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.

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.

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. 

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!

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.

WITH GOD ON MY SIDE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #32

For this week’s provocative question, I am going to do something I haven’t before done in my provocative question prompt. I’m going to post something a fellow blogger wrote. In this case, the blogger is Judy Dykstra-Brown, and in one of her recent posts she wrote:



WORDS

Oh my name it ain’t nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side
Oh, the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh, the country was young
With God on its side
The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War, too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I was made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side
The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side
The Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now, too
Have God on their side
I’ve learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side
But now we got weapons
Of chemical dust
If fire them, we’re forced to
Then fire, them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side
Through many a dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ was
Betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.
So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

I thought I’d let Bob Dylan answer this one for me. Written in the early 1960s, it hasn’t gotten old. If anything, it’s more relevant now than it was then.

War never gets old and it seems we never tire of it. We never run out of reasons to fight. In every war throughout human history, God is on every side. Everyone claims him and is sure that all the horrors they perpetrate are “in God’s name.”

Since God has never made any comment on this, my best guess — should there be a god:

The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

FACTS AND TRUTH #FPQ – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #30

From Fandango:

Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” a dozen or so years ago. Truthiness, Colbert explains, is the quality of seeming to be true based upon one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic or factual evidence. It’s similar to when Comedian Bill Maher says, “I don’t know it for a fact; I just know it’s true.” These describe a situation when someone feels, believes, or wishes that something is true even when it is not supported by the facts.

American novelist William Faulkner said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.”

So, to today’s question:

First of all both truth and facts matter and if they don’t, then I’m not sure anything matters.

Searching for truth is not identical to searching for facts. Facts are information while Truth is more about “meaning.” Sometimes they are the same and sometimes, they are a bit different. It depends on what you are seeking. But facts are certainly a component of Truth.

I had a brief conversation with a woman with whom I was once friends and she told me that everyone in the media lies. I pointed out that in all my years of living with Garry, never had he leaped out of bed in the middle of the night to stand up in front of a camera and lie to the people.

It doesn’t mean that reporters don’t sometimes get it wrong. They are human. Shit happens. But they make (discounting Fox and friends) their best efforts to get it right and apologize and make corrections when they are wrong. People in media TODAY still get fired for lying. Apparently, lying is okay if you are the president, but not if you’re a reporter.

After I said my piece, she paused a while and then she said: “Does it matter?”


If honesty, facts, and truth don’t matter, then what exactly
does matter?

Above and beyond survival, without truth, facts, evidence, and science, then our last few thousands of years of human development are meaningless.

What you want to be true, what you “feel” is true can have great emotional impact to you, personally, but if you don’t vaccinate your kids and think smallpox was a myth, it matters. When thousands of kids get sick because you and others decided what you erroneously believed was more important than the health of the elderly, the “too young to be vaccinated,” and the immunity-compromised, it matters. Especially to those who die by your choice.

I think everyone is obligated to look for facts, evidence, and the truth of things. Finally, I think one’s intentions to be honest matter even though intentions can go awry.

When William Faulkner said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other,” I’m pretty sure he was being ironic.

FAITH, FAITHFUL OR UNCONVINVCED? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #29

For a guy who doesn’t believe in a god or gods, Mr. Fandango seems a bit obsessed with the issue of god or gods.

His weekly question, based on a statement by Thomas Jefferson, is:



I have always thought it doesn’t matter a bit what you believe in as long as you aren’t beating me over the head to believe it too. I resent dedicated atheists exactly as much as I resent dedicated evangelists. I want you — whatever you believe — to leave me out of it. Believe what you want. There is absolutely NO PROOF OF ANY KIND whether there is or is not a god or gods nor any proof of an afterlife.

What you believe is what you believe. What is more, I don’t have to agree with you, no matter what you believe. If I want to believe we are all reborn as fairies living under toadstools, who are you to argue the point? Do you know something I don’t know? If so, please enter your arguments for and against in the comments which follow this piece.

Why should you believe? Why should I? Because we — you or I — like the idea. We (do or do not) have faith in the idea. We (do or don’t) prefer the concept of heaven to the concept of permanent darkness.

Would it interest you to know that Judaism has nothing to say — at all — about the afterlife? There is nothing in the Torah about the afterlife. Nothing good, nothing negative, nothing at all. You can believe in Heaven and Hell, Reincarnation, total blackness until God calls everyone up for an accounting — or nothing. Actually, to be a Jew, you don’t (technically) even need to believe in God. You just need to follow the rules and your belief doesn’t matter.

If you convert to Judaism, no one will ask about your beliefs. They will ask if you agree to follow the laws, but not what or who or even if you believe in God, gods, or not.

Unlike Fandango, I know I am fascinated with the concept of God/no God/many Gods and faith/no faith/leap of faith. I’ve had a variety of very close encounters and if anyone has reason to believe, I should. I absolutely should. A pastor of my acquaintance asked me if I was waiting for a picture ID before I could accept faith and I thought about it for a while.

“Yes,” I said. “I think so.”

Part of it is having been raised by an atheist mother, a father who only believed if he thought he was going to die (soon) … and the rest of the time, it held no interest for him at all. I studied the subject in school, read mountains of books and still concluded that it’s a matter of faith and I seem to be a bit lacking in the faith department. I don’t disallow the possibility of a god or gods, but I am unsure. Unconvinced.

But definitely interested and particularly interested by the ideas of those who do believe. I want to know why they believe, what made them take that “leap” of faith? I get to the edge  — regularly — but I never jump. Or if I do, it’s temporary. I don’t stay jumped. I always go back to the other side.

I guess I need the picture ID.

FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #26 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #26

Like many people, I’ve seen stuff in the sky. Sometimes, I’m sure it’s just some new piece of equipment the military is testing … but not always. So this is a really good question:


“Do you believe that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for these sightings, like unannounced or unauthorized drone flights or space junk falling back into the atmosphere, or do you think that the objects these pilots saw were actual UFOs?”


So there I was standing on my back deck looking vaguely upwards and something really HUGE stopped right overhead. Stopped. And didn’t appear to move. It was big, with a lot of lights and I watched it for at least ten minutes before it moved on. It probably was moving, but so was the earth so it appeared to be still in the sky.

I went back inside and called NASA’s  number on which you can ask: “What is that big thing in the sky?”

It was 2009, so it was probably this version of the space lab.

They asked me where I lived. I told them. They said, “It’s the space lab, and it’s directly over Uxbridge. Right over your head.”

“It’s so big!” I commented. I hadn’t realized the lab was so close to the earth. I suppose I had images of it circling nearer the moon. It looked like it might decide to land at Logan Airport.

As seen over Arizona or …

It could have been this one

Then there was a wedge-shaped plane we saw in the sky in Arizona. I was sure it was some kind of military test aircraft. Recently, they unveiled it. By which time everyone in Arizona had a really good look at it.

On the other hand, there were those flying lights in the sky that were not meteors,  helicopters, or airplanes. I saw them. Garry saw them. Several of my friends saw them. No one has given me an explanation that makes sense. Maybe there is an explanation, but I haven’t heard it. (No, they were NOT weather balloons!)

Did they drop out of the sky and kidnap us? Nope. Just a lot of dashing “sky flyers” lit with various colors. Pretty. Odd. What was that? Something military? Entertainment from the heavens?

Do I think there’s intelligent life elsewhere? Probably.

Where? No idea. But we exist, so why should we be the only ones in this gigantic universe? Will we ever meet the “others”? Maybe yes, maybe no. If they aren’t even in this galaxy and are on some planet millions of light-years away, the odds do not favor a close encounter. Not to mention someone (Star Trek?) would have to be out there looking for them … or they would have to be looking for us.

So I’m not expecting to meet any space aliens in this life, but assuming humans continue to survive the garbage pit they are making out of this earth, maybe they will.

Or maybe not.

NATURE VS. NURTURE – DOES HARDSHIP MAKE YOU STRONGER? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #20

Kelly Clarkson song leverages something originally attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” That quote is attributed to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Anyway, the song got Fandango thinking about the validity of Nietzsche’s notion, so here is this week’s provocative question:

I have always hated being told: “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

The people who spout it are usually people who have never experienced anything harder than a long walk with a foot blister. I particularly resent people who add “God” to the expression because if there’s one thing that could give me a strong anti-God point of view, the idea that he does this sort of thing as a kind of  “video game with us as the playing figures” is disgusting.

Does hardship make you stronger? Tougher? Or merely meaner? Does it make you more able to deal with the rough parts of your journey from birth to burial — or does it just turn you mean, angry, and depressive?

Depending on the person, his DNA, and natural “state,” perhaps it does all of the above in varying degrees. Certainly coddling children and making sure they never have to cope with the bumps and dings of “real” life won’t make them stronger.

I think it’s healthy to allow children to deal with reality as they mature because sooner or later, you won’t be there to fend off “the bad stuff.” So letting kids handle at least some of the difficult aspects of life helps them grow up and more importantly, helps them understand what it means to not be protected from everything. It’s always difficult to know when to let it go, let a child stand up for him or herself — or to take a hand in the matter. I suspect one ought to at least consult the kid about it. Some of them have strong feelings on the subject.

But that’s talking about intelligent, involved parents who are not desperately poor, lurking on the edge (or middle) of criminality, abuse, or worse.

So let’s roll this back a bit:
“Do abused children grow stronger?”

My answer? Sometimes, but let’s not count on it. Many abused kids grow up to be abusive parents and criminals. Others become psychiatrists, physicians, lawyers, police officers, or other caretakers. Or writers, artists, and teachers.

We make choices. We live by the choices we make.

The argument over “nature vs. nurture” in child development has been going on as long as I’ve been alive and has probably been going on since anyone had a family and could argue about it.

I used to be all about nurture, but watching children grow — the three in my terribly dysfunctional family, my son in mine, and his daughter in his … I’m inclining more towards a 60-40 nature-nurture split. Before Owen was a week old, he could push himself up on his arms and look around the room. I remember the doctor saying “Oh, this one is going to run you ragged!”

He didn’t run me ragged. He ran himself ragged. These days, kids with that kind of energy are instantly put on drugs because teachers want placid students. They don’t want energetic boys who need activity, not all day stuck behind a desk.

Does being DRUGGED from first grade make you stronger? I think it turns you into a druggie always looking for a better pill to solve your problems. Not to diminish the role Big Pharma has in the current mess, parents who allow themselves to be bullied into drugging their kids from first grade on shouldn’t be surprised if their kid grows up still looking for the right drug to fix everything.

There’s more than one person at whom we can point our fingers.

2010

I grew up in a family of three children with a child-molesting, abusive father — and a mother who simply could not believe things were as bad as they seemed. My brother built a life, but I don’t think he ever stopped being angry. His childhood had been torn away and the pain never left. But he managed to have a marriage that lasted from when he was 20 until he died.

My sister got mired in drugs and vanished into a world of chaos and I don’t even know what else. I haven’t seen her for years and no longer know if she is alive. I’m assuming if she had died, someone would have called me. The last time she was hospitalized, they found me, so I’m sure they’ll find me again if they need to.

2012

And then there’s me. I was probably the tough one. After growing up with my father, I was never afraid of anyone. I was probably just a little bit hostile in my earlier years, mellowing out somewhat as time has marched on. There are still a lot of areas regarding men and especially ANGRY men that push all of my buttons at the same time and I have a temper that I’ve spent a lifetime holding in check.

I worked hard and I don’t think anyone ever referred to me as “easy-going.” Did childhood make me tough? Or would I have been tough anyway?

I was always determined to do my own thing. Unlike many of my peers, parental pressure — really, any kind of bullying — has had little effect on me. On the other hand, coaxing, suggestions, and a fine editor have done wonders. I listen when people have good ideas. I’m always ready to try things a new way.

I think I was born this way.

I think if my mother had tried coddling me I’d have been out the door and miles away before she could call me home. I was also extremely responsible at a very early age. I recognized danger, didn’t do things that would get me killed or hurt anyone. I could (did) babysit for my sister when I was six and no one thought that odd because my brother was older, but I was more responsible.

So this is one of those “maybe yes and maybe not” answers. Nature — DNA and the way our particular helix is designed has more to do with how we turn out than parenting. But other things — manners, taste, and interests — come from our environment. Kids brought up with books read books. Kids whose mothers drag them to art museums learn to love art.

Energy, determination, will-power, and talent are gifts. What we do with them are 50-50 culture and DNA.

Now, let the arguments begin!

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT PREDESTINATION? – Marilyn Armstrong

This week’s provocative question is a spinoff of a question that Melanie (Sparks From a Combustible Mind) asked in her last Share Your World post.

That question from Melanie got me thinking about fate and predestination. So here’s this week’s provocative question.

I’m not entirely sure what “predestination” means. By this do you mean a rigid “ending” that you can’t change, no matter what? Because I don’t believe in that.

I think we end up where we are supposed to be. I don’t think it’s a rigid, unchanging finish. I think it is flexible and will change depending on the choices we make. But there’s a likely place we will probably land.

I don’t believe in a frozen, unbending future. More like a conclusion based on our intelligence, status, birthplace, education … and the things to which we are attracted and choose along our path as well as the kind of people to whom we are attracted.

This is how I like to describe it.

Life is like a bus trip, except you don’t know where you are going and you can’t drive the bus. No ticket, no map.

You will meet other travelers on the bus. Some will be your friends and maybe lovers and mates. They enter the bus at various stops and get off where they must. You may not be happy about it.

The bus will sometimes stop and give you the chance to visit and enjoy the scenery, but eventually, you’ll have to get back on the bus.

You still won’t have any idea where the bus is going and you still can’t drive. Sometimes, the road will be very rough and treacherous. Other times, the road will be smooth and the scenery beautiful. When all is smooth and lovely, you may think you’ve got everything under control.

You will never have everything under control. You never know when the bus will take a sudden turn or for that matter, drive off a bridge.

Life will take you where it takes you.

I don’t know what, if anything, God has to do with it. Maybe something. Maybe nothing. I have no idea. But if prayer makes you feel better, I say go for it. Because whatever makes you feel better — especially if it costs nothing — is worth doing.

ARE YOUR VALUES WORTH A SONG AND A MOVIE? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #18


And the question is one that has bothered me in the past and will probably continue to nag at me.


“When you learn about highly regarded artists being accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, especially with minors, can you separate the artists from their art, or would you refuse to listen to, watch, or read the artists’ works?”


NOTE: I expand this to include all varieties of hatred and bigotry.

The easy answer and the one that requires the least amount of effort is that we separate the artist and his/her art. This is simply because it requires \no sacrifice from you. None at all — not even giving up listening to some music or a few movies.

There are more issues involved than whether or not you like the way the guy sings, acts, paints, or writes. There are values you claim as your own at stake.

I can’t — won’t — watch movies with Mel Gibson. Or with massacres of Native Americans. Or including blackface or other racially derogatory material. Garry used to ignore it (which I never understood), but he can’t anymore. At the very least, he fast forwards through those sections … or doesn’t watch the movie.

Many –especially modern — artists have been nasty people. Rapists and pedophiles. Racists. Bigots of the first water.

An awful lot more artists are fine or at least normal people. Everyone in the music business or Hollywood is not a sexual predator, racist, anti-Semite, or pedophile. If you extract the bad ones, there are plenty of movies and music remaining to which you can listen and view without compromising your supposed principles.

At what point do the values you claim to have actually matter enough to make a minor dent in your viewing or listening life? Seriously. You claim to be an honorable person, but rather than giving up listening to one child rapist’s music, you’ll “forgive him” because he’s such a great artist? Is he really that great? Or are your values that cheap?

At some point, if you have a set of values in which you believe, are you prepared to give up anything to live up to those values? You listen to their music and you watch their movies … and they make money from this. You are supporting them while deploring them.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Your values don’t mean much if you are unwilling to make any sacrifice — and this is a pretty small sacrifice — for them.

I have come to a point in life where the things I value are more important to me that a song or movie. #metoo isn’t just a saying . You either support it or you don’t. You are either willing to make some kind of actual change in your life — and this is a pretty small one — to support it or you don’t support it.

I don’t think giving up watching a few movies or listening to some songs is such a huge sacrifice. In fact, it’s not much and costs nothing. If I’m not willing to do that, then my values don’t mean anything.

REMEMBERED OR FORGOTTEN? FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION – Marilyn Armstrong

True or Lost? – Fandango’s Provocative Question #17

From Fandango:

This week’s provocative question came to mind when my son asked me a question. He wanted to know where we lived when I sold my motorcycle, and I couldn’t remember whether it was in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. I tried and tried, but came up empty. I couldn’t even recall the last time I rode it.

So, I decided to ask a question about human memory, which has been shown to be incredibly unreliable. With that in mind, here is this week’s provocative question:


“How do you know which of your memories are genuine and which have been altered over time or even made up?”

I have forgotten a lot of things. Not important things for the most part, but small things that (I assume) were not critical to life and survival. I don’t remember every day of my life in Israel, but I remember the important pieces. When I see movies or documentaries with pictures, often a lost memory comes bubbling to the surface.

Sometimes, I see pictures from New York and remember that at some point, I ate in that restaurant or took pictures under that bridge in Central Park. I have a very visual memory.

1948

I don’t think I have any “false” memories. I either remember or I’ve forgotten it. A forgotten memory can sometimes be brought back by a friend who was there, although it’s not unusual for me to look at them and say “Really? I don’t remember any of that.” And I don’t. There are organizations I belonged to I’ve completely forgotten and there are a couple of years of elementary school I don’t remember.

1952

I remember my friends — the real ones that mattered to me as opposed to acquaintances. I remember my entire family, some better than others, probably because I spent more memorable time with them.

What I’m missing is gone. My remembering isn’t altered, made up, or rose-covered. Just entirely missing.

Where I grew up

I do not know if this is typical or it’s just me.

When I forget something, I really forget it. I forget who was there with me, who I met, what I did. I forget I was ever there at all.

My childhood is very patchy, but that’s likely a form of dissociation. I was an abused kid. We lose the worst parts of that period and, as one shrink put it: “What you remember is bad enough. No need to stir up the stuff you don’t remember. It may come back to you over the years, but if not … I think you should not stir that pot.”

I haven’t stirred that pot. I don’t think I’d find anything I want to know in its mix.