DECEMBER 30, 2011 3:23PM

The Randomness of Time, History, and Evolution

     Well, with just a few more hours until the Mayans and Aztecs again move to the top of the End-of-Days sensation list—this is a good time to reflect.
     Speaking of dates, I just finished reading Washington’s First War (by David Clary).   It’s not riveting prose but it is full of interesting details about the Washington banished from most U.S. history books.   The text lays out George Washington’s pre-1776 youthful ignorance and over-confidence that began what some historians call the first world war between France and England.  We Americans call it The French and Indian War.   The Canadians call it the First American War.  (As an aside, when you visit Quebec city, right on the old square is a quaint historymuseum which educates the public about the “three American invasions of Canada” and our defeat each time: French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812.
     It’s an odd feeling hearing Canadians speak of the “American invaders.”  Then again, if you are Mexican, Spanish, Phillipino, Iraqi, Haitian, Cuban, Native American, Nicaraguan, or Panamanian, the perspective would be quite different.
     What had escaped me until I read this book was the date on which George Washington conducted his surrender to the French at Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania—July 4, 1753.   Technically, Washington told the French he would surrender the night before, but the actual capitulation and turning over of weapons and materials took place on July 4.   How I would love to have access to a personal diary, conversation, or letter that illuminates Washington’s thoughts as he celebrated each July 4 after that date.    What was in all those letters Martha Custis Washington burned after he died?   It makes one wonder if he encouraged lots of emphasis on the new, post-1776 July 4 to blot out the ache of the earlier July 4.    Those later holiday celebrations had to have been bittersweet.
     Time also plays a fascinating role in the Nova program “What Darwin Never Knew,” a two-hour special about things genome research and genetics have uncovered in the last decade or two.    I had hoped to catch it on Boston’s WGBH earlier but the night it was supposed to air, another program had replaced it and I pondered outloud, “Hmm, have the anti-science people mounted another assault on evolution?”
     Luckily, for me, it appeared this week on New Hampshire Public Television, something that will surely cause the Anti-Darwin Christian legislators to stamp their feet, rage and light matches beneath their fingernails. And that didn’t take long.  Yesterday, the Keene Sentinel reported Representative Jerry Bergevin, (R-Manchester,N.H.) had  proposed a law restricting the teachings of “ . . . criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it. … Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. that’s evidence right there.”
     It is my understanding evidence is something that can be tested and predicted.   For example: On the planet Earth if one flips a balanced coin in the air a thousand times, one can reasonably predict that it will fall to earth a thousand times or that in those thousand flips, very close to 500 of them will land on heads.   On the other hand, I can wish with all my heart and believe that the coin will levitate, or failing that, it will land on heads 750 times and I suppose bet my savings on that.
     But I digress,  back to Nova.  If I understood it correctly, (and I am not a biologist or a geneticist) n the gene that turns on and off the genetic codes which allow the human skull to grow large enough to make a space in which our brain can grow, there are 13 letter variations between us and the same gene in the great apes.  Now (Why do I feel like Newt Gingrich, each time I say now?) on an evolutionary scale of mutation and survival of the fittest time, that seems like a lot of change in a very short period of (evolutionary) time of a million years.   
     Certainly look forward to the college spring semester beginning so I can locate a geneticist to explain this more to me and tell me whether those change odds are likely or not. Regardless, if I were a Creationist, rather than trying to criminalize Darwin, I might consider investing in science departments all over the nation so they might study why that change happened so rapidly.  Who knows, maybe we might discover the hand of God there after all.


DECEMBER 24, 2011 7:45AM

Tis The Season To Be Pondering

      Christmas Eve here in Southwestern New Hampshire, it’s more like a southern Pennsylvania Christmas so far this year.
      Two inches of snow yesterday morning gave hope of a white Christmas but the day’s warmth melted most of it.   A lovely sunrise today, though “pink in the morning, shepherd’s warning” still may apply.  If one looks hard enough, there will be a few patches of white and cold should keep that until after Christmas.
      In three weeks, New Hampshire will vote.   Mitt Romney should worry about Jon Huntsman.   Barak Obama should worry about Jon Huntsman—a one-percenter who has a sense of how an executive branch should operate.
      Meanwhile, the more I read economists’ predictions about the economy, the more I’m convinced they have no clue how our current economy operates.  Maybe instant communication has changed something fundamental and economic facts and figurers have yet to figure out what it is.  Still, with the Bush tax cuts in 2000, this decade reminds me of a repeat of The Gilded Age where in lieu of taxes the wealthy bought congressmen, governors and senators.
      Think of it, if you’re worth a billion dollars, why not spend a million (one-tenth of one percent) dollars on each congressman.   For a one-year investment of five percent, you could purchase 50 congressional legislators and have them lower your tax rate ten percent for a lifetime.  This is just sound greed.
      Well it’s Christmas Eve and it is puzzling the airwaves are full of glossy, reality stories with as much depth as yesterday’s flurry.    Life takes no holidays, and we do Christmas a disservice when we pretend wars are not still fought, hospitals are not still  filled, and highways magically turn safe.  This season  for a local holiday read-around, I pulled out this poem of mine which Christianity & Literature published in 2003, and noticed I hadn’t changed any views.
Prayer, Christmas Eve, for Recovery of My Dog
O magnum mysterium shoulder me lightly
like a clear river carries an autumn leaf
away on a current of harmony, beyond
this concrete bridge where breath and brain
track the secrets in this dog’s flesh
panting here before me with his three legs
and thumping tail. Too soon his lungs will fail.
Or over there, just beyond the road,
the memory of my brother’s child
crushed between the wheel and the hood,
the accordian of her auto pressed to the bark, Oh
Tannebaum, before gasoline lit

that perfect conifer in one great choir,
searing ornament to a father’s Joyful Season.
Or further down that road a mother, things
that made her cut– a vain attempt to purify

for Holiday, and so she comes to pass one evening

a bag of bones and tumor lying in a bed,
and all a boy can do is drum this nativity away.
Pray? That she could run, like the dog in his dreams?
What can children do for their mother but live?
Or beneath the midnight star– raw earth silent
after the battle’s pageant– a shrapnel-clad soldier
lying in a crater, medic kneeling over him,
hands pressed against the sucking chest wound,
eyes searching for the angel of any medivac
to appear in the dark above and tally them both
to manger before the Magi’s gifts give out.
Only wander does wonder to relieve this beauty,
this annual thrust to blackness.  Gracious God
reaching from beyond the nebula, cradle me,                                                 small wren stunned by the window, through this birth,
so I may again walk with dog the village green and pause

where for eight-hundred years grandfathers paused                                     to contemplate solstice and in that softening evening hear
acapella voices sing In Dulci Jubilati
and recover the faith of my father, my dog, and my God.

“… Oh that we were there.  Oh that we were there.”
Christianity & Literature, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2003
DECEMBER 16, 2011 11:28AM

Holidays, History and Politics

      Well I must hand it to Salon. Do a story on bookstores and Declaration of Independents and you got me to open a blog.
      Now I feel compelled to become random every week or so. Random, a nice ring to it. We close in on the Ides of December and winter in the Monadnocks has been pretty much like the Boston Red Sox, all bark and no bite.  It’s early though and there was that October promise of with a 28” snowfall but since then, it’s been pretty much pitchers in the clubhouse guzzling beer and stuffing drumsticks in their chops.    I’m sure things will change, but it does leave a body with time to ponder the world and this week we have the E.U. acting a whole like the 13 American colonies when they realized their Articles of Confederation weren’t working.
      Is this the real beginning of The United States of Europe as they search for just the right balance between federal power and states’ rights.  Good luck.  Already the UK is acting like Texas which makes one think of Rick Perry and his new political ad which has gone viral not quite the way he expected.  If Rick Perry were Dutch and the Zuiderzee was threatening to break in, Perry would be the boy I’d tie to his chair knowing if he got out to the dike, each time he tried to plug his finger in the leak, he’d miss and I’d have ten leaks instead of one.
      Oh yes, and our Congress has just added indefinite “detention” without charge in the eternal War on Terror.  I wonder how long before the first American citizen gets “disappeared,” probably by mistake, and then after a year or two when the CIA or NSA or USA realizes the mistake someone like Dick Quail Hunter Cheney or Slam Dunk Tenet decides it is just easier to make this person really disappear say into the Atlantic Ocean, then to go through all the bad press.    On-the-other-hand, it is strange sensation being on the same page as Rand Paul—makes one almost believe compromise can still work.
      Speaking of the illustrious Dick Cheney, I’ve just entered into David Clary’s “George Washington’s First War.”  It’s not a David McCullough blockbuster, but interesting enough to make me think.  And here we have in 1751, the illustrious Governor Cheney (oops, I mean Dimwiddie) of Virginia doing his best to start a war with the Indians and the French so he can get his hands on the oil (I mean acreage) of Ohio before the Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers get a piece of the action. The fact that it’s been a pretty tame French and Indian relationship for a century-and-a-half doesn’t count for much when Goldman Sachs, I mean Dimwiddie and his Ohio Company, have bundles of money to make.  And here we have young, ambitious George as Dimwiddie’s perfect foil.   Go out and stir things up until we have a war.  Like any good, ambitious boy, he did.
      Sure, for Washington, the whole thing turned into disaster, but I’ll bet Dimwiddie got his bundle first. I’m holding hope that by the end of the book, I find George has learned something important about the 1% that will give me comfort as Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanza/Solstice/Venus Adoration and whatnot get us into 2012 so I can face the Mayan End of Days with proper reverence.



DECEMBER 2, 2011 10:01 a.m.

The Toad, Peterborough, N.H.


( Toadstool logo now on a pin: Read Globally; Buy Locally)
      Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough, N.H., began in an almost closet-size store along the Contoocook River over four decades ago.  
      It as become a magnet place for books in the Monadnock Region and has since grown and moved across Main Street, still along the river, into the old IGA Supermarket in the center of Depot Square, the focal point of an artistic revival in the old Boston & Maine railroad yard.   Its constant owner, Willard Williams,   has made it the place for all things books–to order them, to browse through them, to talk about them, to listen to the music of their readings, and, at Aesop’s Table, to taste a scone and good tea or snack in the company of them.
       Outside a wonderful mural titled “Portals” frames the river side of the building.  Artist Rodney Monk created the mural in celebration of The MaCDowell Colony’s 100th anniversary.

Toadstool mural1

Leave a Reply