Genesis, the Allegory

Let’s just suppose for a moment or two that the story of Genesis was not written or dictated by God, that the story is an allegory with a moral. What could that moral be? The following is my interpretation of the story and the moral.

We are Adam and we are Eve.

There are actually more trees in the Garden of Eden than the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. There are trees of experience, wisdom, beauty, humanity, empathy, and maturity.

There are trees of wealth, generosity,  courage, ideas, imagination, and memory; trees of ideas, stories, poems, songs, painting, sculpture, and musical compositions; trees of negotiations, judgment, and compassion.

I could go on and on about the different kinds of trees.

God warned Adam not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of Life because then he would be as God. We are told the reason for this warning is that God is a jealous God and would never tolerate having other Gods before Him.

But maybe God was smarter than that. Maybe He knew than if He forbade Adam from eating the fruit of those trees, Adam and Eve would be tempted to eat the fruit of one of them, maybe both. Maybe that’s what God wanted all along. What could have been His reasoning?

To be God is to be perfect. Now, nothing in our Universe is perfect; but we must strive for perfection in order to be better than what we are, even just a little bit better. Perhaps perfection is not a state of being, but a direction on a compass that we must follow to be better than what we are.

Perhaps the moral of the allegory of Genesis is that we must eat the fruit of as many trees as we possibly can in order to survive or thrive in our world. Everybody has some of the fruit, but nobody has all of the fruit.

We need each other to survive or thrive.

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The Meandering

The Meandering

It’s Out! My sixth book of poetry, “The Meandering” is hot off the Amazonian presses today. It’s available in paperback for the more physically inclined readers. The cover is a luscious picture of solitude and loneliness. The book has a nice weight to it, not too heavy to hold and not so light that your hands fly up in the air. The pages are a soft cream, easy on the eyes. Thumbing through the pages makes a whirring breeze against your brow. If you put the book against your ear, you can almost hear my voice reading one of the poems to you. The book has a new-book smell guaranteed for the first few hours. The touch is solid yet soft, as if tentative. But the best is yet to come.

Make sure to keep a yellow marker and a pen with you, when you take the book with you, because there will be many lines in the poems that you’ll want to underline.

I’d advise you to take the book with you everywhere: on the bus, to lunch, to the concert during breaks, etc. There is bound to be someone who will stand near you and ask you what you are reading. You will say, “Mike Stone’s latest book of poetry, ‘The Meandering’”. The other person will say, “Really, when did it come out? I read his ‘Call of the Whippoorwill’ and ‘The Hoopoe’s Call’. May I just see the parts you’ve underlined?” and you’ll probably say something like, “No, sorry, but they are rather personal.”

Well, maybe I’ve gone a bit overboard. My fantasies are probably not your fantasies.

Anyway, for the more spiritually inclined readers, it’s also available in Kindle (digital download) format. I think the digital format also has a new-book smell to it, but maybe that’s just me.

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A Common Language

If you haven’t already done so, please read Towers of Babel to understand the context of this post. Now that you understand the context, I propose that we make an initial attempt to agree on the definitions of the following words: “truth”, “fact”, “opinion”, “belief”, “theory”, and “knowledge”. Once we have agreed on the meanings of these words, we will be able to use those words to bootstrap the meanings of other useful words, so on and so forth, until we have agreed on enough useful words to have a productive dialogue, as we used to have in the olden times.

Truth

According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, “truth” means “the body of real things, events, and facts; the state of being the case; the body of true statements and propositions; …”

I would add that “truth”, although the gold standard for statements, assertions, and propositions is pretty much useless to us for the following reasons:

  1. The only truths accessible to humans are either tautologous (obvious, as in “a cat is a cat”) or logically proven (as in, the assertion “if it snows, then Jone’s roof will be covered” implies the truth of the assertion “if Jone’s roof is not covered, then it didn’t snow”).
  2. Truth is absolute; not relative. It existed before us, will exist long after us, and exists whether we know it or not. One man’s truth is not another man’s opinion.
  3. Charlatans and liars may claim that what they say or know is true, but they are usually the only ones who know the falseness of their claim.
  4. Truth is like the humongous diamond in the core of Saturn. Impossible to get to it, but if we did, what would we do with it?

Fact

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “fact” means “something that is known to have happened or to existespecially something for which proof exists, or about which there is information.”

I would add that facts, if they are scientific facts, are much more useful to us than the truth for the following reasons:

  1. Scientific facts are our best approximations of the truth because they are based on tested results that are statistically significant, predictable, and repeatable.
  2. Whenever a new fact is discovered that is statistically more significant or better predicts than an old fact, then the new fact replaces the old fact.
  3. The scientific process proceeds sometimes with baby steps and sometimes with great leaps, attempting to close the gaps between current knowledge and the ultimate truths, without any guarantee that we will ever be able to do so absolutely for all time.
  4. Scientists are the true heroes of humanity.

Unscientific facts should be suspect to us; that is, less trusted than scientific facts because they are usually not statistically significant, they usually can’t predict events reliably, or they usually can’t be repeated to produce similar results.

Opinion

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, “opinion” means “… feelings or thoughts about somebody/something, rather than a fact; the beliefs or views of a group of people; advice from a professional person; …”

I would add that professional opinions are usually based on a professional person’s extensive and pertinent education and/or experience on a given subject. The degree of trust you give that person’s opinion based on his/her expertise in the subject in question should not be transferred to opinions on other subjects.

Opinions are usually based on our beliefs, ideas, or things we have heard or read from somebody else that have not been verified to be true or factual. Almost everyone has opinions. Most of them are useless even if we feel very strongly about them, but that’s just my opinion.

Belief

According to the Collins English dictionary, “belief” means “a feeling of certainty that something exists, is true, or is good; a principlepropositionidea, etc., accepted as true; opinionconviction; religious faith; trust or confidence, as in a person or a person’s abilitiesprobity, etc.”

I would add that everyone, even atheists and skeptics have beliefs. You can’t live in this world as a human being without beliefs. Some things are just not provable. These are our assumptions, our axioms, the assertions we can’t prove but use to derive all the rest of our theories, facts, and opinions. To tell the truth, I don’t believe in God, but I do believe the ground I walk on is solid, the earth is round, and the planets orbit the sun rather than the sun orbiting the planets. I can’t prove these things, but I believe them in order to interact with our world.

Sometimes, we confuse our beliefs with our facts and the truth. We should always be conscious of what our beliefs are, as opposed to facts and truths, because beliefs can endanger us when they are false or unconnected to reality. Sometimes, society cannot protect us from believing the wrong things.

Because beliefs are usually unverifiable, they should be kept to the absolute minimum required for you to interact with the world.  

Theory

According to the MacMillan Dictionary, “theory” means “one or more ideas that explain how or why something happens; the set of general principles that a particular subject is based on; …”

First of all, a theory is not an opinion; at least, not a scientific theory. A scientific theory is a premise or hypothesis that is verifiable or falsifiable by testing it; otherwise, it is just a conjecture, a possible explanation or prediction, little better than an opinion, professional or otherwise.

Scientific theories evolve like scientific facts, in that a new theory might replace an older theory if it explains more things or predicts events better than the older theory.

Knowledge

According to Wiktionary, a free online dictionary, “knowledge” means “the fact of knowing about something; general understanding or familiarity with a subject, place, situation etc.; awareness of a particular fact or situation; a state of having been informed or made aware of something; intellectual understanding; the state of appreciating truth or information; familiarity or understanding of a particular skill, branch of learning etc.; sexual intimacy or intercourse; something that can be known (Biblical reference); a branch of learning; a piece of information; a science; …”

I might add that knowledge may be tested in order to measure its depth and breadth. Of course, those tests must be correlated and/or validated against a control group of people known to possess discernable levels of knowledge. One of the problems with constructing tests to measure other peoples’ knowledge is the in-built cultural bias of the people constructing the tests. Therefore, the control groups should be representative of the different groups being tested.

The only kinds of knowledge that do not need to be correlated or validated are the Biblical kind.

What words do you think we should re-establish agreement on, as part of our efforts to resurrect our Common Language?

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Towers of Babel

Genesis 11:1-9The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

……………………………………*……………………………………

Do you speak English? Yes? Are you sure about that? I don’t think so. Of course, the words you speak are English words just like the words I speak, but the meanings are not the same, not even close. We can’t even agree on the meanings of the most basic words, words like “good”, “bad”, “true”, “false”, “right”, “wrong”, “left”, “right”, “center”, “liberal”, “conservative”, “fact”, “opinion”, “belief”, “theory”, “knowledge”, or “wisdom”.

The problem is not that we are too dumb to know the meanings of words.

The problem is that language has become commercialized by advertisers and weaponized by politicians. It used to be that people could use common words that almost everyone in their country or culture knew what they meant or would look up the uncommon words in a dictionary. Everybody trusted the dictionary as the final arbiter of meaning.

Now-a-days, very few people look words up in a dictionary. Words have become more like codes, shibboleth, that only the members, supporters, or true believers of a chosen group know how to use correctly. The meanings of the codes are set and updated by the fearless leader of the group, from time to time, sometimes daily. The task of the members, supporters, and true believers is to use the code words the way to leader uses them.

This is why people with differing political views cannot have an intelligent discussion about their differences, their similarities (because they have no common ground), or anything else for that matter.

This is a recipe for a catastrophe of global proportions because the robustness of humanity is based on its diversity of opinion, not its homogeneity. Think of it this way: ideas and opinions are like a gene pool. The wider (more diverse) the gene pool of a group, the healthier (more robust) the group is; the narrower (more similar) the gene pool, the more disease-prone (weaker) the group is. Liberals may be very good at caring for the disenfranchised and disadvantaged among us, but not as good at conserving scarce resources and preventing waste. Conservatives may be very good at conserving scarce resources, like profits, money, and land, and preventing waste of such resources, but not as good at making sure that everybody gets a fair share and sustaining the environment.

The good news is that the differences between the two are not unbridgeable and they may even be optimized with respect to the best of both sides.

But we can’t begin to talk with each other if we don’t have a common language with words on whose meanings we can agree. As a start, I suggest we go back to the dictionaries we have. If some of the words are inadequate for today’s reality, then let’s update or create new words and make a new dictionary.

But don’t let the politicians or the advertisers decide the meanings for us.

Common words with common meanings will lead to common values, productive discussions, peaceful negotiations, and – not even the skies will be a limit.

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The Spirit of the Bayonet Fighter

Back in 1961, I heard on the radio that Kennedy had sent 500 US Special Forces and military advisors to a place called Vietnam. I was just starting high school at the time. It was the first time I remember hearing about that country. We also had a war going on in the Korean peninsula. Things were pretty tense with the Cold War between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries. Kennedy and Khrushchev had just played “Chicken” with the Cuban missile crisis. The end of the world seemed so close and there was nowhere to hide.

In 1965, when I graduated high school, the Marines had landed in Vietnam and more troops were on the way. Major battles were being fought against the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. The US Draft was working like a lottery. I registered for the draft, as required by law. The draft board fed everyone’s birthdays into the lottery machine, which spit out “winning” tickets with birthdays to be called up in the order they were selected. Since I was going to college, my call-up date would be deferred until I finished college.

I graduated from Ohio State University in June 1969, with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in psychology. I went to work for Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Chicago as a computer programmer, waiting for my call-up notice to arrive.

To tell the truth, I didn’t want to be drafted into the US Army. Everyone was being sent overseas to Vietnam. I was a pacifist. I was more afraid of having to kill someone than dying, although I didn’t like the idea of dying very much either, especially for a war I didn’t believe in. None of my friends in college felt that we were fighting in Vietnam to bring Democracy to the Vietnamese. Neither did we believe in the Domino Theory that argued that if we didn’t stop the Communists in Vietnam, the rest of the countries in Southeast Asia would fall one-by-one like dominoes, and America would end up surrounded by Communism. We believed that the US Military-Industrial Complex and Coca Cola interests were what were putting us into the killing fields of Vietnam and keeping us there. Then there was the My Lai massacre.

I tried volunteering for the National Guard, but they rejected me for being underweight. I weighed only 120 lbs. on a good day. Then I tried to volunteer for the Air Force. Same story: underweight. I think I tried the Navy too, but I don’t remember for sure. Life was a bit of a blur then.

I received my notice to report to the Chicago induction center on January 22, 1970.

I packed some books in case I had time to read. One of the books I remember was Fredrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil”. I don’t remember the other books I brought.

I thought maybe the Army would reject me too for being underweight. I arrived at the induction center and asked the first person I encountered whether the Army might not want me because of my weight issue. He laughed and said not to worry – they’d fatten me up.

We were sent to a room to sit and wait. A Marine sergeant entered and started counting heads. He tapped every third person on the head and told everyone he tapped to come with him. A third of the people stood up and followed him. I was among those left sitting. It had not occurred to me that you could be drafted into the Marines.

We were poked, prodded, and issued uniforms, fatigues, shoes, boots, socks, underwear, and a duffle bag to put all of it in. We were fed and bussed out to the airport, from which we were flown and then bussed to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Thirty of us were assigned to one of the barracks. There were ninety inductees from all over the country. We all got mixed together. I looked around and saw that I was the oldest. I was almost twenty-three years old. Everybody else was eighteen or so.

A drill sergeant entered our barracks and called us all to attention. He must have been around nineteen. He told us to gather around him and asked whether any of us had been to college. I raised my hand. He said, “Great, drop down and give me fifty push-ups.”

Each of us were assigned a bunk and drawer in a metal cabinet. There were seven cubic inches of space we could use for personal stuff. The rest of the drawer space was only for military-issued stuff. I was assigned the top bunk bed under a naked light bulb hanging from a rafter.

The drill sergeant inspected our drawers. When he opened my drawer, he pulled out my books and held “Beyond Good and Evil” in front of my face. “What’s this, trainee?” he asked. I told him it was a book by Fred Netzky, an early American patriot. He took the books with him and told me I wouldn’t be needing these books and he promised to make sure I didn’t have time to read.

The drill sergeant took us on a tour of the barracks: the room where he slept and the latrine. He told us there were six toilets and five of them were for display only. We were to keep them polished and shiny with Brasso at all times, so that if there was to be an inspection, we’d only have to clean and polish the one toilet.

It had been dark an hour already. We were starving. The drill sergeant called us again to gather around him. He told us whenever we were outside and going somewhere, we had to run, not walk. He said he would count to three. Then we would run through the doorway and form up outside in three rows. After that, we’d march to the Mess Hall. The last trainee through the door had to stay back in the barracks. He would not get supper. The drill sergeant counted to three and all hell broke loose. The last trainee lost consciousness and one of his front teeth.

I don’t remember what we had for supper that night but when we returned to the barracks, the last trainee wasn’t there. Someone said he had been taken to the clinic.

At 21:00, the lights went out. One of us was assigned fire-guard duty. He would have to patrol the inside of the barracks (except for the drill sergeant’s room) and wake up the cook at 04:00 and the rest of us at 05:00.

I was drawing a map of Fort Campbell in my mind. I tried to remember the route the bus had taken from the gate to the barracks area. Which towns had we passed through from the airport to the base? Which way was north? How could I get to Canada? These were the thoughts running through my mind that first night and many nights thereafter. I must have fallen asleep in the middle of my machinations.

At 05:00, the lights were turned on. We had five minutes to put on our fatigues and full battle gear, get our bunks in order, and form up outside. While we were waiting for the drill sergeant to come outside and inspect us, the guy next to me told me that in the Soviet Army, the drill sergeant enters the room where the soldiers are sleeping and lights a match. Everyone has to get up, dress, make the bunk, and form up outside before the match burns down to the drill sergeant’s fingertips. The guy next to me said everyone slept in their uniform.

The drill sergeant came outside, called us to order, and marched us out of the base to a road. Then he told us to run in formation. He was running back and forth, backward and forward, circling around us, calling us all kinds of names that I won’t repeat here. He was dressed lightly for the latter part of January in Kentucky – fatigues, sneakers. We were dressed in fatigues, Army jackets, combat boots and heavy rubber boots (we called them Mickey Mouse boots) that weighed “a ton”, holding our M-16’s across our chests, helmets, two full canteens, gas masks, belts and full ammo pouches. I remember thinking that if I could only take off those Mickey Mouse boots, my feet would fly like Mercury.

By the time we had run two miles, we had circled back to the front gate. We were marched over to the Mess Hall. There was a set of monkey bars and we each had to swing, rung by rung, from one side to the other with all our battle gear and Mickey Mouse boots. Then we were allowed to enter the Mess Hall one by one and were directed to our tables. I was starving. We were told we had five minutes to eat and get out. I poured ketchup over my eggs and shoveled them into my mouth, swallowing without chewing, and washed it all down with some water. I stood up and walked out.

This was pretty much the routine for the next three months.

An Army optometrist checked my eyes and decided I needed glasses, so I got Army glasses. I had never worn eyeglasses before.

We had basic combat training. We went to the firing range. The Army was just switching over from M-14 rifles to M-16’s. We were the first group of trainees to get M-16’s at Fort Campbell. We learned how to disassemble and reassemble our rifles, and how to oil them and clean them with a flannel cloth.

We were taught how to fix a bayonet to the barrel of the M-16. We learned how to lunge at the enemy menacingly with fixed bayonets and shout, “What is the spirit of the bayonet fighter? To kill, to kill, with cold, cold steel”. We learned the purpose of the runnel on the bayonet blade. When you stab someone with a bayonet, the blood, having nowhere to go, resists the thrust of the blade. The runnel provides a channel for the blood to escape so the blade can be pushed in further, more easily.

I understood that the Army wanted to break me down and rebuild me into an evil robot, following orders with nanosecond response times, effectively without thinking, but “to kill, to kill, with cold, cold steel” seemed to me an evil aesthetic. Essentially, they were saying, “Try it, you’ll like it! It feels good to slip a knife into a living person’s body.” I felt as if the knife was being thrust into my own body. How was it possible to feel this way? I could understand fighting for my life, defending my family, defending my brothers-in-arms, defending my country, or defending my planet, but I could not understand the spirit of the bayonet fighter.

I decided I would learn what the Army had to teach me, but I would not let them break my spirit. I would not give up my humanity.

I was the only Jew in our Company of ninety trainees.

Everywhere we ran, we had to sing an Army song. There was only one melody, but the words varied according to our drill sergeant’s lead: “I don’t know but I been told …” “Sound off, one two. Sound off, three four. Take it on down. One two three four, one two, THREE FOUR!” While everyone was singing at the top of his lungs, I was playing the Aria from Beethoven’s Ninth full volume inside my skull, in an other-worldly fugue.

One time, in January, we camped out in the snow-covered hills among the pine trees. We pitched tents, two trainees to a tent. At night, we unrolled our sleeping bags, slipped inside them, zipped up, and undressed, arranging our clothes beside us in the sleeping bag. Just before dawn, we did the reverse and made our way back to the base.

There was one morning, we were running our two miles before breakfast. One of the trainees, McNew was his name, was obese and could not keep up the pace. Eventually, he fell to the ground. Someone told the drill sergeant that McNew had fallen back. He ordered us to continue running another quarter mile. Then he ordered us to turn around, run back to McNew, yank him up, and make him run with us. When we got back to McNew, one guy picked up his rifle, another took his backpack, and two guys, one on either side, lifted McNew to his feet, and we started running again, dragging McNew between us. A lot of the trainees were angry with McNew for adding another half-mile to our morning run and making us pick up his slack.

Our drill sergeant never punished us individually for some infraction or failure. He punished all of us for anything anyone did wrong in his mind.

That evening, I drew fire-guard duty. I remember, during my rounds after lights-out, passing by our drill sergeant’s room, glancing through his slightly open door, and seeing him lying on his cot, engrossed in a comic book. Upstairs, four of the guys gathered blankets and shovels, creeped up on McNew’s bunk and surrounded it. It’s what was called a “blanket party” and McNew was to be the guest of honor. They were going to throw a blanket over McNew and beat him senseless with their shovels because he couldn’t keep up with the run, because he was fat and out-of-shape, just because.

I approached them. I don’t know where my courage came from. Maybe it was my shouldered rifle. “What do you think you’re going to do to him?” I asked, looking into each pair of eyes. “Why throw the blanket over him, so he can’t see who’s beating him up? What are you all afraid of? Each one of you is stronger than him. Why do you need the four of you? Do you call this courage?” By now, McNew was fully awake and aware of what was going on. “You know the drill sergeant is just turning us against each other,” I said softly.

The four disbanded and walked past me. The last one looked at me and said, “Damn you, Stone. You think you’re something special? You had better watch out!”

One time, I felt under the weather, a bit achy and warm. I didn’t pay much attention to it. I had heard from other guys that the only way I could get to a clinic to see a medic was to be carried there on a stretcher. The next day, it was a little worse. The day after that, I was beginning to hallucinate. It wasn’t so bad, except I couldn’t tell the difference between night and day. On the fourth morning when the lights turned on, I jumped off my bunk, took three steps toward the latrine, and the next thing I knew was that I was lying in a hospital bed. Somebody told me that I had fainted and fell flat on my face, unconscious. An ambulance took me to the hospital. A nurse said I had an upper respiratory infection and a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I had to take baths in a tub full of ice cubes. After a week in the hospital, my temperature returned to normal and I returned to our barracks.

We were not allowed to leave the area of our three barracks without permission. My only problem was that I was constantly starving. One time, I sneaked out of our barracks area to the PX to buy a box of cookies. I sneaked back and stuffed my pockets with cookies so that I would have something to eat between meals.

The Drill Sergeant used to pick up our mail and bring it back to the barracks. He would shout “mail call” and we would gather around, hoping for some word from the outside. He held up a carton, examining the name written on one of the sides. He turned it over and over just to make sure. He shouted, “Where’s Stone?” I had no choice but to answer, “Here, Drill Sergeant!” “What do you have here, Stone?” he asked. “I don’t know, Drill Sergeant,” I answered. “Well, let’s see what’s inside,” he said. He opened the bottom flaps of the carton and a birthday cake fell on the floor. “Well, pigs, who wants a piece of Stone’s cake?” he asked us. Everyone except me dove for the cake and stuffed gobs into the mouths. “Make sure you clean up the mess, Stone,” he said to me. I did. The next time I had a chance to phone my parents, I thanked Mom for the birthday cake and asked her not to send me anything by mail.

Some time afterward, I found my books on my bunk. I put one of the books in my fatigue jacket and the rest in my drawer. The only thing we did more than running was waiting around. Now, whenever I had to wait in line, I’d whip out my book and read. After a while, it didn’t seem to bother everyone else so much.

I remember the day we had gas mask training. We were marched to a building to learn how to put on our gas masks. We practiced whipping them out, untangling the straps, putting the masks over our faces, and pulling the straps tightly. Then we were herded into a chamber. I had a fairly good idea what was going to happen, but when the first sharp tang of tear gas tickled my nose, I was surprised we weren’t ordered to put on our masks before releasing the gas. I held my breath and closed my eyes while struggling to put my mask on and pull the straps tight, but the tear gas invaded my eyes and nostrils, and every other orifice I had. I was coughing my guts out and couldn’t breathe. Somebody led me out of the chamber into the open air. Eventually, my coughing subsided, and I could open an eye at least a slit.

When I was finally able to stand up straight, our drill sergeant walked over to me and quipped, “It’s a damned shame Hitler didn’t finish you all off.”

I don’t remember how I managed to get my clarinet safely delivered to me, but toward the end of Basic Training, I tried out for the Army Band at Fort Campbell. I was accepted. They cut orders for me to report for band duty the day after I finished Basic Training. I was elated for the first time since arriving at Fort Campbell. I called my parents and told them the good news. I didn’t have any friends back at the barracks, except for McNew and the guy who lost a tooth and was knocked unconscious that first night, so I told them the good news too.

As it turned out, the guy at the Chicago Induction Center had been right. The Army did fatten me up. I gained thirty pounds during Basic Training. None of it was fat. I think it was due to the fact that we were given only five minutes to eat our meals. I swallowed everything whole without chewing anything. I never got a chance to feel satiated.

On the last night of Basic Training, I received new orders, over-riding my previous orders to report for Band duty.

The next day, I was to be flown to Fort Bliss, Texas, for Advanced Individual Training in Army Air Defense Intelligence.

Fort Bliss was in El Paso, across the border from Juarez, Mexico.

These were the first things I found out there:

  1. We were no longer “trainees”; we were now “soldiers”. That felt awfully good.
  2. They let us take as long as we wanted to eat our meals. My weight dropped back down to 120 lbs. over the next couple months.
  3. Army Air Defense Intelligence was a numerically small Military Occupational Status covering a relatively wide range of occupational categories, from writing backwards on a glass situation board in a war room to calling in artillery and bombs as a forward observer.

They passed out forms, asking us where we preferred to serve if we were sent overseas. There were three choices: Vietnam, South Korea, or Europe. Not trusting the military any farther than I could throw them, I wrote my preferences in reverse order: #1 Vietnam, #2 South Korea, and #3 Europe. Rather capricious, I know, especially given my pacifist predilections.

We were treated like humans, like professionals. The training was interesting. I can’t talk about most of it. I learned how to stand behind a glass situation board and update troop status and threats backward, from right to left. It made sense. If I were to update status in English from left to right, the commanders would have to read it backward or I would have to stand in front of the board with my back covering the status. I got pretty good at it. Maybe it was a good preparation for me to learn to write in Hebrew from right to left.

There is only one story I can tell about this period, but it lasted the whole time I was at Fort Bliss. I had mentioned that I spoke Spanish almost fluently, having studied it for four years in high school and 2 years in college. There was a corporal and another soldier in our group who invited me to join them on a ride into Juarez. The corporal had a car and I would be the translator since no one else in the group spoke Spanish.

We crossed over the border, parked the car, and walked around. We walked into a bar, sat down, and ordered beers. We met three nice looking girls who were laughing and talking in Spanish. The corporal suggested I go over to them and invite them to join us for some beers. I stood up and walked over to their table. I introduced myself and my friends at the other table in Spanish and asked them whether they would like to join us for some beers.

To my surprise, they agreed to join us at our table. I introduced the girls by name to my friends in English and my friends by name to the girls in Spanish. I remember one of the girls was named Romelia. The second one looked like Gina Lollobrigida, but I don’t remember her name. I don’t remember the third girl’s name or how she looked.

The corporal told me he wanted “Gina” for himself and I could choose from the other two. He outranked me, so there wasn’t much I could do. I gravitated toward Romelia and the third guy gravitated toward the third girl. Since the corporal did not speak Spanish and the girls spoke no English, I had to translate the conversations between the other guys and girls, so I barely had a chance to say more than a few words to Romelia.

The corporal asked me to tell Gina and the other girls that he had a car and offered to drive them home. They agreed and we drove them to their homes. We set a date, time, and place to meet the next week. That was that. We drove back to the base.

The three of us met with the three of them at least once a week. The relationships warmed up. They were good girls, and we were good guys.

Toward the end of Advanced Individual Training, I received my orders to fly to Germany where I was to be stationed for the rest of my active duty. The corporal picked me up without the third guy and told me he wanted to propose marriage to Gina and he needed me to translate. We drove down to Gina’s house and picked her up. I told her he wished to propose marriage to her. I felt shock when she accepted. She said she was Catholic and insisted on being married in a local cathedral. She also explained the dowry to me which I explained to the corporal. I thought about the irony of the situation: the corporal was Protestant, Gina was Catholic, and I was Jewish, negotiating the delicate intricacies of their wedding arrangements.

Back at the base, someone leaked the story about the corporal’s proposal to Gina. They joked about how they would need me in bed with them to translate during their wedding night.

I flew from Fort Bliss to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and from there to Frankfurt, Germany. From there, I was driven down to Ernst Ludwig Kaserne in Darmstadt. My roommate was a Cuban guy who spoke a brand of Spanish I had great difficulty understanding.

Romelia and I continued writing each other from time to time. One day, a letter arrived from Romelia telling me that six weeks before the wedding, Gina ran away with some other guy who played in a band. I never heard from the corporal.

The correspondence between Romelia and me eventually dwindled and finally ceased altogether.

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The Treasure Chest

The Treasure Chest

Our “mamad” (see reinforced security room) doubles as a TV room and contains book shelves and a work niche. On the second shelf above the desk is a small chest reminiscent of a pirate’s treasure chest. It contains most of the coins I had in my pockets while traveling through various countries.

Our grandchildren always ran straight to the mamad, stood beside the desk, pointing up at the chest of coins, begging me to bring it down to the floor so they could look at the coins, which I gladly did for them.

The oldest would open the latch and raise the lid. The youngest and the oldest would pick out coins and ask me, what coin is this, Saba? “Saba” is Hebrew for “Grampa”. I would take the coin from the proffered hand and carefully examine the coin before handing it back.

“This one is a fifty new-pence coin with a profile of Elizabeth II from Britain.” I remembered arriving in Darmstadt, Germany, as a soldier in the US Army back in June 1970. I had just been assigned as a legal clerk for the 10th Artillery Group. My commander sent me to attend a course in Military Law. I had no legal background at all, but I was the first non-com with a college degree to arrive at Headquarters Battery.

The course was held at the base in Oberammergau, near the Austrian border. Oberammergau is famous for enacting a Passion Play about the life of Jesus once every decade. The play was performed during the week I attended the course. One evening I attended a performance. I hardly spoke a word of German at the time. Besides that, I’m Jewish.

While I was watching the drama, I met a young woman named Cathy. She had studied Shakespeare in public school and I had taken a course on the plays of Shakespeare at the university. We hit it off and exchanged addresses. We wrote each other and she invited me to come to visit her in Tottenham. I had a little money saved and had a weekend free. I flew to England. I hopped a bus from Heathrow to London and looked for a train to Tottenham. She lived in a nice brownstone apartment. Her parents let me sleep overnight on the couch. In the morning, they packed us a basket of home-made pear wine and sandwiches and Cathy and I took a bus to Stonehenge for the day.

I handed the coin back to the waiting hand.

“What is this paper, Saba?” the other one asked. I took the bill and looked closely. “This is a French twenty franc note with a portrait of Claude Debussy, a composer, on it. It’s not worth anything anymore. They use Euros now,” I said. I remember taking a train to Paris one weekend. I found a hotel in an alley off a side-street a few blocks from the Seine river.

It was my first time in France. The only French I knew were the phrases in my small phrase book. I could ask where  the toilet was or do you have a hotel room for me, but I couldn’t understand the answers. I found a nice-looking restaurant. The table had 3 tablecloths on it. I had yet to learn that the more tablecloths on the table the more expensive the tab would be.

The waiter handed me a menu. I pointed at the first item on the menu. It was pâté de cerveau or some such. When it arrived, I found out it was cooked brain. I didn’t touch it. Fortunately, I had also ordered vin rouge (red wine).

I handed back the coin.

“What is this coin, Saba?” the oldest asked. “This one is a Dutch ten-cent Euro coin,” I answered, handing it back, remembering one weekend I had traveled to Amsterdam by train. When we arrived, I was walking on the platform toward the station exits, when a young guy stopped me and asked whether I needed a place to stay. I hesitated. After a moment, I said yes. He seemed friendly enough. He said his girl friend ran a hotel in the middle of town and he could take me there. I said ok.

I followed him outside to his Volkswagen. We arrived at a pleasant little hotel. He introduced me to his girlfriend. I checked in and got a key to my room. I had a splitting headache and just wanted to lie down to sleep it off.

Soon there was knocking, laughing, and shouting outside my door. I opened the door. Someone told me we were all going into town together, and I should come along. That’s how friendly the Dutch were. When we arrived in the lobby, the girlfriend who owned the hotel looked at me and asked what’s wrong. I told her about my headache and she told me to sit down. She’d fix it. She put her fingers on my temples and, within moments, my headache dissipated – as though her fingers had sucked up all the pain. I was good to go. I thanked her and we joined the crowd leaving the hotel.

Our crowd merged with other crowds. It seemed as though all Amsterdam was walking up Canal Street, where the prostitutes displayed their wares in garish windows. We made our way somehow to just outside Cosmos, the biggest discotheque in Amsterdam. We couldn’t get in because it was already at full capacity. The front door would open. The heavy bass would blast through the open door. One person would slip out sideways and another person would slip in the same way. The door would close behind him and there was only room on the street for everyone to sway in place to the thum-thum-thum beat of the bass coming through the closed windows.

“What’s this coin, Saba?”

“It’s one Swiss franc,” I answered.

I remembered another weekend I had decided to visit Switzerland. I didn’t have a US passport yet. All I had was my US Army green card so I couldn’t cross the border legally. Friday afternoon, after I got off duty, I hitchhiked down past Heidelberg and was let off at a truck stop in the Schwartzwald (Black Forest). My luck turned bad and nobody stopped to pick me up from there. I looked around and found a truck parked next to the diner. Since the road was going south pretty much straight to the Swiss border without any turnoffs, I decided to climb into the back of a truck trailer and pulled some potato sacks over me. By the time the truck started moving, I was already sound asleep.

Sometime early next morning, I woke up. The truck had stopped and was waiting in line, probably to be weighed. I climbed out of the trailer and, under the cover of pre-dawn darkness, crossed the road and walked up a hill. After a few hundred yards, I passed a stone marker indicating that I had just entered Switzerland. I walked down the other side of the hill and into the outskirts of Basil.

I was able to hitch a ride all the way down to the picturesque old city of Bern with its castle walls and moat.

I hitched a ride back to Basil, had dinner and a beer, and slept near a stream in a field under the stars. In the morning, I went back the way I had entered, found the stone marker welcoming me back to Germany, and hitched rides back to my base in Darmstadt.

“Saba, what coin is this one?” the little one asked. It was one Deutsche mark. Memories engulfed me. A few weeks after I arrived in Darmstadt, I decided to teach myself German. I had dated an American girl who taught English in Darmstadt. She also volunteered to lead a discussion group of local Germans and Americans residing in Darmstadt. When she reached the end of her teaching contract and was about to return home, she asked me whether I would be willing to lead the German-American discussion group. Since the group only met one evening a month and my day job as a US Army legal clerk was not likely to interfere, I agreed.

For my first session, I brought a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written in Old English, and read out loud the first line of the poem, “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote”. See Canterbury Tales General Prologue. The Germans understood it, but the Americans did not. We discussed how English had evolved from German. It was a lively discussion. I made many friends in that group, a minister and his wife from Gross Umstadt, and a few young soldiers (my age) in the German army (Bundeswehr). I made no secret of the fact that I am Jewish.

My German army friends took me with them to a popular discotheque (“Keller”) in Darmstadt. American soldiers were not allowed in local discotheques because they had a bad reputation for getting ugly drunk and brawling. They gave me a membership card with my photo on it, so I wouldn’t have any trouble getting in because of my US soldier’s short-cut hair.

One evening I met a local girl at the Keller. Wilma and I danced all night. I offered to give her a ride home on the back of my Moped, a 50-cc motorbike. When we arrived at her apartment, she asked whether I could help her move her things from her old apartment to the one she had recently moved into. It was pretty late at night, but I agreed. By the time we had moved everything and arranged it all to Wilma’s satisfaction, it was close to dawn. She invited me to stay over.

From that night on, I spent most of my free evenings with Wilma. I would ride my Moped back to our base around dawn, change into my fatigues, and stand for reveille each morning.

I wondered what ever happened to Wilma and Cathy.

“What about this coin, Saba?” This brought me out of my reveries. It was an Israeli one lira coin. Those went out of circulation a long time ago. My memories transported me back to 1968 when I was in my third year at Ohio State University.

It was a case of “love at second sight”.

Talma’s father was my stepmother’s brother-in-law’s cousin. My aunt and uncle lived nearby in Columbus. Talma lived in Israel. She was visiting my aunt and uncle. Mom and my aunt arranged a blind date for the two of us. Talma and I were the same age and we both attended university.

My parents invited Talma over to our Friday evening meal. Afterward, I took her to see “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Katharine Houghton. Our conversations were halting and clumsy, unlike the smooth and easy conversations she had with my parents. As Talma later told me, she liked my parents long before she liked me.

We didn’t see or speak to each other again during her visit. There was no ill feeling between us. It was just a case in which Mom and my aunt tried to fit a round peg into a square hole.

Fast-forward to September 1971, during my last three months of active duty in Germany. I had two weeks of army furlough accumulated. I had heard that I could fly for free on any military flight as long as there was a seat available and I showed my Army green card.

As a Diaspora Jew, since my bar mitzvah, I had always wanted to visit Israel. Germany was already halfway to Israel and I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to visit the Promised Land. I had never been outside the United States except for a couple one-day excursions just over the border in Tijuana and Juarez. When I mentioned my idea to visit Israel to my parents, Mom said to make sure I look up Talma and gave me her phone number. I said okay.

On my first day of vacation, I hitched a ride to Wiesbaden where there was a US Air Force base and looked for a plane going east. I showed my green card and boarded a plane to Naples, Italy. From there I found boarded a plane to Athens, Greece. From there I boarded a plane to Adana, Turkey. At the flight control desk, I asked whether there was a flight going to Israel. I was told, “Sorry, there was no such flight, but you can fly to Istanbul and buy an El Al ticket to Israel.”

I had barely enough money to fly back to Rome and take a train back to Darmstadt. I resigned myself to the fact that, like Moses, I’d come so close to the Promised Land, but I would not be able to enter it.

I spread my sleeping bag on the floor near the desk and, after a while, fell asleep.

Toward morning, I heard two voices talking. One said he was going to visit his girlfriend in Tel Aviv. I opened my eyes and saw the two officers who were talking near me.

I got up and asked them whether they were flying to Israel and whether there was room for me on the flight. The pilot said, sure. I boarded a C-130 Hercules cargo jet. The seats faced backward. I strapped myself in. The flight was about forty-five minutes. We landed at Lod airport.

An Israeli army jeep took us around to the front of the airport. I found a telephone booth, bought a phone token, and called Talma’s number. Her brother, Yechiel, answered. Talma was not home yet, but he gave me their address and explained to me which buses to take to get there. I did not speak any Hebrew except for a few prayers. Fortunately, Yechiel’s English was good enough.

I boarded buses according to Yechiel’s instructions. When I boarded the last bus and neared the intersection where I was supposed to get off, I stood up and squinted my eyes to see the street signs. A girl soldier asked me whether I needed help. I told her the name of the street where I had to get off. She got off with me and took me to the boulevard where Talma lived. I thanked her and asked her whether I could buy her an ice cream cone. She said no thanks and walked back to the bus stop to wait for the next bus.

There was a flower shop on the boulevard. I bought a bouquet, found Talma’s apartment building, walked up the stairs, and knocked on the door.

When I saw Talma, it was love at second sight.

Toward evening, I asked whether there was a bench I could sleep on in the boulevard. Talma said there was no way I was going to sleep on a bench outside. I would sleep in her bed and she would go to her grandmother’s apartment a couple blocks away to sleep.

We were together every day for almost two weeks until it was time for me to return to Germany. She took me everywhere to see things in Israel that most tourists never see. We talked about everything and anything. Conversations flowed and intimacy grew.

On my last day in Israel, Talma drove me to the airport. She waited to see me off. I went to the information counter as I had been instructed to do by the C-130 pilot. The man at the counter said the flight had been delayed and I should return in two hours.

Talma and I decided to go for a swim and come back in two hours. When I returned to the information counter, the man said the plane had arrived earlier than expected. They had called my name over the loudspeakers. When I didn’t respond, they took off without me. The next flight would be in another two weeks.

I had no choice but to purchase a ticket for a one-way flight on El Al to Rome. That was all I could afford. I boarded the plane.

When we landed in Rome, I purchased a train ticket to Munich. From Munich, I was able to scrabble together enough change to buy a train ticket to Darmstadt. When we got to Darmstadt, it was after 3 a.m.

I had six different currencies in my pocket, all of which added up to less than what I needed to take a cab to our base from the train station.

I walked to our base, changed into my fatigues, and presented myself for reveille just in time. Unfortunately, my hair had grown longer than military requirements allowed during the two weeks and my commander ordered me to write myself an Article Fifteen. I was the one who wrote Articles Fifteen for soldiers who had violated army rules according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

When I presented the Article on my commander’s desk, he told me to forget it and make sure I got a haircut.

Talma and I wrote each other long letters almost every day. Declarations of love escalated.

In December, I was released from active duty and flown home.

I went back to work for the same company I worked for before I was drafted. Talma and I continued to write each other. In one letter I asked her whether she would be willing to fly to Columbus and we would see how things went from there, no strings attached.

Talma arrived in March. I met her at the airport. She slept over at my aunt’s home near us. We were together constantly. Later she moved to my parents’ apartment where I was living.

One night I took her to my favorite park after hours when it was closed to the public. We walked along the trails to where they kept the raccoons. I was crazy with love for her.

I dropped down on one knee and asked her whether she would marry me. Incredibly, she said yes.

We married on May 14th, 1972. Our oldest son, Assaf, was born April 13, 1973. Ari was born February 27th, 1978.

A couple months later, on May 16th, we moved to Israel to a house Talma’s parents had bought for us in Raanana. Ayal, our youngest son was born September 2nd, 1984.

As of this writing, our sons have blessed us with eight healthy wonderful grandchildren, ranging in age from four months to nineteen years.

Assaf has moved his family back to America.

I handed the coin back. Sometimes, they ask whether they can take a coin home with them. I say yes, of course, since I have the memories, but they always forget the coins when they go on to play with something else more interesting.

After they leave, everything is quiet. I pick up the coins, put them back in the chest, and put the chest back on the shelf for next time.

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The Art of Writing Fiction

I have published five books of poetry (The Uncollected Works of Mike Stone, Yet Another Book of Poetry, Bemused, Call of the Whippoorwill, and The Hoopoe’s Call), four science fiction novels (Why Is Unit 142857 Sad? (or the Tin Man’s Heart), The Rats and the Saps, Whirlpool, and Out of Time), and one book of essays culled from my blog (The Uncollected Essays, Conjectures, and Whatnot of Mike Stone). I love to write.

I have a single rule of thumb that governs the quality of my writing: I write what I would like to read and what hasn’t been written before by anyone else. I love to read.

I need to write. The reason is that I don’t just want to communicate with others. I want to create in others the emotions I felt when I had certain experiences. This requires readers who are willing and able to respond emotionally to the experiences I describe. It also requires that I be capable of describing those experiences.

But wait a minute! We’re talking about writing fiction, not autobiographies or history books, right? Yes, even in fiction, such as science fiction, science fantasy, who-done-its, and romance novels, you should write from your experience; otherwise, it will not be plausible for your readers. They will not want to suspend their judgment, which is necessary for them to flow with your story.

How do you do that? You can take your own experience and dress it up in a fictional character in any timeframe you want: past, present, or future. The fictional character can be a human, an alien, a robot, a ghost, a god, or whatever. The place can be anywhere: another country, another world, an alternate universe, or in your mind. The fictional character can be based on the character traits of several different people you have known well. Remember, you don’t have to just change the names of your characters to protect the innocent; you can bring to life new characters who will live in your readers’ minds.

I mentioned plausibility a couple paragraphs ago. To make my fiction plausible, I research the subject I’m writing about and learn as much as I can. If I want to write about a space ship, I read about current designs, their advantages and limitations, and current respected (scientific) conjectures about near-term and long-term developments that seem possible.

Another thing I do is map out a rough outline of the story. It usually starts as a bare-bones outline with a beginning scene or chapter and a final one. It is important in writing a novel to know how the story will end before you start.

My poetry doesn’t work that way, oddly enough. When I start a poem, often I just have the first line or just a few words. Once I write it down on paper or digitally, one line leads to another and to another, until I decide that the line would make a good last line.

Back to novels. After you have the first and last scenes, you have to figure out a plausible way to get from the beginning to the end. You come up with an intermediate scene. Then you conjure a scene to get you from one scene to the next and keep doing this until you have a well-developed plot that flows smoothly from the beginning to the end. You don’t want your reader to ask, “where did that come from?” That is called “deus ex machina” (a god from a machine). See deus ex machina (Wikipedia). It is a common style no-no of inexperienced or clueless writers.

This is how I have written my fictional novels. Different writers have different rules and techniques.

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Jamie

Eulogy for the Beautiful Soul and Literary Arts Activism Genius , G Jamie Dedes
G. Jamie Dedes

G. Jamie Dedes passed away last Friday, November 6, 2020.

Jamie

You came to us, a little girl,

An immigrant,

When immigrants were welcome.

From the East you came

Like the sun from the Atlantic,

You, who knew the cedars of Lebanon.

Your roots were deep in the moist earth

And your branches spread widely,

Blessing immigrants and natives alike

With the fruit of your gentle wisdom.

Gentleness was always your path,

Beauty and Truth your travelers.

Your path was always high above our heads

But you showed us how to walk

The razor’s edge with soft feet.

Go softly, Sweet Gentle,

And light the night

With our hearts.

                                    November 6, 2020

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SUNNYSIDE UP: Meditation on “The BeZine” from the edge eternity!

A sensitive soul speaks to us …

The BeZine

One Lifetime After Another

one day, you’ll see, i’ll come back to hobnob
with ravens, to fly with the crows at the moment
of apple blossoms and the scent of magnolia ~
look for me winging among the white geese
in their practical formation, migrating to be here,
to keep house for you by the river …

i’ll be home in time for the bees in their slow heavy
search for nectar, when the grass unfurls, nib tipped ~
you’ll sense me as soft and fresh as a rose,
as gentle as a breeze of butterfly wings . . .

i’ll return to honor daisies in the depths of innocence,
i’ll be the raindrops rising dew-like on your brow ~
you’ll see me sliding happily down a comely jacaranda,
as feral as the wind circling the crape myrtle, you’ll
find me waiting, a small gray dove in the dovecot,

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Curiosity

“Curiosity” rover on Mars

There are no answers without questions. Somebody must ask a question first. Not all questions have answers. Not all answers are correct, accurate, or true. Not all answers found to be correct today are guaranteed to be correct tomorrow or the next day; however, there are no answers that weren’t preceded by a question, hypothesis, or conjecture.

And the impetus for asking questions is most probably curiosity. Blessed are those who are curious. Without curiosity we would still be sitting around in caves in Africa (not that there’s anything wrong with living in Africa), instead of exploring every inch of land and every ocean, lake, and river on earth, and launching spaceships to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

I know, I know. They say “Curiosity killed the cat” but they go on to say “satisfaction (that is, getting a satisfactory answer to the question) brought it back.”

So much for old sayings.

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