HOW COME THINGS GET SO COMPLICATED?

We were supposed to be going away for a few days to visit friends in Connecticut. We started planning the little jaunt back in May. Each time the appointed day got close, someone had a problem — and we had to reschedule. One of us (me or Garry) was not feeling well. Garry’s shoulder was out, I had a stomach thing.  It’s one of the perils of aging, I guess, that the likelihood of one of us not feeling up to snuff will occur.

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And then, there are the dogs. They have dogs. We have dogs. Once, our dog sitter wasn’t available. Another time, their son was away on business. Then, there are unexpected visits. His brother. Garry’s brother. Friends.

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We began the process with our first scheduled date set for June. Delayed and I don’t remember why, but I think it was a dog sitting issue. We each canceled once in July, and between us, three times in August (them, us, them). We were supposed to go last week, but I wasn’t up to it. Today was our “rain date,” but our host is feeling poorly.

I said “Tell you what. I know you guys are going away next week for a couple of weeks. When you get back, if you see some time, give a call. We aren’t far away and after August, the calendar is wide open.”

“Yes,” he said. “And maybe by September it will have cooled down a bit.”

And that’s where we left it. He said “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

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It shouldn’t be this complicated. But there’s some malevolent Murphy’s Law operating in our universes. It makes simple plans into a Byzantine maze. Before Tom called, we were already grappling with an unexpected hit on Owen’s schedule which required him to be down on the Cape Monday. That would leave the dogs almost entirely alone  for close to 24 hours. I’m sure they’d survive as long as they have food, water, and the doggy door, but they are unused to being alone at all, much less for an extended period. Gibbs gets anxious when Garry is in the bathroom.

That’s the other problem. We only have two dogs now. Bonnie and Gibbs, the two black Scotties. Bonnie is fine with anyone who can hold a biscuit. She is a bright, happy, little girl. This is not necessarily typical of Scottish Terriers. As a breed, they can be quite stand-offish. And they are never “just anyone’s” dog. They like who they like … which is sometimes quite quirky.

Gibbs has a long history of being a kennel dog. In the past 4 months, he has bonded tightly to Garry and I. He has not accepted anyone else. Maybe if someone else was around more than a few hours at a time, he would begin to accept them but not necessarily. Even when friends were here for a week, he never warmed up. He stopped barking at them all the time, but he was still suspicious.

It’s possible he will never cotton to anyone but us. Scotties are often one or two-person dogs, not friendly to anyone outside a small family circle. Bonnie is outgoing, but that’s Bonnie, not Scotties in general. Gibbs is more like my first Scottie — Mac-A-Dog. He was wary of anyone who didn’t live in the house … and we’d raised him from pup.

That said, there is a limit to how much the dogs can run our lives. We spoil them. We indulge them. But we aren’t willing to be stuck in the house all the time, forever. Gibbs will have to cope with occasional absences and substitute humans coming by to feed, water, and provide companionship.

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This latest snafu has delayed that fateful day, but it will come again. Owen thought maybe he could leave food out for Gibbs. That would probably be okay, assuming Bonnie doesn’t eat all of it. She doesn’t eat as much as she used to, so it would probably be okay. I should get one of those timed feeding things for this kind of situation. I’ll think about it.

Meanwhile, what originally was a simple three-day visit to friends who live a mere 75 miles away morphed into a wildly complex event that didn’t happen at all.

Why do things get this complicated? It was easier packing up and going to Arizona than driving a couple of hours to an adjacent state. Talk about the universe sending a message!

THE DAILY POST | COMPLICATED

STRANGE LIGHT: A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE

A Photo a Week Challenge: Under the Lights


From Nancy Merrill: IN A NEW POST CREATED FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PHOTO OR TWO OF TRICKY LIGHTING SITUATIONS.


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Some things are hard to shoot, no matter what lens or camera you use. In this case, getting a picture of the brewing coffee using back-lighting from a window. The answer was a macro lens because none of my other lenses would find the right focus.

Night shooting is always tricky, but if you are going to hand hold the camera, using spot metering on whatever is the brightest point in the scene will usually work, if you’ve got a reasonably fast lens. The faster, the better.

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Then, there’s shooting through glass. Not only do you have to account for some degree of dust and dirt  — there’s always some, no matter how clean it seems — but there’s inevitably reflection. Processing these pictures takes patience … and filters.

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My lens doesn’t knows whether to focus on the glass or the scene outside. Half the time, I wind up with a blurry mixture of both.

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DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE

“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” — Old English proverb, dating to the 14th century.


There has been an upsurge of interest in Jonestown over the past few years. This post went by with little notice when I wrote it — about a year ago, I think — but since then, it has developed a life of its own. Not surprising given the current state of disunion in this country — and elsewhere. Jim Jones and Donald Trump share many traits. More importantly, so do their followers.

This is a cautionary tale, an urgent warning for everyone. Talk is not harmless. Lies matter. Corruption kills. To you who blindly follow, I hope you’ve got that very long spoon handy. I have a gut feeling — you are going to need it.


From Nothing, Something Terrible Comes

If you are my age or near it, you remember the Jonestown Massacre. Even if you are younger, if in 1978 you were old enough to watch TV or read a newspaper, you could hardly forget it. With fundamentalism enjoying a rebirth among our politicians and so-called religious leaders it’s a good time to remind everyone where this kind of thing has led in the past and where it could easily lead in the future.

There is nothing remotely amusing about this story. It was horrible when it happened; time has not made it less so.

The Road to Jonestown

The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” has become common parlance in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow.” It usually carries a negative connotation. The “Kool Aid” references go all the back to the 1950s when it was the typical drink for children on suburban summer afternoons. The origin of the saying is something else — darker, and different. It has become the kind of bland rhetoric about which we don’t give a thought, but its roots lie in horror.

Before we talk about Kool-Aid, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to that particularly awful episode of American history.

Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist and occasional Methodist minister, he founded his pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name was supposed to be a reference to “the people of the world.” While Jones called it a church, it was closer to a warped version of a Marxist commune. Initially, it combined a hodgepodge of Christian references that Jones used in his diatribes … supposedly sermons.

It was never a real church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult. It required a level of commitment and financial support from members plus a degree of obedience that’s the defining quality of a cult.

Jones was the cult’s leader — and a homicidal maniac. But he had positive attributes. Jones and his wife Marceline were in favor of racial integration. They adopted a bunch of kids from varying backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. Other adopted children included three Korean Americans, a Native American, and a handful of white kids. They also had a child of their own.

The “Rainbow Family”

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed about this, note this story ultimately climaxes in the murder of all the Jones children by their parents.

The Peoples Temple continued to expand through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned his Marxism. His preaching began to increasingly focus on impending nuclear apocalypse. He even specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested afterwards, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California and before the expected apocalypse, he moved the Temple and its peoples there. When the end-of-the-world deadline passed without a holocaust, Jones quit pretending to be a Christian and revealed himself as an atheist who used religion to give his own opinions legitimacy. Jones announced that “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words since Jones was a drug addict who preferred literal to metaphorical opiates.

As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — probably with justification.

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Jim Jones – Leader and death’s head of Jonestown

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people to a different site that Jones had been working on since 1974. It was located in Guyana and he modestly named it “Jonestown.” It was a bleak, inhospitable place. Built on 4000 acres with limited access to water, it was much too small and seriously overcrowded. Temple members had to work long hours just to keep from starving.

Nonetheless, Jones decided his people would farm the land of his utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown (he confiscated all his followers’ money), but wealth was not distributed. He barely used any of the money for himself and lived in a tiny, bare-bones shared house.

All Hell Breaks Loose

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate rumors of abuses in Jonestown. Ryan didn’t travel alone. He took a contingent of media people including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. He assumed that this would protect him — a major miscalculation.

During his visit to Jonestown, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low considering the more than 900 residents of Jonestown, remember they had not been allowed to talk to most of the “fellowship.” The number of those who wanted to leave could have been much more. We’ll never know.

Ryan began processing the paperwork to repatriate Temple members. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked with a knife by temple member Don Sly. This would-be assassin was stopped before Ryan was hurt. Eventually the Ryan party decided to leave. They and the Jonestown defectors drove to the airstrip and boarded planes.

Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade” — after the Congressional party. These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire on them, killing Ryan, a Temple defector,  three members of the media, and wounding eleven others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

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When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He invited all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown.

He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled. Faced with this invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders. They could take off for the USSR or run into the jungles of Guyana. Or they could commit mass suicide.

On previous occasions Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment by giving them cups of liquid that supposedly contained poison. Which they drank (???). After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.

Jim Jones had been stockpiling poisons — cyanide and other drugs — for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

Don’t Drink It!

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid, a beverage similar to Kool-Aid.

Jones told his followers they should commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is still a matter of considerable debate. Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying members to the USSR.

Of course, Jones was never really interested in escape. There was only one answer that he would accept. Death and lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out to his followers that Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?)  which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is just as creepy as you’d expect.

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which — still baffling to me at least — the followers did as they were told. I will never understand why. Probably that’s a positive sign indicating I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were allowed to drink poison from cups. Temple members wandered out onto the ground where eventually just over 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful of survivors escaped — primarily those who happened to be away on errands or playing basketball when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a gunshot to the head. It’s unclear if it was self-inflicted. Jones probably died last or nearly so and likely preferred the gun to cyanide. He had witnessed the horrendous effects of death by cyanide and preferred something quicker.

What’s With the Kool-Aid?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind obedience, as Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without objection. According to various accounts, the primary beverage used at Jonestown was actually Flavor Aid (sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”) — although both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were used.

Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. Kool-Aid was introduced in 1927 in powdered form. When Americans thought about a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” came immediately to mind. Therefore, although Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were both present at Jonestown, the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” has become entrenched in popular lingo.

Personally, I never touch the stuff.

COMING OF AGE

My Favorite Films, by Rich Paschall

We all have to grow up and learn the lessons of life.  Some are fun.  Some are work.  Some are terrifying.  Nevertheless, it takes time and experience to bring a person to maturity.  Many films show these various aspects of growing up.  The movie may be a Risky Business or capture 400 Blows.  They can introduce you to Harold and Maude or perhaps to Willie Wonka.  You may find a birthday of Sixteen Candles while you are Pretty in Pink.  You may even find a Rebel Without A Cause.

As a boy, a teenager and even as a young man I would identify with the younger heroes of the story, whether they were the lead character or not.  When I saw Swiss Family Robinson, I was more interested in the young son’s adventure (James MacArthur) than the parents who were trying to protect themselves while stranded on an island.  I was quite young at the time but remember it well.  If you saw Disney films in that era, you knew there was a young hero for kids to identify with, who might also own a dog or horse.  I loved those movies.

As I got older I saw more mature themes.  Some are poignant.  Some are jubilant.  Some are sad.  Since there are so many great films in this category, I could not cut it to a top 10.  My “short list” had a lot of entries.  When I subsequently looked at some published lists, it reminded me of others.  There may be better ones that I have not seen, but these are my favorites from my local theater or living room screen.

20.  Mysterious Skin.  A young Joseph Gordon Leavitt is a teenage hustler.  This is not your “feel good” movie.
19.  St. Elmo’s Fire.  The 1985 Brat Pack classic about recent college grads.
18. Donnie Darko. The 2001 cult hit stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an odd teenager.
17. Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon is the math wiz discovered by Robin Williams.
16. The Breakfast Club. If you served high school detention on Saturday morning, you get it. A John Hughes classic film.

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Ferris Bueller

15. Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. Ferris cuts class and comes to Chicago with a couple of friends.  Matthew Broadrick is Ferris.
14. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. A young man (Johnny Depp) and his mentally challenged younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio).
13. October Sky. Based on the true story of a boy (Homer Hickam) who dreams of being a rocket scientist. Jake Gyllenhaal stars.
12. Big. Tom Hanks stars as the boy in a man’s body. The best movie ever to try this film trick.
11. The Karate Kid. It does not matter which one you see (Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith). Skip the sequels.

10.  The Last Picture Show.  A black and white film about life in a dead-end southern town.  The 1971 film stars Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges, with Cybill Shepherd and Cloris Leachman.

09.  American Grafitti.  It’s the end of summer vacation 1962 and you are cruisin’ in your convertible and listening to Rock and Roll on the car radio.  You might be getting into a little bit of mischief as well.  The low-budget 1973 film was box office gold.

08.  Dead Poets Society.  High School seniors form a poetry society and learn to “seize the day” (carpe diem) from English teacher Robin Williams.  The setting for the 1989 film was an elite academy in 1959.  The film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

07.  Billy Elliot.  An 11 year old boy in a poor northern England town ends up in ballet class one day while going to his weekly boxing class.  The coal miner’s son is in for a rough time, but sticks with the dance class against his father’s wishes.  The film’s success lead to the eventual Broadway play.

06.  Dirty Dancing.  “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”  Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey get up close and personal on the dance floor in this 1987 film.  It’s forbidden love and hot dancing.  What’s not to like?

05.  Old Yeller.  A boy, his dog and another Disney tear-jerker.  This one may be for kids but many of them will be crying at the end.  Is this a good lesson for kids?  Next I suppose you will tell me Bambi’s mother is dead.

04.  Summer Storm (Sommersturm).  This 2004 German language film follows the friendship of two boys on the rowing team as one learns his feelings for the other.  It was a winner at the Munich Film Festival among others.

03.  The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho). The 2014 Portuguese language, Brazilian film shows the difficulty of seeking independence for a blind boy who does not know the way he looks or if he will be attractive to others.  His life becomes more complicated when he starts to have feelings for another student.  Based on the amazing viral success of a short film, the feature was made soon enough thereafter to star the original three teenagers.  We talked about the development of this film in the article, In Another Language.

02.  A Separate Peace.  Like many of the above, I guess you might call this a “loss of innocence” story.  Based on the 1959 best-selling novel of the same name, the 1972 movie is set in World War II England at an all boys boarding school.  The author is quick to point out there are no homoerotic implications.  “It would have changed everything, it wouldn’t have been the same story.”  It’s a love-hate relationship between friends.  I have not seen the 2004 Showtime film.

01.  Harry Potter 1-8.  It really is the greatest coming of age movie of all because it is actually 8 movies.  How fortunate that we were able to have the same young actors throughout the ten year film-making odyssey.  It took all these stories for young Harry to become the man he needed to be to defeat the evil that confronted him throughout.  Daniel Radcliffe will forever be everyone’s vision of the boy wizard who grew up before our eyes.