Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Snake


Her mind was a simple device yet one honed sharp for hunting. Her tongue flicked out and gathered molecules from the air, retrieved them, and her brain processed the scents. The morning dew was heavy with smells, there was pollen, there was dust, there was a hundred other smells that told her everything she needed to know about where she was, and what else was there. There was a new garden, and the tilled earth meant young plants, and that meant a rodent would come to feed. She knew there was a female with young nearby, but she had not yet been able, or willing, to track the scent down.  A week ago a cotton rat and blundered into her strike range and she had not felt the urge to feed again until now. She glided to a stop in the shadows of the underbrush and did what she did best; wait.
            The smell of disease on the rodent was crystal clear. It was an elderly creature, and its time on this earth would be limited even with her venom, but she knew nothing of this. The rodent’s body heat gave a clear target, the strike was perfect. She injected a full dose of venom and felt the rodent’s body recoil internally from the death it would bring, but it was far too late. She recovered from the strike, checked the air for the scent of danger and then did what she did best; wait.
            She had no clock, no mechanism as to how long it took, but in her eighth year of life she knew how long was long enough, and her tongue shipped the air for a trail, and found one. Slowly, and methodically, she followed the dying rodent, and never knew of the shotgun blast that tore her head off.
“Damn! That’s a monster there!” the man said. “Glad I killed the damn thing before it killed one of us.
“Now if only we could keep the rats out of the garden,” his companion said. “,for they are eating us out of house and home.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"The Pianist" A Movie Review

I didn’t watch “The Pianist” when it came out in 2002 because the director of the movie was still under indictment for child molestation. I thought I knew what the movie was about, and I thought I had already read enough about the subject so that I didn’t feel an obligation to go see it. After all, I’m an amateur historian and I know a little bit better what has happened in World War Two, and the horrors of the Death Camps.  After all, I had seen “Schindler's List” and if you’ve seen one movie about how terrible the Holocaust was, really, how many more do you have to see?
At least one more, as it turns out.

“The Pianist” is a very well put together movie, wonderfully cast, and the acting from beginning to end is superb.  Adrien Brody turns out an Ocsar awarded performance as Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew trapped in Warsaw at the very beginning for World War Two. Unlike the film, “Playing for Time” Szpilman’s talent isn’t a ticket out of the horrors of the Nazi pogrom, and the people he knows and loves are murdered en masse all around him. From one hiding place to the next, the film carries us into a very personal look at the desperation, the despair, and the helplessness of living in occupied Poland. Saved by sheer luck when his entire family is being packed into a boxcar bound for Treblinka, Szpilman lives the life of a hunted animal for the next six years, with each day bringing little but more deprivation and less hope. The man watches as his fellow countrymen, and his fellow Jews, are systematically and sadistically murdered.  The film leaves you at the edge of your seat, unwilling to watch one more innocent person murdered for no reason at all, yet unable to turn away.
            Szpilman did survive, of course, and the first scene of the movie is mirrored in the last, where Szpilam is playing the same piece of music that World War Two interrupted. His autobiography “The Pianist” is the basis of the movie, and going on my reading list.
            The idea that the Nazis existed in the past, or were monsters in a movie about an era long gone fades quickly during this film. You see mothers, fathers, children, the old, and young with each and every one of them as human as you and I, being worked to death, brutalized, and killed in scenes that are shown simply and realistically. Lives are torn asunder and extinguished simply over a matter of religion and culture, things most people give little thought to, and suddenly, millions were being killed. This doesn’t feel like the past. This feels real. This feels like it is happening to people you know and care about. It feels this way because that is exactly what happened, and who it happened to.

            If you’ve seen one well done Holocaust movie you really have seen them all. If you have seen evil once… The horror does not change in time, if we are attentive. The idea that it can happen again needs to be repeated, and needs to be heard, if we are to retain our humanity. “The Pianist” is a reminder than murder, especially that done of a large scale, robs us all of musicians, artists, writers, and it takes from us people from every imaginable walks of life. The unimaginable is brought to life, again, in “The Pianist”. I recommend it as a reminder of what hatred steals from us, all of us, in the guise of war.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beguiled Again At The End Of The World

Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit.
W. Somerset Maugham

Generally speaking I don’t like boating. When you’re in a boat you’re at the whim of both mechanical motors and the water, neither of which has ever shown any love for humans in boats. I think the water resents boats that make noise and are powered by anything other than a paddle. I think boats resent humans on the water.  I am careful, very, about who I get into a boat with, because when you are in a boat with people that’s who you might have to count on to get you out of trouble you all got into together to begin with. I learned to be likewise careful about who I drink with for just that reason.
            But this is Mark the Mystery Writer, stepping up to Captain Mark, and Sandy the Painter, filling in as Chief Navigator, Buoy Watcher, and First Mate. They have invited Elbow and myself for a End Of The Word Cruise to a tiny Oyster bar somewhere on the banks of Lake Seminole. This is one of the few chances I get to talk writing with someone who really knows how to write, other than Elbow, and Chief Navigator, Buoy Watcher, First Mate Sandy has never met a dull moment in her life. Cast off! And Cast away the cares of the day! Let the sun shine, let the water be calm, and when Elbow is involved, let the dithering begin!
            After a side trip to the feed store we were actually early. Captain Mark and Chief Navigator, Buoy Watcher, First Mate Sandy were ready to go so off we went to the marina on the Flint River, and there in her berth was “Beguiled Again” not so much as a river boat but a rather smallest yacht, replete with a canopy to keep the sun off of us and a very large motor to keep the wind on us. We loaded the supplies, Chief Navigator, Buoy Watcher, First Mate Sandy is the first person I have see, ever, get manual labor out of Elbow, and we cast off on a day that was supposed to have ended when the world did. Can you really have lower expectations for a cruise than that?
            As odd as it sounds, I left my camera at home, and my cell in the truck, on purpose. I needed to disconnect from my life for a day, and when I take a camera with me, as I do all the time, I usually spend so much time looking for that one perfect shot I have no time to simply enjoy the ride. Even if you are only a passenger in a boat, you ought to pay attention because there are no landmarks in the water. One tree stump looks very much like another. Indeed, we arrived at the short cut to the oyster bar, and there was brief debate as to whether or not this was the right one. There was a massive Great Blue heron in the water, and as we very slowly chugged up stream, it would lift off, fly ahead of us as if it were our spiritual guide, wait for us, and then fly forward ahead again. The weather was perfect, the water clam and clear, the trees and water plants incredibly vibrant, and the conversation was wonderful. Yet the slough dead ended at a boat ramp where there was nothing but a Great Blue Heron, and we were beguiled again, by its beauty.
            A quick vote was taken as the count was 0-3 in favor of not throwing Chief Navigator, Buoy Watcher, First Mate Sandy overboard for leading us into Blue Heron territory. Away we went, trying to figure out which buoy meant what and trying to avoid smaller craft. But this was not a destination but rather a journey. Captain Mark the Mystery Writer is a clam and methodical man who writes much like he plans for a boat trip. There is little wasted effort, no panic, and Mark is the type of person you’d find in front of a burning house, all his belongings intact, and him wondering aloud why he didn’t manage to get the smoke detector out before the house went up in flames. Chief Navigator, Buoy Watcher, First Mate Sandy is lively and animated. If Mark was trying to figure out why the smoke detector wasn’t saved, Sandy would break out marshmallows, so the moment would not be wasted. Elbow is an unhurried soul, not prone to despair or schedules. If you are going to get lost in a slough, and know not what to do, it is good to have Elbow, and Mark and Sandy, too.
            We joked muchly about the end of the world, and why people believe in such things yet the conversation drifted about like a leaf in a current. The sun climbed higher, the boat moved forward, and we saw such things as an Osprey nest with chicks in it, and all manner of wading birds. The right short cut was found, a log was run over causing much concern but no damage, and finally we arrived at the oyster bar and it was if we had discovered the New World.
            The oyster bar was just an elongated shed that was screened in and where they had installed a sprinkler system on the tin roof to help cool it. Inside there were dozens of oddities on the walls and ceiling, including maybe a hundred one dollar bills with names of former patrons written on them. This was indeed a laid back venue, catering to the tired, the sunburned, the half drunk, the boater whose engine had failed, and for those of us who were having a great time, too. There was no pretense here at all, no dress code, no formalities to worry about, and the food wasn’t bad at all.  Elbow did practice a little gymnastics on the way out, tripping on the dock and scaring some small children.
            We got lost again, on the way back, dithered a while, and I even took the helm for a short while, much to the consternation of the crew, but we managed to survive that, too. In the end, Chief Navigator, Buoy Watcher, First Mate Sandy and Elbow serenaded us with “Beguiled Again” a song by Ella Fitzgerald, and the world did not end.

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What the Bible says about The Rapture.

That's right. It doesn't say the first word about it. It's , mostly just a myth extrapolated by a very twisted meanings of a couple of verses much like most of what the radicals and insane believe.

Charles Manson thought he could trigger the end of times through murder, and there are a lot of people who have made a lot of money off of such as this, but the bottom line is there is no, and has never been, any true basis for the rapture anymore than there has been for Santa Claus.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Who Murdered Marmalade?

Photobucket


Elbow called me Monday and told me Marmalade was missing. Elbow, whatever else she may be, isn’t the hysterical type, okay, she is at that but she is quite in tune with her cats. Marmalade is my favorite cat of hers; an orange and white tabby who is as affectionate as she is large. Elbow’s two sons have friends who have nicknamed Marmalade “Meatball” because of her girth, but Elbow is worried. She last saw Marmalade Sunday night, under the back porch and Marmalade looked a little distressed. All the dogs went in with Elbow, and she assumed Marmalade would make her way in via the cat door or an open window.
Elbow’s hired hand found the body under the house this morning, and Elbow called me.

There could not be two diametrically different views on raising dogs than the two Elbow and I have. I am the Alpha dog. I am the one person in the house who will end a fight. I see the dogs as members of my family, to be sure, but there will be a certain sense of order. When I yell I expect everything to come to a halt, and now dammit. Elbow sees her dogs as extensions as who she is and she will discuss things with dogs I will not. I have never beat a dog in my life, but there are times a dogs has to know without any question there are very serious consequences to action. Elbow is prone to letting the dogs settle things and I do see the merit in this, but I also won’t have the better part of three hundred pounds of tame wolf making decisions if I can get away from it. Elbow and I do have this in common; we both own damaged dogs.
Her train wreck of a mutt is Frank, the neurotic Border Collie who is prone to herding anything and everything. Frank has killed chickens before. He is also affected by Izzy, the Jack Russell and Meth Lab mix who has been known to torment cats. Elbow thinks that Izzy was pestering Marmalade and Frank somehow became involved. Poor Marmalade was mortally wounded, and had barely enough strength to climb through the hole in the wall and die under the house. My train wreck of a mutt is Sam. This is a dog who has torpedoed his way across the yard and slammed into a full grown raccoon, shaken it hard for five seconds, dropped it, and walked away without a mark on him. Elbow says this is how Frank kills, and she says that Marmalade’s neck was broken.
What she has to do now is exile Izzy. He is too excitable around livestock and small animals. He does not belong around horses. A friend really likes him and wants him, and will give Izzy a good home. Elbow finally says what needs to be said of Frank. He is to be executed. Killing Marmalade is unforgiveable. They have been living together for a decades and if will turn on her like this, what of the new grandchild? I am forced to agree there is risk here. Frank is becoming unstable and unpredictable. He is eleven years old and in bad health to boot. I argue hard, as hard as logic allows, but the evidence against him is damning. I must admit execution eliminates doubt. If Frank will kill a member of the family in fur then no one is safe.
I ask to see the scene of the crime. Under the stairs from which the attack was made shows no signs of a struggle. It’s been four days, but there ought to be something there. I go under the house and look around with a flashlight. I call out to Elbow to get a location as to where she thinks Marmalade’s path might have been, but lo! The opening Elbow thought was there has been closed up by her hired hand many months ago. For Marmalade to have gotten to where her body was found would require she travel over a small wall, and well over thirty-five feet. I can see where the body was removed, but where the body lay, there were no drag makes, like an injured cat might make. Near the body there was some evidence of disturbed dirt, and a second set of tracks, but those might have been made months ago. This is not the last resting place of a cat who was attacked by a dog and drug herself to her final resting place. Marmalade walked here, on all fours, yet once here, she died on the spot after some sort of physical activity. There is no way a cat with a broken neck walks here and dies.
Elbow and I review my findings with a fine tooth comb. No, she agrees, Frank did not kill Marmalade, and neither of us will ever really know what happened. The leading theory now is snakebite, but there is no direct evidence of this so all we can do is speculate.
The fact that Frank is capable of attacking and killing another animal actually rules him out. With Izzy egging him on, there is no way a house cat survives at attach by a dog of Frank’s size, and still goes off to die without leaving evidence of the fight. Frank is exonerated. The issues with him are no longer a mortal issue. Izzy must go, however, simply because he causes too much trouble, and a good home can be found.

Marmalade was my cat, or at least the cat of Elbow’s I could claim when I sat down. She was my friend. She was a talky cat who purred loudly and meowed at me if I rubbed her back hard. She made for a good lap warmer in cold weather, and despite the fact the dogs greet me with much more enthusiasm than she, Marmalade would always come to see me, and let me per her chin. She was a gentle and loving soul who once stood down a six foot long rattlesnake right outside Elbow’s home until Elbow could find someone to kill it. Marmalade was a better person than most people who will make the news this week.

We will never know how she died, but here, in this, I wish to remember her for the life she lived.

Take Care,
Mike

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day

It’s never a good thing when all the principle people of the family are together in one place and one time, and after all these years, couldn’t we just decide that fate, luck, bourbon or god has brought us together, and in a few short years, one of us, or more than one of us, will likely be dead, and we should be thankful for the time we have been given, and those people we have also been given, no matter who they might be? I have these thoughts on Mother’s Day, knowing that my mother and father will be in the same room sitting at the same table for the first time in years, and it might not be pretty at all.
My niece, who is doing very well at Mercer, has arranged everything, and I thought that might carry the day. It’s her father’s birthday also, and we do not do enough for him to know how appreciated he is, and I thought that might help. My brother-in-law is a good man, a solid individual who has been married to my sister now for nearly twenty years. Surely, his birthday, coupled with Mother’s Day will be enough to dampen any lingering animosity over a divorce that happened in the early 1970’s, but no.
My nephew is still a freakshow, and it is very likely he always will be. That’s harsh, I do realize that, but he doesn’t ever show the slightest vestige of gratitude for anything or anyone. He orders food at the restaurant, sits and stares away from the table, and doesn’t eat with us. He has his food boxed up to go, and will eat in his room when he gets home. He wears a ratty tee short to the restaurant and looks surprised and insulted if anyone speaks to him. The waiter, who my sister adores, seems slightly lost and confused. I’ve managed restaurants before, and I know good help when I see it. This is not what this group of people needs. We need things to go a little more smoothly than they are, and they aren’t.
My father is late. This is like saying the moon is late rising, or the tide is late receding. The confused waiter is confused by the fact we aren’t ready to order, and asks twice while we are waiting. There are seven of us. There were seven of us five minutes ago. There will be seven of us when you return. When there are eight or more people here, then come back, please. The young man seems at a loss as to why my father isn’t there and he doesn’t even know the man. Mt step father is a man written off as dying over twenty-five years ago, and I think he lives just to piss doctors off. Three times in the last thirty years he’s been married to my mother, experts and specialists have declared this year his last, and now pushing eighty, he is still getting up and going. He’s somewhat deaf and not really that intuitive, so he answers questions he thinks might have been asked and it is sometimes more than just a little funny. He’s the only real relief for the tension at the table and I’m tempted more than once to asked him questions unexpected just to get an odd answer but resist.
I think all of this has been made worse because my younger sister, who is not present and accounted for again, raised the question of whether or not my father should come to this gathering on Mother’s Day, and I suspect that my father might not have come except there was some question as to whether or not he should, and I don’t think my mother would have minded if he did show up, except that my sister raised the question as to whether or not he should, and therein the pressure lies. My father arrives and he’s not only late but grumpy, which is normal for my father when he is out of sorts with the world. If he isn’t happy he’s going to make someone else unhappy, and thus it has always been and thus it will always be. The confused waiter is confused now there is another person, and that person wants more bread, and we want to order and oh god it is just too much, the man looks like this is enough for him to need therapy, really.
This is one of those restaurants where you’ll be paying for the atmosphere and dishes with Italian sounding names. My brother-in-law gets lasagna and they bring him a one inch by one inch by one inch cube of what looks like it might be, under a microscope, lasagna. Mt father grouses about there not being enough salad dressing, as if a teaspoon of the stuff isn’t enough, and he pirates a salt shaker from the table next to us. He grabs the frightened and confused waiter by the apron as the man hurried by to escape out gravitational pull into the abyss, and my father demands more bread. But there is a bright shining beacon of hope here, and that is very small portions of food means we’ll get done sooner than later. After a few quite moments of reflection on the meal we might have had going to a restaurant with less air, we all retreat to my sister’s home, and Mother’s Day begins to end.
The time we have here is finite, and each day it becomes more so, not less so. On the way back home I pass through small towns with cemeteries filled with people who had their own family dramas and each and every one of these people though the tiny politics of life were oh so important but each and every one of them wound up in a hole in the earth, politics decided at last as to who they would, or would not be speaking to forever and ever.

Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Killing bin Laden

The first question that has to be answered is this one; is Osama bin Laden actually dead? I suspect he is. For the United States to conduct a covert military operation inside Pakistan for a ruse or erroneously, is not impossible but this is a career ender for a president who proclaims the death of the world’s most wanted man and is wrong. Added to this is the death of whoever it really was and there might be impeachment proceedings. Is it possible Obama is desperate enough to risk going down in history as the president who claimed to have killed Osama and been totally wrong? I strongly doubt bin Laden is alive.
Is it possible that bin Laden has been dead all along, or at least for a while and the United States intelligence community had knowledge of this and only now revealed it? Again, politics is not a bad answer to any question but again, the possibility of someone having some evidence of the truth would be damaging beyond any repair. I strongly doubt this is a ruse of some sort to cover bin Laden’s death in the past.
This leads us to believe that the story we have been told is at least partially true, in that bin Laden was in that compound, and that was where he was killed by American commandos, and honestly, if the American military knows where you are and they want to dead, the chances of survival are not good at all. But let us examine where he was, and why he was there at all.
Despite the claims of those who clearly do not know anything at all about how life is lived in Pakistan I assure you the compound bin Laden was not such an aberration it would have automatically thrown up enough red flags to be investigated by the local authorities, the military, or Pakistani intelligence community. For those in America who wonder aloud how someone with much money could hide in plain sight that close to so much power ask yourself how many mob bosses, drug dealers, dog fighters and politicians live in America without anyone questioning their wealth or power. Is it therefore possible that bin Laden was hidden in plain sight without the Pakistanis knowledge? Yes, that is possible.
Equally possible is the scenario where the Pakistani government plays a double game of going after terrorists in Afghanistan and in the tribal regions but leaves in peace the urban and urbane operators who can afford to buy the peace in the Pakistani homeland. Look at the drug trade in America as an analogous situation. I suspect deeply if the United States government was serious about stopping the drug trade they could. But they instead spend most of their resources busting users and low level dealers while the people in both the American government and those aboard turn a blind eye to those making the most money. Providing bin Laden with safe haven assures the Pakistani government peace, but it also assure them if they need a quick cash fix, selling bin Laden to the Americans for a billion dollars, especially in an election year, isn’t out of the question. Yes, I do keep repeating that but do not discount that as motivation. Also, do not rule out this as tampering in an American election. The powers-that-be in Pakistan, if they knew where bin Laden was, and had determined he was more of a burden than an asset, might sell him to the American to assure Obama stays in office, rather than risk someone else that might stop the flow of American dollars to that country.
Also, it could very well be we have always known where he was all along. As odd as this sounds, if the intelligence community wanted to spy on the deepest circles of terrorist activity involving bin Laden, how better to do that than to let him live in peace, yet watch him carefully? Anyone having any contact with him could be noted, as well as everyone from Pakistan who entered the compound. The groups associated with the unrest in the Middle East these days have nothing at all to do with bin Laden, as far as we can tell, and it might have been determined he had become irrelevant to the present day struggle in the Middle East. What better time to liquidate a source of information than when it is no longer useful?
The idea that four American helicopters entered Pakistani airspace, landed within sight distance of two Pakistani military regiments, raided a heavily fortified position, dropped commandos, started a firefight, crashed a helicopter, killed a few people, took a dead body with them, and left a large fire behind, isn’t likely at all. Despite the uneducated belief the Pakistani military is a bunch of turban wearing bearded men in pay of the terrorists and not likely to fight, this is a tough professional army that has taken more casualties in the so called War On Terror than we have. I simply cannot believe the same army that crushed the Taliban in the Swat Valley stood with their collective mouths agape at the mighty American military as they swooped in then left again. If these people did not react it is because there were given orders not to react, or more purposely, they were not given order to act. We will hear more about this later, I am sure.
At some point in time, bin Laden had to wonder why we were spending so much time, money, and effort looking for him in Afghanistan. After nearly ten years, we could have found Obama’s birth certificate there, and Jimmy Hoffa, too, if that was what we were looking for. Every news report, every military briefing, every piece of evidence we were allowed to see spoke of “tribal regions” and mountainous terrain” as if we knew, more or less, where the man was, but just could not quite get out hands on him. There he was, we were told, in some cave, laughing at us. Yet after a while that story was beginning to wear thin. Did it finally get to the point where bin Laden might have suspected we knew where he was, or the Pakistanis knew where he was, or everyone knew where he was, and he started making plans to leave? Or could it be he’s not the end all and be all of everything evil, and was just one man on the run who used the political climate to his advantage, and was good at what he did, evil as it was?
I suspect I am wrong, mostly, but I have been paying attention for a lot longer than most, and I distrust any information freely given, but even that is a flaw, a precept for a ruse to burrow into. I do know that evil was not one man and is not contained in one man, and we have not done in one night anything to destroy or undo evil. But we have, I think, given pause to evil and that is not a bad day’s work, and I believe no matter how this plays out, we are safer without this man alive. I also believe that good men wear the uniform we have given them, and in this, we have no yet failed to fight evil, ever it rests its head.

Take Care,
Mike