Friday, April 27, 2012

The Girls

The bees arrived the other day. When I came back from taking my daughter to an appointment, dear hubby was in the garage with the other daughter and a shoebox-sized screen container chock full of fuzzy, buzzy little bees. After some fussing and fiddling, the bees were released into their new home in the rear of our yard. I had spent the day planting an enormous number of flowers to welcome them home. The energy in the yard changed as the bees found their place in the new hive. It became calmer, more earthy, and happier. I felt a shift in my way of thinking about the little critters as I watched the grace with which they accepted their new surroundings and the gentleness they displayed to my husband, as he fiddled with getting them out of their travel container and into their hive box. They just went with it--no stings, no aggression. Just grace and calm. Soon, they had been dubbed, "The Girls."

We spent a couple of hours watching them explore and settle in before it got too dark. Then, just as we were calling it a night and preparing to go inside, hubby spotted a lone bee, sitting on the ground, on a flagstone patio in the yard. He told me that he thought she was an older bee by the look of her, and that she was dying. He put his bare hand down before her, and she immediately climbed up his finger and stayed. She must have been able to sense his intentions toward her, because she sat on his hand without a hint of fear, without any movement or distress. Even I, with a goodly fear of bees, was astonished at the gentle bond they made, and I approached and looked at her, closely. It was clear she was worn out, and these were her last moments.

He talked to her and tried to put her onto a flower in one of my patio pots, but she would have none of it. She kept backing up onto his hand, wanting to stay with him. After several tries, he nudged her off onto the flower, but she flitted to the ground again. When my husband tried to pick her up again, I told him he should leave her in the place she'd chosen to die. I said goodbye to her, feeling tears threatening to come. I felt sad that she'd wound up traveling hundreds of miles to be here, only to die without ever seeing the flowers I planted for her and her sisters, without ever seeing how excited my husband was to be their new caretaker. And in a funny way, I felt honored to have been there to share her last moments on Earth. I hope at least she could sense that she was welcome here, before she died.

Just a few months ago, I thought of bees with apprehension. Appreciation as well, of course, since intellectually, I realize how important they are to our food supply, but that's when they're "out there," doing their work, somewhere away from me. I'd never felt like I "knew" a bee; certainly never felt a connection with one. Now I have. Bees are different up close, when you can relate one on one and look at it without fear--when you can feel some empathy for what it must be going through. I suppose everything is.

It seems The Girls are going to be good for me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Corner

As a gardener, I've always aspired to turn my yard into the kind of setting with a winding path, where it looks like you can see the whole garden, but then at certain places, you turn a corner and something that had been hidden is revealed--a fountain or pond or a beautiful shrub, maybe--so that the garden is like a series of surprises. So far at least, I've never had enough time in any one home to see that dream come to fruition in my gardens.

It has happened some in my life. Some corners are fairly easy to identify. Marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, graduating college and that kind of thing are the sort of corners you see coming, although after you turn, new stuff is suddenly visible that you'd not seen up until then.

Other corners are more subtle and sneaky. I've had some of those corners too. One big one was quite a few years ago now. I was a lawyer, had established a practice where I was my own boss, I worked from home a lot of the time, made ok money, and did much as I pleased. What more could you ask? But that year, I had to make a decision about whether to do what was right or what would work best in the case I was working on. I realized no other lawyer I knew would even think twice about it. It was a minor thing with no chance of getting "caught" doing anything wrong, but I really didn't want to do it. In the end I didn't--a way presented itself that I could go forward without doing the thing I felt was wrong. But in the process, I realized that, all along, I'd been working in this field where stuff like that happened every day, and I was probably the only one I knew who even thought much about following the rules. Most everybody else was figuring out ways to break them with plausible deniability. Legal and right often aren't the same thing.

That decision point was, as I said, a minor issue. But oddly, it was a corner--one that I never saw coming. And once I turned it was the exact moment when it stopped being fun to be a lawyer, and I became obsessed with finding a way to not have to. Not too long after that, I was running a little yarn shop in a tiny town in Iowa, and telling people that I'd go back to lawyering right after I was turned down for a job flipping burgers. Corners definitely have a way of changing the scenery.

I've been turning a new corner lately. I think it's a big one. Things that I've always taken very seriously are, suddenly, not too interesting, and not nearly as important. It seems like I can see a whole new part of the garden, and paying the bills, looking after a budget, taking care of my businesses, doing the taxes, keeping the house clean--all the stuff that I used to spend a lot of time and energy on--is the stuff behind me on the path, and it's damn near impossible to make myself focus on it.

The interesting stuff--a beautiful, peaceful part of the garden--up ahead is calling me. I'm obsessed with some of my weirder research, with wanting to plant flowers, make yogurt, grow vegetables in my yard, work on the little cottage we've been building in our backyard for my daughter's art studio, hang out in the sunshine or take my dogs for a walk. It's like I found my "inner hippie" and she wants me to start wearing long crinkle skirts and flowers in my hair. Who knows? Maybe she came with the tie dye sweatshirt that inspired this post. Wherever she came from, my inner hippie is dang persistent--almost irresistible--and she's push-pull-dragging me around a really big corner, where I lose whatever remaining ties I have to so-called normal life of making sure that your lawn is 100% grass, your kitchen countertops are made out of the right material, your checkbook is balanced to the penny, your 401(k) is well-stocked, your credit is perfect, your creativity is stifled, and your heart's desires are firmly shut away in a dark closet, where such "unproductive" stuff is kept until you're too old and decrepit to actually act upon it, at which time you drag it out and mourn its unfulfillment.

I think my corner has come at just the right time.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bee the Change

A few weeks ago, my husband, who is nothing if not a rock of consistency, suddenly became enamored of the idea of becoming an urban beekeeper. This was a somewhat startling turn of events for me, as I lay claim to a near-lifelong, irrational, and somewhat pathological fear of the fuzzy little buzzers.

However, after seeing how excited he was about the notion, I didn't have the heart to tell him he couldn't have them because I'm a chicken. Plus, I was somewhat enticed by the idea of our own source of delicious honey.

We went to a local beekeeping store (who knew those existed?), bought the equipment, and ordered the bees. The hive boxes are assembled and set up in the back yard, our house is littered with beekeeping books, and I've been wildly planting stuff known to be nirvana for bees. We talk about "foundations," "smokers," "veils," and "hive tools" now as if we really know what we are doing. The bees themselves are due next week.

Interestingly, in reading about bees, we've discovered that there is a longstanding spiritual connotation to bees. Many cultures revered bees. There are ancient Sumerian tablets venerating the Bee Goddess. The prophetesses of the Oracle at Delphi were associated with bees, and their gift of prophecy is sometimes attributed to mysterious "green honey" made from particular Rhododenrons that is said to induce "expanded consciousness." Dude.

In ancient Greece, bees were seen as a symbol of resurrection. Monks kept bees and revered them as symbols of industry and chastity (out of all the tens of thousands of bees in a hive, only the Queen and a few of the male drones ever have sex, and the males die a horrible death immediately upon conclusion of the deed). Statues, golden charms, coins, and even cave paintings and hieroglyphs all point to a reverence of bees in many ancient cultures. In Europe and pre-industrial America, people regularly kept bees and considered them part of their spiritual life. There was a tradition that when someone died, one of the first tasks was to "tell the bees." Failure to do so was said to hinder the deceased in the afterlife.

The shape of a honeycomb cell, the six-sided hexagon, is one of the shapes of Sacred Geometry. A "skep," the traditional dome-like hive shape, and a bee have even appeared in a crop circle formation.

Photo credit: Lucy Pringle

Well, all this got me thinking. I wondered what it was about bees that caused all this spiritual hubbub. And after doing some more reading, I reached a conclusion. It's almost certainly not 'the answer,' but I find it instructive, and we can learn a lot about ourselves through the bees.

Bees are a model of harmonious, selfless, productive society. The Queen, far from being a "ruler" in the human sense, is really a servant to the community. She gets some special privileges, like a court of female workers who feed her and groom her and guard her from harm, because she's important to the survival of the hive. But her role as royalty is in service, not power. Her sole function in life is to lay eggs to ensure that the population of the hive continues, and if there is enough for all and some excess, that it grows.

The workers, all female as well, actually run the joint. They decide when it's time for the hive to grow, and when that decision is made, they make it so, by building on and expecting that the queen will lay eggs enough to fill the new space. They do the work--caring for the young, putting them to work when they are able, in a sort of apprenticeship program, where the young bees first learn a series of jobs in the hive, then get promoted to go out and bring home the bacon: the pollen. Workers decide if there's a need for a new queen, and when they do, the old one is out--no fuss, no muss. Workers decide when the hive is growing too big to be sustained, and when that occurs, they produce a new queen by feeding a larva special food, and when the new queen hatches, the old queen leaves, along with a swarm of workers, to make a hive elsewhere.

Each worker bee does its job to keep the hive running. Some clean the hive, some tend the young, some heat and cool the hive, and some gather the pollen and make the honey. They each work for the good of all, in an astonishingly civilized, amazingly intricate, and beautifully elegant social network that makes humans look positively savage by comparison. If any bee isn't doing what it's supposed to do--adding to the society in the way they're capable of--he or she is kicked out of the hive, and since no bee is an island, this is really bad, particularly for a creature whose only means of defense causes instant death.

In the bee world, there are a few who are lookouts--who watch for invaders--and if the alarm is sounded, they defend their hive with their lives. But they don't fight unless someone is threatening their home directly. They don't try to defend a territory proactively to counter a perceived "scarcity of resources." For example, as a beekeeper, you can set up a second hive just a few feet from an existing one, and the bees from both hives go about their business, collecting pollen, making honey. No wars. No trying to eradicate the "foreigners." They just work hard to make enough honey to sustain their hive through the winter.

Now, to be fair, bees don't place a high value on personal fulfillment and individuality. They operate with a "hive mind," completely setting aside their own 'ambitions,' to the extent any exist, in order to do what's right for the whole. So I make no claims that the bees' way is entirely suitable for people. But there are certainly some lessons.

For example, what would happen in human society if we had "leaders" who were the best, not at bossing people around or waging war, but at service to others--like the queen bee? Well, my guess--a really big shakeup in Congress and the White House, to start.

What if rank and file humans demanded of themselves and their "royalty" just what the bees demand--competence, efficiency, doing the right thing and expecting others to as well? The end of "screw you, I've got mine," corruption, greed, vacuous celebrity (bye-bye, Snooki), our self-serving entitlement culture, and about 95% of the governments in the world.

And finally, what if people decided, like the bees, that there really is 'enough' for everyone to survive just fine, if everybody works up to their capabilities, no one takes more than their share, and we all work together for the good of the whole? Wow, I think someone wrote a song about that. Of course, then someone murdered the guy who wrote it. All in all though, I think the bees might just have a thing or two to tell us about why our world is about to implode, and the direction we need to travel to stop that from happening.

No wonder Monsanto is killing off the bees.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm Sorry. So Sorry.

America is apologizing again for its military adventurism and I'm here to translate the events for you, as there seems to be a communication gap in the news reporting of the situation.

This time, we're apologizing for some photos, taken a couple years ago, showing American soldiers in Afghanistan mugging it up with dismembered corpses of supposed "suicide bombers" (translation: Afghan nationals who were somewhat miffed that villages full of their countrymen are being occupied, bombed and slaughtered by the American military).

No, no, these aren't the ones of the soldiers peeing on dead bodies--that was last month. No, it's not the Qu-ran burners either--that was last year. And no, it's not the "one insane gunman" who busted off base and murdered seventeen civilians including women and children, while impersonating 15 to 20 US troops. That was weeks ago now, and the insane gunman is under heavy sedation in prison while the military prepares to railroad him in the coverup of what actually happened. Get with the program people!

The photos were published Wednesday by the LA Times, notwithstanding requests by Defense Secretary and chief apologist Leon Panetta to withhold the photos from publication (translation: hide the evidence that way too many of our troops are ghouls).

Panetta said his request not to publish the photos was out of concern that they would be "used by the enemy to incite violence" (translation: they'd give the Afghan people more proof that the American military seems to have attended the Attila the Hun School for Diplomacy and Military Strategy with continuing education at the Joseph Mengele Academy).

The Times reported that the photos were turned over to it by a soldier who was concerned the pics showed a breakdown in leadership and discipline that threatened the safety of the troops (translation: brave, and still human-despite the military's training-whistleblower who will probably soon have a terrible case of "suicide").

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the photos "disgusting," inhumane," and "provocative," and called for a stepped-up effort to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan (translation: this is as good a time as any for the Americans to go murder people in a different part of the world for a while--I hear the African oilfields are nice this time of year.)

Top US and NATO officials have condemned the behavior of the soldiers depicted in the photos, assured everyone that such conduct is not "representative" of the standards of the US Military, and at the same time called the decision by the LA Times to publish the photos "disappointing." (translation: stupid grunts! They're supposed to keep their blood trophies in their sock drawers, not wave them around for all the world to see. How will we ever keep the useless eaters back home enlisting if they know the truth about what's going on over there?)

Today, the Taliban has issued a statement again asking their supporters to “get revenge from foreign forces, by attacking them across the country.” This in addition to a series of coordinated attacks earlier this week in Kabul and other eastern cities targeting Western embassies, which has been blamed by
the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker on the Pakistan-based Haqqani network. However, Pakistani observers say the U.S. claims are designed to justify drone strikes in their country. (translation: hey, as long as we've got these lemons...)

I hope this translation of current events has been helpful and illuminating.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Good Riddance

From as early as I can remember, people would tell me with how much I love to talk and argue, I should be a lawyer. I don't think they meant it as a compliment, but I took it as one--at least back then. So I became a lawyer.

When I was a practicing lawyer, my "toolbox" consisted mostly of reason. In a factual sense, a trial lawyer, or litigator, tries to find out both the client's and the opponent's story, and then look for flaws in them--that is, ways that they contradict physical or documentary evidence, other peoples' stories, or the teller's own version at a different time. In a legal sense, a litigator tries to draw analogies of his/her case to other cases in the past where the outcome was favorable, and distinguish or differentiate cases where the outcome was unfavorable. It was gratifying, up to a point, and then it wasn't anymore--and fortunately for me, I was in a position to stop being a lawyer and do something else. I think that episode in my life might be somewhat instructive.

As most people know, there are times when your heart conflicts with what your reasoning tells you is the logical outcome. For example, in a "reason" world, members of a community that are weak, "defective," or ill are a hindrance, maybe even a fatal flaw, since they slow down progress, consume resources without replenishing them, and take away resources from stronger members of the "pack."

Of course, in any classroom discussion of this kind of a topic, you'd come up with one or two people--nearly always male (and they're usually the swaggering jerk model of male)--who would argue that bashing the weak or infirm in the head with a rock is a good idea if it would benefit the others in the group (they call this "Utilitarianism" in logic and philosophy), but there's always sort of a sick silence in the room afterwards.

That's because, as much as the purveyors of our male-dominated, competition-driven, survival-of-the-fittest, "reason rules" culture would like it to be so, humans aren't creatures of reason, but creatures of heart. And that's the way we're supposed to be.

Imagine, for example, if on the first day of school each year, the teacher was tasked with identifying the smallest kid in his class ("the runt"), any developmentally disabled kids, the "stupid" ones who don't pass a pre-test predictive of school success, and any "sickly sorts" and killing them. Or how about if, once our prime years of production were over, 50 or so for most, we had to turn ourselves in for a death sentence. Or if, instead of having a medical system, we simply said, "if you get sick, it's either your own fault or a result of poor genes," and just let people die from their ailments. After all, that's good for the gene pool. And it removes the least productive elements from society--those who may have something to offer, but their required inputs are higher, on average, than those required for the healthy, the "normal," and the young.

This kind of eugenic tinkering has been done, of course, and in its most recognizable forms, it has been roundly condemned and its perpetrators have become known as the worst type of criminal. The Nazis' eugenics efforts, and the medical experimentation on the mentally ill or developmentally disabled are some examples. When Utilitarianism is at its finest, it tends to result in atrocities. It also has a snowball effect. The more we divorce emotion and embrace reason, the more "reasoned" society becomes--and the less it allows for the things that are only important to the heart but not the head. Things that we need for our spirit, but don't "produce" very well: things like grandmas, and babies, and art, and music, and love.

Unfortunately, there's many more subtle forms of Utilitarianism which we still refuse to recognize--like trying to get "the poor," "the undesirable," or "the disabled" not to reproduce through free "family planning" for the poor and racial or ethnic minorities, or like killing off or exploiting the "other," in the indigenous genocides around the world that made way for "progress," or like "population control" efforts that result in people aborting babies (usually female) until they get the brand (usually male) they favor, or like the inhumane treatment of animals for greater "yield" or for our convenience. We're definitely not perfect in our compassion.

And as long as we allow Utilitarian reason to overcome what our hearts tell us is right, in any case or for any reason, we're in as much danger from its snowball as the people in its current path--it will get bigger as it rolls, and eventually it will roll our way. It's way past time that we begin to insist on a societal conscience that recognizes and preserves the ideal of compassion and the dignity and value of life, even at the expense of the so-called greater good--that is if you happen to agree that clubbing defective kindergartners, or offing grandma isn't a very nice idea.

It's time for the death of reason. And my eulogy of it will be short--Good Riddance.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Get a Leash on That Thing

Ready to be strip-searched for a 'dog at large' charge? How about an unpaid parking ticket? Well, that's what our pals, the Supremes, have allowed with their ruling yesterday in the case Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Albert Florence was arrested after a cop pulled over his wife for speeding. Albert and their and 4 year old were in the car. For whatever reason, the cop ran a computer check on Albert and found an arrest warrant for an unpaid fine, which in fact had been paid. He was arrested and held for a week, and was strip searched on his intake. After proving that he'd been wrongly arrested in the first place, he filed a civil rights case arguing that persons arrested for minor offenses cannot be subjected to invasive searches unless prison officials have reason to suspect concealment of weapons, drugs, or other contraband. The trial court granted him a judgment, ruling that “strip-searching” minor offenders without reasonable suspicion violates the Fourth Amendment. After an appellate court reversed that decision, the Supremes jumped in to give us our latest dose of Police State. Now everyone--you and I and our grannies--can be strip searched if arrested on any offense, no matter how petty, because the Constitution won't be allowed to "second-guess" the judgment of the cops on who might be dangerous. Even if the cops are just having a few jollies. And even if, like Albert, you actually didn't do anything illegal.

So, you better make sure old Fido's on his leash--that is, unless you like the fascist overreaching governmental sexual assault kind of thing. God bless America--ain't it wonderful to be FREE?

Monday, April 2, 2012

This Is the Interactive Portion of the Blog

I've recently turned a corner in my own view of the world. I'm calmer, happier, and more sure that the world is starting to right itself. That's good for me. It's bad for a blog. You see, I'm usually most motivated to write by outrage, and while there's plenty still out there to be outraged about, I'm having a time lately getting up a good head of steam--a first for me.

So, I'll still post some newsy sorts of items, but as for research, I thought, just for grins, how about suggestions? What have you liked? What would you like to see? Have you heard about something interesting you'd like me to research and compile? Leave a comment with your ideas.

(In the voice of Ben Stein) Anyone? Anyone?