Archive for April, 2012


7th Grader mimics Nature

April 30, 2012

Came across this today, it is simply amazing and just goes to show the importance of making sure science  programs keep a predominant place in schools.  The more we interest students in science, the better off we all will be.

7th Grader mimics Nature.


Political Monday: The Two Party System

April 30, 2012

In the United States, we have two major political factions, the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party.  Today, control of our national political debate is firmly dominated by these two parties.  This system results in the endless bickering and inability to govern we see today.  It is the single greatest danger to the long-term survival of the United States.

Before the two major parties of today, various ones have led the national debate going back to our Founding Fathers with the Federalist Party (John Adams) and the Democratic-Republican Party (Thomas Jefferson).  Even then, the Founders understood just how disastrous a two-party system could be.  As President Adams put it in a letter to Jonathan Jackson in 1780:

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.  This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.[i]

Think about that for a minute.  Before he served as President, before the ratification of the US Constitution, John Adams, as well as other Founders, understood the danger of developing powerful political parties.  He understood that political power vested to parties is political power taken away from citizens.  Look at just how right he turned out to be.

Today, virtually anyone seeking a federal or state elected office needs the backing of one of the political parties.  That is where the money lives; it is where the political power lives.  Our constitution separates power into three branches of government[ii].  Unfortunately, it does nothing to control the political power of our two most influential special interest groups, the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Both are mammoth organizations whose original intentions have metamorphosed to a single purpose of retaining power and not conducting the business of the people of the United States.  Both parties lack the will to govern by debating ideas on their merits and resort to lowbrow rhetoric and political brinksmanship to maintain the status quo.  Moreover, the two parties work in collusion to maintain their grip on power with the rules the parties use in the various houses of government.  For instance, the Senate and House of Representative make internal rules of operation that grants virtually all leadership roles to members of the two parties.

In fact, they have institutionalized the process.  Just think about how leadership roles are addressed.  The Democrats and Republicans have mirror positions in just about every aspect, The Majority Leader and The Minority Leader, The Majority Whip and The Minority Whip and so on.  This is very different from the Speaker of the House.  The Speaker’s role is constitutionally defined; the other roles are defined by politics.

In election years, the scheming of these two parties does not even attempt to remain undercover.  Political television shows are full of guests from both parties speaking on “gaining control” of one house or the other, splitting citizens into two distinct groups, just as President Adams warned over two-hundred years ago.  In the end, some sort of party system is required to get anything accomplished in government.  Unfortunately, the two dominate parties today put party over nation and press their views upon us rather than reflect the views we, the people, hold true.

The Democratic Party has been around since 1828 and the Republican Party since 1854.  Through longevity, they have insured the true political power remains in their hands alone.  It is as if they realize they need the other party to balance things and allow both parties to survive.  In other words, they are in collusion with each other and prevent new political allegiances forming.  Look at the Tea Party.  Only three years ago, it seemed they would change the political landscape in the United States.  Now, it looks more likely they will be nothing more than a footnote, as the Republican Party throttled support for the upstart.

Need more proof as to their unfettered power, just look at voting.  We can walk into a voting booth and vote a party ticket with the push of one button.  No longer do we even worry with individual candidates, they want you to vote a straight party line.  It is better for the party but is it really better for the nation?  Only a moron would think so.  I guess that is really the opinion of party leaders, we are nothing more than a bunch of morons to be led around like cattle.

It is time we, the people, cut these two monolithic and self-serving parties down to size.  Neither has a right to govern, we elect people, not parties.  It is time we demand our elected officials represent us and not a national political party.  It will be messy but the result will be the sort of governance our Founding Father envisioned for us.  I, for one, trust their thinking more than any political minion spouting rhetoric today.

[i] Adams, Charles F. The Works of John Adams. By John Adams. Vol. 9. Boston: Little, Brown &, 1854. 511. Web. <>.

[ii] U. S. Constitution, US Const., art.  1 -3 <>


Poetry Sunday: Metaphor and Simile, Tools of the Trade

April 29, 2012

Poetry can serve many purposes with the emotions and meanings it conveys.  Some are sad, while others are happy.  Some take us deep into thought while others make us smile at some little point we’ve overlooked.  The point is poetry has a story to tell.  It is the poet’s task to tell the story in a way the reader understands.  This is where metaphor and simile lend a hand.

Though often confused, the two are quite different.  For example, to explain it with a metaphor, one might say, “simile is metaphor with an attitude,” while stating it as a simile, it might read, “Metaphor is like simile.”  In the first case, it states the two things are the same, in a point of view, in the second case, it states they are similar in general.

Of course neither is limited to poetry, though that is where they take up residence most of the time.  One of the most famous metaphors of all time comes from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It[i],

“All the world’s a stage.”

We know the world is not literally a stage but we treat it as if it were by our actions.  In this case, metaphor’s exaggeration helps us understand the

William Shakespeare

point.  Sometimes, such exaggeration gets in the way of understanding.  It makes no sense to say, “He found his way through the maze, after all, all mice are elephants.”  Showing the elephants and mice are the same is just too large a leap.  This is where simile takes over.

Using a simile to compare, you could write the prior statement as “Elephant like, the mouse remembered his way through the maze.”  The simile counts on us knowing elephants have good memories.  It shows mice are similar to elephants in that way.  However, without knowing the point about elephants, the simile has no meaning to the reader.  Simile counts on prior knowledge, metaphor tends to explain itself.  Returning to the Shakespeare quote, it goes on to tell us just how the world is a stage:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances.”

In his metaphor, Shakespeare explains what he means by his statement about the world being a stage.  Even without knowledge of what the stage actually refers too, we understand his meaning.    We can see his point and accept the whole of the world as a stage.  To state the same thing in a simile, you could write:

“Like actors on a stage, people come and go from our lives.”

Somehow, it just does not have the same impact.  In this case, to understand it, we need to know actors enter and leave the stage.  Shakespeare’s metaphor shows us, without knowing anything about actors or stages.  It is up to the poet to know when to use which form of allegory, it is up the reader to judge the poet’s success.

In poetry, similes are somewhat limited to a direct statement in a stanza within a line or two.  Metaphors can do the same but the poem as a whole can act as a metaphor.  In my poem Kite, I use metaphors throughout to describe the attachments in a relationship but the poem as a whole serves as a metaphor on relationships.

With the fairest of breezes,
off I go!  I take to flight.
A silken twine holds me fast
looking back, it leads to you.

You, only you hold the twine,
I rise further to the sky
until no sight of you’s left,
still, the twine holds me to you.

Drunkenly I ride the breeze
knowing that you set my course.
I reach for the high-up clouds
and then strain against your grasp.

Soon whipping winds have me caught,
and they sing upon the twine.
A song we both hear and know,
a sorrowful, wailing song.

Damage done – the string does part
and I flail within a cloud,
leaving you there, holding twine.
Stringy, stretched, useless twine.

You stand there, left wondering |
and I’m lost within the sky.
The twine floats back, back to you
and I’m numb without it there.

Away I fall lost to you
as I crash upon some tree,
leaving you with tangled twine –
the folly of flying kites.

The silken twine is the connection between two people in a relationship.  The kite serves as one person and the kite flyer serves as the other.  Wind acts as the turmoil couples encounter that pulls on the kite string.  Then the whole of kite flying serves as the whole of a failed relationship.  Unlike Shakespeare, I did not explain my metaphoric connections in the poem, as most people will see the links to their own relationships.  That is the great thing about being a poet; we get to make the choice.

Similes are more for simple comparisons.  It is an “A is like B” sort of thing.  For example, in my poem June Bug, I compare bugs getting too close to a light to Icarus.

On a starless night filled with haze
a porch light shines alone.
A yellow-pale reflects on dust
some breath of wind has blown.

And there I sit upon a swing
that moans its off-key sound.
Soon I’m joined by a million wings
that charge this light they’ve found.

They fly a path that’s drunkard-straight
imbibing on the light.
They dare to get but just so close
then escape away with fright.

The light has magic to a point
as they dart and flit around.
But, if to close they dare approach
like Icarus they find ground.

So there I sit and watch the sight
as they swarm and dance in air.
with too much fuss they chase the night
inspired by a porch light’s glare.

Of course, you need to know the mythical story of Icarus for the reference to work, so again, simile counts on prior knowledge, as explaining that myth is a poem all unto itself.  Did you see the direct metaphor I used?  There is one, but in this case, it is what I call a moronic metaphor as it directly disputes itself.  That is a hint by the way.

So both metaphor and simile have a fundamental role in poetry.  They are tools in the poet’s toolbox.  The poet needs to understand when to use which one; the reader needs to know how to connect the dots.   They both add depth to poetry specifically and all forms of communication in general.  Comparison is the way we understand things and that is exactly what they do, they compare.


On a side note:  Kite is an example of blank verse.  Blank verse will be the topic of next week’s post.  If you are not familiar with blank verse, read it over again knowing there is something more to it that free verse.  See if you pick up its natural cadence. 

[i] Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7.” The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The Tech, MIT. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <>.


The Four Nobel Truths

April 28, 2012

I came across a very interesting blog post this morning.  It reminded me of this poem I penned a few years back.  It is based on the Four Nobel Truths of Buddhism. I often wonder why the world is the way it is.  It would not kill any of us to be a a bit more kind it our daily lives.

There is suffering…
          of this, no one can deny,
          or lack of life’s simple needs,
          man’s children often die.

There is cause for suffering…
          though rarely the intent,
          but more by lack of feeling,
          such innocence is spent.

There is an end of suffering…
          Sooner or later, the pain will go away,
          by deeds done or not,
          we pick the role we play.

There is a path to the end of suffering…
          but what, oh what will it be?
          Will you pick the trail that gives life,
          or grant death slowly, by degree?


Saturday’s Feast: Food

April 28, 2012

Last week I asked for input on what my topic for Saturday should be.  Overwhelmingly, food won out.  I had suggested cooking, but I sensed it is more a “don’t tell me about the pain, show me the baby,” sort of thing being asked for.  Rather than present a recipe in step-by-step detail and leave it at that, I will explain why it is special to me.  As always, I cannot just throw something out there, so I will also explain why I make some of the food choices I make.

I guess all cooks have their “go to” recipes, things they make particularly well.  In my case, its soups, whenever I have a bad day or need to feed an army, soups come to mind.  Making them is cathartic for me; eating them is just pure joy.  For me, a good soup is nearly the perfect dish.  I will get to soups in due time, but before I jump into the deep end of the pool, I think it better to start off with something that serves as more a starting point for many other dishes, in the case Old-Style Italian Gravy.

Ok, first things first, Italian Gravy is not a meat-stock gravy that normally comes to mind when we hear the word.  No, when you boil terms down to their simplest form, it is a tomato sauce, but that nom de guerre hardly does it justice.  This is one of those dishes that have appeal on all fronts.  It smells wonderful, has a nice texture, and tastes out of this world.

A note to my vegetarian/vegan friends – this dish is not for you.  Of course, it can be modified for your needs and I might see about doing just that, but for now, it is a hearty meat dish.  Now, I do not give you smack for eating like a rabbit, so there is no need to give me smack for my omnivorous ways.

Back to the gravy, before we delve into the particulars of it, we need to come to an understanding of terms.  Tomatoes come in a wide variety of choices in the grocery store.  Understanding what each offers will help your make the right choice for you cooking endeavors.  The wrong choice can take a dish from being stellar to something you can buy in a jar; it will have some flavor but will miss the richness that the right choice adds.

You can buy canned tomatoes stewed, diced, whole, crushed, and pureed.  To further confuse you, each type comes processed with a variety of seasoning.  My advice is to stay away from all seasonings in canned tomatoes.  Unless you simply wish to throw something together and not season it yourself, there is no point in selecting them, if you need that level of convenience, you might as well buy a can of SpaghettiOs.  Moreover, if you worry about your sodium intake, canned tomatoes are a primary source.  Salt is added during the canning process.  Low-sodium and no-sodium canned tomatoes are available.  If they are not on the shelf, just pester your local grocer until they give you what you want.  If you ever wonder why a dish tastes different from time to time, it just might be the salt level from the canned foods you select.

In addition to tomatoes, there are the tomato sauces and pastes to consider.  Here is my way of thinking about it, the closer the product is to a whole tomato, the longer the dish takes to mature in cooking.  One trick to remember, tomato sauce adds the flavor that normally takes time to develop.  If you need to shorten your cooking time, replace a can of puree with a can of sauce.  In other words, if you need a quick sauce for dinner after a long day at work, use a tomato sauce, if is it a lazy Sunday, use crushed tomatoes and purees.  Of course, that is a general rule and most dishes take a combination to get the favor you want.  In the case of my Italian Gravy, it takes a combination of several types.  So here it is, Old-Style Italian Gravy:


Old-Style Italian Gravy



  • 2 – 28 Oz cans of crushed tomatoes (I prefer Contadina for all sauces)
  • 1 – 28 Oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 – 15 Oz can of tomato puree
  • 1 – 6 Oz can of tomato paste
  • 4 medium to large pieces of beef short ribs
  • 4 medium pieces of pork ribs
  • 6 hot or mild Italian Sausage
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp of fresh parsley
  • 1/8 cup of fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp of fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp of black pepper
  • olive oil to lightly brown the garlic


  1. In a 6-quart slow cooker, combine crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, parsley, basil, oregano, and black pepper over medium-high heat.
  2. In a blender, blend the whole peeled tomatoes and add to slow cooker.
  3. Stir gravy every 10 minutes until mixture starts to bubble, lower temperature to simmer.
  4. In a frying pan, brown the beef short ribs and pork ribs on all sides and add each to mixture.
  5. Cut half the sausage into 1-inch lengths, brown and add to mixture.
  6. Remove the casing from the remaining sausage and brown like ground beef, drain, and add to mixture.  Steps 1 through 6 can be completed the night before and refrigerated for cooking the next morning.
  7. In the same frying pan, add olive oil.  Use spatula to scrape any cooked meat bits loose and add minced garlic.  Cook the garlic until it’s slightly brown, about a minute.  Add garlic to mixture.  Do not over-cook the garlic; it will lose its flavor.
  8. Still in the same frying pan, add the Tomato paste and fry it for about 5 to 7 minutes, add to gravy.  Cover and cook on low for at least 4 hours but 6 hours is recommended.
  9. About an hour before serving, remove ribs from gravy and debone.  The rib bones should come right off.  If needed, chop the meat, more than likely, it will be very tender and stringy.  Return all rib meat to gravy.  Discard rib bones.  They will not add to a stock at this point but make a great snack for Fido!

Note: If using cooked meatballs, add 30 minutes before serving the gravy.  Do not add raw or partially cooked meatballs to this recipe, they will not have time to cook thoroughly.

This is more than mere spaghetti sauce.  It is a rich taste experience that provides a complexity of flavors simply opening a jar will never.  You owe it to yourself to try this one at least once.

Old Map of Italy

This recipe serves as a nice pasta sauce for sure.  It is perfect to can at home or freeze; it keeps very well.  Later on, if you want to make lasagna, simply cook up some ground beef, add the sauce, simmer for about 20 minutes, then put your lasagna together and bake.  The same goes for a traditional spaghetti sauce, just cook up some onions and green peppers, add a touch of red wine or sherry with the sauce, simmer and in 30 minutes you have a spaghetti sauce to kill for.  About the only tomato based sauce it will not serve, as a base, is Americanized-marinara sauce, which is devoid of flavor and closer to water than the richness of true Italian cuisine.

This recipe is my take on all the Italian Gravy recipes I’ve found, and there are many variations.  In that sense, it is always evolving as I incorporate ideas I find.  While it is great as is, change it to suit your own tastes, make it your own.   I know it seems like a lot of effort, but it really takes less than an hour as the slow cooker does most of the work, with the benefit of driving your family members crazy with its wonderful aroma.  By dinnertime, they will be like starving sailors wanting that first meal after a month lost at sea.

There is no need for a side salad or anything else, except for some freshly grated Parnassian cheese and some sort of garlic bread.  This dish truly stands alone.  Once you master it, you will never look at a jar of store-bought spaghetti sauce in the same way.  Simply put, this is one of the best recipes I’ve ever made.


Freelace Friday: I Answered Yes

April 27, 2012

This is a story I wrote a few years back that recounts on of the major turning points in my life.  I often wonder how my life would differ had I made different choices back then.  Don’t get me wrong, I would not change a thing, just something to ponder at times.  I think most people have similar stories in their lives, but most will not take the time to write them down.  That is a true shame too, as seeing events others face helps us see we are not as alone in life as we might think.  Besides, it’s sort of fun for people to see a side that is not always visible in the adult version of us.  


I Answered Yes!

“Yes,” I replied after a moment of reflection.  The damage was done; there was no use in caving in at that point.  Now looking back, it seems strange that, even at seventeen, I understood how such a mistake would turn into a blessing.  At well past forty, I see it as the pivotal turning point in my life – I answered “yes” in a loud clear voice.

To say I was independent as a teenager is being kind.  The truth is I was horribly rebellious and self-centered.  Ok, all teens are to a point but what I ended up doing took it to a completely new level.  No one could have guessed that by the end of the school year, so much would change.  I had always been one to push the limits, this time I simply blew past the limits like an Indy race care driver rounding the last turn and heading for the checkered flag.  You have to keep in mind, this was a time before classroom shootings, and such horrible events would dwarf anything I would do.  It was the last days of innocence all the way around.

The year started off pretty well, I was a junior, and things looked bright.  No longer was I on the bottom half of the feeding pool.  High school does have its pecking order, not only within the grade you’re in but between grades too.  Being in the first two years just makes you all the more a target.  I did not run with the “in” crowd to begin with, so now at least, I had a few years behind me.

In school, I did not have to apply myself much to get by.  Studying was easy for me but I found it to be boring.  Boring was something I did not do; besides, I was just arrogant enough to think I knew everything there was to know by that point in life.  What I needed was excitement, something to make life interesting.  Soon I would have all the “interesting” I could handle.

On that first day, Katrina caught my eye.  She was tall, beautiful and spoke with a heavy German accent, which made her even more exotic to me, sort of like Marlene Dietrich.  She was an exchange student attending that year.  We only had one class together – chemistry with Dr. Lamb.  I made my mind up then to see if she was the interesting bit I was looking for.

Without question, Dr. Lamb was a fascinating man and one of the most influential teachers in my life.  As a young man, he worked his way though college playing jazz piano in New Orleans.  To look at him you would not think it as he was round, bald, with fat little fingers and covered from chest to knee in chalk dust all the time.  He was the quintessential “lab coat nerd” one would expect to teach chemistry.  That is until he sat behind a piano.  He blew us away one day at a pep rally.  At first, we could not believe he was really playing like that, but he was.  I heard him play many times after that and he never fell short of being perfect.  He was amazing.  Dr. Lamb was one of the few people I had any respect for then.  Seeing his abilities in more than one area of interest opened my eyes to my own possibilities, without regard to the boundaries other might set.  I mean if this overweight, nerdy, white guy could earn his chops with the hard-nosed jazzmen of Greater New Orleans, I figured the door for whatever I wanted was open too.

Back in Dr. Lamb’s chemistry class, with some quick maneuvering on my part, I wound up at the lab table with Katrina.  I knew that meant we would be lab partners.  Katrina not only was attractive, she was smart, smart enough to read me right from the start, that point notwithstanding, we soon became an item and she did look good in my letter jacket.  Katrina stayed with a family a few houses down from us on East Beach.  St. Simons Island back then was not the place it is today.  It had more woods than homes.  Children had the freedom to roam the island at will and there was lots of room.  The beach was a major travel route for teens and a good place to raise some hell and not get too much attention.  I loved living on the beach.

In chemistry, we all had to pick projects to take on and had to keep lab books we would turn in each week for review.  We had to do a write up on the project we wanted and have it approved.  My first idea was a chemical form of perpetual motion.  Of course, I knew it would work but Dr. Lamb had his doubts.  As he put it, “I don’t think it will work, but right now for the life of me I can’t figure out why so you can give it a try.”  Turns out, he was right, but it did start the ball rolling for later events.

As the year went on, I was constantly in trouble over Katrina.  More than once, we were caught in compromising situations at both her home and mine and one time on the beach by the police.  Of course, I was grounded but as I had a balcony outside my window, it was an easy jump to the sand and I was on my way down the beach to see her again.  It had gotten to the point where the school was going to send her home for fear of her becoming pregnant.  Then, Dr. Lamb took me aside and put some reality in my mind.  Rather than speak to me with authority, he simply laid out the facts and told me to make a judgment on how my behavior would affect Katrina the rest of her life.  This was the first time anyone left it to me to figure something like that out.  They agreed that she could stay, if I would stop seeing her.  Neither of us was happy about it and I do not think she really understood why I agreed to it.  I’m not sure I did either; I just knew I had to.

So, I was unhappy with breaking up with Katrina, unhappy with the school, pretty much unhappy with life.  That is about the time my chemistry project finally fell apart, Dr. Lamb suggested I look over all the research and see if any part could be used for other purposes.  He said most progress came from the ruins of other ideas.  For me, it was at least a glimmer of hope.  Not may people can put their finger on an even that changed their life.  Turns out, this failure was the starting point of an even that would drastically change mine.

One aspect of my research involved better energy transfer in chemical processes.  I thought there might be something interesting to look for there, the nerd in me coming out.  Soon, I had reshaped my project for such improvements.  All chemical reactions release some form of energy.  That is basically how nuclear power works, albeit with physics.  Reactors make heat, heat makes steam, and steam runs turbines to make electricity.  I was looking to apply the same logic to chemical reactions.  It did not take people long to understand that nuclear energy had another use, a darker use – nuclear bombs.  Nor did it take me long to come to the same conclusion about my work.

I was pretty impressed with how quickly Dr. Lamb figured out what I was up too.  I did not refer to chemical bombs, explosions, or anything like that in my notes but by the end of the first week of my reshaped project, he was giving me another talking to, this time, he forbid from even designing the equations for such things.  He warned me it was simply too dangerous.  In hindsight, that may not have been the best thing to tell me.  I started a duel project in secret.  I would apply what I learned in class and worked out the equations and formulas on my own.  In the end, I could only do the research as the materials needed for such things were under lock and key in the chemistry lab.

Again, there I was, seventeen years old, frustrated over the loss of Katrina, frustrated with the school, frustrated with being grounded (without Katrina, there was little point in sneaking out), and frustrated that the only thing that had my interest seemed beyond my reach.  Funny thing about frustration, it too is like a chemical reaction, it builds up energy until it has to be released.  That release came one night during a school basketball game.

Earlier that day, I had devised a plan to leave one of the windows open in the chemistry lab.  It was easy to make the window look locked while it was still open.  I did need an accomplice at that point, as I was too large to shimmy over the wall and through the dropped ceiling tiles between the lab and the locked supply room.  I will not name my accomplice here (you’re welcome, M-), but had he known what I was up to, I don’t think he would have gone along with it.  The stage was set.

During the game, we slipped into the lab, then into the supply closet and soon my device (let’s call it a device) was finished, all we needed – a place to test it.  I did not know just how powerful the device would be.  I mean I knew the numbers from my calculations, but to what end?  Numbers can only take you so far, until you put a tangible scale to them, numbers mean nothing.  That scale was coming.

We went to the near by pond and without much thinking, threw it in.  What happened next was beyond my wildest expectations.  The device went off with the loudest explosion I have ever heard.  Later in my military life, the explosions in combat came a close second to what I heard that night.  Of course, I was much closer to mine than I ever was in combat.  The blast took us off our feet, a water plume rose at least 75 feet high, there was a blinding light of every color possible, the percussion took the air from our lungs, and we felt like a boulder had hit us.  After the steam cleared and we picked ourselves up, the water level in the pond was down about a foot or so.  What was worse, we could not hear.  Thank God, that cleared up.  Later we learned the basketball game, some half-mile away, stopped to find out what had happened.

Needless to say, we did not get away clean.  It did not take long at all for the truth of the matter to come out.  So there I was, if front of a peer review board (that’s how they do it in private school, they gather your friends together and they throw you out!) of four students and four teachers.  I took the lion share of the blame as that was fair.  Besides, Dr. Lamb knew the truth of it and I dared not disappoint him more than I had already.  At my hearing, for lack of a better word, Dr. Lamb spoke in my defense.  He said it would be wrong to end my scholastic career for being overly exuberant.  Here’s where a difference of opinion came in.  Dr. Lamb and I saw it as simply an unauthorized experiment gone wrong, everyone else saw it as breaking and entering with intent to destroy.  Luckily, for me, it was a different time back then.  If today, I am sure the FBI would want to have chatted, as it was, school was enough.

In school, I had two teachers I really admired; of course, Dr. Lamb and the other was William “Wild Bill” Coursey.  I owe my interest in writing to him.  I had the pleasure of being in Mr. Coursey’s English and literature classes all thought high school.  His classes were anything but boring; he looked like Walt Whitman in his younger years and could bring the driest classic to life.  Shakespeare was even a hit with teenaged boys under his guidance; he referred to Bard as “Good ol’ Bill Shakespeare.”

It was Mr. Coursey who presided over the day’s events, somehow that made the whole of it tolerable to me.  After all was said and a short deliberation, Mr. Coursey delivered the news – I was no longer welcome as a student.  Rather than belittling me or trying to make some moralistic point, he simply asked me one more question, “Do you think it was worth it?”  After taking my moment, I replied “yes!”  Then explained that right then the answer was no, but I was sure as years past, it would be absolutely yes.

Now as my life has moved on to many wonderful places and adventures, I can honestly say being kicked out of school was the watershed event that made me whom I am today.  I would not trade it for anything.  Mr. Coursey, I was right, the answer is still a strong, loud, absolute “Yes!”


Geographic Tuesday Note: Next Week – Portugal

April 24, 2012

Portugal Map

Just a note to our Portuguese brethren and visitors of the nation out there, next week I plan on writing about Portugal.  I am spending the week reading up on it and making sure all the little things about my visit years ago are still valid.  I would love to include some of the more unknown points of interest about the nation, drop me a note if you have anything I would find of interest.


Geographic Tuesday: Cornwall – Much more than England’s Pointy End

April 24, 2012

Cornwall, England (c 1900)

Great Britain is a geographically diverse island.  About the only major landforms missing are glaciers and deserts.  Think of it as a land where the extremes have been removed, leaving only the good parts.  In the Southwest of the country lies Cornwall.  It is one of England’s unitary authorities, think of it like a county in a US state.   The land in Cornwall is upland, exposed granite surrounded rolling hills but the whole of it juts out of the ocean with craggy cliffs and a rugged shore, interspersed with stretches of course sand beaches.  It is impressive to say the least.

Way back, when I was a kid and we visited England for the first time.  This was around the time the currency changed from the old system of pounds, shillings, pennies, and farthings, to today’s decimalized system. Back then, I could not tell if I paid about 50 cents or 5 bucks for a cup of tea.  Back then, getting to the Southwest and Cornwall was not as easy as hitting today’s M5 then jumping on A38.  For us, it was many missteps down hedgerow lined lanes, until at last, there it was – Cornwall, more specifically, Penzance.  We had arrived at England’s pointy end.

Cornwall sticks out, thumb-like into the Celtic Sea.  Lashed with winds and storms coming in from the Atlantic, the weather in Cornwall is always subject to change at a moment’s notice but the gulfstream provides Cornwall with England’s most moderate temperatures.  Walking along a cliff’s edge when a squall blows in is awesome.  It well illustrates the power of nature and humbles even the most confident of souls.

Still, there is much more to Cornwall than geography alone.  It is what the Cornish have done with their geography that makes the place special.    Everything from the ruins of Tintagel Castle (with its connection to the legend of King Arthur) to St. Michael’s Mount (where legend says a giant named Cormoran lived) and even further back to in time to the Merry Maidens Circle.  The circle is the mythical place were nineteen young maidens were turned to stone for the high-crime of dancing on Sunday.  The Stonehenge-like circle predates Christianity so

Tintagle Castle

we can reasonably question the veracity of the tale, much to the relief of young maidens everywhere.

No visit to Cornwall is complete without learning something of the Cornish people.  While there is debate about a precise history, the Cornish trace their roots back to the original Britons and Celts.  Much of the culture of Cornwall is influenced by this heritage.  They even have their own language, a derivative of the Celtic language, which thrived until the late 19th century.  Today Cornish is recognized in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages[i].

When I visited Cornwall, I feel in love with tea-treat buns and the national dish of Cornwall, the D-shaped Cornish Pasty.  A tea-treat bun is a large, aromatic saffron bun flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and currants.  Sometimes they are even dusted with powdered sugar!!  The pasty is made with meat, swede turnips, and onions.  They are similar to the empanadas made throughout Central and South America.

My favorite place in Cornwall is the Bedruthan Steps.  In another legend about giants, it seems Cornwall has many, many giant legends, the step were created by a race of giants to use as stepping-stones from the cliff top to the sea.  Another version has them playing a form of quoits and tossing the stones about.  The stones, by the way, are measured in feet and weighed in tons.  Regardless of how the stones came to be, I would tell you the geologic reason but it is sort of boring and takes the mystery out of

Bedruthan Steps

it all, the cliffs and beaches around the Bedruthan Steps are breathtakingly beautiful and provide and great spot for a picnic, if you don’t mind the breeze that whips up with little notice.

Simply put, Cornwall is a place you will want to see.  It has charm and warmth, as well as buckets of historic sites to explore.  If you are planning a trip to Europe, put Cornwall on the “must see” list.  Just as on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish, all that visit Cornwall become Cornish and own the lore of the Celts, at least for as long as the visit to England’s pointy end lasts.

[i] BBC News. BBC, 11 June 2002. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.


Political Monday: Do We Need A National Language?

April 23, 2012

Depending on the source you use, the number of countries with an official language varies.  The number is high and sits around 146 out of 196 countries[i].  That works out to about 74% of all countries in the world claiming at least one official language.  The United States is not one of them.

While many arguments are made regarding an official language, both for and against the idea, most end up being political and leave the legitimate arguments behind.  Regardless of your position, by understanding the issues surrounding an official language, you will be better prepared to make up your own mind without the stupid political rhetoric bogging you down.

First, we must accept there is a de facto official language in use – Americanized English.  While many other languages exist in our daily lives, Americanized English (English) is overwhelmingly our primary language.  About 1.5% of people in the United States speak no English at all[ii] and almost all are first-generation immigrants.  Virtually all second-generation immigrants have, at least, a working knowledge of English.  Given its dominance, English is, in effect, our un-official national language.

So, why not just make English our official language?  As with most issues surrounding a group of 300 million-plus people, answers are not as straightforward as the question implies.  While it is easy to stamp a language as “official,” doing so may have unintended consequences.  For instance, what about our indigenous people, how do we consider their native languages in this debate?  For those of us that only speak English, we may not see the cultural significance of such a matter, and it does matter.  Recently, a young member of the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin was benched from the school basketball team for speaking her native language earlier in the day to a classmate[iii].  It is hard enough today for Native-American Tribes to hold on to their cultural heritage, if we put an official language in place, we must ensure we do not further trample Native-Americans in the process.

Had we, as a nation, been successful in our attempt to suppress Native-American language[iv], it would have negatively affected our war efforts in World War II.  We would not have had

Codetalker in WWII
(click on image to visit site)

the famous Navaho Codetalkers[v] .  Accepting, for the sake of argument, the suppression had the best of intentions, it remains a blatant example of how we are diminished if we do not honor the cultural differences within our boarders.  All citizens can take pride by having four-hundred bilingual Navaho-Americans in World War II.  Those same four-hundred Navaho-Americans have pride is providing their nations (the Navaho Nations and the United States) with service that saved thousands of lives.

About one-hundred years has passed since we attempted to educate away Native-American language and it seems today some of our educators are hell-bent on continuing the practice.  We cannot forget they are part of us.  It is not any “us against them” situation.  We need to honor their choice to preserve their cultural language.  Doing so enriches us, as a whole, along

Carlisle School Pupils (c 1900)

with our Native-American siblings.

Not having an official language has its downside too.  Part of being a nation is having a sense of oneness.  A common language is a primary means to reach that oneness.  Moreover, it simplifies communication and understanding.  It is all too easy to classify anyone promoting an official language for the United States as being racist.  Surely, there are those out there that see it with bigotry, but it is wrong to lump everyone in that category.  Even without English being our official language, knowing it provides benefits, including employment opportunities, education, and social connectivity, to name a few.  Without a basic knowledge of English, immigrants are limited to menial labor and advancement is severely impacted in a negative way.

Several years ago, I worked in an industry that had a high percentage of non-English speaking employees.  It presented management with a real problem in terms of quality, productivity, and worker-safety.  In a meeting to find a solution, it was proposed we train our managers to speak Spanish, as most of the workers in question did.  It seemed like a good solution until one of our senior managers, who just happened to be Hispanic, pointed out our flaw in thinking that way.  As he put it, “if you have a manager that has fifty Hispanic employees working for him and he leaves, you now cannot communicate with fifty employees until you find another Spanish-speaking manager.  It is better to train the fifty employees to speak English, if one leaves it does not have near the same impact.”  He further went on to explain it helps the immigrant employee feel connected to their new home.  It helps them become part of our national identity, and not just a visitor.

As a company, we found we could use it as a benefit to our employees.  Something we ultimately did.  It decreased employee turnover, increased productivity and reduced OSHA related injuries.  The cost of educating employees was more than offset in the savings and increased profits the company enjoyed.  In the end, it was a true win-win situation.

The point is, there are benefits for immigrants learning to speak the language of the country they live in.  It does not have to be draconian in nature or repressive of culture.  In fact, as the Codetalker incident illustrates, we benefit from bilingual citizens and our citizens benefit from having a national identity.

The trick is how to establish a national language and honor cultural differences.  This is where the debate should be.  Let’s forget all the rhetoric and do something useful for the United States.  We must remember, no one of us is as smart as all of us.  Therefore, we must engage opinions that differ from our own to find the best solution to a problem.  We have a tendency to take ownership of ideas and this means we get defensive when we see them being attacked.  A better way to think about it is to take partnership in the solution.  Then the best points from all ideas can form the best solution possible.

The idea of an official language for the United States is not an earth-shattering topic.  If we do or do not pick one the fabric of our daily lives will not change.  This makes it a perfect topic to engage others of differing views and set our petty political personas aside.  Perhaps by taking a small step with a subject like this, we can learn to do the same on issues that really will shake the world.

[i] Wolframalpha. Wolframalpha LLC. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <>.

[ii] Shin, Hyon B. and Robert A. Kominski. 2010. Language Use in the United States: 2007, American Community Survey Reports, ACS-12. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. Web,  23 Apr 2012.

[iii] ICTMN Staff.  “Student Suspended for Speaking Native American Language.” Indian Country Today Media Network, LLC, 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.  <>.

[iv] “Native American Boarding Schools.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <>.

[v] “The Code Talker Story.” Official Site of the Navajo Code Talkers. Navajo Code Talkers Foundation. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <>.


Poetry Sunday: Love and Love Lost Poems

April 22, 2012

Love shares a special relationship with poetry, both in love found and love lost.  Perhaps it is the very nature of poetry that lends itself to the subject of love.  Love is about emotions; poetry is about emotions too.  They seem a natural fit.  Poetry is the refuge for emotion and love moved in as a permanent resident.

Poems about love are also a great equalizer.  They touch both men and women, adults and adolescents, extroverts and introverts, the silly-hearts and the serious, and even the macho and the meek.  Love poems speak to one of our basic needs, the share the love we feel.  As the character, John Keating, the main protagonist in Tom Schulman’s screenplay The Dead Poet’s Society put it when he calls on his students:

John Keating: Language was developed for one endeavor, and that is – Mr. Anderson?  Come on, are you a man or an amoeba?


John Keating: Mr. Perry?

Neil: To communicate.

John Keating: No!  To woo women!

At the very least, we must admit that communicating our love for others is one of our primary uses of language, and by extension, poetry.

When done right, a love poem keeps time with the heart; each foot becomes a heartbeat.  Just as emotion builds within a poem as the heartbeats continue, so too emotions build within our souls as our heartbeats force us to express our love or seeming explode from its pressure.  Poetry is a natural ally.

Love poems can be very basic.  As children, we all learned:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

It does not get much simpler than that.  As with most things with age, this little poem’s true origins are murky.  The earliest allusion to the lines is probably Sir Edmond Spencer’s The Faerie Queene[i] with these two lines:

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.[sic]

Regardless, the poem has become ubiquitous and even lampooned over the years.  Even with its simplicity, it has the poetic quality that conveys a feeling of affection.

While love poems work to convey love in its positive aspects, there is love lost too.  Its emotions and feeling are just as strong, if not stronger.  Certainly, the rawness of them is well understood by anyone past the age of twelve.

The subject of lost love has many sources in poetry, not all are about rejection.  The source can be a death, distance, or circumstance as well as rejection.  For instance, Robert Burns’ poem A Red, Red, Ros[sic], has nothing to do with rejection:

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Though Burns is credited as the poet, he claimed it is based on a song he heard a Scottish lass sing to her lover no longer with her.  Rather than sorry for her loss, she sang of her willingness to do whatever it took to regain her love.  It speaks to love’s ability to endure.

Separation often plays a strong role in love poems.  Sometimes it is physical distance; sometimes situation creates the separation.  In either case, the poet uses poetry to express the desire for it to be otherwise.  In my sonnet Distance, I talk about how two souls are entwined regardless of the distance between them:

Care not my love, of this distance between
’tis like two hands on arms reaching full wide
though no greater space will ever be seen
I still hold you near, as if by my side

For connected we are, as parts to a whole
with emotions of love, a life blood shared
Distance does nothing to weaken the soul
keep that in mind at times you are scared

A touch on the hand is known body wide
though it’s only one hand at times involved
We are the same when our love is applied
love is our touch and distance’s problem solved

Together in life our hearts beat as one
two souls entwined, our life-course is run

It does not say if that distance is miles or some other obligation.  It simply shows love can overcome.  As sad as the distance is, the poem holds out hope.

Compare this to another my sonnet The Day I Found You, that celebrates finding love:

We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown

For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run

I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love made whole

I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door

While both talk of love found, in the first, distance stands in its way.  In the second, it speaks to the power of love and its ability to make us more than we are alone.  It celebrates love and has even greater hope for the future.

Still, there is that nagging other side to love poems – love lost.  As powerful as poems about finding love are, poems that speak to its loss have at least as much impact upon us.  Perhaps it is our knowing just what it means to lose a love that gives them the punch.  Perhaps it is our memory that makes us relate so well to them.  They often speak directly to the soul, bypassing the conscious.  I mean we hear them, for sure, but is a deeper feeling within the soul that is moved by them.  Just as poems about love found speak to love’s joyful possibilities, poems of love lost show the depths love can drive us down.  This is exactly the point of Heartbeats.  It speaks to the raw emotion I felt the day I wrote it:

If all you wanted was my heartbeat,
you only had to ask.
Each beat, each pulse of it
is there only for you.
There is no need for deception,
though easy a mark am I.
I believe all you tell me, each lie,
I do not question them.
I cannot – I will not!
For I am lost in the promise of what might be,
what never was.

Take them all…
I have no further use for heartbeats.

Poetry is about expression.  When expressing love lost, it tends to cut, not with derogatory and hateful words but more by showing vulnerability.  Often, when hurt by love, it is within the gentlest spaces in our hearts.  It makes us wish to callous them and never be hurt again, but gratefully, that is not how it works and we seem foolish enough to step back into love’s light again and again; again finding the need of joyful love poems.

In the end, perhaps Keating was right.  We developed language not so much to communicate as to communicate out emotions.  Perhaps this is exactly why love poems carry such strength within our souls.

[i]Spencer, Edmond. “The Faerie Queene.” Spencer, Edmond. The Faerie Queene. London: William Ponsonbie, 1596. Book Three, Canto 6, Stanza 6. Book.


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