A Few Clarifications on Happiness

THE DANCE OF LIFE

LIFE is like a walk or dance or run on the edge of a knife. On either side one can fall into death, living death, or just existence.

One can get this feeling when driving in fast traffic, but the reality is that dancing is a metaphor for the decisions one makes that involve the experiences one chooses to have.

There is the fact that in any situation one perceives a certain set of inputs though their senses which go into the brain. Then what one makes of those inputs determines what kind of reality one makes for themselves. Happiness is an activity not a goal. One can chose happiness or worse from any set of perceptions.

Continue Reading →

BELIEF SYSTEMS: Examining logic, reason and prejudice. By John Cooke

John and I share emails and recently he sent this gem to me from a collection of essays he is writing. I wanted any readers I have to read this and grin. Bill

BELIEF SYSTEMS: Examining logic, reason and prejudice.

By John Cooke

Nothing so raises the temperature of a conversation as when religious or political opinions are brought into it. On such occasions, logic and reason wither before the onslaught of prejudice. Can this be attributed to the fact that the seeds of both politics and religion are frequently sown before a child’s critical faculties have been sharpened? They thus embed themselves like a malignant mutation, unfettered by reason, to become a hard-wired component in the developing psyche? Continue Reading →

The Last Year With Helga

The Last Year With Helga,
before 4.27.12 when she died.
(6th or 7th in the Series)

See wo1615.com/blog/search term Helga.

She was doing great starting off at walking outside where we had installed a pipe guard rail along the neighbor’s fence. Her walking went up to a peak of 14 80 foot walks, 9 in morning and 5 at night. She and I were so proud of her work. Gradually as the year proceeded along with repeated UTIs it got harder and harder for her to walk. On cold days she walked in the house using a cane and made 4 or so distances of about 30 feet at best. Walking with a cane was much harder inside then outside as the railing gave more substantial support. I had read that post stroke people lived 5 years at most after such a massive stroke. I never told her that fact, but she was no dummy. I had an unspoken objective to at least get to that mark. We made it half way, and along the way learned a few things which might be of interest and even generalizable. Continue Reading →

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost with Comment

William Olkowski comments below about his favorite poem.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Continue Reading →

Helga Martin Williamson Olkowski (1931-2012).

Helga Martin Williamson Olkowski (1931-2012).

Helga grew up in Detroit, MI in a Jewish family with a mother who escaped the Nazis, came to the US and married Dave Martin, a US citizen from a previous Diaspora from Germany. The family hid and sponsored other escapees at times. Helga tells of seeing the number tattoos on the arms of some of these people. The family joke (told by Dave, a kind and intelligent father, who specialized in Rabbi jokes) was about when Dave’s father was coming through Ellis Island he told his son that he was disappointed about how the family name got twisted into Martin. Originally, it was Moskevitz. As Dave tells it he said back to his father: “Where in the bible do you see the name Moskevitz? The jokes frequently showed how silly religions are. And further, the idea of creating the new state of Israel with its emphasis on a religion horrified Dave as it was clear that combining a single religion and a country would lead to trouble. And so it has. I only wish the religious crazies in this country would wake up to that idea. Continue Reading →

A Selected Collection of Quotes on Grief

A Selected Collection of Quotes on Grief

1. “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens”. – Woody Allen
2. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” ~Winston Churchill
3. “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?” — Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)
4. “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” — Jan Glidwell
5. “The pain passes, but the beauty remains”. –Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
6. “Grief is itself a medicine”. –William Cowper (1731-1800)
7. “Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell.” — Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
8. “To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness” — Erich Fromm (1900-1980)
9. “Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose”– from The Wonder Years
10. “He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it”. — Turkish Proverb
11. “The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief — But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” — Hilary Stanton Zunin
12. “There is no grief like the grief that does not speak” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
13. “Every one can master a grief but he that has it” — William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
14. “Love is a fabric that never fades, no matter how often it is washed in the waters of adversity and grief”. — Anon.
15. “While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.” — Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
16. “Grief is a process, not a state”– Anne Grant (1755-1838)
17. “Mourning is one of the most profound human experiences that it is possible to have… The deep capacity to weep for the loss of a loved one and to continue to treasure the memory of that loss is one of our noblest human traits”.– Shneidman (1980)
18. “Courage is being afraid and going on the journey anyhow”. — John Wayne
19. “Grief knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can; and common sufferings are far stronger links than common joys”– Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869)
20. “And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!”– Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
21. “Look well into thyself. There is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou will always look there”. — Marcus Aurelius (121-180)
22. “Mourning is love with no place to go”– anon.
23. “Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them”. — Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
24. “We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else”. — Sigmund Freud (1961)
25. “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er-wrought heart and bids it break.” — William Shakespeare (MacBeth)
26. “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of confusion or despair, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing… not curing… that is a friend indeed.” –Henri Nouwen
27. “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief… and unspeakable love.” — Washington Irving
28. “Grief shared is grief diminished”– Rabbi Grollman
29. “At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; A wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity.” — Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen
30. “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal”. ~From a headstone in Ireland

Selected from: From: http://www.recover-from-grief.com/memorial-quotes.html

LEARNING SOME LIFE LESSONS: Grief

LEARNING SOME LIFE LESSONS: Grief

By William Olkowski 6.2.12/7.25.12

Well this morning I am going to take on my current main daily subject: grief. The take will be conceptual rather than emotional although the emotional is the stronger, especially right now. That’s because grief can overwhelm the senses including the so called sixth sense of conceptualization. Some people think the sixth sense is telepathy which is a lot of fun to think about. Fun is great, if you can find it, in yourself and others. But the evidence for telepathy is rather weak, if there is any good evidence at all. Continue Reading →

After Helga’s Death 5.2.12

Dear Friends, 5.2.12
How Am I Doing? Are you taking care of yourself?
Well, I am doing better than I expected a few days ago. Here’s a quick report from a nice peaceful reflective morning, a therapeutic hypertext with sporadic tangential rants. It’s 5 am and I just got up thirsting to write. The first ideas upon getting up are sometimes just great, certainly there is a clarity upon arising I wish I could get down on paper before the day gets busy and ideas are forgotten. But now I don’t have much to be busy about which is a new experience, another blessing. I get more undisturbed sleep now than anytime in the last 2.5 years, since the stroke. But I am alone now for the first time in 40 or more years, and that is a novelty, though I am without my dear friend. It’s a mixture of sadness if I go there, which I am avoiding. Sometimes it fights its way to my upper brain and then it’s a wallow. Continue Reading →

CONSIDER THE ANT AND BE WISE

CONSIDER THE ANT AND BE WISE

by William Olkowski

republished again today 11.21.14 previously 2.1.12

“Consider the Ant” is good advice. After all, as social experiments go, ant colony life looks robust. Ants go back, way back, when Insects started in or before the Cambrian Geological period almost 400 million years ago (mya). So they must have experimented and learned a bunch over the million of years, right? Well, from my view it’s a heartless social organization, not worth emulating. But one can learn from almost any bad idea. But then again their survival over this long period tells something we may want to learn from. Continue Reading →

BODY DONATION

BODY DONATION
Comment by William Olkowski

Originally I published this note (5.17.12) about body donation for the for-profit organization called Science Care. When my family buried my father it was a catholic tradition to have the body treated with embalming fluid, then have it displayed for a few days with a viewing by family and friends. I hated the whole thing but attended from California because my mother wanted it and paid for my flight back to New Jersey. After the sessions in the mortuary another tearful period occurred in the cemetery where the lead lined coffin (costing a pretty penny – for a impecunious family), it was lowered into the ground accompanied by music. It was like a movie I saw about burying an Egyptian king except it was in the 1990s. So when the time came for us, me and my then wife to face the facts of life we decided to not waste the bodies but to use them some useful way. The fact that the whole process would not cost us anything and would be done in a few hours after death was some of the incentive. I still carry the care with the phone number in my wallet just in case someone near me or even someone else should find themselves in the driver’s seat after my death. After Helga’s death they came within a few hours.  Continue Reading →

What’s Going On? Commentary on a festival.

 WHAT’S GOING ON?

(IN THE WORLD)

 by William Olkowski, 5/20/13

 Is the nation of shop keepers and war mongers transforming into entertainment junkies?

 

I may have an answer to this question, but I certainly have an important pertinent observation to report.  I just came back from 4 days near Joshua Tree National Park attending something called Shakti Fest, a Celebration of the Divine Feminine (May17-19) at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, 59700 29 Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252.  My fiancé raved about this festival but I was cautious in my approach, but thought ok, she thinks it’s a good thing, so I went.

 

I came in cold to the event, mostly, since I had not attended a “festival” previously in my many decades.  She said its lots of music, dancing and yoga.  It didn’t sound too heavy, besides we needed a break.  A big plus was a rented house nearby with a pool.  So I went along.  It took a 4-5 hour drive from Santa Barbara to reach the desert grounds where the festival was located.  The place was nicely positioned amongst old Joshua tree expanses common to the area where the great National Park is located. 

 

WAS IT ENTERTAINMENT OR A RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT?

My approach to anything religious is very cautionary as I view such social institutions with great skepticism.  I was raised a catholic and the only good thing worth mentioning from that period is that once out of the social/mental trap/maze set up by this belief system, one gets inoculated against similar diseases.  For that I will always value my upbringing, for once bitten always warned.

The Shakti Fest, as it is called, smacked of religion when after the first day events.  These were mostly yoga sessions led by people who used certain words over and over again.  A sample would suffice: words like Universe, Divine, Heart, Love, Light, opening, healing, centering, etc.  As these were never defined I became suspicious.  Yet, the people seemed happy, interested in personal development, were engaged in music and dancing in a big way, and there were many yoga adepts, judged by the number carrying yoga mats, something I see regularly down here in Santa Barbara. 

I thought it doesn’t seem painful, nor does it have anything like the religious trappings from Christianity, like sin, the necessity to experience pain and suffering nor a mystical creator who died for our sins.  But they did mention reincarnation, karma, and somebody called Krishna, who I took to be an analogy to the monotheistic idea we call God.  But I slogged on with my suspicions because the context seemed benign. 

Besides the different workshops were full of young females, my estimate was about 1,500 people, 90% female, mostly young and pretty all dolled up in colorful costumes.  The night dancing went almost to 12 midnight and I staggered home after a brief drop in the hot tub.  In my sleep I was forced to admit that all those Goddesses who sang and danced and taught were great and “it couldn’t hurt, right?”

The Second Day I was converted to a “fester” and took in various yoga classes which in my decrepitude were refreshing, leaving me lightly exercised, or maybe exorcised would be a better term. 

I have a bad knee and some of the “exercises”, really procedures of stylized movement, with soft flute music, gongs, fluets and chants, lasting an hour or more were relaxing like I never experienced before.  And I danced deep into the night with the throng around the main stage.

I was puzzled by the constant reference to various words and phrases, apparently from Sanskrit and the funny stylized songs with regular audience responses, something I had only seen before in religious ceremonies.  Apparently, this form of music is called Kirtan and its a world-wide genre, much like the internet mob dancing also sweeping the world.

I concluded this festival is an expression a social movement, a sort of amalgam driven by musical artists primarily – certainly a social movement with its own belief system.  And since there was no priesthood but mostly muscian/artists/singers I was drawn in. 

Apparently this whole movement is an invasion from India being creolized or amalgamated by Americans into an entertainment, business thing, which looks like a religion but has no pope, nor hierarchy to control what is permitted or excluded.  There are impressarios in charge, apparently, but they seemed imbued with the spirit of festivals, sort of like a regular episotic Woodstock.  So I joined the throng and decided to find out how to learn a thing or two at a deeper level.

The third and last day, pushed me over the top.

This occurred primarily from a work shop on Tantric Love based on artistic interpretations of Indian sutras.  Here is the item describing the workshop from the catalogue:

“Laura Amazzone – Shakti and the Tantric Wisdom Goddesses!  This workshop is an exploration of the wisdom teachings of ten wildly passionate and independent expressions of Shakti known as the Tantric Wisdom Goddesses.  lauraamazone.com.

I chose this workshop because the one I had planned to attend was full up.  The randomness of the selection made the event even more special, but it also tells of a poor presentation in the catalogue.  Besides, it was inside and being inside compared to a tent-like mat-filled-session was more pleasant than being hot outdoors. 

Well, was I pleasantly surprised.  A friend pushed a small booklet into my hands called – The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche, PhD, just as the first performance began. 

Lorin and Laura were a team heading the workshop who explained what was to come next but opened with a most expressive enticing dance routine, played to music from a group of musicians sitting on the floor who were very familiar with the format and actually helped out making the expressions which followed most striking.

As a prelude to the series of interpretations by members of the audience, Laura performed an ecstatic dance, one component of which I will never forget, an erotic undulating representation of an orgasm. 

Although not named, the dance was easily recognized and fully acknowledged by the audience.  It was a beautiful sexual expression without being pornographic, better described as erotic.

The forward by Shiva Rea explains the text, translation from Sanskrit, being passed from generation to generation verbally and now translated by Lorin Roche into English — no small feat.  An example will suffice: “This text glows with an expansive intimacy in the conversation between two lovers, Bhairava and Devi (male and female, respectfully).  It releases a naturalness of being.” …

Here is sutra No. 60, which was translated into beautiful expressive dance by one of the volunteer participants — which itself was both surprisingly unpracticed yet beautifully authentic and seemed normal in this type of workshop:

“Rocking, undulating, swaying,

Carried by rhythm,

Cherish the streaming energy

Flooding your body

As a current of the divine.

 

Radiant One,

Ride the waves of ecstatic motion

Into a sublime fusion

Of passion and peace.”

 

So this little gem of a workshop made me glow and I went on to other similar experiences, with yoga demonstrations/teachings, and the finale capped the whole festival feeling, deep into the night with the kirtan music running into hours.  I danced along with a throng in front of the stage.  I was transformed into an appreciator rather than a skeptic.

As one of my heroines said (Gilda Radner, from Saturday Night Live’s early days), “It can’t hurt”.

Oh, by the way, this is what the Sanskrit word Shakti means (paraphrased from an article titled Mighty Shakti, by Dr. Lorin Roche in LA Yoga, May 2013:

power, ability, strength, might, effort, energy, capability, faculty, skill, and effectiveness or efficacy (of a remedy).

I figured out what the festival was all about from combining various ideas expressed by different artists: love and passion is what could heal the violence and hatred fostered by our society, most of our political leaders, religions, institutions, and sick psychological failings.  If that is what you think you might just want to pay attention to, this festival/musically driven belief system.  It certainly looks like a good thing.  And besides I came home with some new interesting foods, drinks, music and information, along with a relaxed yet exercised danced out body, with a bunch of new ideas and daily practices.  That’s a good thing for an old skeptical atheist.

end

Biog Note for 2013 Ecofarm Conference

 

Wise Words from Someone who was there.

The following summary was prepared for introductory remarks at the 2013 Ecofarm Conference held annually at the State of CA’s Asilomar Conference Center.  There is a tape of the interview conducted by Amigo Bob Cantisano.

Bill Olkowski is an ecological innovator and pioneer in biological control and integrated pest management (IPM). He helped found the first 3 recycling centers in the U.S., the Berkeley Ecology Center (under Ray Ball), ran a first of its kind Creek Clean Up Project (Cordonices Creek, Berkeley, CA) , and with his wife and partner Helga (1931-2012), the Integral Urban House (considered one of the best houses of the 21st, century by Architecture Magazine), the nonprofit Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC), which was a membership organization independently producing two  Internationally distributed journals, one for professionals, and the other for the general public.  In addition, along with their passion for small scale food raising at their own home, they designed and ran 2 public teaching gardens and a small organic teaching farm.

Four years of work on processing tomatoes (ketchup, salsa) in the Sacramento Valley culminated in a pilot program, called Reference Field Monitoring which showed how to reduce pesticide use by developing an appropriate sampling system for the late season crop.  This was implemented in this difficult and highly sprayed industrial crop on 12 advanced farms, totally well over 5,000 acres:

For over 6 years they team taught food raising using a teaching garden on University land, in downtown Berkeley, with a curriculum they designed, along with Plant Pathologist Bob Robby, and two soil scientists Vlamos and Williams.  They worked after leaving UC, Berkeley, Division of Biological Control with the John Muir Institute (JMI), under Max and Julie Linn who stewarded them into their own Center for Applied Ecology (CIAS).  They left UC, but continued their work with city governments demonstrating least toxic pest control programs for city trees with JMI.  Later, after setting up their own non-profit called the BioIntegral Resource Center (“BIRC”), they published The IPM Practitioner (10 issues/yr and Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly (4x/yr with a small cadre of helpers for over 20 years before turning it over to its present managing editor, Bill Quarles, who has continued the publications.

The couple authored many publications including the seminal 740 page reference /text “Common Sense Pest Control, teaching thousands of people how to manage pests without poisons.  They and colleagues coauthored 4 books, some book chapters, numerous magazine articles (Horticulture and Fine Gardening, and others), manuals and hundreds of articles, book reviews, and fliers for the public on Least Toxic Pest Control.  Their classic work, Common Sense Pest Control, is a 740 page compendium written for the general public concerned with managing various residential and urban pests, e.g., cockroaches, termites, garden pests of all sorts, especially aphids, and others.  They were joined in these efforts by their close friend, colleague and fellow author, landscape architect Sheila Daar, who was also the Director of the Institute from which they founded and worked.

The couple also innovated in creating a number of non-profit organizations including Antioch College West in San Francisco, an organic farm based school in the Sacramento Valley, and designed and operated the farm and 4 urban gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area at different times.

They were advocating over 40 years ago for urban gardens as a partial solution to the lack of pesticide free foods and went further to design and operate an organic farm school for disadvantaged young women.  The farm specialized in exploring how animals could be integrated into a 60 ac farm in the foothills of the Sacramento Valley for food, fiber, and weed control. This farm was based on fertilizers made from their own aerobic composting systems created with their farm wastes from a small 800 chicken operation, producing about 100 dozen eggs per week and over 40 boxes of produce sold as part of a CSA, Community Supported Agricultural system.  They were also were advocates of  small scale “farmets” (coining a term) as part of boundary green belts around and within Urban areas.

His wife, Helga (4.27.12) and he were regular speakers at the Ecofarm conference right from its start years ago.  Helga and Bill team, sometimes called BillGa taught for most of their 42 years together.  They formed a scientific writing, and teaching team lecturing across the US, with visits to Canada, China, and Europe (Italy and Berlin).  They also ran and personally searched for natural enemies in different parts of the US for importation to California.  They stopped active work on least toxic pest control in 1998 to help care for their principle supporters, Helga’s parents, Tosia and Dave Martin who died in 1996 and 1998, respectfully.

Afterward, they travelled and lived for 8 years in an RV going from the North coast, Mendocino Area, to the Southwest Desert Parks: Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Mojave preserve, Tucson Mt Park and others.  They travelled in a giant circle, with Bill painting, and Helga identifying plants and animals.

 

Bill Olkowski, “Doc” to his closest  friends, pioneered in designing and piloting biologically based pest control programs for many different types of public agencies, 6  local cities in the San Francisco bay Area, to the state government on contracts with State Department of Water Resources (CA DWR extending their hands-on management system for weeds, and rodents (ground squirrels)), and on Processing Tomatoes, funded by the State Department of Pesticide Regulation (CA-DPR), and a consortium of funding agencies and foundations headed by the Mott Foundation.  He worked in pioneering IPM programs for school districts, residential homes, private and public gardens, The San Francisco zoo, levees run by the State Department of Water (DWR), state and many federal parks, and a private pest control company.  Many of the hundreds of pest control program designs are documented in the classic book on the urban area: Common Sense Pest Control. For others and details see the web site: www.WHO1615.com (also contains copies of paintings produced over 40 years).

The IPM program designed with DWR after 4 years of support, at about $70K/year, demonstrated how to manage ground squirrel populations using smoke bombs at strategic times of the year, reduced burning of levees, plantings of alternative vegetation, use of aerial photographs for squirrel density detection (using holes as indicators of activity).  Using this type of aerial derived data allows for virtual continuous monitoring of squirrel numbers and densities and ways to monitor for long term studies, say over a 15 year period.

The program elements we demonstrated for altering the road treatment system, which previously was treated every year, was reduced by over 87%. This alone could greatly reduce the amount of herbicide on the 30,000 of miles of the Water Project overall.

end

AT LAST SOMETHING GOOD OUT OF CHRISTIANITY

AT LAST SOMETHING GOOD OUT OF CHRISTIANITY

Labeling GMO’s?

By William Olkowski, PhD

Well, I am clapping for my religious friends and family for a recent report by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), on how to end world hunger.  As part of a broad alliance of world wide Christians some ecological sense may be emerging from a group I have little knowledge of.  The EAA are calling for food and farming systems instead of systems based on pesticides and GE seeds.  Haleluya!!

What’s so funny about that sort of statement is they think its based on the ” Christian values of fairness, care for creation and sustenance for generations. This global network of Christians calls for investment in agroecology. Why? Because it works.”

We should take “Whatever Works”, as Woody Allen recommends, but while keeping an open mind, let’s not let the brains fall out (from my favorite Skeptic), and forget that religions are still the greatest force working to keep us human’s apart.  And as long as we are separated there will be wars over oil, water, land, wildlife and other resources.  But there is common ground hardly explored, food security is one of them.

 

This is a global Week of Food Action, and as part of the push, a broad alliance of Christians from around the world has released a set of recommendations for ending world hunger.

Despite best attempts by the chemical industry to use “feeding the world” as moral justification to sell pesticides and proprietary, genetically engineered (GE) seeds to farmers worldwide, members of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance are calling for investment in agroecology. Why? Because it works.  Read further as there are some good examples which could have wide applicability.  Some few successes amidst so many tragedies, so let’s give the successes some clapping.

http://www.e-alliance.ch/en/s/news/single/article/2012/10/16/press-release-churches-take-action-for-food-justice/

CHANCE

CHANCE

by William Olkowski, PhD 10.1.12

The outside of the box,

The unexpected,

The black swan,

The unknown to be known.

When will it strike?

Will I find it?

And what will I do with it?

 

Maybe it’s already here.

Lurking, waiting to jump in.

It could be a car accident.

A new friend,

An old friend,

Something new,

Something blue,

Something?

Something special?

Let’s hope.

 

Dead Yesterday, Unborn Tomorrow,…

PAST, FUTURE AND TODAY

A Musing to Self.

By William Olkowski, PhD,  7.15.12.

Apologies to Omar Khayyam but …

this is how I remember the quote:

“Dead yesterday, unborn tomorrow,

Who cares, if today be sweet.”

I have been thinking about these lines ever since I read it.

Sure today is where the senses detect the world around each of us.

And sure, we all make whatever we will of that sensory information.

And if today be sweet who needs the past and who has time to muse about the future.  Today is where the action is.

BUT,

While I live all who I can remember live again and again as I recall them.

Sure, what I make of these memories can change and even be improved as time passes and that is interesting.  That makes even a bad experience useful, sometimes.  And sure, the past is gone, so all the more reason to live today for that is all we have, ultimately.

BUT,

Without a past, no learning is possible.  Yes, one can learn something new each day, maybe a new mix of colors, or to find a new great paint brush, even meet a new friend, which can change your life.   They can all be important.  But the past is always present, whether you recall it or not.  Its part of who you are.  Its part of who I am anyway.  Who can forget the beauties of living?  Why forget them if they can live again and again.  It’s easy to forget bad things sometimes, sort of as a deliberate act of neglect.  It’s probably a good thing too.  Why carry garbage around, why not recycle it into something useful?

BUT,

To live without a future means  you are dead already.  Plant a tree and die if you have to.  Seeds in the ground can sprout without you.  Seeds into trees leave a memory for friends.  Who planted that tree?  Someone may ask.  I will say, I did and I didn’t care who gets the fruit.  An old teacher told me: “There is no limit to the good a person can accomplish if he/she does not care who gets the credit.”  It was directed at me, I thought erroneously, but that memory popped up while I was musing about the BIG THREE today.  The Big Three, The Past, The Future and Today are intertwined; we separate them with our words, which divide up inner perceptions for focus.  It’s OK to focus as long as you remember that all three make up a life.  And as for credit, well we can see by our fiscal disaster all can be wiped out in a flash, just like your life.

So,

Like Woody Allen also says: “Whatever Works” to give some modest pleasure, grab it, cultivate it, see it for what it is, and be happy.  For this is all there is.  All life is in your hands, heart and mind.  Sing about it, paint it, mold it, store it, laugh with it all, love it all, for when you are gone, there’s nothing.  Emptiness will descend, and cover all your dreams and thoughts.  This everlasting vast moonscape will not know you or your thoughts and dreams.

“So tear your pleasures with rough strife through the iron gates of life;  and though you cannot make it stand still,  we will make it run.  (Another apology to Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), from To His Coy Mistress).

Khayyám at work:

 

 

HOMOPHOBIA AND THE BOY SCOUTS.

HOMOPHOBIA AND THE BOY SCOUTS OFAMERICA

By William Olkowski, posted 9.14.12

The Boy Scouts of America has reaffirmed its exclusion of known homosexual men from membership and as volunteer teachers.  As a former Eagle Scout and member of the Order of the Arrow, an honorary membership organization within the Boy Scouts, I am disgusted with the ignorance of the executive committee about a natural phenomenon.

Homosexuality is a natural phenomena and it is vitally needed now that our population is too high.  Homosexuals don’t have their own kids, but can help raise other people’s kids. Cutting out such people from being volunteers over the fear of pedophilia is unreasonable.  If that is the source of the fear of homosexuality it would be good to exclude all Catholics judging by the vast number of legal actions taken against the many priests of the Catholic church.

The following is excerpted from Wikipedia and tells a great deal more about homosexuality than any Christian church or any of its priests, ministers or church leaders.  Theology is not a good source for explaining natural phenomena.  This exclusion of a minority of citizens of the US is undemocratic, something the BSA should reaffirm.  Are we going to be a democracy or a theocracy?  If it’s to be theocracy get ready for the fight of our lives as history tells horrible stories about such conflicts.

Our country was founded on the separation of church and state largely because of the ferocious conflicts at that time from competing religious belief systems.  They are all divisive; each thinks they have the direct word from God, so they can’t all be right.  In fact, I think they are all wrong.  So, I can’t be proud to be a former boy scout and I say good riddance.  But I do so reluctantly as my memories were formative for me.   But I can see now what used to be a fine experience for young boys being changed into another religious institution.  We already have too many religious institutions; we need a secular non-demonized democratic educational organization with an emphasis on camping and knowledge of the natural world, just as its originator desired.

Homosexual behavior in animals refers to the documented evidence of homosexual and bisexual behavior in various (non-human) species. Such behaviors include sexcourtshipaffectionpair bonding, and parenting among same sex animals. A 1999 review by researcher Bruce Bagemihl shows that homosexual behavior has been observed in close to 1,500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, and is well documented for 500 of them.[1][2] Animal sexual behaviour takes many different forms, even within the same species. The motivations for and implications of these behaviors have yet to be fully understood, since most species have yet to be fully studied.[3] According to Bagemihl, “the animal kingdom [does] it with much greater sexual diversity – including homosexual, bisexual and nonreproductive sex – than the scientific community and society at large have previously been willing to accept.”[4] Current research indicates that various forms of same-sex sexual behavior are found throughout the animal kingdom.[5] A new review made in 2009 of existing research showed that same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species.[6]Homosexual behavior is best known from social species. According to geneticist Simon Levay in 1996, “Although homosexual behavior is very common in the animal world, it seems to be very uncommon that individual animals have a long-lasting predisposition to engage in such behavior to the exclusion of heterosexual activities. Thus, a homosexual orientation, if one can speak of such thing in animals, seems to be a rarity.[7] One species in which exclusive homosexual orientation occurs, however, is that of domesticated sheep (Ovis aries).[8][9] “About 10% of rams (males) refuse to mate with ewes (females) but do readily mate with other rams.”[9]

The observation of homosexual behavior in animals can be seen as both an argument for and against the acceptance of homosexuality in humans, and has been used especially against the claim that it is a peccatum contra naturam (‘sin against nature’).[1] For instance, homosexuality in animals was cited in the United States Supreme Court‘s decision in Lawrence v. Texas which struck down the sodomy laws of 14 states.[10]

 

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Consider the Ant and Be Wise

A conversation with the Entomological Philosopher, Wm Olkowski, PhD

Republished from 2.1.12

“Consider the Ant” is good advice.  After all, as social experiments go, ant colony life looks robust.  Ants go back, way back, when Insects started in or before the Cambrian Geological period almost 400 million years ago (mya).  So they must have experimented and learned a bunch over the million of years, right? Well, from my view it’s a heartless social organization, not worth emulating.  But one can learn from almost any bad idea.

The ant, remember is not one species.  Estimates for the number of ant species run over 9,000 species so far (see Wilson’s famous book on the Ants of the World). Will we fragment into 9,000 species of humans?  We certainly can’t get along with each other, much like ants, who raid and kill each other, take war victims, have slave raids, and just march out of the colony to die when its time.  And many people operate just like ants with someone else calling the shots.

An Exception

One exception amongst so many is the Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile (Iridomyrmex humulis), common throughout the southern US and elsewhere by now.  This species does not war between colonies, but interrelates.  Queens walk off with a few hundred or so workers and start up another colony.  Basically it’s one giant, giant, giant, etc., ant colony from coast to coast.  These omnivorous species, accidentally introduced to N. America in coffee shipments from Brazil are really beneficial species as they attack the troublesome fire ants and subterranean termites.  To get them to attack a termite nest you have to help them along by opening the termite nest at one of its branches.  I did this once and watched the ants swarm into the nest eliminating it.  Could the bothersome house invader from S. America be a good model for us humans?  We could get along with each other if there were fewer of us, maybe.  Or do we need evolutionary changes?

What Have the Ants Learned So Far?

And what have all those ants all learned so far?  What have they learned that we can learn from? They are certainly older than us mammals, but that means they have shifted enough, species-wise, to get thru some mighty big environmental changes.  We mammals got thru the last few ice ages probably by eating meat, and the age of the dinosaurs by going underground.  We made it thru many thousands of years of drought, which is a good start, but we were near extinction many times.  And for the big changes ahead we look rather poorly prepared.  At least something was in control of ant colony life – the queen, with her hormones and directing pheromones.

But the automation evident in ant colonies leaves me feeling vapid.  I don’t want that kind of limited life for me as an individual.  So we mammals bought freedom with pain and suffering.  Still, maybe ants have pain and suffering, too.  Other vertebrate animals I have known certainly suffer pain, sadness, loneliness, and fear.  Invertebrates, I don’t know.  Bees are certainly smart.

Lessons from Sheep

We learned a great deal from sheep when we were sheepherders in the 1990s.  One stormy night with high frequency of lightning I got worried about how the sheep were doing.  Once you take on sheep you get to really know what dependency means.  You are responsible for food, water, their health, shelter, and even their emotions, especially fear.  Your job is providing freedom, freedom from famine, thirst, disease and fear.

They give you in return meat, wool, and each mouth a mowing machine.   But there’s no day off.  And they will all die if they think it’s a good idea.  You can surely see that it’s a symbiotic relationship.  You must even worry about when they worry and it’s detectable.

A Night in a Rainstorm on a Ridge above the Sacramento Valley, CA

So this night with a rainstorm falling full of lightning I go up the hill and there they all are huddled around a donkey.  We kept donkeys with our sheep to protect them from coyotes and mountain lions.  Never lost any to these feared predators for well over the 5-8 years we had donkey protection.  An aside: donkeys are cheaper than guard dogs, as donkeys can eat grasses; dogs need dog food, a purchased item.

So I am in the pasture with the sheep and donkeys, rain is falling heavily and lightning is coming less than 5-10 seconds apart.  The light creates recognizable walls of silhouettes.   I know that the shorter the time between flashes the closer the lightning, and I get some fear.  But the sheep are virtually shoulder-to-shoulder to the two guard donkeys.  Normally sheep and donkeys don’t like each other but tolerate the other species.  We force them together but given the choice there would not be symbiotic.  The sheep have made a good decision.  If the lightning hits it will hit the higher headed donkeys.  Once I realize I am standing too tall for safety I go back to bed.

Ants Shift for Humans?

Should we switch to an ant-like colonial life, or will we remain like human-sheep?  Maybe it’s a matter of the known enemy is better than the unknown enemy, or something like that.  I like the idea of division of labor, but to make it a caste inherited by birth (=genes) is too strict. Hindu society was structured like that but it’s an obvious violation of freedom for those on the bottom.

Our civilization makes it even more difficult than merely a matter of freedom.  Ours just lets those on the bottom starve and die from lack of help.  And we just keep on reproducing without any deliberate brakes.  But disease knows no boundaries for the most part.  Sure the elites can hide behind their walls but microbes can sneak in without being seen.  We are all connected, ants, sheep and humans.  What we do to the web we do to ourselves.

Organize Behind Freedom?

Freedom is a good idea.  Freedom, without pain and suffering produced by freedom is the best.  This maybe the only way forward as a criterion for any social/political/genetic changes now contemplated.   One guy I heard wants to use stem cell research by applying it to add wings to the human body.  That’s so wild an idea that I am sure it’s for attention purposes.  But freedom or even wings cannot be imposed unless people want it.  Most people make the cage they live within.  They even get to like it.  But that’s the bad angel of my nature speaking up.  Got to watch out for him, or is it a her?

Organize Around Compassion?

And then there is compassion.  Do ants have compassion?
The real tragedy of the fight over evolution instigated by the right wing crazy religious nuts is that evolution is a cruel process I feel we must, as humane people, resist.  If that is part of the law of life I don’t want it, so in a way, me and the religious nuts overlap.  But how can you resist something you don’t know anything about and even refuse to learn about?  These people don’t know evolution exists because they are using all their mental energy to resist knowing about it and how it works.  Sure, the geological and archeological record is wrong.  The earth and all its being was created in 6 days about 6,000 years ago.  When myths compete for knowledge we are in trouble.

I am for medical interventions as a way to reduce pain and suffering. This sort of thing is a cultural creation, but still due to the same forces of evolution.  So cultural evolution fights traditional evolution, the dog-eat-dog evolution of Darwin.  Ants don’t have medical interventions.  In fact ants maybe model bureaucrats but it looks dull to me.  But having only one female to produce most young maybe is a good idea as the birth rate could be regulated more easily than if every female can reproduce willy-nilly.

And ants have chemical evolution as their principle communication system (and sight); we have sound and sight.  We both have tactile communications as well.  So when two ants meet of the same colony they smell each other, sometimes share food, feces when young, and touch.  This keeps them organized as food searchers, nurses, soldiers, and kings or queens.  Our boundaries are more fluid and redefinable as situations change.

Wisdom?

But the phrase – from the Bible I think – about considering the ant has that other rider about Being Wise.  So where is the wisdom in the ant world?  Could it be in the vast experimentation done in organizing the colony?  Could the colony be the agent of evolution that is favored or selected out as the colony meets the exigencies of living?  I think the agent of evolution is the colony not the individual alone.  It’s both.  And that is a bit of wisdom applicable to humans.  We need to learn how to cooperate.  There the ant has a long time ahead of us.  The individuals gave up their reproductive actions to focus on the job of maintaining a living.  But it turn out they did not give up too much as their fellow workers are all sisters.  So by helping a sister and not reproducing yourself you can make a good life.  Is that their learned message?

Wisdom is the love of knowledge and is gained by applying knowledge and seeing that there is more to be learned.  There is always more to be learned.  And nobody has learned it all, nor will.  And that’s one of the great truths from a search for wisdom.  You never get there because it recedes like all ideals.  It’s in the search where the fun is.  Oh, well back to the search.  End.

 

A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

A Story of Friendship.

By William Olkowski

6.1.12, reposted 8.19.12

The image of a friend I no longer see floated up last night — and I woke this morning with the memory still present.  Here’s the story.

We were on the farm and the hills had already dried.  I was laying a new electric line to the pump connecting it to the tank up on the hill.  The idea was to have the pump run to fill the tank when a float system in the tank triggered the pump to pump.

I wanted an automatic system as now I had to watch the indicator periodically with binoculars from the house.  When the float indicator said the tank was empty I would throw a switch at the house, about 2,000 feet away.  I had other things to do than just watch the float indicator.  So I started to put the electric line into a trench dug almost the entire distance from the pump and tank. This line would connect the pump to a trigger attached to the float inside the tank.

And here is the critical part.  The trencher stopped after hitting a large rock buried under the surface.  Large rocks were rare in our soils, which is whyCaliforniais such a great place to farm.  So I left the last 50 yards of electric line on the surface but connected to the pump.  And I tested the system by letting the system do its thing.

Our gardens were set up with drip systems and timers in each area were to water regularly but only for an hour or two, depending upon what we were growing.  With this system we were keeping a large growing space evenly watered during the host summer months, essentially by distributing the 2,000 or so gallons of water.  Maybe the trouble all started when I had an idea to create the automatic system.  But then I had to get the trencher fixed and had to go get mulch for the garden at the UC,Davisdump where the wastes from many animal houses were deposited after cleaning.

This mulch was great stuff and vital to keep water losses to evaporation as low as possible.  The deeper the mulch the greater the protection from evaporation.

The mulch was made from rice hulls, animal manures, urine and waste alfalfa.  It made a great floor covering for different animals at the University.

Rice hulls were a common agricultural waste in the area as there were many rice fields about 30 or so miles away towardSacramento.  We were in the western foothills, so I had to drive to the dump, about 20 miles, load up and come back to the farm.

As I am going back home I look toward the hills as there was a notch in the hills behind our farm and just to the right of that notch was our farm.  I liked to focus at that spot as a sort of pleasant thought, thinking, Wow, bill you own a 40 ac farm.  Such a dream come true.  The travel was boring because I had done the road so many times.  One year I made 150 trips with my old trusty 57 ford pickup (which burned oil, but kept on going.

It was my oldest vehicle of the three we had.  On a farm one falls in love with vehicles because you are with them so many hours and have to baby them at times with new belts, batteries, new tires, overheating, etc.  Without vehicles no produce can get to the point of sale, and no raw materials needed to run the farm can find their way without an effort.

A poor farmer saves everything and values even old boards which may be needed sometime.  It was painted red and I have no picture except that in my memory.

On my drive back to the farm to my surprise I see a puzzeling plume of smoke rising from what looks like is near our farm.  I squint.  Is that near where we live?  I ask myself.  I don’t race home because I never connected the location with the plume, but it looked like a grass fire.  Grass fires in the area are natural factors in ecosystem maintenance.  The native Indians knew this and actually set fires to increase fodder for grazing animals like deer and rabbits.

As I get to the dirt road leading up to our farm house I see Larry B out in the road.  Larry liked to visit with us and he helped us greatly at times, but he worked in the SF Bay area.  He was staying a few days as he was prone to do.  I stop and he says we have a fire and he is waiting for more fire trucks to make sure they know this is the road to the house.

I get up to the gate to our farm and see a line of bulldozers heading up the hill and in the small valley between our pond and the big hill (550 ft altitude).  I ask Helga what’s happening and she says while working she hears a loud snap like sound.  And after awhile she sees a tall plume of smoke rising from over where I had been working on the pump.

She says she got very frightened as the flames seemed to be very high, easily higher than the house, maybe 15-20 high.  She called the fire department and they sent two trucks and maybe 4 bulldozers.  That’s what all those large vehicles were doing in our lower pastures.

Wow, I think, so I head out to see what all the bulldozers are doing.  I pant myself up the hill to the top where I find a fire chief.  And I am now watching a crew of criminals from a local prison working to make a path through our virgin rare native vegetation and express my dismay.  One guy has a very big chain saw.

The fire chief looks grossly irritated by an ignorant home owner who does not understand anything about fires.  He explains that the crew is preparing a one yard path through the vegetation where they will try to stop the fire.  I object but it does no good.  He tells me to leave the job of fire fighting to him and his crew.

So I leave and castigate myself saying: “ts your own fault so you have to eat what you get”. Which means you made the bed now you have to sleep in it.  I watch my inner voice carefully so as not to take on too much personal criticism that is not warranted.  This, however, was warranted.  I was glum.  Apparently a mouse had probably eaten through the insulation on the wire and since it was hot a spark jumped from the wire and started the fire.

I head back to the house licking my wounds and what do I see but my friend, John P. from a nearby farm parked right in front of the house standing next to his van.  He tells me that he was at work in his office inSacramentomaybe 40 miles away and saw the fire on our farm and left to get to us in case we needed to evacuate.

Now I know in rural areas there used to be a sort of socialism where people would pitch in to help another family out in times of difficulty.  But this day nobody else who were much closer thanSacramentocame to our aid.  They were probably busy defending themselves, though as for that there was at worst only a small threat to their houses compared to ours.

You know, until that event I had viewed John P as a friend but in a rather casual way.  We had gone to graduate school in the same parasitology program, and had interacted with friendship common to most fellow graduate students.  But today I saw another person, a real friend.

John P was a fly control specialist who worked for the California State Department of Public Health department where I had too a job identifying flies, that was before they moved the department to the capitol.  He made the move and I left the department to go back to finish my PhD.

He put himself out for us, knowing how bad fires in the area can be.  I never forget kindnesses, but try hard to forget harms which is a lot harder.  So I understand why this image of him in front of our house came up last night.  I miss him too.

We didn’t need his help that day, but I remember that act.  Such a friend!, but now we live far apart.  But there is email, and we share jokes, good stories we find, and some great pictures. My community resides in my friends and they are scattered far and wide.  And I am happy he still lives.

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