Science is Still Missing the Mark

You know, it would be nice if there was something that could take on a few household chores. The weekends are too short to have to blow a few hours cleaning, don't you think?

But, unless this thing is a few feet high, it wouldn't have the space to clean up after my four dogs. Not at this time of the year.

Now, there is a version of the Roomba that can sense their owner's tension levels. The person straps a band around the head that transmits to the little robot the collected signals, and it then translates that into stress levels. If you're too stressed, it will go vacuum elsewhere. If you're relaxed, it will come up to you and wiggle around, mimicking a dog wanting attention. The point is that the robot is responding to emotion instead of commands.

All sorts of sci-fi movies are brought up in comparison to this little robot's newly acquired talent. Step 1, emotion recognition. Step 2, reflect back by mimicry those emotions, and Step 3, feel alive. The Terminator and good ol' Data didn't need human emotion to wreak havoc!

Let's face it. We're not good at interpreting our own human emotions, so who is going to program a computer to do it? Consider the results from this snippet, taken out of 2001: A Space Odyssey:
"Hal, switch to manual hibernation control."

"I can tell from your voice harmonics, Dave, that you're badly upset. Why don't you take a stress pill and get some rest?"

"I'm sorry, Dave, but in accordance with special subroutine C1435-dash-4, quote, When the crew are dead or incapacitated, the onboard computer must assume control, unquote. I must, therefore, overrule your authority, since you are not in any condition to exercise it intelligently."

"Hal," said Bowman, now speaking with an icy calm. "I am not incapacitated. Unless you obey my instructions, I shall be forced to disconnect you."
That sure doesn't sound like much fun. The machine is not able to discern that stress levels are sometimes needed in stressful situations.

Star Trek: TNG started out exploring emotion as the one thing that defined sentience in the case of Deana reacting strongly to the emotions of alien life forms, and Data trying to understand emotions without an emotion chip (programming). Mr. Spock's whole life was the monumental task of overcoming emotion.

Science is coming closer and closer to finding what it should have been seeking all along: consciousness. Still avoiding how a physical thing such as a brain can think and feel, they will soon have no choice but to recognize that life is consciousness.

Then, what will the Roomba do?


The Wrong End of the Stick

I Googled "bang head here" and found this image. It was an "a-ha" moment for me. Yep, that explains it.

It was a beautiful day, and a lot of the people in the office were out taking a smoke break at the same time that I couldn't resist the urge any longer. Sitting on a concrete wall, we all lined up like prisoners on a firing line. That fit, since most of them were in uniform, stationed on base for their current tour of duty. Reservists all, and I was damned glad they were pulling duty here instead of in Iraq.

I was sitting amongst them, in no particular order we sat, and wouldn't you know it, a bird landed in the branches of the tree we were all sitting under and let loose. The bird's contribution to the conversation landed right on my left shoulder, all white and creamy. I didn't even raise my eyebrows in surprise.

"Well now, ain't that just peachy," thought I as I reached up to wipe the contribution off with a finger, then bent down to wipe said finger off on the grass. I continued on with my cigarette and the conversation that didn't miss a beat. It doesn't matter that I got shit on, no one else let on that they noticed. Wanna know why? They were all secretly glad that the bird didn't shit on them. In other words, not all the shit that hits the fan is shared by all. Besides, what could you say, what could you do in a situation like that?

In the literal sense, it was nothing. A bird had to go, a natural thing, and that's all it was. That the bird just happened to be on a branch right above me was about as random as you can get, outdone only by the odds of winning a lottery. It wiped off clean and didn't leave a wet spot or stain (though I scrubbed the crap out of my shirt where it landed, no pun intended, in the bathroom when I went back inside). C'est la vie.

But maybe, just maybe, those birds get together and share their wisdom with each other and the one that hits the prize mark wins the fat worm. They have a purpose. They have a book they read to prepare, a how-to, and though they aim for the top of the head, a shoulder ain't half bad. Kudos to you, bird.

At least one of us had a good day.

Entrecard Users: Check out the post on Bad-Gals Radio, then check your Advertising Settings on your Entrecard dashboard!


Out in the Back Yard

The cup runneth over yet again!

I'd like to introduce you to my latest project: Out in the Back Yard.

As time has afforded me a lot of practice with my camera, and enjoying a bit of success with it, I felt it was time to create a blog filled with my favorite photos. I take hundreds of photos each time the camera comes out of the bag, and a lot of good photos end up sitting on my hard drive, rarely looked at again. The best are usually published here or in the newspaper I work for, but there are a lot more that fall into the category of "the best" that don't quite make it to publication.

There's photos of animals, wildlife, the sky, the landscape, people, flowers, sunsets, sunrises.... So much to share!

Hence, Out in the Back Yard. Take a look and let me know what you think, ok?


Loss of Newspapers No Big Deal?

Take a quick look at what happens when newspapers close:


It has an impact on every single one of us.


Try This Instead of Wasting Your Money

Everyone uses Google Adsense on their blogs. I do too. It may take me a year to nickel and dime my way to enough for a payout, but what the heck, that's a nickel and dime I wouldn't have otherwise, right?

All day today, I've seen some crazy ad along the lines of "...use this cheap, $10 way to whiten your teeth like my mother did" on every blog I visited today.

Your mother? Is that really a selling point? You think $10 is a deal? Here's the thing. You can easily, very easily, whiten your teeth for less than a dollar a month. I've been doing this, and it works very well.

Every time you go to brush, wet your toothbrush, dip it in baking soda, plop some toothpaste on top and brush as usual. That's it. Not only does it whiten your teeth, it improves your breath and the overall health of your whole mouth.

If you feel the need to spend outrageous amounts of money to have white teeth anyway, send your check to me after you find out for yourself just how well this works.

Empty Nest: Missing the Chickling

(Not able to think of what kind of picture would best suit what I'm going to talk about gave me a convenient excuse to use another photo of those purple flowers on the trees here. Hm, I guess if you're really imaginative, it fits; you know, spring, change, the branches all twisty turny...)

I'm ecstatic right now. I also don't want to keep moving to finish my list of chores, so I'll write about it to ease the guilty feeling. OK?

It was a crazy, insane week. The redundancy fits, trust me. The thing that made it crazy and insane was the little things going wrong behind the scenes, so to speak. I'm ecstatic because I solved one of those little things, and I Did a Good Job. Now, to be honest, I thought I solved this little problem last weekend, only to be rudely proven wrong on Monday. It's no wonder Mondays aren't anyone's favorite day of the week.

Oh, it was war! I have a cat that decided she no longer wanted to be an outside cat, and that succeeded in pushing her way into the house along side the clothes dryer vent tubing stuff, whatever it's called. I pulled the dryer out, climbed down behind there (a minor miracle in itself) and reattached the vent tubing stuff to the back of the dryer, thinking I did it really well, no problem.

Well, it was no problem, but only for a few hours when the cat decided to use her newly discovered personal doorway again. So, dryer out, go through the gymnastics of getting down behind it again, and Jimmy-rigged it up good. Or so I thought. When that didn't work, I just tried to find some way to block that hole until I could get to the store to buy heavy-duty stuff.

I'm ecstatic because I just installed that heavy-duty stuff and am now drying a load of laundry. Yeah! Solid metal won't be so easy for that cat to mess with. (Keep your fingers crossed for me.)

Karen, my friend here in Arkansas, asked me the other day what kinds of things I'm doing differently now that Tim (my son) has moved out and I'm Empty Nesting it. It's one of those things I've been avoiding thinking about, and it's not that difficult to do since Tim works nights and sleeps all day and wasn't very present here anyway, if you know what I mean.

So, here's the list of things that are different, now that my son has moved on and I'm living alone. These are in no particular order:
  1. The latest electric bill is just about half what it was.
  2. The grocery bill is a lot less than half of what it was.
  3. My diet has improved tremendously, meaning I'm no longer eating the junk that was always in the house before.
  4. I can now find things again. They are still there where I put them.
  5. I now only have to run the dishwasher once a week.
  6. The kitchen stays clean, and so does the rest of the house.

That's all the mundane, superficial crap. During this week's war with the cat, I would've asked Tim to do the climbing behind the dryer! All mother/son emotions aside, I mean, looking at the budgetary side of things, was that occasional assistance a good value? Let me see...

If I asked Tim, it's likely that he wouldn't remember I asked, or he'd just plain blow it off and blow it off on purpose. If I asked again, same thing, and same with 5 or 6 times of repeating myself. By then, I'm exploding with frustration and I'd tell him to do what I asked. He'd get angry that I told him instead of asking, and wouldn't do it anyway. Finally, I'd be so angry at him that I'd start threatening and saying all the things angry people say that they regret later, and he'd finally do what I asked. That's the way it was with Tim and I since he learned to walk, no matter what I tried to break that vicious cycle of ours. The good thing is, we both lived through it. And, I'd say that was the only major hitch in our mother/son relationship.

Yeah, I miss the little chickling. He turned out to be a good person and I'm proud of him. And he was great company, except for right when he woke up.

You see, the part of being alone that gets to me is when those physically intensive little emergencies pop up out of nowhere and smack me upside the head. I'm ecstatic because, age aside, I can do just fine fixing things all by myself. Even if I don't succeed at first, I just try again. No problem. It's a confidence issue.

Oh, last weekend, I put my all-time favorite CD into the stereo, cranked it up loud and sang and danced while vacuuming the house. I had the stereo so loud you couldn't hear the vacuum! Now, that was fun!

I'm sure glad the walls can't talk...


The Ups and Downs

I don't do so well on bridges.

I'm tickled pink about all the photos I took of that old bridge last week partly because I don't do so well on bridges.

The old bridge was a great subject. The history was alive in the bridge, along with its personality. And the more I thought about it, the more my imagination took off with the symbolism caught in the photos.

Like this photo. Though the bottom horizontal brace was lined up, the top one wasn't, and neither was the bridge I was standing on. All the rust pock marks seem to be waiting for the day when they finally overpower the huge bolts that hold it all together. The cross braces are a good image to portray the ups and downs, and the three-dimensional depth shows that there's always more than one way to go. Behind it all is the unknown expanse of the water - infinity - the source of all; the collective.

Looking straight down like that to take that photo was brave of me, considering that's the part about bridges I don't do so well on. The height above the running water is one long free fall ending with being swept away, caught in a current that could take you who knows where. Now that I have the photo, I can think it to death like I do most things, and perhaps I'll desensitize that fear right out of me. Think it will work?

I won't think anymore about the concept I just thought: Those cross braces as the ups and downs of life would be pretty easy to fall off if you should lose your balance. My luck, I'd probably belly flop into the water on top of being swept away. One or two belly flops in one lifetime teach you really quick to either dive right or don't dive at all. No, I don't do well on bridges at all. I'm not so keen about heights either.

It's strange that these two physically specific fears/phobias should have ramifications on more than just ladders and bathtubs. I've found lately that some of my jokes seem to flop pretty heavily. Bellyflop, get it? There are some that get my warped humor with no trouble, and I worry about them.

I may start to climb up the pecking order at times, lose interest in climbing higher (fear it?), then wonder why I can't seem to stretch pennies quite far enough. That doesn't bother me; I have little interest in money beyond what I need. But now my right wrist is seriously painful from trying to pinch pennies for so many years! Even if I don't splat when I flop, I hurt anyway. Bleh.

See? There's analogies and symbolism in everything. Now, please don't tell me you understand and are laughing. I don't want to have to worry about you too!


My Take on Entrecard's Proposed Ad System

You know, I'm not really happy about using blog space to react to what is going on that effects only half of my readership, but maybe there's a lesson here, so I have to speak my mind on this issue. If you're not an Entrecard member, feel free to skip this post.

I've already had to pare back my time dropping and visiting with the people I met through Entrecard. It's on the top of my to-do list for the weekends! I'm subscribed to the Entrecard blog, but rarely read the emails. But yesterday and today, I ran into so many blogs that are choosing to leave Entrecard because of some half-baked attempt to monetize the whole system. I felt like all of my friends are moving away and I'll never see them again!

So, upset that everyone is upset, I decided to put together my thoughts and respond on the Entrecard blog. (Better late than never, since I ended up leaving the 201st comment.) What I posted is below, and I do not claim these ideas as my own. This conversation has happened so many different times in the Entrecard forums that what I now think is a conglomeration of all the good ideas from members that I read saying the same things time and time again. I just have half a hope that maybe, just maybe, Graham won't ignore me too.
With this the 201st comment, I hope you didn’t run out of gas to read even more.

I understand your need to make money, don’t we all need that?, but I think that this scheme is more for making you money than us, despite your delivery message. YOU are the one getting the bucks for the sold ad spaces and leaving publishers with relatively meaningless credits to sell. Not only that, you are taking away 50 percent of the ability to earn those credits by sharing ad space!

Sure, outside advertisers is what is needed to monetize the system, but what about right here on the Entrecard site? Isn’t how many thousands of eyes enough to sell space for?

If by chance that this system works, it will go nowhere unless there is a sizeable advertising budget behind advertising ad space! Worst case scenario, you could end up in the shitter big time should you fail to grow the ad base while buying back all these credits you say you will buy back from us.

Another wrinkle in the process is just how interested in one 24 hour ad will advertisers be interested in?

Instead of sharing the same ad space and diluting the community that is Entrecard, why not code a double widget? Why not code many different widgets for all layouts and all options? This could include extra spaces for Entrecard members’ ads as well. This has been suggested before, and it’s something worth considering.

I ruffled quite a bit about this change. It feels like my choices are fixing to be taken away, and that pisses me off. Sure, I like Entrecard and its community. I’ve met quite a few people that I never would have. And that is the sole reason I remain a member.

But, you are risking something even greater here, and that is the whole she-bang. High rates of traffic that does not translate into eyes staying long enough to see, let alone be interested in, the content or the ads already defeats the purpose of monetization. By instituting this half-baked money-making scheme on top of that fact can only fail. Your safest bet is to sell advertising throughout the Entrecard sites and leave the bloggers alone.

Graham, Entrecard is what it is. You have brought countless people together and that is no small feat. Work with what you have instead of fighting it. It’s a good thing that could last - if you let it.

Life in Small Town Arkansas

Years ago, I lived in Denver and loved it. I rented a house not two blocks from some famous football player's nightclub (the ceilings were ridiculously low, I imagined it was to make himself look really big when he walked in) and another bar on the corner. I worked in downtown Denver, right next to a bank that sponsored lunch time concerts on the square during the summer. Life seemed slow and sprawling and new, and that's the way it was in Denver back then.

Much can be gleaned of the timbre of a town or city by its old buildings and structures. Marble stairs with worn footpaths, the patiently piled stone foundations, and solid pillars and sculpting tell much of the founders' belief in the lasting strength of their community. History is alive in those old structures, and with a little imagination, it's not difficult to sense the culture and the stream of consciousness that brought the community to today.

That feeling of timelessness is a given in the northeastern states, but in Denver, there was none. Houses were built on concrete slabs with ceilings painted the same color as the walls. The buildings downtown were the same stark and impersonal towers found in NY City, though they did cleanly gleam in the sunlight. Only with a drive into the Rockies could history be found in old mining towns sometimes built into the sides of mountains.

Halfway between the northeast and the Rocky Mountains is Arkansas, with all its vastness and open beauty. Arkansas has everything from deltas to mountains, lakes and rivers; it's far enough south to tame the winter, far enough north to have winter, and a summer that isn't unbearably hot. Everything grows here. Everything is big here. Everything grows big here.

Except for the small towns, that is. It's not unusual to see a welcome sign with a population count of 348. I saw one with only 89 residents. Yes, everyone knows everyone because everyone was born there and chose to live out their lives there. Kids may leave to go to college, and some do decide to move elsewhere, but a lot return home.

The sense of community is astounding in these small towns. As close and tight knit as they are, they are not closed or unwelcoming. You can bet the natives know just as much about those that chose to move there as they do of their own relatives. It may take awhile, but not long, for the new residents to learn the ways of what it means to be home and fit right in.

This sense of community is not separate from the local city councils as governments tend to be. Sometimes, elections for mayor and aldermen can get a bit unruly, but what remains at the heart of all is the welfare of the town. City council meetings are always done "by the book," yet with an openness that welcomes the ideas and thoughts of the residents.

I watched while one town debated the closing of a railroad crossing that was little more than gravel piled between the rails and barely crossable, yet they kept it open for the sake of an elderly gentleman with a sickly wife that needed the quicker access to the highway. Projects often come together despite limited monies available because of the people who step up to the plate and volunteer their time and expertise. Whole parks and fire departments came to be because the townspeople built it themselves.

Ten years ago, a major tornado ripped through one of these small towns. Three people died in that tornado, and the town built a memorial in the park with their names inscribed. That tornado destroyed the public school, with the grounds evacuated just minutes before the building where a dance had started was shredded. The school was not only rebuilt, but updated and expanded. The photo above is the playground behind the on-campus daycare center at that school, taken last week.

There may be miles between homes, but it's nothing for someone to stop and gather up the horses or cattle that escaped their fencing before continuing the drive to work. Invitations to dinner are common while every random meet is met with a handshake or hug and a tall glass of iced tea. Neighbors watch out for neighbors, drivers wave to passing drivers, always with a big smile and an exuberant "Hi!"

Life is quiet, simple and safe here. For the first time in my life, I have experienced the community that is lost in the anonymity of big cities where it is more likely to feel very alone in a crowd. I may be living alone now, but I am a part of the neighborhood and far from lonely.

It's a wonderful feeling.


Old Bridge Goes Unused

This old bridge was built back in the late 1800's, spanning the Little Red River to join two halves of a small town here in Arkansas. It is protected by the Historical Society, which provides some funding for its upkeep. The little town's budget barely covers painting the lines on the roads and filling potholes, so it turned to the county and state for help with the major work now needed before it can be reopened.

A few years ago, a grant paid for the redecking of the bridge, and it was opened for use, only to be shut down again when new standards of safety came out after the collapse of the huge highway bridge in Minneapolis. (Thanks Judy!)

Just downriver from the closed bridge is a train bridge, built around the same time. Both bridges rotate to allow passage of large ships that no longer travel the Little Red River.

A closeup of the turning mechanism illustrates the incredible ingenuity and strength of the bridge's engineering. Maintained by the railroad, this bridge has never been shut down.

The personality of this one-lane bridge was as startling as the solid feel under foot. That the bride is needed is an understatement for the little town it connects together, yet it is only open to foot traffic. The town's mayor has tried everything to get the county to do the necessary work to bring it up to the new safety standards and is now collecting signatures on a petition to the county, state and Historical Society as the last resort.

There is a unique beauty to this old bridge that has stood strongly against time. That it stands unused is an insult.


Greed vs Altruism

It must cause some insurmountable fear, a fear so deep that it doesn't fall far from terror. It may be perceived as a threat, a dense threat as thick as mist to be at the heart of so many disagreements and arguments. Or maybe it's a major embarrassment or shame. At the least, it must be very, very difficult to do, requiring a lot of learning and practice and expertise; so much so that not many take on the task.

What am I talking about?

Put plain and simply, I'm talking about helping. I'm talking about giving. I'm talking about altruistic service to others. I'm talking about doing instead of talking about helping others.

This has become such a dirty thing, and it astounds me to no end. It's so hypocritical that it goes beyond belief. How in the hell can some people blow their horns so loudly about being good Christians yet yell just as loudly when the thought of actually helping someone presents itself?

Now, the noise is at a fever pitch. The government is going to step in and try to help people, though in ways that might prove to be misguided and useless. Instead of coming up with viable alternatives, the only noise heard is "that will create a larger government," or "people will become dependent" or even more vague, "that is throwing good money after bad."

From what I can see, the majority of the people yelling about the attempts to salvage what's left of the country are the ones least affected by the economic downturn. They aren't the ones drawing unemployment with little hope of finding a job. They aren't the ones losing their homes along with their jobs to now stand in line for food stamps. They aren't the ones that clean toilets, mop floors, make parts, package lunch meat or take phone orders, drive a truck or fill the orders in a warehouse.

No, the people yelling "foul!" right now are the ones who are hanging onto every last penny, and with a death grip. They aren't far from joining the rest of us in the soup line, and their money is their only lifeline.

And therein lies the problem. Since when is the only gauge of success how much freaking money you have? It's that attachment to the monetary, the mundane, that is at the heart of this mess, and that's exactly what will keep drawing it out a lot longer than it has to. Your attachment to the meaninglessness of life is dooming the whole planet!

Since when does greed override altruism? Is that what you call being a good person?

The photo of the Bartlet pear tree above is one I took today. Those trees are everywhere here, bringing the countryside alive with all those white flowers. It symbolizes a purity, a washing away of the gray of winter, to herald in the colors soon to come.


One Small Change

What a gorgeous day today! Though more than a few people have written their displeasure about the change to daylight saving time, I am glad that it is here. It is another long-awaited change that signals the beginning of spring. To celebrate, I headed outside and took over 100 photos (thank the stars for digital cameras!).

The peepers are out making their peeping noises once the sun goes down nowadays, and since I have the perfect place for them on my land, I am treated to their sound nightly. It's to the point now where they are so loud that I can't talk on the phone while they are singing, making it impossible to hear. This year, the cacophony is spliced with the deep sounds of large frogs too. But, I've never, ever seen what's behind all that noise.

With camera in hand, I headed out to see if maybe, just maybe I could catch one of those noise-makers. Saki and Hiro seemed to thrill in the hunt for the unseen as well. The photo above is a good example of Saki's patience and concentration while he looks for movement in the water. Alas, no luck. None of us spotted a frog.
Jake couldn't be bothered with something as trivial as looking for frogs. He knows when I have the camera out too, and refused to look at me when he was out in the open. Nope. Not Jake. That look in his eye says it all. "When you quit pointing that thing at me, I'll come out, ok?" I'd lower the camera, and he'd come out into the clear. I'd raise it to snap a shot, and he'd dive behind weeds again. OK, weeds it is, Jake!
The day ended with an amazing sunset. The western sky was on fire. All along, the dogs were capering around doing dog things and the horse was walking around on his usual quest of finding something green. When I sat on the back stairs to take this photo, the horse was licking the salt block right next to me, and the dogs were laying at my feet. It was like everyone stopped to pause for this wondrous sight.

Another cycle ended. Another change happened. Life is filled with constant changes. The trick is to embrace them all.


Geese in Action


One of the things on today's to-do list was replenishing my store of hay for Odin. In a few short weeks, the growing season will start here and hay will no longer be needed. So, what I planned to do was head to the feed store and bring home a few bales at a time since everyone has run out of round bales. When I got to the feed store, it was closed. On to Plan B.

So, out comes the cell phone and I call this old man I know that has made himself quite a good living off of growing and selling top-notch hay. I fed this stuff last winter, and it was too top-notch. My horse became fat, too fat, dining on this caviar hay. This year, to avoid that outrageous weight gain, I bought less than stellar hay, and Odin did just fine on it. Of course when I ran out of hay, so did the source. Thankfully, this old man I know had square bales left, and I headed over to his farm to get enough to last me until the grass grows.

The drive over there is quite a little trip since this old guy's farm is way off the beaten path. I saw a pasture filled with buffalo, the next pasture filled with Brahma, and not much farther down the road, a pasture filled with miniature horses. Then I came up on a pickup truck slowly following two men riding horses down the road.

When I finally made it to the farm, there is this huge pond with geese just standing around. Since the old guy was busy with the men who came out to fix some tires on one of his flatbed trailers, I asked if I could go take some photos until he finished up.

I pulled up to the pond and found these two geese fighting away, making one hell of a ruckus. I was so excited that I whipped my camera out of its bag while opening the truck door. But, I didn't think to look down at the ground, I just assumed it was there; and when I stepped out of the truck in the hurry I was in, my foot landed on a large piece of gravel, my ankle twisted and down I went. (In self-defense, this gravel was of chunks the size of my feet, and it's definitely not made for walking on.) I didn't drop my camera, but it hit the ground too, and I flipped out about that. I checked it out good before I noticed that I had skinned the heel off my left hand and could feel that the same thing had happened to my left knee and shin.

The geese didn't care. But, I only managed to get the top photo of the two fighting before they quit and split off into pairs. The old man told me that he put out those barrels for the geese to nest in. It's so windy, he said, that anything they drag there to build a nest just blows away, and the barrels take care of that. He also said that I missed the flock of swan that had stopped long enough to hatch and raise some babies before they headed north.

A day late and a dollar short, that's me. On the drive home, I pondered what I saw and have to wonder why Mother Goose is so popular in children's stories. Those geese today didn't seem all that warm, fuzzy and cuddly!  And, in the same place I passed them, there's the two men riding the horses back the other way, only this time there's two pickups and both were leading two more horses.

I started feeling my minor injuries when I got home and had to unload the hay that I bought. Ouch!

Bird of a Different Feather

I am amazed by the wildlife here in Arkansas. Everything seems larger here, to the point of extreme. There is never just a breeze, but wind strong enough for the weather service to issue lake wind advisories. It doesn't just rain, it pours, and with it comes the flood warnings. Most of the time, thankfully, it's just sunny, and clouds for an entire day are rare. It's an amazing place!

I've seen these birds only a few times. They are huge. The first time I saw one, I was driving in my truck, and the big, blue bird had its neck extended. By my estimation, the top of its head probably made the bird as tall as me!

I saw this one in my yard when I opened the back door to let the dogs out one morning this week. It's head was up and stayed up until it saw the dogs, then it scrunched its head down and froze. I grabbed my camera and stuck my head out the back door just in time to snap this shot. Once the dogs headed out front and away, the bird took off. With the bird close to 200 feet away and my camera zoomed to the max, I wasn't able to find the bird in the viewfinder as it flew off. The wingspan looked to be about 10 feet!



Living Ethics: Tracing it Back to When it Began

Lost in thought, trying to solidify the ideas floating in my head about my next blog post, hanging my freshly laundered clothes in the closet, I stepped back and landed a heel right on my German Shepherd's foot. Not wanting to put my full weight on the poor dog's foot, I tried to catch my balance by stepping back with the other foot, which landed on the dog's other foot. Still thinking of the poor dog's feet, I fell forward and jammed a thumb on the closet door, breaking the fingernail past the quick. As the throbbing subsided, new sensations of never before exposed skin took over. There it was, the one thing that would tie all my various thoughts together in one unifying theme: Confusion.

I realized that there were more than a few things I just don't understand. Big things, little things, things that confused me. This is good to articulate, and helps me to understand why it is that I had not been able to settle on a focus or point from which to discuss my ideas. Yes, it's confusion, and that is the point, the focus. Confusion. Contradictions. Cognitive dissonance. Leaps of faith as springboards to the confusion, contradictions and cognitive dissonance.

When I was young, I would head outside and wander through fields and woods and climb up the mountain, following the power lines. That swath cut through the forest emphasized the terrain almost like the rumpled blanket on my bed with its peaks and crevasses. I would feel the breeze on my cheeks, cooling the sun's warmth, feel my hair blow back as though running while feeling the stones and dirt under my bare feet as I stood still. Even at a young age, I felt life, all of it alive all around me. This life was in harsh, stark contrast to the priest in Sunday masses insisting that we are, all of us, born sinners. Was it a sin to feel life? That was the only thing I knew of that no one else had ever mentioned, so I deduced no one else had ever done. I had no way of knowing if it was right or wrong, so I never mentioned it. A kid with a mother like mine learns early on not to do wrong or risk another whipping, so I kept it to myself, just in case it was wrong. Yes, for awhile, I wondered if it was a sin to feel, to become one with life.

Looking down from the organ loft onto the tops of the heads of my fellow parishioners, I could see them nod their heads in agreement. They agreed with the priest that they were sinners, and I could imagine all the horrible things they all had done. They must've all hit people, yelled at them, angered about one slight or another, cheated or stole, never smiled, never hugged their children, ate meat on Friday, or, heaven forbid, they had sex without being married. Those were the things I knew were wrong, some to be recategorized later in life. To me, it was a sin that all the women there felt that going to church on Sunday was an excuse to wear all of the perfume they owned. There is no doubt that it is wrong when you do something that causes someone else misery, and that perfume made me deathly sick every Sunday.

That was my thinking back then, and it hasn't changed much now. It is wrong when you do something that causes someone else pain and misery. It is your choice, your responsibility, your thinking that is behind that wrongdoing. There is no one and nothing else behind your wrongdoing but you.

Ah, you say, "but the Devil made me do it." Think about that too. The first and about the only place I ever heard any mention of a Devil was in church! That's the same place I was told I was born a sinner. Countless Sundays watching those heads nod away, and not a bit of it had a ring of truth to it. Isn't it wrong to lie? You all may be sinners, but I'm not! I can feel life! I can feel my heart about to explode with the joy of watching a bird fly against the wind. I can touch the cheek of a dog and see the comfort reflected in its eyes that is beautiful. I can look at a newborn baby and know without doubt, know deep in my heart that there is no wrong, no sin there!

The exposed skin under the broken thumbnail is an allegory for the head in the sand, hidden from life, sheltered from truth. Slow the thinking down long enough to grab on and follow it through. Find the grave contradictions and refuse to take those huge, unfathomable leaps of faith. The truth is never confusing.

Sorry, Padre. I am no sinner. I love life, and it is no sin. It is a sin that so many people believe that they are sinners.