College.

This is folklore. You won't find it in your bible, no matter how hard you look. To find this story you have to look in your heart. It could have been. Like many other stories of this type we hope it was. It has a happy ending.

Long ago and far away in the time of Noah and the Ark this story happened and from that time to this day cats lie in the sun to sleep and dream. This is the story of why they may do this.

As the rains began to fall in that long ago time and the great floods began to form as small trickles upon the mountainsides Noah, a man chosen above others by his god, was commanded by the Lord to gather his family and animals, one of each sort both male and female, and take them aboard a great vessel he had built and thereby save them from the flood sent to destroy all else of Mankind because they had grown wicked in their ways. Noah and his sons and the wives of these good men along with their children were all that had been chosen to be saved because of their goodness and their devotion to God.

As the rains fell, Noah and his family took aboard all the animals and all of their belongings as they had been commanded and prepared to close the massive doors of the ark. Just as the doors were closing, last of all, came the cat, racing through the rain to squeeze through the last crack of the closing doors and disappear between Noah's legs and into the cavernous hold of the ark, there to hide in the dark and wonder what possible new adventure might await.

Day and night the rain thrummed a steady drumbeat on the roof of the ark as the waters rose steadily upon the land until at last the ark was afloat and the land in it's entirety began to submerge beneath the murky roiling waters of the flood. Inside the ark Noah and his family tended the animals, gave their prayers to the Lord and listened to the falling of the rain.

Deep within the hold however, different drama was beginning to unfold. The devil had also come aboard and was even then plotting ways to bring about the downfall of the last good men on earth, chosen of the Lord, Noah, his sons, all their wives and their children. Through his evil plot the devil would prevent the triumph of the Lord.

Taking the form of a rat, the devil scurried off to find a dark place in which to work his evil. Behind sacks of grain and well hidden from the sight of men, the devil began to gnaw the planking of the ark. He was sure that when his work was finished water would pour through the hole he would make and the ark would founder then sink from sight into the waters that covered the earth, taking with it the pride of the Lord. Intent in his plans against these chosen of God the devil set to his work, eagerly gnawing at the planks of the ark and absorbed in his evil work, he gave no thought to that most special of animals, the cat.

Unpredictable, untamed, and caring not for the worries of men, gods anddevils the cat slept atop the piles of supplies in the belly of the ark and dreamed of the heroic things he might accomplish if only it wasn't raining and over all of this God watched as the drama unfolded.

For many days and nights the devil gnawed the side of Noah's Ark for it was stoutly built. All about him men and animals went about their business and listened as the rain fell, unaware of their ever approaching doom. The Devil, intent on gnawing his hole, gave no thought that his plan might fail.

Cats sleep with only their eyes closed. They listen all the time. This is one of the reasons that often people will put the cat outside the room if secrets are to be told. For cats are capricious by nature and might tell the secrets to anyone. Noah's cat was no exception and when, although seemingly asleep, it heard the tiny scuffling and gnawing of the rat it awakened there in the dark and readied itself for the hunt.

On silent paws the cat crept ever closer in the dark, guiding itself with its sensitive whiskers and its sharp hearing until at last with a rush and a spring the cat held the Devil, in the form of a rat, fast in its claws and then, with a quick, hard shake and a bite from its jaws, lined with very sharp teeth, the cat ended the evil plans of the Devil against the family of Noah, chosen of God.

Proud of it's accomplishment, the cat carried the body to Noah that it might be petted and awarded as was befitting a hero, however small. Laying the rat at Noah's feet the cat began to groom itself only to be frighteningly interrupted as he was grasped roughly, lifted into Noah's arms and carried out into the rain and thence to the railing.

Holding the cat tightly in his hands and full of wrath, Noah scolded, then cursed the cat for having broken God's commandments by taking a life. In his wrath Noah flung the cat over the rail and into the waters of the flood. The lightening flashed and thunder rolled across the sky as the little cat was lost from sight in the waves.

Then God in his infinite wisdom and mercy, granted Grace upon the cat. He reached down from his heaven and lifted the cat from the flood and set it gently once again upon the deck before Noah. He bathed the cat in warm sunlight. Then, speaking to Noah, who stood amazed at the sight of this miracle, told him to go and examine the planks of his ship that he might discover the truth of the cat's deed.

Noah and his sons and all the wives and children searched the ship with great diligence and soon discovered the hole the devil had gnawed almost all the way through the planks and stood quietly in awe at how they and all that was theirs given by the Lord might have been lost but for the cat.

Falling to their knees they begged forgiveness of the Lord and the Lord in his mercy granted it but to the cat he granted a special blessing and when all returned to the deck they found the rain stopped and the cat fast asleep, warm and dry in the sunshine and dreaming of heroic things he might do tomorrow.

From that day to this cats sleep in the sun as is their special privilege and they dream of the heroic things they might do tomorrow if it isn't raining. And sometimes, if you watch them sleeping, you'll see their paws twitch as in their dreams they once again do the work for which they were once blessed by the Lord or how once a small cat saved the chosen of God from the plots of the Devil.

Energy Conservation:Observation of an Elder Cat.

A Lesson in Energy Conservation Obtained by Observation: The Hunting Methods of an Elder Cat.

There are many lessons that young folk must learn before they make the transition to adulthood and by looking about themselves they can easily obtain examples to follow from life without necessarily having to learn everything the hard way.

One of these lessons isn’t necessarily the "most” important but is important nonetheless and herein I’ll try to explain it in such a manner as to be helpful to whomever reads this because it’s not just the young people that don’t study their lessons well and need them re-explained.

This particular lesson is about conservation of energy and how it can be learned by watching an elder cat hunt as opposed to the methods of a very young cat.

First: I’ll describe the hunting method of a young cat so that we’ll have a comparison for when we get to the real lesson which is that which we wish to pay attention to and remember.

When a young cat, with boundless energy and enthusiasm, sets out to catch his breakfast or lunch or in-between snack he’ll chase about until he finds a likely place to hunt and then he slows down until he spots a likely prey. He’ll hunker down in the grass and watch closely to see what his prospective food is doing before he makes any overt move, but if you’ll watch then you’ll see his tail always moving, twitching from side to side, waving out behind him like a low flying flag and his hind feet may be dancing in place even if the rest of his lithe body isn’t doing much. As often as not the prospective food, not being stupid, will be looking about as well and at the first sighted tail twitch will try to make a fast escape. At this point a young cat will probably leap from his or her (not usually very well chosen) hiding place and by sheer application of energy will try to catch the escaping food as it makes its getaway.

The reason I’ve drawn this picture in your mind is so that I can point out that the whole time that a young cat is out looking for something to catch he’s spending energy. He runs to his hunting area, he stays in motion the entire time he’s hunting (even if it’s just his tail) and he puts everything he has left into the final chase, leap or whatever he or she has to do to make up the distance he’s already lost by not being still to begin with. He’s already used up part of his energy allowance before he ever tries to make the final effort and if he misses then he’s wasted all that energy and is tired before he can try again. If he doesn’t learn better then his best hope of food is to trudge home and hope that the nice people will feed him out of a bowl that won’t try to run away when he attacks it.

About the best thing that can come out of this method is that the kitty will sleep well than night because he’s tired from all that energy expenditure. If he doesn’t have a home where nice people will feed him then he’ll not only be tired when he wakes but hungry as well and that little bit just might make him over-eager and careless when he goes hunting tomorrow. Hopefully he’ll capture something before he completely exhausts himself.

Now, an older cat has a much more economical method for hunting. One that saves energy, only takes a little longer, is just as satisfactory in the end and provides more success in the long run.

The young and old all have a finite amount of energy. If you’ve ever watched children at play then you can admire how they run and leap and seem never to slow down. We older folk all think on how we wish we had that much energy but the truth is that the young and old have the same amount of energy.

A child who weighs 50 pounds has exactly the same amount of energy as the average adult but weighs 1/3 to 1/4 as much so the energy goes farther as does the child. Explained in this manner it’s easily seen that a 200 pound adult has no chance to keep up with a fifty pound child. Oh sure, the adult can catch a child in a straightaway race but then too the adult has longer legs. If, however, the adult misses his or her grab at the errant child then the child will quickly outdistance said adult because although they have both used a significant amount of energy, the adult is using 3 or 4 times as much energy in the same endeavor and quickly reaches their limit while the child still has a lot of reserve energy left to use. It’s all a matter of weight, mass, and finite energy. As two variables increase then the finite number is spread more thinly in order to accomplish the same endeavor.

So, using the above as an example of energy expenditure and a short lesson in physics to explain why this is so, it’s time to examine the energy conservation methods of an adult cat.

First: An elder cat has had a longer lifetime to study how things work and realize that if it works a certain way for them then it probably works a similar way for others as well. This is how experience can be gained most easily. Therefore, adult cats, being naturally curious creatures, will attribute inquisitiveness to other creatures based on the premise that if they are curious by nature then surely others must also be possessed of a certain amount of curiosity as well.

We all use the tools at hand at times in lieu of the proper tools so this can be considered a common occurrence of life. An example of this might be that a rock can be sometimes used as an acceptable hammer if one doesn’t have a proper hammer handy (an extra bit of advice that the reader can tuck away against need).

Using this bit of knowledge combined with previous observation and experience, an older cat will casually approach their chosen hunting spot and instead of casting about to find prey will settle in a comfortable place or position and wait for prey to come to them. The cat, in this example will then lie, sit, nap or wash itself to occupy time while it waits, all the while listening and observing the area around its chosen spot. Listening and watching aren’t exactly labor intensive so it’s not using the finite amount of energy it has uselessly.

Once prey is detected, the next item on the agenda is to make it come to itself instead of having to go to the detected prey.

Using the previously mentioned theory concerning “what works for one probably works for all”, the elder cat will then began to act in a curious manner with the intent of bringing the prey (also known as food) nearer (drawn by the prey's own curiosity).

It is reasonably well accepted (by cats) that birds are possessed by an active curiosity as well as being reasonably good eating (by cat standards) so the above described tactic works very well on birds and with lesser success on smaller creatures that also occupy the definition of food for a cat. Lesser success is still success no matter how it looks to the observer. Lunch is lunch no matter how it’s served.

In the human world there are cultures that eat bugs. I’m not an advocate of having bugs for lunch but if it was a choice of bugs or starvation then I suppose I could learn to eat bugs even if I never learned to like eating bugs. Some people eat oysters. I rate that delicacy right up alongside bugs but the people that do this think I’m just contributing to their welfare by leaving them more oysters that they can eat instead of reducing the overall amount by what, I suppose, might be called my rightful share. Good for them. The more they eat then the less that I have to plan on how to avoid.

Birds also have the advantage of fairly good eyesight and a higher point of vantage than ground bound creatures. Any military type will be happy to explain the advantage of higher ground when it pertains to observation. My advice is not to get the military types started on this discussion unless you’re seriously interested in the emplacement of artillery.

Cats have several aspects that I won’t go into in depth in this essay because the purpose of this essay is to teach readers about energy conservation and these aforementioned aspects all have to do with circumventing the laws of physics as are generally accepted and taught in schools. In point of fact these aspects are so upsetting to the school of physics that if you’ve studied physics at all you’ll notice that cats are never mentioned. If a thing is out of sight then it’s out of mind and can be safely ignored is the (false) working premise behind this failure.

Amongst these aspects is variable weight to mass ration. This aspect is important to the rest of this discussion. If you’ve ever wondered how your cat can reach the top of your refrigerator from a flatfooted start on the floor then this would help explain it. The cat is capable of adjusting its weight to mass ration so that instead of lifting a heavy object to any given height, it simply adjusts its weight and is only lifting a light object (i.e. itself). The end result is that by using a given amount of energy it can jump higher than would normally be expected. It’s a simple solution to the cat although it might seem perplexing to a human. They can also hover using the same method although cats usually endeavor to disguise this fact lest someone pay attention to it.

Why I’ve mentioned this aspect is that it’s very useful during the elder cat’s foray into the acquisition of lunch.

I once had the pleasure of close acquaintance with a cat who could control this aspect of his existence so well that upon jumping from the floor he could casually hover at the apogee of his jump while deciding where to step across to his chosen landing point. I have observed him do this upon jumping from the floor to the top of a six foot tall refrigerator numerous times.

I have had people tell me that what they were seeing was just hang time but I observed this feat so many times that I knew it was denial of actual observation on their part. My friend, the cat, knew this would happen so he carried on in the manner to which he’d become accustomed with no further regard for the opinions of people.

A ordinary cat is fully capable of attaining a height of about 3 feet or more in the air from a reclining position through the application of this useful aspect. This can be hazardous to anything occupying the airspace directly above the cat when this happens whether it’s a bird, your hand or some other object or extremity.

If you’ve ever tried to step over a reclining cat only to trip when it attained altitude then you now know how it’s done and why you found yourself lying on your nose on the carpet. A cat’s space includes not only the space horizontally around itself but the airspace above it. Imagine that space as a bubble. You invade that bubble either with the granting of largess on the part of the cat or at your own peril.

To concentrate on the actual point of this essay for a moment, the elder cat will wait until it has attention of a potential candidate for lunch and then began to act curiously. It may flop about, engage in some manner of play resembling an epileptic fit or whatever it might take to fully engage the potential meal’s attention, all the while observing the potential lunch entre and its reactions to the cat’s behavior.

Once the cat has identified the behavior that attracts the most reaction then it will continue that behavior until the prey decides to examine the cat's activities more closely.

A bird may fly over the cat a few times then retreat to a safe distance to observe but in the fullness of time it will decide that the cat has made no hostile move and the situation needs yet another, better and closer examination of what might be ailing the creature it is currently watching, all the while announcing to the world at large that a curious thing is happening and thereby attracting other potential food to the area.

If the potential food first spotted does not get careless and make a low strafing run at an incautious altitude it is quite possible that some other equally enticing morsel will do so after exercising too little caution and forethought. These second choices are often younger birds who lack life experience. When this event occurs, the cat will burst from the ground as though rocket propelled and with a careful eye to interception and interdiction will be right in the flight path of the curiosity stricken potential food as it enters into a permanent new avocation (albeit short lived) as food. If a ground borne bit of food comes within reach first, called by the newscast of the original airborne food, then it might suffer a similar fate before it is actually necessary for the cat to exercise itself in airborne gymnastics It is of some interest to note that this strategy will often sometimes work in favor of the cat by attracting the attention of a human who will sometimes feed the cat rather than allowing it to acquire sustenance through the deaths of other birds or animals. With either result the elder cat has used a single method to obtain a meal showing good forethought and initiative in planning ahead.

All this is accomplished with a minimal amount of energy expenditure and, perhaps. includes a nap in the process.

In summation: A great deal can be learned from the observation of how an elder cat hunts, conserves energy, and eats well as opposed to the method that the energy profligate exuberance of a young cat displays.

It benefits us to be mindful of this masterful display as shown by the elder cat.

Conserve energy, plan ahead, and execute that plan with minimal flourish and wasted time. It’s a lesson that all can profit by through the energy saving method of observing one’s elders before wearing one's self out trying something that might not work. After all, if it works with time for a nap thrown in, what could be more enticing?

For humans, chocolate or ice cream would be an added bonus but the young of humans have already learned and taught their peers that they can pester the older folks to achieve that goal without the necessity of having to provide it themselves simply by offering to share once it’s been obtained. Do not trust this premise. It’s often false. Just as the elder cat practices deception to achieve its ends so do the youth of adult humans to achieve theirs. This they “do” learn early. Not all lessons are wasted on the youth of any species. Some are well learned at a very early age. Conservation of energy just doesn’t seem to be amongst those well learned early lessons.

Go forth and put into practice what you have learned herein today.