Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Care Part III

What would you do to further health care and education if you had, oh lets say, $19 billion a year? Think you could come up with a plan to give people who need health insurance? Yeah. Me too.

Actually, nowadays, its closer to $22 billion, and if you want to do the math, you'll see that there's enough money there to make sure every man, woman and child in the country gets (1) a decent education and (2) health care.

One hundred billion dollars--give or take a few billion--is the yearly aggregate cost of the war on drugs. William Buckley, who is not my favorite spokesperson, nevertheless go it right a few years ago when he wrote, "Most people can use most drugs without doing much harm to themselves or anyone else. Only a tiny percentage of the 70 million Americans who have tried marijuana have gone on to have problems with that or any other drug. The same is true of the tens of millions of Americans who have used cocaine or hallucinogens. Most of those who did have a problem at one time or another don't any more. That a few million Americans have serious problems with illicit drugs today is an issue meriting responsible national attention, but it is no reason to demonize those drugs and the people who use them. We're unlikely to evolve toward a more effective and humane drug policy unless we begin to change the ways we think about drugs and drug control."

My thought has always been to legalize every drug that comes along. If you're truly stupid enough to get yourself addicted, considering all the information out there today at every level on the evils of drugs, well go ahead and shoot up, snort, smoke, swallow, huff and puff to your heart's delight. No amount of persuasion will work on you, and you're not worth a war. But the rest of us? Some of us got into trouble and got out of it, and most never got into trouble at all.

We are, and have been, fighting a losing war that has enriched the coke, marijuana and heroin dealers. The very fact that drugs are illegal is what makes them expensive. Were we to legalize, oversee and tax the import or dissemination of drugs, we would immediately put the illegal dealers out of business, save billions, and free up thousands of law enforcement personnel to fight crime and enforce laws that really matter. But, wait! Isn't a lot of crime drug-related? Yes indeedy, it is. The violence associated with the drug-trade would vanish as well. If it's legal and can be purchased, why kill people for it?

And then, of course, there's the billions of dollars involved in prosecuting and imprisoning drug offenders.

It was in 1986, during Reagan's presidency, that mandatory minimum sentencing laws were passed for drug offenses. Mandatory minimum sentences require a certain amount of jail time for drug offenders depending on the type of drug, the weight of the drug involved, and the number of prior convictions. Judges are not allowed to decrease the amount of jail time for any reason other than acting as an informant to help the prosecution.

The intent of minimum sentencing laws was to get to the drug king pins, but these folks are also the ones with expensive lawyers who know how to bargain. The ones who do get nailed are low-level, non-violent drug offenders who cannot provide helpful information to the government or afford top-notch legal help..

According to the Department of Justice, over half of all sentenced federal prisoners are drug offenders. Over 80% of the increase in the federal prison population was due to drug convictions between 1985 and 1995. In addition, a 2006 report claimed that 17% of State prisoners and 18% of Federal prisoners committed their crimes in order to obtain drug money. According to a 2001 report, the average sentence for all offenses was 56.8 months. The average sentence for drug offenses was 75.6 months, while the average sentence for violent offenses was 63.0 months.

Someone is arrested for violating a drug law every 17 seconds. Someone is arrested for violating a cannabis law every 38 seconds.

Over $19 billion was spent on the war on drugs by the federal government in 2003, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This equates to $600 per second. Another $30 billion was spent by state and local governments.

According to the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, it costs approximately $450,000 to put a single drug dealer in jail. This cost includes the costs of arrest, conviction, room, and board.

We really don't need to say a lot more about this, do we? All that money could create a healthy nation, with a sound drug education policy and insurance for all.

Here's an amazing website: http://www.drugsense.org/wodclock.htm. Go to it now and see, second by second, the costs of the government's war on drugs. What could you do with $600 a second?

Health Care Part II

I'm a big believer in the right to die. In fact, I plan to have "Do Not Resuscitate" tattooed on my chest before too long and my will has a clause forbidding caretakers from taking extraordinary steps to lengthen my life. This is not meant to be morbid. I'm simply a proponent of dignified exits. And here's the other thing: I have no interest in spending on hospital and medical care whatever I may have accumulated during a lifetime.

Consider this study of the billed charges during the last 2 weeks of life of terminally ill patients. A sample drawn of those who died at home and matched to those who died in a hospital showed the cost for terminal was 10.5 times greater care in a hospital than at home.

Studies have shown that almost one-third of all a person's medical costs will be in the last year of life. According to a study by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Medicare pays a fourth of all its dollars--$100 billion a year--in the last 6 months of life. A couple of years ago, Medicare paid an average of $85,729 at Johns Hopkins Hospital for each patient in the last two years of life. At the University of Maryland Medical Center, it was even higher --$94,901.

To me, insisting on life while striding through the gates of death is the ultimate selfishness. Our entitlement attitude allows for the individual to override any thoughts of sacrifice for society's betterment. We don't like to talk about death and dying and we don't want to face the fact that our health care system is a money-syphoning sham. As one physician put it, "No one wants to talk about what we really need: a good kick in the ass and rationing care for our terminal patients."

S.K. Jindal, a physician and author for the Indian Journal Of Medical Ethics, writes, "Technological advances in the last few decades have made us believe that death is an unnatural event and that life can be prolonged at will. This has resulted in the adoption of life-supporting measures, which are sometimes antagonistic to the very dignity of life. Death is an inevitable conclusion of life. The dignity of death therefore is as important as that of life. The fortunate few die without much suffering, but most people face either the debility of old age or an incurable and progressive illness." He goes on to examine the 'right to refuse' issue. "A most contentious subject relates to the decision of patients to refuse life-prolonging treatment. The law generally gives adults the right to refuse treatment; however, [a medical practitioner] must often decide whether a dying adult is competent to decide or even communicate his or her decision.

"Legally speaking, adults are presumed to be competent to make decisions unless there are reasons to suppose otherwise. The right to refuse treatment is firmly established in British medical practice standards--it was upheld even in a patient diagnosed as psychotic who refused amputation of his gangrenous foot. In the United States, the Supreme Court in the Cruzan case is one of many which asserted the principle that individuals have the constitutional right to refuse treatment even if this may result in the person's death. This right has been reiterated in several other judgements even where patients did not have life-threatening illnesses."

I am reminded of the of the passing of Sir Edward Downs, the former conductor of Britain's Royal Opera, and his wife, Joan, who at 74 had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The couple, married 54 years, decided they wanted to end it together and secured the services of Dignitas, a Swiss concern that orchestrated their deaths. It was a painless and inexpensive affair when compared to the end-of-life care Joan would have had to go through and the suffering Sir Edward did not want to bear living without his mate. That Sir Edward was not terminally ill became a serious issue, debated endlessly in the British media. In the end, it became a question of accepting or rejecting Sir Edward's "typically brave and courageous" choice, according to his manager. Personally, I think the conductor--and anyone else of sane mind--has every right to choose the moment of one's demise. After all, if we are not given a choice of when to be born, shouldn't we be given the choice of when to leave?




Saturday, July 25, 2009

Health Care Part I

There are some interesting debates shaping up as Obama's health care initiatives gathers momentum and some related financial issues have to be faced--finally and in spite of a legislative body that is terrified of the debates' fall-out.

The health care system we have right now is a self-serving juggernaut created by the legal and insurance industries. It limps along, blatantly overlooking obvious failings, including the fact that the legal system encourages lawsuits against medical practitioners. The practitioners, in order to keep working, pay outsize premiums to the insurance industry to protect themselves from the lawsuits. The lawyers win, the insurance companies win, the doctors keep practicing and the patients get screwed by higher doctor fees and higher insurance costs.

Here's another fact: something like two thirds of today's hospital costs are incured because of (1) drug addicts and drunks who rotate in and out of emergency rooms and (2) terminal patients who must, according to law, be kept alive until the bitter end if they or their families so wish. That's a ton of money wasted, and it is why an aspirin tablet costs two dollars in most hospitals. Add to this the famed two-minute visit from attending physicians who then charge the insurance companies a couple of hundred bucks a pop, and you have something that is neither caring nor healthy.

Lets look at the costs incurred by addicts and alcoholics. Picture this: a heroin addict ODs and is taken to the emergency room. Her heart has stopped beating and a platoon of nurses and staff save her life, care for her a few days and release her. In one Western hospital, exactly this happened 80 times in one year, with the same addict returning week after week for life-saving care. Or consider the drunk in need of a detox. He or she knows that the local care center will detoxify him free of charge, rehydrate him as necessary, and prescribe anti-convulsants just in case an alcohol withdrawal seizure occurs.

Experts estimate that drug abuse alone costs General Motors corporation an estimated $520 million to $1.5 billion annually for treatment, absenteeism, and repair of defective work. In addition, according to an American Medical Association study, nearly one dollar in four of total health care spending goes to victims of drug abuse, violence, and other kinds of social behaviour that could be changed. Such behaviour is adding $171 billion to our nation's health care bill, $85 billion of that cost is attributable to alcohol use. These figures are from more than a decade ago.

Or how about this: In Japan, the alcohol-attributable costs of medical care were estimated to be seven percent of the total national medical expenditure. Reduced productivity as a result of alcohol use was estimated at about four times that amount.

Do you still smoke? The costs attributable to smoking in Texas continue to rise. The most recent estimates show more than $7 billion in 2005 can be associated with the health care costs from treatments for disease and the indirect costs associated with mortality and morbidity due to smoking.

And lastly, Medicaid patients with drug and alcohol problems who received targeted psychological services reduced their subsequent medical costs by 15%. Those not receiving psychological assistance increased their medical costs by 90% . A University of California study found that every dollar spent on drug and alcohol treatment saves society $11.54 in health care and criminal justice costs and lost productivity for business. Additionally, scientists have found that failure to receive treatment for alcohol and substance abuse diagnoses can result in a very rapid escalation of individual medical costs. A study of Medicaid recipients in Hawaii found that patients diagnosed as chemically dependent who did not use mental health services increased their medical costs by 91% during the study period, compared to actual decreases in medical costs by treatment recipients. Some types of intervention produced net decreases of approximately $514 per person in the first twelve months after treatment.

But here's a problem: good treatment centers cost a fortune, along the lines of $1000 a day for the less expensive ones, and three to four times that amount for 'boutique' rehabs. Two decades ago, most insurance companies would cover the cost of 28 days in treatment, the minimum amount of time thought by experts to be necessary for effective treatment. No more... Because the insurance companies now limit their coverage and reimbursements, many rehabs have turned into three-day 'spin-dry' outfit that do an effective job of detoxing, but little else. Other places such as methadone clinics are privatetly run to show a profit and pay only lip-service to counseling. Clients are basically switched from one socially unaccepted drug--heroin--to a socially acceptable one--methadone.

Here's a thought: spend less on interdiction, on the war on drugs both here and abroad, on incarcerating small-time growers and dealers, and use that money for education beginning in grade school, and to open professionally staffed rehabilitation centers that offer addicts a place to go for solace, therapy, meetings and shelter. Our health care system will benefit, and our dependence on drugs will lessen. That's what's called a win-win scenario.




Friday, July 24, 2009

Sartre, Camus, Beckett and Some Buddhist Guy

"I think it is time for my existence to end."

I remember reading this line a couple of decades ago and it has been echoing in my head all day. I don't know who said it first, it could be from anywhere. It is vaguely Sartrean, or maybe from Camus. Perhaps it was spoken by a character in Giorgio Bassini's Garden of the Finzi-Continis or it's in Waiting for Godot or even Waiting for Guffman. A Zen koan by Gyomay Kubos? It doesn't matter; in my mind, no more powerful ten words can ever be uttered. I like that as a statement it is neither maudlin nor looking for a response. It is a proclamation of fact, sanely put, definitive, full of purpose and short of either drama or despondence. It epitomizes the concept of stoic and makes perfect sense right now.

A friend said, "I feel as if my personality has done all it can. I can't think myself into or out of things anymore." That makes sense too. For me, it is more of a sensation that my insides--what I hold dear--no longer work with the outside, if they ever really did. I am out of step; the values I've established over a lifetime seldom apply anymore. In fact, even the limited skills I've developed really are no longer relevant. I'm still waving a buggy whip around as traffic speeds past me.

That's an interesting--and freeing--realization. And somewhat scary, I admit. It puts me, and several people I know, squarely on an extraneous soapbox. There's not that much to talk about, even if we spoke the same language as everyone else, and we don't. The evolution of the mother--or other--tongue has either left us behind, or we have refused to keep up. Ideas, like humans, have their times, and my ideas, the things I am able to imagine, to conceptualize, to act upon, those are dated.

We're often told in various 12-step programs to wait until the miracle happens. It's a good concept that stresses acceptance and patience but overlooks the obvious. What if the miracle already happened? What are we waiting for now? Another one, somewhat smaller and less meaningful miracle? Or perhaps someone else's miracle, where we can participate as side players?

Many questions, no answers, which is precisely as it should be. I do not anticipate any great changes in my existence, and it will cease to be when it is time, which sounds portentous but is not. I may live to be a hundred or be run over by a moped tomorrow, so all this is nothing but conjecture. Still, I like that: "I think it is time for my existence to end." That's the kind of thought that gives life meaning.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sleep, Or Lack Thereof

For the past several months, I've been waking up in the very early morning, generally between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. It's neither apnea nor one of those gradual things where you slip from slumber to wakefulness. No, this is like being dashed in the face with a glass of water, except there's no water. Unpleasant, irritating, exhausting, frustrating. Luckily, I admire Dale Carnegie--really, I do--so I follow his advice: "If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there and worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the loss of sleep."

So I've learned to get up, fix a cup of decaf, get some work done and then return to bed and read something non-taxing for a bit. At times slumber returns but mostly it does not. Yesterday's concerns instantly become today's fears, and today's fears occupy a lot of time and volume. It's a bad cycle that I've been trying to break with only measured success.

Sleep, we know, is commonly defined as the fundamental anabolic process practiced by all life forms, plant and animal. In animals, the sleeping state is distinguished by a minimal degree of consciousness and decreased response to one's surroundings. Sleep is a period of rest for the body and mind, during which will and awareness are in partial or complete abeyance and most bodily functions partially suspended. It has also been described as "a behavioral state marked by a characteristic immobile posture and diminished but readily reversible sensitivity to external stimuli." It fascinated the ancients who gave it Morpheus, a god after whom a nasty drug is named. Hmmm. That doesn't help much...

Sleeplessness, or insomnia, when not related to bodily pain, is caused by stress and anxiety. Anxiety and sleeplessness are causally related in people who remain excessively worried about some coming event or problem. Depression also plays a role, since a depressed person cannot stop worrying and is living in fear. Insomnia sets in and the physical strain on the body weakens the mind and body. And of course there's alcohol consumption... Oh wait, that's one I don't have to worry about since I don't drink. Another Christmas miracle!

A bunch of people I know take various drugs to sleep: Lunesta, Ramelteon, Triazolam, Ambien, Sonata... This is all fine except that some of these are habit-forming (read 'addictive') and the side effects include constipation, dizziness, facial swelling, headaches, prolonged drowsiness, severe allergic reaction, sleep-driving and sleep-eating, blurred vision, and weight gain. In other words, I will become a fat and sleepy constipated somnambulist writer with swollen features and serious allergies. Some of my more cruel friends may say the change would hardly be noticeable, but I think this does not augur well at all. Still, I'm working on it,

Oh, and for those of you who may have read the July 21 post, the speech fast continues; I'm still not talking... Writing doesn't count.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

That Abandonment Thing

A good friend of mine went on vacation recently and I'm pretty sure I'll never hear from her again. The time she will be away should just suffice for her to forget my existence. My friend will be surrounded by people vying for her attention, happy to see her and delighting in her company. She will not remember the discussions we had, the good moments shared, the friendship we built.

Actually, this is not true; my emotions are all astir, as a Brit would say, as the fearful me dreads being abandoned and the intellectual me knows (or wants to believe) that this will not happen. It's all about being left behind, watching the train leave the station, as it were, and not believing it will ever return. But what if it won't! What if I'm left standing at the Gare St. Lazare in Paris, waiting for the train to come back, not realizing it left for good.

Jeezy peezy! Where does this stuff come from? According to Susan Anderson, a psychotherapist and author of Journey from Abandonment to Healing, "abandonment is primal fear, the first fear that each of us experience as an infant. It is the fear that we will be left, literally abandoned, with no one to care for us. Abandonment's wound is cumulative. It contains all of our losses, disconnections and disappointments from early on, the death of a parent, a teenage breakup, being out-shown by a sibling..."

All this starts in infancy, because that's when life is the scariest. As infants, we are extremely sensitive to the nuances in the behaviour and reactions of our parents. After all, they already know about this world and we only just arrived. Our survival depends upon our connection with our parents and/or primary caretakers. As such, there are many ways abandonment fears can get triggered and imprinted in an infant, thus setting the pattern for how the grown-up will behave in the future.

The conditions that give rise to these patterns don't necessarily require that parents permanently leave the scene. For instance, they can be physically there but not emotionally present, a situation that is easily and painfully recognized by the infant.

Parents can also abandon emotionally if they find another interest that absorbs their time and energy, such as a new relationship, a new child, etc. This is why birth order or the time spacing between children can have such a strong impact on the growing child.

Indeed, research shows that an infant will show signs of clinical depression if the mother is absent for more than two weeks. These "depression" neuropathways develop at a time when early experiences have a crucial impact on the developing brain. Susceptibility gets imprinted, so that in adulthood we're at higher risk for depression.

The abandonment wound, stored deep within the limbic brain, is easily triggered. You feel its raw nerve twinge when you fail to get recognition at work, a friend forgets to invite you to a party, or a date you thought was special did not call back. When being left is the trigger, core abandonment fears erupt. Stress hormones course through our bodies, compelling even the strongest among us to feel desperate and dependent.

Being left also kicks up our control issues. The breakup wasn't our choice. Someone else cast us into this aloneness by choosing not to be with us. We feel at loss of our personal power to compel another person's love. We think, "I must be unlovable and unworthy to be discarded like that."

Abandonment is similar to other types of bereavement, but its grief is complicated by rejection and betrayal. We turn the rage against ourselves. We automatically think, “There must be something wrong with me that makes me not worth keeping.”

We emerge not only disconnected from self-love, but with a heightened fear of abandonment. If one person can discard us, we fear others will do the same to us in the future. Rather than dissipate, this fear tends to incubate. Its insecurity burrows deep within us where it sabotages our relationships. The fear of being left makes it more difficult to let go. The rejection creates nagging conflict. We feel unjustly dismissed and we long for an opportunity to vindicate the hurt. We are left alone to grapple with the broken pieces. The intense craving is confusing to our limbic brain. Stress hormones course through our bodies.

The paradox of abandonment is the tendency to idealize the abandoner who emerges in our imaginations as a powerful figure--how else could this person cause this much torment simply by being absent?

Abandonment issues, according to Susan Anderson, are resolvable but the process can take years even with counseling. Because our patterned responses are ingrained implicitly, they don't easily lend themselves to left-brained talk therapies alone. Anderson recommends right-brain-based strategies in your psychotherapy since right-brain-based interventions are experienced. And, it's through experience that you change the brain.

OK. That's all very helpful.

But what if the train doesn't come back! What if I'm left standing at the Gare St. Lazare in Paris not realizing it left for good?


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shhhh...

Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Abraham Lincoln. And on the same subject, I have often regretted my speech, but never my silence. Publilius Syrus. From Thomas Carlyle:Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. And lastly, also from Carlyle: A man's silence is wonderful to listen to.

Having felt somewhat akin to a fool for the last few weeks, and generally guilty of talking far too much, I decided earlier today that I would abstain from speech for a day or two. I wouldn't talk, unless it was absolutely necessary.

I've done this before. Back in the 90's, I often traveled to Florida for a month at a time and avoided talking. I could spend an entire day speechless, save for an occasional please or thank you. I didn't know why I did it, but I realized the silence had good uses. Much later, I heard about silence fasts, as practiced by many Eastern and Western religions, and I met a former Trappist monk and writer who had spent four years in the order and, by his own recollection, had not uttered more than 1000 words aside from prayer.

Now I do it because I find myself too easily moved to emotions and confessions bordering on the foolish. If I keep my peace for a day or two, try not to influence others' actions, avoid giving unwanted and unneeded advice, I have a better chance of staying out of harm's way and remaining uninvolved in things that do not and should not involve me.

Part of it, also, is based on the inescapable fact that right now everything I touch seems to turn bad. My decisions, too often foolish and ill-advised, have brought me (and others) nothing worth remembering. Plus I am tired and wont to utter gibberish.

I'm in good company, though. Throughout history men and women have forsworn speech as a way to attain a level of spirituality unavailable to talkers. Recently, I reread the words of Father Daniel, the Abbott of a group of Cistercian monks whose order has been on Caldey Island in a monastery established in the 6th century. He wrote, "To be a Cistercian is just to get on with life as it presents itself from moment to moment, to try to be ‘here’. That can be quite a job. So often I think about yesterday and plan for tomorrow. In fact, what it comes to is the ‘here and now’, to be receptive and available. That is for me to open my heart for the presence of life... to my own self, to be open for the presence of God. All the practices throughout the day helps me to open the door of my heart."

Certainly this is good advice. I often treat the present as an unwanted guest, so eager am I to be in the past or the future. And when the present is less than agreeable, my immediate reaction will be sadness, anger, resentments. Better to be Thoreau-like and accept that "Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment."




Monday, July 20, 2009

A Very Lucky Place To Live

A few years ago I came into a little money, a few hundred dollars that dropped unexpectedly in my lap at a time when all bills were paid, there was nothing I either needed or wanted, and the cars and motorcycles in the garage had new tires and idled smoothly.

I went to my credit union, deposited the check and withdrew the exact same amount in single and five-dollar bills. The cashier wanted to give me tens and twenties but I was adamant. I slipped all the bills in a manila envelope and considered my options.

I'm European, and the safest bank for folks of my generation remains under the mattress or buried in the back yard, but I thought that really, considering the money's sudden appearance, I should somehow better my karma with it, do something worthwhile and charitable. So that same night, around 2 a.m., I traveled my neighborhood putting singles and fives into mailboxes.

The Vietnamese lady three doors down with two kids got a five. The neighbor on the other side and across the street, who once came to my house with my cat in a cardboard box complaining that he had dug up her tulips, got a single--an old tattered bill dating from before the Federal Reserve and, for all I know, still carrying influenza microbes from the Great Epidemic of 1919. The very aged lady with the three cocker spaniels got a five, as did the guy with the rusted out 240Z Datsun. A few people got nothing at all. I didn't like their house, their car, the way the boxwood were cut with military precision.

All in all, I think I distributed about $120. A week later I did it again. I didn't hit all the same houses, but I wanted to be catholic about this, so a family that got a one earlier got a five this time, and vice versa. Again, I spent about $100.

A few days later, I noticed a blurb in the local weekly paper about the mysterious appearance of money in mailboxes along the Idylwood corridor. A couple of recipients had alerted the media! I waited for the TV trucks and Katy Couric, debated spilling the beans and opted against. When I realized there would be no follow-up, I spoke with my neighbors on the right, three ladies from a former Soviet Republic. They told me they'd gotten $10 in two separate installments but would not spend it, as certainly it must have been a trick to fool newly-arrived immigrants, some sort of test, perhaps, to ascertain their honesty. But, they said, the Korean family next door to them only got a dollar and was pretty angry about it. Discrimination and racism, muttered the father. And the cat-in-the-box lady was fairly upset because she had gotten nothing at all the second time around.

The media never did appear. In time, I came to consider this much as I would a piece of anonymous performance art, something I surely would not repeat considering the state of my funds, a good piece of dinner conversation. For reasons still unclear, I have never mentioned it to anyone until now. But a couple of weeks ago new people moved in across the street. I went there to introduce myself and offered to lend them any gardening tools they might not yet have. The young Asian woman who answered the door somewhat warily, it turned out, was a Laotian who had spent some time in Paris. We spoke about the city, compared notes, and she agreed to send her husband over if they needed to borrow my lawnmower. As I left, she touched my shoulder and said, "The real estate person who sold us the house said sometimes money appears in people's mailboxes here. This must be a very lucky place to live."

Guess so.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gather Ye Rosebuds*

There have been many prohecies concerning December 21, 2012, dealing with the end of the world as we know it. Personally, I can't wait. It's time for a major change both on a personal and planet level. Of course I'll be sorry to see some things go, but I do believe we have so befouled this beautiful place and wreaked such havoc with nature that only a major scouring will save the Earth. And so, straight from the official 2012 website, I bring you a history of the near future.

From the Bible predictions of the rapture and the Antichrist, to Nostradamus's prediction of the Planet Comet, people see evidence of our civilization coming to an end. The most striking of these prophecies lies in the predictions of an ancient, but highly sophisticated Mayan calendar. The deciphering and understanding of the calendar is another story altogether so I'll get straight to the point.

The Mayan calendar is actually a combination of three calendars. The religious calendar, the solar calendar, and the Long Count. For the sake of this discussion, I'll stick to the Long Count. The Long Count can record any day in history because it is supposedly the measure of days from the beginning of humanity to the end.

The number system used for the Long Count is completely different than our decimal, 10-based number system. Instead, the Mayans used five sets of numbers separated with a decimal. A typical Long Count number would look like this: 12.15.14.16.14

The first day of the Long Count is labeled 0.0.0.0.1 which is the equivalent to August 11th, 3114 BC on our current Gregorian calendar. The Long Count calendar ends at 12.19.19.17.20 which is the equivalent to December 21, 2012.

But who cares what an ancient civilization thinks? The Mayans had neither the scientific knowledge, nor the technology that we have now. Why should we be worried? Let's look at this date from a scientific point of view.

Every 11 years our Sun goes through what's called a solar cycle (pole shift, magnetic reversal). During the peak time of the cycle, the Sun's magnetic poles switch. The magnetic field of the Sun does a 180 degree magnetic flip. During the peak time of this "flip," sunspots and solar flares become more frequent. This is what's called the "solar maximum."

Solar flares are pieces of the sun that leap into space, discharging radiation and strong electrical currents that travel outward into space. They often fall back to the surface of the Sun. Sometimes, a very strong flare, called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), actually leaves the Sun and this deadly mass shoots out from the Sun towards the planets like a bullet. The flares occasionally hit the Earth. Most flares are small, but even a small flares can be dangerous. In 1989 a flare hit the North American continent and fried electric lines, zapped power grids in the US and Canada, and created large power blackouts. Flares can also effect our moods and physical health. In theory, a large flare impacting the Earth could zap the ionosphere and irradiate the surface, killing every living organism.

During early 2001, the Sun's solar cycle was completed and the Sun switched magnetic poles, so the Sun is due for another cycle in the year 2012. The solar cycle of 2012 is more significant than any earlier ones for several reasons.

1. During this time the two biggest planets in our solar system, Saturn and Jupiter, will be in line with each other. The gravitational effects of the two planets on the Sun will cause it to wobble during it's pole shift, affecting the magnitude of the CME's the Sun will be tossing into space. The Earth regularly gets hit with small CME's and research says that the increased magnitude of these CME's is one of the major causes of global warming, and changes in the ecosystem.

2. Right now the Sun's south magnetic pole is in line with the Earth's north magnetic pole. Since opposites attract, the Sun, along with it's gravitational influence from Saturn and Jupiter, may cause the Earth to switch magnetic poles as well. The magnetic field of the Earth switching in a matter of minutes will cause huge disruptions in the Earth's geological and ecological system, including mass earthquakes and volcano eruptions all over the world. After it's all done, compasses will point South, the Sun will rise in the West and set in the East.

3. Another possibility--probably the most catastrophic--is the phenomenon called "polar wander." Polar wander is a result of the Earth's outer crust shifting at a rapid rate. The magnetic poles stay put but Antarctica becomes the equator and the tropics become the North Pole. A polar wander would be cataclysmic. Coral fossils discovered in Greenland and woolly mammoth bones found in Central America may be evidence of a polar wander occurring in the distant past.

4. The final event that will occur on December 21, 2012 will be at 11:12 GMT. It's a phenomenon that the Mayans referred to as the "Sacred Tree." At that time our Sun will line up directly with the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. For thousands of years, our solar system has been hovering around the top of the galactic plane and this galactic alignment could have huge effects on our solar system. The ecliptic crosses over the Milky Way at a 60 degree angle near the constellation Sagittarius. This cosmic cross was called the Sacred Tree by the ancient Maya. Amazingly, the center of this cosmic cross is exactly where the December solstice sun will be in A.D. 2012. This alignment occurs only once every 25,800 years.

There is supposedly a black hole in the middle of the Milky Way holding everything together. Our solar system is around the outer edge of the disc. When our solar system lines up with the center of the galaxy, we will be at the strongest part of the galaxy's magnetic field where there is maximum gravitation. With the Sun's solar cycle being at it's maximum, the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter, and the alignment of the sun with the equator of the Milky Way, will cause a major increase in the magnitude of the Sun's solar flares. The gravitational complexities will also have an influence on whether or not the Earth will undergo a magnetic pole shift. There is also speculation that the Earth may reverse its rotation since we'll be in the opposite hemisphere of the galaxy.

According to the Mayas, the center of the Galaxy is the cosmic womb, the place of dead, transformation, regeneration and rebirth. This moment shows the end of their calendar. So gather ye rosebuds while you may...

So there you are. Everything you wanted to know but were afraid or too bored to ask. 2012 is soon to be a major motion picture, which in some ways is heartening. No matter what, someone will profit...

*Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today,

Tomorrow will be dying.

Robert Herrick To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Thursday, July 16, 2009

La Vieille Ecole


I open doors for women--car doors, restaurant doors, front doors. I am old school, raised in Europe where, among the middle bourgeoisie, it would be unthinkable to sit for dinner before the woman of the house does so, boorish to not carry her parcels, and unthinkable to climb stairs ahead of her.

I walk on the outside, even if the likelihood of a runaway coach is slim. I know as well, that treading on the lady's right was to protect her from refuse thrown out of windows. I am aware that few people use chamber pots nowadays, and even fewer would discard the contents on the sidewalk where I woman might step.

My father and mother taught me a list of things to do and not do in the presence of a woman. Carry her gloves if she asks, pull out her chair, rise when she does, help her on and off with her coat. If she is single, you may shake her hand. If she is married, a kiss on the back of her right hand is mandatory, though every one knows that actually, you do not kiss the hand, you kiss your own thumb, judiciously placed as you bow and raise her hand to your lips. This backfired on me once. I was attending an embassy party in Washington, and an American matron whom I did not know approached. I was introduced to her, raised her hand to my lips, and she punched me in the nose. Perhaps she thought I wanted to bite her.

Recently, I was in a store with a young woman friend who told me she found my commandeering the shopping cart somewhat disconcerting. I answered that I did not want to incur the wrath of my late, very European father, whose designated job was to follow my mother around, holding the goods she purchased. He was not alone; when I was a kid the streets of Paris and particularly the shopping districts were always full of men struggling beneath towers of boxes and and large shopping bags. They never complained, exchanged discreet and understanding smiles when crossing each others' paths while escorting empty-handed women.

I believe many of these ancient rules of politeness and behavior originated not in courtliness but in a deep-seated male need to protect women from harm, an intuitive knowledge that, all told, women are far more important to the survival of society than men are, and shielding them is not so much an act of propriety as one of continued existence. Men, by their very natures, are disposable if not downright obsolete. Women, on the other hand, are mothers, nurturers, the heralds of the future. I do understand that times have changed radically, and that yesterday's manners may seem to be today's affectations. And yet all will admit that bad examples are being set at every level of society from sports stars to TV personalities; professional workers to trades people; politicians to public servants. This is not a good trend. It dehumanizes us, makes crudity and poor conduct an accepted norm. We are already mired in mediocrity; why look for the lowest common denominator as acceptable?

Therefore, I have no intentions of changing, and, more to the point, would gladly lead a return to the politeness of another century. I believe in leaving the toilet seat down, pouring the lady's wine, and still find it proper to kiss a matron's hand, even if once in a while, this may earn me a punch in the nose.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Le 14 Juillet

That, my friends, is the Tour d' Eiffel in Paris on the night of le quatorze Juillet.

Tomorrow, July 14th, is Bastille Day. In France, there will be fireworks, speeches, feasting and drinking, many car accidents--some fatal--and a continuation of the Tour de France. Tomorrow's race will be just short of 120 miles from Limoges to Issoudun, rough country with mountains, flats and speeds nearing 60 mph. On bicycles. French riders will try very hard to win. Elsewhere in the world, there will be racing waiters on roller skates, embassy to-dos, demonstrations against French whatever and burnings of the French flag in some former colonies. Tempers still run hot there.

For those who may be a bit lax ion their European history, the taking of the Bastille prison in Paris by the local populace on July 14, 1789, marked the beginning of the French Revolution, and, arguably, the birth of the modern political world.

According to Wikipedia, on May 5, 1789, Louis XVI convened the Etat General to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate representing the common people (the two others were the Church and nobility) decided to break away and form a National Assembly. On 20 June the deputies of the Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. They were gradually joined by delegates of the other estates; Louis started to recognize their validity on June 27th. The assembly re-named itself the National Constituent Assembly on July 9th, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.

In the wake of the July 11th, dismissal of a popular politician, the people of Paris, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal military, and seeking to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general populace, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet, arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed. Besides holding a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, the Bastille had been known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the siege in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.

When the crowd — eventually reinforced by mutinous gardes francais — proved a fair match for the fort's defenders, Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. Ninety-eight attackers and just one defender died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, de Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was the prévôt des marchands (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesseles

The storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than a practical act of defiance.

Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on August 4th feudalism was abolished and on August 26th, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen proclaimed.

Of course, times were not that unilaterally great. The Terror followed, with tens of thousands of executions, and it took almost 3o years for the country to regain its equilibrium. Some would tell you it never did. So now you know everything you need to pass a college-level history exam.

Personally, I'm a Royalist. I like the idea of a ceremonial regent freeing up time for a president or prime minister to do what needs to be done without the pomp and circumstance attendant. Think how much more effective the government would be if the President did not have to spend half the day shaking hands!

Maybe I'll set up my own kingdom.


And Now a Word from John Locke

"Any man who admits to nothing but that which can be plainly demonstrated may be sure of nothing but perishing quickly."

There was a time when John Locke (1632-1704), a British philosopher of intrepid thoughts, was considered quite the liberal thinker. He believed that since governments exist by the consent of the people in order to protect the rights of the people and promote the public good, governments that fail to do so can be resisted and replaced with new governments. He defended the right of revolution, the principle of majority rule and the separation of legislative and executive powers. His philosophy also included the concept of self-governance and, eventually, self-policing.

Locke, right now, is probably spinning like a dirndl in his grave.

We've entered an interesting time in history. First Black president (why is Obama Black when his mother was white?), Republicans rushing to get into Dante's 7th circle of hell, a stock market crash, recession, coming inflation, real estate bust, so many foreclosures that the banks cannot handle them. The likelihood is that it will not get better quickly. And yet there is no revolution, no outraged mobs taking to the streets in protest of lost life savings. Afghanistan and Iraq are at best distant wars that only affect the families of the fallen. The outrages perpetrated on the average citizen range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Pay extra for your bag when you fly, knowing you will arrive late, miss your connection, and be given a small bag of peanuts for your troubles. Watch as AIG negotiates more bonuses to keep the people who had a hand in its failure. Pay extra for gasoline even as the major oil companies rack up record profits. Lose your home to the banks and watch them get bailed out.

On a smaller scale, we increasingly appear to assume that citizens are guilty until proven innocent. A friend's car was recently broken into and left in the middle of her yard, the GPS dismantled and spread on her lawn. When the police came, they implied she had been driving while drunk and done the damage herself. A few months ago, a Virginia swat team invaded a small-town mayor's home, killed his two dogs, and accused the man's family of distributing drugs. When the case was dropped for lack of evidence, the team's leader and the local police chief opined that this was an unfortunate but acceptable mistake and refused to apologize for the damage done.

Perhaps this kind of behavior has to do with the fact that we no longer expect the best from people but have come to expect the worst. There are no more heroes--Obama, miracle worker we thought he might be, has yet to reverse the course of the ship of state. We're battered daily with news of transgressions by the very people we've elected to positions of trust...

Oh well. According to the Mayans, all this is to end in 2012. Locke might be pleased.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Relapse

Yes, I have, and no, it wasn't on alcohol or drugs. It was on food.

A couple of months ago I joined Overeaters Anonymous, not too sure of what I would find there but willing to believe this 12-step program could help me. It did, by teaching me that food for me had become much like alcohol and drugs had once been--a way to escape reality, discomfort, pain, sadness, frustration, anger, unhappiness. Of late, food's main purpose--to nourish--had turned to something unhealthy, yet another means to avoid responsibility when life was unpleasant and felt out of control.

There's nothing new about this, it's at the very heart of any addiction. We eat, drink, smoke, have sex, shop, gamble to excess in the belief that if a little makes us feel good, a lot will make us feel great. For many, food is an inexpensive drug, affordable when other reprieves are not, legal, sanctioned and often encouraged. It makes us feel good, and is bathed in parental approbation--as children, we got approval from eating what was served us without complaining...

So for about eight weeks I did relatively well. Having realized that my hunger was often an emotion rather than a need for food, I found my appetite almost automatically curbed. Meaningful little things happened: I ate smaller portions and was satisfied with less. I did not feel the compunction to finish everything on my plate. I could order a dish at a restaurant and immediately pack half of it away for later consumption.

I wasn't working a particularly good program. No sponsor, no meal plan, only a couple of meetings a week but it was working. I lost a little weight without having to resort to grueling exercises or diet pills. I went to the gym as always and to my surprise found it painless to resist the post work-out Starbucks treat, the deserts, the second helping at lunch or dinner. I made friends in OA, found helpful people who were free with good advice.

Then a lot of bad stuff started happening... A relationship went down and the friendship it held changed drastically, investments vanished, my free-lance customers disappeared. A book I had been working on for six years refused to sell. I realized I was exhausted all the time and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. There were a lot of deaths, one after the other, and too many funerals. I suddenly got the feeling that the best part of life was done. One middle-of-the-night I woke up to the realization that, after two marriages and many relationships, I'd probably end up by myself. I could not blank out images of my late father, a kind and gregarious man, who died alone in an assisted living facility following an accident there. Days became far too long. I would get up in the small hours of the morning, try to write and find that well empty. Relapse adds to the sense of disillusionment that plagues addicts, and feeds into the vicious circle of attempt/failure.

All this was wrapped in an over-arching sadness. I started eating randomly because it felt good. In a world full of arbitrary events, food was something I thought I could control. It wasn't as deadly as alcohol or other intoxicants--I know I am powerless over those--but it numbed almost as well.

Now I'm trying to recommit but it's a joyless enterprise for now. I'm not totally out of it yet, but recognizing there's a problem is a first step. We'll see what happens.



Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sweet Darkness

I'm generally not a huge fan of poetry. I consider writing to be a pretty difficult trade, and poets, it seems to me, are writers who have chosen to make hard work even harder. But David Whyte is different. His poetry is both simple and deep and speaks to the heart, and I like the fact that he studied Marine Zoology in Wales and trained as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands. He has also worked as a naturalist guide, leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in various parts of the world, including treks among the mountains of Nepal. So thank you, G, for sending me this...

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summertime


So it is official: virtually everyone I know is out of town... Beach, California, kayaking trips, family visits, Europe, the Great Outdoors. This is great as it well serves my need for isolation. I can take the phone off the hook, turn off the cellular, put a brief message on my email server saying I am, figuratively, spending a little vacation time in my head. Not the safest of places, I admit, but always entertaining; sort of like one of those old-timey roller coasters held together with lag bolts and duct tape. If you decide to ride one of these, life-safety is not a major concern.

There are things to do. I have to figure out how to sleep with my CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask, because I have sleep apnea and wake up a couple of hundred times a night when my airway gets blocked. Trouble is the mask (i) makes me look and feel like a member of Slipknot and (ii) suffocates me so that every time I do fall asleep with the thing on, I dream someone is forcefully stuffing cotton balls up my nose while sitting on my chest. Yet I have been told the masks are miraculous, and this is simply a question of acceptance.

I have to get rid of stuff. Some I can give away, some I can sell, much will end up in a yard sale.

I must figure out what the lump in my chest is, though I'm pretty sure it's just a piece of popped cartilage. OK. Yes, I'm in denial...

I have to get back to work on one of three books I've been writing. I've been a total dilettante. This is a question of plunking my butt in a chair, emptying my mind of all that is not fiction writing, and letting something happen. I've been criminally unproductive lately and guilty of standing in what a friend calls the idiot spotlight. I have to persuade myself that all in all, there have been some successes, even if by today's light these are less than impressive.

That's probably all I'll be able to handle in one night.

Here's the last installment of Wasted Miracles. I hope you enjoyed it.

Captain Roderick Stuart’s return home was as lonely a voyage as he’d ever undertaken. Even his mistress could not lighten his mood and, after awhile, ceased trying.

When the ship was berthed in its home slip, he spent two days dealing with headquarters bureaucrats who interrogated him pitilessly until it could be proven to their satisfaction that none of the events that had besmirched the Isadora were his fault. They weren’t his fault, of course, he knew that as well as they did, but he was the Captain and, in a very real sense, everything that happened aboard his ship was his responsibility.

He took a cab home. The driver was a dour man who complained about the weather. There had been a week of unabated rain that left the streets and back roads flooded, and the driver seemed to take this elemental insult personally, banging his vehicle through pond-sized puddles in what Captain Stuart felt was a very unsafe manner. He dropped the Captain in front of his house and sped off.

Captain Stuart stood in his small front yard under as sullen sky and eyed his home. Nothing had changed. The curtains were drawn as always (his wife did not allow much sunlight into their home, claiming it faded the upholstery) and it looked as if shingles had fallen from the roof. He sighed, squared his shoulders, knocked on the door.

He always did this when returning from a voyage. Mrs. Stuart did not like surprises, they frightened her. After a moment, he knocked again. His car was in the driveway; the decrepit Morris Minor owned by the detestable Mr. Winfrey was not. He waited two minutes, found his key, fitted it to the lock.

The house was empty and smelled slightly musty. It was cold. Obviously someone had turned the heat off, which was unusual. Mrs. Stuart always complained about the dampness of their home and kept the thermostat at an even 78 degrees.

The letter addressed to him was on the kitchen table. It was dated ten days earlier and read:

“Dear Roderick,

I trust you are well. Mr. Winfrey has accepted a teaching assignment in New Zealand, and has asked me to accompany him there. I am doing so. I have advised the children of my decision and they agree that it will be for the best.”

She had signed the letter with her maiden name.

A slow smile spread across the Captain’s face. He reread the letter twice to make sure the message had not been a trick of his subconscious. Then he folded it carefully and replaced it in its envelope. He took a turn about the house. He carried his travel bag upstairs, carefully unpacked it, hung the shirts and trousers in the closet, put his two uniforms in a plastic bag to be dropped off later at the cleaners.

Then he picked up the phone and very carefully dialed his mistress’ number.

The End


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fireworks


It felt as if the entire town had gone out of town. The streets were empty of adults and children, and it required only the tiniest bit of imagination to think this 4th of July had turned into something almost eerie, was unnaturally quiet. Even the parks that dot Northern Virginia were empty. I kept thinking: this is what it would feel like if one of those science-fiction plagues hit--empty, foreboding. A friend told me that several times during the night of the 4th, she felt as if she was the only one left on Earth.

After the sun set, hundreds of thousands of dollars literally went up in smoke. From where I stood, I could see six different sets of fireworks going off in surrounding communities, and when the ones in my small town began, children too little for such a display began to cry and cover their ears. It was phenomenally loud, the explosions shaking the ground and vibrating the air. I remembered a friend, a Vietnam vet, telling me this was what war sounded like.

When it was over there was an exodus of parents pushing carriages, carrying blankets and within an hour the stillness had returned, punctuated now and again by firecrackers or bottle rockets. The streets were once again empty, the sense of alonness and apprehension returned.

The 4th is a peculiar holiday, quintessentially American. It's a time of random excess--too much food and drink, too much noise, too many explosions. Personally, I'll take one kid with a sparkler over an expensive display of pyrotechnics. I'm bothered by the cost which was probably more than the entire annual book budget for my local library. I wondered about the noise and smoke pollution. Walking home, I saw two cops detaining a carful of drunks. The ground was littered with food wrappers and empty water bottles. It struck me then that all fireworks are pretty much the same, and that the thrill they provide is almost Promethean. We are doing something forbidden by our parents since we were little kids. We're playing with fire.

Here's installment 106 of Wasted Miracles.

The extremely fat tourist waved a fistful of dollar bills in the air, hooted, “Over here, honey! Over here!” His voice carried easily over the gut-deep thumping of the music but no one paid attention. Mollie felt the sweat trickle between her breasts, closed her eyes, thrust her hips in his direction. The man yelled, “My heart! I’m dyin’, honey! Come and make me alive again!” Molly glanced at the boss who was tending bar, saw him nod. She finished her dance, found her camisole. The man stood as she approached.

“That was just beautiful! Beautiful! Wanna drink? Two? Three?”

He still held the bills clenched in one hand, the wad folded over to look larger. “Wanna share some of this later?” He pulled a small clear plastic bag from his shirt pocket, waved it in front of her nose.

She shook her head. “Not my style.”

She wondered how much money he had. Every time there was a paying customer, every time she saw a handful of cash, she wondered. She had paid $3,000 for a ten pound bag of flour and now every bill took on a different significance. It could have been, should have been, hers.

The fat man said, “So, how much?”

She looked at him. His face shone in the heat and his eyes bulged. “For what?”

“Everything, Honey. The whole shebang. Up, down and sideways... How much?”

She looked at the money in his fist, looked up. A bubble of saliva was forming in one corner of his mouth.

“Three thousand dollars,” she said.

The man looked at her, grinned as if he’d just heard a bad joke.

She gave him her most fetching smile, ran a hand around the neck of his shirt. “Or two hundred bucks and a ticket out of here.”

***

Saturday, July 4, 2009

La Solitude Absolue


The French call it "la terreur du silence."

The Romantic writer, Francois René de Chateaubriand, describes an evening when, standing at the head of his house's stairs holding a candelabara and looking down into the darkness below, he realized with deafening finality that what he once had claimed as mere solitude had become, without warning, "la solitude absolue; le spectacle de la nature, me plongèrent bientôt dans un état presque impossible à décrire. Sans parents, sans amis, pour ainsi dire seul sur la terre, n’ayant point encore aimé, j’étais accablé d’une surabondance de vie. Quelquefois je rougissais subitement, et je sentais couler dans mon cœur, comme des ruisseaux d’une lave ardente ; quelquefois je poussais des cris involontaires, et la nuit était également troublée de mes songes et de mes veilles. Il me manquait quelque chose pour remplir l’abîme de mon existence : je descendais dans la vallée, je m’élevais sur la montagne, appelant de toute la force de mes désirs l’idéal objet d’une flamme future ; je l’embrassais dans les vents ; je croyais l’entendre dans les gémissements du fleuve ; tout était ce fantôme imaginaire, et les astres dans les cieux, et le principe même de vie dans l’univers."

I'll translate. But first, let me say that Chateaubriand has always been one of my favorite authors. He realized early on that "the greatest part of genius is composed of memories." He was an anachronism even by the strange standards of the times when love was accepted as an often fatal disease that struck men and women alike, and it was not uncommon to "inhabit, with a full heart, an empty world." He was to inspire both Lord Byron and Victor Hugo, and yes, the cut of meat is indeed named after him.

OK, now the translation. "Absolute solitude, this frightening display of nature, put me in a state I find almost impossible to describe. Without parents, without friends, almost alone on earth and having yet to succeed at love, I was weighed down by an overabundance of life. Sometimes I was breathless, other times I cried, and night offered no relief to my thoughts and fears. I lacked something to fill the abyss of my existence. I strode the valleys and climbed the mountains, calling with all the might of my desires to find an ideal, a light I could rely upon. I embraced this ideal as it rode the winds, thought I heard it in the rivers’ moans, but all I found were the imaginary ghosts of the planets and skies, of the very principles of life in the universe."

Well hell, I couldn't have put this better myself. There are indeed times when the light does not shine far enough to relieve the fears, when the solitude becomes a blanketing loneliness that makes one question the darkness, fully knowing that answers seldom come from the cellar of the mind. We've often filled our lives with what we believe will hold loneliness at bay only to find it seeping from above or below.

Fark.

Here's installment 105 of Wasted Miracles.

The forklift came toward them at an idle, its driver perched high in the cage. He wore a hardhat, sun glasses, orange overalls and workgloves. One arm was in a sling but he nevertheless managed to work the controls of the vehicle. As he passed the limo, he swung the forklift sharply to the right and accelerated. Mamadou heard the roar of the engine, caught the movement out of the corner of his eyes. The two women stood staring with their mouths in big oval “ohs.” Then Clare Drake screamed, grabbed Jennifer’s arm, yanked her so hard her shoes were left behind. Mamadou dove, his shoulder caught Colin in the chest. The forklift hit the limo broadside and the windshield and passenger windows exploded, showering them both with glass.

The forklift backed up, the driver slamming it into reverse. Mamadou rolled, rose to a crouch, a gun in his hand. He fired once, twice, three times. The driver’s sunglasses shattered. He jerked, threw his arms into the air. His movement threw the cage door open and he collapsed to the side, then slowly began sliding headfirst out of the cage. His shoes—they weren’t workboots but almost new Gucci loafers—somehow got wedged in the forklift pedals and he hung upside down, his head bobbing just above a giant tire. There was the sound of tearing metal as the forklift hit the limo again, lurched, its huge wheels spinning. Then it stalled.

Colin got to his feet, shook shards of glass from his hair. “Jesus!”

Mamadou shook his head. “No. The Zulu.”

***

After the crowds drifted away and both Mamadou and Colin had answered questions from the police, the port authority, the company representative of the firm that owned the forklift, the customs people and the Coast Guard, Colin said, “I thought he was gone.”

Mamadou shrugged. “I guess he wasn’t. It was dark in the house...”

There didn’t seem to be too much to say.

The two women had been questioned as well then released and opted to take the first available flight out of Baltimore-Washington airport directly to Florida. Colin drove Mamadou back to his garage in Southeast D.C.. There wasn’t much to say during the ride either.

***