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The Little I know About Brexit

 

Northern Ireland is inconveniently perched in the upper corner of the island of Ireland. It is a a part of the  UK.

The Republic of Ireland is a member state to the EU, independent of the UK.

Formerly the two Irelands were in a centuries long, bloody civil war. In 1998 the war was ended and the island had been at peace until Brexit came along.

During the peace, Ireland’s border is simply the coast of the Irish sea.  There has been no hard border for Northern Ireland since the peace was established.

But now the UK is attempting to leave the EU. There will be different economies and different rules for both states on the same island.

In theory The Republic of Ireland should abide by EU rules while the UK goes its own way. However  in the case of rules of customs and finance those rules must be melded into something agreeable to all parties.

That’s where we are at now and there is no agreement  and none in sight.  Politicians are looking after their own best interests.

My fear is if we reestablish a hard border to separate these two states there is a real risk of a renewal of the violence. Already one journalist has been murdered in a sectarian riot touched off by the newIRA.

for further Brexit  rants find me on Twitter @KurtSurvance

Life

We know quite a bit about the origins of the universe, the Big Bang. We know more about the first milliseconds after the event than we do of the billions of years that followed. We know nothing of any previous events if there were any. In the phenomenal universe we know about galaxies, solar systems, planets, comets and other objects rattling through the cosmos.

What we don’t know much about is Life itself. Where does it come from? With all of our scientific knowledge why can’t we create living matter in our laboratories?  We can see the chemistry of life at work but we cannot create life.

As far as we know, life can only be created by life, much as a fire might be built but it will not burn until  a burning fire touches it.

Life  hovers above the phenomenal world in a way that seems magical. It is a mysterious process that is unknown and perhaps unknowable.

An easier question is  “How did life come to this planet?”  Many theories have been advanced but to my knowledge the scientific community has not settled on a definitive  answer.

We know that this planet is constantly being bombarded by particles of ice and  the other jetsam of comets containing  viruses.  It is an unproved theory that these particles brought Life to our barren planet, but in the grand scheme it doesn’t matter. Even if it would be found to be true, the next question would  still have to be “How do these particles acquire their payload of life? The important question is”  what or where is the ultimate source of life?”

Yet Life is commonplace. Billions of lives are being created even as you read this.  Many of these lives are being created and destroyed by your own body.

Life is fleeting, and sometimes fragile. For every birth there is a death. A life is easy to destroy but it takes something living to create a another life.

I can’t  however,  answer any of the questions I have asked.

 

A Dubious Hero

Cousin Curt called today to see how I was doing. It is incredible that he and his brothers still idolize me. Curt remembers when I was teaching him to shoot.  We were walking across a bridge above a small creek near Wellington Ohio and saw a water moccasin swimming  toward us. I fired at the snake at about 30 feet and took his head off. It was just a very lucky shot on a moving target but Curt remembers it to this day. To him I am still a great marksman. If memory serves, that was the last time I ever fired a rifle.  That was almost 50 years ago.

I was  also the first person who lifted him onto a motorcycle.  I ran alongside of him until he got his balance. Now he remembers me as a great motorcycle racer. I did race on dirt tracks for a season but I was not very good at it. I never raced against him because of our age difference.  I left home after that season and never raced again.

Curt and most of his brothers became very skilled Motorcycle racers, far, far better than I was. Still, they think of me as an expert.

Although I don’t deserve the praise I still like to know that they remember me.

Democracy in America

Hugo,

I read your article on Twitter.  I think you have a grasp of the weak points in the US Constitution and the  difficulty of fixing them. You understand the problems of governing 50 semi-independent countries. (For example, laws of Louisiana are still based on the Napoleonic Code. Others come from English Common Law. There might well be laws in New York based on the laws of the Netherlands. I don’t know.) These state laws are supposed to be subject to federal laws, but the bloodiest war that America ever fought was our civil war. It was fought over State’s Rights versus federal laws that did not allow individual states to withdraw from the United States.

Most people think that the war was fought to free the slaves but that was not the primary issue. While the anti-slavery people certainly fuelled the war fever, Abraham Lincoln hoped to entice the slave states to come back into the Union voluntarily, so he did not say anything about slavery until late in the war, after it was made clear that the army of the Rebel states was beaten. He passed the Emancipation Proclamation against stiff resistance from both sides.

Slavery was abolished, but in name only. We  now call it racism and our current politicians play race politics.

After the war, African-Americans were free but they still had to work under harsh conditions to feed their families.  It was not too much better than slavery.

In our time things have improved somewhat for African-Americans but we still see in this last election the blatant attempts to disenfranchise African-American voters.  This is common in the former slave states but it can happen anywhere in the US.

If you are interested, I think the best book critiquing  the US Constitution was Democracy in America written by a French national, Alexis de Tocqueville, in 1835.

The first and second volumes are available at Amazon Kindle, free. The original is  in French but it has been translated to English and most European languages.

Kurt

No Place For Old Men

I wrote this blog entry several months ago as a start on a new book. Since then I find that I may not live to finish another book.  I decided to put it in the blog rather than among the my more static writings. I may create other blog posts in the same vein .

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After a certain age a man should not sit by a winter fire casually reading William Butler Yeats poems. Some of his poems are relatively safe but some are not. It is possible that after reading Sailing to Byzantium in a melancholic mood or on a dark, wet December night some old men might go out and jump off a bridge.

I don’t know anyone who actually did that but I am sure that many old men have thought about it. For myself I would never consider jumping off of a bridge because I am afraid of heights. That also eliminates the possibility of me jumping out of a high window. I also have objections to firearms and  poisons.  It may be that I am destined to melt away unnoticed like a post-Christmas snow man.

But here I am an old man. It is a cold and dark December night and I am reading Yeats again. How about this: Consume my heart away; sick with desire and fastened to a dying animal…

Yeats lays it on pretty thick, perhaps because he had a lifelong crush on a beautiful woman who preferred a hero  of the Easter Rebellion. her name was Maud Gonn. She liked Yeats’s poetry but that was about it.  He never got to first base with  her as far as carnal knowledge went.

For over fifty years Yeats wrote countless poems about her and to her.  Some of them were very good poems but that did not make any difference to Maud.  She had her own criteria for prospective lovers or husbands.  Yeats did not fulfill her requirements and that was that.

In my younger days I moped my way through several cases of unrequited love and I know how Yeats must have felt. I have my moments but normally my life is not as sad as a Yeats poem .

I manage to remain cheerful despite the many valid reasons I have to be grumpy. I have always had a good sense of humor about life and living that has pulled me out  of countless depressions.   I also have the help of a tiny pill I take at bedtime that is supposed to elevate my mood.

I am not sure how much the tiny pill helps but the doctor slipped it in when he diagnosed me with Alzheimer’s some years ago. At the time I was still pretty upbeat because I didn’t believe him, but now maybe I do.  Maybe the tiny pill is all that holds me together now. I don’t think so but I am not willing to push my luck and stop taking the pill.

I don’t  have any idea why the doctor has me taking the pill just before I go to  bed.  Who cares about mood elevation when they are sleeping?

After my diagnosis for Alzheimer’s I decided I wanted to write a book of fiction to take my mind off the Alzheimer’s and to prove that I could still write.   I wrote the book. It was not not much more than a short story but I liked it. I wanted to write another book but I didn’t really want to write a book like this one,  at least not now.

If you want to invest ninety nine cents you can find that other book on Amazon.  Search for Kurt Survance. The title is A Season in Hell. If you don’t want to buy it you can read it by going to the home page.

I have been looking for another fiction story I would  like to write but so far I have not found the one I want. It’s been weeks of searching and time is especially important to me for obvious reasons. The poet Andrew Marvell has a phrase I apply to my situation:

… at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before me lies
Deserts of vast eternity.

 brrrr!…. Deserts of vast eternity… I think I will have to stop weaving poetry into my narrative.

I have started to write down  my thoughts and memories frequently just so it would keep me writing while I search for the next book I want to write. It might serve as a backup if I never find the book I want to write.

A Man Who Loved Women

Like Yeats, I am another man who loved women. I was a bachelor for fifty eight years before I married. Between the ages of  sixteen and fifty eight I had a lot of  girlfriends.  Three or four of them were serious. We spent a long time together. They all  eventually dumped me for various reasons, most of the breakups  were because I did not want to get married . My wife is the only one who didn’t dump me.

The rest of my lovers were short term and the relationship was driven by libido on both our parts. Once the fire went out we went our separate ways. No recriminations, no pain, but still occasional memories come unbidden into my dreams. Since my marriage I have only one lover, my wife. in my dreams I have several more.

But my interest in women is not all about sex.  I prefer conversation with women much more than with men.  As Tolstoy  put it: Nothing is so necessary for a young man as the company of intelligent women. I no longer qualify as a young man, but I think  it is true for old men as well.

Out With The Old

Today is  Christmas Eve. It is still light outside but we are housebound by freezing rain and black ice. We are happy with that.  We have a fireplace and plenty of wood.

My wife has bought new bookcases for Christmas. This required a review of all of my books to see what I want to keep.

I think a purge like this will not be done again. Cleaning up a lifetime of books, sifting through my life, discarding my thoughts from earlier times…. It is a difficult operation. My studies, my follies, the histories of my thoughts will be thrown into cardboard boxes.  Books I have written, others written by friends, some books I don’t remember, some I haven’t read and some I have read many times, these few  will  be saved.

It seems to me that this is something that should be done after a funeral but the new shelves will not wait and I am in no hurry.

The End of Civilization  as we Know It.

I wish I had been a little younger when the world came apart. Maybe then I would have played a part in it.  As it is, I am limited to looking over shoulders on a daily basis to see what is happening out in the circus we call the world. Getting the news is not that easy because I haven’t had a television for several decades.

TV

It is amazing how your life changes when you throw your television out the window.  For one thing, when you go into public places where they have many televisions you can entertain yourself by watching the watchers.  Airports are my favorite places.  You can see dozens of people sitting with their heads inclined at the same angle transfixed by the overhead TV’s around them .  They look like zombies straight from the film The Body Snatchers.

Regrets, I have a Few

My regrets are rooted in my  two primary  faults of character: Indolence and  Cowardice. I feel that I didn’t make full use of my potential. But nothing  can change the past.

At the age of forty I took  my first real job.  I liked my boss but never got used to not being the boss.  I spent a few years at it but then went back to my one man consultancy. It was really a cop-out but it paid the bills and allowed me to dabble in all sorts of other  things.

Music

If there is any magic in this world I think it must be in the music. Without music life might be unbearable. Music takes my heart in it’s hands and stirs my deepest emotions. It makes this journey through life worth the effort.  One of the few things  I like about  our brave new world is Youtube.

Religion

Except for a short period in my childhood when my mother thought we should all go to church, we children were not plagued by religion.  However during this period she made me and my siblings trudge to a nearby church on Sundays to listen to a fiery Pentecostal preacher who scared the bejesus out of us with hellfire and brimstone.

I, along with my siblings were even sent to a church camp one summer up on Lake Erie.  The camp was all about sending money to missionaries, singing hymns and eating s’mores by the fire.

Returning missionaries told us about their good works.  One had spent considerable time translating English hymns to Vietnamese. We sang a lot of his translations.  After sixty years I can still sing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms in Vietnamese.

We moved away from that town and I have not been in any church since then except for two occasions.

In the first case, I was following a short lived ambition to race motorcycles on dirt tracks. I was driving to the races with another motorcycle idiot like me.   He was also a religious idiot and needed to stop at a Catholic church to confess his sins and pray that he would not be mangled in a multibike pile up when he raced.  I went inside the church with him but I neither confessed nor prayed.  However both of us crashed during the race.  Neither of us were hurt very much. He said ‘ next time you should stay in the in the truck while I go in and pray’.

The second and last time I was in a church was at my sister’s wedding.  She was marrying a guy I absolutely despised.  I was not in a good mood and was looking for a way to disappear unobserved. When the time came for him to put the ring on her finger, he dropped it.  It was rolling in a wide circle. He, the preacher and my sister were on their hands and knees scrambling to stop it before it went down the heat register that it was heading for. During the panic I slipped out and went to  the reception before anyone else was there.  I drank champagne until the others arrived. My sister was wearing the ring and I was pleasantly drunk.

However I do think about religion sometimes. I don’t know about God himself ( I don’t think anybody does, no matter what they say) but I don’t like religions.They have nothing to do with a god. They are the business end of spirituality. I dislike the whole idea of religions, disciples, priests, angels, heaven, hell, and  especially, Faith . I am appalled that so many people would spend immense amounts of time and money to be assured, without a scrap of evidence that there is a heavenly life after death. But when their time comes I don’t think they will be disappointed.  I think they will just be dead, saints and sinners alike.

If you haven’t already  thrown this book in the garbage and opened your bible we can continue on another subject.

 Alzheimer’s  and  Other Inconveniences

It should come as no surprise that I don’t like Alzheimer’s , but the worst is that it will be harder on my wife than on me. They are talking about a cure or a drug that might slow down the progress of the disease. However I think if it works at all it will be still be too late for me.

None of my current writing could have been done without word processors and especially spell checkers. As a kid I had won many spelling bees.  As an old man I can barely  spell my own name.

In a similar but more painful situation  Lou Gehrig, the Yankee baseball legend was diagnosed with what today we commonly call Lou Gehrig disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) (ALS). This disease causes the  voluntary  muscles  to simply stop working, one by one.

However there is a miracle attached to ALS. All of us terminals  appreciate miracles, but unfortunately there is no corresponding miracle for Alzheimer’s .

The ALS miracle is Stephan Hawking. Most people who contract ALS die within five years after the diagnosis. Mr Hawkins was diagnosed at the age of twenty one.  He passed away at the age of seventy two after a life time of being the most intelligent man alive.

He was the most courageous man I knew of. He drove  around in a wheel chair like device that allowed him to tap out messages and even long books,with his single remaining voluntary muscle, the one that controlled his little finger,

I went to a lecture of his a few years ago . It was an exercise in patience and humility.   Afterwards he took questions and replied to  them.  Sometimes it took five minutes for him to reply  to the question.  During the pause the entire audience was silent until the reply came. Near the end of the lecture a woman shouted ‘I love you Stephan ‘ He replied ‘Thank You’.  It was very quick response because he had pre-recorded that phrase and used it a lot.

Lou Gehrig ended his farewell speech in Yankee Stadium with these words ‘ You have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.‘  His entire speech is posted on the wall of the room in the hospital where they counsel people like me with a terminal condition. I went there once  then decided I would counsel myself.

For the record, I do not consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth and I don’t think that people will ever call Alzheimer’s the Kurt Survance Disease because I have never slammed a home run out of Yankee Stadium.

 

The Magic in the Machine

We know a lot of things about the first few milliseconds after the big bang when the elements were created and and galaxies were  formed and flung across the nothingness. The galaxies are still moving and all of them are flying away from all the other other galaxies, expanding the universe.

Tiny things like planets came later and they were on fire. They  cooled down eventually and some of these wandering globs of what is called matter solidified.

Then something inexplicable happened. It came to be called “life ” and seemed to be be different from every thing else. While the rest of creation is still changing it is not evolving  like organic life evolves. That is where life and death come in. For all living matter life is a process of organization and death is a process of dissolution.

Keep in mind that I used the word “creation” but that does not imply that there was a creator. That argument comes much later in the story and we won’t tackle it here.

Scientists  have done a good job of charting  the chemistry of these organizations and dissolutions but,and this is the important part, they still don’t know where life comes from.  They have reproduced the same chemistry found in living matter but have not produced life.  the chemical elements do not burst into the flame of life no matter what we do.

After all these attempts we find that life can come only from life itself. The problem comes clear. How did the seeds of life get to this planet?

Astronomer  Fred Hoyle coined the term “Big Bang”  as a term of derision. He believed that the  universe was in an unchanging steady state. Advances in astronomical science proved him wrong,  Hoyle however advanced an  answer to the question “Where did life come from?”  He believed that it came from space in the form of viruses carried by  the ice in the millions of comets that orbit our solar system.

It is true that these bits of stardust rain down on us perpetually but  current thought dismisses this answer for a number of technical reasons.

Even if his answer were correct Hoyle would have missed the point. The question would now become  “Where do these particles get their payload of life.” There is no end to that descending chain of thought

Alzheimer’s Is No Place for Sissies

About a year ago the neurologist told me I had Alzheimer’s. I had a hard time believing that because I suppose I didn’t want to believe it. I was healthy and strong with just a few indications affecting short-term memory, normal for a man of seventy.  My hair had not even turned gray.

However, as time progressed I accepted the diagnosis. At this time Alzheimer’s is more a nuisance than a problem but of course it will get worse.  At this time there is no cure and none is likely to be found in the time I have left.

There are many ways I could react to this problem. The way I have chosen is to write and to offer you a chance to comment on my descent into oblivion. The more the merrier

I am filling the home page here with short essays I have written over the course of my life and some written recently.  My life is an unfinished work as of yet.