THE FIRES OF HELL ON EARTH – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #56


This week’s question is taken from Melanie’s “Share Your World” for the week. And my answer is an expansion of what I wrote on that post.

The world is on fire and we will all burn. No need to wait for hell to engulf us. We merely need to wait for the overcooked earth to dry up and burn. I read a post today from NASA and another couple of agencies whose logos I’ve forgotten. It was beyond dismal.

Basically, it said that we have failed to do anything about climate change for far too long and now, only very drastic action will accomplish anything. 2019 was the hottest year on record. Ever. Two entire countries — Switzerland and Khazakstan — have both exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point. Fires swept through much of America’s west and last year was truly terrible, but almost nothing compared to the horror of what has occurred in Australia. Only two entire countries have exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point, but most American cities have reached or exceeded it as have their suburbs.

The ice is melting faster than anyone expected and the sea is rising. The burning of the Amazon rain forest is a manmade tragedy that will help climate change develop faster. The entire world is hotter and where it hasn’t flooded, there are droughts. Flowers are blooming in Switzerland in January and last Friday, it was 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Today it is 50, which is a kind of weather we normally get in late spring. Certainly not in January.

Oh, sure, we might get snow, but we got almost none last year and there has been very little this season. We are getting tick warnings from our local government. I had to put collars on the dogs because ticks and fleas are out there having a great time, bouncing around, injecting diseases in humans and animals.

Forty years ago, I was the English-language editor at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory. I worked there for almost five years during which we addressed issues of wastewater, air and soil management. The country was still quite small. I think we had fewer than 7 million people then.

The scientific staff traveled from kibbutz to kibbutz, then to any other area that was under cultivation. The goal was trying to explain why it was so critical we stop using nitrogen-enriched fertilizer and start managing wastewater and figure out safe ways to use it. No one listened. My boss predicted we’d lose our aquifer by 1985. He was wrong. It was dead by 1983.

Flames from the Valley Fire cover a hillside along Highway 29 in Lower Lake, California September 13, 2015. The swiftly spreading wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of residents to flee as it roared unchecked through the northern California village of Middletown and nearby communities, REUTERS/Noah Berger

The point is not that I knew something important about our climate before most people were up to speed. It is that we have known about the danger to our environment for 100 years and for at least the past 50 have had top-quality scientists warning us again and again while we just went ahead, worrying about whether to buy the bigger SUV or maybe go for something smaller.

Since the 1970s when we officially declared “Earth Day,” many of us have tried to “do the right thing,” when we could figure out what that was. Most of us recycle, even when we know they aren’t doing anything with the trash, just moving it around. We lowered car emissions. We closed down coal-fired plants. We did something, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t done everywhere it needed to be done. Many countries have done absolutely nothing, either because they are too poor or in denial. Australia was one of the countries that did nothing much, not because people didn’t want change, but because the government wouldn’t budge.

Nor was enough done anywhere else on earth. The worst part? Even in places where they have been extremely careful, their neighbors are killing them. Like Switzerland.

To expect the nations of the world to get together and repair the planet so our children and grandchildren can live here is one of those great ideas in which I don’t believe. Humans don’t work together. We can’t get a Congress that agrees on anything, much less a planet. We fight, we kill, we destroy collectively, but repair things? Make things better? When has that ever occurred?

The smoke from 1500 miles (2000 km) away turns the skies in New Zealand orange.

We improved car emissions. We knocked out the smog in some major cities. We cleaned up some polluted rivers. Some of us did our best to manage recyclables. Some places did better than others. We didn’t build enough plants to deal with the plastic and paper and we charged extra for products made from recycled materials — which was not what people expected. Reality notwithstanding, we didn’t expect to be charged a premium for recycled goods. A lot of places — like where we live — do not have any recycling plants and we know they just take the recycling and dump it in landfills. Or worse.

WE DID NOT DO ENOUGH.

We are not doing enough now, then, nor are there plans to do what needs doing. We have no firm plans to do much of anything going forward. It’s a lack of interest. It’s a lack of solid plans killing us. We talk about it, but long before Trump got into office and has been doing his utmost to make a dire situation direr, we were busy making minor changes with vague plans for the future. We’ve been permanently at the discussion stage and never at the implementation stage.

Meanwhile, our planet is burning. If the fire hasn’t come to you yet, wait a while. It will come. First the heat, then the drought, then the fire.

The world’s population has grown exponentially everywhere. For every little green area we plow so we can build a condo or mall we don’t need, birds and other small animals die, often forever. In poor countries, you can’t blame them for trying to create farms to feed their people. Large mammals — like elephants — are antithetical to local farming.

LAKE TABOURIE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 04: Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency has been declared across NSW with dangerous fire conditions forecast for Saturday, as more than 140 bushfires continue to burn. There have been eight confirmed deaths in NSW since Monday 30 December. 1365 homes have been lost, while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

I spent five years surrounded by nothing but environmental scientists. I edited their material, sent it to magazines for publication. I read the papers. I understood how important it was. For all of that, I couldn’t imagine it could happen here. That my reality would change. That my birds would die and insects would arrive bringing diseases to kill us. Meanwhile, our way of stopping the insects — which are the direct result of the climate change we’ve been ignoring — is poisoning everything else. We seem to be helping the disaster, not stopping it.

For all I know, we are beyond help. Maybe we can ameliorate the process. Maybe we can stop building on every piece of ground we find. Maybe we can do something to create food for more people with less destruction to the earth. I don’t have answers.

Meanwhile, I have nightmares of the fires and the death of all the things I love.

If this doesn’t terrify you, what does? I too worry about freedom in this country, healthcare, and all that stuff — but if we can’t breathe, have no water, and the air is full of smoke while the sea rises and sea life dies — how much will freedom matter?

PROVOCATIVE? LIKE BOMBING IRAN? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #55

It’s the question of the year and this is only January.


Do you feel that Donald Trump was justified in ordering a drone strike that resulted in the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in an airstrike in Baghdad last week?

Do you think Trump’s decision will lead America into a hot war with Iran?

Do you think Trump’s motives are political and self-serving?


I am essentially in almost every possible way, against war. How many wars have we had in my lifetime? I was born just after World War 2, after which there was Korea. We got out of Korea, but then came Vietnam where we lingered until we declared victory and left. We left as we always do, leaving our supposed allies to face death and destruction. Remarkably, people keep trusting us. I don’t know why they do.

War doesn’t solve anything and inevitably leads to more war. WW2 was a “moral war,” but it wouldn’t have occurred had the terms for WW1 (which was just all the old regimes of Europe having one final “go” at each other because they felt like it) not been so cruel. Every war leads to another. Which leads to a few more. Then there are wars that just break out because someone hates someone else and feels obliged to kill them en masse. Gotta love those genocidal wars.

There are no good wars. Not here, or anywhere.

As far as I can see, there will never be an end to war because we don’t want peace. We say we want peace, but we don’t act like it. Should we have killed their General? I don’t know. If we’re going to do it, we should have gone in and done a quiet assassination and slipped out silently. That is assuming that his death was in some way a good thing for this and other countries — which I’m not convinced is the case.

Will this lead to a hot war with Iran? Maybe not, but last night I was ready to call everyone I care about and say goodbye. If we’re going to get bombed, I hope they hit us dead on. Better that than a slow death by radiation. You can’t figure out what Trump will do. I don’t think he knows what he is going to do.

All of his plans are political and self-serving. I don’t think he has any friends or has loved anyone. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand honor, service, faith, or truth. He certainly doesn’t understand our Constitution, science, or language. If it was some other guy, maybe they would be thinking about why we do or don’t want a war, but this is Trump and I don’t think he believes in consequences, so he doesn’t need a reason to do whatever it is he does. He feels like doing it, so he does it. All that matters to him is being celebrated and told he is the greatest.

In my opinion, he is the greatest of all assholes. Ever.

MUSIC AND LANGUAGE, PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #53 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #53


I need to begin this by saying that I don’t think music IS a language. I agree that it is universal. It crosses over national and cultural borders.

But it’s music, not a language. There are some songs that are language, but it’s the words that makes them a language, not the music.

I love music. I was a musical child, spent 18 years studying piano and was a music major in college. Music can be transcendental. It can make you happy when you are sad. In its own way, it speaks to your heart and emotions

Nonetheless, it isn’t a language, not in the sense that we have typically used the word language. Specific information is not part of music nor should it be. Sure there are songs that were meant to be more about the words than the music. That’s a different story.

A lot of folk music was written to support a specific political movement is more about words than music, but it doesn’t turn music into a language. Words imposed over the music isn’t a language. It’s a song. Maybe a great song, but still — a song.

Music is beautiful. I love every kind of music, minus rap and I’m not wild about hip-hop. That’s age-related. I get that. Music to me is designed to be enjoyed, felt, loved, remembered. Let’s not turn it into something else.

Let’s enjoy music for what it is.

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE. SLOWLY. Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #52

The question?

Given the realities of who we are and what we need, I think this is a pretty good life. I might wish for gentler weather and a bit more money, but overall? I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to live in a place where most people are on the same side I am on. Where getting around (unless there’s a lot of snow) is pretty easy. No traffic jams. No parking meters.

Life is simple, peaceful, and sometimes, joyous.

Short of suddenly becoming physically young (that would be quite a trick!), this is “the good life.” For us. Maybe it wouldn’t be for you, but it works for us. We live “the good life,” but slowly.

LOVING WORDS AND KNOWING HOW TO USE THEM – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #51


If people find typos or grammatical, punctuation, spelling, or usage errors in your posts, do you welcome having them pointed out to you, or do you resent it.

As a blogger do you let people know about such mistakes or do you just let them go?


There was a time when I was the aggravated editor at large. However, in recent months, my typo count has risen so high that there are often more typos, missed words, wrong parts of sentences which belong elsewhere, I do not feel I have any authority to speak on the subject.

I was never a good proofreader, even when I was much younger, but now it’s wildly out of control. If I change keyboards? I go from bad to “What IS that word?” I make typos so bad the spellchecker doesn’t recognize the word at all.

I admit that I go and change really badly typoed words in comments because WordPress doesn’t even give us 10 seconds to go back and change it. I read through typos. Of course, I do. I am the typo queen.

I do NOT have the same attitude towards poor grammar, though. The inability of even adults to recognize the difference between shorthand for Facebook or whatever they are using these days and language. Or, for that matter, the difference between an adjective and an adverb because they don’t know the difference between a verb and a noun. If you listen to sportscasters, you’ll know why. They don’t use adverbs. Ever. It isn’t stylistic. It’s pure ignorance.

It isn’t necessarily their fault. Our educational system is sorely lacking. They don’t teach grammar in public schools. If you don’t pick it up by reading book, how COULD you learn it?

And oh lord, PUNCTUATION. I swear everyone makes it up as they go along. My personal favorite is the    ,,,.    between what might be clauses, but isn’t a clause the guy who drops down the chimney with toys? No? 

People our age often leave out the subject of the sentence because we forgot to type it. But the younger ones? What’s their excuse? A good friend is (actually, now WAS) a college English professor. Every once in awhile, he’d show us what students turn in as essays. They truly do not know the difference between LOLWFOMA, TY, BRB, and what we used to call English. I don’t think we are setting a good example, either.

The other thing is that many young people have never read a book. Personally, I listen to audiobooks rather than reading, but I did read thousands of books before I moved to audio. So if my eyes are tired, they earned it.

One busy wall

Neither parents nor teachers forced them to read. Anyway, what with owning every electronic device ever made, what motivation do they have to read? You have to get them reading when they are young before they get hooked in electronics.

We spend millions on electronic devices that are outdated in six months — and don’t put any effort into convincing kids to read. Owen’s deal (from ME) when he was young was before he got an allowance or his bicycle, he had to turn in a book report — to me — every week. I didn’t care what he read, whether it was easy or difficult, but it had to be a BOOK.

Vineyard art – the second painting is the one from the book I gave to Owen.

Thus he fell in love with Stephen King, a love that still lingers, TinTin, Hardy Boys, and all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventures. He also loved anything with great illustrations and can take very excellent pictures when he remembers to have a camera — which is rare and rather frustrating. He has talent, but he works 50 hours a week or more, so I suppose that’s a bit limiting.

“How to Live With a Conniving Cat” was a favorite. When we summered on the Vineyard, we bought one of the original paintings done for that book. It was a piece of luck because the painter died while the exhibit was up. His family came and took all his paintings home. They refused to sell any of them. We have the only one that isn’t family-owned.

That was back “in the day” when we went to galleries and bought stuff! You know. Two salaries? Those WERE the days.

I gave the painting to Owen for his birthday. He really, really wanted it. Turns out, he also likes art. Kids like what they learn to like. If you don’t teach them, they don’t get it. Schools are only a piece of education. The rest comes from their home environment.

And yes, there still ARE libraries and they are still FREE. What’s more, there are art galleries in all kinds of places. You don’t have to buy things to go and look. And, oh yes. Museums!


P.S. I don’t have a problem with typos being pointed out, or for that matter, entirely missing words or pieces of paragraphs, or duplicated words. I have always worked best with an editor! I’d correct them myself if I noticed them.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #50: REDOING LIFE? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #50

So this week’s question is:

My answer is exceedingly simple.

Hell, no.

I’ve enjoyed my life. Even the bad stuff was interesting. One of the things Garry and I love about getting old together is that we don’t feel like we missed anything. We did everything we could as often as we could. We didn’t get to every city or every historic site, but we did a lot and it was tons of fun.

It wasn’t great for our longterm financial future, but damn, we have wonderful memories. And because we’ve known each other so long, many of those memories are together — before we were married.

There are pieces of my life I wish I could fix, but life, as a whole, has been fascinating — good, bad, and in between!

MEDICARE FOR ALL: WAY TO GO AMERICA! – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #48

Personally, we both are on Medicare because we are at an age where we deserve it. Lord knows we paid enough money over the years for the privilege of having doctors when we got old.

Medicare is a pretty good system and it is getting even better. The people who run it are competent, ready and willing to talk to you any time of the day or night. They are incredibly patient, which really helps because a lot of people on Medicare are not entirely “all there” anymore.

Medicare’s way of distributing drugs was deeply flawed and still leaves a lot to be desired, though it is better than it was. Their unwillingness to deal with — until this year — seeing, hearing, chewing, and breathing was cruel.

I don’t know if the changes we are seeing this year are local Massachusetts changes or national, but this year we are actually going to get enough money to buy a pair of eyeglasses, get our teeth cleaned and x-rayed and if Garry still needed them, hearing aids. Too bad they are available now because a few years ago, Garry really needed them.

We just changed from BlueCross to Harvard-Pilgrim. It will save us about $170/month and we can keep all our doctors (I checked). Also, since we’d use the same hospital where they already have all our records, I wouldn’t have to get a new institution “up to speed.” I honestly didn’t think I could cope with swapping all my doctors again and records again.

Do you believe the government of a country has a responsibility to provide universal, affordable (if not “free”) healthcare for its citizens?

Yes. Absolutely.

If you live in the United States, would you favor Medicare for all/single-payer health plan?

Having lived in Israel where medical care is free if you are poor, but if you aren’t quite that poor, you can buy into any one of a number insurance plans that give you other options, like private doctors rather than clinics, or one of the groups that offer more options for natural care. But all medical care uses the same hospitals and surgeons are not your choice but are based on your problem(s) and who they think can best solve it.

You got incredibly good medical care, probably because there are more doctors per capita in Israel than anywhere else in the world. Well, you know. Jewish doctors are a “thing.” Half the doctors were American or British, too. All the top surgeons were American — but of course, that was the 1980s and things have probably changed.

The thing is, you had a choice of how you wanted the services delivered, but one way or the other, you were entitled to the services. Everyone had medical care, free or paid. Whether you were a citizen or tourist, you could go to the nearest health clinic and they would take care of you. No identification needed.

Medicine was free. For everyone.

It was such a good system that I think that’s what we should have here. You can use the government “free for all” system or spend a bit more money and get extra services. But regardless, everyone gets medication at no cost. No one is left out of the system.

If you live outside of the U.S., does your government provide universal healthcare? If so, how do you feel about it? If not, what kind of healthcare coverage do you have?

See my answer above. Having lived in two countries with two very different medical systems, Israel’s was really great. I think Switzerland has a very similar system too.

THE ARRIVAL AND IMMINENT DEPARTURE OF A SINGULARITY – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #47

A provocative question today that I think currently means very little. It probably meant something 200-years ago, but now? I doubt it.

Here’s the question:

Technological singularity?

Personally? I think we reached it years ago — probably at least 50 years ago — and we are already in the throes of it. It did not need to become a net negative, but because of other issues — politics being the obvious one but also human greed, corporate greed, and a refusal to believe that the world was not made to accommodate us and when we push its boundaries hard enough, it will, in its own way, push back.

We have a dying world. We have a horribly over-inflated belief in humanity’s place in this world. And it will come to pass — is already coming to pass — that we shall discover how unimportant we really are. We are mosquitoes sitting on the back of a world that is getting ready to take a dip in waters lethal to our kind.

We shall be cleaned out and slowly but surely vanish. The planet will survive and recover in its own way. Whether or not that recovery leaves room for our kind? I’m not overly optimistic about it. While we are making enormous progress on one level, we are destroying what needs to be saved at the same time. It won’t do us any good to create a green world when we have already destroyed the greenery.

We can try, but we’d better start trying a whole lot harder than we currently are. Because I don’t think we can call a time out on the changes we have created and the desolation it is likely to bring.

Sorry for not sounding more chipper and cheery. If someone has something chipper and cheery to add that is based on science and not a personal opinion, shout it out.

WHO ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU CALLING ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #46

From Fandango:

“I was watching “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week and he and his sidekick, Guillermo, paid a visit to the New Yorker magazine in an effort to get a cartoon published in the magazine. Neither was successful, but Jimmy came up with this cartoon, which serves as the inspiration for this week’s provocative question:
CDAE46BB-E23E-40BF-BDB9-14331575A5F4The cartoon shows a picture of a young man sitting in a jail cell with headphones on. He’s busy using his smartphone when the prison guard apparently advises the guy in the cell that he’s entitled to a phone call. The guy then asks the guard, “What’s a phone call?”

So here’s the question:

Question of the week #47

I grew up before mobile phones — or at least before mobile phones became popular and common. Garry and I were among the earliest users of cell phones. Garry was always out in the field and he really needed a phone. Even back then … the early 1990s … there weren’t many functioning payphones. Most of the booths had broken or entirely missing phones.

The first phone I bought for Garry was the size of a brick and weighed at least as much and possibly more. On the other hand, that phone could connect with anyone anywhere. It was very much like the big “field phones” the telephone technicians used.

One day, the Blackberry came out and for years that was our phone. Garry loved his Blackberry. It had good sound and he could actually hear when he used it … and he could read (and send) email. I had a phone too, which was good because I was always looking for a job and I needed to find a quiet corner to set up interviews. Sometimes the phone WAS the interview.

Texting hadn’t arrived yet and phones were not miniature computers. They were small, portable telephones that also had email and calendar. Which was what I needed.

And the granddaddy of them all:

The standard black dial telephone

But how do I feel about taking on the phone? There was a time when the phone rang and I knew it was a friend. Or someone who wanted to talk to a parent, a brother, a husband, even your child.  But now? The phone is nothing but a noisy, device large used to try to scam you out of money or steal your personal information. It’s rarely fun.

I have three or four people — close family and dear friends — to whom I enjoy talking. Otherwise, I’d rather use email. The joy of email for me is its wonderful silence. My cell is always dining and ringing and jingling and binging and bonging. It never stops updating so as soon as you think you know how it works, they decide it needs to be fixed. When it is actually broken and needs to be fixed? That’s a wholly different story and usually costs you money.

With the exception of good friends and family, I don’t want to use the phone. I have to beat myself up to actually make a phone call, even if it’s important. Email is great because I can ignore it until I feel like doing something about it. I never learned to text, probably because that would mean I’d have to leave my phone on and people would actually CALL me. I don’t want them to call me. I’m very happy to not have something ringing all the time.

The thing I don’t understand about mobile phones is that they never shut up. They are always making some kind of noise. It’s like being on an electronic leash: you are never out of touch. It’s why when people ask if I have a smartphone, I say “no.” I do have one. I just don’t use it any more than I have to … and I do NOT give out the phone number.

My favorite calls are from Indians or Pakistanis who say their names are “Bob” and they are calling from Texas. And they know a Nigerian prince. Moreover, if you give them all your personal information, you can inherit a fortune and never have to worry about money again.

My all-time favorite call was a woman who called to ask for money to be collected for women who’ve had breast cancer. The money, she averred, would be given directly to people who had cancer and needed help. I told her she could call me back when my check was ready.

Modern telephone technology has taken all the fun out of making phone calls just as “modern airplanes” have taken all the romance out of travel. From all of this, I have concluded that progress is good but not every change is going to improve your life.  The only thing I hope for is that people will get tired of living on their phones and start to consider the possibilities of conversations.

And sometimes, enjoy the amazing possibilities of quiet and even silence.

ARE WE GOING TO “RUN OUT” OF CREATIVITY? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #45

From Fandango:

“Some smart people claim there is nothing new under the sun. I’m not normally one to reference the Bible, but in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the author complains frequently about the meaninglessness and monotony of life. One entire passage reads, “That which has been is what will be. That which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Which brings up the question:

Question de jour

To me, “merely rearranging concepts and building on previous ideas” doesn’t sound like a “merely.” Have you got a recent invention up your sleeve? Then maybe the ability to take concepts and build on ideas to create a new “thing” is the nature of creativity. I’m sorry the guy in Ecclesiastes sounded so dreary, but the world was having a hard time. Unlike now when things are so easy! Poor guy, he didn’t even have a computer or television to make it easier.

Everything is part of a context. To invent the telephone, you needed people who could talk. The telephone’s inventors — Antonio Meucci and Alexander Graham Bell — let people talk at a distance, but they didn’t have to create language, just another way to use language.

Everything new evolves from a construct of what we saw, then imagined what it might do for us. These days, a modern mobile phone does everything except work telephone calls.

I don’t think there’s a limit to what we can create, although to create something that no one can imagine seems implausible and unlikely.

I do think there are limits to what people want, need, or are willing to pay for. That has happened with all kinds of electronics, from color televisions, computers, telephones to many other things. At some point, people don’t want them that much or feel they’ve got enough (and spent enough) on whatever it is.

Which means creativity will need to find a new direction. No doubt it will. Creative ways to make money are even more nonstop than mere invention. It would still have to be something humans can imagine owning and believe would make their lives easier, more fun, and maybe more exciting.

HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #44

From Fandango:

“You’re probably familiar with this quote from philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“ In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill changed the quote slightly when he said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.“

Or my favorite version of this particular saying:

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ― Michael Crichton

So, speaking about what you remember about the past or have learned from history, how would you answer this question:”

Achievement? By the human race?

Right now, I’m having a lot of trouble crediting the human species with any significant event. I suppose it depends on what you think is significant. Would it be something that makes a life for people better? Or for a specific part of the human species better? Even if that “advancement” decimates or destroys other important aspects of the world in which we live? Like, for example, when we learned to plow and created the Sahara desert? And eventually killed ever last living mastodon? Was that an improvement?

Or how about when we broke the sod in the west and created the Dust Bowl? You know all those westerns where the sodbusters are the Good Guys and the ranchers are the Bad Guys? You know — the ranchers were right. We destroyed the prairies.

How about the invention of the government? After the Black Plague, the central government that was created produced giant grain silos and thus managed to feed the starving people after the plague wiped out the serfs — aka, farmers.

So the central government enabled people to rebuild after the worst (known) 100 years of human life or at least the worst time we still know about. But the deep plowing of the soil essentially was the beginning of what we are now experiencing: the ending of the world as we know it.

Will we take from that lesson that few have understood and somehow avoid total annihilation? Shall we yet come up with a world in which we can all live? Not just the human race, but all creatures?

Was the world better when we foraged for food and hunted our meat? I suspect it was. Were humankind’s invention of the railroad, automobile, and the airplane an improvement or was it the beginning of our end?

Do I live with any substantial hope that we will find a way out of this disaster we are in and rebuild a world in which we can live at peace as a part of nature and not its murderer?

I don’t know. Do you know?

We aren’t going to live long enough to see the end result of this madness and I’m not sorry about that. I love this world with its birds and bunnies and squirrels and eagles. With its tigers and lions and the elephants that crush the crops — but they were here before me and they have the right to live, even when it makes our lives more complicated.

Doesn’t every living thing deserve the right to survive? And our grandchildren — do they deserve the right to survive too?

We came out of our caves as killers and so we have remained.

And here’s my answer:

The most significant thing we ever invented were weapons. Significant isn’t, after all, the same as “good.” Or positive. 

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #43 – WHO AM I? WHO ARE YOU? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #43

Fandango’s question this week is nature versus nurture, a frequently asked but never entirely answered question. I was personally firmly in the “nurture” camp for many years. I simply didn’t see how our genetics could be responsible for so much of our behavior.

The question:

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of studying about this and it turns out that much more of “who we are” is based on our genetic makeup than on our “training.” Training is like a very thin shell. It tells us how to behave. How to act in a social situation.

This shell doesn’t tell us who we are. That thin exterior aspect of us is personality while inside,  the yolk and the white are mostly DNA and genes. We may “act like” one parent and “be” like another. Our “guts” so to speak are powered by a double helix which defines our intelligence, our bones, our muscles, our ability to focus, our tenacity, our ability to deal with pain. Our willingness to put up with disappointment and failure. Stubbornness. Flexibility. The speed at which our minds work. The shape of our heart and our immune system.

These aren’t things we define as “personality,” but they are the fundamentals that make us who we are. We can look like anyone in our family tree and BE nothing like them. We can BE just like them and look entirely different.

No, I didn’t want to believe it either, but study after study after study has shown the same thing: the “face” we show to the world is mostly nurturing, but what is inside us is almost entirely nurture. You don’t have to argue the point with me. All those studies are available online these days.

Talent tends to be inherited. Our willingness to fight for what we believe is handed down. It may not “look” the same, but functionally, is IS the same.

Too confusing?

I’m confused too, but over the years I have come to believe it. Even when I don’t like what it tells me is true. Even when the resemblance is to someone I don’t much like and who I would like to not be associated with.

As for elaboration, I got a lot of my mental tenacity from my father, who I loathed and I got absolutely none of my mother’s ability to enjoy sports. My mother was very physical, very active, very ‘just do it.’ I’m almost the exact opposite — except mentally, maybe.

I was nothing like my brother, except if you scratched the skin, we were very similar. Different manners, similar reasons for being who we were. My sister and I were nothing alike, but we had the identical voice and vocal patterns.

Our helix is very complicated and we carry strong inherited traits often from very long ago. Nothing is ever simple.

CENSORSHIP AND THE LIFE WE LIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #42

It’s a good question for everyone to ponder these days.

There has always been censorship of some kind in every country as long as humans have been “civilized.” Its definition — or at last one of its many possible definitions is, “Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient.”

Censorship can be conducted by a government, private institution, and corporations. Or by your local sheriff or lynch mob.

The question is:

There is some kind of censorship in every nation, every government and in nearly every business. Even if the big secret is “what ingredients are in the Coca Cola recipe,” it’s still censorship.

There is censorship to keep technology private. Censorship which aims to keep military movements undercover. In some places, religions force secrecy. No society is completely open. There’s always something — militarily, governmental, corporate, technological, religious, or personal that are forbidden to say aloud. Sometimes censorship is unwritten, but everyone knows about it. Sometimes it’s part of your professional contract.

Sometimes you just know what you should simply not talk about because if you do, something bad will happen to you or those you care about.

Issues like this don’t affect everyone. The business you are in, how well-known you are, what kind of profession you follow are part of the process. If you are a general in an army, most of your life is censored. If you are in the Mossad, or a television reporter, what you can say is by definition censored. In the United States today you can get away with anything if you are personally unimportant but can get away with very little if you share a spotlight on the big screen of life.

Does it affect me? Personally? Mostly not because I am not regarded as knowing anything worth censoring. I don’t belong to a corporate entity that is creating new technology or know anything about the government other than what I read in the news.

Garry has a lot of secrets and most of them — nearly ALL of them — he has never told me. I have pointed out that many of the people about whom he “knows stuff” are gone from this world.

“They have families,” he says and that is the end of the conversation. Reporters always have secrets.

So do I personally feel threatened as an individual citizen by censorship? Not at the moment. When I worked for Grumman I had a “top secret” legal rating and there were things I could not say to anyone lest I be imprisoned and fined. I worked in a “black building” and I hated it. I hated everything except those great bridge games at lunch. They were fun!

If I live long enough, this could change, but I think for most non-political, not military, and no, not a spy either? No one cares what we say because we don’t know anything and when you are low enough on the totem pole, nobody much cares what you say.

But if our world changes dramatically and for the worse, this could alter. I hope I’m not alive if it does.

PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE (MAYBE) – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #41

So what do you think of this quote? Aside from the reference to tenses, is it true?


“The past is always tense, the future perfect.”


I would be more inclined to say that our past was always perfect and the future is both tense and mysterious.  Especially now. Our future is frankly looking pretty damned grim. So grim that I spend an inordinate amount of time not thinking about it.

I would like to see one sign that all humans world over would get together and make a serious effort to fix our planet. But I don’t see it. I don’t see any signs of any kind of cooperation. Not between supposed allies or enemies. I don’t even see governments taking the future of life on earth (for people) as serious, not if it costs someone a few extra dollars.

Honestly, we the people care, but them the people who make the trash and poisons? They don’t care. They really don’t care. The government doesn’t care. Obviously.

Enjoy it while you can.

I’ve been hoping against hope that somewhere there would be a little glimmer of a better world to come, but I’m not seeing it. I’m seeing the opposite and not just here. Everywhere.

Oh, the joys of living in an oncoming disaster. What fun!

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION – CONTROLLING OUR LIVES – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #40

And so the question is:

Control is an illusion. It’s what we all believe we’ve got until our life takes a sharp turn and hits a big rock or slides into the ditch. Crash.

All of your firm beliefs that nothing can stop you doesn’t help because there are things — many things — that can stop you.

I love when people tell me nothing can stop them, that whatever they want, they can get it. All they have to do is want it enough. I don’t argue with people who talk like that. They believe it and who am I to argue?

I’ve hit a lot of rocks, ditches, sharp turns. I’ve had my “life vehicle” battered to wreckage. I learned, painfully and slowly there is a time to put down the reins, look in the mirror and face reality. Even when it isn’t what you want.  There comes a time to give up trying to control your world and go with the flow. To find a better path.

Your perfect, beautifully controlled life can turn upside-down in a split second. For others, it’s slower. For me, it was at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I refused to pay attention to the wreckage of my spine. It was mind over matter. I was strong. I could make it work, no matter what.

Good idea. But mind-over-matter only takes you so far. Major life changes do not happen in an afternoon. True they can occur in one messy crash … or they can take over bit by bit over decades. I found a great doctor who told me something I had heard before but had hoped there was another answer.

He said: “Your back has got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise. Recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid. No car crashes. No falling. No lifting.”

No horses, no hauling. Got that. And of course, this was before all the heart surgery, which further eliminated the likelihood of any of these perilous activities. So. I’m not doing anything stupid.

Okay, I’m not doing anything very stupid. Maybe only a little stupid. And nothing that will break anything that isn’t already broken.

There’s no moral to this story. It’s life. If you don’t die young, you will get old. Which means unless you are exceptionally lucky, parts of you will hurt. Whether or not you are in a position to help fix the hurt with surgery, exercise, physical therapy, or medication? It depends on what’s wrong.

The only thing you cannot plan is a life over which you maintain full control. No one gets that.

We all have some control, but ultimately, no one has full control. Ever.

When life throws you a curve, you have a choice. Spend your time fighting for something you can’t be or do — or with a bit of grace, find your way to being whoever you are now, in this time and place.

Not winning all the battles doesn’t have to be tragic. That is where you have some control. You can view changes as a challenge or as a catastrophe. How you see them is up to you. Pretending they aren’t there can be calamitous.

Reality is not the worst place to live. Life is full of weirdness, lies, and illusion, but going face-to-face with the truth can be uplifting. You don’t have to give up living. You do have to learn to live a life that works. For you.

IS HONESTY YOUR BEST POLICY – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #38

Do you really want to tell your wife she looks fat in those jeans? No? Do you need to tell her you slept with her best friend, even if it was before you got married? Or for that matter, with anyone besides her since you got married?

If you tell her any of these things, are they going to improve or ruin your relationship?


Do you believe that honesty is always the best policy? Is there is ever a time or circumstance when dishonesty (lying) is justifiable? Please elaborate.

We lie to each other all the time. Usually little lies. Like how much you paid for those sneakers … or for that matter, how much you paid for your wife’s birthday present (she warned you to NOT spend a lot of money). Or maybe shearing $100 of the price of that camera lens or telephone or computer.

We lie to our kids all the time. Some of them are huge, life-changing lies like: “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

No, you can’t. If you don’t have the talent, you can’t become a great writer or musician or mathematician or engineer. You need tenacity, but you also need talent. When we don’t mention the whole “talent” issue, it’s a lie and it can ruin a kid’s life, too.

I’m in favor of telling the truth when not telling the truth will cause harm to anyone, will destroy a good relationship, or simply make someone unhappy when they don’t need to be. I am also strongly in favor of honest conversations so that people don’t waste years believing something they partially heard while eavesdropping. AND I strongly, passionately believe in NEVER EVER EAVESDROPPING.

Whenever I watch a movie and someone has cheated and the cheater feels a compelling need to confess, I always wonder “why”? If his/her spouse never heard about the cheating, they would be okay. So the only reason you are confessing is to make ourself feel better. It isn’t going to make your relationship better or make your spouse happier. If you need to confess, find a priest. Get a shrink. Confess to your seatmate on the bus across town.

Leave your spouse alone. They didn’t do anything wrong and don’t deserve to be punished. If you have the kind of spouse who is going to eviscerate you for failing to “tell the truth,” they need to have a brain adjustment too.