Thich Quang Duc and Wynn Alan Bruce

Most people my age and older have some knowledge of, and may have the image (above) seared into their mind of when Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, set himself on fire to protest the police and Vietnamese army’s massacre of Vietnamese people during a celebration that turned into a protest. At the time Vietnam was 90% Buddhist but the current ruler, Ngo Dinh Diem, was Catholic and wanted to “westernize” the nation and so banned the display of religious flags. On May 8, 1963, they celebrated Phat Dan, or the day of the birth of the Buddha, religious flags were displayed, and the massacre ensued. A month later, on June 11, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who was not at the massacre, sat down in the middle of the same street, began meditating, set himself on fire (doused in gasoline) and sat motionless as he burned to death.

An American photographer happened to be on the scent and got the iconic, jaw-dropping photos that exploded across the globe. Thich Nhat Hanh, another Vietnamese buddhist monk, prolific author and teacher, often brought him up in his writings, and while I never committed the man’s name to memory, I never forgot that image since I saw it as a teenager in the 1970s.

Recently, a blip in my online, 24-hour news feed, filled with stories of mass shootings, war in Ukraine, awful American (and worldwide) politicians and people, and the ongoing, ever-expanding destruction of the planet thanks in large part to human-induced burning of fossil fuels, was something about an American who did something similar in Washington DC. I’m appalled and embarrassed how little attention I paid.

Reading the obituaries in the local paper this morning I stopped cold when I saw: “on the steps of the Supreme Courthouse…”

“Bruce, Wynn Alan
Born in Green Bay WI Aug 25, 1971 and died on Earth Day April 22, 2022 on the steps of the Supreme Courthouse in Washington DC. His father, Douglas Bruce (Holly), mother Martha, stepbrother Eric (Jamie), extended family and friends in Minnesota and Boulder, CO and around the country are greatly saddened by his death but respect and honor his commitment to the issues of climate change and the environment.”

Unless you’ve got your head jammed straight up your ass and/or have been fooled by extremely effective but idiotic right wing media, you understand what is happening right now to our climate due to humankind. I’m human and not at all pretending I’ve been doing much myself. In fact, my passion for doing something about this has been washed away, shall we say, having watched the world (and more importantly, individuals like you and me) do absolutely nothing about it.

Scientists have been warning us for decades, and year after year, the climate has been proving them almost exactly right, but to pretty much no avail. So I’m now at this point hopeless we’ll do much about it and wondering what we’ll do about the consequences. How will we handle the flooding of coastal and inland low lying areas? What will we do about the incredible heat waves that will make many places currently filled with humans uninhabitable? How about the massive fires that will only get worse and worse? Who’s going to pay to rebuild after the super storms keep coming and damaging property, farmland, and infrastructure? And in the current pandemic of xenophobia what will we do with the mass migrations due to heat, flooding, fires, storms and water shortages?

Of course, we’re already paying for increasing storm damage, controlling and putting out growing fires, cleaning up and relocating people after massive flooding, but it’s that last one that I really worry about. Here in the U.S. people are filling their pants because there are 60,000 people at the southern border trying to get into our nation of 330 million people. What about when there are 10, 50 or 100 million people clamoring to get in? What big beautiful wall is going to stop them? How about when the entire population of Southwest U.S. starts running north and east? What happens then?

We’ll see. Then, by the way, is only a few decades out, maybe sooner. But here we sit, doing nothing and not even noticing, when Green Bay’s own, Wynn Alan Bruce, sits down in plain view and burns himself to death in an incredibly brave warning to all of us of what’s coming. Blip.

We think we know

Sentient beings need a brain, right? A nervous system to tell the body what to do in the world. It’s what we know. It’s all we know. But there’s a single-cell slime mold, sans any nervous system, that learns, passes knowledge to other molds, and repairs itself within minutes. No one knows even how to categorize this organism.

It’s been around for millions of years, but we have no idea what it is. Is it an animal? Is it a fungus? It’s capable of memory and adapts its behavior. It solves problems of moving around a labyrinth.

“The blob can navigate without eyes, limbs or wings. When researchers sliced up the organism and sprinkled them in a maze, the blob consolidated into its original form.” And get this: “After introducing the experiment to a new blob and allowing it to merge with another, the new super blob show incredible smarts. ‘Somehow during the merging process, the naive cells learned a behavior for a situation that they themselves had never experienced.'”

Crows taught to fear a particular human will give birth to baby crows that have never seen that human or know anything about it, but know to fear it. What do we know?

The people are woke and global, sorry fatheads

Hearing about Vladimir Putin’s attempts to keep his citizens in the dark about what he was planning and now, what he is doing, in Ukraine is laughable. How is it that these angry old guys really think they can keep information away from people in the age of the Internet? Russia is a modern country, their people are logged in and connected to everyone else logged in. Yes, the state media controlled their message and was telling them one thing but just how many modern educated Russians believe their official state television? Probably about as many Americans who watch Fox News and believe that. (Fox has about 1.5 million daily viewers or about .003 percent of the American population.)

Russians get their news from many sources as do educated and curious people all around the world. They get Russian news, BBC, German news, and on and on – the new perspective is global, which many powerful men and women disdain as it sucks life out of the power to which they cling like deer ticks. Unless Putin could somehow corral the entire world of media into playing along with his lies, or build a dome across his 11 time zones, he is absolutely screwed when it comes to controlling what his people see, hear and know. And we see now how badly he has failed. Brave Russians are protesting in the streets, which to us in America might not sound so amazing, but protesting in Russia is not, shall we say, encouraged by the State. Protesters put themselves and their families in real, sometimes mortal danger.

Even North Korea, a veritable desert of outside news, can’t stop it all. Defectors have reported various ways their citizens still find a way to get western information, usually entertainment, into the country. If the Kim’s can’t do it, no one can.

Here in our own nation, fatheads around the country are banning or trying to ban books, like it’s 1952. This is the absolute dumbest (and dumbing) move the said fatheads can attempt. First, tell a young person with even a modicum of smarts and self-respect not to read a book and they will find a way to read the book. Duh. Second, ban them where? Books are everywhere. You could work to ban it in a school but another school with have it, so will the library, and so will, ahem, Amazon. And third, kids have printers. Got it, fatheads? We know that what you’re doing is merely to make others like you happy to further your political careers, but you look so dumb doing it, that it can only backfire. It seems that you also should read those books, and many more, until you get it.

Young people are woke and global (as are many old people). Your attempts to turn back the clock, jam the toothpaste back in the tube, close the barn door after the cows all left reminds me of the old guy on the 70s television show “Soap” who would snap his fingers and think that he’d become invisible when all the people around him just kind of groaned and went on with their business. You’re ridiculous. You have zero respect for the modern world and for the intelligence of young people. They don’t need you telling them what they can and cannot read. They need you to get the hell out of the way so they can build a new world that recognizes reality, not the wishes of a washed up generation who is handing those same young people a planet that we continue to fuck up on a daily basis.

This is not to mention all of the misinformation perpetrated by these same people around COVID. That led to dead Americans and lots of them. For that, if Christianity is correct, you will all land in hell. Sorry. Well, not really.

We’ll start the new year off with a bit of science.

Floating Houses

Not like houseboats, but houses that are moored to the bottom of the sea that then glide “up and down their steel foundational poles with the movements of the waters below.” Movements that, of course, create energy. These homes float but are also “weighted by basins filled with recycled, water-resistant concrete…” to give them some heft on the sea, and they note that “Heavy pieces such as pianos are counterweighted with bricks on the opposite side of the house.” I wouldn’t have thought of that until they rolled the piano into the living room. 

Our oceans WILL rise and our coasts WILL flood, no matter what we do now, so thinking in terms of taking advantage of the changes that we will have to cope with in the coming decades, is exactly how we should all be thinking. 

Cognitive Issues Decline in U.S.

“From 2008 to 2017, the percentage of adults ages 65 and older in the U.S. with serious cognitive issues dropped from 12.2% to 10%…” This was from a Canadian Study that if accurate would have saved about 1.1 million people in the US from the ravages of dementia. My father had Lewy Body, a form of Alzheimers. It’s awful, awful stuff. This is good news and let’s hope it holds up with additional studies and continues in that direction. 

My parents smoked and drank quite a bit for most of their lives. Let us hope that didn’t have anything to do with it. I’d be screwed. 

More seriously, this is a beautiful piece of writing about an aging mind.

Synthetic Biology

What is it? Not much, just “a transformational technology to feed the planet, conquer disease and combat pollution.” Nothing to see here. What? Here’s how they describe it. “Biological information is coded in DNA, so it can be programmed – with the goal of redesigning organisms for useful purposes.” And if that don’t send a chill up your spine, you might want to read it again. 

They say that synthetic biology “holds the promise of reprogramming biology to be more powerful and then mass-producing the turbocharged cells to increase food production, fight disease, generate energy, purify water and devour carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” They say it will grow exponentially, similar to computing power over the past decades. See. It’s not all “redesigning organisms for useful purposes,” in fact, “the potential is for civilization-scale flourishing, [That’s Drew Endy, “an evangelist” for synthetic biology and a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University] a world of abundance not scarcity, supporting a growing global population without destroying the planet.” 

In fact, the revolution is already here: “…the DEKALB seed business … is creating nitrogen-fixing microbes to apply to seeds, potentially reducing the use of chemical fertilizer.” And even better: “Cronos, a Canadian company, is using synthetic biology to develop cannabis edibles.” Seriously; that’s what it said.

Coffee? Tea? Assimilation?

If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see stars and satellites, a line of satellites. This was just about an hour ago. It was a steady stream of satellites – left to right – for at least a couple of minutes. What you see in the image probably replaced itself every 5 seconds or so. It was freaky. First thought: Aliens. This is it. I need to gather the family and head out into the woods. Then I thought of Elon Musk. Oh, yeah, Elon Musk is bringing 5G to all corners of the globe. I mean, I hope that’s what I saw. Because if it was aliens, they’re here, and I’ve just not got the news nor been lasered, probed or assimilated. I don’t think.

Either way, it was a rather unsettling sight to behold stepping out of my garage. Will this become commonplace, or did I just happen to be at a spot where the sun, which had recently set, was angled exactly and lit them perfectly? Weird. Welcome to the future, indeed. That being said, I’ve always wanted to be sucked up in one of those below-flying-saucer light beams, the blue ones. That’s got to be pretty cool. I mean, provided what was on the other end didn’t eat me. 

Can Sir, Ruiner, Please Leave Us Alone?

I found out tonight that another person I know and love dearly has cancer. What the fuck? What is this cancer shit? It’s like some alien blob that just invades a person and pops up wherever the fuck it wants to. Then it becomes, and I mean this in no disrespect, like the trouble with tribbles. It breeds like sex-addicted bunnies and it’s all over the place! Leave us alone, cancer! And it’s so indiscriminate! Wouldn’t it be sweet if it took out only the evil? The greedy, the killers, the racists and the rapists? That’s what cancer should actually be – some sort of cosmic punisher. Like someone would say, shit, I have cancer and you could then ask, what the fuck did you do that was truly evil? And they’d have to admit it and make amends, change their entire way of life, and then, and only then, would cancer go into remission. See, that would make sense about cancer. But the way it is now, cancer is its own evil. Preying on whomever – the most innocent, the average, the amazing, and also, sometimes, the evil. And there’s no remission based on the lives, actions, and intentions of the victims. Cancer is stupid and yet apparently smarter than we are. You folks want to believe in a devil? You got it. Cancer. Now we’ve got to find a real god to banish cancer to the depths of hell and beyond. To never rear its ugly head again. God bless you, PB.

Steve Griak

Steve Griak was a neighbor dad and a baseball coach. He and his family lived on the other side of the block down at one end. They had a modest house in a really nice neighborhood – so really not all that modest in the real world. Steve had a son, Mike, who was my age and one of my closest friends for much of my childhood. He also had a daughter, Susan, who I believe was my first kiss in a pile of leaves one fall. And he had another son, who arrived when we were twelve and so grew up entirely under my radar. And he had a lovely wife, Mary Jane. A beauty queen, if I’m not mistaken, and the quintessential mom. Her grilled cheese killed.

Me, Mike and Ben Johnson, a closer neighbor, just two doors down but a year younger, were the three amigos. We were all very different, but the proximity mattered, and we grew more alike, then mostly apart as adults. Mike connected me to Steve and Steve connected me to advertising; my first thought being, he gets to wear jeans to work.

Steve was an ad man, when it was cool to be an ad man, but he wasn’t Don Draper. More Bob Newhart/Robert Redford mix than Mannix. He was our baseball coach and a great one. He was patient and tireless and he rarely if ever, seemed even remotely perturbed. He made so many commercials that I remember seeing on TV as a kid and was reminded of those (and this great guy) with this video put together by Charlie Griak:

http://vimeo.com/110028821

 

Nice Windows

So there’s quite the kerfuffle about Pope Francis bagging a bit on the childless couples who act like their dogs and/or cats are even remotely decent substitutes. And I get that that is maybe a bit old school Catholic style. But I’m right there with him! I’m so tired of my childless friends talking about this new restaurant or that great band they saw. Screw that! How about you procreate – as we were all meant to do! That’s the only reason why you’re on this earth – the only real reason! Everything else is window dressing! That pottery you do? Whatever. The music you make? Fun, but ultimately pointless. All those great art shows? You wouldn’t miss them if you never saw them.

And yet the rest of us – the beaten and down-trodden who carry the future of the world on our shoulders and our credit cards – double-down, the women go through the amazing sacrifice of giving birth and the two of us (hopefully) feel the tectonic shift beneath our feet and realize that one now true truth: It’s no longer about me any more, it’s all about you. I live for someone else.

And you with your hip concerts and surprise trips to Costa Rica! You with your spotless houses and planned dinners! You with your facebook posts about all the kidless fun you’re having! You!

Have you ever cupped your hands to catch the puke of a little girl? Realized long after changing a diaper that you had poop beneath your fingernail? Have you ever listened to the banal goings on of a six-year-old orator on a car trip for 2.75 hours? NO, YOU HAVE NOT! And even if you have you could leave the little pains in the ass behind when you head home to your great new awesome HBO series binge-a-thon!

Yeah, I’m jealous. Really jealous. You got it made. I’m screwed. But you got to admit I got it right with the whole evolution thing. Crap out kids – the genetic coupling, halving yourself. Passing on the genes. Only the strong survive. That’s the only real reason we’re here. The rest is window dressing.

But I got to admit that your windows look awesome, god damn it.

06.17.14

Happy Birthday, Dad. You’d be 83. I graduated in 82 – not sure there’s a connection there, but I like numbers so I see something obliquely significant. The universe works on numbers – physics – so maybe that’s where we need to look to look beyond our insignificance.

83 years on this planet has to be a win. I know it is as a dedicated Sunday obituary reader. I see the numbers – the ages – the multitudes in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and now 90s, so I know that lasting into the land of the octogenarian is a win.

A win for you and a win for all of us. To love someone and then have them for so long is exactly what we live for. Early deaths are tears in our lives, our families and our psyches. They serve a purpose – they remind us of the fragility of it all, but they rip at our souls. Old deaths show purpose. They remind us of the reasons we fight to stay alive – not only for us but for the people we love, and more importantly, who love us.

We loved you – love you, but the distinction is profound. I’ve yet to pick up your ashes. I know they’re perfectly safe where they are and I really don’t know what on earth to do with them, despite our plans to do something earthly with them.

I’ll never forget the births of my children. That’s about as profound a moment as you can experience. Everything about me dissipated. It was now entirely about them. All selfish desires went from life to just plain selfish. But then again, it is about me and how I live my life for them. You did that for me. You lived your life to make certain we were provided for. Not that you didn’t live your life for you, you did! But underlying whatever you did was the knowledge that you had us and would provide for us and then make certain we lived our own lives.

Well done, old man! Happy Birthday! Your birth led to mine and your mind made certain I lived a good life. I am working – struggling – to do the same for my kids. It’s a struggle, you know/knew that. But it’s worth it. For living for yourself is one thing, living for others is a multitude of things.

Tell it like it is

My dad’s obit appeared today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and the Sioux City Journal and will also appear in the Lake County Chronicle on Thursday. What does that mean? Our little final story will hit three papers near to where he’s most recently lived and soon one where he really recently lived.

I’ve read the obituaries every Sunday for the last 25 years of my life. Since I was 25, I guess. I don’t know what got me into that habit, but the habit I got. It’s become a ritual for me because I find myself wanting to know who’s dying. And more than that, and here’s how most obituaries so fail, why. I was certain to mention what ailed my father before he died because I think it’s terribly important. An obituary without a cause of death is just a greeting card. With a cause of death, it’s a statement of fact.

We, the living, need to see what’s killing the rest of us – no matter how awful or what we think wrongly is embarrassing. It’s the truth that we need to recognize together. There’s no shame. Suicide or aneurysm or cancer or car accident. The truth of the matter is what matters. It’s what will touch us to be aware of what is killing the rest of us. Lewy Body Dementia isn’t pretty, but I’ve now heard from others that have loved ones that suffer similarly. That’s good. Because they find solace in the diagnosis, reason and love. And shared experience.

When I read those that do tell the whole truth, I feel alive. When I read those that don’t, I’m not sure exactly how to feel. Yes, I revel in a life well lived, but beyond that it’s what behind door number one. You guess. But you could never possibly figure it out.

Death by any means is noble – whether it is an old woman dying in her sleep at 95 surrounded by family or a young person suffering from mental illness who commits suicide. It’s entirely equal and important. Obituaries need to spell it out and allow us to respond as human beings. Even a suicide bomber. We should know that, see who they were and who loved them, and we’ll be that much closer to knowing what causes something so hideous, and maybe be there to affect such a decision in the future.

But that is extreme. What about the rest of us and all the diseases and accidents that take us out of this life? The more we know, the more we can understand and be prepared and aware. Cancer, stroke, old age, [insert that which killed your loved one here] – let the people know. Let them know what took this great person’s life so they, the rest of us, can be aware with the ones we love.

We hear statistics, trends, numbers, chances, but they’re just that. Not human beings, but numbers. Give the body a reason. Give the people a chance to understand and maybe respond. All death is noble, if we take the time to understand why. Life is what we’re living, death is not just a concept, it’s more true than you can ever be yet. Tell it like it is. Let that be your favor to the future.